"The Weekend Rent offers quick-hit suggestions of what to watch at home to get psyched for new releases in theaters, on Friday."
Eli Roth is having a scary-good month. The Inglourious Basterds "Bear Jew" actor appears in front of the camera in the Chilean-American horror film Aftershock, which opens in limited release in theaters today and is also available on cable On Demand. The Nicolás López-directed shocker—cowritten and coproduced by Roth—is about a group of travelers in an underground Chilean nightclub when a massive earthquake hits. The survivors must struggle to the surface where they face the nightmare of anarchy and chaos after society temporarily collapses.
Behind the camera, Roth is riding high on the success of his Netflix original series Hemlock Grove, which he coexecutive-produced and directed based on a book by Brian McGreevy. Hemlock Grove is a fictional rusted Pennsylvania steel town near Pittsburgh where the mangled body of a young girl is found and has repercussions throughout the entire community. Many of the eccentric denizens become suspects as more young girls are killed, including the Godfrey clan (who basically own the town) and a newly arrived gypsy family. Hemlock Grove has some elements of Twin Peaks—which was also about how the murder of high school student Laura Palmer affected an entire community—but is free from the constraints of network TV and plays out more like HBO's True Blood in terms of the sex and violence shown.
Everyone in Hemlock Grove has a dark secret, including towering golden boy Roman Godfrey (Bill Skarsgard) who is able to make people do what he says just by staring deep into their eyes. He lives with his seemingly ageless mother, Olivia (Famke Janssen), a widow who smokes a lot, slinks around in fantastic clothing and snaps at the lower classes with a sharp British accent. Roman's sister, Shelley—a gentle giant who hides her facial disfigurement with her hair and speaks only through a smartphone's text-to-voice emulator—also lives in the Godfrey mansion and is feared by the community because she looks so different.
At the heart of the series is the budding bromance between Roman and the boy from the wrong side of the tracks, Peter Rumancek (Landon Liboiron). Peter is a gypsy who lives in a trailer with his free-spirited mom (Lili Taylor). Everyone in school thinks Peter is a werewolf, which turns out to be true, but only new pal Roman is allowed to watch his startling transformation (a triumph of makeup and CGI) at the end of episode two. Together the two try to hunt down the other wolf beast in town that is targeting young girls, but the more they mix with town's strange inhabitants, the more disturbing secrets they unearth about themselves and their families.
It takes a couple episodes for Hemlock Grove to heat up, but if you make it to Peter's transformation at the end of episode two, you might stick around to see what happens in this strange little town over 13 episodes. The supernatural shenanigans don’t always make literal sense, but there is a fever-dream quality to the show that combined with the fun Roth appears to have pushing gore effects to the limit (check out the face sliding off at the end of episode 12) will appeal to horror hounds. You might not know for sure who is really dead or undead by the end of the last episode, but here's to hoping Roth cooks up another crazy season.
The entire first season of Hemlock Grove is available now as part of Netflix's Watch Instantly streaming service, which costs $7.99 a month for unlimited access to the Watch Instantly library.
Follow Robert B. DeSalvo @zuulboy