Penny Dreadful (2006)

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Overall Rating 49%
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Ranked #5,256
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Connections: After Dark Horrorfest

Young Penny goes on a retreat with her psychologist; the intention is to help her overcome her phobia, an intense fear of cars. Unexpected events find her in a nightmarish situation where her worst fears come true. --IMDb
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Review by Chad
Added: June 5, 2007
What have I learned from the After Dark horrorfest? Let's see... could it be that, yes, there are some mainstream films that are indeed "too shocking and too graphic" for general audiences? Nah - based on the ones that I've seen thus far, there's nothing to be found in these films that is any worse than what one would see in the latest Saw sequel. How about this: the festival was used only as an excuse to put a handful of mediocre movies into theaters rather than shoveling them into the local Blockbuster as the latest direct-to-video releases? Well, I can't speak on the true motives of the organizers as I wasn't in the office when the decisions were made, but I've found these films to be far better than most of the recent DTV offerings. Wait, I know exactly what I've learned from this horrorfest: true horror films are now seen as being "lame" and worthy of "worst movie EVER" quotes from the mainstream, theater-going public.

Our story centers around young Penny Deerborn (Rachel Miner), a woman who suffers from an intense fear of cars due to having been in an accident as a child that claimed the lives of her parents. This fear has pretty much ruined her chances at having a normal life; she's forced to ride her bike everywhere and has to hide from potential male suitors in order to avoid having to explain her fear to them. This leads us to her going to a therapist named Orianna (Mimi Rogers) in an attempt to finally overcome her phobia, and after six months of counseling, Orianna decides that the best way to do this is to start over from the place where Penny's fears began - in other words, the two of them are going to take a nice, long car ride back to the spot where her parents were killed.

Penny does not handle this car ride very well, to say the least. She has constant panic attacks and forces Orianna to pull over repeatedly so that she can gather her composure, and the trip starts to look like a lost cause after just a couple of hours. Then, nightfall rolls around and the two decide to kill some time by chatting with one another. That's fine and dandy, but it also causes Orianna to take her eyes off the road long enough to nearly run over a hitchhiker. She decides to give him a ride considering that she almost killed him, and both ladies immediately notice that something isn't quite right with this fellow: namely, he doesn't speak a word to them and appears to be eating raw meat from a skewer. They eventually let him out at his destination and ride off into the distance, when... they somehow wind up with a flat tire. One thing leads to another, and Penny eventually finds herself alone in the car having to face off against an unknown assailant while trying to keep her own fears at bay. Who is the killer, and what do they want with her? That is the big question, but the more important question is "will she be able to keep her sanity throughout this ordeal?"

While there is some violence and bloodshed to be found in this film, it's certainly not enough to warrant the "too shocking and too graphic" tagline that went along with the festival. In my eyes, this was a good thing; it's nice to see a horror film that plays with your mind and relies on genuine scares rather than yet another "look, we're going to rip out this chick's guts through her vagina!" type of gorefest that seems to be what most audiences think of when they hear the word 'horror'. If that's what you're in the market for (and I'll confess that I enjoy those movies as well), you might as well put this one right back on the shelf as the vast majority of the film takes place with our lead character inside a car, the villain outside of the car, and a very minuscule amount of gore sprinkled throughout.

So, what's to enjoy about watching a woman locked inside a car for most of the running time? Personally, I felt that this environment is a damned good setting for a great horror movie, as there's nothing more horrific than only having a thin piece of glass between you and your assailant while knowing that you can't leave this confined space (just look at Cujo for a perfect example of this). When you combine this setting with a tight script that - while slightly stumbling in a small amount of spots - keeps the viewer on the edge of their seat from start to finish, you've got a film that should have received much more praise than it did.

Adding to the goodness of the film is the fact that Rachel Miner is damned near flawless in the leading role. There's a few spots where I felt that a reshoot would have helped, but these are few and far between (and certainly nothing to bitch about in this review). A great setting and a fantastic script will only take you so far if the leading lady doesn't have the chops for the role, but I was pleasantly surprised to see that she handled it with ease. When her character is hysterical and on the verge of breaking down, you can plainly see it on her face - a stark contrast to the simple crying and screaming one has come to expect from these emotions when speaking of a horror film.

Highly recommended. There are a few clichéd moments to be found (do cell phones ever work in horror movies?) and there are a few spots that could have used some work in terms of storyline pacing, but these are minor quibbles when it comes to a horror film that does exactly what it should do: make the audience uneasy, keep them anticipating what's coming next, and above all else, tell a damned good story. Penny Dreadful does all of that, and I couldn't have been happier when the credits rolled. 8/10.
bluemeanie #1: bluemeanie - added June 5, 2007 at 9:34am
More tense and claustrophobic than I had thought it would be. My favorites of the After Dark Horror Fest have been "The Gravedancers" and "The Tripper", but this one is pretty enjoyable also. Somewhat Hitchcockian in the execution and it reminded me of "Cujo". 6/10.
Cryptorchild #2: Cryptorchild - added June 5, 2007 at 5:26pm
I liked this one a lot too. I think you really get the feel of the whole ordeal through her eyes. "The Tripper"? Which one are you talking about?
Chad #3: Chad - added June 5, 2007 at 5:30pm
There were two bonus movies in the festival - "Snoop Dogg's Hood of Horror" and "The Tripper".
bluemeanie #4: bluemeanie - added June 5, 2007 at 6:32pm
I thought I had already published a review for "The Tripper", but I just checked and it's not on the site. I think one slipped by me.
Cryptorchild #5: Cryptorchild - added June 5, 2007 at 6:57pm
Have those two movie been released? I'm suprised I haven't heard of them.
Chad #6: Chad - added June 5, 2007 at 7:06pm
Both have had limited theatrical runs, and I'm pretty sure they'll be on DVD sooner rather than later.
grain of sand #7: grain of sand - added June 7, 2007 at 6:53pm
the tripper was directed by david arquette, I saw it in a little theatre on its release, 4/20 and had a blast, I'd say the tripper is way better than all these After Dark films, by far.. but I did enjoy this one and reincarnation..
bluemeanie #8: bluemeanie - added June 7, 2007 at 7:10pm
THE TRIPPER hits DVD in October, as per their official site on MySpace.
George Snow #9: George Snow - added July 25, 2009 at 2:10am
I rented a pretty awful movie called HIDE and fell for Rachel Miner. So, I had to rent this, and she's good. It could have been better, nothing that shocking, but she's good.
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