Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 28


By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 725

Quentin is still a zombie, Jamison is still possessed, and Barnabas is still trying to straighten it all out. Rescuing him from the cusp of an open grave, Barnabas attempts an occult ceremony to cure Quentin, but fails. Meanwhile, Reverend Gregory Trask arrives from the Worthington Hall school, eager to add Jamison and Nora to his roster. Judith resists, but is fascinated. Obsequious to the core, Trask insists on performing his own exorcism, but wants Barnabas nowhere near. Barnabas has no choice but to agree.

So much of art is about saying no. It’s neat, tidy, selective, and disciplined. And then there is Jack Davis. MAD Magazine artist extraordinaire, Davis was the genius behind film posters for movies like ANIMAL HOUSE and AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Big collections of far too many characters chasing each other around with zany abandon. Yes. Exactly. Roger Ebert said that BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is like a Jack Davis poster, and he was right. So is DARK SHADOWS 1897. It’s an orgy of ‘yes.’ What more can be thrown in when you have a zombie Quentin and a possessed Jamison? Why not a Trask? But one with a libido! Yes, yes, and again, yes. The joy of a moment like the introduction of Gregory Trask is that, with an imagined laugh track, it turns DARK SHADOWS a sitcom as Barnabas rolls his eyes at yet another, cosmically inevitable impediment. Barnabas? Just wait for Petofi.

On this day in 1969, Dwight D. Eisenhower died. Despite ruling over the fifties, President and General Eisenhower was no mindless conformist, and wisely warned us against the rise of the military-industrial complex. Not sure anyone listened.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 27


By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 206

Liz continues to deny her fears over Jason and Willie, while the latter shows intense interest in ancestor Barnabas Collins and his possible connection to a lost cache of jewels. When Burke finds out how predatory Willie is being toward Carolyn, he goes to Collinwood to defend her, but is sent away with mixed feelings by Liz. Burke chides her on her Collins pride as he suspects that she is being dishonest with her reasons for defending Willie.

Is it politically incorrect to say that Liz is asking for it? It is? Okay, then Liz is asking for it. It’s class warfare-a-go-go when Liz prevents Burke from twisting Willie like a telephone cord. (Odd that Burke’s not a Collins, thus not good enough to solve a problem that’s not also a Collins.) If she had? Would the rest of the series even have happened? There’s a weird symmetry to the Collins Woes. The message? You just can’t find good help these days. What’s the trouble? Lower class greed invades Collinwood, wanting the best of the house, like, now, pops. And make it snappy. When they go through extraordinary means to get it? Pow! Willie, looking for wealth that’s not his, cracks open Barnabas’ coffin. Who’s Barnabas? Both the family curse and salvation … a vampire made such by someone from the working class who wanted what she couldn’t have. In that case, love. I mention this only in passing.

Episode 206 marks the first appearance by John Karlen. Street tough, yes, but also adept at playing fancy lads of all varieties. He was replacing James Hall, who played the part for five episodes with a darker and less playful edge. Karlen, I suspect, had a streak of vulnerability in his portrayal that Hall lacked. It’s fun to side with Willie’s schemes, and Karlen, hardly a wallflower, establishes himself immediately. Welcome to Collinwood, Mr. K!

In 2006, twenty days after his wife died, series creator Dan Curtis died on this day of a brain tumor. In happier news, it’s Jerry Lacy’s birthday.

Friday, March 24, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 24


By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1245 (the final episode of the series)

As Brutus’ Ghost resigns in defeat, an escaping Bramwell and Catherine encounter a turgid Morgan, who shoots in excitement. Bramwell is grazed by the unfriendly fire. Morgan then kidnaps Catherine, but Kendrick and Bramwell find him upright on the roof. The three men tussle, and Morgan miscalculates his footing and plunges off the edge. Kendrick finds Melanie cured, and so they plan to celebrate the spent collapse of the manhandled Morgan by going away from Collinwood, as do the united Bramwell and Catherine. The past remains a specter, as Flora struggles and succeeds to forgive Kendrick and Bramwell. Likewise, Catherine works to overcome her misgivings over what has happened, but agrees to learn from her experiences at Collinwood rather than be ruled by them. All is well until Melanie is brought in with bite marks. A vampire is suspected, but we learn that this time, there is no vampire at Collinwood.

Here we are. If you’re like me, last episodes hold a special and bittersweet place in your hearts. I only learn to appreciate the process of a journey once I’ve seen that the destination has far less splendor and scenery than I thought. It’s at journey’s end that I really appreciate the trip and enjoy what it was for its own sake. This has a special truth with DARK SHADOWS because the end is so abstract. Because none of the “characters” have their “real names,” it’s easy to write off the show as ending on an unsuccessful storyline. Yes, I guess that kind of happened if you want to be painfully literal, traditional, and mired in ratings history.

And, 45 years later, that means jack.

Those are factors that existed at the time, but they don’t dictate the meaning of the text to viewers now, viewers unversed in the production history, or viewers who assume that this was created wholecloth. That meaning is what we find in it, and we discover that meaning from the elements that exist within the story and dialogue. Think of HAMLET, a lesser-but-significant piece of drama compared with DARK SHADOWS. I have no doubt that “the Sam Hall of 1600,” William Shakespeare, made all sorts of staging compromises when writing it. If he sat in on a class, I venture that he would pause readings all the time with, “Can you forget that scene? I had to please Lord Undergirth’s nephew by writing it. These things don’t fund themselves, don’t you know. What I really intended to happen was….”

So, the production history’s impact on the show is trivia compared with the show, itself, and I think we do it a disservice by primarily focusing on the show as a byproduct of that trivia. Given that, imagine 1841PT as existing for a reason. Imagine that it was just as much of Dan Curtis’ dream as was the girl from the train tearing through the blackened halls of a mansion by the sea.

If the characters speak their most important truths as the final, defining moments of the DARK SHADOWS story, we might find them here. Forgiveness -- of the self and for others -- is what the characters speak of. Is Collinwood a haunted place to be abandoned? No. Its lessons are painful, but that pain means nothing if we forget them. The pain from the lessons is the pain we bring to them, and only by confronting and owning those scars can we justify what we’ve learned. What if Liz had had this attitude? Or Roger? Or Angelique? It’s what we see them learn. If DARK SHADOWS has a message for me, it’s this; happiness now and in the future directly relates to our ability to forgive the past.

In production terms, this is packed with the most familiar cast members they could wedge in. David Selby was ill and Chris Pennock’s character was dead, but that’s it. Even the show’s senior writer, Gordon Russell, appeared.

Meanwhile, the future was bright for NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS.

On this day in 1971, DARK SHADOWS filmed its 1,225th installment. It would air on April 2.  

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 23


By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1244 (the penultimate episode of the series)

Catherine finds herself locked in the haunted room with Bramwell. Although Julia and Kendrick eventually find out where the lovers are, no key can be found. Alternately possessed by Brutus and Amanda, Bramwell and Catherine attempt to destroy one another. Nonetheless, each shows a sense of willpower strong enough to overcome Brutus, who eventually surrenders. Had they been in the room alone, no survival would have been possible. But now they must face an insane Morgan.

In a show that caters to lonely and isolated people, this ending is both the ultimate fantasy and an accidental affront. From the very beginning, DARK SHADOWS is a world that moves because love has soured, been withdrawn, or was an illusion. I think that’s why it resonates so deeply with so many people. And let’s not kid ourselves; soap operas of the era were aimed at a relatively powerless, stymied, and arguably (voluntarily) enslaved underclass of society. I can’t imagine being an ensnared domestic technician -- saddled with several bawling infants responsible for my dysmorphia -- and NOT wondering where the love went. In essence, DARK SHADOWS can often be a you-are-not-alone survival kit for the loveless. But any story is the journey of someone trying to fill the vacuum in their life… or to die trying. This can only end one of two ways for the Frid and the Parker avatars. We’ve seen so much relentless tragedy and failure in the series that, if only in the name of variety (though it’s more than that), the show is cosmically obligated to balance its own scales.

And Keith Prentice yells a lot.

On this day in 1971, Russia performed underground nuclear tests. The mine shaft gap was closing.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 22


By PATRICK MCCRAY

Aired on this date in 1991: Revival Episode 12 (series finale)

In 1791, Vicki awaits execution while Barnabas accidentally drives his mother into near-catatonic, delusional madness. A snooping Abigail meets her end at Barnabas' hands, and Joshua, discovering this, arranges for Trask to visit via Ben Loomis. Barnabas and Ben extract an admission of Vicki's innocence from Trask, before walling him up for the public good. Peter Bradford takes the document with him to a magistrate, but Angelique's powers cause it to be forgotten. Meanwhile, Sarah dies, having hidden from Barnabas on a cold, Maine night. Daniel barely lives, thanks to Vicki's knowledge of treating fevers. Barnabas begs his father to kill him, but he cannot. Instead, he assigns Ben to chain his son forever in the mausoleum. In the present, Maggie breaks Julia's strange possession, only to become possessed by Angelique, herself. 

At a certain point, it almost resembles the end of THE WILD BUNCH. Cold, nihilistic, with a slash-and-burn viciousness regarding its own body count, the episode feels as if they know it's a swan song after the royal rogering of the Gulf War and NBC's lackadaisical management. Not the case, however. This was filmed in November of 1990, months before they would go to air. Still, it exists in the context of "The Best of Both Worlds," and even if they weren't Trekkers, the creative team now lived in a world where genre television went there. Again, there's almost nothing unsatisfying about these 1790 episodes of the 1991 series. Grand and sumptuous in every regard, they use handsome appointments to highlight what's already the star: the writing. These are dense episodes, full of action and plot-plot-plot after the occasionally pokey first six installments. I don't know how they play for those unfamiliar with the show, but -- excluding the missing Nathan Forbes -- this really demonstrates how arguably labored and plot-piebald the 1795 sequence in the original series could get. Especially in episode 12, we get a constant barrage of heartbreaks and triumphs, including wacky exorcisms and the end of Abigail, Sarah, and a drunken Trask. The performances are as fine as the best in genre television, with special kudos going to... well, the entire cast. Stefan Gierasch and Jean Simmons handle Naomi's descent into madness with tenderness and dignity, and Gierasch's stony heart continues to crumble as he becomes perhaps the saddest collateral damage of all of this: the one cursed to survive. Along with him is Jim Fyfe, playing a deeply sentimental man with a subtlety that adds a resonant counterpoint to the broad approach he explored as Willie. 

I remember communicating over Prodigy with young Joey Gordon Levitt, who implored fellow Prodigians to hector NBC, which I did. I knew it was hopeless, but it was something. I would have been far more perturbed about the cancellation, but... the show ended on a satisfyingly high note and never got a chance to get bad. The Gulf War can always be blamed for its ratings failure, and I rarely show it to people who don't deeply enjoy it. The show is a great ambassador for the franchise, and I hope it will continue to be honored as such. 

On this day in 1991, NBC made a big, dumb mistake. So there. 

Tuesday, March 21, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 21


By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 458

After seeing Millicent with Barnabas, an increasingly agitated Naomi discovers that Joshua may have found a relief to the curse in Boston. She nonetheless responds with pessimism. After writing a note, she visits Vicki, who remains concerned about Peter’s freedom. Vicki feels as if her visit with Naomi is the last she shall have, at which point Nathan arrives to take her in a gunpoint, unmoved by her admission that she, not Peter, killed Noah. Naomi drinks a draught of poison and then visits Barnabas, who confesses all. Despite his pleas to the contrary, she persists in her love for him. Joshua enters and cradles her as her body grows cold.

And then, it got really dark.

Naomi is one of DARK SHADOWS’ stronger, more willful characters. Every bit the equal to Joshua, which is saying something, she is admirably strong, honest, and loyal. These are all qualities that make her suicide either a show a defiant self-determination or a betrayal of her essence. Forgive the politics, and apologies to those whose loved ones have made that terminal choice (I rank among you), I see it as the former. Romantic literature might not… or might. These are Barnabas’ last moments before being sealed into semi-suspended animation, so this event and example -- this disposition toward death -- heavily influences the man we see rise in 1967. Death is both an option and simply one more choice. When he murders, perhaps he is consigning others to what he sees as an inevitability that exists without shame. These are very existential questions, and when you look at DARK SHADOWS in little bits, without considering the big picture, they are easy to ignore. Just as heroes in real life don’t go about spouting their ontologies like characters out of Chayefsky or Rand, nor do those on this show. Still, we can and -- as responsible fans of the show -- should discern what we can about the philosophies of the characters from their actions. With Barnabas, that’s a sticky wicket. Not only does he evolve, appearing in more episodes than anyone, but his perspective changes depending on whether or not he’s under the influence of what I refer to as the Beast. Critics of Barnabas are quite right. He can be the master of the double standard, easily rationalizing like a machine. In the balance, his life, abilities, options, threats, and nature of existence change violently and frequently. The choices he has to make and the range of shifting tools and consequences tied to those choices are rarely the same. The consequences demand categorical thinking. Seeing that his own mother held death as a choice galvanized Barnabas’ thinking, I believe. If it were not a shameful destination for her, it is not a shameful destination for anyone. Of course, she chose it and Barnabas’ victims do not, but if it becomes a questionable destination, then his actions to consign others there become equally questionable. Thus, Barnabas must maintain a casual attitude toward the undiscovered country.

Kids, don’t try this at home.

On this day in 1968, redoubtable Israeli forces crossed the Jordan river to attack bases of the PLO. In celebration, future Playboy Playmate Samantha Leah Dorman was born. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 20



Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 201

By PATRICK McCRAY

Burke arrives at Collinwood with an emboldened Sam and pressures Roger into finally confessing to the vehicular manslaughter that sent Burke to jail. He does so, and Burke leaves his fate in Liz’s hands. When Liz elects to call the authorities, Burke stops her with a newfound respect. That’s all Burke needed to see. Meanwhile, Jason learns more about the locked room in the basement from David. When Liz discovers him trying to get in, Jason ups the stakes of his blackmail, citing the night she fatally struck her husband and his own assistance in covering up the murder. It is implied that Paul Stoddard’s body may be in that locked room. Jason later calls Willie. Having misunderstood an overheard conversation about Roger’s culpability, Jason believes that he and Willie may be running out of time.

Liz’s choice to turn Roger in has a strange, self-destructive, wish-fulfillment to it. After all, she now knows that both of Jamison’s children are successful murderers. This is a dense, chunky episode, uniquely satisfying in the DS canon. It’s an episode containing a refreshing resolution to Burke’s quest, and he shows a maturity that can only be gained after the events of 200 episodes. It also allows us to say goodbye to the snarling Roger Collins of old and clears the way for the more lighthearted, avuncular Roger of the Barnabas Era. An episode like this will do it. Roger experiences a visibly painful transformation in the episode, but you can tell that it’s a necessary and salubrious one. The ensemble shines in this one, but none as much as Louis Edmonds and Mitchell Ryan. Ryan dials up his usual intensity even further without leaping into self-parody. For Edmonds’ part, he very bravely delves into the most loosely hinged parts of Roger’s personality. It is a vulnerable, anguished performance that is utterly real and deeply uncomfortable to watch. Roger’s had just enough mellowing that seeing him humbled with extreme prejudice elicits a wince. That may be why Burke shows such surprising clemency. Anyone who wants to accuse DARK SHADOWS of having wooden or hammy performances needs to watch these two turns and call me in the morning.

Today is also Don Briscoe’s birthday. Born in 1940, he was 27 today. Thinking that he had made it to thirty when he had his breakdown is even sadder. We miss you, Don.

On this day in 1967, The Supremes released “The Happening.” With an ‘H.’

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 17


By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 716

Jenny escapes the tower room and locks Rachel Drummond within. Nora complains that her door is mysteriously ajar, but Judith writes it off to gypsies. Meanwhile, she exerts her authority over Dirk, who rescues Rachel. Judith later tells Nora that her mother is not coming to visit, despite the girl’s dreams.

Filler. Entertaining filler, but astoundingly filleresque filler. Lots of atmosphere and a pleasant way to spend twenty-two minutes, but not what you want to use to introduce someone to the show. Every character in the episode is something of a side character, save maybe Judith. So, yes, here’s a fine example of her flexing her muscles as executor. It’s fun to see Jenny on the loose, and this is her first appearance, so there’s that. Marie Wallace has the beginning of her own corner of the bittersweet, hellzapoppin’ blast that is 1897.

On this day in 1969, Golda Meir became the first prime minister of Israel.
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