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'In a town full of monsters, what makes someone monstrous?' Visiting Netflix's 'Hemlock Grove'

Photo of Alison Willmore By Alison Willmore | Indiewire April 17, 2013 at 1:11PM

If "House of Cards" is Netflix's bid at a "Mad Men," the company's next original title, the upcoming "Hemlock Grove," is its attempt at the less overtly prestigious and more obviously popular type of show that's currently dominating cable TV -- the sexy, bloody genre series.
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Bill Skarsgård and Landon Liboiron in 'Hemlock Grove'
Sophie Giraud for Netflix Bill Skarsgård and Landon Liboiron in 'Hemlock Grove'

"House of Cards," the Netflix original drama that premiered February 1 in a 13-episode, season one swoop, was a flag-planting series, a brand statement as much as a work of entertainment and art. David Fincher, Kevin Spacey, Robin Wright, Beau Willimon, Corey Stoll -- staffed with high-end talent and set in the weighty world of D.C. politics, "House of Cards" exudes prestige and has served (quite successfully) as a signal that Netflix, as a home for quality programming, intends to be placed next to the likes of HBO and AMC.

If "House of Cards" is Netflix's bid at a "Mad Men," the upcoming "Hemlock Grove" is its attempt at the sexy, bloody genre series -- the less overtly prestigious and more obviously popular type of show that's currently dominating cable TV. "The Walking Dead," "True Blood," "Game of Thrones" -- the supernatural saga for grown-ups has been a huge draw in the premium drama realm, and you don't need access to the levels of data Netflix collects from its users to understand why the company is eager to have a hot and gory show to call its own.

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And "Hemlock Grove," like "House of Cards," seems to be comprised of all the right ingredients -- a name director (Eli Roth), an ambitious writer (Brian McGreevy), a few movie stars (Famke Janssen and Dougray Scott) and some talented up-and-comers (Bill Skarsgård and Landon Liboiron). It's also positioned to take advantage of the content freedoms allowed to Netflix-only programming, as seen in a red band trailer released yesterday promising "mild fornication, fellatio, heavy cocaine use, lesbian necrophilia, violent hemorrhaging" in its MPAA-style warning.

All 13 episodes of "Hemlock Grove" will premiere Friday, April 19. Back in December, Netflix invited a group of journalists on set to catch the tail end of production. While set in Pennsylvania in a former steel town, the show was shot in Canada and made use of Oshawa's gorgeously creepy historic Parkwood Estate (which has served as a location for everything from "Billy Madison" to "Hollywoodland") as the home of the Godfreys, the town's wealthiest family and its de facto ruling class.

At the start of the series, the town of Hemlock Grove is rocked by the brutal killing of a young girl, though the investigation into who killed her reveals that many locals are harboring supernatural secrets. Vampires, werewolves, mad scientists and lab creations -- the search for who's behind the murder uncovers plenty of contemporary takes on classic monsters, but suggests the culprit may not be so obvious an uncanny outsider.

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Roth, who serves as executive producer on "Hemlock Grove," helmed the pilot, but had already headed off to work on his upcoming feature "The Green Inferno." Series director Deran Sarafian (a veteran of "House"), who was directing the final two episodes, spent a few minutes with the press to explain that the show's various guest directors had taken on two episodes each, in the style of "House of Cards."

He summed up the show as a "twisted, Lynchian experience" that's "almost like a graphic novel," and said that the freedom they were given will make it hard to go back to a network series after making what he called, in what's become the common Netflix refrain, more of "a 13-hour movie."

TV is hardly short of supernatural dramas of late, but the cast, who trickled into the room over the hours when they had a break from shooting, were quick to note that their characters didn't easily fit into the usual molds. Australian newcomer Penelope Mitchell, who plays Godfrey daughter Letha, notes that while the show can be "racy" and "intense," "it has a lot of heart," and that while many of the younger characters have powers, strange happenings and mysterious killings to deal with, they're also "all really going through basic teenage stuff."

This article is related to: Television, TV Features, Hemlock Grove, Netflix, Brian McGreevy