Hemlock Grove: Netflix’s gothic horrorfest returns for a second season

in Fiction by

While it might not get the accolades of House of Cards or the attention of Orange is the New Black, Netflix features another original series, one that takes a werewolf-sized bite out of its viewers’ appetite for horror.

Call it a macabre mix of Buffy the Vampire Slayer and An American Werewolf in London—it’s Hemlock Grove, and it returns for a second season on July 11. And while the series may not have the media coverage of Netflix’s other offerings, its renewal is bloody good news for its cadre of devoted fans.

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Brian McGreevy

The series is based on the 2012 horror/thriller novel from author Brian McGreevy. Set in the creepy, fictional town of Hemlock Grove, Pennsylvania, the story centers around Peter Rumancek, your typical 17-year-old gypsy werewolf with smoldering good looks; Roman Godfrey, heir to the mysterious Godfrey Institute for Biomedical Technologies (and himself a upyir, or half-human, half-demon vampire-like creature); and the gruesome, unsolved murder of a high school cheerleader.

During Season One, Peter and Roman become beastly BFFs as they set out to find the real killer. In the meantime, we see the town’s hidden layers revealed, often in a grisly and shocking manner that includes blood, strange creatures, shocking family secrets, and eye-popping human-to-werewolf transformations.

Still, the show’s creators point out that Hemlock Grove is intended to be a psychological thriller, not a blood-and-guts horror show. They’ve pointed to Roman Polanski, Stanley Kubrick, and Alfred Hitchcock as influences in the show’s creation.

Additionally, author McGreevy has referenced the classic gothic horror stories Frankenstein, penned by Mary Shelley, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula as inspirations, although he said he drew more from the classic Universal Studios movie versions than he did the original novels. Indeed, Season One of Hemlock Grove maintains a strong connection to that genre, both visually and in terms of characters and tone.

McGreevy spent six years writing the Hemlock Grove novel, and was rejected by six publishers and eight agents before the novel was picked up by Farrar, Straus and Giroux. In March 2012, he released an online graphic novel, Hemlock Grove: Reflections on the Motive Power of Fire. That project, set in the Hemlock Grove universe, served as a prequel to the events depicted in the original novel. McGreevy also serves as an executive producer on the television series.

The novel made a big splash upon its publication. “Fictional high schools are now so crowded with the supernatural that there are more creatures than cheerleaders,” wrote Yvonne Zipp in the Washington Post. “But Hemlock Grove offers horrors that hasn’t been sparkled up or watered down.” The Pittsburgh Tribune-Review said that the book “redeems monsters from literary cliché.”

Of Season One of the Netflix series, the Los Angeles Times wrote, “The discovery of everyone’s true nature is what propels Hemlock Grove . . . The scenery is evocative enough, and every once in a while, a truly chilling moment will unfold.” Variety pointed out that Hemlock Grove “is probably every bit as helpful in attracting and pleasing a certain elusive niche of subscribers (to Netflix).”

It’s that “elusive niche” that Netflix might be aiming for the most—the series seems to have struck a nerve with a specific demographic: teenage horror fans. While Netflix doesn’t release subscriber data that might be comparable to the traditional ratings system, the show appears to be a hit amongst that target audience. Hemlock Grove has substantial followings on social media, including Facebook, Twitter, Pinterest, and Tumblr. Additionally, numerous fan sites, blogs, forums, and fan fiction sites devoted to the show have appeared.

So in a new world of “made-to-order” streaming content, Hemlock Grove might be a signal of TV series to come—shows created not for everyone, but targeted for hardcore devotes of specific genres. Or, to paraphrase the classic horror films, “viewers who are pure at heart and say their prayers by night, but who love watching werewolves when the wolfbane blooms, and the moon is full and bright…”

Michael Ruscoe is a writer, teacher, and musician living in Southern Connecticut. He is the author of the novel, "From the Stray Cat Files: You’ll Do Anything," the anthology, "Baseball: A Treasury of Art and Literature," and numerous educational texts. An instructor at Southern Connecticut State University, Ruscoe is also lead singer and songwriter for the indie band Save the Androids! In his spare time he earns karma for his next life by ardently following the New York Mets. The proud father of two children, Ruscoe also cares for and supports a pair of goldfish, who, in all honesty, are not very good conversationalists.

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