Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 11


Taped on this day in 1967: Episode 305

When Sarah takes David on a tour of her home, will there be room for one more in the mausoleum? Sarah: Sharon Smyth. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas kvetches about the weakening side-effect of Julia’s injections, although she seems delighted. Meanwhile, Sarah shows David a hidden coffin.

Curses are blessings on Dark Shadows, and that’s not always limited within the series itself; it’s also true for how the show was made. Truth time: the soap format slides easily into something that, without love and context, is unwatchably slow and dull. But it is not without its advantages, also. Usually, the command to stretch it out is a mandate for repetition. But in certain cases, the writers found fascinating eddies of implication to explore, and 305 is an example of why people kept watching -- it asks the questions we all all have. In this case, about the afterlife and the practicalities of the paranormal.

The episode is vaguely split between Barnabas & Julia and David & Sarah. Both involve a human dealing with the vagaries of supernatural lifeforms, unwittingly or not. Barnabas is developing impatience with Julia’s conversion process. He’s tired of the perpetual hangover intrinsic to being human, and I think he’s beginning to suspect that Julia either has no idea what she’s doing or is purposefully dragging it out. Barnabas has had remarkably good health for nearly two centuries, so we can understand his disappointment. He’s reacting as if she’s spiking his sherry with saltpeter, and for all we know, she might. Julia’s savoring his lack of vitality, crossing weird lines between doctor, mother, and lover, promising that “she’ll take care of Burke Devlin” her own way, and conjuring images of Rosa Klebb’s clumsy attempt at lesbian seduction in From Russia with Love. It takes a very special lesbian to win Burke Devlin.

Meanwhile, outside, David and Sarah discuss her knack for letting David in on secrets, and she tantilizes him with the promise of a whopper. This leads to a marvelously acted dialogue where Smythe mixes a very simple honesty with a beautifully textured ambiguity, struggling to explain the where she lives in the afterlife. Sarah never claimed to be alive; she just uses the metaphors of living. Here, it’s clear that Sarah knows what she is, and as straight as she can be, how she lives. She’s not being coy. David is simply not hearing her. I have no idea if the young actress considered the strange weight of the netherworld of her implication, but I would love to know. Quite simply, Sharon Smyth kicks ass. For a child actress understandably entranced by the teleprompter, Smythe shows remarkable sophistication in this episode, and the result may be one of Sarah’s best, most empowered performances in the series. Dark Shadows, in this era, excels at hinting. Everything is offstage. Huge casts of characters we’ve yet to meet. To hear it about the afterlife only heightens our curiosity.

Dark Shadows excels not just at horror, but showing us the inner workings and practicalities of the horrific from new perspectives. The David/Sarah relationship is one of the most poignant on the program. Each is as lonely and lost as the adults on the show. (In that regard, Carolyn, Joe, and Maggie are the sore thumbs on the hand because they seem the least lonely, until they aren’t.) Sarah’s overall game may be to curb Barnabas’ opportunities for evil. Or, drawn from death’s domain by her brother’s resurrection, it may simply be to have a friend the way that Barnabas wants a lover. Vicki will recognize physical resemblances when she goes to the past. Does Sarah see the same thing? By making Sarah the most realistic ghost in horror, the show raises all of the right questions, and ones we never knew we had.

This episode hit the airwaves on Aug. 25, 1967.

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 10


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1079

When the power of a gorgeous ghost compels him, will Quentin complete an exorcism before the spirits change David’s wardrobe? Quentin: David Selby. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Daphne leads Quentin to a graveyard to see familiar tombstones. He vows to help, but it’s clear she has mixed intentions. He later tries to exorcise the house, but Daphne’s influence strops him. Meanwhile, Hallie goes from slave to the ghosts to the realization that she’s their prisoner as she and David attempt a seance.

I’m not sure what’s going on in this episode or storyline, but I can’t stop watching it. If anything is my takeaway on Dark Shadows, it’s that. Beginning with Vicki’s parentage, it’s a program about withholding information. 1079 elevates the unspoken to its rarest expression. That kind of ambiguity draws the audience into the storytelling process, and the rigor of it in this is equally demanding and rewarding. Some of the power of Gerard’s plan, if we can even call it a plan, is its allusiveness. The ultimate goal is the destruction of Collinwood, but fewer knives have been as serrated, and the horror of Gerard (since we know where it’s going) lies in the unnecessary damage he causes to those he’s marked for death or madness, anyway.

When the episode isn’t reveling in repressed sexuality, it’s venturing a little too boldly into deeper taboo on a rubber raft of counterfeit ambiguity. It begins with a visual metaphor so bold there might be no meta left at all. We find Quentin in the graveyard as Daphne points out her own tombstone. Quentin must have some sort of partial memory of being a ghost or being dead, or a sense of it, because even though the timeline has changed, he was once a zombie, after all. And he certainly understands being from another time. Given that, a dead woman from the 1800’s is someone Quentin can't resist. Is she silently imploring his help, or is he simply assuming that? Considering that, as they begin their embrace, she's holding a knife at his back without his knowledge, it sums up far, far too many relationships.

As the episode goes on, Selby gets to show an amazing range of sincerity and furtiveness as he attempts to exorcise the home, and probably its temptations, eventually sabotaging those same efforts and lying about it. Not only is he lying about it, he's enjoying the process. As he lies to Julia about the extent of Daphne's control at the end of the episode, he has a naughty, hostile smile that is worthy of Jack Torrance. And it's an example of a very human, very subtle moment that exists completely in the face. It really has no formal name, but David Selby has a disturbing degree of control of it nonetheless.

David and Hallie dominate the rest of the episode, forced into playrooms and roleplay with dialogue that you have to strain to hear as single entendre. This is difficult subtext to confront because of the singularly awkward age of the performers. Both were around fifteen, neither adults nor children. In an effort not to sexualize them (ewww), the show goes too far in the other direction as it vaguely infantilizes them. The net result feels even more perverse than if they’d let them be fifteen. The exact reason for insisting that David dress up and submit to the whim of a beautiful ghost (who is nearly his age peer) is unclear and disturbing because of that murkiness. The substitute costumes only further this. The selected outfits are of both the early 70’s and the 1840’s. They are the costumes of a very formal child or a very fanciful adult. Which is it? Which does Gerard want them to be? All of it, as long as it’s in paralyzing quantities. Gerard wants the adult David to know exactly what’s being done to him while the child David knows he’s powerless to stop it.

This episode hit the airwaves on Aug. 13, 1970.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 28


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1071

Quentin has his doubts when Barnabas lures him to a closet with the assurance that there’s a playroom inside. Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.) 

Barnabas and Julia arrive from the future -- and the opposite end of the house -- to a delighted Quentin, Liz, and their new guest, Carrie Stokes, the professor’s niece. Carrie remains suspicious of the two, perhaps because there’s only so much bacon at bruch, and until recently, she had it all to herself since David read Maggie’s Casteneda book and went vegetarian. Barnabas and Julia set about trying to identify Daphne and Gerard. When Barnabas tries to show Quentin the playroom, he simply fubles around in the linen closet and shrugs. 

If there is one Dark Shadows episode that lurks in my memory as the model for all of the very best, it’s this one. It’s genuine speculative action. There’s mystery, suspense, a supernatural threat, lies, kindness, warmth, kinship, and an optimistic sense of adventure. Collinwood is treated as it should be; it’s a home that’s held with affection. This bastion is a fortress to be protected, not feared. And it’s first and last son, Barnabas, has such a sense of can-do problem-solving, he should be dressed as Athos and demanding that they stop the machinations of Richelieu and M’Lady at once, lest France fall to the Pope once and for all. I get that image from the way Barnabas bounds into the drawing room with Julia, to proudly announce they’ve arrived back from both Parallel Time and the Future. It’s the kind of delivery you’d see Errol Flynn give to Basil Rathbone… as balloons fell from the ceiling. 

And honestly, after arriving back from such exotic destinations, how else is a man to enter? They’ve even captured Kathy Cody trying to break into the ensemble, and she’s locked in Paul Stoddard’s trunk. What is Eliot doing trying to pawn her off at Collinwood, anyway? This man hosted Adam, for god’s sake. What is Carrie Stokes doing to the upholstery that he dumps her with Liz? She’s just warming up for an intensely uncomfortable evening visit to Quentin’s bedroom. Seriously, they remark about the strange feelings she’s been having. It’s the scene where Quentin barely restrains himself from sprinting out of the room and calling his lawyer.

Other than that, Collinwood has found a strange equilibrium. Carolyn’s in mourning, which has basically sedated her. Liz is in a decent mood, largely because she’s had David Selby all to her herself. Quentin has ditched the turtleneck for a suit, and seems blandly at peace, comfortable to stand around and look handsome. David and Carrie are busy ignoring the fact that they are almost out of puberty’s oven. It’s best we don’t know what they’ve found snooping in Quentin’s sock drawer, but I doubt it’s I Ching wands and a mummified hand. Life is good. It’s that weird calm that soap operas slip into between storylines. It’s important to see the house at such ease. Gordon Russell creates an excellent Pax Collinsus from which it’s all going to hell. These are the moments that will make us nostalgic in the times to come.

For a man charged with preventing a localized apocalypse, Barnabas is in an excellent mood. As well he should be. From his heroic high in 1897, he plunges in the Leviathan storyline, only having to work it off in Parallel Time and 1995. There’s an interesting detail to 1995, because it presupposes the absence of Barnabas and Julia. Why are they absent? Presumably because they are in Parallel Time. What were they doing in Parallel Time? At that hour? In those outfits? Barnabas, cursed with vampirism, was hoping he’d be different there. And why was he cursed with vampirism? Yet another deal for Josette with another sinister force. Had he recognized his power and thought more expansively, Barnabas might have used the situation rather than being used by it. He wasn’t in a position to do that, then. He is, now. And he has an ethical mandate to do it -- arguably, had he been at Collinwood, he might have prevented Gerard’s ascent.

At least, that’s what he thinks. Collinwood’s full of time travelers. They all have ample evidence that their actions can and will change the future. Barnabas has a road map to it. It’s incorrect. Doom will result. But now, Barnabas is ready. 

This episode hit the airwaves on Aug. 3, 1970.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 16


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1064

As Barnabas struggles in 1995 to assemble the clues of doomsday, Julia is preoccupied by a dashing ghost! Mrs. Johnson: Clarice Blackburn. (Repeat; 30 minutes.)

Julia reels from the psychic influence of Gerard as efforts to interrogate Carolyn about the disaster prove fruitless. The sheriff warns Barnabas and Julia to leave town, and if there were anyone else left alive, they’d smell torches and pitchforks, all the while wondering what would make pitchforks smell like that.

1995 is a fascinating mess. It’s a storyline that I want to shake by the lapels and ask it to be more. I mean, think of it… 1995! I’ve often bemoaned the lack of ray guns and mylar jumpsuits, and I’ve just as (at least once) often championed it for actually getting the era right, down to the 1970’s retro that Carolyn sports. It’s a vacation for most of the actors. Even though the majority of the original cast were absent for much of 1970 PT, they were missing from the show because they were shooting House of Dark Shadows. So, yes, they had a vacation coming. The upcoming Ragnarok storyline between 1995 and 1840 is a spare, modernist landscape where Roger is wholly missing and Liz might as well be. The post-apocalyptic wasteland of 1995 is a real slap on the backside from the OB/GYN to get us breathing in the real world.

And it is a ‘real world’ in the most poetic sense. How long has Collinsport comparatively ignored the PTSD-inducing madness regularly unleashed by the town’s namesake? Not since Victoria first arrived on the train bound for the beginning and the end of the world has the town been so realistically wigged out by the Collinses. This a Lovecraftian afterbirth of a village. In the past, the reliable, economic bounty of the cannery kept the locals quietly grumbling thank-you-may-I-have-another, but with the family either dead or insane, I can’t imagine there’s much left of Collinsport. The house may be in ruin, but so’s the local economy. Things are so bad, they have to order out to get a sheriff from the south. Because we all know that Dana Elcar would have had the whole mess cleaned up, and would have bested the conspicuously Rubenseque Chuck Morgan in any number of contests involving wrestling oil, lobster bibs, or both. Yes, of course, nude.

There’s not a lot of story to tell in such ruin, and it shocks on myriad levels. Barnabas and Julia spend a lot of time wandering back and forth between Collinwood and Collinsport, looking for clues and finding few. Gerard shows up and starts staring at people, giving them the creeps, but that’s about it. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever watched a 1995 episode with my full attention, and yet it satisfies the inauguration of my favorite storyline, the mindbendingly fatalistic fall of Collinwood. None of it is fun, and all of it is finally truthful. Haunted houses are not sustainable real estate prospects and the idea that the Collinses could have lived in one for more than a month is an assertion that needs the pantsing the show gives it, here. The other shoe of reality has fallen hard, and I think it’s for golfing.

So, what are they spending their time doing? Talking. Grayson Hall has the unenviable task of the infectious nihilism that Gerard inspires. This is a Dark Shadows of the post-Manson era, when the deaths of soldiers in a senseless war were only an hour or so away on this station. America still had illusions of being a moral empire when Vicki arrived from New York. Not so much now, and this is a reflection. There’s not much to do, hunkered down like a dog under a bed after a thunderstorm, other than muse that the lawn was so much prettier before the tempest. And that’s what they do. Julia struggles with a very new form of invasion, here. Prior victimizers imposed evil on her. Her fear of Gerard feels different. This is a force that shows her the evil she has within her, and that’s a nauseatingly Zen attack. All Gerard need do is hold up a mirror and let Julia do the rest. Barnabas seems vaguely invulnerable to it because, as he speculates, he’s not human. All he is are evil impulses that he’s learned to dress up in the suit of goodness. Gerard seems to wisely keep his distance because of it.

The episode shines with Clarice Blackburn’s surprisingly warm misremembering of Collinwood before the fall. Is she inaccurate in her memory of that sunny, happy place? It’s true for her, even if it’s a lie she’s memorized so often that it eclipses the past. In a sense, she’s like a viewer of Dark Shadows who’s romanticized what she would like to have been the warmth in the Collins home that was all too fleeting. 1995, and episode 1064 in particular, is a chance to see another fan who’s let the wishes of memory color the reality of what was. It’s a creeping preview of a storyline that would be all too ready to show us that the center cannot hold forever, if it ever did.

This episode hit the airwaves on July 23, 1970.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 6


Taped on this day in 1967: Episode 281

When a seance brings Josette to the present in Vicki’s body, to whom will Barnabas propose? Roger Collins: Louis Edmonds. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Vicki, possessed by Josette, narrates her last moments on earth until Barnabas stops her. Later, Barnabas hears Vicki speak of her love of the past, and presents her with the music box.

“What is the value of suffering if it isn’t to be enjoyed?”
-- Roger Collins, guru--

Roger Collins walks away with this one, but who is Roger? I’m not sure he ever is quite as, I don’t know, Roger as he is in this one. It’s as if a real guy were raised by Quentin’s nephew in an intensely haunted house, dodging murder raps, fire-demon ex-wives, vehicular patricide, and a hard-drinking, nymphomaniacal niece who never quite “got the memo.” The writers heard about this real guy and based a character on him. And for one episode, he got to write all of his own dialogue. Every aphorism is a gem. He’s giddy over the costume party, and equally oblivious to the terror and suffering endured by the employee forced to go there. In other words, he’s a great guy and I wish the writers had featured THAT Roger Collins more. Or that Roger Moore Collins. One or the other. But like that great thespian of the English screen might have done, Louis Edmonds dominates the episode. This is despite his minimal screen time. Roger has a marvelously fresh sense of aristocratic defiance in the drawing room scene, and the rarity of seeing a Collins enjoy himself is too much to ignore. Edmonds knows he has a killer scene, designed to make him look like a million bucks. He’s a team player, Louis. Yeah, he could out act a number of his fellow performers, but he shows Louisiana good manners by not doing so. However, in this case, the thoroughbred simply needs to gallop at full speed.

Roger aside, we’re cementing the mechanics of the seance, here. I suspect the staff is well aware that 1795 finery, seances, and Vicki in peril are their next servings of bread and butter. Although that’s months away, the long-game strategy of Team Shadows allows them to get the audience so used to it all that, when it happens, it’s so natural that I’m amazed anyone time travels without a seance. The costumes feel right on the actors because they’ve been training us. Like we were all rats in Dan Curtis’ insane maze. My god, we’ve got to get back to the ship. Don’t you understand? It’s a zoo! With a cookbook! What, which episode is this? Shit, “Hocus, Pocus, and Frisbee”? You gotta be kidding me. I need a better agent.

Back to reality, the show is also straining, barely successfully, with shoehorning Vicki in as Josette. But it can’t do it too well. Because, you know, she’s not. But with Maggie in the nuthouse and Barnabas looking for reasons not to linger in Dr. Hoffman’s bedroom when she puts on that Sergio Mendes album, opens up a Whitman Sampler, and starts daubing Campari behind her ears, someone has to be Josette. I guess it could have been Dana Elcar, but I think he’s off the show by now. Vicki is awkwardly attracted to the past, and the seance features a performance that is suggestive of something else. As Moltke rhythmically pants, moans, and says “Faster!” a lot, I expect the camera to pan over to Rob Reiner’s mom telling Willie, “I have what she’s having.”

One of the many original elements to Barnabas Collins is the terror he suffers. He may take far more than he dishes out. Not only is he a deeply tragic man out of time, he’s also haunted by two ghosts. But one appears to everyone OTHER than Barnabas, and she’s the one who’d give him solace. He’s in love with the other one, but she spends all of her time possessing people and trying to out him. In 281, he’s confronted by both. What’s Josette’s game? Perhaps Josette is the force that drags Vicki through time. Perhaps it’s the only way she can warn her about Barnabas. Unless she’s not trying to warn anyone about Barnabas. If I were Josette, I’d be warning people about Angelique. And if Barnabas would just let her finish a simple possession, maybe she would!

This episode hit the airwaves on July 24, 1967.

Tuesday, June 23, 2020

See House, Night of Dark Shadows on Movies! in July

Whoops! That's what I get for not checking the rest of the Movies! schedule. As it happens, both House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows are airing on Movies! in July.  Here's the revised schedule. The times are EST.

July 3
1:30 p.m., House of Dark Shadows
3:45 p.m. Night of Dark Shadows

July 12
12 p.m., House of Dark Shadows
2:15 p.m. Night of Dark Shadows
July 14
4:40 p.m. 1776
8 p.m., House of Dark Shadows

July 15
8 p.m. Night of Dark Shadows
July 20
8:35 a.m., House of Dark Shadows
10:50 a.m. Night of Dark Shadows

Original, erroneous story follows ...

Night of Dark Shadows, everybody's second favorite Dark Shadows movie, is set to air four times next month on Movies! TV Network. Why July? Who knows! It's usually a month reserved for films as far flung as 1776 to Rocky IV, and Night of Dark Shadows screams a lot of things but "O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave" isn't one of them.

Speaking of 1776, exactly when does NoDS take place? The movie poster claims the flashback scenes happen 200 years ago, meaning 1771. Other summaries state 150 years ago, landing us on 1821. But the screenplay says Angelique died in 1810 ... which is a dud year in American history. The big news of 1810 was that the United States annexed West Florida shortly after it declared independence from Spain. In fact, it would be another decade before Maine, the location of all things Dark Shadows, would even become a state. That's one to grow on.

I've included 1776 in the schedule because I consider it to be an honorary Dark Shadows movie, thanks to the shows many cast members appearing in the film.

If you want to watch Night of Dark Shadows on Movies!, here's when it airs:

For more details, visit https://moviestvnetwork.com/movies/1765, and make sure to follow Will McKinley on Twitter. He's the guy who tipped me to this.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Hermes Press reissuing first Dark Shadows collection

How about some good news?

Hermes Press is bringing the first volume of its Dark Shadows series back into print. Back in 2010 the company began collecting the entire Gold Key comic book series into hardback, a collection that eventually spanned five hardcover books, a "best of" collection and a reprint of Gold Key's 1970 Dark Shadows Story Digest one-shot. All of these books have remained available in recent years, except for the first volume of the Gold Key comics collection. At the moment it's selling for $143 on Amazon, which is the cheapest it's been for years. No, really.

Hermes Press announced this morning that it's re-issuing the volume. While no release date is attached, the book is available for preorder for $49.99 at the company's website HERE. Go get it!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Pride Month 2020: Things should be better

Earlier this week, the Trump administration rolled back an Obama-era policy that protected LGBTQ+ patients from discrimination. In case the decision wasn't already cruel enough, the move came on the  fourth anniversary of the massacre of a nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people. I suspect Trump had no idea of the significance of the date until he later saw it discussed on Fox News. But the people within his administrtion pulling his strings absolutely do know the significance, but that doesn't make the situation any less outrageous.

The pandemic has left me unplugged from my normal routines. It has also cancelled Pride Month activities across the world, and this is a community that understands better than any other about the consequences of a pandemic. By 1989 there were an estimated 100,000 AIDS cases in the United States. The World Health Organization estimated there were as many as 400,000 cases worldwide.

At least four actors appearing on Dark Shadows died from AIDS related illnesses.

A 2019 post on The CHS Facebook page has become a place for heated discussion this week, leading me to believe this is a problem people want to discuss. We're all a feeling isolated this summer. I've had more time than ever before to plan a formal dislogue ... but I've also felt disinclined to express myself on anything but the most selfish of topics. Silence seems prudent when anger and anxiety are fighting for the wheel. As a straight, white man my sullenness is an expensive luxury.

Worse, it makes me an accomplice.

If you want to help, please consider donating to The Trevor Project, a non-profit organization  focused on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth. You can find them online at https://give.thetrevorproject.org/give/63307/#!/donation/checkout

Meanwhile, here's what The CHS did last year for Pride Month. It's all as relevant now as it was a year ago. I've included an abstract, the author's name and a link to their entire piece.

Our thoughts and feelings are valid
Brooke Perrin: "In addition to the backlash fans receive for celebrating the queerness of the talent involved in creating Dark Shadows, queer fans are also criticized by our straight counterparts for daring to see ourselves reflected in “their” characters. Although queer representation is making leaps and bounds today historically, the LGBTQ community have little to no representation in the media we consume." http://www.collinsporthistoricalsociety.com/2019/06/pride-month.html

Queer Shadows
Alice Collins: "Dark Shadows helped me get through a lot of my questioning and early coming out years (Unfortunate truth: You never stop coming out, you come out to each new person you meet.) It’s been my solace, my safe place to be scared because the outside world is even scarier." http://www.collinsporthistoricalsociety.com/2019/06/pride-month-queer-shadows.html

Witches and Role Models
Laramie Dean: "Originally, I considered writing about the in-the-closet nature of Barnabas Collins and his lycanthropic cousin Quentin, who must pretend to be their own ancestors so their hapless twentieth century relatives don’t discover their – gasp! – true natures, but that seems rather on the nose; and anyway, I want to write about Angelique.  Because she’s my favorite." http://www.collinsporthistoricalsociety.com/2019/06/pride-month-witches-and-role-models.html
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