Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 16


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1197

Angelique interrupts the execution to deliver Judah’s head as evidence that Dawson and Stiles were behind the witchcraft at Collinwood. Afraid that he might escape, Desmond shoots an incensed Gerard, causing the possession to end. The head dissolves to an empty skull and Quentin is freed. Later, as Quentin reunites with Daphne, Barnabas sees Bramwell, on fire with jealousy over Catherine’s engagement, in the Parallel Time room. Going to the courthouse to free Angelique, he learns that she has been released. At Collinwood, he finds her, but Barnabas is unable to tell Angelique that he loves her before Lamar Trask shoots her.

On DARK SHADOWS, you can turn back the clock, but you can never stop time. And that’s one of the great tragedies of the show. There is a singularly unique, heartbreaking energy to those moments in the foyer when Quentin just knows that Barnabas wants Angelique. It’s clear. And he points him toward the drawing room. And Barnabas goes. And the only words that demand to be said are the only words that aren’t. There is some occult energy between the frames in that endless second. A five-year ritual working is at last delivering.

There is more irony here than in the entire TWILIGHT ZONE canon. Certainly more poignant. Angelique, felled by the one part of her curse that she forgot to lift. Killed at last by a Trask in the manner that Barnabas tried to do employ in 1795… the act that brought on the curse in the first place. She’s killed for an association with sorcery that is now a part the past she can never escape… after having been part of the past that Barnabas could never escape. This is the kind of irony that you slice into chunks and keep in the basement for the winter. But it’s not forced. As I said before, it’s inevitable. It is, as James Whale might have said, “part of the ritual.”

After watching the near-entirety of the series, this sequence is eviscerating. Especially after meeting his own son in Parallel Time and seeing how furiously tormented and shrill he is at being denied love. Very few DARK SHADOWS episodes are such freight trains of joy, and this one was too good to last. The shot heard ‘round Collinsport and my childhood more than drown out the laughter and gaiety of Quentin and Daphne and Desmond. In this episode and the next, DARK SHADOWS at last earns the mantle of horror show. But not one where fear and anguish are delivered by ambassadors of the supernatural. This comes from real horror. Real cruelty. The weapon is the human heart. The ammunition? The sickening knowledge that ego delayed happiness and salvation until neither could be seized and enjoyed. What use is being a hero if the peace you create is the last thing you’ll be allowed to share?

The message? Prize your passion without ego and without delay because nothing is permanent. How long did it take Angelique to do the right thing? How long did it take Barnabas to look past his parents’ expectations and follow his heart?

How long?

One gunshot too long.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 15


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1196

Angelique’s attempt to thwart Judah is stalled when he appears in Gerard’s guise and robs her of her powers. She is reminded that he gave them to her in the 1690’s when she was known as Miranda Duval. They take her to Dawson’s, and her peril is clear, but faster than you can hashtag a metoo, she smacks the advocate over the head with a candlestick and escapes. Meanwhile, Barnabas vows to Quentin that he will deal with Gerard and then take care of Tad. Letitia and Desmond marry in his cell, and with Quentin, the new groom goes off the face the headsman with the casual calm of the just. Meanwhile, in Parallel Time, the elderly Justin becomes incensed when it is suggested that Catherine might be joining the family and exposing herself to the curse.

My favorite episodes of DARK SHADOWS are payoff episodes. Rarely has a slow burn paid off in such a spectacular manner. Probably because this has been slowly burning for three years and finally wraps up, pretty much, the series. The key question: is it satisfying? Immensely, and as the first of three episodes, it’s only beginning.

All of the potential energy for Angelique to be a force for good is released by just the chance that Barnabas might believe in her. But there are transformations and resolutions all over the episode. Judah Zachary no longer has to wear the mask of Gerard, and James Storm manages the new character with an elegantly brutal menace. He takes her powers as easily as she took Barnabas’ curse. The ease of both actions mocks the years of struggles endured to cure one and mitigate another. Yep. It really was just that simple. For someone in power, anyway.

Speaking of transformations and resolutions, the scene between Barnabas and Quentin in the jail cell sums up who Barnabas is by series’ end. When Quentin unfurls a laundry list of requests, Barnabas assures him, “I will do it all.”

Words for the character -- almost -- to go out on. Anyone doubting who Barnabas is (prior to Angelique’s death) need only hear that one sentence. Not the monster who kidnapped Maggie. Not the indecisive worrywart who semi-bungled through Adam and the Leviathans. No. This man. The clay is out of the kiln, and there should be no doubt that this IS Barnabas Collins. Everything else was just a rough draft.

Finally, I love the strange, macho-buddy pallsiness of Quentin and Desmond as they Bo and Luke their way to the headsman’s block. It’s taken nearly five years, but DARK SHADOWS finally has a masculine moment with more than two butch actors on screen at the same time. If they’d only had Mitch Ryan, it would have looked like a Rat Pack movie. They are ending an era. My, how a little show about a lost girl from New York has changed. 

Thursday, January 11, 2018

Amazon Prime gets "darker" in the UK, America

Amazon Prime subscribers in the UK woke up to good news yesterday morning: All 1,225 episodes of DARK SHADOWS are now available streaming on Prime. This number includes all 26 DVD collections, as well as the six volumes that make up DARK SHADOWS: THE BEGINNING, the so-called "Pre-Barnabas years."

It wasn't too shabby a morning here in the US, either. While there are still a few missing pieces, Amazon Prime subscribers in America have access to all but seasons 18, 20 and 21. (UPDATE: The only collection now missing from Prime is 18.) All six collections of DARK SHADOWS: THE BEGINNING are also available for the first time ever. Why there's a discrepancy between Prime offerings in the UK and US is anybody's guess, but it's possible those American gaps will be filled in soon.

And don't forget: MPI Media Group has also launched www.darkshadows.tv, a streaming service devoted to all things DARK SHADOWS, which includes all 1,225 episodes of the series, the "Fan Favorites" and "Best of Barnabas" collections, as well as a number of "exclusive" bonus videos are streaming.

Tuesday, January 9, 2018

Podcast Alert: Tony & Cassandra Are Assigned


In June 2016, David Darlington, co-producer of Big Finish Production's DARK SHADOWS ranges, and I flew to New York to attend the Tarrytown celebrations for Dark Shadows' 50th Anniversary.

When the fans visited the Big Finish tables, they all had requests for what they'd like to hear from the range... "Something with Julia", "More Tony and Cassandra", "Quentin and Laura in Eygpt", "More Tony and Cassandra", "What Happened Next to Adam", "More Tony and Cassandra"... All weekend, over and over, we were asked for further adventures of Tony and Cassandra. And it wasn't just us... when we were chatting with Lara Parker and Jerry Lacy about the stories they had both recently been writing for Big Finish they told us they'd been delighted by the requests for more they had been getting.

So make more Tony and Cassandra we did. David and fellow co-producer Joseph Lidster got to work on The Tony and Cassandra Mysteries and - with script-editor Alan Flanagan - assembled their team of writers and a company of actors who could take on the guest roles in all four plays. And over in LA Jerry and Lara got ready to crack four more cases, this time joined by Jerry's wife, the multi award-winning Julia Duffy, as Tony's secretary Rita Channing.

I attended the UK recording sessions and spoke to Davy, Joe and Alan... and the four writers and four guest actors to see what mysteries I could solve myself.

You can download the episode as an MP3 file by clicking HERE, or listen to is streaming below.

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 8


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 405

Barnabas arranges for Josette to be moved to a remote location where he will later join her. When Angelique discovers this, she goes predictably ape and tortures Sarah via a voodoo doll to prove that she still wears the pointy hat in the family. Barnabas has had all he can stands and can’t stands no more, and just shoots her. It’s a fatal shot, but it leaves her enough time to curse him with words that will later curse even her: anyone who loves him will die. Much like with Bruce Wayne, a bat smashes through his window and bites Barnabas on the neck.

Barnabas Collins is the Inspector Clouseau of the DARK SHADOWS universe… and I mean that as a high compliment. In true Punchinello style, he mixes abject, hand-wringing fear with a bravado that has no interest in reality. When he smirks, it’s almost inevitably a sign that he’s in for a fall. I said ‘almost.’ Because of this, his moments of victory have the indescribable sweetness of the astoundingly rare. In 405, however, there is no victory… only the worst defeat of his life. We can rely on Gordon Russell to deliver a script of nimble power play between Barnabas and Angelique, and Jonathan Frid plays the build-up as if he were wisely navigating between Noel Coward and Edward Albee. His mellow smugness with Angelique is the perfect and satisfying retort to months of extortion and abuse. Barnabas finally has this one by the tail. For a moment. Unfortunately, he’s still no great shakes as a duelist and has never heard of a head shot. Come to think of it, poison would have done the trick.

Frid’s downplayed haughtiness portends the fall to come beautifully. He rarely seems this confident, and the same can be said for Barnabas. No real line trouble, either. Hijinx and exposition are senseless bores to memorize. Characters in vital action have easy lines to remember. The other hero of the episode is Lara Parker, who crafts such a playful menace that she must be a reincarnated cat. It’s the only explanation for her complex approach to mixing fury and sadistic fun.

The real hero of the beach, however, is Bill Baird. The guy swings a mean bat. He gets Frid on the neck with uncanny precision. A noted puppeteer, Bill had a ripe career in his field. He was the author of the steamy tell-all, THE ART OF THE PUPPET, and and was honored in 1980 by the Union International de la Marionette and Puppeteers of America at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

Bil Baird with his lion puppet, Charlemane.

On this day in 1968, Jaques Cousteau became the most prominent, French seaman on TV with the airing of his first special. Mickey Dolenz celebrated this by having his wife give birth to their daughter, Ami, on the very same day.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 7


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 666

Ben stops Forbes from staking Barnabas, killing both him and the Countess in the process. In the present, Willie and Julia fret over how to draw Barnabas back to the present. In 1796, Barnabas helps Ben with disposing of Forbes and Natalie before being rechained in his coffin. Meanwhile, Willie’s trip to the mausoleum is fruitless. Later, however, the ghost of Josette implores Willie to return to the coffin. Barnabas materializes within, eager to escape.

The 1796 sequence ends with high adventure and some deeply satisfying moments, shifting back and forth between the past and the present. Seeing Nathan Forbes shoot Ben... only to have Ben shake it off like a an ineffectual mosquito bite... and come back swingin’?  THAT was fantastic enough for a week’s worth of episodes. But to have him induce a heart attack simply by looming over Natalie? Even better. Rarely has DARK SHADOWS cleaned house in quite that way, The 1790’s has been veddy, veddy good to the franchise and to audiences, and it’s nonetheless time to move on. If there were any real reason to do this sequence, it would be to close the lid on that, clean up the loose ends, and prepare the table for Uncle Quentin. 666 readies us for the insanity of 1897 by using the same kind of insanity to end 1796. We may still be at Collinwood, but the rules are wildly different.

Taking us full circle is the fabulous moment when John Karlen recreates his famous disentombing of Barnabas, and expectations have never been more skewed. Notable also is Grayson Hall’s turn as Julia. Standing in the cemetery, imploring the cosmos to return Barnabas, I am gobsmacked at how that character has changed from the hard-edged, empiricism-driven scientist we met back in 1967.

It’s been an interesting two years.

On this day in 1969, the WALKING DEAD’s Norman Reedus tore his way from his mother’s innards with a piercing shriek. So, happy birthday!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 4


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1187

Daphne reports on the events in the Parallel Time room, and later, the visions reappear. Now, Julia Collins learns that Morgan plans to bring a new love to Collinwood, despite the fact that no one new may be allowed in for reasons he clearly knows. In Main Time, Daphne sees that Edith is dead and assumes that Gerard is the killer. Instead, she learns that it was Gabriel, who rises from his chair to attack her.

Parallel Time strikes again as one forgotten storyline melts into a more forgotten storyline. I champion both 1840 and 1841PT. Because they may be the least-seen, I think of them as DARK SHADOWS’ bonus prizes, and if you can watch for months about pens and bleeder valves and the best lobster in Logansport, Vicki, you can watch this. Both time periods have hidden, dramatic gems and are visually sumptuous. By skewing the era a tad, vibrant costumes were introduced for 1841PT, and for the first time, they were custom made rather than rentals. The show’s hair and makeup design is also differing, allowing Grayson Hall and Lara Parker to have strikingly decadent looks. It’s the second time we see Morgan Collins, and I remain fascinated and a little challenged by the show’s last leading man (and eventual heavy), Keith Prentice. Yet another BOYS IN THE BAND alum, Prentice is easily the loudest actor on the show as the character becomes truly manic. Right now, he’s painted as a quietly tortured lover, bucking Collins tradition to bring someone new to the house. With the re-introduction of PT, it’s time to wrap up 1840, and as Gabriel rises from his chair, we’re reminded of just what a giant Christopher Pennock is -- and how frightening. The episode ends on a wonderful note of fear as he lurches to attack, like a strange cross between Boris Karloff and Dr. Strangelove.

On this day in 1971, Ohio agrees to pay $675,000 to relatives of Kent State victims. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 3


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 665

Angelique explains to Barnabas that Vicki was under her protection when she hanged, and would come back to life. True? False? Doesn’t matter. Barnabas and Ben have had it, and simply burn Angelique to cinders. Good riddance. Turns out, she is alive and tearfully leaves Barnabas with Peter Bradford to go west, where medical care is even worse than on the east coast. She still doesn’t understand. Meanwhile, Countess Natalie and Millicent discover that Barnabas is a vampire. As Barnabas sentimentally parts from Ben with orders that he be chained “alive,” they summon Nathan Forbes. The trio enters the “secret” room in the mausoleum, lift the coffin lid, and slam a stake downward.

If all of DARK SHADOWS moved at the pace, decisiveness, and economy of 665, Sam, Gordon, Ron, Joe, Violet, and Malcolm would have needed suites at Windcliff within a week. It’s a marvel to behold. I think twice as much happens in these twenty-three minutes than in the first twenty-three weeks of the show’s run. You know, back when it (felt like it) took Liz five episodes just to answer the phone. It is a marvel of satisfaction, putting an “I’ll always remember you, Scarecrow” finality to the story of Victoria Winters while giving Barnabas a new life as the Rick Blaine of the occult. We’ll always have Collinsport.

So many great moments of bait and switch. The writers have built a Disneyland of continuity and expectations, and 665 is an e-ticket ride. And the last turn is a doozy because it’s seemingly NOT a bait and switch. We think Barnabas will set himself up to die. He won’t. We think Vicki’s dead. She’s not. We think Angelique is triumphant because indecisive old Barnabas couldn’t possibly have had his limit of her shenanigans to the point that he’s happy to burn her alive. She isn’t and he is. And it goes on. The episode is punctuated by Nancy Barrett’s most surreal performance, suggesting that Millicent may indeed be insane rather than idiotic. As the episode ends, DARK SHADOWS presents emotional payoffs on a WRATH OF KHAN scale and frequency. See… Barnabas burn Angelique alive! See… his heart collapse as the optimism that she has transcended death turns into the resigned acknowledgement that she’s in Peter Bradford’s arms. If Barnabas’ upper lip were any stiffer, you could use it as a straightedge. Then, the goodbyes. Vicki to Barnabas. Barnabas to Ben. People leaving love behind for totally arbitrary and totally logical reasons. Which is always the way.

And finally… just when we’re used to the episode pulling fast ones, Barnabas is staked. Or is he? It ends with a boom heard ‘round ABC. For good reason. 1796 is over, as is (most of) the emphasis on Josette and Angelique and all of that is behind us. Barnabas has… almost… put his past to rest for good. It’s time to move forward to 1897.

On this day in 1969, TIME MAGAZINE actually got it right when they declared the crew of Apollo 8, which orbited the moon, as the Men of the Year. As I’ve discussed before, the horrors of 1968 make 2017 look utopian.  That incredible, insane, risk-rife trip defied the pessimism that would define the 1960’s. Still, chowderheads at the time contended that we were wasting money by sending men to the moon while Americans were still starving. 1968 was a monument to tragedy. If we’re going to throw money away, let it be in defiance to that.

In the name of hilarity, go look up why Apollo 8 was called “The Vomit Comet.” One more reason these guys are heroes. YOU spend a week in space surrounded by Frank Borman’s bodily fluids and see if you don’t feel heroic by surviving. 
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