A Cold Night’s Death – Rediscovering ‘Penny Dreadful’ (US 2006 – 92 mins)

Posted in Rediscover by - February 12, 2016
A Cold Night’s Death – Rediscovering ‘Penny Dreadful’ (US 2006 – 92 mins)

A modern horror that’s rightly gained a minor following, the engrossing nail-biter ‘Penny Dreadful’ is one of those little movies you stumble across by accident, but leaves you wanting more. A film that has the possibility to become a cult, it’s got an air of unease running throughout, and features a terrific performance by its lead actress.

Recovering from a childhood trauma, Penny (Rachel Miner) embarks on a road trip with her therapist Orianna (Mimi Rogers) to help conquer her fear of cars. Not long into their journey they accidentally knock down a mysterious figure standing in the middle of the road. Seemingly unhurt, they give the silent hitchhiker a lift, but after dropping him off, they realize he has punctured their tire. When Orianna disappears soon afterwards, Penny finds herself alone in the woods with the hitchhiker teasing and terrorizing her. Penny must now find the strength to conquer her fears and fight back against this silent stalker, who’s hell-bent on adding her to his kill-list.

Hardly an original idea, the standard story was elevated by the emotionally charged performance from Rachel Miner, who I think gave one of the finest performances in the horror genre in recent years. Also good was Mimi Rogers who had the rather difficult job of spending most of the movie as a frozen corpse! It was also fun seeing horror veteran Michael Berryman pop up at the beginning, as a gas station attendant.

Writer-director Richard Brandes did an excellent job, building the tension steadily and inserting a couple of genuine jump scares. I loved the creepy title sequence, and there were lots of blues and icy breathes to reflect the coldness of the night. Most of the tension came from Penny being trapped inside the car which had ended up wedged between two trees, with the majority of the tension coming from the car-bound scenes that followed.

There were some time-honoured touches here, such as cell phones without reception, and other phone lines dead, but a few unsuspecting jolts made up for any familiarity. I thought the climax was particularly strong and there was a nice foreboding touch right at the end, which hinted at a sequel. Though (perhaps thankfully) this has so far not materialised.

A tension-filled fright flick, ‘Penny Dreadful’ may cover familiar ground, but it’s far more than just another hitchhiker on the rampage movie. The above average direction and cinematography were excellent, but this was Rachel Miner’s film all the way, and she carried it brilliantly, making it a memorable addition to the ‘final girl’ sub-genre.

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