³PENNY DREADFUL´ (2006

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Starring: Rachel Miner, Mimi Roger, Michael Berryman, Lucy Rogers-Chiaffa, Elyse Mirto & Liz Davies Written by Richard Brandes, Diane Doniol-Valcroze & Arthur Flam Directed by Richard Brandes

Polly Staffle Rating: ***
Almost all books on screenwriting say the same thing about the basic three-part structure of movies. First, establish a hero. Second, force this main character up a tree and throw rocks at them. Third, get them down from the tree. Sure it¶s a bit simplistic, but if you think about it, most good movies follow this. The really great ones, however, know how and when to deviate from the rules. ³Penny Dreadful´ follows the three-part structure quite literally. As soon as the film opens we are introduced to Penny Dearborn (Rachel Miner of ³Cult´). We learn her back story and her flaws immediately. Penny was in a car accident as a child and now suffers from mentally paralyzing anxiety because of the trauma. She is petrified of riding in cars. Penny is currently heading on a road trip with her psychiatrist. They are close to a breakthrough. Stress ball in hand and audio exercises in the stereo system, Penny looks to return to the scene of the accident, while trying to kick her dependency to anxiety medication. Soon Penny will become an active member of society. She¶ll be able to ride in a car without full blown panic attacks that lead to her barfing or becoming hysterical. Well, that¶s what Dr. Orianna Volker (Mimi Rogers) thinks. But this isn¶t an inspirational film. This is one of the eight movies of Lionsgate¶s After Dark Horrorfest. So soon Penny¶s fears are exploited by a mysterious hitchhiker that Dr. Volker picks up along their journey. Instead of being forced up a tree and having rocks tossed her way, poor Penny gets trapped in the car, sandwiched between two trees with dead bodies being thrown at her. As silly as that may sound, this part of the film works perfectly.

Then the villain is revealed in the last five minutes or so and things get wrapped up in a generic cookie cutter horror movie way that left me with a bad taste in my mouth. Rachel Miner. more torture ensued for Penny once viewers were safely back in their own worlds. It¶s original and extremely scary. There¶s so . The figure being seen even less the rest of the way works just fine. she screams and she makes us feel her fear and terror. As is. the script. Not necessarily in one piece. I¶m not buying it. there may be a sequel´ ending and the credits roll. A psychological victory for Penny may have been enough. She gets off easier than Sally in ³The Texas Chainsaw Massacre´ did. ³Penny Dreadful´ has our hero escaping without any type of transformation and very little confrontation. it¶s a false escape and Penny is put back to where her miserable night started ± in an automobile with a killer right outside. for most of its 92-minutes. is fantastic as usual. but she still gets out of her ³tree. However. We can assume. while evil lurks around outside.In fact. ³Penny Dreadful´ is a terrific movie. Penny doesn¶t. Penny gets out of her predicament. Despite its flaws. I didn¶t need to see a villain in this film. stays close to the ³bad horror movie´ genre we¶ve seen too much of lately.´ Then we get a very cliché ³oh. Horror movies that end with psychical victories need their frail and weak characters transcending into strong individuals. You know what I¶m talking about. this is a pretty good movie. which was written by three people. followed by the ³super dud closer´ that has the villain popping back up for one last scare. the third act plot twist that isn¶t really a twist. No way this little creep moved dead bodies and sandwiched the car between those trees. Most of the movie is simply her in the car. Penny just sort of slips out of her ordeal without having to put up a fight. But personally. But don¶t worry. Let¶s have Penny overcome by kicking the crap out of this sick freak. How long did it take to find two trees that were the perfect length apart. I don¶t want to watch a girl squirm and be tortured emotionally for the length of a feature film. I also didn¶t need to have a half-assed explanation about them slapped on via radio news. I feel that if the makers of this film just had to have their villain revealed. She never gets a chance to kick ass. they should have at least made it believable. As is. Take her out of the film¶s mix and this thing collapses like an imploded Las Vegas casino. surrounded by darkness. by the way? I¶m not even sure I needed Penny escaping her situation and I surely didn¶t need the story closing like it does here. A mysterious cloaked hitchhiker early on that doesn¶t talk and offers a human kabob from the back seat is way scarier than any reveal you are going to serve up later. he may have had an instant classic on his hands. If only director Richard Brandes had decided to have his ending slightly deviate from the three-part structure. Here¶s the thing. but follow the slasher subgenre. She cries. This might very well be the Scream Queen performance of the year. one of my favorite actresses in the under 30 crowd.

She never even gets a chance to visit the site of her childhood accident to bury her fears in the past. but instead went with the current trend of the genre. What happened to the days of horror films that left audiences inspired. wrap barbed wire around it and start smacking. What do we get? Penny terrorized till the last frame. or is the overdose of ³Saw´ sequels and ³Hostel´ wannabes completely screwing up the fun of horror? . pumped up and ready to tackle the real scary obstacles of society? ³Penny Dreadful´ had the perfect opportunity to deliver this. Can¶t Penny get down from her ³tree´ by grabbing a tire iron. Is it just me. a jack or some other object commonly found in the trunk of cars and proceed to bash the psycho¶s brains in? She could even get creative like Marie (Cécile De France) in ³High Tension´ and pull a wooden stake from the ground. But no.much tension building during this film that it really needs a release.

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