Friday, January 05, 2018

Honourable mention: Lore: They Made a Tonic

This was the first episode of the first season of a made for Amazon series (based on a podcast, I understand) and directed by Darnell Martin. It is, going by this episode, a dramatized documentary and this episode roots us into the folklore of the vampire – specifically the folklore (and events) emerging from 19th Century New England.

As it opens a simple animation takes us through the story of Mary E Hart who died but was disinterred (due to a dream, apparently) and was found to have been buried alive – if the scratches on the coffin and the horror etched into her features were to be believed.

The fear (and reality) of being buried alive was fascinating, of course, but had little to do with the case the episode goes on to explore – that of Mercy Brown (played age 10 by Pamela Riley Sauve and age 19 by Hannah Culwell). I assume most readers will know the story but for those who don’t Mary’s mother and sister (Mary Simmons) died of consumption (tuberculosis). Her brother (Connor Hammond) later became ill and was sent away for treatment. Whilst he was away Mercy sickened and died.

Ill again
On his return he became Ill again and her father (Campbell Scott) was approached with the idea that a demon could rest in the heart of a person, kill them and then have them continue to kill from beyond the grave. If the corpse of a recently deceased was found to be fresh – with blood in the heart – then the demon resided there. Reluctantly he allowed his wife and daughter to be disinterred and then they opened Mercy’s coffin, declared her the one (despite, as he points out in the dramatization, that she died after her mother and sister), cut out her heart and liver, incinerated them and gave the ashes in water to the sick brother as a tonic – he died despite this (unsurprisingly).

a spectral Mercy
Mercy’s case made American newspapers and so is rather famous – though the idea that it inspired Dracula is a stretch. Stoker certainly knew about the case (and had a press clipping in his notes for Dracula) but the likelihood is that the writing of the book was well underway when he found the clipping and, whilst it may have played a little into the novel's ideas, its role of “original inspiration” is unlikely. The dramatization does see a spectral Mercy walking the halls and grounds of the family home but the episode does not suggest this is actually happening and is for atmosphere (nothing I have read suggests that her father was anything other than sceptical but resigned about the desecration).

checking the corpse
The actual dramatization moments are well shot but I found the veering off onto concerns about being buried alive to be superfluous. The narration by Aaron Mahnke was nothing special but did what it had to do. There was more that could have been explored around other acts of disinterment of suspected American vampires – the excellent work of Michael Bell indicates this was not an isolated case, just the most publicised.

The imdb page is here.

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