Sunday, December 24, 2023

A Night Before… you know.

 'Twas the night before Christmas, when through the Old House, no one living was stirring, not even Willie, that louse; The Secret door by the chimney hung open — who cares?Not even Buzz Hackett would return to call them all squares;

The mortals slept fitless in their Collinwood beds;

While dark dreams of chromakey danced in their heads;

It was a melancholy evening. Her absence to blame. Without Angelique’s laughter, the season was tame.

When out by the tower there arose such a din. Had a tipsy Dr. Hoffman finally pulled in?

Up towards the window I jumped like a cat,

And out through the window I flew as a bat;

The moon glittered like diamonds on the rocks on the shore,

As Widows Hills’s invite I chose to ignore.

When what to my sonar-sharp ears did appear,

But a roaring jalopy with some villains so dear,

Oh Roger from the wheel away he did shirk, for he crashed into Collinwood but couldn’t blame Burke.

More rapid than zombies, his retinue  disembarked,

And he fumed and shouted to recall where they parked:

"Now, Adam! Now, Bruno! Now Kitten you Vixen!

I blame our crash on the new speed limit, because I still voted for Nixon!

To the drawing room bar! Grab a good frosted glass!

Alert Mrs. Johnson, that pain in the ass!

Get Quentin in here, and let him quake in his shoes,

Drinking coffee, I doubt it, because I’ve been marking the booze;”

So up the grand staircase his carousers they flew

With a bag full of body parts, and 

And good Eric Lang too—

And then, from a foley, I heard someone dismount,

It was a roaring magician who said he was a count!

As I glided in loops, and was turning around,

I saw Andreas Petofi with some Daybooks Unbound.

He was dressed all in velvet, from his head to his toes,

Nothing off the rack from Brewsters. He had style and it shows;

A bundle of books he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a swinger from Sinatra‘s Rat Pack.

His eyes behind glasses—how they glittered and gleamed! And Aristide beside him plotted and schemed!

His words were excited and jolly and merry, quite the opposite of the drivel from that bore, Wendell Berry!

His assistant was hoping for a good puppet show,

But Angelique was absent, and that filled him with woe;

The stump of his wrist ached for her magic touch, without it his digits were hardly worth much.

But his broad face still grinned

At her memory dear, and he approached a house without her with a distinct lack of fear;

He knew it was Christmas, and would go with no hitch. If there’s a return you can count on, it’s that of a witch. 

And I laughed when I saw him, I knew he was right.

Her spirit was out there on this glorious night. 

He called not for line, but drew a star in the floor,

And commenced a dark working to bring her to our door.

And laying his hand on the apex he ranted,

And bellowed and raved and magically chanted;

He uttered dark incantations first heard cross the pond,

And then laughed when he presented me a most bewitching lost blonde.

And I heard him exclaim as he left like a streak—

“You can’t call it Christmas without the fair Angelique!”

— Patrick McCray

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Lara Parker: In Memoriam

God, we were lucky.

Dan Curtis had the Dream. Art Wallace made it one given form. The cast made it real. Jonathan Frid made it wholly unique. Lara Parker made it true. 

Every unbelievable thing, she made true. 

Poised? Yes. Precise? Yes. All are traits of the Vassar debutante aristocracy. All of those things. And Savage. Certainly, savagely intelligent. Political fashion had yet to drive a wedge between the beauty pageant and the college boards, and so before the 21st century dictated otherwise, some extraordinary women really did do it all.

Would you want to be the one to tell Lara Parker she couldn’t? Or shouldn’t? Be my guest. Tell me how that works out for you. I’m gonna be in the concrete bunker murmuring something about “I am Shiva, destroyer of worlds.”

“Destroyer of Worlds.” Yes. Lara Parker. Destruction and creation are aftermaths of each other. She destroyed worlds that had it coming. Or was that Angelique? Like Nimoy’s Spock, just don’t even bother to separate actor from role. No, she’s not Angelique. And yet Angelique is nothing without her. 

“Destroyer of Worlds.” She would’ve found that the most embarrassing praise possible. Humiliating beyond words. I’m sorry. Honestly. Not done with that intent. I’m just trying to tell the truth.  The only minutely positive thing to come from her passing is that we can finally and openly complement her to a proper extent, one which my experience tells me she would have found embarrassing. Well, art is embarrassing. Sometimes, our only defense against sorrow is to remind ourselves of joy. Indulgently. And Angelique was all about indulgence.

Let’s unite Lara Parker and Angelique for just a few minutes. Just as an exercise. We all do it, anyway. Now, I’m giving you permission. Because I said so.

“Goddess of Destruction.” The good kind. And why not? 

Destroyer of expectations. Of orthodoxy. Of preconceptions. Of assumptions. Of what a witch was supposed to be. Of what love was supposed to be.  And what a debutante was supposed to be. What a philosopher was supposed to be. What an author was supposed to be. What a celebrity was supposed to be. 

Destroyer of a show with too many humans. It was a show that needed angry gods to give it humanity. And Barnabas is just one side of that equation. When Angelique entered Collinwood back around this time in the fall of ‘95, it had to be obvious that the program that had everything finally had the one final thing.. that no one was aware… that everyone had found to be missing. But never knew it. If you follow me.  

To see her in action with those lines in those situations is to see something for the first time. To name drop within the family for a moment, one of Sy Tomashoff’s protégés once told me about Mozart’s most endearing quality; his music always has the freshness of hearing it for the first time, every time.  Yes. Like that. But blonde and choking a toy soldier. Adorably! Yes, doing that. Or melting at the sight of Barnabas, the way we all knew he deserved. Someone who loved him as beautifully and inexplicably as he loved Josette. 

And in the years after, she destroyed our sad little worlds, bereft of our friends — our real friends, in Collinsport — by bringing them to life again. In a bizarre act of unnatural love for a series that had given her and us so much. Has anyone ever given back that much? When Angelique’s Descent hit the bookstores, didn’t you think you were in the middle of the craziest dream? My God, how lucky. And then to do it three more times? Has anyone, since April of 1971, sacrificed more hours and given us more creativity, authenticity, integrity, and art, genuine, lush, literary art, in the name of Dark Shadows? No. Have you read those books? Of course, the answer is yes. You know what I’m talking about. Those are books with a depth and a freedom that this strange dream should not have yielded.  Those books are undeniable truth that there is something of deep worth and resonance within this story. They are written with an eloquence and inspired élan that forever dispel the illusion that Dark Shadows is just some campy, nostalgic fad. 

I have lamented that Dark Shadows has yet to find its Nicholas Meyer, (although a preemptive box of cigars is on its way to the marvelous Mark B. Perry).  But I was wrong. Just as Meyer proved with the Star Trek mythos, Lara Parker did with the mythos of Dark Shadows. 

A film recording is just a thin recollection of a moment of flickering, ephemeral art captured at the moment of its birth and vaporization. It’s not the experience of acting. It’s an echo of the experience of acting trapped in two dimensions. 

But writing is a physical thing. It lives in a book. In defined symbols. On a shelf. In your hands. Exactly the way it was intended. The words are what the author saw when they appeared from keystrokes and pen strokes. It is the art that is always the same in the decades-later reading as it was when it was created.  Lara Parker gave us Dark Shadows as much as anyone, and then she gave it to us again. In a way that will never die. And in that way, she will never die.

It’s all so unlikely. A guy puts golf on TV, and since golf is played during the day, he winds up running some daytime programming. And one Mrs. O’Leary’s cow later, fate Rube Goldbergs us to this point now. Together. If you’re reading this, I am lucky. Someone else out there gets it. What a strange, microthin streak of fortune brought us together. Lara Parker is gone. I hate those words bitterly. And that is a pain as deep and embarrassing as I ever want to feel. And, I suspect, as you ever want to feel. But think of how lucky we are to have such a reason to feel it. 

And that we are together.


Monday, February 6, 2023

"Unbound" a reminder of the possibilities of "Dark Shadows"

Imagine that you’re a college student in the late 1980s who vaguely recollected reading about a soap opera with a vampire in it. Your local mom-and-pop video store has reissues of that soap opera – on VHS! – Available for rental, $1.99 or 3 for $5. Of *course* you’re going to spend your hard-earned money on renting and watching ...

Because that college student was me, and that video store was my entry into Collinsport and Barnabas Collins, two DS Celebrations, and the writing of fan fiction. (Which is, thankfully, buried somewhere in the bowels of the internet) Flash forward a few years later, and I meet another second-generation Dark Shadows fan. One who shared my not-quite-that-serious love of the show and who was, remarkably, close to my age.  I was the Grayson Hall to his Thayer David...or was I the John Karlen to his David Selby? But several decades later, that friend wrote a collection of essays later published as THE DARK SHADOWS DAYBOOK.

Yes, I am talking about Patrick McCray, and he’s released the inevitable sequel, THE DARK SHADOWS DAYBOOK UNBOUND. But to call UNBOUND a sequel is misleading because it’s so much more than that.

Let me use an analogy: the first DARK SHADOWS DAYBOOK was a kind of “greatest hits” compilation. Put together some great essays about Dark Shadows highlights, throw in a few assorted “should-have-been-hits,” and you have a decent collection. Well worth your time, and your intellect, but a necessary reminder that Dark Shadows matters.

However, the new DARK SHADOWS DAYBOOK UNBOUND is like one of the multi-disc boxed sets you would get in the 90s. (You even get the equivalent of “liner notes” in the form of an excellent introduction by writer/producer Mark B. Perry, working to reincarnate Dark Shadows for the 21st century). After he kicks off the book, Patrick provides a collection of great essays highlighting some of the more intricate emotional beats of the show…

But he also takes time to provide context for those cast members who have left: reminisces about Christopher Pennock, Diana Millay, and Geoffrey Scott are sprinkled amongst the discussion of the work of other cast members like Jonathan Frid, John Karlen, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, David Selby, and Louis Edmonds. It’s a set up for the final set of essays at the end of the book. 

After discussing Episode 1198, DARK SHADOWS DAYBOOK UNBOUND starts its endgame with a moving tribute to Ben Cross, followed by several essays about the 1991 revival. (Yes, he works the same magic for the revival). But it’s the one two-three punch that follows which cements the emotional core of the book. A moving tribute to Mitch Ryan leads to a loving discussion of the 2021 DARK SHADOWS CHRISTMAS CAROL…

And UNBOUND’S endgame is the epilogue to the made-for-television docudrama about Dark Shadows which will never happen. It’s a series of vignettes which focus on the cast, producers, and writers after the show ends, and which solidifies the themes of UNBOUND. 

DARK SHADOWS DAYBOOK UNBOUND is a well-needed reminder that Dark Shadows is more than just “that show that everyone ran home to see” or “that show that I learned about via VHS” or “that soap opera with vampires, ghosts and werewolves.” Integrating gothic and horror concepts within the limits of the soap opera genre, DARK SHADOWS became a singular exploration around themes of remorse, redemption, and character growth. In DAYBOOK UNBOUND, Patrick McCray provides a great reminder that the show not only had an impact on viewers, but also the producers, writers, and cast. 

DARK SHADOWS DAYBOOK UNBOUND is a great reminder of why DARK SHADOWS matters. 

It’s available for purchase on Amazon. Buy it and read it and you’ll be motivated to head back to Tubi, Amazon, or your video collection to revisit the show. 

I know I will.

— Gordon Dymowski 

Tuesday, August 16, 2022

Audi-O-Rama #3: Dark Shadows: The Christmas Presence

By Justin Partridge

Starring: David Selby, John Karlen, Andrew Collins, Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, and Toby Longworth

Written by: Scott Handcock

Directed by: Gary Russell

Sloat in This SPOILERS AHEAD World (III)

“Surely you have something more…substantial for me to feast upon? It is Chris-TT-Mass, after all.”

Our first double dip reveals an unexpected strength and deepened appreciation for Dark Shadows: The Christmas Presence! My third time at-bat overall for Audi-O-Rama; an exploration and analysis of Dark Shadows (and others!) at Big Finish Productions. 

In the interest of full disclosure, o readers, despite my excitement in the opening of this column, I was slightly worried about “re-covering” some of these for the CHS. Thoughts like “will people want to hear about them again?” and “Should I just move into the House by the Sea and become a crab-man?” rattled through my head. 

But much of that noise was blasted away once I finally sat down again with The Christmas Presence. As I found it a wholly delightful, well in-character single serial that is only improved with my as-chronological-as-possible listening order. 

Christmas Eve is approaching and Quentin Collins is keeping true to his word to regather his family. He has a canny plan for it too. First, he will send out a sort of “psychic signal” into the world, inviting them back to Collinwood. Once back, he will ply them with a sumptuous Christmas lunch. One he’s invited the whole town to as well, with the help of Willie Loomis and Maggie Evans. And even Anqelique and Barnabas are put to the task, as Quentin recruits our favorite witch and vampire combination to help don Collinwood’s most gay apparel. Hopefully transforming the once imposing and empty mansion into the inviting pillar of the community Quentin wants it to be. 

But someone…or someTHING else has other holiday plans. A ravenous creature that has been stealing children across Collinsport. Seemingly with the face of “whatever they want it to be”. For its latest victim it’s Santa Claus. But for Quentin, it’s the face of a family friend and only “person” to take him up on the invitation. Professor Timothy Eliot Stokes! Played with a hammy, but charming power by Big Finish veteran Toby Longworth. Drawing Collinwood once more into a tried and true supernatural scandal that is draped heavily in small-town tragedy, trauma, and torment.

What better way to spend a Christmas, right?

Oh, and also, a Christmas turkey bound for the oven comes to life and tries to kill Maggie. 

Gosh I just think Dark Shadows is really neat.

My big Marge Simpson energy aside, The Christmas Presence really is a tremendous third installment for this fledgling range. One that continues to make good on the intention to “reestablish” Dark Shadows as a whole. 

For one thing, they really start mixing up the character pairings, relying heavily on one of Dark Shadows’ most enduring and powerful elements; its cast. While David Selby’s more reserved and heartfelt take on Quentin Collins is still the de-facto “lead” of the serial, everyone down the line gets substantial time in the spotlight. Better still, they usually are paired off with someone else we love while doing so. Our beloved John Karlen gets some weighty scenes both with Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker. Andrew Collins’ regenerated Barnabas too is allowed ample room for charged, but largely courtly banter with Scott as well, tempered further with his hissed and powerful asides with Parker. 

This is the first one so far that felt as if everyone had plenty to do and talk about and I appreciate Handcock and company realizing that’s where the real strength of Dark Shadows lies. In its ensemble and character interactions. 

Better still, The Christmas Presence comes to the table with our first bonafide banger of a plot. The idea of Quentin imploring psychically for his family to come to Christmas lunch and then having to deal with how it pisses off the rest of the assembled cast to carry out said lunch could have been enough. But also further the inclusion of the “Nightmare Creature” that’s not only using Stokes’ face, but Stokes HIMSELF as a bridge into the waking world where he can feast on more nightmares. It’s just total candy, and right at home within Dark Shadows’ already established world of conceptual, but grounded monsters

The Christmas Presence ALSO comes with a great deal of expanded scope and attention being paid to its own internal continuity as my beloved Big Finishverse is starting to take shape. Folks wondering about Willie’s vampire bite from The House of Despair will be as disappointed as I was not to see that being followed up on just yet, but thankfully Handcock and Russell provide plenty more in its place. 

Chiefly, more exploration of Quentin’s “Graveyard of Memories” as well as the opening gambits of The Second Barnabas’ own memory gaps from the end of the TV show. Along with his possible “overwriting” of the soul whose body he now inhabits. All being brought to a head as the cast faces off against the Stokes creature, who offers them the chance to make all their “dreams” (read: nightmares) come true.

It’s a lot of really heady stuff, but I really applaud the creative team’s willingness to go this big and this weird THIS early on in the range. All while achieving the nearly impossible task of keeping everyone sounding and acting in character supported by a meaty premise.

I was slightly worried about diving back into The Christmas Presence. I know this is one some fans don’t really enjoy and it has a slightly spotty reputation thanks to the “undead, killer Christmas turkey” of it all. 

But truly, I was very impressed with it this second time around. It’s got all the major hallmarks one could want of “proper” Dark Shadows while also attempting to grow the franchise into new, interesting places. Using both known iconography, strong plots (finally) and the wonderfully spirited performances of the character actors we all have come to adore.

The Dark One bless us! Everyone!


  • My original review! Part of a pair of “Very Special Christmas Episode” reviews I did for our beloved CHS.
  • There is also a weird bit of discrepancy as to when this actually was released. The Big Finish website says “September 2006”, but the Dark Shadows Fandom Wiki (a resource I’ve found myself using more and more throughout this column) cites it as “January 2007”. Even in my OWN FIRST REVIEW, I say it’s 2006. One more thing to ask Scott Handcock and Gary Russell should I ever meet them.
  • The Second Barnabas has the sword cane too and I’m just as giddy rediscovering that fact as I was first discovering that fact. 
  • Sheriff Haggerty shoutout! It’s awesome seeing this range already dropping hints and teases for the incoming serialization elements and miniseries. (Haggerty makes a debut proper in Kingdom of the Dead). 
  • Composer Joseph Fox continues to excel with the new scoring of this era of DS, but the wholesale (largely unchanged) use of “Josette’s Theme” during this serial really nailed me in the ribs. Tremendous stuff all around, score and sound design wise. 
  • Speaking again of Scott Handcock, I’m mostly finished with Doctor Who: The Mind of Hodiac; the Russell T. Davies  “Lost Story” for the Sixth Doctor and Mel that he helped bring to life this past month. Expect a full review eventually over at my other gig Dis/Member, but a slight teaser, it’s tremendous (and oh, so, 80s, innit?!)

NEXT TIME: The Rage Beneath! Big Finish’s first arc finale! One I’ve never heard before! Be seeing you, house proud town mouses. 

Saturday, July 9, 2022

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 9

Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 798


In the wake of Szandor’s death, Magda and Barnabas discover that her curse has destroyed Quentin‘s heretofore-undiscovered child. Meanwhile, Quentin is given reason to suspect that Victor is actually the Count.

It begins as the darkest of dark comedies, and Thayer David looks like he’s broken loose from the set of a mordant Blake Edwards movie. Szandor shows up at the door, eyes bulging and voice as monotonous as Ricky Jay’s. Classic TV hypnosis. Except that Barnabas very quickly realizes that he’s not hypnotized, as does Magda when her long-suffering husband finally falls dead at her feet, knife in the back. And in some ways, it really is a knife in the back from the writers of the show as Szandor and his laborious makeup job are replaced by Count Petofi and HIS laborious makeup job. Either way you slice it, it’s going to be early mornings for Thayer David for the foreseeable future.

With Szandor’s death, Petofi has officially arrived. Not a moment too soon. By “officially arrived," I mean that Quentin did what the Collinses do best, besides lying: he snoops in the garden to see the count in an intimate moment with the show’s favorite, insidious imp, Aristide. A connection!

And then the episode packs Quentin’s bags for a one-way trip to hell; the audience finds out that a gypsy curse has robbed him of a child he never knew existed. The revelation to Quentin is a cold, quiet study in stillness and being. Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall and David Selby sit with the dark luxury of simply being as the weight of one hundred episodes carries itself for once. It’s a remarkable slice of authentic theatre in a sea of breathlessly timed craft. 

It’s also the most authentically sobering moment on the series. Barnabas wisely corrects a grieving Aunt Magda that their former hostilities are no longer relevant. The program’s sinister antics are all fun and games until someone loses an infant. This suddenly becomes a very real-world horror, haunting every parent and older sibling watching the program. Dark Shadows is becoming very good at playing for keeps, Although it didn’t start out that way. Maggie‘s kidnapping flirts with it. So does the pain of 1795. And from 1995 until the end of the series, the show will excel at handcrafted discomfort. And few moments are as cruel as Barnabas experiences with the death of Angelique. But even that pales in comparison to this. I can aspire to glib detachment as much as I want, but the death of a child is a horror universal to humankind. Including me. 

Compound that with the knowledge that Quentin is the loneliest character in all of Dark Shadows, and everyone knows it. We can imagine, just from his interaction with Jamison, what a marvelous father he would have made. Move over Shatner;  I see your Transformed Man and raise you a Quentin Collins: parent. Not only do Barnabas and Magda discover that this was a possibility all along, but they also see a lengthening shadow that will redefine Quentin, and only for the worse. The question now is, what shape will that take?

We are nearly 100 episodes into the 1897 adventure. When we look back on this storyline, I think many of us just remember the color and humor and panache of it all. We forget how it begins to end. The party’s over, but the show refuses to turn on the fluorescents. Quentin emerges as the normative voice of reason as the staid world that was once his cosmic Margaret Dumont becomes an asylum. It is a transformation far more profound than his lycanthropic one. As he is thrust into bereaved sobriety, Quentin will be confronted with reflections again and again to quietly punish him for the sins of who he was. And can become at any point. Want proof?

Of course, the painting. A living testament to his animalistic urges, it will also record a decay divorced from age.  When we see him in the 20th century, Quentin will be one year shy of one hundred. Elderly, but not impossibly so. When he re-discovers the painting, it is not of a 99-year-old man. It is an EC Comics portrayal of the worst of syphilitic dissolution and decay. Yes, Quentin is dolorous and mature by then, but his immortality clearly led to decades of greater risk. Even a reformed sinner can fall off the wagon, and it’s clear that the wagon backed up and ran over him more than once. Even though he is, literally, the picture of handsome, the actual picture depicting the consequences of his actions can never be destroyed. Even more conscience. Yes, Barnabas suffers. But he suffers from comparably cartoonish tragedies. Quentin’s suffering comes from his regret of some very relatable mistakes. It’s a quiet acid that can never completely destroy him. It just burns without release. No one on the show could explore the humanity and range of that journey like David Selby. 

But Quentin has another reflection to confront: the Count.  Both men are mischievous magic users fully content to dissimulate with zest if it gets them what they want. By confronting the Count, and by occasionally inhibiting his body, Quentin will learn the value of choosing a better path. The Count is exactly who Quentin might have become without a tragedy. And any parent will tell you that the prospect of losing a hand merits less than a shrug compared to the thought of losing a child. 

The 60s, but especially the preceding year of 1968, would force the most carefree of Americans to grow up. Dark Shadows was doing the same.

This episode hit the airwaves July 16, 1969.

Monday, June 27, 2022

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 27

Aired on this day in 1966: Episode 1


A sophisticated New Yorker gives up big city life for the charm of rural America. Will she find colorful locals and a talking pig… or terror? Mr. Wells: Conrad Bain. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Victoria Winters ventures from Manhattan to Collinsport to assume the position of governess in a forbidding mansion whose owners are ambiguous about her arrival. Along the way, she meets a brooding business tycoon, quietly obsessed with her future employer’s isolation. A charismatic diner waitress, Maggie Evans, joins in the chorus of those who warn her away from Collinwood.   

Okay, so technically it's the 56th anniversary of the first episode of Dark Shadows.

Except that it really isn't. It's the 56th anniversary of the first episode of Shadows on the Wall. After all, if Art Wallace had any idea that the show would’ve wound up like it did, there’s no way that this would have been the pilot. That doesn't make the pre-Barnabas episodes inferior, but I do see them as a separate series; I think it's helpful to look through that lens. 

How to introduce Dark Shadows? I mean, really. This sets a certain atmosphere, but I'm not certain it's an atmosphere that works with the ultimate point of the show. And yet it’s still a marvelous piece of television storytelling. 

This is both a small and large episode. It exists at night, with small ghostly characters surrounded by vast swaths of darkness. Yet, it’s an expansive episode, almost an epic by comparison to the rest of the series. It has 11 characters which is over twice the norm of the program. It takes place on trains and at the Blue Whale and at Collinwood and in New York and in the Collinsport Inn lobby and at the attached diner and even on a lonely street corner. It takes two cities to tell this story and uses abundant flashbacks, thus told over multiple days even though it's also just a tiny slice of one endless night. 

As the next episodes go on, they will all be taking place over this “day.” And yet this day begins after dark, and if that's supposed to be in early to mid June, during some of the longest days of the year, how long is that evening? That strange timelessness creates a wonderfully surreal slice of pure atmosphere. And pure atmosphere is what powers the entire story as we learn about Victoria Winters and her quest for home and meaning and identity, so yes, it’s the 56th anniversary of the first episode of Shadows on the Wall. And without that, we would have had no Dark Shadows. Let’s celebrate it as its own animal. And yes, I know it's all one big text and it's one big story. And yes, I am violating my own rules by looking at this as more of a slice of real-world production than the first piece of a 1225 piece puzzle. But what’s analysis without a little internal contradiction, right? 

It's fun to watch how Art Wallace deploys the characters, sets, and information that viewers will need. It gives a clear view of his priorities… and what did or did not hook audiences. 

As the episode begins, Vicki is introduced as someone in search of meaning, Having to find out as much as she possibly can about… everything. That singular need makes her oft-repeated mantra of, “I just don't understand” feel more grating for her to say than for us to hear. Meanwhile, Roger is preoccupied with the danger of bringing a stranger into the house, while Liz seems determined to do so. When we consider that Liz is the one who has been isolating herself for 18 years, this situation becomes intentionally absurd. That is a quieter mystery than Vicki’s quest. It's one to be revealed under the skin of the story, but it's more profound than any of the others. 

Painting Roger as an angry xenophobe may be the only sour note here. After all, the trial and Burke’s imprisonment were over a years ago. Unless Roger is obsessed with Burke's return, he's in a pretty comfortable place. The later Roger — of Dark Shadows — would be thrilled at someone new coming into town. And from a dramatic perspective, having him in a place of smug comfort might have been a good height from which he could fall with Burke's return. But it wouldn't give the character anywhere to go, and it sets up one more mystery — why is Roger such an intense sourpuss? 

As a character, Collinsport is depicted in a suitably dreamlike fashion; the conductor says that there are normally no regular stops there, making the town seem beyond isolated for a place with a major business within. We wonder how it can possibly hope to exist. Not only has Liz isolated herself, and not only is Collinwood a fortress from the outside, but the entire town seems insulated from any kind of external influence. We understand why Burke calls it “the beginning and the end of the world.” In her flashbacks, Vicki keeps hearing the question, “What are you going to do?” And her answer is the answer of the 20th century; to take action is to step into a void of nothingness, hoping for the best. 

Even though the episode is in black and white and it uses it magnificently, its investment in the symbolism of color is no more pointed than when we hear about what Burke and Vicki have physically brought to Collinsport. Burke is saddled with two black bags, literally representing his copious personal baggage and their ominous contents and weight. Vicki has only one piece of luggage: red. Her desirability or her heart or her intensity or sense of life? Or maybe Art Wallace just liked typing the word “red.” But it’s a passionate color, making her a tad less virginally naive when she meets her Collinsport counterpart, Maggie.

At this point they split up. Vicki stays at the inn… a place of nourishment and comfort, where people know Burke with a fond warmth incongruous with his cold demeanor. And Burke? He goes off to a bar, which says it all. He leaves the girl with the red tote and journeys to the Blue Whale. A color both sad and obscene, attached to the largest animal on the planet. Is he Jonah or Ahab or both? 

They both learn valuable information from possible allies. Or not. Vicky meets Maggie, who so little resembles the later character of Maggie Evans that the part might as well be played by Danny Trejo. Maggie is a wonderful foil for Vicki, worldly and edgy and keeping nothing to herself. They are both seemingly working class and yet nothing alike. 

At the bar, Burke learns that Elizabeth has been isolated for 18 years. That’s big news for the audience, but upon reflection it seems odd that Burke would not know some of this. He hasn’t been away that long. But the mystery of Collinwood pervades. It feels as if Vicki‘s impending danger is printed in bold on every page as the pilot moves her closer and closer to Collinwood. 

Just like Barnabas would, 211 episodes later, give or take, Vicki knocks on the door under the portmanteau to gain entry. It’s a very specific shot repeated for significant characters entering Collinwood… ones who seem to have more of a place there than many of the actual residents. As Liz ushers her in, the episode’s abrupt end brings our attention to what we still long to know.

As the camera pulls away from the conversation to follow, we feel like voyeurs yanked back into the anonymous night. It's a directorial move telling us that we have only gotten a brief glimpse. It’s a world meant to be guarded and cloaked. If we're lucky, maybe we will be allowed back in just as Vicki was allowed in. Will our stay be as brief?

It's a terse, suspenseful inauguration. What would that series have been like if it had been a success as envisioned? Within two years, Vicki would be not only lost in place, but in time as well. Her mysteries would mount rather than diminish. Perhaps Maggie never lost her brass as she gained texture and nuance. It takes grit and glamour to win the attention of television’s brainiest, most diabolical beaus. I don’t see Nicholas and Barnabas on the menu at this point, but I’m happy to hang around for them. Shadows are made to reveal surprises. Nothing could have surprised viewers more than what awaited them in the ones cast here. 

This episode hit the airwaves June 27, 1966.

Friday, June 24, 2022

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 23

Taped on this day in June 23, 1967: Episode  271


If it’s wedding bells for Liz and Jason, why is she ringing them with a bloody fireplace poker? Paul Stoddard: Dennis Patrick. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Liz explains why she cannot marry Jason in a flashback depicting her attempted assassination of Paul Stoddard. 18 years prior, after using the fireplace set for a rather extreme couples therapy role-play to respond to his attempts to leave, she seemingly murdered Paul, whose body was ostensibly buried in a trunk in the basement.

At this point, I really don’t know how most people watch Dark Shadows, or if there even is such a thing as “most people.” With DVDs largely dead as a medium and streaming packages insisting on separating the pre-Barnabas episodes has a weird (but potentially telling) afterthought, I really can’t responsibly begin this essay the way I would have a few years ago. Therefore, I shall.

When most people watch Dark Shadows, they begin with the unleashing of Barnabas, and immediately, it’s clear to anyone that he is not the villain of the series. It may be televisions greatest morality trick. I mean, yes he’s a kidnapper who kills people, but he’s no JR Ewing. He’s doing the former simply because he hast to eat. He’s doing the latter because he thinks, in someway, he can release the true, inner spirit from some sort of weird, working class prison of internally mistaken identity. Well, OK, he also beats the shisha out of Willie Loomis on a regular basis, but everyone has to have a hobby. And considering where he came from, that’s simply how you maintain a home appliance, like knocking a television on the side (back when they had sides) or whacking something with batteries in it to do… Whatever that’s supposed to do. Teach them manners or something. 

Realistically, the villain is obviously Jason Maguire. Jason does what he does not just out of greed, but because he legitimately enjoys torturing Liz. Maybe it’s class envy. Maybe it’s deep seated, Irish Catholic rage aimed at someone who is more than likely an atheist. Or a Protestant. And to Jason, they’re probably the same thing. We don’t know much about the alleged death of Paul Stoddard, but we know that Liz has basically made herself serve 18 years with Matthew Morgan’s cooking with no time off for good digestion. It’s clear that she feels bad and that she has done more than her share of time served.  So, we naturally feel sorry for her and that makes him all the more hateful. 

What’s worse is that Dennis Patrick is quite probably the most charming actor to ever darken the towels of Collinwood, and while it won’t be the first thing out of my mouth if I ever see a cast member again, I suspect most of them would agree with me.  So, we wind up with that weird animal of “the villain you love to hate.”   

And pardon if I digress from my digression, but doesn’t that phrase seem a little turned around? Shouldn’t you take a certain modicum of satisfaction in having the ethics to, if not love the act of hating a villain, at least have no compunction about hating them? Now that I think about it, the expression that is probably more accurate is, “the villain you hate to love.” Because you know that you should just like him, but he’s such an ingratiating person that, honestly, I often find myself thinking, “well, if I’m going to be married to a hateful parasite, at least he’s fun to be around.“

Liz has been alone for 18 years. She has more money than she knows what to do with. I’m not saying that she should fall head over heels for every extortionist who helps to bury a murdered spouse, but now that I’m thinking about it, I sort of wonder how bad life with Jason would really be. I mean, I’m sure marriage would be terrible. Especially because all of my married friends warn me that it’s terrible. But… I’ve seen close-ups of Bill Malloy‘s beard. And no, I’m not talking about Mrs. Johnson. I’m just saying that she could do worse. I see people get married for money all the time, and I have to give props to Jason for at least being honest about it.  

And you can’t say that Liz doesn’t mind slumming it when it comes to husbands. I always detected a class difference between Liz and Paul. There are never any references to the mighty Stoddard belt loop empire or whatever people make their fortunes with. (I hear rumors that it has something to do with hard work, but I haven’t the nerve to try it.) And besides, give Jason a mustache and cut off his supply of Grecian formula, and you have yourself one Paul Stoddard with a more winning accent.  

So even with all of that, Jason‘s moments of sadism are striking enough that it overcomes even Dennis Patrick’s effervescence. (Which, ironically, makes him all the more adept as an actor.) 

As a Dark Shadows viewer, this episode, and the ones that immediately follow it, are some of the first most reassuring moments for most viewers that the show will deliver. Because at this point, Barnabas has given up on Maggie, probably because he thinks she’s dead (but not in the right way). So that entire storyline vaguely feels like it went nowhere. But this one had to go somewhere. It’s a bit of terrestrial nastiness that has to end in a wedding. 

The show does such a masterful job at reiterating the source of Liz’s anxiety that, even if we have not followed it from episode one, we still feel a profound satisfaction at seeing the flashback to Paul’s murder. As a kid, I didn’t think they would ever show something like that. And you only got it once, unlike everything else on the show, where the same pivotal moments are often repeated at least five times so that everyone, no matter what day of the week they see it on, gets the thrill.  This felt like a genuine reward for paying attention and tuning in every day. It was somehow both the Easter Egg and the entire basket.

Coming about one year and a week after the show went on the air, it had to be even more luxuriously satisfying for viewers who’d been with it from the start.

It takes four more episodes for the complete dénouement. It seems like a typically excessive length until you combine it with the typically excessive build up. At which point, the five episode pay off feels almost generous. 

Watching the hand of Barnabas rise up to crush Jason‘s life was a quick and brutally satisfying moment, as well. It’s a gesture that becomes a force of nature. For Willie, it was a moment that created a new life. For Jason, it means some thing else. But it makes the force within Barnabas seem like something out of Greek mythology, a cruel and honest crucible responding to an intruder’s essence. In some ways it almost feels as if that force within Barnabas has a judgmental autonomy completely divorced from the great man. A bit like Count Petofi’s capricious hand would be several years later. Because both times, it’s basically just Barnabas‘s instinctive response to having someone throw open his bedroom door without even knocking.

And although the coffin was not necessarily rocking, Willie and Jason really should have at least greeted him from his sleep with a newspaper and some toast. 

This episode hit the airwaves July 10, 1967.

Wednesday, April 13, 2022

It Was Great When it All Began ...


2021 was an extraordinary year for Dark Shadows. Yes, it was also a sad year. We lost some marvelous actors, and the losses have cast the future of Dark Shadows festival into doubt with this author… certainly on the scale we saw in 2016. At the same time, there was a wealth of independent Dark Shadows podcasting and authorship. The Rondo nominations are a testament to our passionate industry. Although the rights holders seemingly kept it quiet in 2021, we did not. And that has spilled into 2022. Why the revival? Is it even a revival? Perhaps it’s more of a testament to the momentum that’s been building for a decade. 

2011-2021 is a ten year span of technological innovation that has put extraordinary tools in the hands of workin’ Joes like us to create quality products that rival the professional offerings we wish we’d had. Podcasting and desktop publishing are the two most notable examples. But there’s more than technology afoot. I’m beginning to suspect that mine is not an isolated case. 

What case? In 2011, Dark Shadows fans got the best news possible: a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movie that would certainly catapult us from accusations of camp to accolades of genius. Then, 2012 happened to us. April, 2012, to be exact. While the film attracted many brainy and iconoclastic new fans, it charmed few longtime supporters. For all of the angst that caused, I think it was more of a catalyst than curse. I know that I felt like I needed to do something for the franchise to give back a little. At the time, my best idea was a stunt somewhere at the crossroads of Morgan Spurlock, Andy Kaufman and Evel Knievel… I sacrificed 45 days to watch the entire series, 10.5 hours a day, five to six days a week. A decade later, I had one collection of essays out and another on the way. Three fine podcasts serve the internet. And the books just keep coming. 

If 2011-2021 was a decade of an uncomfortable detente between the original fans of the series and the Burtonians, the tenth anniversary of the Burton film (and Mr. Frid’s death) is what may be the final word on the subject from the first generation of fans, Jim Beard’s collection of various memoirs, Running Home to Shadows. It’s a title that needs little elaboration. Ask almost anyone who was born somewhen at the intersection of Eisenhower and Kennedy and you’ll hear the familiar nostalgia-cry of “I ran home from school every day to watch Dark Shadows….”

This narrative dominated the experience of growing up with Dark Shadows, and it finally has a definitive voice to give it shape in this book. For those of us born after that period, there’s been a subtle caste-system in DS fandom… maybe out of necessity. Our work (at least prior to the Sci Fi Channel and the internet) has not been one of discovery but archaeology. The suspense was non-existent. Correction, the suspense was in whether or not we would actually see the series. Did the final episodes exist? How could we see them? Would MPI really finish? Once DVD and streaming settled that argument, the more honest question became, “Who would actually finish watching it all, now that it’s available?”

It is to the show’s credit that so many did and still do… despite lacking a unifying ritual. But that ritual -- running home from school to see and share the new episodes -- created a bonding momentum that got us here today. No other program has that cultural legend behind it… or the decades of mainstream horror that have resulted. As such, Beard delivers a vital history and voices that have yet to go silent.

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