Women In Horror come from all avenues of the genre. Whether they be filmmakers, writers, actresses, artists or television hosts, each and every one of these ladies of the genre deserve their kudos.
Penny Dreadful has been dabbling in the macabre for over 700 years. That is, so long as her biography on the Penny Dreadful’s Shilling Shockers website is to believed. In my experience, witches tend to be fairly reliable about their age and such.
The lady behind one of the most successful horror television shows in the country is also one of the kindest, most intelligent players in the horror business.
I was fortunate enough to run into Penny during a recent lycan hunt in northern Connecticut. These are the words that transpired.
No curses or spells were cast during this conversation.
So far as I know…
1. Congratulations on ‘Shilling Shockers’ being in it’s eighth season! How did this show come to be?
‘Shilling Shockers’ was originally a spell that backfired. I wanted to be a horror movie star in the 1930s and tried to use an enchantment to make it so, but the spell went awry and instead of becoming a horror star I became a horror hostess. However, I recently undid the spell and now host the show of my own volition because it’s fun. I broadcast ‘Shilling Shockers’ through the BMT (Black Magic Transmitter).
2. What goes into the production of an episode of your show? How long does it take to have an episode ready for television?
To boil it down, I handle most of the content (story concepts, scripts, and movie selection) and director Rebecca Paiva handles most of the visuals (direction, cinematography, and editing). Garou and Dr. Manfred Von Bulow also contribute ideas and scripts from time to time. Because the show has become more ambitious over the years, it takes several weeks, or even months, to complete a single episode from scripting to taping to editing to distribution. I know it can take Rebecca weeks to edit a single episode, particularly if it contains effects.
3. The catalogue of vintage horror you’ve showcased is epic. How do you go about selecting your films? Have you ever faced any roadblocks in showing any films (issues with distributors, etc)?
We currently present movies that are in the public domain, and tend lean toward gothic horrors. That said, I show plenty of B-movies, sci-fi, fantasy and other types of horror flicks as well. I pick seven films per season and then tailor the season’s “storylines” around those seven films. For example, in the new season I’m hosting classic silent films. The storyline of the season deals with time travel so each time period we visit corresponds with the film being shown.
4. If you could host a movie marathon that consists of five films, which would you choose and why?
It’s difficult picking just five!
Frankenstein (1931) – The classic Universal version. One of the greatest (if not the greatest) horror films of all time.
The Wolf Man (1941) – The classic Universal version. Another of the greats – pathos, horror and atmosphere galore.
Horror of Dracula (1958) – Tough call between the classic Lugosi version and the classic Lee & Cushing version, but I went with the latter because Hammer must be represented here and it’s a vibrant, eerie, and wonderful film.
The Pit and the Pendulum (1961) – The Corman Poe movies are amazing and this is one of my favorites.
House of Dark Shadows (1970) – I am a huge fan of ‘Dark Shadows,’ and this is a great retelling the original Barnabas story (albeit in a bit more graphic manner)
5. What is your favorite horror film?
That’s an even more difficult question to answer! I couldn’t really pick a favorite. If I had to choose, I’d say probably ‘The Wolf Man’ (1941) for the reasons mentioned above.
6. You’ve reached a massive fan base through public access television. Do you ever get recognized out in public?
Sometimes! Usually when it happens it’s a very polite inquiry, but I remember once an elderly lady randomly came up to me and said, “You scare me!” and then walked away!
7. Who are some of your women in horror heroes?
Barbara Steele – She is one of the greats. People often say that Christopher Lee is the only surviving classic horror star but I’d say Barbara Steele deserves to included in that category as well. Steele has an intensity and intelligence about her performances, and clearly has a grasp on the art of terror.
Mary Shelley – Shelley’s iconic work probes deep philosophical questions while instilling a sense of sublime dread in the reader. Other works such as “The Mortal Immortal” are also crafted with great skill.
Shirley Jackson – Another great writer of the macabre, Jackson’s works “The Haunting of Hill House” and “The Lottery” are just strange and disturbing today as they were when they were first written.
Lara Parker – She played Angelique the witch on ‘Dark Shadows’ to such wicked perfection that I find it hard to imagine anyone topping her performance (sorry Eva Green and Lysette Anthony). I also greatly admire the fact that she has subsequently gone on to become a college professor.
Vampira – The first of the horror hosts. She is an inspiration to me, not only because she was a legendary host but because she was an articulate and highly creative human being.
8. You actually went to Salem, MA with your crew for an episode. You’ve done a show in Portuguese. You take this to heart. I sincerely admire your passion for the genre. What roped you into horror?
Thanks. My uncle Valdemar got me into all this when I was quite young. He used to give me his old Famous Monsters magazines and we’d watch Universal, Hammer, Corman Poe films and “Dark Shadows.” He was always into spooky stuff and I think, at first, he was trying to scare me but instead I developed a strong fascination with terror.
9. ‘Penny Dreadful’s Cauldron Of Terror’ comics is a new venture. Can you tell us a little about this project?
I’m quite hex-cited about this comic. It’s coming out on the Comic Book Divas imprint. Editor Jeff Hughes asked me if I’d have any interest in doing a Penny Dreadful comic. The issue is in the vein of EC horror comics, where I host two tales. The first story is a horror tale illustrated by Josh Barker and it’s entitled “Sprite Fright.” The second story reveals how I met my werewolf companion Garou. It is illustrated by Frankie Washington and is called “Puppy Love.” I wrote both stories. It’s supposed to be out this February and will be available online at my website, at the Comic Book Divas website, and at local comic book shops in eastern Massachusetts.
10. Do you attend alot of horror conventions? How many do you go to in a regular year?
Oh yes. We regularly attend Monster Bash and Rock & Shock. We’ve also attended WonderFest, Cinema Wasteland, HorrorHound, I-Con, MonsterFest, and the Southcoast Toy and Comic Show. I usually do three or four cons a year.
11. If you could chat with one horror icon, dead or alive, who would it be and why?
Vincent Price. He was so charming and cultured. One could really see that he had a marvelous sense of humor and an engaging personality.
12. Do you have any advice to offer aspiring young women in horror?
Follow your vision and don’t let anyone deter you from your goals or tell you that you can’t do something, and don’t be afraid to be yourself.
Also, I’ve occasionally run across this generalization that “women don’t like monsters and horror” which is a totally ridiculous mentality. I know plenty of other gals who really dig creepy stuff, so don’t ever let anyone tell you what you should like or that you “shouldn’t” like something.
Penny Dreadful is truly a woman in horror who serves as a role model to the younger generation of horror fans. It was a pleasure chatting with her and I wish Shilling Shockers and her all the luck for a long, long run on televisions across the country!
Check out Penny Dreadful’s Shilling Shockers website and grab yourself a few seasons on DVD! You won’t be sorry!