“Hemlock Grove” – Netflix Original Series – Not “Snob” but Not Bad

Hemlock Grove” the new horror-flavored Netflix Original Series premiered this weekend and I was transfixed this afternoon while I watched the first five episodes. The dialogue is snappy, the acting is at times inspired, even if the setting is a bit familiar. In short: if you’ve got access to Netflix streaming, clear a good chunk of time to watch it. Sure, sure, sure, it’s probably not “snob horror” in its purest sense but dammit, if you read The Dailynightmare, I bet you’ll find it fun.

As I continue here to wax eloquent about the virtues of Hemlock Grove, I bet there will be SPOILERS GALORE. Fair warning.

“Hemlock Grove” is Netflix-only, so rage, rage against the dying of the light if all you have is cable. Yup, Netflix is now producing original content, in case you haven’t heard. “House of Cards” with Kevin Spacey premiered several weeks ago (I loved the stylish soliloquies of the main character and the heightened political storyline seemed fitting of Shakespeare) and in mere days, new episodes of “Arrested Development” (maybe the greatest contemporary sitcom) will also arrive on Netflix streaming. “Premiere” doesn’t feel like exactly the right word because Netflix releases every episode, that is, an entire season at once with its new content. An individual viewer must steel themselves to exercise more personal willpower than I did because Netflix isn’t going to dole out individual episodes like spoonfuls of methadone or old-school broadcast TV networks. Frankly, I love consuming series based narratives by “power discing” that is, waiting until they come out on DVD and then watching them in a marathon session, sometimes with eye drops and pots of coffee. Netflix with their original content allows me to indulge my habit while potentially being the first one on the street to enjoy the series.

And there’s much to enjoy in “Hemlock Grove.” Trust me. Remember, the first couple episodes of any series have to accomplish a bit of narrative heavy-lifting by establishing the settings and relationships. The flashbacks were necessary but they’re such an awkward device, IMHO. Regular readers of The Dailynightmare know that I am impatient snob but I can tell you the moment I decided I’d invest the next several hours with “Hemlock Grove.” The scene that hooked me was a simple dialogue between a young girl who described herself as “a novelist” and a young newcomer to town who she suspects of being a werewolf because his index and middle fingers are the same length. Their exchange seemed leisurely and character-driven and as the series progressed, I found many scenes that felt similarly well-composed. I am violently allergic to vacuous “TV-speak.” At the risk of speaking ill of the Glorious Dead, I think I prefer the dialogue in “Hemlock Grove” to that all-too-witty repartee of “Buffy the Vampire Slayer.” (Start addressing those death-threats and poison apples, all ye Whedonistas) I am very interested in tracking down the novel by Brian McGreevey to see if it contains similarly delicious prose.

Sure, the setting is familiar if not well-worn but I chose to view it in terms of homage. One way of viewing the conceit of the “Hemlock Grove” is “House of Dracula” set in a small town high school. Er, sort of. All your favorite classic “monsters” are here in more or less clever guises. My favorite is the Frankenstein’s monster clone, a handicapped girl named, appropriately “Shelley” who writes messages in a florid prose reminiscent of the style of the original, epistolary novel. The tortured Van Helsing surrogate, Clementine Chasser (from the French for “hunter” I suppose) is quite lovingly portrayed by Kandyse McClure. There’s even, sort of, a Renfield character and who doesn’t love a psychotic kook now and again?

And werewolves. I love werewolves. Watch a couple episodes to catch the nice transformation scene, one with an appropriately gross stinger. I confess I have an almost prurient interest in Romany culture so when the family of a werewolf character was depicted as “gypsy” the politically-correct bristles along my spine primed themselves to be outraged… but to be honest, there is more romanticism and exoticising fantasy applied to the oligarchic 1%-er Godfrey (god-free?) family. It might not be great werewolf culture — such products might not exist yet — but at least it’s not more mindless zombie-crap like “The Walking Dead” let alone vampire drivel like that slickly polished, soft-core soap opera that is “True Blood.” (I really AM trolling for hate-mail, aren’t I?)

Given the series was produced by Eli Roth, that purveyor of wholesome family entertainment, I expected a somewhat coarser sensibility. Sure, there’s a breast or two, a bit of gore and puke, intimations of incest at least in the pilot, but honestly, it’s all pretty tame. The only real shock I had was when I realized that screen hotties, Lili Taylor and Famke Jansen had both been cast as MOTHERS. Yikes, when exactly did I get old? Seriously, it’s best to view “Hemlock Grove” as perhaps a “gothic thriller” than strictly “horror.” Though I’m a snob, I think I know enough to apply the appropriate set of criteria when evaluating a cultural product. “Hemlock Grove” feels like good TV. By contrast, say, “Twin Peaks” felt a bit like David Lynch — let’s be clear here, a director whose films I revere like few others– acted like he was slumming it a bit, talking down to his TV audience. Suffice to say, Eli Roth won’t condescend to many readers of The DailyNightmare.

I can’t comment on the entire 13 part series since I’ve seen less than half of them except to say, I’m already blocking out time to watch the rest. It might fizzle into stupidity but I spent the entire afternoon in “Hemlock Grove” and I didn’t think I wasted my time.

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