Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: January 14


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1195

When Gerard claims a bride in a bizarre act of unnatural hypnosis, will Barnabas catch the garter? Judah Zachery: James Storm. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Gerard puts enough whammy on Daphne to marry him, and Quentin’s arrival comes too late. He is soon arrested again, and although Barnabas dedicates himself to ending the man he now knows to be Judah Zachery, he may not be able to. Angelique thinks it is hopeless. Her detached attitude about it is indicative of the Witch Privilege that Barnabas cites as the reason he cannot love her. Hearing this, she is determined to reform. Her voodoo attack on Gerard is cut short by the surprise arrival of her intended victim.

With this, we begin the final cycle of “this is it.” Not that it wants to make a big deal out of it. If it were any more modest and self-effacing, the episode would be mistaken for a Lutheran.

One of the things that makes 1840 so incredibly challenging for viewers is the fact that most other endings know that they’re endings. Most endings bellow the fact at you long before the climax and resolution… and, if the production caps off an epic story of British fantasy, it will still be ending hours later. But this doesn’t. It just happens. I hate to look at Dark Shadows as anything other than one, big interconnected story. The fact that it was not constructed with Straczynskian forethought is irrelevant to the finished product… except in certain idiosyncrasies of storytelling. Things ramble endlessly only to end abruptly. You know, like real life.

When a viewer abandons preconceived notions of structure and finally realizes that storytelling does not begin and end with the unholy conformist trinity of Syd Field, Robert McKee, and Joseph Campbell, endings like this one are stunningly truthful. Almost too much so. Real life doesn’t with cues for heartfelt conversations that sum up relationships. Real life has never provided me with my own montage so that I can get into shape, just like it’s never given me a clip reel of highlights so that I’ll know the show is over.

I wonder how the show would have treated these episodes if they’d really, honestly known that this was it. They are not devoid of summative sentiment. But they are summing up a storyline, not a series. Given that, they do so extremely well. If you look at the major “vacations” taken by the storyline, only 1795 is as self-consciously satisfying. Parallel time just mercifully ends, and does 1995 even count? 1897's ending is sort of the opposite of the rest of that story line. It's dour and melancholy and overstays it welcome. So that leaves 1840, and upon re-examination, I think it's the most satisfying ending that any storyline has on the program. Including the incredibly painful death that is just a few episodes away.

The most pivotal moments in the episode work in tandem, one after the other. Barnabas confronts Gerard and refers to him as Judah, which has to be a huge blow to Judah’s ego… and a great show of bravado for Barnabas, considering that Judah Zachery is the boogeyman for Barnabas’ generation; his offstage manipulations have slowly poisoned the family for hundreds of years, and we can thank him for what Barnabas finds when emerging in 1967. Of course, Zachery’s powers are potentially far more vulgar, and Barnabas’ risk in taunting him is all the more shocking when you consider that he very much knows the risk he’s taking.

In a Structured Ending, this would be the puffed-up moment where the hero gets a cosmic spanking for the sin of immodesty. But the up in question is not puffed enough for that. Nothing here is. Barnabas has just come off of telling Angelique the real reasons why he cannot love her. Yes, stop the presses. Important. Show. Moment.

And it kinda happens. That’s about the most you can say.

Yes, yes. It’s enough to make her risk everything to stop the wholesale slaughter she predicts. In that sense, Barnabas is a real value in the rhetoric department. Very casual about the whole thing. Reasonable to a predictably Canadian extent. So reasonable, I fear that he’ll transform into a Unitarian or Merkin Muffley on the Grey Phone with Dimitri.

He basically says, “Yeah, I mean, Angelique, you know… It’s just… You’ve got witch ways, you. You know? Witch, witchy, witch… you know… um, witchy ways. You’ll never stop using them. And that means you are not human. You know how it is. I mean, it’s not your fault, so don’t beat yourself up too much. But, you know. This is how… um, yeah. So, I’m going to make a cheese sandwich. Maybe change the litter box. Do you need anything?”

I’m not really exaggerating. And it’s perfect in its awkward straightforwardness. Even with all of the time travel and psychic premonitions on the show, they still don’t have DVDs, so they have no idea what’s coming. I’m sure if Barnabas knew this was one of the last times he’d be able to give The Speech, he would have really made it a humdinger.

For a viewer, it’s actually satisfying… enough. It passes a reality test that most shows are too teary eyed to par out of at this point. Jonathan Frid and Lara Parker could spellbind just by reading the iTunes terms and conditions aloud at this point. And Jerry Lacy, James Storm, and the Chairman of the Chops, himself, Mr. David Selby? They glide through the episode with an easy confidence the OED would brand Rat-Packian while hitting the notes of gravitas with utter respect for their significance. Storm is especially disciplined, transforming into the series’ Blofeld with a mid-Atlantic blend of Stanislavskian truth and Classical panache. Is this the evil that launched well over a thousand episodes?

Do not underestimate James Storm.

This episode hit the airwaves Jan. 22, 1971.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Podcast: Morbius the Living Vampire!

Have you seen the trailer for this year's Morbius yet? It's ... fine!? I'm too excited about the prospects of getting a movie adaption of "the living vampire" to nitpick at this point. And the release of the trailer feels like a good excuse to dig one of our podcasts out of the vault.

In the second episode of The Collinsport Historical Society Podcast, recorded way back in 2013, features an interview with comics legend Roy Thomas about creating Michael Morbius, Marvel's first vampire, in 1971. Also in this episode: Patrick McCray speaks with comics creator Joe Keatinge, who was writing a new Morbius series at the time.

What does this have to do with Dark Shadows? I'm glad you asked! Morbius was at the crossroads of several historic changes in comics. Not only was his introduction the first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man not written by Stan Lee, but he was also the first vampire character at Marvel following changes to Comics Code Authority's prohibition for supernatural characters. In our interview, Thomas speaks about the events that led to Morbius sparring with the web slinger in 1971, his script for the Marvel Comics Dark Shadows parody "Darn Shadows," and how the Marvel office was not allowed to disturb him when a television show featuring a certain cane-carrying vampire was on.

You can listen to the episode below.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: January 7


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1190

When Quentin escapes from jail, will he and Daphne tie the knot before Gabriel ties her down forever? Daphne: Kate Jackson. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Gabriel’s attempt to kidnap Daphne is ineffectual, and the lass escapes. Meanwhile, Joanna stumbles upon Gabriel and Melanie in PT as she searches for Daphne. Nonetheless, Gabriel seizes Daphne from the shadows.

Of course, the 1840 storyline is contrived. Of course. It’s not the character study of 1795 nor the lusty, sprawling bacchanal of pure imagination of 1897. True to its industrial revolution-era setting, it’s a piece of clockwork, cleverly designed to include the apotheosis of Barnabas Collins among dozens of other storylines. The network of interlocking agendas becomes deeply impressive, three steps back, and yet I cannot accuse it of seeming contrived. It simply feels like the owner of the hand of destiny is showing his receipt and telling us all where we can get one. Quentin is out of the way for Trask and Gerard, leading to a witch trial where Barnabas takes up rhetorical arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, winds up with Angelique shot.

Which has its own clockwork beauty of dark and ironic inevitability.

Elements of 1190 are so emotionally mature that I wonder if the show is still Dark Shadows. Joanna Mills quickly concludes that Quentin just is not that into her, and she frees him. Good for you. In this case, she defies the jealous lover stereotype, and for all of her blandness, gets the Victoria Winters Award for intrepid house snooping, while Daphne is doing the same thing in hidden corridors that seem designed to store old paintings on the walls. Staying steady among the rampant Dutch angles (“Boff!” “Pow!” “Insinuate!”), Joanna even has a moment to stop by the ultimate secret passage, the Parallel Time room, where Christopher Pennock and Nancy Barrett star in the costume version of The Lost Weekend. The portrait of an alcoholic is convincing, and it will need to be. 1841PT is easily understandable as the show’s downfall when you consider that it gave them, realistically, nothing connected to the prior four years of world building. Yes, running dry on ideas, we’ve heard it. Running even drier on Frid-as-Barnabas? Clearly. It’s simply a shame that no one thought to extend a tendril of continuity between the universes again. Needn’t even be a big gun.

When the PT cutaway happened today, I found challenge in mustering extreme enthusiasm, even though the final result (1841PYT) is a gem of a storyline. The highlight of the episode, reliably, is Christopher Pennock, the James Cagney of the DS ensemble. Here, he plays two Gabriels, and neither gent is a prize… but in totally different ways, implosive vs. explosive. The difference is arrestingly subtle, down to movement (no, not the legs) and tempo-rhythm. This is the case where relentless training really pays off.

Meanwhile, away from the wistfully sad portrait of a charming alcoholic’s mastery of rationalization, the other Gabriel seems to appear in this episode as sponsored by Ronan Farrow’s most paranoid suspicions. Pantingly lustful, even a priapic Rev. Wilbur Glenworthy would try spiking Gabriel’s Ovaltine with saltpeter. And yet, there is such a goofy quality to Gabriel’s authentic melodrama — straight out of Love Rides the Rails, complete mit tied-up damsel — that any sense of transgressive violation just seems like… it ain’t gonna happen. He eventually rejects Daphne’s come-on in a disappointing burst of common sense. He makes up for it, however, by showing off his counterfeit good-guy badge while commiserating with Joanna. It’s an orgy of irrelevance. At this point, they’re both short timers for totally different reasons. But so are we all in the world of Dark Shadows. However, the show is a möbius strip, and the twist is coming up — some time after 1841PT and before the next episode, #1, in Main Time, so far behind us that it’s the next stop on the horizon.

This episode hit the airwaves Jan. 15, 1971.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Mark Gatiss stars in vampire prequel story, Dracula’s Guests

Greetings from the distant past! I'm writing this from the year 2020, 10:15 a.m. Jan. 3 EST. I fear nobody will ever read this letter, given the shitstorm the world is rapidly becoming. #WorldWarIII was actually trending on Twitter this morning, perhaps becoming the first international conflict begun on a social media platform. Donald Trump is so awful he makes me want to believe there is a god, because the thought of that amoral cretin spending eternity in a hellscape designed by Hieronymus Bosch warms the cockles of my cold little heart. Seriously, fuck that guy right in the ear.

I'm having to write this in advance because the announcement was embargoed until 4 p.m. GMT on Jan. 4. There hasn't been a lot of news lately on the Big Finish front about Dark Shadows, but here's something to tide you over until the series fires up later this year: Dracula's Guests, a prequel starring Mark Gatiss as the count. Here's the press release:
Hot on the heels of his spectacular BBC Studios/Netflix production, Mark Gatiss returns to the world of Bram Stoker’s vampire in a full cast audio production from Big Finish.

A prequel to the events of the original novel, Dracula’s Guests is adapted by Jonathan Barnes and forms the opening chapter in a trilogy of terrifying Dracula audio adventures.

Dracula's Guests will be released in February 2020 and is available now at the special pre-order price of $26.15 as a three-disc collector’s edition CD or  $16.99 as a download.

Transylvania, 1888. Sitting in his castle like a spider in its web, Count Dracula is setting his plans in motion. Soon he will travel to England, there to cut a bloody swathe through polite society and pit himself against a dedicated crew of vampire-slayers. Yet before then there is much to be done. A certain artist must be brought to him and a certain portrait painted. An old tale must be told, drawn from the darkest recesses of Transylvanian history. And in faraway London an honest police detective must be corrupted and set to work in the service of the Count. The vampire king is making preparations. And his survival will be assured – no matter the cost.

Dracula’s Guests stars Mark Gatiss as Count Dracula, David Bamber (Jeremiah Hart), Ian Hallard (RM Renfield) and Hannah Arterton (Sabine).

Actor Mark Gatiss said: “As a life-long horror fan, vampires – and Dracula in particular – were always my favourite of them all. Stoker very mysteriously never bothered to write a sequel, but I thought it would be quite an interesting thing to come back to. He's always coming back, isn't he? It's the point of Dracula.”

Writer Jonathan Barnes agreed: “There are so many loose strands, so many unfinished elements, so many things that are left unexplained in the original book, it seems almost to encourage us as writers to explore the world further. From that we've built up quite an elaborate story.”

Producer and director Scott Handcock added: “It was a thrill to bring Dracula back to life with our adaptation of the original novel in 2016, and an even bigger thrill when Mark Gatiss approached me a few months later asking whether we might be able to tell further tales of the Count. We’ve got some familiar faces returning, plus some fantastic new characters too, and of course, right at the heart, the ominous presence of Dracula himself, once more conjured into existence by Mark!”

Dracula's Guests will be released in February 2020 and is available now at the special pre-order price of £19.99 as a three-disc collector’s edition CD or £16.99 as a download.

Save money with the Dracula trilogy bundle (including the adaptation of the novel Dracula, and the sequel release due in September 2020, Dracula’s War) for just £53 as a collector’s edition CD box set or £45 as a download. 

Wednesday, January 1, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: January 1


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 400

Barnabas might have Trask in his crosshairs, but will Angelique’s fireworks throw off his aim? Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas allows Trask to perform a witch hunting ritual, confident that nothing will result but the proof of Trask’s idiocy. Unfortunately, a fire spell by Angelique sends Vicki running, seemingly proving the reverend’s case. Afterwards, Barnabas concludes that, like Darrens to follow, he may be married to a witch.

Can you believe these people had to work on New Year’s Day? Thanks, Dan. Let’s just get that out of the way right now. And we're not just talking about a regular New Year's Eve the night before. We're talking about a New York New Year's Eve. So, you can just imagine. Not only that, but they were on the hottest show on daytime television relatively speaking. One that had gone from a storyline one year prior that was not necessarily their best, involving the Phoenix, to an entire flashback time travel sequence build around the character no one had imagined a year prior, introduced to be a villain, and now the defender of reason, commonsense, and the character — Vicki — who, until recently, was the protagonist! So, there's that. The immediate game that I played while watching this episode was trying to determine who, among the cast, was the most hung over. There are some cast members, no names please, who always look somewhat hung over, and this creates a natural confusion. However, such a sport is a fruitless effort. Because in trying to determine it, you are left with two realities. The first is that these are actors, and that is a breed that exceeds the most stalwart of the Royal Navy when it comes to the capacity to operate with absolutely toxic levels of alcohol in their systems. But the second point is that these are actors, and not just actors, but good actors. These are pros. So if I found out that none of them were hung over, I would not be a bit surprised. Also, there was a lot of shouting and screaming in the episode. Especially by Jerry Lacy and Alexandra Moltke. And they simply would not be able to do it that schnockered. So that leaves as candidates Lara Parker and Jonathan Frid. They generally are performing rituals or are involved in some kind of deep introspection in the episode, which can be done fairly quietly. But I don't believe either one of them was reeking of the sauce because their performances are just too smart and too disciplined on this day. Which means they might've had a fairly dull evening the night before. And I think perhaps we should all have a moment of silence and recognition for their sacrifice.

I’ve long maintained that most of Clan Collins is secular, probably owing to the memory of the Bedford witch trials. They rarely invoke any kind of religion, leaving that to Quentin (who’ll worship anything), Julia (and I lay money on her being a lapsed Catholic), and Willie (who probably gets religion to the degree of the threat he faces or the woman on whom he’s macking). Barnabas seems to have no need for it, voicing sentiments that Joshua probably mutters only out of earshot of Aunt Abigail. If you want evidence, look at Barnabas’ disdain for Trask. Not only that, but look at his confidence that Trask’s bizarre ceremonies will assuredly humiliate the Reverend and be the end of it. Unfortunately, give a Trask enough rope, and he’ll use it to hang the governess. But this doesn’t occur to Barnabas, who has no lack for credulous imagination. It says something that he’ll believe Vicki’s story about time travel before 2,000 years of Scripture. I can only imagine that if Jesus showed up in 1795 as the governess from another time, they’d all be in a real quandary. Let’s see Trask deal with that.

Barnabas has a lovable overconfidence in common sense and the essential decency of human beings that reeks of the Enlightenment, and as the series goes on, this naiveté will lead to his constant downfall while also being his greatest asset. On Dark Shadows, the bad guys are destined to win, except when they don’t, and the good guys are destined to somehow survive, except when Matthew Morgan pushes them off a cliff. If the show has any emotional message, it is to revere perseverance. The victory of evil is statistically assured. The only bulwark against good’s eradication is its refusal to acknowledge it, despite all evidence to the contrary.

Did I mention this is an election year?

William Faulkner asserted that every great story written after Don Quixote is a retelling of it. The Many Quests of Barnabas Collins is all the evidence we need. Most poignant in the brotherhood Barnabas shows with the great knight are their similar trips on windmills. Cyclical, often downward, but never for so long until blessed ignorance lifts their spirits to fight another day. In 400, Barnabas experiences an entire cycle, unaware that Trask and Angelique are in a strange alliance. By the end, as he spins earthward, he contemplates the truth that his wife may very well be the seed of evil in Collinsport making Trask a fellow fool, if on the other side of the windmill. But wait. The stars will soon replace the rocks below as Fortuna spins the wheel of inevitability.

For the sake of auld lang syne, if only for one day.   

This episode hit the airwaves Jan. 5, 1968.

Friday, December 27, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: December 27


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 397

It’s wedding bells for Barnabas and Angelique, but will Barnabas’ dead uncle catch the garter? Reverend Bland: Paul Giles. (Repeat; min.)

Barnabas is predictably mordant in accepting the fact that his bride is missing on the wedding day. He explains this to the reverend while rationalizing away the various haunted events from Jeremiah that interfere with the pre-nuptial wait. Meanwhile, Angelique is nearly buried alive by the ghost of Jeremiah, before the presence of Ben Stokes grants a reprieve. At the wedding, more cursed events take place, and despite the wine turning to blood, they marry. The wedding night is disrupted by Josette’s music box and the sight of a mocking Jeremiah.

Predictably, the social event of the year is also one of the most hilarious as the Dark Shadows writers have their wedding cake and smear it over the faces of proper expectations at the same time. They’ve always excelled at mixing horror with the ridiculous and the sublime, depicting situations that are monstrous for the characters, frightening for most audiences, and blackly satirical for the cast and savvier viewers. Best of all, the characters in 397 are vastly aware of this — especially Barnabas and Ben. And with Paul Giles’ doddering Reverend Bland, it’s infinitely clear that Sam Hall does, as well. Grayson Hall is clearly a woman of deep wit, and a script like this could only have come from the guy she chose to keep up with her. Considering that, it’s not so much admirable that the show allowed itself these sardonic side quests, it’s more amazing that it reserved them for, you know, weddings.

In the midst of it all is Angelique getting a taste of her own gris gris with the twisted genie of Jeremiah refusing to go back into the bottle. (With this monkey’s paw, I thee wed….) Of course, it leads her to pledge to do only good, which is what one often does after nearly being buried alive. And, of course, all it takes is Barnabas clutching Josette’s music box like Darren McGavin with the Leg Lamp to lead her away from the pledge and back into fiery jealousy.

This is all after Jonathan Frid’s bone dry Canadian wit gets a thorough workout alongside Reverend Bland, who struggles to find anything good to say, including wildly inaccurate statements about the admirable loyalty shown between the Collinses. Barnabas keeps his straightest face ever, explaining away breezes coming from closed windows, etc, like a Benny Hill character on a date with a flatulently deflating love doll hidden in the closet. Jeremiah does his best to ruin the wedding, and it’s proper vengeance for a ghost who’s been through what he has. If anyone shares the hero spot of the episode, it’s the villain, which is par for the Collinsport course.

This is a wedding I used to forget about when I would see the entire show over the course of years. However, it’s perhaps one of the three or four most pivotal moments of the mythos. Setting up a payoff that no one knew would come in the 1840 storyline, it’s a wedding of two people who love each other despite every reason not to, and Lara Parker and Jonathan Frid pull off the ambiguity with humanity that transcends common sense. In other words, a wedding. And it’s not so horrible that it nukes their relationship in the long run. If anything, it strengthens it. It’s one of those shared disasters which bonds people rather than atomize them. And it’s exactly the disaster that (and you knew this was coming) would be my focus if I were King of Big Finish. They’ve taken the stories in another direction, and I can’t complain. However, an episode of after dinner tales… imagine it. Because these are the stories the grandkids finally hear when they come back from college and can have that cognac after the meal, pulling it off like they’ve always done so. Maggie and Quentin get misty eyed talking about their nude wedding at Club Med, laughing at the fact that the only attendees were Roger Collins (who insisted) and Willie Loomis (who was inexplicably there at the time). Then, of course, the kids ask about Barnabas and Angelique’s wedding. And they laugh. Protest. Roll their eyes. And tell the story. And it ends sentimentally. Which it should. Because it was all worth it.

And there are moments of warmth in the episode that ring with inevitability. Naomi, never the snob, accessorizing Angelique’s wedding dress. Ben Stokes, the first and last man standing now the best man, as well. Because, as Barnabas says, he is. In every sense in 1795, he truly is.

I’m 48 and unmarried. Episode 397 is a checklist of the good and bad that will need to happen before I am. Well, maybe not all of it. But you get the idea.

This episode hit the airwaves Jan. 2, 1968.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The CHS Holiday Gift Guide is finally here!

I'm here to make your holiday season spooky. 

If you’re shopping for a special someone or just want to treat yourself to something twisted, gothic and maybe even a little disturbing for Christmas, I've got you covered. We're enduring one of our perioidic dry spells when it comes to Dark Shadows, but that doesn't mean we've got to fast. Below is a list of all sorts of spooky gifts, ranging from magazines, print and audio books, and even a little original artwork by yours truely.

Just about anybody can give a Christmas gift at Christmas. But who among you has the courage to give a Christmas gift in February? How about March? If you're an iconoclast who walks to a beat of their own drummer, you can get that special someone one of the new editions of the Dark Shadows novels by Marilyn Ross scheduled for release early next year. Both are available for pre-order at Amazon HERE. Dare to be different!

While we're on the subject: It's hard to believe that the first audiobook adaption of the Marilyn Ross paperbacks by Marilyn Ross was released just six months ago. Since then 11 more have hit the market, all of them read by original cast member Kathryn Leigh Scott. Number 13 in the series, Barnabas Collins and the Mysterious Ghost, is scheduled for release Jan. 13. At this rate the entire 32-book series will be available by the end of 2020.

Here's a list of the audio books available now on Amazon:

#1 Dark Shadows https://amzn.to/34EnuAb
#2 Victoria Winters https://amzn.to/2S7WPZL
#3 Strangers at Collins House https://amzn.to/35EYFFB
#4 The Mystery of Collinwood https://amzn.to/2EyhrCH
#5 The Curse of Collinwood https://amzn.to/2Md7RJt
#6 Barnabas Collins https://amzn.to/2rddfFi
#7 The Secret of Barnabas Collins https://amzn.to/2s27nz2
#8 The Demon of Barnabas Collins  https://amzn.to/35EsWV0
#9 The Foe of Barnabas Collins https://amzn.to/2PZ9xYh
#10 The Phantom and Barnabas Collins  https://amzn.to/2PAQ699
#11 Barnabas Collins Versus the Warlock https://amzn.to/35Envp0
#12 The Peril of Barnabas Collins https://amzn.to/2M8qk9V

Big Finish has been producing original Dark Shadows audiodramas since (checks notes) ... 2006?! The most recent, a third volume of the bonkers Tony & Cassandra Mysteries series, was released in October. If you're looking for something a little more traditional, though, I'd suggest Dark Shadows: Blood & Fire, a 50th anniversary special that dives deep into the mythology of The Phoenix, the television show's first supernatural villain. The double CD set will absolutely NOT arrive in time for Christmas, but a digital download is immediately available with the purchase. (Or you can just get someone the digital version and bypass the physical edition entirely.) You can find Blood & Fire at Big Finish HERE.

Patrick McCray has been writing The Dark Shadows Daybook feature for this website since 2016. While recently talking about the possibility of publishing some kind of print edition of the Daybook, the two of us crunched the numbers: in three years he's written 237,925 words for the Daybook. That's 586 pages of text at 11 pt. type ... without any kind of formatting. It's the equivalent of a novel, for which he's been paid a whopping zero dollars.

What does this have to do with anything? Lots and lots of people have become accustomed to getting written content for free. News, research, critical analysis, movie reviews ... the value of many forms of communication has plummted during the last decade. It's almost impossible to get anyone to leave their "free" Facebook bubble. Example: When I've suggested that folks subscribe to the new incarnation of Fangoria it's been met with complaints about the cost. "$80 for four issues? Good LAWD!" someone will reply, most likely a person that wouldn't subscribe even if the price was $20 a year. If this observation pisses you off, guess what? You might be that person!

If you're still reading this, I can't recommend Fangoria enough. It always feels like Christmas whenever a new issue arrives in my mailbox. Publishing in the 21st century treats its content with a scattershot sort of desperation -- trying to be everything to everyone in every medium -- but Fangoria holds its content sacred. You won't find the stories printed in its pages anywhere online. It's a pure experience.

You can pick up a subscription to Fangoria for a loved one at https://shop.cinestate.com/pages/fangoria.

Here's the official logline for the band Wolfmen of Mars: "Making music that combines the electronic analog sounds of the 70s-80s and mixing them with heavy grooves. A soundtrack for late night driving or space travel." What that summary leaves out is that the Wolfmen are very, very cool. I've been a fan for a while now and the lack of Dark Shadows merch currently available gives me the chance to finally brag about them here. You can find most of their catalog online at Bandcamp, and the rest of it on Amazon and Burning Witch Records.

Damn, I love Shudder. There are a lot of streaming services available but this is the only one that feels legitimately curated. Too many streaming channels just feel like a bunch of stuff that's just available, the product on the unstoppable ebb and flow of mass media releases. Shudder actually puts thought into their catalog, going so far as to invite people like Kirk Hammett of Metallica and Barbara Crampton as guest curators. You can get a week of Shudder for free, after which it's just $5.99 a month. Get started here: www.shudder.com.

Hey, look! It's me! (At least it's my work, anyway.) Earlier this year I had the honor of designing the poster for a special Dark Shadows event for the Sleepy Hollow International Film Festival. I've got two versions of the poster available: one version with typography and one that's just the art. You can get 11x17 prints of them both at http://www.unlovelyfrankenstein.com/. I'll even sign them for you, if you like. (Warning: My handwriting is shockingly awful.)

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: December 9


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 646

When Collinwood’s newest and oldest guest reveals himself, will there still be room for Roger? Quentin: David Selby. (Repeat; 30 min.)

David and Amy encounter the ghosts of Quentin and Beth, who telepathically instruct them to bury Quentin’s bones and then set up a tripwire for Roger on the stairs, which works. Perhaps lethally.

It may be the most awaited day in Dark Shadows history. The build up had been going on for several weeks. Today, we meet Quentin Collins. And few men just kind of stand there and look sharp with the same kind of benevolent and sybaritic menace as David Selby.

As smartalec as that sounds, it’s also true. That’s all the man needs to do to establish his presence. And stand, he does.

It was clear that something was coming. It was clear that he was named Quentin. And it was clear that it was the next big direction for the story because, let’s face it, Don Briscoe is too nice of a guy. Unlike the arrival of Barnabas, Quentin was coming into a series where anything could happen. That did a lot of the work for David Selby, but it also raised expectations meteorically. Quentin’s first appearance is a masterpiece of performance focus, lighting, makeup, and costume design. The accompaniment of Beth, lit beautifully because she barely had to move, is even more powerful because it puts this mystery man into a context. He has followers. He has a team. Unlike the accident that was Barnabas, he exists as the result of a campaign. And every time David visits, he grows more powerful, thus reinforcing every warning that kids ever got about goin’ too near the white van driven by the guy with muttonchops.

The show has it both ways on several accounts. The more Quentin moves, the more he reveals potentials and limitations. So he plays it as motionlessly as possible. It’s an old stage trick. When blocking a play, the less a character moves, the more powerful they are. All of Selby’s work is with the eyes, and the muttonchops direct and intensify them magnificently. The production also satisfies twin agendas by allowing Quentin to remain a silent cypher and still communicate, by speaking through David. When David tries on the Victorian clothes, he speaks as if he were Quentin, but the line between Quentin and Beth and David and Amy is wildly questionable. Is it Quentin or David or David-through-Quentin or David-empowered-by-Quentin who says that he was bound to get revenge for how both of them had been treated?

It’s a fantastically allusive line of dialogue. Maybe Quentin is speaking about himself and Beth, and how they were treated by ancestors… perhaps he doesn’t know they are dead. Or perhaps Roger and Elizabeth enact some bizarre legacy of which David is ignorant. Maybe David and Quentin see themselves as marginalized members of the family, brothers-under-the-shroud, and are striking out. Maybe David is speaking for himself and Amy. maybe it’s all of the above, and that’s why they were chosen. David did not discover Quentin. Quentin simply waited for the right one.

Because the right ones were watching every day. And god help their parents if they didn’t have a release like Dark Shadows.

It’s a cliché among fans of a certain age that they “ran home from school to watch dark shadows.“ It’s a very true cliché however. 646 really twists that cliche by very authentically representing and addressing those fans. They are finally the heroes, investigating the unknown and taking charge of discovering what others had been too lackadaisical to discover. And they are also the villains, being moved by an entirely new figure who didn’t just deal with them as curious happenstances, but as the target of their interests.  It’s easy to forget the sense of constant pain and unfairness that sits with an aware child, and I don’t think it’s going very far to say that dark shadows fans are, if anything, aware. Both David and Amy are only children, growing up with adults who treated them — almost — as equals, because how else are they to address them? But they are inconvenient, unwise adults, and children like David and Amy are aware of this, also. Before, the show focused this kind of interest entirely on how dangerous and random a kid like this could be. David trying to kill his father is absolutely nothing new. But now, we see this from Davis’s point of view, also. If an adult is encouraging him to kill, there must suddenly, finally be a rational reason.

Yes? No. But David’s rage at Roger has been assuaged for some time. Or has it? It doesn’t take much for Quentin to inspire more of it. Roger complains about David to Liz throughout the episode, and that’s a chicken-and-egg passive aggression that a kid is going to notice. When Roger wonders if he made a mistake letting that child into the house, Liz asks if he means Amy. She wouldn’t ask if “David” were not a likely answer as well. The storyline has a very political message between parent and child, because the tension between Roger and David has improved, yes, but maybe not healed. Roger has yet to contemplate losing him, and David has yet to see whether Roger cares. Quentin was rejected by Jamison, who believed that he didn’t care, either. If he sees David as Jamison and Roger as the nearest adult in the lad’s life, somewhere between himself and Edward, then perhaps this is to prove to the Jamison spirit that an adult can care. Even Roger.

Ghosts have strange logic. But it’s clear there is a logic. How will it involve Barnabas? Or will Barnabas go away? The questions in the era were heady as the show revs up for 1969, its greatest year and when the downfall -- very quietly -- began.

This episode hit the airwaves Dec. 16, 1968.

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