Monday, August 20, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 20


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1089

When David discovers the power to raise a crew of undead pirates, what can stop him from using it? David: David Henesy. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Gerard increases his hold on Collinwood by claiming Elizabeth, who sets up the bust on the rail that will fall on Julia in 1995. The children alternately escape from and to Gerard. Having found that there was a real Java Queen, David reenacts a spell to resurrect its crew.

1089 is what late stage DARK SHADOWS is all about. Suspicion. Paranoia. Bowing and scraping to sneering ghosts. And bad fashion. What’s not to love? In this case, the flaw of the show’s final months is also its strength -- pace. This is a rough & tumble, Edwardian, Young Man’s Big Book of Manly Adventure episode, but since the kids are serving pure evil, it also has the subversive delight of being a meditation on “What If the Hardy Boys Went Bad?” In creating it, the writers make the program a carnival spook show ride that seems very slightly broken… in an amusing way. This is complete with pirate lore, now with zombies! Can anyone walk away from that moment? Exactly.

Had this episode been done a year and a half earlier, with Quentin pulling these shenanigans, it would have scared the hell out of the daytime world. But James Storm had a very different quality than David Selby. Gerard’s Ghost was never allowed to charm nor maintain the mask of allusive neutrality. Even his smile was sarcastic. Storm would have made one of the show’s great heroes had they cast him as such, somewhere between Pennock, Selby, and Crothers. However, Gerard is just a tiringly unpleasant spirit… if you compare him to Quentin. If you take him as he is, Gerard is a nasty and cravenly spirit on an unambiguous mission to torture the residents of Collinwood and level their home. Quentin’s haunting created questions that demanded an answer. Gerard’s had far less mystery and far more evil. We were destined to love Quentin. The only thing we are destined to do with Gerard is await his death scene. And I say that as a fan.

Gerard seems to have a very odd take on being a ghost, and even worse luck. His highlight in 1089 might be his attempt to lunge at people who just slowly saunter out of his way. His arms remain outstretched in empty air, and we wonder if he has the power to chase them or rematerialize in their new path. Clearly not, so he just sneers some more. It’s an oddly humanizing moment for the specter, if unintended by the authors. There is a winningly lunkheaded quality to all of the proceedings. For instance, Gerard’s main punishment appears sartorial in nature. Each possessed person seems to be trying to outdo the others for Worst Outfit. Liz is in a hot pink, silk, overinflated whirlwind of cotton candy, bearing a cape. Hallie seems to be in a shifting paisley chameleon uniform that changes patterns and hue depending on which eyesore of a curtain she’s standing near. But David takes the nuclear-azure urinal cake in an astounding, blue, belted, scoop-neck sweater/vest that could not have been made nor meant for a man under any circumstances. Since when is Gerard raiding Eve Plumb’s wardrobe? That makes the best dressed person in the episode… Julia Hoffman. Not just Julia Hoffman, but Julia Hoffman in a plain, brown dress. It empowers her to warn Liz not to put the Greek bust on the narrow handrail by the stairs. (You’d have to be possessed to do it!) It’ll bean her on the head in The Future. But Liz is too hypnotized to do anything but scoff, and so it stays on the mantle, somehow keeping its precarious place as zombies pull the roof around it down from within. If I were Julia, that’s a sticky-tack secret I’d crave.

David rounds out the episode by wondering if Gerard will punish them further, so he waves the green flag to summon zombies who will destroy Collinwood. How would Gerard have punished the family if David hadn’t? Maybe by making them dress off-the-rack from Orbach’s. 

This episode was broadcast Aug. 27, 1970.

Friday, August 17, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 17


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 309

Barnabas notes that his dosages are increasing and becomes violent when he hears that Burke is becoming suspicious about him. His mood sours further when Julia announces that he’s missed another appearance by Sarah. Later, Vicki cajoles Burke into apologizing to Barnabas. Julia reports more activity that she attributes to Sarah’s ghost. Barnabas convinces himself that he will be visited next.

The show is three months out from the (literally) history-making 1795 flashback. Given how far in advance the plot was mapped out, the finer points of the transition are all falling into place, and they rest on the shoulders of a young woman less than twelve years old. Barnabas is, as he has been since his introduction, obsessed with the past, but that obsession is less and less on Josette and instead centered on his actual true love (although not a romantic one): Sarah. Because of her age and the resume that (doesn’t) come with it, Sharon Smyth’s acting abilities were understandably limited. However, this didn’t slow down the program; the writers are too clever for that. Sometimes in drama, it can be more powerful to be talked about than seen. Sarah’s charm and influence profoundly affect her immediate community of adults, and seeing that in how they behave and reflect is the proper measure of her reach. Jonathan Frid shows us that with increasing frequency, and this episode solidly reintroduces the anguish that makes him the restrained vampire that he is, strangling Julia notwithstanding.

In Barnabas, we appreciate the monster created by Josette and Angelique, but who was he before that? It could be argued that this, in 309, is the real Barnabas. It’s astounding to think that the man we see played by Frid is only supposed to be twenty-five. That means that Sarah was in his life for almost half of it. Yes, he’s close to his uncle and Ben Stokes, but beyond that, the Barnabas we meet in 1795 is arguably isolated from the world of swagger. Other than the time he spent swingin’ in Martinique, Barnabas seems to have grown up isolated in Maine, diligently toiling in his father’s shadow and mold... although somewhat undercooked compared to the turgid, copralithic pater noster. When we first meet Young Collins in Vicki’s flashback, he seems like an angelic cross between Buster Brown and Eddie Haskell. Pretty naive.

Pretty, pretty naive.

In this episode, in the present, Barnabas reacts with shock and deep pain to the fact that Sarah appears to everyone but him. He knows it’s a punishment -- maybe the cruelest. He also knows why. He loved Sarah more than any other because, as the snare that catches so many others, she was someone who needed him. And up until Angelique, he was able to be there for her. It can be an enslaving thing, but there is something magnetic to knowing that you are both needed by someone and can make them truly happy. Beyond Jeremiah -- a man just as busy out on the town -- and Ben -- whose friendship (and maybe the law) was forbidden thanks to social class -- we know of no other companions for Barnabas. Although we don’t see it, we can infer that his connection with Sarah came from an intensely bonded relationship, somewhere between siblings and parent/child. He could protect Josette only to a certain extent, and the limit of his responsibility came from respect; she’s a responsible adult, after all. However, Sarah’s youth and naivete demanded his protection. And not just in danger. If Barnabas felt isolated, imagine how Sarah must have felt? No fleeting moments with Jeremiah. No Ben Stokes at her side. A remote father simply looking for a human prop, and a mother ten years too old to be dealing with yet another child. Sarah’s only company? Just the insanity of Abigail.

And Barnabas. Human compassion alone explains his fealty to her. She had been let down by fate and the birth order. She wasn’t going to be let down by him. Jonathan Frid explores the truth of Barnabas’ failure with mournful sensitivity, and along with his early monologue of Josette’s death by the sea, the character’s memories have wound the propeller for 1795 to take off and soar.

309 is also delightful. Burke explores his future as a hectored husband when Vicki nags him into apologizing to Barnabas for suspecting him of nogoodnikness, and Barnabas earns the right to ask one of the paranoid’s favorite questions -- about the innocence (or lack thereof) of Vicki’s suspicions towards him. He even gets a believably honest acquittal from her. Then, the curl up with the family history.

Even Barnabas gets a good day now and then. Part of one, anyway.

This episode was broadcast Aug. 31, 1967.

Thursday, August 16, 2018

Night of Dark Shadows ... in 3D!

The sprawling collection of 3D images from HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS went over well this week. Not as well as the fake View-master "reels" made from images of the original television series, mind you, but the traffic was still good enough to encourage me to follow through with a sequel. Despite being a wonderfully shot film in its own right, NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS isn't as visually lush as its precedecessor, which limited the number of shots that made for compelling 3D conversions. I was able to squeeze out enough images for three "reels," which lean (unsurprisingly) on Lara Parker's ghostly witch "Angelique." David Selby and Grayson Hall might have gottten most of the film's dialogue, but cinematographer Richard Shore (who would shoot only one other film, 1973's BANG THE DRUM SLOWLY) knew who the real star of the show was.

As with the previous View-master reels, I've uploaded the images to the Collinsport Historical Society's Tumblr feed, "Blood Drive." Click on the images below to view the images. Red and blue 3D glasses are required.

Tuesday, August 14, 2018

House of Dark Shadows ... in 3D!

Consider this a do-over, of sorts. A few weeks back I posted some faux sterographic images of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, animated gifs consisting of screenshots designed to create the illusion of depth. Since then, I've been tinkering with red and blue anaglyph 3D images based on the original television series. Given the "soft" nature of the videotape used by the series, it's been a real challenge to make those 3D images look like anything other than a hot mess. For every image you've seen there were 3-4 others that didn't work on any level. HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, shot with film and recently remastered by MGM, has none of those image problems. The film's hit-to-miss ratio has been much better, giving me a significantly bigger haul. Rather than dole these out over the course of several weeks, I'm sharing the entire batch in a single post. Once again, you'll need a pair of red/blue 3D glasses to make these images work. Below are links to all six (!) reels I created collecting 48 3D images, posted over at "Blood Drive," the CHS Tumblr feed. I've waived the usual View-master framing on these images because I couldn't stand the idea of cropping them.

REEL 1    REEL 2    REEL 3

REEL 4    REEL 5    REEL 6

Monday, August 13, 2018

The "lost" Dark Shadows View-Master reels

DARK SHADOWS peaked in popularity in 1969, reaching approximately 8.4 million homes every day. Unsurprisingly, it was also the year the series produced the most merchandise. The companies that invested in licenses for the series in 1968 finally started to get their wares to the shelves, with surprisingly mixed results. Gold Key released just a single issue of its DARK SHADOWS comic in 1968, with more than a year passing before a second was published. More trading cards, posters, records and anything else that could bear a trademark stamp was produced, among them a set of 3D View-Master reels from General Aniline & Film Corporation. The images in the series were captured the year before during "The Dream Curse" storyline and did not feature 1969's breakout star David Selby.

For reasons that GAF probably doesn't even remember, a second series of View-Master reels was never produced, robbing us of the chance to see Quentin Collins in 3D. The Collinsport Historical Society is doing its part to fill that void ... to a certain extent. View-Master reels traditionally feature seven stereoscopic images per reel, with three reels packaged in each set. Below are seven 3D images representing a second "lost" reel from DARK SHADOWS. You'll need a pair of red/blue anaglyph 3D glasses to view them, but I suspect DARK SHADOWS fans are the sort to have those kinds of things laying around the house. I've struggled a bit with how best to present these images ... splitting them up between different posts feels messy, while dumping all 21 images under a single header doesn't feel like a solution, either. So, here's what I've done: All three "reels" have been shared to the CHS Tumblr account. Click on the reels below to view them!

Thursday, August 9, 2018

Spend Christmas at Collinwood

Lyndhurst Mansion, the Tarrytown, N.Y. property that served as the fictional "Collinwood" in both HOUSE and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, will summon a few ghosts on the estate this Christmas. "Mr. Dickens Tells a Christmas Carol" recreates Charles Dickens’ own performances of the classic tale that brings the travails of Ebenezer Scrooge, Bob Cratchit, and Tiny Tim to life. Actor Mikel Von Brodbeck plays Charles Dickens, who uses the author's original script as he takes guests on a tour of the main floor of Lyndhurst where you will meet various spirits and characters that haunt the grounds.

The event takes place Dec. 14-30. Visit Showclix to purchase tickets to the event.

Now, if we can only convince them to host a live reading of the Big Finish audio "The Christmas Presance."

H/T to @willmckinley.

Wednesday, August 8, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 8


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 300

At the Old House, Barnabas awakens and asks for Willie. Barnabas orders Willie to spy on Vicki and Burke as closely as possible. Is Barnabas afraid of losing her to Burke. Later, Julia reports to Barnabas that his cure is coming along. She accuses him of being in Vicki’s room. Barnabas admits to temptation, but nothing happened. Julia emphasizes that there must be no next time. He chafes at taking orders. Neither Julia nor he can afford the questions. He agrees to stay away from Vicki. Later in the garden, Burke reveals that he’s buying Seaview for Vicki, and then asks her to marry him. She loves him but is torn. She’d have to leave the Collins family. She needs time to think. Meanwhile, Willie sees all. He and Barnabas meet at the Old House, and he reports the proposal. Barnabas vows there will be no marriage. Devlin must die!

When we think of social issues on fantasy TV of the sixties, the conversation begins (excluding a few months of 1959) with TWILIGHT ZONE and ends with STAR TREK. DARK SHADOWS addresses political circumstances, too, but in the case of episode 300, it is with fear and the shackles of baffling tradition. In STAR TREK, differences are celebrated. In DARK SHADOWS, they are often (initially) seen as challenges to be hidden and overcome. If you examine DARK SHADOWS politically, it has moments that are shockingly conservative for genre television. However, DARK SHADOWS was not really genre television. I mean it. It was a soap opera aired in the late afternoon for housewives, designed to sell canned hams and pantyhose. That makes the subversive moments enjoyed by the show even craftier. Number 300 is not subversive, but it is sadly revealing of the era. There is a lot we take for granted now. Even I am bewildered by the 60’s attitude regarding Vicki and Burke. Really? Vicki’s marriage would necessitate her leaving her job at Collinwood? The assumption is that she’s immediately supposed to become a baby factory for Burke. For a show filled with strong women, is it all smoke and mirrors under this core ethos? Because it’s taken for granted. I’m sure women from the time would affirm that it’s an accurate portrait, and that makes the decision by several of the show’s actresses to remain child-free even more remarkable.

Just as significant is the conversation that Barnabas and Julia have about what life will be like when he’s a “normal” man with no secrets… someone who can “love like a normal man.” Okay. New York. The Sixties. The theatrical arts. Haven for confirmed bachelors. Wallace and I have written about homosexuality in and around DARK SHADOWS before in separate essays. Secret identities. Living in various closets. The family can never know. Tortured yet compulsed. If you see their real self, you’re horrified. Vampirism is a razor-pointed metaphor for the pitfalls and power of closeted gay life in the 1960’s. Metaphorically, the secret of the Collinses isn’t that some of them are monsters….

On this day in 1967, the Association of South East Asian Nations was formed.

Friday, August 3, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 3


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1076

During the lunar eclipse, the children find the playroom, and Hallie seems possessed by a woman from an earlier time. She doesn’t remember this later, but Daphne’s ghost reappears to tempt her with a Regency-era dress. Meanwhile, a loveless Quentin spots Daphne’s grave, and a dream appearance by her becomes reality when lilacs mysteriously appear in the drawing room.

On the podcast in which Wallace, Will McKinley, and I discussed NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, we agreed that the film was more of an art film than a horror movie. If that motif has a beginning for the franchise, it’s right around here. It’s tough to write about the Ragnaraok sequence without meditating on both its difference from the rest of the franchise and its representation of it. In fact, it’s becoming an annual tradition at the Daybook. It needs advocates, and those are tough to find. The reasons? As 1076 shows us, it’s not fun. It’s vaguely piebald when it comes to characters who’ve been with the program from the beginning. Barnabas and Julia seem more desperate and less certain than ever. Quentin is joyless and joylessly untrustworthy. Visually, the fashions and hair make it stand out wildly from what we’re used to from most of the show. Most importantly, it’s a downer. Other storylines are about averting probable doom. In this, it’s about witnessing a protracted inevitability. The minute we see characters in period costumes and know that at least two time portals exist within the house, it’s clear this is headed to 1840. Do we really have to see Maggie become diseased and insane and bedridden to make that happen?  Soaps thrive on cliffhangers. Ragnaraok is a checklist of bad things we know will happen.

The trick to this sequence is adjusting expectations. This is not Lyndon Johnson’s DARK SHADOWS; it’s Richard Nixon’s. And that’s okay. Before, the series was about who and what. Who was behind the door? What is Barnabas going to do next? Now, it’s more a show about when and how. Gerard is a prime sadist, and like a moodier Petofi, attacks his opponents’ weaknesses with Seraut-like precision. Hallie is shuffled between homes, and his approach is to show her an era in which she has meaning waiting for her. David, growing up too suddenly and too fast, enjoys a playroom and alternate identity that literally turns back -- way back -- the clock. And Quentin gets a terrible, manipulative girlfriend. There’s a reason that Commander Riker turned away Q’s powers on TNG and Dr. Chidi Anagonye rejected Michael’s “opposite tortures” on THE GOOD PLACE. As anyone who falls into the gifting reciprocity trap can tell you, it’s never good.

Yes, there is some mystery and suspense, if fatalistic. This sequence is as much a chance to actually “be” with the characters, and the combative David/Hallie sequences are offset by the ones with Quentin and Julia. Where do the latter go to think? Of course, Quentin would go to a cemetery, and what’s that like for him, even under normal circumstances? He remembers so many of the years on both ends of these lives. And, of course he would flirt with Julia. For Quentin, she’s an unthinkably younger woman. When Quentin muses about needing a woman, Julia says he wants a drinking partner. Perhaps she’s missing a drinking partner and hinting for one, and he’s hinting as well. Of course, he puts down his glass, she drops the subject, and everyone remains good, sober friends. No wonder this doesn’t feel like traditional DARK SHADOWS.

Is this padding? You bet. Is it padding with great characters and touching, revealing moments? Right again, and it’s worth it for that.

This episode hit the airwaves Aug.10 , 1970.
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