For many people in America, the popular urban legend of Bloody Mary has long been associated with a frightening, vengeful and malevolent figure who brings unspeakable terror to all those who summon her – by repeating her name three times, as the legend goes. Throughout the years, many have told their own stories of their devastating encounters, and posted them all over the web. Even though there exists a little more than a healthy level of skepticism about them, no one can deny the fact that this popular urban legend has become a huge part of popular culture in many ways.
While horror films such as 2008’s THE LEGEND OF BLOODY MARY, and URBAN LEGEND: BLOODY MARY have spooked moviegoers, the web series comedy THE BLOODY MARY SHOW has contributed its own unique take on the subject by posing the question: what if Bloody Mary wasn’t so evil? What if instead of freaking people out, she was actually pretty darn friendly?
The series premiered in 2012, and was written, produced and created by Darren Chadwick-Hussein. Pre-production is underway for its second season, with its first season of 7 episodes already streaming on its official web site and Youtube pages.
THE BLOODY MARY SHOW follows the adventures of a kinder, gentler Bloody Mary (played by Hollie Taylor). Even though she’s not inspired by the U.K. equivalent of her namesake, the notorious Mary I, Queen of England (a Roman Catholic known for her executions of Protestants who disagreed with her policies), she’s more aligned with the popular American legend who’s known to bring some pretty scary stuff to those who call her name.
Yet, while this incarnation of Bloody Mary only brings sweet treats (in all varieties) to everyone, she’s still a working stiff like the rest of us. The series’ Youtube page also features several ‘interviews’ with the characters, bringing viewers closer to them, their lives and the world they inhabit.
She spends her downtime with a wacky assortment of characters: Viscera (Elizabeth Webster), Bloody Mary’s temperamental, yet helpful best friend, based on the Old Hag who many have reported seeing during episodes of sleep paralysis (more on that later), plus Viscera’s wicked brother Abdabs (Thomas Coombes), a man who counts himself among a large, free roaming group of ‘Grim Reapers’ who take sheer delight in bringing humans to their early graves.
The show also stars Craig Daniel Adams as Chris, a talented, sexy singer whose success in the music industry, as well as any semblance of a good life, is always at risk due to his notorious penchant for the bottle. Erica Emm portrays the delightfully bitchy yet beautiful seductress Samantha, while Richie Hart plays the handsome aristocrat Amicus. Rounding out the ensemble is veteran horror writer David McGillivray as the mysterious Herzog, Tanya Duff as the wicked banshee Malevolent (played earlier in the series by Jenny Fitzpatrick), and Judith Rosenbauer as her sinister fairy godmother Carabosse.
Sleepless nights can be rough, but for those afflicted with sleep paralysis, they can also be terrifying. For Chadwick-Hussein, his real life struggles with the condition proved to be the impetus for the creation of THE BLOODY MARY SHOW. “Sleep paralysis is where your body is frozen, and you can’t move and you’re half asleep but your higher brain functions are still working. Essentially, you’re dreaming while you’re still awake. It’s quite possibly one of the most terrifying things that will happen to you in your life, and it happened to me. It’s a terrifying experience where you see hallucinations and things like that, and this is where these horrific oak demons come from. So, what I did was humanize what I saw.”
Adds Chadwick-Hussein, “In this case, I saw this creature that was so horrific. It was like, ‘how could I humanize this creature, so if it happens again I won’t be scared of it?’ This creature was part of a short film called WINIFRED, and her job was to go around and wake people up who were suffering from sleep paralysis because if they didn’t wake up, they would die. So she was there for the benefit of mankind. That started off as a short film that was too expensive to make live action. It would have worked if it was animation, but I wanted to do it live action.”
From there, Chadwick-Hussein began to conceive what would eventually become one of the web’s most popular and acclaimed series. First, he reworked WINIFRED’s script, with its main characters and story gradually transforming over time. “Originally, what I saw when I was doing sleep paralysis was the crux of the story. Through that I developed an online web series, so I decided to make a longer show and develop this character. However, what happened was it became so difficult to describe sleep paralysis to people to get them interested,” he says.
Chadwick-Hussein adds, “Having spent four years in Philadelphia, what I became aware of, (and) which we don’t have in England, was the legend of Bloody Mary, where you say her name three times and she appears. Through rewrites and rewrites, it became the character of Bloody Mary.” In the case of this series, the Bloody Mary legend known by most was transformed from a horrific harbinger of evil to a kind, welcoming presence as exemplified by Taylor’s portrayal.
Early on in the pre-production process, though, it was originally another primary character that served as the show’s foundation. “The character of Viscera, who is the overweight clown, (was) the original focus of the show. However, through the rewrites, Bloody Mary becomes the person who does the show. If you keep an eye on Viscera who is dressed as Pierrot (the famed French clown and pantomime character), she was the original Winifred. Through marketing and through research about how Youtube works and about how web series work, it became about Bloody Mary. It’s easier to market the show saying ‘what if Bloody Mary was nice?’ We wanted to make these characters human, even though they are not human. They go through everything that humanity goes through.”
With great, relatable characters, witty humor and plenty of blood and guts, THE BLOODY MARY SHOW’s first season became a hit with audiences. Yet, bringing the seven episodes to life on screen was quite a struggle for Chadwick-Hussein and his cast and crew. “We lost our director two weeks before production was due to begin. I raised all the money, I got all the equipment. The director was supposed to bring all the crew on board and his boss would not let him have that time off work. The production manager managed to connect me with a director, Vicky Howell, (and) I was under the impression that she did ‘chick flicks’. She read a script and she loved it, and she immediately came on board. We got all the cast and crew together, but because we were so close to the production date we didn’t have a lot of time to rehearse.”
As it turned out, Howell’s approach to the series was a success despite some early conflict between her and Chadwick-Hussein. “Vicky was phenomenal, but what I didn’t know was that she was a director of horror films, rather than chick films, so we clashed at certain points where she wanted to bring more gore into it, and I said, ‘no you can’t do this, this (show) is for teenage girls. We can’t have the blood, we can’t have guts.’ Yet I’m really glad that she pushed for that. We have a lot of the blood, we have the gore especially in the later episodes. She took us to places that I didn’t think we would go to. Because of Vicky’s direction it went to a much darker place (and) I’m really glad she did that. We worked really well together. We’re still friends now and I really hope when series two is written, I really hope that she’ll be on board.”
THE BLOODY MARY SHOW quickly gained a tremendous fan following online, and industry accolades soon followed in 2013. “The funniest thing was, I never saw it as a soap opera, but there’s a thing called the Indie Soap Awards (the weekly online viewers’ poll) and we were being nominated every episode for it. Last February, they had something called the Indie Soap Awards in New York. I got an email from them saying ‘you’re going to be nominated for a few categories, but that we’re going to tweet them live when they’re announced.’ I was like, ‘okay’. At the same time I already put myself into the LA WebFest. It was going to be like, I could do one or the other. I’m going to go to New York. I’m going to go to L.A. I went to have a look at Twitter as they were announced. All these nominations were being done, and in the end it was 9 nominations for the Indie Soap Awards. I was like, ‘oh sh*t! I’m going to have to go to New York!”
It was there that the little web series that could – did, stunning the competition. “We won three at the Indie Soap Awards for best makeup, best comedy ensemble and best comedy. We beat Joss Whedon’s show. We beat HUSBANDS. (The BUFFY, FIREFLY, AVENGERS and AGENTS OF SHIELD maven was nominated for best supporting actor for that series.) HUSBANDS won best comedy actor (Brad Bell) and we won best comedy. It was phenomenal, this little show I’d written to get over the fact that I had sleep paralysis, and that I was depressed, and that I had a drinking problem at the time. All these things I’d written were suddenly recognized. It was like, ‘I did this, and not just some guy?”
Initially, the world of web series was uncharted territory for Chadwick-Hussein, but as a result of the incredible success of THE BLOODY MARY SHOW, he would soon become something of an authority on the topic in England. “At the time, I was simply discovering web series. It was something that I’d done a little bit of research on. I was still naive when it came to online shows. I thought, ‘Haha! Instantly, millions of people are going to watch my show, and they’re not. I’d only be looking at five people.’ So, it was such a big massive learning curve for me to create this show. Since then, I’ve kind of become one of the leading experts on independent web series in this country. It’s like becoming a professor of mollusks. It’s such a small thing. It’s quite weird. If I’d done my research, would I have done a lot of things differently? Yes, I probably would, and probably the show would have suffered,” he recalls.
THE BLOODY MARY SHOW is unlike many original series produced for the web, not just because of its great writing, production and acting performances but also because of the depth of its characters – people who may come from a fantasy world but who experience problems and trials we all encounter in real life. “My background is in ongoing, continuing television drama. I’m not blowing my own trumpet here. I understand what makes people come back. It doesn’t matter what it is. If it’s a good story well told, then people will be most interested,” he says.
“Also, at the same time, you’ve got to have characters that are different but also relatable. It doesn’t matter that these characters are monstrous, but that they’re all suffering problems that you (average viewers) are suffering as well. These are all things that everybody goes through. If you can understand these characters, you can understand where they’re coming from, and you can follow their stories,” adds Chadwick-Hussein.
Another key difference between THE BLOODY MARY SHOW and many others is that it truly provides a showcase for actors who want to make a name for themselves with their talents. “With a lot of web series, it’s quite often the wacky adventures of out of work actors. It’s like, ‘because I haven’t seen a billion of those before?’ There are so many of them, and they’re so dull. If you’re an actor and you want to show your range, do something different. Writing something incredibly dull about being an actor is really, really dull. Do something wonderful, which is why people like (shows like) JUSTICE WOMAN,” he says.
“All these shows are absolutely wonderful because they are showing the range of what people can perform to. They’re not doing, ‘look at my wacky adventures while I’m an out of work actress!’ These are actually people who are doing wonderful, fabulous roles, and that’s why they’re getting recognition. Whereas something with a wacky flat mate will get 10 views, while (shows like) JUSTICE WOMAN will get thousands and thousands of views because it’s something different.”
As a result, THE BLOODY MARY SHOW isn’t just another web series. While it’s got plenty of gore mixed with its trademark British humor, it’s a show with heart, with intelligent storytelling, plus situations and characters that will make people instantly take notice. “People want to experience what is different out there. They don’t watch TV to see themselves. They watch TV to see something else. People still want to see good stories well told. I hope THE BLOODY MARY SHOW is one of the things out there that stretches what people want to watch. I wanted to create a show that I would want to watch, and I don’t want to watch a bunch of out of work actors saying ‘oh, look at my wacky adventures as an out of work actor!’. I want to see something fun.”
(Note: The series is currently closed captioned, with translations also in German. Chadwick-Hussein painstakingly created caption tracks for each episode on Youtube, a necessity given the site’s notoriously difficult automatic captioning system.)
ON THE WEB: http://www.bloodymaryshow.co.uk