Tuesday, October 17, 2017

The weird, wild world of Dark Shadows beauty pageants

Atlas Obscura, an online magazine that describes itself as the "definitive guide to the world's hidden wonders," has a story today on the beauty pageants used by MGM to promote HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS in the early 1970s. These pageants certainly represent weird moments in a saga already littered with weird moments, and the feature's author, Eric Grundhauser, asked my for my perspective on them.

You can read the story HERE.

Binge on Dark Shadows with Decades this Halloween

Marathons of DARK SHADOWS have become a holiday tradition for Decades, a network that specializes in classic television. As a lead-up to its "official" launch in 2014, Decades broadcast 68 straight hours of the classic soap during the summer, followed later that fall with a weekend marathon at Halloween called "The Binge." This is the third year running that the channel has celebrated Halloween with a DARK SHADOWS marathon, which features a block of episodes pulled from the earliest appearances of vampire Barnabas Collins in 1967.

The festivities kick off 1 p.m. EST on Saturday, Oct. 28 with episode 257, at which point Maggie Evans is already a prisoner of Barnabas Collins. The marathon comes to a close at 6:30 a.m., Oct. 30, with episode 340, an episode from early in the show's color transition. If my math is correct, the Binge represents 83 consecutive episodes of DARK SHADOWS, during which TCM will also be broadcasting the feature films HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (4:15 p.m. EST) and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS (6 p.m. EST).

Some readers are going to take issue with Decades repeating this block of programming, a modest episode pool that appears to make up the entirety of Decades DARK SHADOWS offerings. Sure, this narrow range omits a lot of the show's best cast members and characters, who are introduced a little further down the line. But it's difficult to argue that the early episodes of Barnabas Collins, with their cobwebby sturm and drang, represent DARK SHADOWS at its absolute Halloween-iest. If you were to ask a dozen fans of the series to select 100 consecutive episodes to air specifically for Halloween, there's a good chance most of them would draw from the same collection at Decades.

Click HERE to see if you receive Decades in your hometown.

Monday, October 16, 2017

Friday, October 13, 2017

Ghoul House Rock: Monster University Pajama Party


Once upon a time, Halloween's greatest anthems had an unforgiving, inflexible life cycle. Each year around Oct. 1, the likes of "Monster Mash" and "Purple People Eater" would begin trickling to local radio stations, allowed to run free for a few weeks before being promptly stuffed back into their cages by program managers on Nov. 1. That's the cultural tradition, anyhow.

But something interesting started happening during the 1970s. During one of the scheduled, unsupervised releases, music that was thought to be nothing more than a seasonal holiday began breeding with rock and roll. Thanks to acts such as Alice CooperRamones, The Damned, Blue Oyster Cult, Misfits and The Cramps, "horror rock" began to expand its tentacles outward from October, eventually mutating once-seasonal music into a perennial orgy of the damned. Yay!

Case in point: The Von Hoffman Orchestra's 2010 release, "Monster University Pajama Party." While mainstream acts have created their own distinct monster mashes, the Von Hoffman Orchestra crafted a near-flawless love letter to the kinds of Halloween novelty songs of the 1960s. The "orchestra" is actually the work of artist/writer/musician Mike Hoffman, who also created the cover art. If you visit his website you'll see the guy is supertalented.

There are a number of releases in his "Monster University" series, but "Pajama Party" is easily my favorite. From the slinky seriousness of "Island of Dr. Moreau," to the adorable creepiness of "Icky Feelings," the album isn't so much a pastiche of '60s Halloween  novelties as it is a distillation of them. The album has such an irreverent sweetness to it that it could also double as a children's album, though those children would have to be especially smart to understand its many references.

Speaking of references, "Pajama Party" has not one, but two tracks dedicated to DARK SHADOWS. The first is the chipper "The Ballad of Barnabas Collins," which deals with the problematic nature of our vampire anti-hero and his troubled relationships with Willie Loomis and Julia Hoffman. The second, "Dark Shadows," takes a broader view of the series and reaches the optimistic conclusion that we'll all be watching it "until the sun explodes." Both tunes take jabs at the show's inconsistencies, but it's done with love.

Also among my favorite songs on the album is its closing track, "Alma Mater." This is the literal anthem of Monster University, performed with Hoffman's terrific baritone as he encourages all the young monsters marching into "science, commerce and law" to do their best in life ... even if that "best" might result in a lot of terror for everybody else. The song actually makes me nostalgic for my own college years, which were comparatively boring and monster free.

Even though there's a rich tradition of Halloween-related parodies, those represent the only duds on "Pajama Party." Featured on the album is a somber parody of "California Dreaming," which somehow manages to be even more maudlin that the version by the Mamas and the Papas. It pauses once more to cover Rick Derringer's "Rock and Roll Hootchie Koo," re-titled here as "Halloween Hootchie Koo." I tend to skip these tracks when listening to the album, but the rest of the songs are so good that it doesn't really matter.

"Monster U, we love you."

The Dark Shadows Daybook: OCTOBER 13


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 872

Petofi reviews his trip to the future with his blonde assistant, Miss Teschmacher, er, I mean, Beth. She’s to bury jewels and a magical painting to await them in 1969. Meanwhile, Pansy Faye is convinced that all are up to no good as she tries to suss out the new Barnabas Collins. Barnabas, in the meantime, is foiled by Count Petofi as he tries to follow Beth to the spot where she’s burying the Count’s treasure. Having thoroughly flummoxed everyone, Petofi uses the I Ching to escape to 1969.

There are two things in infinite supply at Collinwood… love and possibility. True, it’s usually a frustrated or perverse love, and true, it’s often the possibility for the worst to eclipse the best.  But there are moments when it’s the finest of those two things, as well. For me, 872 may contain my favorite “cliffhanger” of the entire series. As much as we recognize Petofi as a villain, he’s one of relentless optimism. The eyeglasses are poetic touches for a character driven by aspirational vision. It’s a singular vision. For all of his talk of evil, that may be shorthand for something else. Perhaps a necessary disregard for others -- one that enables him to move ahead at best possible speed. Others may be crushed if they get in the way, but then again, he may help them, also. Dammit, Jim, I’m an eccentric visionary, not a social services desk. Despite a name that ends in a vowel, he is the very picture of Victorian imperialism, now extending, Crowleyesque, into the forbidden world of the occult. Why does he do it? Is anyone fitter to rule? Exactly. And this effect is one of collaboration. We must remember that David Selby plays the part for weeks, and that both actors contribute to the part. Thayer David brings a charming sense of natural and unapologetic superiority, expressed with wit.  Selby delivers an athletic ruthlessness to the character. Together, they create a man who could only come about through teamwork with fabulous writers. Angelique’s workings were grounded in revenge. Nicholas? Power. Petofi? Sheer exploration. So, when he arrives in 1969 in triumph, I can’t help but to cheer him on. “Who Dares Wins,” and all that, don’t you know? Is he a rotten guy other times? Well, I mean, yeah. But let’s give him this moment in the sun of 1969.

This installment is also notable as being the closest DARK SHADOWS would come to farce. (I had to check that it wasn’t directed by Blake Edwards.) Schemes involving buried treasure? Check. Done by precariously trusted servants? Check. Wacky misdirection… with champagne... so that people can sneak around behind each other’s backs? Is our hero caught tip-toeing not far behind? Check. A stolen painting, right out of ANIMAL CRACKERS? Check. Oh, and a treasure map indicating pilfered jewels… and you just know it’ll get screwed up. All in all, a delight.

A treasure trove of promo photos from House of Dark Shadows

Despite its claims to the contrary, Ebay has never been more than a glorified flea market. Ebay vendors provide the same assortment of garbage, bootlegs, used books, over-priced comics, technological anachronisms and "vintage" porno mags you'll find at any flea market in America. And I mean that as a compliment.

Among that trash, though, you'll find an occasional treasure ... it just depends on how you define the term. While nobody is going to get rich selling photos from the 1970 feature film HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, I've come to the conclusion that this sizable batch of promotional photos (many of them fairly rare) from the film qualifies as "treasure." A few of these are common images you've seen before, in such far-reaching places as contemporary lobby cards to Kathryn Leigh Scott's many books about DARK SHADOWS. You've seen them. I've seen them. And they remain great.

There are a few in this collection, though, that I suspect even hardcore fans have never before seen. Some of these photos are so candid as to be baffling ... and there's one featuring Scott and actor Roger Davis that showcases some absolutely spectacular body language. You might already know that Davis and Scott weren't the best of buds during the making of the movie. If you did not, well ... this photo pretty much tells that story. (There are also two shots from the film's notorious deleted scene.)

If you're interested in purchasing copies of these photos, wander over the Ebay and you'll quickly find them. Meanwhile, I hope you enjoy browsing though these images. Happy Halloween!

Thursday, October 12, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: OCTOBER 12


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 871

Kitty Soames embraces Barnabas as if she were Josette. Poltergeist activity that may be Jeremiah ends up jarring Kitty back to her senses, and Barnabas realizes that Kitty may be love’s greatest adversary. Barnabas explains to Quentin how Angelique created a mirror duplicate of him -- in a mirror -- to be staked by Edward while his real form was slowly cured of vampirism by Julia and then Angelique. A powerless Charles is confronted by Quentin, but their conversation becomes moot when Petofi enters, forcing Charles to throw the I Ching wands. This time? The 49th hexagram. When Charles sees the future (October 28, 1969), Petofi finally has the road to tomorrow. Nothing can stop him!

Three years ago on this day, Roger was futzing around with an incriminating pen. That was the hottest action in the casino. Now? We have full-force, Blofeld-by-way-of-Marvel insanity. To the layman, the question is, “My God, how will this possibly appeal to housewives?” But the optimist in me is heartened that an interesting story, theatrically told, with an emphasis on people over effects, is universally appealing. Although this episode is lead-lined with exposition, the world of the soap opera is one in which exposition can be the most satisfying form of payoff. 871 satisfies richly. Does the mirror shtick make complete sense? No. But they at least mention Doppelgangers prior to this, and we officially get Our Barnabas back, finally reuniting the band. On top of that, we get Josette back in a big way. Again, more payoff. That story move teeters on the verge of, “Man, this again?” but never plunges over the edge, instead delivering in the most sincere way the series ever would.

Jonathan Frid’s sober take on the Doppelganger adventure provides believable footing for this incredibly fanciful outing to rise, and Thayer David’s melancholic interpretation of Quentin trapped keeps the story’s humanity at the forefront. Thanks to that, Lara Parker and David Selby cast spells and gloat over imagined victories with a rabid enthusiasm native to 1890’s melodrama. Well done. Roger Davis, on the other hand, makes a lot of noise, but I’m unsure how deeply he connects with the text on this one. Selby’s final skull, as Petofi contemplates the future, is perhaps the wildest moment of acting on the show, and pretty much eclipses all other memories.

Also, let’s keep score. Barnabas is human again for the third time. He’ll remain so until the Leviathans make the mistake of thinking the powers of the Nosferatu are a curse.

On this day in 1969, the Soviets launched the Soyuz 7 spacecraft. 

Tuesday, October 10, 2017

Dark Shadows meets Outlander

Jonathan Frid and Grayson Hall made brief, unexpected appearances on the Oct. 8 episode of OUTLANDER on Starz. It's been a while since I've seen the series (and even then, only the first few episodes of season one) and have to admit ... I don't know what the hell is going on here. It appears the show is now/momentarily set in the late 1960s? That is, if the presence of Hall, Frid, DARK SHADOWS and a color television set are evidence of anything.

Below is a clip from the episode, titled “Freedom & Whisky.” I suspect this isn't so much a jab at the absurdity of DARK SHADOWS as it is the absurdity of OUTLANDER's own wandering narrative. After all, both are cut from the same tradition of time-hopping, gloomy, "women running from houses" gothic romance. This is just OUTLANDER asserting that it's part of the same family tree as SHADOWS, and I'm cool with that.

A post shared by Wallace McBride (@collinsporthistory) on
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