Monday, July 21, 2014

Monster Serial: HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH, 1982



By Phil Nobile Jr

John Carpenter wanted Michael Myers dead.

That amazing final moment from 1978’s HALLOWEEN — the one where The Shape has vanished from the spot where he’d surely been shot dead seconds earlier — helped cement the film as a genre staple, the new slasher gold standard for which countless wannabe franchises (and a handful of actual franchises) strived. HALLOWEEN made a bundle, and was for 20 years the most profitable independent film of all time.

As a result, by 1981, the low-budget film industry was lousy with filmmakers planting flags (and pitchforks and machetes) on every holiday on the calendar, lining up for some of that easy slasher money.

Somewhat to his dismay, John Carpenter discovered he was one of them. That famous last shot had come around to bite him in the ass; if Michael Myers wasn’t dead, surely there was a sequel to be hammered out to keep that gravy train rolling? That was the thinking of the money men, at any rate, and Carpenter, much like his crazed Dr. Loomis, must have felt a measure of responsibility for unleashing Michael Myers on the world. So Carpenter, while a firm “no” on directing, returned to finish off his monster with his typewriter. (And if he made a few bucks off the franchise in the process, well, no one was more entitled to such than him.) As Carpenter himself tells it, each night he, fueled by a six-pack of beer, would hammer out the draft for HALLOWEEN II.


It’s not hard to look at HALLOWEEN II and realize the film’s one mission seems to be to destroy the original’s mysterious killer. It’s certainly true in a thematic sense: the unknowable, unstoppable killer (who, remember, was simply called “The Shape” in the first film’s script), is given a sibling, a bit of pagan backstory/motivation, and is referred to by his first name over and over again. Rob Zombie takes a lot of heat for fleshing out Michael Myers too much in his 2007 remake, but let’s assign blame where it’s due; the rot of demystification takes root the second HALLOWEEN II starts. “Kill The Shape” is also a more literal mandate here, as Carpenter sees to it that his creation is shot in both eyes before being set on fire. THE END, the filmmaker seemed to be saying. You can practically envision Carpenter gleefully patting down the dirt on Michael’s grave with a shovel. Slashers had recovered from lesser injuries, and would of course go on to recover from worse, but watching Michael Myers’ head melt through his mask while The Chordettes chirp “Mr. Sandman” on the soundtrack, things felt pretty final.

Which, of course, created a unique opportunity for Carpenter and producing partner Debra Hill when Universal came calling in 1982, asking for a third Halloween. With Myers a charred puddle of goo and filmmakers still somewhat beholden to the laws of physics, a third killing spree for the Shape was apparently out of the question. So what happened next was one of the ballsier, more admirable, and most ill-fated moves of the genre. HALLOWEEN isn’t about a single killer, the team suggested to the studio. It’s a BRAND NAME. We’ll do a new HALLOWEEN every year. Each story will be a standalone tale, and you can keep the franchise going indefinitely. The first new story of the anthology will delve into the origins of Halloween itself, and will meld ancient pagan sacrifice with the modern consumer age! People will forget all about Michael Myers!

 
What optimism in this pitch! Think about the leap of faith, the boundless credit given to the public here - the adorably naive belief that horror audiences would rather see a new story under the brand name than sequel after boring sequel of teenagers being stabbed to death.

Sadly, they were 100% wrong.

HALLOWEEN III: SEASON OF THE WITCH feels like a significant moment in horror history, and for a couple of reasons. For starters, it’s pure fork-in-the-road, “what if” territory; had the filmmakers’ anthology approach worked, there’s every reason to think the ensuing 30 years of horror would look very, very different. The other angle is more personal, and it involves the tough lesson learned by three young mavericks (Carpenter, Hill, and director Tommy Lee Wallace), emboldened by a bit of mainstream success, who thought they were going to use the system to do something original and different. It feels like such an ambitious, naive gesture that fans are inclined to be on board with it, no matter the actual film’s shortcomings.

To be fair, the film gets a lot right. Dean Cundey’s cinematography and Carpenter’s score (co-written by Alan Howarth) effectively maintain the ongoing HALLOWEEN “brand,” as does the cast, containing a handful of faces from Carpenter’s repertory company. (You can even hear Jamie Lee Curtis as the voice of the telephone operator.) The film uses Halloween as a backdrop much more effectively than Carpenter’s film, where the holiday was more of an excuse to have a masked killer wandering town unnoticed. Here, kids pester their parents for cool masks in the days leading up to Halloween; incessant TV commercials count down the hours to the holiday; and in one nicely shot montage, children all over the country canvas their respective neighborhoods as the sun goes down.  We wouldn’t see Halloween so lovingly rendered on film again until 2007’s TRICK ‘R TREAT.




The plot, derived from an early script conceived by British science-fiction writer Nigel Kneale, concerns nothing less than the fate of the world — we’ve traded in a lone maniac for one who heads a corporation, and his plan involves sacrificing all the children of the world using old-fashioned magic combined with the latest in 1983 telecommunications. Throughout is that same love of film history so palpable in all of Carpenter’s films. With a half-crocked protagonist (Tom Atkins) at the wheel, HALLOWEEN III sort of drunk-drives back through time, scraping against the paranoid thrillers of the 70s, bumping into 1973’s THE WICKER MAN, and eventually ditching straight into Don Siegel’s 1956 masterpiece, INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS (the film is set in Santa Mira, the same fictional locale as Siegel’s film.) Atkins is a constant joy as a protagonist over his head and out of patience, and Dan O’Herlihy as Conal Cochran, channeling equal parts Boris Karloff from THE BLACK CAT and Edmund Gwenn from MIRACLE ON 34TH STREET, makes for a memorable villain.


This column is among those featured in
 BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL, a collection of 
horror essays written by contributors to 
THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY. 
Buy it today on Amazon!
All of this to say HALLOWEEN III has some legitimate pleasures. Script tinkering and producer meddling (courtesy Dino De Laurentiis) is revealed through some hard tonal shifts, but the film maintains a plucky enthusiasm, and for an ‘80s studio effort, it’s got a mean streak that’s to be admired. (You don’t often find corporate product in which a little boys head is turned into a swarm of bugs and snakes.) Combined with its weird pedigree, this all makes the movie something of a singular experience. But one also can’t help but experience HALLOWEEN III through that “what if” context, and when we watch it we’re imagining that alternate world where HALLOWEEN III worked, and 1983 saw the release of HALLOWEEN IV, a film that had all the earmarks of the series — that Cundey lighting, that Carpenter/Howarth score, that repertory company — but was yet another standalone tale. We watch HALLOWEEN III and imagine a decade in which “John Carpenter’s HALLOWEEN” meant an all-new, annual experience. When we watch and love HALLOWEEN III, we’re loving a franchise that never really existed, and that’s part of the appeal.

Timing is everything. In 1982, the idea of a horror anthology was certainly in the air, as evidenced by the release (and success) of George A. Romero’s CREEPSHOW. The following year would see four of Carpenter’s peers collaborating on TWILIGHT ZONE: THE MOVIE (one of those peers, Joe Dante, was originally slated to helm HALLOWEEN III.) Before the decade was over, both TALES FROM THE DARKSIDE and TALES FROM THE CRYPT would be on the small screen, proving that there was in fact a market for horror anthologies. Many folks have pointed to these examples as proof that HALLOWEEN III was ahead of its time. But in reality the film was, in fact, a year too late. It’s not that people weren’t ready for an anthology; it’s that HALLOWEEN II gummed up the works, fixing in audiences’ minds the idea that the franchise was about Michael Myers, no matter what kind of shape he was left in at the end. Had Wallace’s SEASON OF THE WITCH  been the second Halloween film, audiences would have no doubt been more open to the idea of an anthology series, and we could very well be celebrating a very different franchise today.

PHIL NOBILE JR is a writer/director of non-fiction television projects, including the feature-length A&E documentary HALLOWEEN: THE INSIDE STORY (2010.) He is a contributing writer for badassdigest.com and its sister print publication, BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH.

Friday, July 18, 2014

Bloggers pick their Top 10 episodes of DARK SHADOWS

 
By WALLACE McBRIDE

By now, you've probably seen the results of our recent readers poll concerning the 10 best episodes of DARK SHADOWS. Surprisingly, little controversy has emerged from the list. Our podcast about the results has seen a lot of traffic (it's been our biggest download week in almost a year) and few people have taken to whining about the results on Facebook.  It's been a good week.

But, what about the DARK SHADOWS bloggers? We're a strange lot, often immersed in the show even more than fandom's lunatic fringe (god bless those magnificent bastards.) I asked a couple of bloggers to send me their favorites, and decided to share my own, as well.
 

Here's my personal TOP 10: 

1. Episode 1: I've seen this episode more than any other, thanks to the Sci-Fi Channel. Not long after DARK SHADOWS began its run on that channel in the early '90s, Sci-Fi ran a block of TV "pilots" one Saturday night and included this episode in the roster. I had the good sense to record it, on a VHS tape that also included episodes of SPEED RACER, ROBOTECH and a bunch of Danzig music videos. That tape got quite a workout. Luckily, the DARK SHADOWS "pilot" also a great episode: Haunting and dreamlike, it's one of the most dynamic episodes of the entire series and establishes an unusual assortment of mysteries using little more than suggestion.

2. Episode 401: This is one of my favorite performances from Jonathan Frid in the entire series. There's a moment in this episode where Barnabas Collins is pressuring Ben Stokes to reveal the identity of the witch that's been plaguing his family. Under a curse from Angelique, Ben is unable to speak her name, but manages to draw her the first letter of her name in the dust (a call back to an earlier episode where Barnabas was teaching Ben how to read.) There's a lot going on in Frid's performance that's not included in the script. There's a sense of resignation here, suggesting he already knows who the witch is, but hopes he's wrong. If it's Victoria, the family's problems will soon resolve themselves. If it's his wife, then life is about to get a lot more complicated. Frid is a great dramatic "thinker," and that skill is really on display here.

3. Episode 191: This is the end of the Laura Collins "phoenix" storyline, and it's a corker. This is easily the most under-appreciated storyline in all of DARK SHADOWS. Though it's not without its problems (primarily pacing issues) none of them involve actress Diana Millay, who is simply terrific throughout. While the show played around with different literary and cinematic genres throughout its run, this is DARK SHADOWS as film noir, with the term "femme fatale" taking on a very literal meaning here.

4. Episode 918: The episode where DARK SHADOWS momentarily turns into THE AVENGERS. In search of a cure for his werewolf curse, Chris Jennings brings Quentin Collins to the home of a man they believe might be artist Charles Delaware Tate. The artist has transformed his home into a funhouse of horror, and is hiding behind a series of illusions that would make Andy Kaufman shudder.

5.  Episode 704: One of the most interesting moments on DARK SHADOWS is when Quentin Collins makes the leap from silent specter to flesh-and-blood human being. While the living Quentin is a dangerous character, he's not the full-on monster suggested in the previous storyline, and has more in common with Sterling Archer than Doctor Strange. Episode 704 flips the show's long-standing dynamic upside down when Barnabas Collins tries to pull the old "I'm my own grandpa" trick, only to find himself at the end of Quentin's sword.

6. Episode 350: There's an episode of SATURDAY NIGHT LIVE in 1977 with Buck Henry playing Charles Lindbergh that caused the production a few problems. The writers (I'm guessing Dan Ackroyd, but might be wrong) managed to sneak a few off-color comments through network censors by hiding them in otherwise harmless dialogue. Censors being some of the most humorless people on the planet, they didn't imagine that inflection and rhythm could transform a line like "Unexpected turbulence suddenly jerked the plane off course! into an overt masturbation reference. I have to wonder if the scene where Barnabas bites Carolyn in Episode 350 functioned the same way. Because, even as he's assaulting his relative, Barnabas is assuring here "You mustn't be afraid of me, my dear.  I'm not going to hurt you.  I'd never do anything to hurt my own flesh and blood!" Right before biting the hell out of her. This is one of the creepiest moments in all of DARK SHADOWS.

7. Episode 392: While I'm not suggesting Angelique is without flaws, she's not the psycho ex-girlfriend from hell that's been presented in subsequent interpretations of DARK SHADOWS. She's a much more complicated character than most people suspect, and is as much victim as victimizer. In fact, it's hard to dislike her too much when compared to many other members of the Collins family. In this episode, Joshua Collins accuses Angelique of being a golddigger, then offers her some actual gold if she'd leave Collinsport. It's no small amount, either: $10,000 (roughly $135,000 today, according to this inflation adjustment calculator.) Angelique flatly refuses the offer or even to negotiate because she has no interest in money or social status.

8. Episode 442: There are so many Trasks buried at Collinwood that they're practically load-bearing elements of the estate's architecture. That grand tradition begins in this episode, shortly after Barnabas Collins forces the Rev. Trask to confront his own hypocrisy shortly before bricking him up alive in the walls of the basement.

9.  Episode 1109: Who doesn't love zombie pirates? This is a terrific episode that delivers a lot of really unique moments: Collinswood is destroyed, David Collins and Hallie Stokes are killed, and Barnabas is dragged away for the most flamboyant zombies this side of George Romero's DAWN OF THE DEAD.

10.  Episode 980: Sayonara, Leviathans! My love for this episode is glorified schadenfreude, because if this episode was merely about Barnabas killing Sky Rumson, that would be enough to qualify it for the list. While it's not entirely fair to call Geoffrey Scott (who played Rumson) the worst actor to ever appear on DARK SHADOWS, it's not exactly an endearing performance, either. This is a "spring cleaning" episode in a lot of ways, because it also disposed of Jeb Hawkes (a villain I actually like) and begins to set up the next storyline.





ALEXIS LATSHAW of Josette's Music Box

I am appalling at favorites, so to avoid having to actually rank my ten picks I’m taking the easy way out and just listing them chronologically. It’s a top 10 list with a DIY flair: 10 episodes with a dazzling variety of possible orders.

1. Episode 212: Yes, I know, Barnabas is introduced at the end of 211, but 212 is his first full episode and it wins out. We all know what goes down: Barnabas shows up, charming and melancholy and vaguely sinister, and the stage is set for everything that follows. Lovely writing, lovely acting, absolutely pivotal.

2. Episode 364: Ah, the siren call of character development. Barnabas, amidst creative efforts to drive Julia mad (well-played, sir), is visited (and promptly rejected) by his dead sister. Barnabas is still an antagonist at this point, but what people often overlook is that the villain is the hero of his own story, with nuance and motivations and a rich inner life, and this episode gives us a little glimpse of that.

3. Episode 405: Just shy of 200 episodes after his character’s introduction, we finally learn the exact nature of Barnabas' curse. This episode is well-written, solidly acted, and extremely important.

4. Episode 460: This is a really beautifully acted episode with compelling performances all around. Barnabas begs his father to kill him and put an end to the whole curse business and Joshua agrees, only to realize that he can’t do it. Joshua is a terrible parent, on a show rife with terrible parents (it’s like a bad parenting how-to guide), but in the end he looks his own failures in the face and does the best he can.

5. Episode 479: This episode is key in Barnabas’ character arc. He could go through with the experiment and get what he at least thinks he wants, but instead saves Jeff Clark’s life and does the right thing. He puts Vicky’s happiness and best interests ahead of his own. Considering the whole locking a woman in his basement to brainwash her debacle, this is a pretty major turning point.

6. Episode 508: T.E. Stokes versus the Dream Curse. It’s very satisfying and a lot of fun.

7. Episode 548: Wherein Angelique begs Barnabas for forgiveness and he chooses not to give it to her. He has not yet learned that seeking retribution is a poor life choice.

8. Episode 591: This episode breaks me. Carolyn has agreed to be the life force for Eve, even though Adam really just wants to run away with her, and it’s beautiful and terrible because she loves him, too, but has given in to her sense of How Things Are. The writing is so powerful here, with aching commentary on love, and the actors do it such justice. The Adam/Carolyn subplot is A Thing with me, you have no idea.

9. Episode 802: Victor Fenn-Gibbon is revealed to be Petofi (shocking), we get all sorts of crazy backstory, and in the end Jamison is possessed. This part of the show is so much fun and this episode captures what I like best about it.

10. Episode 1198: Angelique finally falls victim to her own curse, after completing her character development arc with a turn for the heroic (only to be rewarded with a bullet to the chest and I could make some commentary here about problematic treatment of female characters, but I will refrain), and Barnabas admits that he loves her a moment too late. This is the final episode in the normal time band and that’s kind of a big deal.

 
PATRICK McCRAY of The Collins Foundation

What’s the best DARK SHADOWS episode? Usually, I’ll respond that it’s the last one I just saw.  I look at the story as one, big narrative with lots of frills and baubles.  (Delightful ones.)  But if you pare it down to its bare essentials, this is what we have.

It has many more than ten parts, but these are (some) key moments.  They are listed chronologically… for Barnabas.

1.  Episode 405:  Barnabas gets bitten and cursed.

2.  Episode 212:  Barnabas, finally released, meets the new family.

3.  Episode 364:  Sarah finally visits Barnabas.  His conscience tortures him, but he still succumbs to his nature.

4.  Episode 479:  Barnabas reawakens the good man within him, and he spares Jeff Clark’s life.

5.  Episode 548:  Barnabas withholds forgiveness from Angelique.  His sin of pride asserts itself.  He will regret it.

6.  Episode 1109.  Ragnarok.  Collinwood is destroyed.  The children are murdered.  Barnabas is helpless.  Julia escapes.  This is the narrative’s point of no return.

7. Episode 1169.  After curing Barnabas, Angelique confirms that she wants nothing in return.

8. Episode 1196:  Angelique confronts Gerard and has her power taken away.

9.  Episode 1198:  Angelique, having risen to the status of hero, is shot for it by the so-called representative of goodness.  Ultimately, it is the result of her own curse… the one part she forgot to lift.  Her love with Barnabas will never be consummated.  He has traversed everything, including the worst parts of himself, only to find that his own stubbornness and pride robbed him of happiness.

10. Episode 1245:  In an allegorical epilogue, Barnabas and Angelique (as Bramwell and Catherine) overcome their self-imposed prejudices to lend bravery to the other.  Meanwhile, the characters of Willie and Caroline (as Kendrick and Melody), are rewarded for surviving their journeys through temptation, greed, and envy.  Together, the four characters show us that with honesty, trust, and a willingness to push past fear and prejudice, this next generation has ended the curse.  And the dark shadows at Collinwood will become but a memory of the distant past.


LARAMIE DEAN, of Shadows on the Wall: An Online Fanzine

1. Episode 955:  In an imperfect storyline, this episode, especially for those Lara Parker/Angelique fans out there, is darned near perfect.  It is a testament to Ms. Parker that, after all the nasty tricks Angelique has played on some of our most beloved characters over the past three years or so, she can elicit any audience sympathy at all.  For the past few months, Angelique has been playing Samantha Stephens with business magnate and Leviathan lackey Sky Rumson.  In this episode, the real Angelique comes roaring back to life:  throttling Sky into unconsciousness using one of his own ties and the statue he so thoughtfully picked out for her; taunting Quentin before switching gears so she can reminisce with him about the good old days; flying into Barnabas' arms and subsequently reigniting her own feelings for him, suppressed since mid-way through the 1897 story; then zapping Maggie and Quentin so they fall in love with each other and, thus, removing Maggie as a potential threat in her bid for Barnabas' heart.  If one ignores the ridiculous revelations about Angelique's "true story" in the upcoming1840 storyline, her character arc is incredibly consistent, compelling, and, above all things, tragic.  Seemingly doomed to remain as loveless as Barnabas, Angelique who spends this episode looking ultra-chic in her leopard print jacket and flowing blonde hair proves that for some people, no matter how far they've come or how much they seem to have changed, they are eternally compelled to revert to their baser selves, even if it costs them the happiness they crave.  The moment when Angelique regains her powers is both liberating and tragic:  liberating, since it's been difficult at best to watch Our Favorite Witch deny the witchcraft that helps make her an interesting and integral component of the DARK SHADOWS universe; and tragic, since we also know that regaining those powers means that she is resigning herself to a life without love.  Those very powers, according to Barnabas, prevent her from accessing the humanity that we know is really inside her, underneath the vengeance and the devices ("I was," as she tells Quentin with a certain ruefulness, "very good at devices.  Always have been.").  Therefore, as Parker has written before, Angelique will always be lonely.  Again, it is a credit to Lara Parker's strong acting ability that within one episode she can perfectly demonstrate for us an Angelique who is, at turns through this episode's twenty-two minutes, tearful, brooding, apoplectic, betrayed, and powerful.  The spooky green light that illuminates Angelique's features as she calls upon the powers of darkness once again shows us that the witch is back, for better or for worse.  And heaven help those that get in her way.

2.  Episode 405:  If you're going to select an episode of DARK SHADOWS to show a newbie exactly what all the hubbub is about, this may be the one.  For one thing, it contains an essential moment that is thematically linked, at the very least, to every episode that follows it; that is, of course, Angelique's curse on Barnabas:  the curse of the vampire.  By the time episode #405 came around, Vicki Winters had been vacationing in the past for a good month or so, and I'm assuming that original viewers were wondering exactly how long Barnabas was slated to remain a human.  As well they might:  Angelique's machinations seemed to have maneuvered Barnabas into her corner, if not her bed ... so what could be next?  Since Angelique was a witch, they might have suspected that she had her spellcasting nose stuck where it could do the most harm.  This episode proved them right.    Lara Parker especially is terrific in this episode, helped by wardrobe, whose choice of that delicate blue nightgown allows those oh-so-expressive eyes of hers to pop, especially during her closeups as she delivers the words that damn Barnabas to a life of the undead.  Frid isn't quite so fantastic (he muffs a line or two) but in this episode particularly his chemistry with co-star Parker is never more evident.  The entire outing would be darned near perfect if it weren't for the bat, that terrible puppet (pictured above) that just goes to show exactly why Jonathan Frid should be given mad credit for demonstrating his ability,, while acting against it, to express anything even remotely resembling fear.

3.  Episode 757: Angelique versus Laura for all the cookies. DARK SHADOWS featured its share of divas (RIP, Amanda Harris, 1895-1970), but none of the various confrontations between them spark within me the anticipation of this, the smackdown to end all smackdowns:  Angelique Bouchard Collins Collins DuVal DuBois versus Laura Murdoch Collins Stockbridge Collins Collins!  It isn't entirely fair to Diana Millay to describe Laura-the-phoenix as an Angelique prototype, as I've read in interviews with DARK SHADOWS scribes, though it is and understandable comparison to make.  Laura is a rather one-trick pony, and her ability to cause fires is only one component of Angelique's rather sizable arsenal.  However, when Laura returns in 1897 (and among those viewers watching during the original run, I have to wonder how many of them even saw the initial Laura storyline during early 1967; for those who jumped aboard the crazy train anytime after Barnabas' introduction, Laura would have been just another monster in a growing menagerie during the 1897 story), Ms. Millay proves how interesting Laura is and, as Angelique learns, "I am not without power."  Since Angelique is afraid of fire, despite her ability to create them, as Lara Parker has written, with nonchalance, and since Laura has it out for Barnabas (in an interesting bit of retconning, it turns out they knew each other pre-1795), it's perfectly natural that these two supernatural divas would eventually have to square off.  And in this episode they do it from the moment Angelique's hand comes snaking out of the darkness to prevent Laura from dropping the hammer atop the stake that would halve Barnabas' heart, you know it's ON, girl!  I love this episode for many reasons the witty dialogue that Parker and Millay exchange during their initial scene together just crackles but also because it includes the first appearance of what I've come to term "the dragon dress," one of two frocks that comprises the majority of 1897 Angelique's wardrobe.  And since I've discussed at some length a) the theatrical nature of DARK SHADOWS, and b) its perpetual lack of budget, I have to admit that I love the special effect I've included as the capture for this episode:  the "melting Laura" shot that consists of Diana Millay facing the camera in extreme close-up as oil runs slowly, oozingly down the lens, effectively causing it to look as if Laura's flesh is melting off her bones due to Angelique and Quentin's invocation to the Egyptian gods of death.  Props, Dark Shadows.  Props.

4. Episode 516: Ah, Cassandra my very favorite of all of Angelique's incarnations.  There's just something about blonde actresses playing naughty magical characters in a dark wig that tickles me, I guess.  And true, Cassandra takes a bit to evolve, stylistically speaking, but even as the size of her hair fluctuates from episode to episode and she is forced to wear ridiculous butterfly-decorated peignoirs, Lara Parker's performance as Cassandra Blair Collins, wife to dullard Roger, routinely sparkles with evil little gems. This episode is my favorite of all the Cassandra episodes, mostly because it allows Lara Parker to showcase how unremittingly evil Angelique can be.  Parker has spoken repeatedly about how much she wanted Angelique to be "the heroine," and how Frid urged her to be "the heavy," to "think vicious."  This is around the time in the series when she begins to trust his advice, which is why this episode still packs quite a wallop.  In reality, Joan Bennett was gearing up for her semi-annual holiday from the series, and, as they did during the Laura storyline, and would again when Bennett played Judith Collins Trask in the 1897 sequence, the writers found a nifty way to write her out for several periods of time.  Parker takes such obvious enjoyment in Cassandra's torture of the Mistress of Collinwood that it's almost a shame to see her good time dampened when the Ghost of Trask appears in the shadows of the Collins mausoleum, brandishing his trusty torch.  I said "almost" a shame, because it's also always fun to watch Angelique struggle against oppressive forces, the Trasks and the Nicholas Blairs and the Petofis of the DS Universe, since we know she will (eventually) emerge triumphant.  And there's just something silly about the lighter held up in front of the camera at episode's end, signalling Cassandra's imminent immolation, that makes me love the campier elements of this show as well as the more unsettling.  God love those special effect technicians working on a shoestring!

5. Episode 350: The "Aging of Barnabas" sequence resonates with audiences so much that it has been recreated two times following its initial appearance in the original series.  Both the 1970 feature film, House of DARK SHADOWS, and the 1991 NBC revival series showcased Barnabas' aging into a "two hundred year old man" and his attack on a young ingenue (in the original, curious cousin Carolyn; in HODS, Maggie Evans; and in the revival, Carolyn again, but this time seemingly more horny, less curious) in order to restore his youth.  The theatrical nature of the original series has always been its primary appeal for me; every episode feels like a play filmed live, which is why it's easy for me to brush off the series' celebrated flubs.  The original "Aging of Barnabas" sequence is DARK SHADOWS at its most theatrical, featuring phenomenal, incredibly realistic old age makeup for Jonathan Frid by Dick Smith (who would recreate the look for HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS and LITTLE BIG MAN with Dustin Hoffman).  It is a testament to the actors and technicians of DARK SHADOWS, which was never offered much in the way of a budget, that these four or five episodes work as well as they do.  It's also unnerving to see pretty Nancy Barrett chomped on by Barnabas, here at his most threatening.  (I defy anyone to label DS as "camp" following the denouement of this episode, where Frid growls, "I would never do anything to hurt my own flesh and blood!" amidst Nancy Barrett's drilling screams of terror just before he plunges his fangs into her throat.)  Following his kidnapping of Maggie Evans, Barnabas hadn't fanged anyone on camera, and certainly not a series regular, a core member of the Collins family like Carolyn.  How shocking it must have been for audiences at the time to see Carolyn fall under the fang, as it were; even the voiceover two episodes later would mark Carolyn as no longer being "one of us."  Was Carolyn doomed to become a vampire eventually?  Audiences would just have to tune in again to find out, same bat time, same bat channel!  Oh, wait ... different show ...
6.  Episode 461: All good things must come to an end, and so it is with the 1795 storyline, my favorite of them all.  Every loose end in the story is wrapped up satisfactorily (and sensibly), an element that will be hard to come by in the future.  Part of what makes this episode jarring in the most delicious way is how suddenly we see our favorite 20th century characters back at that seance table just as we left them (more or less) after five months in 1795:  Julia with her dreadful wig, Carolyn's gravity-defying flip, Elizabeth's dayglo yellow, hoop-necked robe, and Barnabas, menacing bad guy once again, plastered bangs and guyliner intact.  (And interesting fun fact:  Phyllis Wicke, besides being played by another actress than the last time we saw her, is also wearing Angelique's infamous "heart of fire, heart of ice" orange dress; although technically we saw Phyllis wearing it first.)  It is rather disappointing that Vicki doesn't remember much about her sojourn to the 18th century, and even harder to swallow that she never puts the pieces together to figure out that there might be something not quite right about dear Cousin Barnabas.

7. Episode 944:  There isn't anything particularly special or earthshattering about this episode
the plot doesn't move forward significantly, the relationships of the central characters don't suffer any lasting changes and, in fact, it exists smack dab in the middle of one of DARK SHADOWS' most reviled and divisive storylines (and one of my personal favorites, incidentally).  I always enjoy this episode in particular, however, because of how sublimely ridiculous it is, and how it showcases that same sublimity now inherent in DARK SHADOWS which has, at this point, become a silly Monster Mash.  Glorious, I say.  This episode alone features the leader of the Leviathans cowering in fear from the howls of a werewolf, unable to eat the "moon poppy" that would have saved him a few shirts and pants every month, while a former vampire is browbeaten by a former witch, as local crazy lady Sabrina Stuart, replete with shaggy white fright wig, weeps hysterically when she isn't trying to seduce her lycanthropic former fiance.  Good gothic stuff.  The moon poppy is hilarious, Lisa Richards chews the scenery with ghastly abandon, and Angelique looks pretty classy in her 20th century black duds and chic blonde braid hanging down the middle of her back.

8. Episode 523:
Good old Humbert Allen Astredo.  He absolutely enlivens every episode in which he appears; indeed, when I'm at my most annoyed with the 1968 storyline, particularly with anything related to Adam and his mate, an appearance by Nicholas Blair usually pauses my finger just above the fast-forward button. During his initial few episodes, Nicholas' quest to restore "my Cassandra" to life proves to be an interesting twist to the storyline that was just beginning to falter.  It has the added bonus of offsetting Angelique as the story's main villain (having herself offset Barnabas as bad guy deluxe after Vicki's return from the past) by providing her a wickedly appealing antagonist to humanize her.  In this episode, Nicholas raises the Reverend Trask (1795 vintage) from the dead, hoping to gain information about how and where he exorcised Angelique.  Astredo relishes each devilish line, from the amusing "You were a blind, overzealous fanatic, a bigot and a fraud, intolerant, cruel and unjust.  A man after my own heart"  to the satanic:  "I will sentence you to walk the earth in an agony of loneliness for the rest of time!"  This episode also continues to promote the intriguing idea that witches and warlocks are as susceptible as vampires to the power of a wielded crucifix:  when Trask shoves a cross in his face, Nicholas is unable to look at it; indeed, he is forced to shield his eyes with his hands, cowering in terror and disgust (Cassandra reacted in a similar fashion a few episodes earlier).  Perhaps if Barnabas had been made aware of his nemesis' phobia of Christian artifacts, he could have witchproofed the house and saved himself a lot of trouble.

9. Episode 1:  I include this episode on my list of favorites mostly because I'm a sucker for a good pilot.  Plus I had never seen it all the way through until I received the first set of DVDs in "The Beginning" as a Christmas gift a few years ago.  As the various versions of DARK SHADOWS have usually understood (including the seldom-seen 2004 unsold WB pilot and the 2012 film), there's something magical about Victoria Winters arriving in Collinsport on that train.  Even though she'll barely make it half-way through the entire series, at least for these first few hundred episodes Vicki is the eyes, ears, and conscience of the audience, and will be until the end of the 1795 storyline.  Here, in that very first shot of Vicki gazing out the train window, Alexandra Moltke shows us Vicki's curiosity, her tenacity, and, dare I say it?  her spunk, especially when confronted with the less-than-appealing, fog-replete town of Collinsport, not-as-friendly-as-she-will-eventually-deevolve-to-be hashslinger Maggie Evans, and Vicki's spooky looking host/boss, who greets the nascent governess in a low-cut velvet evening gown and sparkly costume jewelry.  Though not much actually happens in this episode, it doesn't need to.  It's all about set-up and atmosphere, and Episode 1 delivers in spades.  Again, the gothic atmosphere particularly in the scenes with Roger and Elizabeth
is heightened by the black and white photography.  And black against the already blackened sky, Collinwood looks truly menacing.

10. Episode 155: In this, DARK SHADOWS' first foray into a story about the supernatural, the series proves how inventive it can be.  When have you ever seen, before or since, a story about a phoenix-creature like Laura Collins?  In this episode, Diana Millay demonstrates how formidable she can be as she comes up against Joan Bennett's equally formidable Elizabeth Collins Stoddard.  This early on in the series, before all the witches and werewolves and Leviathans begin prowling about the estate, part of the charm of an episode like this is how restrained everything is, especially when viewed in hindsight.  We don't need kinescope ghosts or fervent pleas to "the great god Ra":  Laura calmly dropping a log onto the fire, beginning to wipe her hands, pausing mid-wipe as the power begins to overtake her, then staring intently into the flames is enough to convince us that she means business.  And if that isn't enough, observe that moment when Millay icily delivers the line, "If I decide to take David, no power on earth will stop me."  There's no doubt in our minds that she means it.  As we'll see during the initial Barnabas storyline, the black and white episodes contribute mightily to the overall eerie feeling of the storyline, reminiscent of the old Universal monster movies.  Far less campy.

The 10 Best Epsiodes of DARK SHADOWS



By WALLACE McBRIDE
 
Earlier this week, Patrick McCray and I spent an hour discussing the results of our recent readers poll. You see, I was curious. With a television show as big and unwieldy as DARK SHADOWS, would it even be possible to single out episodes for special merit? So, instead of juggling ratings, sales reports and accredited critical summations, I decided to take a more direct route and just ask fans which episodes they liked.

More to the point, I asked the to select their 10 favorite episodes. We received a lot of votes, which spanned 197 episodes across the original television series, as well as the 1991 "revival" series. The overall results weren't terribly surprising ... there's a healthy selection of classic episodes/moments represented, and the variety on display here underlines the passion the voters have for DARK SHADOWS. I was delighted to see Laura Collins make an appearance on the list, as well as the show's first episode (which is a peronal favorite of mine). While there are some notable omissions, the list also wasn't another "Best of Barnabas" list, either.

Here's how the voting worked: I asked people to select their favorite episodes and rank them in order from 1 to 10, with 1 being their favorite. An episode that received a first-place vote received 10 points, an episode that named someone's second-favorite received 9 points, and so on.

Here how the final points added up:


Still with me? Good. Because the episodes that ranked in the Top 10 tell a very strange story, when you read between the lines. Or, in this case, between the numbers.

If you take a look at the cast list for these episodes, you'll note the conspicuous absence of David Selby. He had one of the most successful actors of any DARK SHADOWS cast member, yet he appears in only one episode on this list. I don't think this is a reflection on Selby, whose work as Quentin Collins (especially in the 1897 storyline) is amazing. Since 1970, attempts to revive DARK SHADOWS always return to the vampire well, so to speak. It happened in HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, with the 1991 "revival" series, the failed WB television pilot and, of course, the Tim Burton film. Even though Selby is the star of NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, he's playing Quentin In Name Only. If this selection of episodes is evidence of anything, it's that the shadows of Barnabas Collins has only expanded in the years since the demise of the television series. For many people, DARK SHADOWS = "Barnabas Collins."

Then again, it might have nothing to do with that, at all. This list is story based, not episode based. For example, Clarice Blackburn appears in three episodes on the list. While she was an incredibly interesting person, Blackburn's stock in trade on DARK SHADOWS was playing horrible people. Aunt Abigail is pretty much nobody's favorite character.

Stray Observations:

* Also making slight appearances on the list are Thayer David (who played more characters on DARK SHADOWS than any other actor), Kate Jackson and James Storm, with one episode each.

* Jonathan Frid appears in the most episodes in the Top 10, followed by Joan Bennett, Alexandra Moltke, Grayson Hall, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Nancy Barrett. Sharon Smyth-Lentz, who appeared in less than 40 episodes of the original series, is in two episodes in our Top 10.

* Readers were invited to vote for episodes of the 1991 DARK SHADOWS "revival" series, which received only three votes ... two of which were for episode 11.

* With 197 episodes voted for, ballots covered a huge range of episodes. There were a handful of weeks that proved to be incredibly popular, which split the vote quite a bit for some episodes. Episodes 210-214 received more points that any other block of episodes and has two episodes in the Top 10. Had there been more agreement among voters on which of those episodes were best, it would certainly have changed the final standing.

* Even more interesting is that episodes 270-275 received a lot of votes (the fifth most of any other block) but no episodes from that range managed to crack the charts.

* While this didn't impact the vote, it's worth mentioning that Lara Parker's name was mentioned on ballots than any other actor. Voters really wanted me to know how much they like Lara, which is pretty sweet.

* Episodes 1 and 1198 received the most raw votes of any other episode. Many of those votes were lower on the scale of 1-10, earning them fewer points, though.

* Half the episodes in the Top 10 are in color, which probably means nothing.

* While it failed to chart, the final episode of DARK SHADOWS received a respectable number of votes.

* People voted for 21 episodes that aired before the introduction of Barnabas Collins. Only six episodes in the show's final "parallel time" arc received votes.

* The Leviathans storyline received votes for only five episodes.

Thursday, July 17, 2014

COLLINWOOD COCKTAILS: Little Sarah's Raspberry Royale

Ingredients
1 t of Lady Grey tea per person.
Boiling water.  (Aunt Abigail is good at using fire. Ask for her help.)
1 pint of raspberries.
1/3 C sugar.
1 T fresh lime or lemon juice.

Steps
Boil the tea, and then chill it.

Toss the raspberries, sugar, and lemon juice together.  Refrigerate the combination for two hours, stirring every thirty minutes as the raspberries dissolve.  At that point, if you dislike pulp and seeds, train the resulting syrup.  If you like the extra texture, then enjoy it.  Decant the syrup either way.

The tea should be ready, so pour it over ice into tumblers or rocks glasses.  Serve the syrup beside it, allowing guests and yourself to flavor to taste.  If you find that it is too tart, add sugar.  If it tastes too sweet, add more citrus.



TRANSCRIPTION:
Dearest Sarah,

On this sunny day in June, I am taken back to Martinique and our earliest times together.  Do you recall them?  You certainly recall the song I taught you!  There is little doubt on that, as father reliably reminds me.  We have but to be in your presence for scant minutes before your generously-timed serenade.  It became your very favorite tune.  Who can forget your dedication to “London Bridge” when you forcefully rebuffed Forbes — the Eel —  and his unsavory shanties?  I vividly recall the various draughts concocted by the finest physicians to pull you away from your architectural anthem.  However, you were too stalwart for them.  In the end, a tonic was recruited to enhance your audience, but that potion's merits are best appreciated in the ripeness of adulthood, when you must needs embrace a tiny songstress of your own issue.

After the eighth or ninth hour of your performances, the tracheal consequences of the enduring aria would escape even the great Galen's estimate.  Knowing that you still have three or four more hours of musical musings left on the bill, my heart sinks with sympathy for you and your melodic martyrdom.  With this in mind, I retired to the scullery of the unfinished New House to fashion a salubrious solution that would refresh and reinvigorate you after the cessation of your truly unforgettable coloraturas. 

In simpler English (should Josette ask): I made up a recipe for a tasty, cold drink.

All my love,
Brother Barnabas
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