31 Days of Halloween: 11 shocking Penny Dreadful moments that redefine modern horror

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May 12, 2016, 7:49 PM EDT (Updated)

If you're a rabid fan of classic horror, look no further than Showtime's sexy series, Penny Dreadful.  It takes a mix-and-match approach to iconic characters like the Wolfman and Victor Frankenstein, with witches and vampires blended into a frightful family. Since the series has to appeal to a modern audience, it takes lots of creative liberties with the source material, which is all part of its wicked fun. Creator John Logan lifts elements from the original stories and gives them a shocking, often graphic twist.  Here are 11 of the best.

Major Spoilers ahead!


Dorian Gray's portrait is revealed 


It was only a matter of time before we'd see Dorian Gray's (Reeve Carney) infamous portrait, the one that ages in his place and allows him immortality. The image was teased in the first season but wasn't fully shown until the second. When Dorian's girlfriend Angelique  (Jonny Beauchamp) stumbled across the painting, we finally saw what he's been hiding.

The painting features a frail, weathered version of Dorian wrapped in chains. Although Angelique is initially disturbed, she accepts it as his truth. Dorian seemed relieved that she didn't run for the hills, and wanted to celebrate with a drink. But the romantic gesture turns deadly when Angelique suddenly falls to her death. Why? Because Dorian poisoned her. Right then and there! No one saw that coming.  


Introducing Frankenstein's Monster


When we're first introduced to Dr. Victor Frankenstein (Harry Treadaway), he's working on a creature called Proteus (Alex Price). His new "son" is bright-eyed, kind and hungry for knowledge. Proteus seemed too good to be true, and he was. He was simply a setup for one of the most violent character debuts I've ever seen. Victor and Proteus are having a conversation when suddenly a fist shoots out of Proteus's chest. His body splits in half and drops to the floor as a pale figure emerges. This was our introduction to the doctor's first creation: Caliban (Rory Kinnear). 


The possession of Vanessa Ives 


Like most of the characters, Vanessa Ives (Eva Green) is more than meets the eye. On multiple occassions she's been taken over by a dark force. One of the first incidents occurred at a group seance, which was led by a powerful witch called Evelyn Poole (Helen McCrory), also known as Madame Kali. Vanessa goes from curious spectator to supernatural conduit. Her voice changes, her body contorts, and she delivers a chilling message from beyond. Vanessa's actions leave everyone in the room stunned. Even Dorian was shocked, and he's seen it all.  


The exorcism of Vanessa Ives 


Later in the first season, Vanessa is possessed again. But this time it's much worse. She's incapacitated for weeks, clawing at walls and violently attacking anyone who tries to help. Despite her condition, Ethan Chandler (Josh Hartnett) still attempts to reach her. In a brief moment, Vanessa's soul reappears, but only to beg for a mercy kill. Instead of pulling a trigger, Ethan grabs his St. Jude medal and places it on Vanessa's forehead. He immediately starts shouting in Latin. Apparently, the American gunslinger can also perform exorcisms?! This added yet another layer of mystery to the character already harboring a huge secret.


Van Helsing's untimely demise  


Professor Abraham Van Helsing (David Warner) is a vampire hunter typically associated with Dracula. Since the first season of Penny Dreadful dealt with vampires, it only made sense for him to appear. Someone of his expertise could prove more than useful. But it wasn't meant to be. Van Helsing only appeared in two episodes, before he was killed off. He wasn't murdered by Dracula or any vampire, for that matter. In some horror cross-pollination, Caliban was the culprit. He snapped Van Helsing's neck in a fit of rage. Dracula's greatest foe was taken out by Frankenstein's monster. 


Meet The Wolfman


Ethan is a man of many secrets. He spends the entire first season helping others deal with theirs. He practically uses their problems as a distraction from his own. He's been on the run for years hiding from his father, for reasons that are still unclear. When American bounty hunters track him down, Ethan refuses to go with them. They continue to badger him, and unknowingly unleash the beast... literally. While at a tavern filled with people, Ethan turns into a werewolf and slashes his way through everyone in sight. It was the huge reveal viewers had been waiting for. As if that wasn't enough, in Season 2 they upped the ante when Ethan's true identity is uncovered. He's not Ethan Chandler, he's Ethan Lawrence Talbot. He's not just a wolfman, he's The Wolfman!


The haunting of Mrs. Murray


Gladys Murray (Noni Stapleton) is Sir Malcolm Murray's (Timothy Dalton) estranged wife. Evelyn had plans to seduce him, but needed Gladys out of the picture. So she uses a simulacrum to drive her to madness and eventually her death. One night, while in bed, Gladys is plagued by a disturbing hallucination. Two gravestones appear in her room, both belonging to her dead children, Mina and Peter (Olivia Llewellyn, Graham Butler). 

Slowly but surely their rotting corpses rise from the graves and inch closer to Gladys. She's terrified, and screaming at the top of her lungs. She runs and hides in a corner hoping they'll go away. They move in closer, and eventually reach out to her. In a desperate attempt to ease her torment, Gladys grabs a blade and slits her throat. Mina and Peter immediately disappear, and the only corpse left is hers. 


Lily Frankenstein's declaration of independence


Despite Caliban's terrifying exterior and violent outburts, he longs for companionship. He demands that Victor make him a wife, which he does. Her name is Lily Frankenstein (Billie Piper) and she's meek and eager to please. Or at least that's what we thought. Lily has no real desire to be Caliban's wife, or anyone's for that matter. It's a fact Caliban learns the hard way. When he confronts her, she spews out some hard truths about Caliban and men in general.

Lily was reanimated from a dead prostitute called Brona Croft (also played by Piper). It becomes evident that she still has memories from her former life. She declares, "Never again will I kneel to any man. Now they shall kneel to me." At this point, Lily has thrown Caliban across the room like a ragdoll and has him visibly scared. It's a great change of pace as Caliban is usually the aggressor. Lily is more than his equal. She's his superior. She reveals her desire to kill Victor, and suggests they water their garden with the blood of mankind. Lily's pretty on the outside, but easily one of the show's biggest monsters. 


The Cut-Wife is burned alive


Season 2 is all about witchcraft. Vanessa is being hunted by a group of witches doing the Devil's bidding. In one episode, comprised of mostly flashbacks, she visits a woman called the Cut-Wife (Patti LuPone). Although she's initally reluctant to help, she attempts to teach Vanessa all she knows about the occult.

Now here's the twist! Evelyn, the witch that's been stalking Vanessa, is also the Cut-Wife's sister. Since Vanesssa is under her protection, Evelyn uses her influence to sway a group of villagers to form a lynch mob. Rather than fight, the Cut-Wife surrenders to the group. They chain her to a tree, and cover her in oil before burning her alive. 


Sembene sacrifices himself


The first person to see Ethan as The Wolfman is Sir Malcolm's house servant, Sembene (Danny Sapani). At the time, Ethan was in chains, which was the only thing keeping Sembene alive. Even after seeing his harsh reality, Sembene embraced Ethan and considered him a friend. He's also one of the few people who knows Ethan has a greater purpose. It's that knowledge that eventually costs Sembene his life.

While searching for Sir Malcolm in Evelyn's home, one of her daughters trap Ethan and Sembene in a stairwell. This wouldn't be such a big deal if it wasn't a full moon outside. Ethan tries to open the door to no avail. In a desperate attempt to prevent his transformation, he puts a gun to his own head. Sembene snatches it away, and says, "I am just a man, but you have been chosen by God." He resigns to his fate and braces for impact as Ethan wolfs-out. 


Night of the living doll


At this point, we've seen it all. Vampires, werewolves, witches and the like have become a regular occurrence. But those are nothing compared to possessed devil dolls. At the end of Season 2, Evelyn brings Vanessa face-to-face with "her master" Lucifer. Out of all the shapes he could take, he chooses a doll made in Vanessa's image. Talking dolls are creepy. It doesn't matter how you cut it. Couple that with Satan himself and you've got the thing vivid nightmares are made of. 

Penny Dreadful returns in 2016 for a third season on Showtime. 

Do you watch Penny Dreadful? What do you think was its most horrifying moment?


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