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Stream This: Hemlock Grove, or how It’s Pennywise proved his horror chops

By Caitlin Busch
Bill Skarsgard Hemlock Grove

While most people know Bill Skarsgård as Pennywise the Dancing Clown from 2017's It, or maybe even as the short-lived, acid-vomiting Zeitgeist from Deadpool 2, I first knew him as Roman Godfrey in Netflix's often baffling Hemlock Grove.

Based on Brian McGreevy's 2012 novel of the same name, Hemlock Grove is a dark fantasy murder-mystery series that revolves around Skarsgård's Roman and Landon Liboiran's Peter Rumancek, who are inexplicably drawn together despite their marked differences. While Roman is the heir apparent to the Godfrey family fortune (more on that later) and grew up in a cold, echoing mansion, Peter is a Romani boy with very little to his name but a whole lotta familial love on his side.

Now, any story about Hemlock Grove (especially this one, since I'm sitting here telling you to watch it) should definitely mention its darker, upsetting themes and storylines. I'm mainly referring to a plot point in Season 1 in which a girl is raped and, honestly, the subsequent story doesn't do too much to address her trauma. If that's something you can't watch, I 100 percent understand and need you to know that this isn't the show for you.

Despite all this, Hemlock Grove does boast a lot of fun, disturbing (but in a fun way!) themes, stories, and characters that any genre fan could appreciate. Shady experiments! Family scandals! Murder!

Oh, and some of the characters are vampires and werewolves. That's important, too.

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Hemlock Grove Season 1 is all about Peter and Roman discovering who they really are. While Peter's situation is at first much more obvious — in this show, turning into a werewolf is a wildly graphic process involving shedding skin, losing teeth, and snapping bones — Roman's penchant for blood seems like more of a kink at first than an indicator of monster-hood. A lot of this is due to the Godfrey family's legendary status in Hemlock Grove, which effectively guards them against hearsay.

The same can't be said for Peter, his mother Lynda (Lili Taylor), and their community, who all move to Hemlock Grove at the beginning of the season and grapple with hatred and fear due to harmful stereotypes about Romani people.

Right off the bat, Peter finds himself under investigation for a murder he didn't commit, all while the townspeople whisper among themselves about him being a werewolf. Sure, they're right about the latter half, but he doesn't know anything about this murder! Not that that's going to stop him from launching his own investigation with his new friend Roman and Roman's pretty cousin Letha Godfrey (Penelope Mitchell). Letha, who, like Roman and Peter, is a high schooler, is pregnant and convinced the baby's father is an angel for reasons I won't get into here (because spoilers).

As Peter is staving off the town's suspicions and his psychic medium cousin Destiny's warnings, Roman's wrestling with his own set of problems. His mother, the beautiful, haunting Olivia Godfrey (Famke Janssen), attempts to control every aspect of his life while (supposedly) grooming him to take on the family fortune and the Godfrey Institute for Biomedical Technologies. We know little about her other than the fact that she eats a bloody sludge made for her by the Institute's shady lead scientist, Dr. Johann Pryce (Joel de la Fuente) and that she's deeply ashamed of her daughter and Roman's sister, Shelley Godfrey (Madeleine Martin), who is physically deformed but the smartest and kindest of the bunch.

As these characters' lives begin to intertwine, Peter finds out about what Roman really is, though Roman himself doesn't know.

S**t only gets more real from there. Or, at least, not so much "real" as "insane" and "there's a superpowered baby, don't ask." I won't go into the full character arcs or plotlines — which are often confusing and difficult to follow — since I've already given you too much to take in here and I don't want to spoil too much. Just know that if you can get past the often-vexing plotlines and appreciate it for the characters, then Hemlock Grove is very much up your alley.

Hemlock Grove

The series, which totals three seasons, never received the most positive reviews and absolutely qualifies as an under-the-radar favorite, but it's worth it if only to see Skarsgård in his element.

Best known for a time as being one of Stellan Skarsgård's eight kids (and perhaps for being Alexander Skarsgård's younger brother to True Blood fans), Bill Skarsgård made his horror bones in Hemlock Grove, which now feels so indicative of where he'd one day end up. While Roman's sad-boy aesthetic and general creepiness are far and away from Pennywise the Dancing Clown, anyone who enjoys Skarsgård's performance as the grinning, drooling, child-nabbing Pennywise will find something to like about Hemlock Grove.