Creating a horror television show is a tricky feat. It requires balancing the right amount of shock-and-gore along with compelling characters to keep fans clamoring for more – and Netflix’s HEMLOCK GROVE delivers on both. Helmed by horror master Eli Roth and based on the terrifying world created in Brian McGreevly’s book, HEMLOCK GROVE weaves together characters that raise the hair on the back of your neck yet draw you in deeper and deeper into a supernatural mystery story.
When a young teenage girl is found mauled to death, fear and suspicions abound as a gypsy boy (Landon Liboiron) is rumored to be a werewolf. Peter and his mother (Lili Taylor) had recently moved to Hemlock Grove in hopes of settling there after his uncle’s death; but their heritage makes them unwelcome in a community that seeks to keep its deep, dark secrets buried. Reigning over the town is the ultra rich Godfrey family, who prey on the unsuspecting populace. Everyone feels a slight unease with the Godfrey family, who despite their glamor remain aloof; not to mention they own a medical facility that is thought to house untold scientific experiments.
Just who or what is stalking their youth, and how do the Godfreys and the gypsies figure into the lurking sense of unnaturalness surrounding them, those are the mysteries that slowly unfold throughout the 13-episode horror series.
During press interviews at WonderCon in Anaheim, executive producers Eli Roth, Mark Verheiden, Lee Shipman, along with director Deran Sarafian and author Brian McGreevy provided some insight into murder, mystery and intrigue that layer HEMLOCK GROVE.
How did the HEMLOCK GROVE series come together?
ELI: It was a crazy, fun, exciting thing to shoot. I’ve been wanting to get into television for a while and there was always an inherent problem that I could never quite solve, which was that what makes horror great is that any one can die at any second, and what makes television great is it has characters that you love and come back to see week after week. Then as things started evolving in television, you have THE WALKING DEAD and GAME OF THRONES and BOARDWALK EMPIRE and you see these very violent stories playing out over long periods of time, you could feel the medium was evolving — and of course what Ryan Murphy did with AMERICAN HORROR STORY was terrific. But it was producer Eric Newman who did THE LAST EXORCISM who brought me the novel and manuscript for HEMLOCK GROVE and we read it and we thought, “This is it.” This could be a like a very monstrous TWIN PEAKS. It’s a murder mystery. It’s about something rising from the ashes of steel town America. And we pitched it to Netflix and they were so excited to go for it and we loved the idea of doing something new that was bold and different and having every episode really available for you and really approaching it like a 13-hour movie. Then working with someone like Deran, we have someone who is so experienced in television and in feature films. So when we talked about the werewolf transformation or the attacks or the kills, we knew that he was going to photograph the dramatic stuff and it would look beautiful. He cared about the horror scenes the way I did. He was just a perfect partner.
DERAN: I’ve been a big fan of Eli’s before this started, but when we started this, Eli said, “What I want to do is I want to do something that is reminiscent of great horror, but I want to twist it.” And he brought up David Lynch and people we all aspire to ’cause it’s like looking at a Picasso. We want to be like that. So we got into this with the mindset that we need to twist this and make it different, and one thing Eli told me early on, which became the thing we kept, he said, “Look at a rock. We’re going to film that. But don’t film the rock; film what’s underneath the rock. There’s a whole world going on under there.” Which I thought was brilliant. We get more under that rock as the series goes on.
ELI: I was so impressed with Brian’s research. In particular, the research about the root mythology of what Bram Stoker based DRACULA on. Upiers and vargules and all that. It’s literally the original folklore that the novels were based on. But setting it in this world where biotech has risen out of the ashes and these new monsters are being created — and using that as a metaphor for teenagers. It was a very dark, twisted novel, unapologetically so, but fascinating and strange.
The series takes a lot of risks, in particular by allowing your two male characters to work together so quickly, where normally they’d be protagonist and antagonist. So to see them work together and bond made it seem more interesting.
ELI: I love it when you play out long-term mythology, like in the early X-MEN movies where they are working together and you’re like, “That’s so cool! Magneto and Xavier, they were friends and they worked together” and you want to see the moment where they split apart. Of course it’s fun. You want to have somewhere to go in Season 2 and 3. If you start them off as enemies then you can go from there; but starting them off as friends who work together, these other sides of them can come out. That’s the nice thing about a story like this — you can play with the design.
What can viewers expect from HEMLOCK GROVE?
DERAN: We want to be the shark under the water. We really do. That’s the whole idea. The ad campaign is so right on: “The monster within.” We didn’t want it just to be a big monster show. This is a story more about what David Lynch did so well, was to get into the duality of who people are, what they are all about.
ELI: Nobody is what it seems. There was also that cold sterility of an isolated wealthy world, where these people with money in these gorgeous old houses have the saddest, most upsetting lives. Like Roman’s house feels like a sterile, strange museum. We didn’t want it just to be a gory show; we wanted to create an really cool, interesting, creative world.
Will this first season be a bookended story, meaning will the mystery of who is killing all these girls be resolved?
LEE: It will be completely satisfying.
MARK: Basically at the end of the season it will have a satisfying conclusion.
BRIAN: I think it is a mistake to stretch your narrative story that much. So in writing the book and writing this season, that was absolutely something we had in mind.
In adapting the book to the series, were significant changes required?
BRIAN: Not really. The show adheres structurally to the book pretty closely, which is one of the main reasons why Netflix bought it. ‘Cause if you look at their first wave of shows, they are all either adaptations or in the case of ARRESTED DEVELOPMENT, it’s just a new season of an existing project. So they were pretty specific in purchasing projects with built in architecture.
So at what point do the book and the show diverge?
BRIAN: After the end of Season 1.
MARK: Season 2.
LEE: I can say that there’s plenty of expansion of the book that will surprise fans of the book as well.
MARK: We started with a great set of material and then were able to elaborate on that some, so there are surprises in it for those who have read the novel. A couple big surprises.
You have added an extra layer of mystery to the series by having Roman (Bill Skarsgard) not even be aware of his supernatural identity yet. What was the reasoning for that decision?
BRIAN: He’s more in denial of it in the same way that he’s also capable of pretty dark and violent mood swings, that he is equally in denial of in the light of day. That to me is fairly representative of human beings as a whole.
He’s not even just in denial, he chose right away the role, “I’m going to be the hero of this story.”
BRIAN: That itself is a kind of denial. Basically he is establishing his own identity through negation. “I am not . . .”
MARK: Everyone is the hero of their own story. So I think that’s Roman. He doesn’t want to believe that he’s this dark character. He wants to believe there is good in him.
BRIAN: The idea behind that character is that fundamentally he’s pretty good-hearted. But there’s also another side to him that is a complicating factor.
What can you share about the inclusion of the Godfrey Institute storyline?
LEE: There is a pretty fascinating intersection between the supernatural and science. In the series there is a biomedical facility and it was not constructed by accident. There is something special about this place. What is happening there is not by accident.
For those who dare to watch, HEMLOCK GROVE promises to take its viewers down a very dark and twisted rabbit-hole where monsters lurk in the shadows and someone is viciously killing the nubile inhabitants of Hemlock Grove, so be sure to check out the premiere of HEMLOCK GROVE on Friday, April 19th. As a special treat, Netflix will simultaneously release all 13 episodes at the same time so fans can enjoy a full feast of the entire first season — for once you get a taste of HEMLOCK GROVE, you may find yourself wanting to indulge in a bit of “binge” viewing to satiate your darker appetite.
Tiffany Vogt is the Senior West Coast Editor, contributing as a columnist and entertainment reporter to TheTVaddict.com. She has a great love for television and firmly believes that entertainment is a world of wondrous adventures that deserves to be shared and explored – she invites you to join her. Please feel free to contact Tiffany at Tiffany_Vogt_2000@yahoo.com or follow her at on Twitter (@TVWatchtower).