Friday, September 21, 2018

1942 film offers rare color perspective of fictional "Collinwood"

The National Trust for Historic Preservation has an interesting feature story on Lyndhurst Mansion, the Tarrytown, N.Y., location that served as the location of the fictional "Collinwood" in both 1970's HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS and its 1971 sequel NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS. It's a well-researched, well-written piece that tells you just about everything you need to know about the historic mansion without ever once mentioning DARK SHADOWS. But that's OK. That's my domain.

The feature has a particularly juicy piece of bait on its hook, though: a rare 1942 color movie showcasing the Lyndhurst gardens. The backstory features a bit of gothic melodrama that proves to be mostly fictional:
"The discovery of this film is significant because it offers, for the first time, a tangible look at the landscape during the period when Lyndhurst was owned by Anna Gould. It had previously been understood that all staff, save for Lyndhurst’s superintendent, Robert B. Allan, were let go when Helen Gould died and that the gardens had consequently languished while Anna occupied the property only part-time. The film proves that this wasn’t the case — that in 1942, the Lyndhurst landscape still very much reflected Helen’s careful stewardship."
You can read the entire piece HERE and it's well worth the time of any DARK SHADOWS fan. There are also a a few little-seen photos of the property dating back to the 19th century. If you've already decided you know all there is to know about Lyndhurst, though, you can skip directly to the movie below. (And don't forget: both HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS will be airing on TCM next month.)

Thursday, September 20, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: September 17

I was away from the Historical Society HQ Monday-Wednesday assisting with a documentary. While I could write about something shot today, September 20, it looks like this past Monday is worthy of commemoration, so indulge me as I hit the Way Back machine for October 17.


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1108

When Maggie’s life hangs in the balance, Barnabas may be forced to make the ultimate sacrifice to find the missing Quentin. Maggie Evans: Kathryn Leigh Scott. (Repeat. 30 min.)

As Maggie’s condition worsens, Sebastian insists on relocating her. He agrees to use his powers to find Quentin if Barnabas will release her. Finding little conclusive, Sebastian is still allowed to take a shaken and wan Maggie to Windlcliff. Barnabas and Julia receive portents that the destruction of Collinwood will happen that night and discover an important clue when a heartbeat rings out from Quentin’s aging portrait.

1108 falls at a very awkward time for DARK SHADOWS, and it explains the formula of plot events within. First, it was broadcast on a Thursday. Fridays are often set aside for Big Plot Events, and so many Thursdays have a tough set of jobs. They have to tell the story, but not too much. They save Friday for the big cliffhangers by holding back. But they have to tease enough to make you want to get to the big cliffhanger. And the next episode, 1109, is perhaps the most dramatic and profound cliffhanger the series ever had as zombies invade and destroy Collinwood, the children are seemingly murdered, Barnabas is last seen being nearly torn apart by the living dead, and Julia -- yes, Julia -- is our last best hope, thrust 130 years into the past.


But we’re not there yet, and 1108 has one of the most important plot events to cover… and not cover… to justify and commemorate, but not necessarily condone.

We say goodbye to Maggie Evans and founding ensemble giant, Kathryn Leigh Scott. Holding out hope that the show would continue for many years and that she would return from Europe eager to rejoin the cast, the character’s life was spared. Come on, this is Maggie Evans, not Megan Todd. And yes, she is important to the plot -- after all, she proves the potency of Roxanne Drew’s powers of vampirism, draining Maggie’s life away just as she drains the character’s importance as a love interest away, infusing it in herself. There is an irony to that, but they didn’t really have the time to dress it up. The inclusion of Roxanne is one of the most underdeveloped aspects of this story, and Maggie’s sacrifice for it feels equally like a non-sequitur on the surface. What the story gains is an exercise in stakes. This arc takes no prisoners. If you want to show the strength of your villain, have him take out some of the most resilient characters early on. It hurts, but it reminds us that there are real consequences to their attacks. This isn’t a sitcom with a reset button at the end of every episode. Maggie is human, and humans have limits. Quentin was, vaguely, a gentleman. Roxanne? She has no such prejudices of courtly restraint, and in that way, her very feminine attack on what Barnabas values most is the kind of dirty pool we associate with women preemptively scorned. It’s a good thing Nicholas Blair isn’t around. I can barely fathom the reckoning.

Ms. Scott’s exit  is one of the show’s most mournful moments, and its quick-and-dirty near-senselessness mirrors the gruesome routine that Vietnam casualty reports had on the nightly news. But what were they to do? To make her exit a major plot element would have required either…
a) killing Maggie, and that was out of the question if a return were ever hoped for, or…
b) some kind of kidnapping, which would never be resolved unless a return were guaranteed.
Without those options, shuffling her off to Windcliff was one of the only resorts. The curt exit and scant sentimentality of the episode feels vaguely passive aggressive. This is not the kind of clip-show retrospective to which primetime would have treated us. But that’s not uncommon for soaps, especially one embroiled at the turning point of its darkest and most far-reaching storyline. And, reportedly, it was an inside joke by Dan Curtis, who reportedly told her she was crazy for leaving the show.

As Freud said, “There’s no such thing as a joke.”

And what exactly was she to do? After five years of alternating between victim and voice-of-reason, the options were growing slim. The movie was done, its structure pretty much guaranteeing that no franchise was in the offing to let her reprise the role. Parallel Time was a shrill exercise in victimhood, where her character was forced into the appearance of whiny neediness and again, serving as a the subject for a kidnapping. The only real plot advancement available would have been if Maggie had embraced the memory of Josette and become willingly romantic with Barnabas. It’s an interesting alternate path for the franchise, and without it, almost every other permutation had been exhausted.

Once she leaves and reasons, quite rightly, that she’ll never see these people again, the other characters miss no beats moving on. Is it a case of “Maggie, who?” or is it that the current crises -- threatened children and an entombed Quentin -- are so severe that there’s no time for sentiment. Both. And the lesson of very real casualties heightens stakes for the apocalyptic episode to come. The oncoming weekend was destined to be a long one for DARK SHADOWS and its fans. 

This episode was broadcast Sept. 23, 1970.

Every school kid needs this book

"Blending real-life history and evidence with age-old myths, this book invites young readers to think critically about vampire legends and how they influence society. Text describes the characteristics of vampires, highlights historical accounts around the world, and offers examples from books, television, and film. Table of contents, fun facts, critical thinking questions, glossary, and index included. Aligned to Common Core Standards and correlated to state standards."

Honestly, I'd rather kids learn about vampires in school than on the streets like I did.

Available on Amazon HERE.

Tuesday, September 18, 2018

Happy birthday GRAYSON HALL! (Probably)

Today would have been the 96th birthday of actress Grayson Hall. Most likely.

Born Shirley H. Grossman in Philadelphia, Hall was notoriously evasive about her age. The Academy-award nominated actress was probably born Sept. 18, 1922, but paperwork filed on her admittance to Cornell University lists a birthday of 1923, according to R.J. Jameson's biography, GRAYSON HALL: A HARD ACT TO FOLLOW. To make things more interesting, her marriage license gives a birth year of 1925. The actress was even rumored to have altered her driver's license in an attempt to knock a few years off her age.

Sept. 18 is the day recognized as her birthday, though, which feels more like an educated guess than anything else ... but that's Grayson Hall for you.

The Dark Shadows Daybook: September 18


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1110

Julia Hoffman encounters the world of 1840, where an aged Ben Stokes becomes a new ally, Quentin’s ancestor is missing at sea with his son, Tad, and his paralyzed brother, Gabriel, is scheming to gain control of the family fortunes in the escaped and insane Daniel’s will. She disguises herself to fit in and is promptly assaulted by a mysterious, caped figure.

This is a tiny masterpiece of tone, both consistent and surprising. Following the darkest and most apocalyptic episode of the series, 1110 finds now-seasoned time traveler, Julia Hoffman, in the year 1840. Excluding 1995 (which was too brief for a honeymoon), the other time jaunts begin with deceptive sunniness. They’re playgrounds of innocence (or harmlessly naughty larceny at the worst) with evil lurking around the edges, hardly commensurate to the threats that will later emerge. Sure, Barnabas gets voodoo-choked pretty quickly, but it’s against a background of overwhelming optimism. 1897 has colorful and charming gypsies and a retinue of other cartoonish weirdos. Quentin, now talking, is an instantly beguiling rascal. But 1840? With a dark and sweaty color palette, hideously Jack Kirby-esque makeup on Ben Stokes, and intense, threatening, angry, mournful characters, we are thrown into a fire that would very likely produce the kind of ghost who would later order armageddon on Collinwood. There is no charm here, although Gabriel will eventually develop a marvelously mordant sense of humor, allowing the luminous Christopher Pennock to shine even brighter than ever. Overall, this is a Collinwood in a cycle of decay. As mentioned, Ben is a mass of age and tumors. Daniel is mad. Gabriel’s body is (seemingly) half-dead. The only capable members of the household we meet -- Samantha and Carrie -- are paralyzed themselves, only from within, with mourning. Julia arrives at an implosion of wildly unhappy people. Solving the mystery of Gerard will be difficult enough. Just making it through a day with these already-paranoid grouches, cretins, and lost souls will be just as difficult. It continues a storyline that spoon-feeds you nothing. Neither viewers nor time travelers can claim the cockiness of experience. It can be a challenge to watch because of its dark, unhappy intensity, and yet the benefit to the characters is proportionately positive. Grayson Hall, now the show’s heroine, takes on the mantle with a confidence that never lampoons itself into cockiness. If ‘humanity’ can be synonymous with something other than frailty, then she nails it.

Virginia Vestoff joins the cast as Quentin’s widow, Samantha, and is the last major female lead to round out the company. At this period, performing simultaneously in 1776 at night would not have been out of the question, and that alone is an impressive feat. I have mixed feelings about her, otherwise. To her credit, Vestoff has a furrowed sense of restlessness that adds to the wonky feel of the storyline. She would not reappear in the 1841PT sequence, and that may be for the best. What she adds in intensity, it could be argued she lacks in dimension. Although her Broadway pedigree is prestigious, it takes a tad more range and theatrical relish to mesh with the established, DS ensemble. I admire Vestoff a great deal, but as a DARK SHADOWS regular, she’s a wonderful Abigail Adams. No saltpeter required.

On this day in 1970, Grayson Hall celebrated her 48th birthday. Given that she leads this inaugural episode of a sequence celebrating heroism and mystery, it is an apt gift to her from its writer, husband Sam Hall

Friday, September 14, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: SEPTEMBER 14


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1107

When Gerard springs the ultimate trap for Quentin, Barnabas must stop him before his best friend buries himself alive. Gerard Stiles: James Storm. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Collinwood is going to hell. Gerard possesses Quentin, who is more than happy to dig his own grave. Carolyn develops second sight, but is unable to give Barnabas information about where Quentin is. As Quentin nears death, Daphne falls ill and is presented with her dress from the 1840’s. In the middle, Barnabas Collins has nowhere to turn for help.

Just because it doesn’t make immediate sense, doesn’t make it bad.

Containing what is easily (?) the show’s most challenging storyline, this is a sequence that’s impossible to watch on autopilot. A viewer either has to zone out completely or athletically participate in interpreting the action. Last night, I exhausted myself as I watched the episode with a friend who had never seen DARK SHADOWS; there’s a lot to explain. That’s fine. That’s expected. The tough part isn’t the plot, but how it involves characters who behave in atypical and mercurial ways. At a certain point, you simply have to wave the white flag… or green flag in this case.

And yet, it worked. As a piece of high-stakes, suspenseful drama, it held my friend’s attention and made her want to watch more. Within the context of the larger show, it’s a very real nightmare for Barnabas. In that sense, it’s a perfect creation to come from Judah Zachary… the Dream Curse is an amateurish carnival ride by comparison. This isn’t a literal dream, but like so much in the Ragnarok sequence, it echoes the language of dreams and the ways in which they reveal disturbing and profound truths. This is as opposed to surface level sources of fright -- wolves, skeletons, beheadings. Yes, yes, we get it, Angelique, these things are all Real Scary. And in a foggy hall of doors, we kind of see it all coming, Real nightmares don’t traffic in fantasy. They don’t leave you waking up, saying, “That was weird.” They leaving you waking up saying, “I think that was real.”

It’s especially clever because 1107 reveals and exploits Barnabas’ greatest fears: complete responsibility for disaster mixed with a complete inability to control -- or even understand -- the causes of it. This is clearest as he tries to understand what’s upsetting Daphne, why Quentin has escaped, and what psychic truths are held by his now death-obsessed niece, Carolyn. Roger, Liz, and Stokes are nowhere to be found as he dashes about for answers, and said dashing only leads to more confusion. He’s a man of the Enlightenment, which means that he prizes cause & effect, clear reasoning, and crisp, persuasive rhetoric to describe the universe. Here, there is no cause and effect. Gerard’s reasoning is clearly strategic, but since he won’t speak, there is no understanding it, much less negotiation. His communication is psychic. If you’re lucky, he’ll have an expression or extend a hand. But that’s it. His victims change their minds, leap to conclusions, and follow orders by innately understanding them without articulation. To Barnabas, there are no clues to follow… there is no trail to chase, merely a city on fire with nary a bucket in sight. Beyond the morbid niece, who is his only connection to Quentin, there is a one-time ghost, Daphne, who is in extreme pain because the same man, Quentin, is somewhere, controlled by Gerard and vaguely possessed by his own ancestor. Quentin is beset by dread and relief as he digs his own grave.

Quentin is DARK SHADOWS’ most depressed character. (Even Liz has the hope for Carolyn’s love.) Eternally lost, he has every reason for lonely despair -- as well as every reason to be the happiest man in town. In 1107, there is an horrific relatability to his quietly ecstatic sense of release as he skips suicide to simply dig his own grave and climb in. It is a moment of such dark truth that very few will ever want to admit to themselves or others that they understand it. What sells the impossibly black mirror is Selby. You see the relief of a century’s worth of manufactured happiness and released despair in his simple decisions and discoveries alongside his wordless new liberator and jailer.

We’ve heard his mournful, favorite song. Thought it was charming. We saw his endless romancing. Thought it was dashing. We saw his drinking. Thought it made him hard-edged and contemplative. And we witnessed everything else and said, “That’s Quentin,” and left it at that. The clues were there and no one took them seriously. This is a wildly irresponsible betrayal of caring for a deeply unhappy court jester desperate for belonging and help. We should have seen it, and instead we wrote it off. The horror in the scene is as much at ourselves for ignoring the obvious as it is at Quentin. Imagine what Barnabas must be thinking as his savior and surrogate custodian.

Not stopping that fate, and not knowing there was anything to be stopped? That’s a nightmare. That’s a dream curse. That’s what Gerard does.

This episode was broadcast Sept. 22, 1970.

Crack open a big box of monsters this Halloween

My reflex was to begin this post with an apology for straying off topic. It's Halloween, after all, and if you've been visiting this website for a while you already know we go a little crazy during this time of the year. Halloween is Christmas for introverts, a season when we allow our inner lives to go outside and play for a few weeks. How can I not indulge this urge?

But, as I was crafting my unnescessary apology, it occurred to me that the Universal Monsters series is alarmingly on topic for the CHS. For Barnabas Collins, alone, DARK SHADOWS pinched elements of Dracula, The Mummy and The Phantom of the Opera. The show later introduced its own Wolf-Men and, had DARK SHADOWS lasted another year or two, we almost certainly would have seen some variation of Invisible Collins. (The Gillman was probably never an option on the table.)

With that in mind, here's the ultimate Halloween treat: Universal Classic Monsters: The Complete 30-Film Collection. Universal has struggled to keep these films relevant during the last few decades, with mixed results. I've yet to see the Tom Cruise version of THE MUMMY but, if it gets someone to check out the original Universal Monsters films, it can't be all bad. Every time one of those CGI-heavy revamps gets unleased in theaters, we get new releases of the classic Universal Monsters films, collections which have steadily been accumululating the lesser films in the franchise into the various home video releases. This new collection represents about 20 years of labor on the part of Universal, a process that included significant remastering of the keystone films. They're available in two releases: the DVD box set for $65.99 (that's just $2.20 per movie) and the Blu-ray collection for $180.95 (that's $6 per movie.)

My advice? Lock your doors, bolt your windows, turn off your cell phones and binge the entire damn collection in one sitting.

Via: Amazon.

Thursday, September 13, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: SEPTEMBER 13


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 585

When Barnabas locks and loads, has Adam met his match or will Barnabas become the once and future vampire? Barnabas Collins: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat. 30 min.)

After Barnabas confronts Adam with a rifle, a rampage ensues, leading to an attack on Julia and Vicki’s midnight kidnapping.

For me, as maybe for all of us, the perfect DARK SHADOWS is broadcast in only one place: the mind. Because there’s so much of the show, it’s easy for a gap to form between what it actually is and what we imagine it was and might become. While that may be a minus if you’re one of the authors of the text, it is a bonus as a fan because it gives us a little bit of ownership of the show as we individually see it. Coming from a comic book background, the show that exists in my mind is a hazy compromise between the objective DARK SHADOWS and Marvel Team-Up, with a dash of BLACKADDER. 585 combines all of that beautifully. Is it another DS-as-sitcom episode? It has that, too.

As with a number of episodes, it begins with the end of the prior installment, which means a powerful and high note. Barnabas is unusually arch and mordant while batting away Julia’s endless cavils. Frid is having a blast with Gordon Russell’s opportunities to flex his darkly comedic chops. It’s a subtle performance, requiring you to look closely to catch the sly grins that flash across his face for an instant, but it gives you a good opportunity to see Barnabas at his most editorial. Adam represents raw force, and the only thing that can top such brutal vitality is irony. This is why victims of abuse often have such sharp (if dark) senses of humor. It’s refreshing to see Barnabas and Russell gravitate toward that choice after months and months of deadpan hand-wringing.

Julia and Barnabas have entered into an interesting phase of their relationship. When we first arrive back from 1795, she’s still a threat, but the creation of Adam quickly puts them on the same team and the appearance of Jeff Clark effectively removes the threat of Vicki to the pursuit of her man. Julia knows she may not get Barnabas, but it’s a nice consolation that Barnabas has no shot with Vicki, either. They settle into a comfortable pattern of constant bickering, uniting mostly when on vacation in 1897, Parallel Time, and 1840. Other than that, Barnabas remains the dreamer while Julia is the party-pooping literalist, often right but rarely fun. Having lived such a strange life, Barnabas is more than happy to shoot Adam, consequences be damned. Of course, Barnabas would be damned, also, as Julia reminds him. Can’t the guy just shoot a reanimated corpse and then revert to vampirism in peace? Is that so much to ask? Barnabas struts and preens like he’s auditioning for the part of John Adams in 1776 until Julia, of course, talks him out of it. This is DARK SHADOWS at its most HONEYMOONERS. When Barnabas bolts the rifle, there’s an unmistakable mix of bravado and veiled uncertainty. Now that he’s got the gun, he’s the man of the house, as long as he can convince everyone he knows what he’s doing. I half expect Julia to remind him that he has no idea how to work that thing, and he’ll probably get them both killed. Which is pretty much what happens. When Barnabas grabs the gun again, he’s so nervous, he can’t remember Julia’s name and calls her be a number of others. Yes, this was Jonathan Frid with the lines again, but it becomes actual humor if you just see it as Barnabas posing with a gun he has no idea how to use, obsessed with his own nervousness. I mean, really? Where did this come from? What does Willie expect him to do with it? The only reason Willie feels comfortable with it around the house is because he doubts Barnabas could even load it. A flintlock, yes. Deadly accurate. A bolt action rifle? Maybe not. When Adam grabs the gun and it disintegrates into pieces, barrel clattering to the floor, the scene becomes a weird precursor to Spike Milligan and Christopher Lee’s gun shtick in Dick Lester’s THREE MUSKETEERS. Depending on my mood, it’s either twice as funny or half.

The rest of the episode is pure action, too. Julia duking it out in the woods. Adam looking like he’s rushing a fraternity as he’s climbs in windows after a nightgown-clad Vicki, with Barnabas snooping around in the dark, downstairs. This is DARK SHADOWS at its purest. Even if the results are both comical and frightening, it’s good to see Barnabas large and in charge instead of twisting his hands in tortured indecision. As have the writers and audience, it looks like he’s tired of being paralyzed by indecision. There’s something satisfying to making a choice, even the wrong one. He’ll improve, and by 1897, at his most “John Steed,” the only joke will be on those who underestimate him. The name’s Collins. Barnabas Collins. Accept no substitutions.

This episode was broadcast Sept. 20, 1968.
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