Lore review: Amazon series unleashes terrifying horror stories of vampires, witches and monsters
Lore review: The new Amazon Original show, based on the cult podcast by Aaron Mahnke, offers chilling true-life horror stories, albeit of inconsistent quality.tv Updated: Oct 13, 2017 09:43 IST
Cast - Campbell Scott, Colm Feore, Robert Patrick
Rating - 3/5
“Everything you are about to see is based on actual people and events.”
This is how every episode of Lore, the new anthology series on Amazon, begins. White text against a black background. No fuss. No frills. Just a familiar message that despite its abuse, remains rather chilling to this day. How often have we read similar words, making promises we know they cannot keep? How often have we been proven right?
But this is not how Lore, the podcast that inspired this series, began. And it is one of the many changes – some small, others large – that creator Aaron Mahnke has made to his show, in its transition from auditory to visual experience.
In my desperation to find another podcast to fill the void Sarah Koenig’s Serial had left, I stumbled upon Lore. It wasn’t true crime – which was annoying – but its premise was undeniably intriguing. So, I gave it a shot. Mahnke, like Koenig, hosts the programme, and for about 15-20 minutes, his unremarkable voice is the only company you have.
In those 15-20 minutes, Mahnke tells scary stories about monsters and demons, ghosts and murderers; old campfire tales that have inspired new campfire tales.
As with most such anthologies, it would be foolish to expect every episode to be uniformly excellent. It’s understandable for one to be better than another. And after listening to about 20 episodes of the podcast, like a bored poltergeist, these inconsistencies really do make themselves known.
Which could possibly explain why only three episodes of the TV show were made available in advance. But no matter, it shouldn’t take more than three episodes to understand a show’s tone anyway, and Mahnke makes enough intelligent choices to justify this move.
For example, the first episode of both the podcast and the show – They Made a Tonic – tells the same story. But there is crucial difference in the show that considerably elevates it. While the podcast (presumably) sounds more like reading an old newspaper report about a very particular tragedy – a New England farmer loses all his children to consumption in the 1890s, and turns to witchcraft as a last resort – the show flips the narrative on its head. It delivers, in its final moments, a knockout reveal that Mahnke had, for some reason, chosen to open the podcast episode with.
And this rewriting, this tinkering and perfecting of older scripts – in addition to animated sequences, documentary footage, and archival photographs – adds another dimension to these horror stories.
It doesn’t take much concentration to spot a running theme in each of the first three episodes. There has been, for centuries, a clash between spirituality and science, rationality and absurdity. Confronted with death, these stories suggest, man is reduced to nothing. For comfort, redemption, and salvation, he turns to the irrational.
Which is why a sensible, and increasingly agnostic man in Episode 1, in a last-ditch attempt to save his only remaining child from certain death, falls for the cockamamie tales of a superstitious fool.
A demon has possessed his children, he is told, and the demon can only be defeated if the bodies of his dead family are exhumed, their hearts cut out of their chests and examined, and then burned at the stake. From the ashes, a tonic must be made, and the last remaining child must drink it, this tonic made from the burnt hearts of his dead siblings. It his is only chance of survival.
Episode 2, about the father of lobotomy, Dr Walter Freeman, tells a different sort of horror story; a story about greed and ego, which left thousands of helpless people irreparably damaged. It begins with photos of turn-of-the-century mental asylums – horrid, graphic photos of patients living in tragic conditions, subjected to humiliation and punishment. Dr Freeman offers a cure – a simple procedure that, even if performed by monkeys, lasts only 10 minutes.
For almost 20 years, Dr Freeman continued peddling his cure. He performed over 3500 lobotomies until it was finally outlawed, and his license revoked.
And that, in essence, is Lore. It’s a moderately spooky series, which with a little more tinkering, can turn into something really good.
Watch the Lore trailer here