Whenever filmmakers put a derisive word in the title of their cinematic offering, and that movie is not the next Citizen Kane, they're just setting themselves up for the critics' jabs. It's true, Penny Dreadful did suffer its share of slings and arrows in its brief theatrical run, but on DVD this low-budget slasher eases into gear a lot easier.
The story follows a deeply traumatized car accident victim named Penny Dearborn (Rachel Miner) who is facing her worst fear by riding shotgun on a cross-country drive with her therapist, Orianna Volker (Mimi Rogers). Even the upholstery in the doc's old Volvo sends Penny into a vomit spin-cycle, but worse still on the teen's jangled nerves is pulling over to pick up a creepy-looking, black-hooded hitchhiker.
When the eerily silent traveler offers the ladies a bite of his lunch (raw, bleeding meat on a skewer) they look appropriately askance, but Dr. V keeps the pedal to the metal — even when the putrid passenger asks that they turn off onto a dirt road in the middle of the darkest, loneliest woods you ever did see.
True, Penny Dreadful isn't long on logic, but it feels very much like a throwback to the early 80s slashers and even though the victims weren't the brightest bulbs in the headlights, some of us still like those movies. There's not a lot to the story and character arcs lack the necessary arc, but director Richard Brandes and DP Joplin Wu do a good enough job on the claustrophobic look and feel underscoring Penny's situation (wedged inside the car, unable to escape) that the razzle-dazzle is enough to keep you watching.
Miner does a very good job of looking and acting absolutely terrified, abandoning all vanity, and Rogers is her usual solid self. You'll notice that horror icon Michael Berryman is given prominent billing, but he only has a small, inconsequential cameo.
While I wouldn't want to watch it twice, and I do think the killer was way over the top, Penny Dreadful is worth the price of a rental.
= = =Reviewed by Staci Layne Wilson