[RM intern Charlotte Stear puts witchy horror host Penny Dreadful on the ducking stool for a Sinister Seven.]
It’s been a hard life for Penny Dreadful. After being burned at the stake, it’s quite applaudable she’s back from the ashes and now hosts her own horror show, Shilling Shockers. Airing from Massachusetts with help from her werewolf husband Garou, monster hunter Dr. Manfred Von Bulow and friend Luna 13, the show features ongoing stories that bookend classic horror movies and has gained a growing cult following.
The horror host has reached season eight of her hit show and has now created her own comic book series, Penny Dreadful’s Cauldron of Terror.
We were lucky enough to get a moment with the woman behind the cape, Danielle Gelehrter, to ask several sinister questions. This is what she had to say…
What was your first introduction to horror and what inspired you to create this fabulous character?
I was first introduced to the horror genre by my uncle Valdemar many moons ago. He was a horror fan and tried to scare me by showing me Famous Monsters magazines and by playing his Pickwick horror records. I think he could tell that I was actually really fascinated, even if I was a little scared, so I’d hang out with him and we’d watch Universal horror movies, Hammer films, Corman and Vincent Price films and grainy TV recordings of Dark Shadows episodes. Uncle Valdemar even gave me a great book of Poe stories. I’d watch Creature Double Feature out of Boston on Saturday mornings too. It was all the great stuff, you know? I have fond memories of those days.
As for my witchy origins, I was playing Medea from the eponymous Greek tragedy and, at one point during rehearsal, I started making morbid jokes with the cast while in-character. It was all very horror host-like. It then hit me that we’ve never had a witch horror hostess in Massachusetts here in the States. I mean, with Salem and all, it’s a no-brainer that there should have been a witch-themed horror host here. Penny became an amalgam of light and dark intermingled; Hecate meets Carol Burnett meets Stewie from Family Guy.
Oh no. I figured we’d do it for a year or two, but we were having WAY too much fun to stop. The show kept evolving as it went along. We started out doing it as a simple, retro black-and-white throwback to the vintage hosted horror shows, and then we went to color with weird Mario Bava-inspired lighting and darker-tinged episodes, and in the last two seasons the show has featured full-length, ongoing storylines that span several episodes (though we still keep a couple of old school-style, standalone episodes for the end of the season). These continuing storylines are inspired by the show’s title, which was derived from the 19th century “penny dreadfuls” and “shilling shockers,” which were released in weekly ongoing chapters. I think changing it up as we go along helps to keep it fresh, as it presents us with new challenges.
What’s the process for creating each episode, and how do you choose which films to show?
Because of the ongoing storylines, it has become a more involved process. I pick the movies for the season and then work in elements from the films when I write the scripts for the overall storyline. I’ve written most of the shows, though Ivan Bernier and Rebecca Paiva have also written some fantastic episodes. We try to tape about once a month, with breaks in the summer and in the winter. It takes several months to complete tapings, especially if we’re doing location shooting outside of my Spooky Attic. Once the episode tapings are finished, our talented director and editor Rebecca Paiva goes into editing mode and spends approximately two to three months editing the programs. Early on, when we were doing quickie, standalone episodes, we were able to crank out fourteen episodes a year. Now, because of the special effects and more involved storylines, we’re lucky if we release seven new ones a year. Once the episodes are ready, we send them out to all the TV stations and eventually release DVD season box sets via our website.
As for the movies themselves, with the exception of a few independent short films, anything we show is in the public domain. I have a fondness for eerie Gothic horror pictures, so I tend to favor those but we do a mix of Gothic, B-movies, horror, sci-fi, and fantasy. We’ve done everything from Carnival of Souls and Phantom of the Opera to The Brain that Wouldn’t Die and Attack of the Monsters.
You’ve recently brought out your own comic, Penny Dreadful’s Cauldron of Terror. How did this new venture come about, and who is involved in it?
Jeff Hughes, who is the owner of indie comic imprint Comic Book Divas, contacted me and said he was interested in licensing the characters to do a Penny Dreadful comic book. I thought it’d be fun to do it like an EC-style horror comic with Penny hosting horror tales. Jeff wanted one story to be about the show characters, so one tale is an EC-style horror story hosted by myself and the other one is the story of how I met Garou, my werewolf husband and handsome hench beast. I wrote the script for the comic, Jeff was the editor, and we had some great artists onboard. The first story, Sprite Fright, is eerily illustrated and colored by Josh Barker. The second story, Puppy Love, is delightfully illustrated by my friend and talented artist Frankie B. Washington and colored by James Biggie, who did some brilliant aging effects on the pages to make them look like pages from an old comic book.
Usually people just try to burn me at the stake, but fortunately my Dreary Ones are there to help beat back the angry mob! It’s really awesome when we hear from viewers. I mean, when you hear from people saying the show means something important to them and that it’s their weekly ritual to pop some popcorn and sit down with the kids to watch the scary movies and our strange adventures, it really is a nice feeling. We get letters and artwork, and other fun things at the TV station. The people working there are always eager to know what wacky thing came in the mail. It’s a lot of fun.
We’ve appeared at lots of conventions, though we’ve scaled back a bit as of late. We’ve done appearances at Monster Bash, HorrorHound, Rock and Shock, Cinema Wasteland, Monster Fest, WonderFest, Spooky World, and San Diego Comic-Con (which was insane!). We usually do Monster Bash and Rock and Shock every year. Kids love Garou, they chase him around the convention floor all the time.
There was a great Dr. Who-themed storyline for your last series. What other modern shows/movies/filmmakers inspire you and continue to get you excited about the genre?
With regard to modern filmmakers, absolutely Guillermo del Toro. I really look forward to each of his films and from interviews I’ve heard, he has a firm grasp on what makes classic Gothic horror work. I also really enjoyed the revived Hammer’s recent adaptation of The Woman in Black and got a huge kick out of Joss Whedon’s Cabin in the Woods. Trollhunter was lots of fun, and Let the Right One In is the best vampire movie I’ve seen in awhile.
What’s on the cards next for Penny?
Aside from poxes on the neighbor’s cattle and all that? Hopefully, we’ll have some new episodes coming soon. We left Season eight on a cliffhanger of sorts, so we’ll need to resolve that somehow. We’re exploring new avenues for the show broadcast-wise, and might have some news on that front soon. We’ve been toying with some audio ideas – a soundtrack for the show and a CD where I read scary stories for kids. Additionally, Garou and I are doing some show appearances this September and October, so keep an eye out for those! It would be hex-citing to see you there!
Thank you so much for taking the time to answer these!
To stay updated on Penny Dreadful’s TV Schedule and future appearances, check out her website here: http://shillingshockers.com/