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'Penny Dreadful' TV thriller promises sex, violence and scares

Judging by "Penny Dreadful's" first trailer — screened for TV critics for the first time at Thursday's Television Critics Association winter press tour — Showtime's upcoming horror series promises to be sexy, bloody and downright terrifying. 

Named after the sensational serial fiction of the nineteenth century, "Dreadful" stars Josh Hartnett as an American actor visiting Victorian London who, the actor explains, "finds himself in the middle of an intriguing situation — and sticks around to see what happens."

The ensemble cast includes former James Bond stars Timothy Dalton, Eva Green and Rory Kinnear along with Billie Piper ("Doctor Who"), Harry Treadaway and Danny Sapani.

Although "Penny Dreadful" is definitely scary, Green told critics, "This is a very human show — it's just not scary for the sake of it."

Among the intrigue are some iconic literary monsters, including Frankenstein's creature, Dorian Gray and Dracula. 

"Penny Dreadful" creator and writer John Logan (a three-time Oscar nominee who penned "Skyfall," "Hugo" and "The Aviator") said that his inspirations for the series are the monsters he "grew up loving" — and Romantic poetry. 

"William Wordsworth led me to Mary Shelley and then I read 'Frankenstein' again. … It's a deeply disturbing, human book. … I literally cried reading about the pathos and suffering of that poor, misunderstood, monstrous creature."

Logan says he was affected so deeply because of his sense of isolation "growing up as a gay man, before it was as socially acceptable as it is now."

"I knew what it was to feel different, to feel alienated, to feel not like anybody else. But the very same thing that made me monstrous to some people also empowered me, and made me who I was."

Logan calls himself a "total monster geek," saying that as a kid, "I liked Frankenberry cereal, I built the monster models, I totally watched the 'Groovie Ghoulies.' I'm always tempted to say we're kind of doing "Scooby-Doo' but I resist that temptation. … It's in my DNA, the absolute affection (and respect) I have for the genre." 

"Penny Dreadful" is set in 1891, but Logan insists "it's very much a modern show."

"There's something about this genre that can be both enlightening or a little bit elucidating, because it has the great gift of being separate from what we're used to," Hartnett told TODAY. "It's an allegory and yet, at the same time, there's a wink to it. It can be a good laugh as well. I love that about it." 

But frightening too. When TODAY asked whether "Penny Dreadful" will give the audience nightmares, Hartnett said with a laugh, "Hopefully!"

"Penny Dreadful" premieres Sunday, May 11 on Showtime.