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Collins’ Crypt: Reading HEMLOCK GROVE

Collins’ Crypt: Reading HEMLOCK GROVE

When I lived in Boston and took the subway to work every day, I would get through a normal sized book in a week or two; even something like "IT" from Stephen King or (yes) "Battlefield Earth" could be tackled in a month or so. But nowadays, I drive to work and with all my horror stuff, it takes me quite a while to get through even a short novel (hell, a MAGAZINE takes me a week) - I'm lucky if I get through 3 or 4 in an entire year. So I try to be choosy with what I read in the limited time I have to do so, and if you recall my marathon viewing of Hemlock Grove, you'd know that it didn't leave me with much desire to stay in that world. But, as "luck" would have it, my car broke down the following week and I needed to take the bus to work, so I grabbed Brian McGreevy's source novel (which I had won at Shock Til You Drop/Fangoria's Horror Trivia night at the Jumpcut Cafe) to keep myself entertained during the 30 minute/4 mile trip.

And it didn't take long to realize exactly why it would attract attention for someone looking to adapt a property, and also why the TV show was such a crushing bore. The concept is fine, and that last thing about werewolves and vampires forming uneasy alliances turned out OK for everyone involved (but this time it had actual sex). But here's the problem: the first episode of the Netflix series covers only the first TWENTY THREE PAGES of the novel, which would make even Peter Jackson's eyes roll. A sane producer would have easily been able to adapt this book into a 2, 2.5 hour movie - even a four hour miniseries might have been stretching it. It suffers from a few of the same problems as the TV show; namely a very boring central mystery where non-characters are being killed/barely mentioned again, but at least there's SOME semblance of a "stop him before he strikes again" scenario since these murders and minor investigations into them by Roman and Peter aren't so spread out. In the TV show, someone may finally inquire about a death two episodes after it occurs, but here it's just a few pages - you will actually remember who they are referring to when they follow up on something!

Oh, and it goes without saying that it takes less time to read the book than to watch the show. At 13 episodes running around 48 minutes on average, you're talking somewhere between 10-11 hours to watch the whole thing, but the book is only 318 pages, so you can probably finish it in half that time. And in doing so, you can skip all the half-baked, go-nowhere nonsense that the show introduced to pad things out. In the book, Olivia doesn't stop to put eye drops in her eyes every chapter, nor do we have to see the same dream sequences over and over. Most interestingly "absent" from the novel are the scenes with the past of Kandyse McClure's character Clementine Chasseur. The flashback of her training (?) where she was trapped in a cell with a werewolf was actually one of the better subplots on the show, but her character (who was recurring; not a "main cast" member like Famke Janssen or Dougray Scott) would disappear for large periods of time, and thus these bits were just tangents that never found their place in the show as a whole. In fact her boss, who is later revealed to be the guy trying to buy the Godfrey Institute, isn't really in the book at all - just mentioned once or twice (the LOD, LLC subplot is just as underwritten here as it was in the show - guess we can't blame them for that one, only for not fixing it).

Bizarrely, a lot of the things that I DID like on the show were of its own invention. I already mentioned Chasseur's fight in the cell, but in that same episode there was a charity event where Godfrey fights some drunk guy (whose wife is off blowing Roman in another room), and that was entirely the creation of the show (as were those two characters, I believe), and the murder of the sheriff's daughters is mentioned after it already happened, not given a (fairly intense) sequence. And my favorite line from the show ("Are you ever so cryptic...") may have come from McGreevy (who wrote many of the episodes) but it's not in the book, sadly. The antagonism between Olivia and Lynda (Lili Taylor) barely exists on the page as well - if you read the book you'd never expect an actress of Taylor's stature to take the role of Lynda, as she's barely a factor at all. It makes sense the show gave her more to do, but as with the above, it's just filler that ultimately only served to make the series more unfocused and dragged out than it already was to begin with.

One thing definitely lost in translation was the sense of humor. There are some funny lines here and there on the show, but McGreevy's prose, which can be irritating in its attempts to be clever, is often quite amusing, almost as if he detests many of his own characters. Anything that puts you in Roman's state of mind is usually pretty amusing, and there are frequent non sequitur asides that often made me chuckle or at least smirk in appreciation. He's also got a juvenile fascination with male genitalia; enjoy lines like "Peter's balls aged in dog years." and Roman explaining that he needs (a particular nuisance) like he needs "an extra ear on my dick to hear myself whack off". It takes a while to get used to McGreevy's writing style (a friend described it as "like Michael Chabon went on a Twin Peaks bender"), and I never completely warmed up to it, but at least it's got a personality that the show never conveyed (nor did it manage to come up with one of its own). Bates Motel is a mess, but at least it's not an aimless one, and its own attempts to be the next Twin Peaks are slightly more successful; I'm more concerned with what Jere Burns is up to on Bates after two episodes than I ever was about LOD, LLC or Dr. Pryce on Hemlock across thirteen of them.

One thing the show actually DID improve on was the book's ending, which is so rushed I wondered if McGreevy got the deal for the TV show before it was even finished and figured he could fix it on his second go-around. All the same things happen, but in a blur, and major developments get less space on the page than the author's description of the sound of a trash compactor in a previous chapter. The identity of Letha's baby daddy (Roman) could be missed entirely if you (understandably) skim one of his many run-on sentences, and it's unclear if he's ever even aware of what he did. Shelley's disappearance after the big wolf fight doesn't get the ambiguous coda that the show at least offered, and Peter's rebirth seems even stupider here than it did on the show, because it happens so quickly you have to wonder why they ever bothered to "kill" him in the first place. The bulk of the final episode covers what amounts to about 20 pages here, so at least these sendoffs and reveals are given a little more time to breathe on the show - it's just a shame any sane person would have long since stopped caring there. Maybe read up to page 298 and then watch the final episode for the ideal Hemlock Grove experience?

Needless to say, while some things were improved, the book is definitely the way to go if you simply MUST know the full details of what happens when a Gypsy werewolf and a spoiled rich kid who may also be a vampire team up to very lazily solve the murders of people you will never know anything about. Even putting aside the bonus of being able to get through it in half the time (and without subjecting yourself to the show's flat visuals), the book - while far from perfect - at least gives you a bit of flavor to the proceedings, and doesn't waste time on things that never have any real payoff or relation to the story at large.

Final note, I hope this can help end this new trend of over-adapting books. It's one thing to send off the Harry Potter series with two films from its 759 page book, but (the 390 page) Hunger Games? Or worse, The Hobbit, which (just like Hemlock) will take you less time to read than to watch the entire movie once all is said and done? Dragging things out does nothing but kill the potential of making a really strong adaptation of a novel for a long time - we'll have to wait until what, 2040 until enough time has passed for someone to make a new Hobbit that DOESN'T have 5 minutes of dishwashing singalongs because the new filmmaker realizes it doesn't need to be there? Similarly, maybe this generation's children will someday get a proper film/miniseries of "Hemlock Grove" and hear stories from their parents about how some nuts thought it needed thirteen goddamn episodes.

Brian Collins's photo About the Author: Brian, aka BC, has been watching horror movies since the age of 6, and twenty years later decided to put it to good use, both as a writer for Bloody-Disgusting as well as launching his own site, Horror Movie A Day, which Roger Ebert once read and misunderstood the points that were being made.
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