Friday, October 19, 2018

Satan is a just metaphor, Anton LaVey was just a man

Badness had nothing to do with it


In the most recent episode of American Horror Story, Church of Satan founder, Anton LaVey, is portrayed as one of the villains, literally worshiping the devil, consorting with the fictitious bad guys, and establishing himself as a force of evil in that supernatural universe.

None of this, of course, is accurate or even tangentially related to reality. LaVey was a lot of things, and there is still alleged controversy over the verisimilitude of his official biography, but the man was a solid atheist, and his books clearly posit Satan as a symbolic figure. One of the cornerstones of Satanism is that individuals are their own sources of salvation and judgment. Ritual is psychodrama meant to purge or focus emotions. Magic is a polite term for the ability to use diplomacy for interpersonal advantage. This is all documented and on the level.

Editor's Note: And then there's this bullshit

I have no interest in making you read a love letter to Anton LaVey. But ask more of your horror before letting this pass as acceptable.  Devil worshiping villains are classic go-to‘s in horror entertainment. From The Black Cat to Curse of the Demon, they make entertaining, compelling antagonists. But those are fictional characters, even if inspired by certain real life figures. You don’t have to like Anton LaVey to see that this kind of treatment is beneath the medium. If you have affection for the guy, this is bad enough. If you oppose him, it’s even worse. I like a good attack to be completely rooted in accuracy. If someone wants to depict Jerry Falwell badly, I want to make sure that the audiences who walk away with negative impressions of him have those impressions based on the many horrible things he really did and said. Because you can and should get away with exposing people who do rotten things. It’s a job of journalism, and if done well, a job of art.

I suspect that some of the justification is a variation of “come on, a guy who puts on horns and a cape and stands in front of inverted pentagrams is not exactly portraying himself as a Boy Scout.”

In other words, because he dresses that way, he’s asking for it? Isn’t that the thinking that would really be behind that sort of attitude? Good luck with that in 2018.

You don’t see Stan Against Evil pulling that one. 

Review: Dark Shadows: Bloodlust, Episode 7


No, tears. They are a waste of good SPOILERS AHEAD.

“This town doesn’t need the Collins family!”

Volume 2 of Big Finish Productions’ Dark Shadows: Bloodlust opens with some John Grisham-meets-the-Universal Monsters like theatrics with the serial’s seventh installment. A mere day after Quentin Collins, Angelique Bouchard, and a newly summoned Barnabas Collins stood against an angry mob of townsfolk, Sheriff Tate calls a town meeting in the hopes that cooler heads will prevail. What happens is decidedly...not that, but therein lies the super entertaining crux of this volume’s opening story. Centralized and focused on the show’s nerve wracking commitment to raising its own stakes, Bloodlust Episode 7 is a towering opening gambit.

Click HERE to get the episode.
Some big time junk went down last episode. We got the debut of Barnabas, played with a righteously seductive fury by Andrew Collins. He was summoned by his on-again-off-again rival Quentin to back up him and Angelique as the mob swells. A Trinity of monsters stood against the angry hoi polloi of Collinsport. This episode, again, smartly takes a day and allows the cliffhanger to breathe just a bit. I have talked before about how Will Howells, Alan Flanagan, and Joseph Lidster really know how to stage these episodes and their layout across the season and this “taking a beat” approach to some of the larger cliffhangers are really a big part of why they succeed.

This way we get to relish the story as it unfolds instead of being overwhelmed with twists and turns, because, dear readers, this thing has got so goddamn more in store just in THIS episode. After a quick meeting of monstrous minds at the bottom of Widows’ Hill, we then turn to the town as it prepares for a town meeting about the recent killings and their possible connection to the supernatural. First off, can we all just appreciate just how Dark Shadows having a freaking town meeting about monsters is? I am consistently impressed on just how true to the wacky, yet grounded spirit of the original show these audios are and this might be the serial’s greatest example of it.

But my kitchy delight aside, this centralization of the episode’s plot really gets some great stuff from the story. For one it allows for one hell of a scare in the attacking of poor Harry Cunningham, who gets stabbed (we HOPE just stabbed) once the lights are cut during a particularly heated exchanged. For another, the citizens of Collinsport engage in some Arthur Miller-esque courtroom banter, one side standing up for Sheriff Tate and the other with Maggie Evans, who is demanding her acknowledge the existence of the supernatural.

I am of two minds about this. On one hand, Maggie’s group has the right IDEA. They want the local authorities, who have been turning a blind eye to the monsters for years, to finally start taking it seriously and take steps to defend the town. On the other, the way reactionaries like Ed Griffin, who put the boots to old man Trask last time, are framing the argument is that Tate is incompetent and are starting down the slippery slope of fascism in regards to Collinsport’s monster community, given a voice by Quentin. This sequence kind of makes Maggie look like a bully and her group look all the more dangerous, but you can at least see where the fear and anger comes from, thanks to the script’s presentation of the platforms. Plus, the more Kathryn Leigh Scott the better as far as I’m concerned

The town meeting also brings about the return of Nancy Barrett’s Carolyn Stoddard! A development, I must admit, made me a touch misty. And I don’t think it is because of the mold in my “office” here at the CHS. Hearing Carolyn passionately speak toward the town’s hold on people and the things that it is capable of puts real heart into Maggie’s side, when it really needs it. Plus’ Barrett is another one of those presences in the show that I will always hold a soft spot toward, no matter how they are included in the story so hearing her again was a real emotional charge for me just as a fan and listener.

BUT ALL OF THIS leads up to the episode’s two major developments. One being the discovery of a voodoo doll in Amy’s purse and Rhonda Tate being deposed as sheriff and replaced by Maggie Evans, who is pretty much the picture of a Not a Police Officer. The latter of which is the episode’s biggest and closing gambit, but the first one is really interesting. Is Amy fully turning back to witchcraft and did she attack her OWN (step)SON to cover it up? Only time and future episodes will tell, but the idea of Maggie Evans being the Marge Gunderson of Collinsport is just officially Too Good. It could only spell disaster for the town, just from a logistical standpoint, but holy crow, is it the perfect capper to this civically focused installment of Bloodlust. One sure to have major lapping story ripples throughout this back half of episodes.

There is a new Sheriff in town so monsters beware. You know, just when I think I hit a ceiling on the kind of entertaining Bloodlust can be, it goes and brings back Barnabas Collins (played by a truly class actors), large portions of the original TV cast, and then plunges me deep into a story worthy of all those actors and characters. Episode 7 is just another example of how the serial keeps upping the ante on itself. It hooks listeners deeply with a consistently engaging, well produced story that utilizes the best aspects of the property and its talented troupe of actors. Volume 1 of Bloodlust was good, but I’ll be damned if Volume 2 might be even better. I can’t wait to find out.

NEXT TIME! Episode 8! We Need To Talk About Harry.  

Dan Curtis: Old School/New School

Dan Curtis on the set of The Strange
Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
, 1968.
I doubt that Dan Curtis even intended to become a horror auteur. He began his career in television in 1950 as a salesman for syndicated programs, later playing a vital role in bringing golf to television. Even his first foray into narrative drama, Dark Shadows, didn't begin explicitly has a horror series, dabbling for a year in gothic melodrama that only sometimes involved ghosts. When Barnabas Collins landed on the scene, though, Curtis discovered he had a flair for creeping people out and his career changed for ever. By the end of the 1970s he'd brought an entire menagarie of terrors to screens big and small, including vampires, haunted houses, zombies, aliens, devil dolls and a host of other creatures that oten defy description.

On Oct. 25, The Paley Centre for Media in New York City is hosting an event titled Dan Curtis: Old School/New School, described as an exploration of Curtis' "horror oeuvre." Produced by the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies, the event will be hosted by instructor David Bushman, a television curator at the Paley Center. Admission to Dan Curtis: Old School/New School is $12 in advance, $15 at the door.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, click HERE.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Dark Shadows returns to television Oct. 29

It's been a long, long time since Dark Shadows has been on television in any significant manner. Following its lengthy run on The Sci-Fi Channel during the 1990s, the show has made only fleeting appearances on television, usually around Halloween. That drought comes to an end Oct. 29 when Decades adds it to its weekday lineup, where it will appear every midnight like a ghostly wail \Monday through Friday.

The series will begins where it always does, with episode 210 and the arrival of Barnabas Collins. While I expect some of the old timers to gripe about this decision, it's as elegant introduction to the series as you could possibly ask. Those episodes from the spring and summer of 1967 represent Dark Shadows at its purest, when it was still a fairly traditional melodrama with a vampire lurking around the fringes. Decades plans to keep the show on its schedule until next spring, offering 260 episodes daily ... this will take viewers from Willie Loomis learning a hard lesson while graverobbing in #210, to #470, shortly before Adam is fully assembled by Dr. Eric Lang. That's a LOT of story.

If you don't get Decades in your area, don't sweat it right now. You can catch the first few dozen episodes streaming on Hulu and Amazon, and you're welcome to watch along with the rest of us every midnight. (I don't have Decades either, and this is my strategy.) If you don't already have a Twitter account, make sure to get one ... lively conversations during the broadcast will go a long way toward telling service providers what you want. If we can bring enough new fans into the fold we might even keep Dark Shadows on Decades long after #470.


To find out where to how DECADES visit

Stan Against Evil earns the coveted ❤ emoji from the CHS

I am a devoted fan of IFC's Stan Against Evil, a show that manages to scratch my constant cravings for EC Comics-style horror and Lynchian small-town weirdness. There's nothing else quite like it on television ... and perhaps there never has been, save for some of the more comedic episodes of The X-Files. Comedy and horror often make for troubled marriages and Stan Against Evil's almost obsessive devotion to making the show both a pure horror and pure comedy wobbles unpredictably between laughs and revulsion. It's a tone that won't work for some people, but you wouldn't want to hang out with them, anyway. They're buzz kills.

This is already running longer than I intended, so let me keep this brief with some random observations about Stan Against Evil: It's got some of the best monster designs to grace the small screen since The Outer Limits, it has as perfect an ensemble cast as you could ever hope for, John C. McGinley was in Platoon and therefore is allowed to do whatever he wants in perpetuity, Janet Varney is the moral and emotional anchor for Stan Against Evil (and a genuine revelation as an actress), Deborah Baker Jr. makes every scene she's in better, Nate Mooney needs his own spinoff Enos-style, and I want to be Dana Gould when I grow up. (I've been saying that last bit since 1991, but he doesn't show any signs of vacating the position.) Wow ... I'm out of breath now.

Anyhoo, it was my goal this summer to bring some of my love of Stan Against Evil to The Collinsport Historical Society but had concerns about diluting my mission. I've restricted my Standom to Twitter and Instagram, scattering my artwork to the digital winds. BUT: the series is returning for a third season on Oct. 31. It feels like a good time to pool some of these creations in one spot, a few of which are being seen for the first time. If you aren't familiar the show you might be a little confused by all of this ... the first two seasons of Stan Against Evil are streaming right now on Hulu, which should give you a chance to catch up. And you might want to, given that there's an homage to House of Dark Shadows planned for season 3.

If you're a Stan Fan, feel free to share anything you see here.

Review: Dark Shadows: Bloodlust, Episode 6


Ah! Listen! The SPOILERS AHEAD of the night! Vat music they make!

“We are The Trinity and we will protect ourselves.”

Volume 1 of Dark Shadows: Bloodlust comes to a thunderous conclusion in episode 6. The town of Collinsport is ready to boil in the wake of the newest attacks. Attacks that have taken the life of Andrew Cunningham and landed poor Jessica Griffin in a coma. And to complicate matters further Quentin Collins is back in town, his arrival unfortunately coinciding with the attacks. Everything is primed to explode and whether she meant to or not, Maggie Evans just might have lit the fuse. Episode 6 really feels like a real deal conclusion and though we still have a whole other volume to cover in the coming days, but this episode really sticks the landing for this first part rocking the very foundations of Collinsport and the fandom that loves it.

Click HERE to get the episode!
Before we proper start though, I must apologize for the lateness of this installment. We were hosting the annual sister city barbeque with delegates from Innsmouth, Mass. One of their aldermen, who smelled weirdly of cod, had a few too many Old Peculiers and accidentally knocked out wi-fi for the town overcooking a chicken on the Society’s lawn. It was a mess but the mayor of Innsmouth apologized profusely and left like a oppressive amount of crab dip so everything is comin’ up Justin!

But enough civil politics, BLOODLUST! So when we last talked, Quentin Collins had just swept back into Maggie Evans’ life and whoever (or whatever) is attacking citizens had struck again. Writers Joseph Lidster, Alan Flanagan, and Will Howells waste little time capitalizing on these developments. First up is David Selby’s naturally powerfully integration into the cast. The script does a nice job of contextualizing his inclusion, dropping hints about his relation to Amy and his standing among the town, pre-Bloodlust. This attention to context and continuity, especially around bigger characters, is really a key selling point for this serial for me. I was really worried going into this that I would be somewhat lost, being as how most of my Dark Shadows knowledge comes from the show and film entries. But Big Finish has really gone the extra mile to make these both accessible and entertaining and it really really encouraging to see.

But seriously, holy crow, David Selby rules. Each original actor has really shined throughout this serial, and Selby is no exception. Though he may be older, Selby’s newfound wizened timbre of his voice really hones the edges of menace and charm that he used so well back on TV screens. His inclusion also really amps up the tension in the town and finally, THANKFULLY, gives Maggie Evans some more time in the spotlight as his main foil. We all know how great Selby can be and he doesn’t disappoint here, but finally hearing Kathryn Leigh Scott get some meaty material to chew on was a real joy. Which makes her unfortunate positioning as the woman who may have doomed Collinsport all the more tragic.

Yes, after all this time of people warning Maggie that her meetings at the Blue Whale would lead to some sort of anti-monster mob...her meetings at the Blue Whale transforms into a full tilt mob. This is the major set piece of the episode and the production staff smartly build and build up to it making it hit all the harder. While I am not the biggest fan of poor Harry being pressured into revealing Angelique’s lair, mainly because he’s precious and I don’t want anything bad to happen to him, this turn toward violence led by a grieving Ed Griffin instantly raises the stakes even more than they already they already were, pitting all the normals of the town against the heaviest hitters of the franchise, including a certain vampiric and Bryonic nerd that we all love.

Big, deadly things are in store for Collinsport and I don’t think everyone can survive it. But that is seriously half the fun of this serial. Especially now that the whole monster gang is back together and such delicious plot threads have been introduced. For example, Harry might be a monster and Tommy is fur sure one, cursed by Quentin’s curse! The Trinity has once again gathered and God help Collinsport.

NEXT TIME! We begin Volume 2! Barnabas is back and he sounds proper pissed!      

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: October 15


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 874

Petofi must go on the run from gypsies as the power of the hand returns to Quentin, who uses it to restore minds. Meanwhile, Kitty begins to realize that she is Josette.

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly." — Ernest Hemingway, THE SUN ALSO RISES

Endings in DARK SHADOWS frequently feel like they happen in the same fashion: quickly. It’s jarring for a show where everything else is, to be polite, in no particular hurry. In the case of Jason McGuire, characters like Carolyn and Barnabas have simply had enough and they end his shenanigans unceremoniously. (Literally, since the wedding doesn’t take place.) Adam wanders away. In the case of Petofi, it’s a controlled implosion with a variety of calamities all happening around the same time. A disturbed jolt back from 1969. A rebounding Barnabas. Garth Blackwood. King Johnny’s widow. Beth’s cooking. Whatever Aristede brought back from Cabo. (Okay, I’m conjecturing the last part.) Still, for a character who’s been around for months, it’s a shock to see him undermined and petard-hoisted so quickly.

Putting almost all of the end in David Selby’s hands (or hand, in this case) is a master stroke. Petofi’s wit and strange gentility always seemed like a function of his ungainly physique. It was a source of humility beyond the deniable. In Quentin’s body, he becomes understandably and insufferably smug. And then far crueler with far less nuance to his approach. As far as games go, he’s moved from an elegant and Puckish game of go to football, with a brutal playbook, at that. By the same token, Quentin has yet another lesson in humility to learn, and he’s graduating with honors. I’m not surprised that the character is so boring when we meet him again. If I were Quentin, I’d be too terrified of life to do anything but wash my hands, walk old ladies to the grocery, and turn the pages for the chorus pianist. I don’t think Gerard drives him crazy; whatever happens to him on the Night of the Green Flag is the final chunk in the mosaic of All of the Things in Life that Can Go Horribly Wrong.

Not that it’s a miserable ride for the rest of us. Not here. Watching Petofi lose the power of his hand is like seeing Khan getting caught with his shields down. Although it would be fun to see Thayer David find a new way to chew the scenery, Selby’s eyes register shocked umbridge with olympian powers. It’s a bit of full circle. We met him as a petulant ghost, eyes blazing with disapproval and reproach. As human and humane as Quentin becomes, this is a nice reminder of why the man and actor were so captivating when we were first introduced.

As Petofi falls and Quentin learns his last lessons in responsibility, Barnabas is also on the ascendant, and it’s our warmest time with him. Watching him actually, really, I-swear-to-God get Josette back has a sweetness that even the show can’t yet believe. It metes it out as if we’re a deserving dog, they’re out of treats, and all that’s left is the fois gras. On our end, we’ll take what we can get, and yes, it’s fois gras. In the same fashion, it won’t last. It can’t. Happy characters don’t belong on soap operas, and it still feels like Barnabas has lessons to learn. Who knew they’d be so ugly? And it’s not like the fois gras is being served up by the shovelful. Kathryn Leigh Scott is charged with serving it in tiny bites at frustrating intervals. I have no idea if she ever got to play Nina in THE SEAGULL, but she gives the audition of her life, here. Seagull/Actress/Kitty/Josette, it becomes a blur that she navigates nimbly, and it’s her best acting on the show since the depths of her first of many kidnappings. Kitty’s transformation into Josette could have easily degenerated into a Carol Burnett skit, and if you’ve seen KLS on the inaugural POLICE SQUAD!, you know she’s an astoundingly underrated comedienne. The fact that she keeps it on just this side of credible (without degenerating into the dull) is a tribute to her sense of taste and discipline.

She plays one more character who’s not what she appears. As 1897 ends, almost no one is. Kitty is Josette. Quentin is Petofi. Petofi is Quentin. Barnabas is a human Doppelganger. Amanda’s a painting. Charity is Pansy Faye. And a sketch of Garth Blackwood is about to kill the Count. The deceptiveness of appearances is a bedrock of soap operatic writing, but DARK SHADOWS, epitomized by 1897, will never be content with only the basics. Curtis and the writers top themselves with no concept of ceiling. If appearances are deceptive, then they’ll deceive like they’re doing a daredevil stunt. Is it a stunt? Does it feel like it? No. It’s intrinsic to the story. Like Petofi’s end, it’s been so gradually cultivated, we don’t realize it’s upon us. So much of DARK SHADOWS could feel like a gimmick. From concept to credits, the show seems like it would be television’s greatest engine for gimmicks until you watch it.  The writers are too good for that, though, and so are the performers.

This episode was broadcast Oct. 30, 1969.

10 things I learned from Barnabas Collins

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