Thursday, July 29, 2021

In memoriam: Ron Popeil (1935-2021)

By Patrick McCray

We lost him a few hours ago, and in losing him, we lost one of the last, great American originals from the silent generation. Although the news will provide others with the fodder for lazy punchlines, American innovator Ron Popeil is worth far more. The medium of television in the era of Dark Shadows was more than just a chain of 23 minute episodes squeezed into a half hour. It was a ritual that streaming, physical media, and convenience have robbed us of. And thus, whether we hear the pitchmen from in front of the television or from behind the bathroom door, TV commercials are as much of the text experience as the intended programming.

He belongs to Collinwood as much as anyone else. And although he was neither actor nor character nor Dan Curtis Productions employee, he was nevertheless a presence in hundreds of episodes. And like the literal characters who inhabit the Dark Shadows universe, he was part sorcerer and part comforting friend. He trafficked in pure imagination and the art of the unexpected, but with a sincere flair that reminded you that he was uniquely postwar, all American, And every bit on your side. 

Ron Popeil was, above all, an innovator and, if either had the time to bother with the other, was Howard Rorke to Wendell Berry’s Ellsworth Toohey. The latter sold those of us with good manners and letters after our names on the myth that labor saving technology was lazy, suspect, and responsible for divorcing us from an authentic human existence. And that’s why very few parents ever hired Wendell Berry to appear at kids’ birthday parties.

A college dropout, Popeil joined his inventor-father in the family business responsible for the Veg-o-Magic and Chop-o-Matic kitchen utensils. There is only so much romance to mincing vegetables, and beyond chasing the almighty dollar by convincing the American public that they desperately needed something they had no idea existed, Popeil and son were also domestic innovators. Just those two inventions alone saved postwar Americans countless hours to spend on other things. As someone who is missing a healthy section of the pad of his thumb due to an expertly crafted kitchen knife, I can attest that they are far safer. 

They not only changed how Americans interacted with their domestic lives; the Popeils changed our relationship with technology and the very process of learning about it. Carrying on in his father‘s footsteps, Popeil was a tireless inventor who had the necessary creativity to look beyond good taste and provide the workin’ Joe and Jane with tools to elevate the ordinary. Or just bring a goofy grin to families that needed it. There was a sense of excitement and wonder that Popeil brought to to his inventions, turning the mundane into something almost countercultural. By preparing his demonstrations on videotape, Popeil was a key visionary in the field of retail communication. That’s the technical side of his second art: sales. But what truly made Popeil such a pop pioneer was the infectious excitement for his inventions… and his sincere affection for the consumers. Beyond his well-tuned mantras reassuring us that the gadgets “really, really work,” was the subtext that we deserved better. To listen to Ronco ads is to hear a voice suggesting that those who came before him in domestic engineering were content for us to settle for less. Why must the future start with billion  dollar space vehicles out of our reach? Why can’t it inhabit our homes, as well?

Yes, anyone who creates so many varied products will be an object lesson in Sturgeon’s Law. 90% of everything will be crap. A mechanical mug froster, spray-on-hair, and a machine to scramble eggs in the shell are bizarre must-haven’ts. But there is a giddy audacity to them that keeps them memorable. In reviewing Ronco products just now, I was struck by how much Popeil lived in the future. I saw many Ronco innovations that respectable manufacturers simply allowed him to beta test. Before they took half the risk for twice the price. 

Go to a Williams Sonoma or surf the Internet for high priced life tools, and Ron Popeil will be staring back at you, having gotten there first. Oxo has nothing on the man, and it owes him a moral fortune. Veg-o-Matic-like food choppers can now be had respectably in the most chic of boutiques. The same can be said for the “innovation“ of lumbar support in motor vehicles.  Air purifiers. Spill-proof commuter mugs. Teeth cleaning equipment modeled on dental  tools. His final claim to fame and fortune, the countertop rotisserie oven, may seem dubious in the era of air fryers and pressure cookers. That’s until you think of the comparatively exotic and healthy recipes suddenly in reach of the renters of tiny, joyless studio apartments or denizens of dorm rooms. Suddenly, life has a lot more possibilities, even if in three easy installments.

Of course he would accompany Dark Shadows. After all, what was that program but the reinvention of time-honored story elements from bold, new perspectives to delight modern audiences? Helpful then. Helpful now.  That’s a shared tradition of American vision that we can all get behind.  Both are symbiotic and endearing legacies as seen on tv.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Jonathan Frid documentary coming in October

On the 55th anniversary of the premiere of Dark Shadows comes word that series star Jonathan Frid will be the subject of a feature-length documentary coming Oct. 5. The Canadian actor achieved worldwide fame as villain-turned-hero vampire Barnabas Collins on the late 1960s supernatural soap but, like his iconic character, his career lived on for decades in many different incarnations! 

Who was the man beneath the vampire’s cloak? Dark Shadows and Beyond: The Jonathan Frid Story reveals Frid’s joys, struggles, artistic triumphs and rise to fame through his personal letters read by actor Ian Buchanan (General Hospital, Twin Peaks) and the reminiscences of family, friends, and colleagues. 

Interviewees include talk show legend Dick Cavett; co-stars Marion Ross (Happy Days), Anthony Zerbe  (Omega Man, Harry O), Christina Pickles (St. Elsewhere, Friends), David Selby (Dark Shadows, Falcon Crest), Marie Wallace (Dark Shadows, Somerset) and the late John Karlen (Dark Shadows, Cagney & Lacy).  

Frid (who passed away in 2012 at age 87) appears in never-before-seen interviews and rare performance footage unseen since original broadcast. 

Dark Shadows and Beyond: The Jonathan Frid Story is produced and directed by Emmy-winning soap opera producer Mary O’Leary (The Young And The Restless, General Hospital, One Life To Live, Another World, Guiding Light) and will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Oct. 5 from MPI Media Group. 

For more information, visit

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 2



Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 771

When Carl brings home his shocking true love, everyone at Collinwood needs to take a shot… probably of penicillin. Carl Collins: John Karlen. (Repeat; 30 min.)

As Barnabas and Beth plan to find the undead Dirk Wilkins to distract Edward, Carl interrupts with his vulgar, cockney fiancee, the alleged medium and music hall embarrassment, Pansy Faye. Her display of second sight ends with an accusation that one of the Collinses will be knit up in Dirk’s death. Later, Barnabas returns to the Old House where he finds her bitten and collapsed. 

Dark Shadows is about as self-contained as a pair of fishnets on the opening day of a Pritiken camp, and that makes it murder to introduce to prospective viewers. No, this one isn’t self-contained, but it comes very close, beginning with vampire-on-vampire suspense and ending in the murder of a character we meet just a few minutes before. It’s an hilarious little jewel that is inarguably pure comedy, as Jonathan Frid gets the easy job and big payoffs of doing astonished take after take. The heavy lifting is done by an especially histrionic John Karlen and then Kay Frye, as his Alfred Doolittle of a fiancee, the psychic medium, Pansy Faye. Barnabas is at the height of his swashbuckling best, with Beth at his side, as he plots to foil Edward by revealing Dirk as the local vampire (this week). With cosmic inevitability, the endeavor is halted mid-batpole by Carl, blithering of saltwater taffy and true love. It’s a great summation of a universe that encourages heroism and then mocks us with its ridiculousness. Think you’re going to help the community while your social equals look on in disgusted apathy? Don’t worry. The community you’re there to help will soon arrive to make the effort look pointless.  

Class envy is an ugly thing, and envy isn’t even the right word. Envy goes from the bottom-up. From the top-down? See: Collins, Judith. Pansy Faye is exactly the sort of figure designed, like a Xenomorph by a Predator, for her to hunt. You can almost hear the thermographic scan kick in when she catches sight of the crassly cacaphonic strumpet. The episode does a funny thing when they meet, because it allows you to see the conflict from both perspectives at once. Judith is a snobbish and intolerant prig, and it’s in response to a boorish sense of entitlement. The one that completely betrays the promise of humble, respectful good values that the working class claim when it wants to Be Offended into getting something. 

Unless a Vanderbilt were tuning in, no viewer then or now knows what it’s like to be a Collins just three generations away from Joshua. But Pansy Faye’s brash idiocy, with the jibbering Carl as ambassador, kind of inspires everyone to feel like a Collins, and it’s a subtle lesson in taste and etiquette for anyone willing to peek into the mirror. We’ve been spoiled by Vicki’s example to see female outsiders to Clan Collins as possessing a purity of spirit often lacked by the decadently corrupt residents. But that changes, too.

If you’ve seen the series before, you know that Pansy Faye’s spirit possesses Charity Trask, largely because it gave Nancy Barrett something interesting to do. That, and Dan Curtis was suffering under a curse that compelled him to make America listen to “I Wanna Dance with You” to an extent that almost -- almost -- makes us long for “London Bridge.” Under the Barrett administration, the United States of Pansy changes as drastically as it can without ushering in a new character. Was this planned? Was this a response to the writers honing the part for a familiar actress’ strengths? I have no idea, and the “why” is irrelevant. She warms and humanizes as a character, and we can credit death for that. Go down as Kay Frye, come up as Nancy Barrett. Gain a lot of nuance on the way. 

It’s not the only place this happens in the series. On Dark Shadows, death isn’t an end; it’s just a cue for transformation. The show takes the esoteric, gatekeeping mumbo-jumbo surrounding the Transformative Nature of Death and makes it literal enough that the rest of us unenlightened slobs might get some practical use out of it. Every culture kills its youth to one extent or another in the form of liminal rituals like hazings and walkabouts, where the prior identity is removed, a form of symbolic death is imposed, and an adult magically pops out the other end. This is a constant theme of Dark Shadows, starting with Liz Stoddard more-or-less killing her youthful, married identity and cocooning for a couple of decades before emerging in that smart red dress she wears to bail Carolyn outta the can. Vicki passes through death, kind of, in 1795. Adam is nothing without the death certificate he brings with him when he applies for fast food jobs. Quentin, of course. Only in Collinsport does Avis rent more coffins than cars. But the king, predictably, is Barnabas, who dies with a greater regularity than South Park’s Kenny. 

Each time he rises, which is arguably at the crack of dusk every night, he transforms. Sometimes wiser. Sometimes more impulsive. Inevitably, a tad on the hungry side. Even if we only count his transitions between humanity and parahumanity, that’s still six ping-pongs between the worlds. On a strictly symbolic level, he simply has that much learning to do. For Barnabas, the story of Dark Shadows isn’t Dracula; it’s Groundhog Day. We see that down to the various rituals of renovating the Old House and agreeing with Joan Bennett that, yeah, the resemblance to that portrait sure is weird, and now, I need the keys to the Old House because Lowe’s is delivering, like, a metric ton of backsplash tiles, and if I’m not there when they arrive, they’ll take them back and restock them, and I’ll have to send the gypsies to Logansport to straighten it out, and I think we know how that’ll go. 

On a show that constantly remakes itself in varied cycles, this is the most primal of all, and it often smells exactly like you might think. On Dark Shadows, transformation isn’t a mandate, but it is a fact. Sometimes, as with Pansy Faye, it’s the result of a terribly unfunny practical joke. Sometimes, it’s a punishment. Sometimes, it makes no sense at all. Often, I don’t even see the characters learn from it. They don’t need to. Not as long as we learn the lessons. Sometimes, that lesson is to value the changes, like we see with Pansy Faye. Sometimes, the lesson is to hold fast to what hasn’t changed. With Barnabas, it’s a matter of knowing the difference. 

This episode hit the airwaves on June 9, 1969.

Sunday, May 30, 2021

Podcast: Terror at Collinwood, Episode 3

Laura the Phoenix & Jason the Blackmailer!

Poet and writer Rachel Freitas joins Penny in episode three of Terror at Collinwood. They discuss the pre-Barnabas Phoenix storyline, examining the character of Laura Collins and her important role as Dark Shadows’ first supernatural antagonist. Next, they take a look at the Jason McGuire blackmail storyline and the challenges faced by Elizabeth Collins Stoddard.

Additional topics include Rachel’s writing and her introduction to Dark Shadows, DS’ influence on Port Charles, and a look at the unaired DS 2004 WB pilot. Join us for another eerie episode of the Dark Shadows podcast, Terror at Collinwood.

Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 27


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 767

When Jamison dreams of the death of his own grandson, will his recollections teach Barnabas the ultimate truth of Quentin Collins? Quentin Collins: David Selby. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Jamison dreams that David’s morbid birthday party is conducted by relatives who are cruelly unmoved by the actual commemoration of his living death. Only the ghost of Quentin provides David with a sense of belonging as he contemplates the transition to the world of the departed. 

Even if he had not appeared in the first shots of the first episode… even if he had somehow appeared only, by a twist of time, as late as season 3 of Discovery… we all know that Star Trek is Leonard Nimoy. His character, Spock, is Star Trek, and his performance is of the measured, intellectual integrity and focused passion that can be recognized in any of his finest colleagues in the franchise. Star Trek, as we know it, is the water-breaking stone of Nimoy. Everything else? Ripples. Not insignificant. Even in the stone’s absence, the ripples spread ever wider as a growing/fading testament to its impact. 

This lionizing is not meant to imply anything wanting in his cast mates. They didn’t get that character. Their artistry and skill are as honed as Nimoy’s. Maybe more. But there can only be one Spock. 

Were Mr. Nimoy still alive and reading this, I’m sure he’d be mortified at the suspiciously bulbous compliment. Humiliating you is not on purpose, Theo. Go easy. I paint what I see. 

It is with no small consideration that I state that Dark Shadows finds its Nimoy in David Selby

That is a difficult truth to write. It’s also a savagely unfair analogy. As with Nimoy and Spock, no one else (except for Thayer David) played Quentin. So, I’m sorry.  Jonathan Frid did the heavy lifting. He blazed the trail, laid the groundwork, and participated in countless other cliches. But, the airwaves made safe for a feral other, David Selby and Quentin stride into the story with both startling drama and the noble glide of a gracious poet from the heart of West Virginia. The audience, writers, ensemble, and very Zeitgeist were prepared for this character. Quentin is the apotheosis of the horror hero on Dark Shadows, which is to say, all horror heroes. He is a flawed man who prizes expedience and operational fictions. Thus, the larger society has no need for him. But those qualities don’t represent the man within the beast-before-the-beast, and we know it. Yes, he is frightening as a ghost. And yet the examples of Burke, Barnabas, Adam, and even Nicholas Blair and Angelique, to various degrees, have taught us to just… wait… a few episodes. These so-called monsters are often kind people are made monstrous by the abuses of love. Usually, they love in too-great abundance, their hearts and deeper passions unable to color within the lines established by Polite Society. Their transformations into horrors are not necessarily representative of some inner impurity becoming manifest on the surface. Instead, the creatures they become are inflated versions of society’s opinion of them.

The Dark Shadows story, then, is Quentin’s story. It’s Barnabas’ story. A good man has debatable flaws that glare when looked at through the eyes of ruling class pedants. Especially when those passions lead him into arms and cultures of the serving class, or, worse, decidedly un-Anglo, Eastern European immigrants. Pressured by imposed guilt or the terror of starving to death, these men return to the family fold only to find that those alternative communities have something to say. Barnabas’ and Quentin’s affections don’t legitimize these cultures… they were already legitimate. But their affections are long-overdue acknowledgements. And not just momentary. Barnabas loved Angelique. Quentin loved Jenny. 

The alternative class curses both men in ways that place their inner differences into the spotlight. After all, those classes are defined by their differences. Now, the ruling class will be unable to hide their allegedly sinful natures. Barnabas can hide that he sapped Angelique’s hope and optimism. Let’s curse him as something famous as a parasite. Quentin barely hides his animalistic lusts? Again… you see where this is going. Make him, literally, a wolf.

Both conditions are temporary. Both men grow up while growing away from their roots. Barnabas falls in love with Angelique. Quentin loses a child he never knew and finds the strength to lead the family with his curious mix of guile and gallantry. And as a romantic, Quentin goes beyond the obscenity of marrying an immigrant to falling in love with a woman who never even existed except in a bohemian artist’s imagination.

Selby captures all of this while never delving into a weary lecture on class warfare. Frid is marvelous, yes, but Barnabas’ affected refinement and mid-Atlantic accent distance him from viewers as too European. Selby is ripely American. Part gentleman, part hell-bent-for-leather frontiersman. Casting a man of the south was a quiet masterstroke by Dan Curtis, for where else but in the American south do we find the fusion of these national identities? Selby represents the very best of southern culture. Joy. A charm that comes from authentic bonhomie. Quiet thoughtfulness. Most of all, cautious friendliness — hardly a Collins trait. There’s Faulkner’s lyricism and Williams’ poignance and Poe’s dreamy irony and Twain’s irascible honesty in Quentin… and in David Selby, himself. All bound by honest benevolence. Once he tells Beth she’s still beautiful, which she is-but-never-hears in a world of prim Judith’s steaming chamber pots and Edward’s careless cigar ash, he’s our guy. He’s the answer to Liz’s isolation, Roger’s repressed rage, Joshua’s hypocrisy, and so on. Naturally, he must suffer for it. 

This is art, after all. 

Both Barnabas and Quentin are good men who stand apart from their families without abandoning them. There is no more ringing evidence than the regard with which they are held by adoring children. Sarah, Jamison, and Nora have no social preconceptions to cloud their honest opinions, and they see and love the truth in these men like no other. 

In 767, Jamison naturally trusts Barnabas with his darkest nightmare. In it, the ghost of Quentin reaches out again to that other outstanding critic of Collins social artifice, David. Yes, they are destined to be ghosts to their families, but they will have each other. Brothers in truth and love, separated by centuries, dreams, and death, itself. In his performance with David Henesy, David Selby shows an effortless loyalty, sincerity, and love that is wholly devoid of the condescension normally reserved for speaking with children. Quentin may be a wolf without a pack, but he is their guardian, nevertheless. And what is a wolf but a liberated dog? And I refer to a dog not as a servant, pet, or a beast, but as humanity’s kindest, most loyal, and intuitive companion. Those who have witnessed the beguilingly alien wisdom of these often majestic compatriots know that the comparison is the highest compliment. It is a rare human who matches their unflagging virtue; they are too easily written off as mere animals.

Quentin is a wolf at heart. In the very best ways. As painted with tireless wit and sensitivity, Selby embodies those noble virtues with the knowing voice of an author and artist. It takes a surreal dream sequence, replete with mocking puppets and the Collinses at their most sadly, honestly calloused, to let Selby crystalize what makes him different. What makes him American. What makes him the friend, guide, and troubled companion that Dark Shadows was destined to impart and always was.

This episode hit the airwaves on June 3, 1969.

Saturday, May 15, 2021

Podcast: Terror at Collinwood, Episodes 1 and 2

Who better to host a Dark Shadows podcast than a horror host from New England? The Collinsport Historical Society podcast might be as dead as Billy Butcherson (which is to say it's pretty dead, but still shambling around in the archives of iTunes) but there's still lots left unsaid about everybody's favorite gothic soap opera.

Enter Penny Dreadful, the host of Penny Dreadful’s Shilling Shockers, which aired in 200 cities and towns throughout the six New England states. She was a contributor to the last phase of the CHS podcast, and lucky for us she's decided to branch out on her own. Penny has two episodes in the can already, which you can stream below or follow on Podbay at

Welcome to the first episode of 'Terror at Collinwood', a podcast dedicated to the 1966-1971 gothic television serial, 'Dark Shadows'. Join Penny as she touches upon some characteristics of the gothic TV classic, followed by memories of her introduction to the show and its fandom.

Terror at Collinwood, Episode 2:  Artist and writer Eric Marshall joins Penny for episode two of 'Terror at Collinwood'. In this episode, they examine the show's earliest Pre-Barnabas storylines and characters as they discuss Victoria Winters' search for her parentage, Burke Devlin's quest for revenge, and the death of Bill Malloy. They also take several side trips into other storylines & touch on topics such as whether or not a 'Dark Shadows' remake could actually work.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Rondo loves The Collinsport Historical Society

I'm not sure what Patrick McCray is doing as I write this, but he's likely recovering from an injury sustained while carrying this entire website on his back throughout 2020. Thoughts and prayers, man. You're gonna need 'em, because the health insurance provided by the CHS suuuuuuuucks.

The recipients of this year's Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards were announced yesterday and, despite our not having campaigned at all for it (and my efforts during the last year to let the CHS die from neglect) we somehow garnered a "runner up" nod from the Rondos. He's been incredibly modest about it, but it's difficult to see this honor as anything but a validation for Patrick and The Dark Shadows Daybook.

Speaking of which, production of the print edition of the Dark Shadows Daybook is progressing slowly but steadily. Expect an announcement about how you can grab a copy sometime during the next few weeks.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 29


Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 485

Barnabas knows that ultimate happiness is right around the corner because his best friends do all that they can to talk him out of it. Eric Lang: Addison Powell. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Lang relates the dream curse to Julia on the eve of The Experiment as she tries to talk him out of it. Meanwhile, Barnabas relates his instructions to Willie on the eve of The Experiment as he tries to talk him out of it. Across Collinsport, Angelique, tired of the moralizing, stabs a voodoo doll of Lang and then probably takes a long, well-deserved bubble bath. 

One of the great things about Ghostbusters is its use of science to address the supernatural. It would be convenient to say that this is something that started with the novel of Frankenstein, except that the process only hinted at in the book is as much alchemical as it was laboratory grade.  In exploring the dichotomy between the two methods of describing and controlling the universe, Dark Shadows generally comes down on the side of the supernatural, except when it doesn’t, and it doesn’t with surprising regularity. Science makes more appearances than you would think. Peter Guthrie is no witch doctor. Julia begins the show by literally seeing the supernatural through a microscope. The heroes of 1795 at least assert a preference for scientific thinking.  And if scientific thinking is not always the answer, it certainly has a seat at the séance table. Julia works with Angelique to combine bio chemistry and black magic to help Barnabas in 1897. The entire existence of parallel time is well-founded in vaguely articulated pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo recited by Stokes with incredibly precise ambiguity. You know, science. Along with Cyrus Longworth and a side-trip to 1840, via a chronoporting staircase well-founded in time honored principles of total scientific illiteracy.  But, Dark Shadows is under no obligation to be scientifically literate. It doesn’t have to worry about Isaac Asimov clutching his pearly muttonchops as he watches it, kvetching that “It's no Space: 1999.”

For Dark Shadows, science may simply be magic in lab coats, but that’s not all. It’s the Resistance. It’s often the sole force that man has against the new world of ancient gods and monsters. Although it is carefully protected from resembling reality, it still exists to troll hoity-toity magic users and level the playing field for the rest of us. And of course it has to be mad science. Because regular science is too boring and largely exists to give everyone reasons why they can’t have any fun. 

Eric Lang is my kind of scientist. Just imagine him instead of Anthony Fauci. I’m sure somehow Covid would have been cured by now.  Admittedly, we would all have giraffe heads grafted on to us.  Which would have absolutely nothing to do with curing Covid. But I have every confidence that Eric Lang was also on the board of the Collinsport Community Playhouse and was itching to do a modified version of some Ionesco, a playwright he admired for his gritty, hard-hitting realism. After that controversial, all-nude production of Darling of the Day, he had to play it safe.  Every year for a fundraiser, they would do a haunted house. Which was actually the only month out of the year that Lang would simply take down the schmattas covering everything in his home and show off his work in all its glory.

All seriousness aside, the episode crackles with more pure fun than a Chick-fil-A hijacked by RuPaul and Steve Shives, open for biz and spiking the lemonade with bourbon on a Sunday near you.  It begins with Lang trying to logic his way through the dream curse, and knowing that we’ll be saying goodbye to Dark Shadows’ most passionate showman, Addison Powell, it’s a glorious monologue that hovers somewhere between sobriety and appropriate sensationalism. As these people share nightmares, it’s the closest the program comes to presenting the characters presenting their own individual horror TV series. It’s as if they, themselves, are producing a meta-Dark Shadows.

Lang tries to persuade Julia that there’s nothing inordinately dangerous to injecting the soul of Barnabas into the body of Adam, you know, now that all of the heads have been sawed-off, reattached, and Roger Davis still has his face. Hearing this, Julia has her doubts and says that she might prefer if Barnabas simply went back to being a vampire.  

Yeah, you heard me.

Julia eventually emerges as the voice of conscience and common sense for Barnabas. You know, over a year from now.  But today she has one black-stockinged leg in the bold future of 1897 and another one still in the lab, trying to chemically shrivel Barnabas into a future Don Post bestseller. Like in that episode of Next Generation where they kept aging Dr. Pulaski by taking off layer upon layer of Diana Muldaur’s make-up. 

I kid, I kid. Better than Crusher, sez me.

But I have to question the moral compass of anyone who would put the inevitability of a serial killing Lord of the Undead, capable of spreading a vampiric pathogen that could decimate the human race if well-shaded and unchecked, above a wacky experiment that will probably just end in nothing but a crackle, a burning scent, some shrugs, and then Lang, Julia, and Willie splitting the contents of Barnabas‘s wallet three ways at TGI Friday’s, which, knowing what a cheap SOB he was, will barely cover the cost of the seven layer dip and that Ultimate Megarita that is how Julia spells r-e-l-I-e-f on any day ending in ‘Y.’

Why, indeed?

Shifting to the Old House, it’s immediately clear the Barnabas is trying to solve his ongoing existential crisis, because there’s Willie, at his side, wringing his hands and doing everything possible to discourage him from seeking happiness. Moments like these make Margaret Hamilton‘s Cora, from those Maxwell House ads, look like a free wheeling Dennis Hopper. Willie must have nothing to do, because he just watched Julia in the previous scene and is basically repeating what she said to Lang. His namby-pamby nagging and cheek give Jonathan Frid one of his greatest and most genuine line readings. And it’s the kind of moment, going by in a flash, that makes the program absolute gold. Because all of the vampire and curse stuff is interesting, if you like that sort of thing, but it’s not nearly as much fun as watching this old married couple go at it for the upteenth time. Loomis flatly states, “I don’t like it.” 

Barnabas responds with a withering cattiness worthy of Count Petofi. He opines, “That IS a shame,” sighs, and desperately tries to secure his fortune by writing a questionable letter instructing the family to hand over all of his possessions and the Old House to a “cousin from England.” 
Yeah, like they’d ever do that.

But Willie continues his campaign of simpering instead of doing what he should, which is quickly finishing a paint-by-numbers portrait of Robert Rodan in Georgian drag to sneak onto the wall of the drawing room as if it were yet another portrait of an incestor that “had been there the whole time.“  You know, the minimum litmus test that Roger and Liz need to fork over priceless real estate to a fancy-lad stranger. Hey, if it worked for Georges Baker and Lazenby, why not here?

Just for a moment, I want you to picture that version of the show. Picture a Dark Shadows where the experiment worked, and Jonathan Frid has to loop in the dialogue for Robert Rodan as if he’d just emerged from Boris Balinkoff’s mind-transplant device. For the rest of the series.

It’s a pretty good show, come to think of it. Calling Robot Loomis!

But all this fear over the experiment, and a preference for Barnabas to be a vampire again, has a disturbing subtext. People in abusive relationships tend to gravitate back to further abusers because a familiar love is preferable to taking a chance on a happy future. Although it’s unexpected, that is a truth reflected here by both Willie and Julia. 

However, Barnabas is willing to literally change his mind, so that’s next in line. “Barnabas, the experiment’s still free,” Lang might have reminded him, before adding, “take a chance on me.”

Yes, I once directed Mamma Mia. Or as I called it, “A Cry for Help.“  And those lambs are still decidedly screaming, Clarisse.

Barnabas is so ready for the process that he even puts on a blue bathrobe for the experiment. Like Red Sonia in that armor that I’m sure is just as protective, I assume it’s for “freedom of movement“ but I still feel like the old boy is being exploited. 

Actually, after seeing him manfully clad in suits, capes, jabots, ascots, tights, and various kerchiefs for a year, The semiotic impact of that blue bathrobe conveys the incredibly human vulnerability of Barnabas in a way that is unparalleled across the series. Either that, or he’s waiting for a Jean Shepherd narration to start describing his long-standing battle with Lang’s idiosyncratic furnace as Julia once again unsuccessfully attempts to get Willie to eat meatloaf. 

Well, there are no Bumpus hounds to devour the Ham of Progress as Lang charges up the ozone of electric sex to begin the transfer. But don’t think the supernatural will go down without a fight. With cosmic inevitability, Willie goes to Collinwood to personally hand Angelique the precise piece of information she needs, the letter about “Adam Collins,“ at precisely the right time for her to get out her trusty Eric Lang Mego voodoo doll and throw what was a sober exploration of scientific inquiry into total chaos. 

And for a moment, an important moment, all of the wackiness stops.  We see Barnabas, our friend and hero, screaming in a degree of pain that is suddenly and uncomfortably real. We see him worry. We see him fret. But television usually stops short of showing a character, destined to live, experiencing a pointless and sadistic agony.  And Lang is experiencing it as well. Maybe we could say it’s tantamount to the pain of childbirth, which is what the scene is about, but this is not such pain.

This is sadism. And it is sadism from a witch. A creature of darkness. A creature of anti-science. Someone whose existence knows only the spectrum of literal hellfire or the blazing execution stake representative of human justice. How dare he be cured? More pointedly, how dare he be cured by someone other than she? In that attack, we get a full-spectrum view of the quintessential struggle for the human identity. No, really. Male versus female. Science versus religion. Reason versus emotion. Fear versus informed optimism. What is at stake? Literally, the human mind and, if it exists, soul. 

No answers, except that one side seeks to use nature to control nature. One side wishes to punish the attempt to steal what was her fire, exclusively. Science will, as we will learn, win the day, but not without sacrifices. Adam will live, as will Barnabas. And no matter how big Angelique’s Twinkie, for one day at least, Eric Lang, Barnabas Collins, and Julia Hoffman had the guts to cross the streams. 

This episode hit the airwaves on May 3, 1968.
Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...