Thursday, November 15, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: November 15


Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 632

With Conrad Bain and Bobbi Ann Woronko, this much fun just can’t be legal. But will Maggie survive the wedding to Nicholas? Chris Jennings: Don Briscoe. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Nicholas and Maggie agree to marry that night and move to London. Chris attempts to reconcile with his sister, who throws gifts around Windcliff until he agrees to stay and enjoy more of this adorable behavior. As Nicholas performs his satanic wedding ceremony, Chris transforms into a werewolf and kills Mr. Wells, the innkeeper.

Comedies end in weddings and tragedies end in funerals. This does both. Several times over.

A little space guys?
The whole wedding business is not evidence of the Power of Love as much as the Power of Blind Panic. What is the plan, here? Does he think this will buy Satan’s sympathy. “I’m a married man, sir, with a bambino on the way…..”

“Oh, that changes everything.”

Maybe he hopes this will make him blend in. Satan will speak through the mouths of dozens of women, trying to page Nicholas, but he’ll never get to Maggie because he’s looking for a bachelorette, not a married lady. Fooled you, Diabolos! Ha-ha! Then, Nicholas will grab Maggie, untie the end of a chandelier, and go swinging across the balcony on a rope as Diabolos says, “Seize him you, fools! He’s getting away!” But by the time he does, Nicholas is already popping the champagne in his London flat as Maggie slips into either a teddy or a deep-sea, atmospheric diving suit.

I honestly think that’s Nicholas’ plan. And that’s partly because I can see Humbert Allen Astredo doing it. You can, too. Now, try to picture David Ford doing it. You can’t. Weird, huh? And what does Maggie have that’s so special, anyway? To tame a man from hell? It must be something. Everyone thinks that Carolyn gets all of the weird guys, but Maggie holds her own. Let’s compare…

CAROLYN                         MAGGIE
Buzz                         Barnabas
Tony                         Nicholas
Adam                         Probably Quentin
And, kind of, her own uncle.

Okay, I take it back. Carolyn does get more of the weird ones. But Maggie tests well in the all-important Male Vampire and Satanist (ages 35-197) demographic. But they weren’t counting those then, and that’s why Star Trek was canceled.

It’s a marvelous episode, and I now have the recording of Nicholas conducting his own wedding ceremony to use as the backdrop for my own, if I ever find that special lady. I don’t necessarily mean “special” in a Bailey Jay manner, although now that I read that, I realize that I just made myself sound like a bigot. Okay, Bailey Jay, too, I suppose. I’m just talking about someone who’d actually marry me. And after this column comes out, I think that’s going to be a very rarified circle. So what I’m saying is that if you want your own occult wedding to me, you need to send your top three reasons why and a SASE to I have the blood of the raven and the blood of the bat, but you’re going to have to swing by Top Hat Liquors to get some blood of the owl, because I ran through all of mine when I gave that Eagle scout speech for the heir to a urinal cake manufacturing empire. (Which is partially a true story.)

Bobbi Ann Woronko and Robert Rodan. 
Conrad Bain.
Beauty queen, former Miss Pennsylvania, and fan contest winner, Conrad Bain, returns to steam up the screen on Dark Shadows as Mr. Wells, despite being deemed by network censors as “too frank and erotic” for some viewers. Also, keep your eyes peeled for Nurse Pritchett, played by the heartwarming Canadian character actor, Bobbi Ann Woronko. Okay, the names are scrambled around. And I doubt the network censors said that about Nurse Pritchett, although she’s easy on the eyes. Maybe she’ll marry me. It could be that it’s not Conrad Bain at all, but his twin brother, Bonar. Research this and come back to me.

Exactly as petulant and demanding as you’d expect, Denise Nickerson makes her debut today as either Molly or Amy. They can’t seem to figure out which. Molly was probably related to Julius Hoffman, who was played by Bonar Bain. It all comes full circle in a Jeremy Bearimy kind of way.

Speaking of bears, Chris turns into a werewolf and kills Conrad Bain.

Only the good die young.

This episode was broadcast Nov. 26, 1968. 

Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: November 14


Taped on this day in 1967: Episode 366

When a seance thrusts Vicki back in time to the year 1795, will she alter history or be its cause? Sarah Collins: Sharon Smyth. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Mid-seance, Vicki finds herself in front of the Old House in the year 1795, where she meets a youthful Barnabas and Sarah, all quite human. They mistake her for Sarah’s governess and bring her in despite her protests. She later meets a skirtchasing officer, Nathan Forbes, and Joshua Collins, who elects to hire her. 

1795. If you’re a real fan, you may not remember where you were when you heard that the show was headed there, but you might recall how you felt. 

For me, it was a unique kind of excitement, and it was when I knew that Dark Shadows offered something beyond a one-off, fluke experiment… that strangeness that was Barnabas Collins. Shows sometimes stumble onto something like that. This was a promise by Dan Curtis that for once, there was a program on which anything could happen. Legitimately. When learning about the strange series through Fangoria and oral tradition, the 1795 flashback was the first thing I discovered. In a world of endless franchise milking, this may be nothing special. But in 1967, just seven months after the appearance of Barnabas Collins, this was an insane thing to do. TV was largely devoid of costume dramas -- unless they involved chaps, leather vests, and masks. Oh, and they also did a lot of westerns. But Masterpiece Theater was still four years from TV. It’s one thing to do a costume party episode. It’s another to ask writers and audiences to abandon the narrative creature comforts of cars, phones, cigarettes, and hospital scenes. Fortunately, Dark Shadows kept these at a minimum, anyway. In planning this, I have a feeling that Dan’s main concern was if he’d have to hire a string quartet to play “#1 at the Blue Whale” at the Eagle. 

A study of the history of show business is a study in the word “no,” especially toward good ideas. The more familiar you are with this, the more extraordinary Dark Shadows becomes. It’s a net-free highwire act that defines itself by disregarding conventional wisdom. Every place that they could have played it safe, they didn’t. Even down to 1841 PT, where they threw out every known character, an act that mirrored the thinking behind Night of Dark Shadows. Did it kill the show? Maybe. But there would have been no show to kill without the very same thinking. A vampire on TV is incredibly bold. Taking that show to depict his origin, with an entirely new slate of characters in another time period? For months? That investment is programming suicide. Unless it isn’t. And it wasn’t.

The move makes the program crackle with novel possibility. Sy Tomashoff, as always, is to be congratulated. Sets designed to look ancient feel new… so new that the idea of Collinwood seems vaguely premature. They even sound new. It may be my imagination, but when Vicki enters Collinwood, it actually sounds like the door of an empty under-construction house nearing completion. If that’s just the power of suggestion, he deserves even more credit. The Old House seems spanking new, and heretofore unseen areas, such as Vicki’s bedroom, give the place a sense of new possibility and grandeur. At every turn, novelty. 366 gives us what we wanted for months, whether we knew it or not. Joel Crothers confirms our suspicions as he and the show take off the gloves and portray a (so-far) lovable cad with an aptitude for eyebrow-arching normally seen only by graduates from Starfleet Academy. At this point, he seems like a prime ally, if a little grabby, and that’s a solid set-up for a fall. Seeing Sarah alive and well is as unavoidably heartwarming as you’d imagine, and her vaguely psychic prognostication of Vicki is an eerie detail they vaguely avoid later on. I enjoy seeing a progressive take on Naomi and Joshua, in which she’s always encouraged to speak her mind, and Abigail is always present to accuse others of booziness and other shortcomings. 

The inevitable question is, “What about Barnabas?” 

Jonathan Frid goes into Buster Brown overdrive to sell his wide-eyed, naive, innocence. There are subtle notes of Eddie Haskell to his first exchange with Vicki… notes drowned out by his overall sincerity. Seeing Barnabas warmly lit and made-up, sans the empty and bitter loss that will define his future debut, is exciting and heartbreaking. Barnabas often has paranoid fears or prideful aspirations that seems out of touch with reality. And that’s after the change. Here, we see him with the same sense of baseless optimism. Like the audience of a Shakespeare tragedy, we know that this quality will lead to his downfall. Dark Shadows is rarely more bittersweet.

This episode was broadcast Nov. 20, 1967. 

Review: The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries Series 2, “The Mystery of the Soulmates Hotel”


It is the brain, the little grey SPOILERS AHEAD on which one must rely. One must seek the truth within-not without.

“A creature from an unknown Hell dimension breaks into our world to run a MATCHMAKING service?!” “Well, everyone’s got to have a hobby…”

Get the episode HERE.
Hello again, creeps! It is your old friend Justin. Back at it again in my cramped vestibule of an “office”, hunched over my roll top, typing into a void, and desperately seeking some kind of contact to the outside world. I mean, reviewing audio adventures set in my not at all haunted hometown! HA! HA! We have fun here. In all honesty, this weekend was tough for me and while I avoided a stint in Windcliffe (THIS time) I want to thank you all for your patience with me as the new guy and for all the kind words and suggestions the community has offered since I’ve come on. Fandom isn’t always the horrid sludge pits you read about online and the Dark Shadows (and Big Finish Productions staff and fans) fandoms is a sterling example of how fandom can be such a welcoming and rewarding thing. Or everyone is secretly talking about me behind my back WHO KNOWS?! But from the bottom of my heart, thanks for making a yokel like me feel welcome.

Anyway, enough of my millennial touchy-feely nonsense, because boy, oh boy, do we have a treat of an episode to talk about today. The closing story of The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries Series 2, “The Mystery of the Soulmates Hotel” by Grace Knight! A little bit ago, I wanna say like a week or so, one of the Big Finish staffers, I can’t quite remember which, said that they were honestly shocked at how crazy this series of Tony & Cassandra was. At the time, I took it in stride, thinking “Okay, well that sounds fun.”. And then, holy cats, they were bloody right. Not only does this finale story have genuine heart and a cracking central mystery, but Grace Knight’s script completely explodes the scale of the series, sending our heroes bounding across TIME ITSELF, like some sort of unholy Doctor Who spin-off. After last episode’s intimate, but truly clever concept, “The Mystery of the Soulmates Hotel” sends Series 2 off on what could be it’s strongest episodes to date.

So before we dive into the episode’s core conceit and bananas cliffhanger (which can only be described as “cruel”), I want to talk about this episode’s not-so-secret weapon; it’s heart. Turned onto the Bar Harbor singles resort by a concerned friend of a missing former client, Tony and Cassandra go undercover as lovelorn singles, desperate to find their soulmates. On paper it sounds very Moonlighting, but Knight’s script really delves into genuine emotions here, with the whole cast, providing genuine pathos to enrich the supernatural intrigue, which is already pretty freaking rich to begin with. But these stories in particular have really endeared me to Tony and Cassandra’s relationship, amplified by Lara Parker and Jerry Lacy’s tremendous chemistry. While this episode may have not provided quite the closure I want (JUST KISS ALREADY), Knight’s story felt like a proper emotional payoff for them.

May I also just say, I am sincerely astounded by the way these Big Finish stories have integrated queer characters and relationships into their folds? In a time where major television and film productions are clumsily fumbling around with or coyly sidestepping the issue altogether while at the same time queer-baiting the absolute bloody hell out of an audience, stories like this one and Bloodlust and probably a whole bunch of others I haven’t even heard yet are just casually, and organically weaving gay characters into their narratives and making it look EASY. There is a lot to love about these productions but this has to be one of the biggest things for me.

And I haven’t even gotten to the best bit! That Tony and Cassandra basically act out a Doctor Who episode! It turns out the big bag of this episode, the stoically psychotic Mrs. Hill (played with relish by Abi Harris) is extracting the attribute of a person’s personality that means the most to them in exchange for depositing them in TIME through enchanted rooms in her sprawling hotel. Oh, she also EATS the personality trait in the form of a flesh pearl. Friggen nuts, right?! I knew that time travel wasn’t exactly something that was off the table in the Dark Shadows universe, but seeing it deployed in the fairly grounded sandbox of this series was a real hoot. One that pretty much allows this show free reign when it comes to stories from now on. This episode ends with a particularly juicy cliffhanger that shows that they are at least planning to run with the craziness. Series 2 really sticks the landing but stands ready to hit the ground running once again once Series 3 comes round.

I really can’t wait, but for now I am happy with how “The Mystery of the Soulmates Hotel” ends the series. Even if I do have to wait another year until I find out just what the hell happens. I suppose for now we can just be happy with the stellar audio adventures. Being a Dark Shadows fan is such a hard lot in life, isn’t it? And that is another beat walked for your humble narrator! And I hope you had just as much fun walking it with me! If you didn’t, take it up with the head office. I just work here.

Until next time, please please please send along any suggestions you might have about what I should listen to or read or watch next! I actually have a TV in my room over at the Collinsport Inn so I can watch stuff! It even has TWO knobs! Can ya believe it?! I have also heard some chatter about me tackling more of the “1983” stories post-Bloodlust, which would be fun to hear before Bloodline comes out (but keep your eyes peeled for something special possibly happening for that particular serial, my good ghouls). Admittedly, I have had my eye on one or two of the “1973” series myself. Stories like Beyond the Grave, starring my beloved, doomed Kate Ripperton and The House by the Sea starring my favorite classic Doctor (don’t @ me) Colin Baker. It is an embarrassment of dark riches, friends, but I wanna hear what YOU think either by e-mail or Twitter, or Facebook, or even dark words on dark wings. I am pretty sure we have a rookery here.

Be seeing you. 

Justin Partridge has always loved monsters and he thinks that explains a lot about him. When he isn’t over analyzing comics at Newsarama or ranting about Tom Clancy over at Rogues Portal, he is building Call of Cthulhu games, spreading the good word of Anti-Life, or rewatching Garth Marenghi's Darkplace for the dozenth time. He can be reached at the gasping Lovecraftian void that is Twitter @j_partridgeIII or via e-mail at Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: November 13


Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 628

With Nicholas falling head over heels and Angelique getting a little too cozy, Diabolos finds that the water may be too hot even for him! Diabolos: Duane Morris. (Repeat; 30 min.)

In a shadowy underworld, Angelique rats on Nicholas to a cloaked figure named Diabolos. He puts her in charge of Nicholas’ punishment. Meanwhile, Julia reveals  Eve’s death to Nicholas. He relates this to Adam, and it seems as if they might need to leave town. Suddenly, a hypnotized Maggie appears and from her mouth, Diabolos tells him that his trial is imminent. 

And now, Diabolos. And by “Diabolos,” I mean Satan.

In an era when horror is chic, it can be hard to remember exactly how taboo the genre once was. Even in parts of the American south of 1997, it was far easier to find secular school teachers afraid to put up witch/ghost/skeleton Halloween decorations than it was to buy a devil costume. So, crank the WayBack Machine thirty years, and the rural reactions to Dark Shadows are sadly predictable. Parts of the country bullied TV stations into censoring the program and Jack Chick’s minions festooned windshields with tracts against the show. 

It’s an occasionally free country, so good for them. And good for Dan Curtis and ABC for doubling down. No one’s going to cite the appearance of “Diabolos” as a profound blow for civil liberties on the level of Captain Kirk kind of kissing Uhura, except....

You know, any time someone tells you not to do something, and they tell you not to do it because of reasons you can’t see, smell, or poke with a stick? It can be considered a cosmic obligation to do it. Even if they called him “Diabolos,” his appearance was a political statement. It was a rejection of the reasons that many people objected to the show. Normally, storytellers avoid pulling out their biggest guns. Doing so leaves them no other place to go. But not only was it a bold gesture of narrative, “going there” was about as eeevil as you could get. Once that went on the air and no one was fired, Curtis was pretty much safe to do anything else.

It doesn’t hurt that Diabolos is a ludicrous figure, dressed in a monk’s robe and seated behind a desk on a little dais, like the host of a Vatican game show. I know what they were going for -- a kind of ancient-yet-neutral officiousness. To either side of the desk in the smoky, wrought iron hellcave, little gargoyles adorn his workspace, making me wonder if he picked them out himself or if he had a decorator find them in the Infernal equivalent of Hobby Lobby. He’s a tall guy, and he doesn’t have much leg room under his desk. Does this bother him? Is it for his posture, because if so, it’s working.

Diabolos is also irritable at being disturbed, but takes appointments, anyway. He doesn’t get the latest news. He begins sentences with things like, “From what I know….” What? “From what I know?” What kind of underworld overlord is he? He can’t keep tabs on things better than that? He has no real idea what Nicholas is up to, staying ignorant of his ace agent having an affair behind his back. Then, he fumblingly trusts Angelique, despite her being on secret double probation, to punish him? For a guy who wants a master race to rule humanity, Diabolos seems like he’s just going through the motions nowadays. He even sounds bored.

Which is great. For all of the snarling, ranting, cursing, howling, and blood spurting that we could see the devil doing, instead, he’s just a guy at a desk, like any other network executive. If he had a putting set or a Newton’s cradle, with those four balls that rocked back and forth, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Later, when he contacts Nicholas, he has to go through Maggie’s mouth to do so, which is another piece of bureaucracy that must frustrate him. It turns the show into a supernatural Get Smart episode, which works, since Humbert Astredo sounds like Don Adams. At least he gets his own lighting, which is, predictably, red. Of course, why he gives Nicholas a day to prepare for judgment is beyond me. Not much to do in hell, I suppose, so he has to stretch it out.  I know I would.

This episode was broadcast Nov. 20, 1968. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: November 12


Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 627

WIll questions of life, death, Adam, and Eve send Angelique into the arms of Satan, himself? Victoria Winters: Alexandra Moltke. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Peter is seized by the police when Eve’s body is found outside his hotel room. Angelique assures Adam that it was for the best, and the blame will hang on others. Julia starts when Tom Jennings’ twin brother, Chris, arrives to investigate the happenings in Collinsport, but implies that he doesn’t stay in one place for long. Meanwhile, Angelique prepares for Nicholas’ departure by consulting the devil.

This is Alexandra Moltke’s last episode and Chris Jennings’ first. The show passes the baton very neatly and subtly in this episode. It is a great sport to split the program into two different parts, somewhat because there are dozens of “two different parts” in the series. Fewer divisions are more dramatic than what occurred during the exit of the leading actress, the woman who gave life to the character around whom your series is built. No, the character didn’t go away, but the fuse was certainly lit. At this point, chicken truly meets egg. Did the progression and evolution in tone edge out Victoria Winters, or was that tonal change allowed only by her eventual absence? I lean towards the latter. Even though the show had already ascended to the loftiest heights of daytime imagination, it seemed cosmically obligated to return to Vicki. Makes sense. She was kinda the main character, after all, intended to be a spunky problem solver and audience surrogate. While she certainly served as that very surrogate, there’s only so much that a naive orphan can do in the face of witches and vampires.  If you keep having to ground your story in the adventures and perspective of a character whose most famous and oft-repeated line insists that she doesn’t understand, your story can only do so much. She was great for observing the dual lives of Roger and Liz. But in a world where people negotiate business transactions with Diablos? She’s understandably lost. Yes, but perhaps she could be a constant victim? Always in peril? Maybe, but even in that case, a victim tests the victimizer. The more difficult someone is to manipulate and ensnare, the more we respect the captor.

This story arc is devoted to negotiating away those characters — the ones who either cannot accept the supernatural, like Joe, or the ones who simply have no business getting near it, like Victoria. It kills him, consumes her, and makes Barnabas feel right at home. The occasional ghost or psychotic groundskeeper is one thing. But now, characters with paranormal business are overrunning everyone else. Remember back when it was just Laura? Well, now it’s Barnabas, Julia, Angelique, Stokes, Nicholas, Adam, Eve, Jeff, Chris. and Diabolos. None of these characters were around when Vicki first arrived in Collinsport. With the exception of Chris, each is somehow tied to or triggered by the arrival of Barnabas. Dark Shadows began as a fish out of water story and remains such. It’s just that the biggest fish, furthest out of water, is becoming Barnabas. (When it isn’t Quentin, Jeb, or Julia.)

The first, great, post-Victoria story is the Haunting of Collinwood arc, heralding the arrival of Quentin Collins. There is only one episode to feature both Moltke and this storyline, and that’s here. Unfortunately, Moltke and Chris Jennings don’t meet. Chris Jennings belongs nowhere in her universe, nor she in his. He’s arrived to honor the upcoming passing of his cousin, Joe Haskell. Talk about torch passing! Both nice guys. Collinses-and-not-Collinses. Sort of on the sidelines. Both involved with Carolyn. But one is not equipped to deal with a supernatural world and one is a part of it. Even though they are cousins, Joe never earned the attention of Quentin’s ghost. Chris, however,  is a direct enough descendant to merit not only Quentin’s sympathetic murder attempts but also the lycanthropic legacy demanding it.

If the series began with a lost orphan from New York learning about herself as she discovers the intertwined truth of a family up north, it becomes the story of an orphan of time, the ultimate family secret, teaching future generations how to be the best versions of themselves. That begins in earnest with the Quentin storyline, and the Quentin storyline begins today.

This episode was broadcast Nov. 19, 1968.

Stan Lee. 1922-2018


Stan Lee.

This one’s tough.

Years ago, it felt like heroes didn’t exist simply to be deconstructed by wiseacres. Ugly contradictions never got in the way of printing the legend. So, yes, there are some weird business moments, and yes, he might not have been as responsible for Marvel’s creations as we thought, and yes, he got smeared with the #MeToo brush during the last year of his life. If it makes some people feel good to fixate on those things, that’s their right. But as a True Believer, Stan Lee’s importance for me is as symbolic as his Mighty Marvel creations. These characters aren’t real, and that’s probably true for Media Stan. But their existence in media allows us to cite, cherish, and talk about values, aspirations, and points of mourning with a sexy exactitude that doesn’t exist as poignantly in real life.

Stan the Man is that adult we can all set our sights on becoming. You could not fault his storytelling integrity. Issues of atonement, irony, and perseverance through life’s barriers were center stage, backing up, of course, the starring duo of power and responsibility. That was his Yin and Yang, and a properly post-Oppenheimer one, at that. It gave Marvel a dominant, unified, thematic conscience. For all of the ambiguity that the heroes would face, they nevertheless did so with one, overriding, consistent ethos. And it came from the friendliest guy in show business rather than some drab, Debbie Downer. He combined a literary sense of character and tragicomedy with, well, people with wacky powers and funny outfits, and he reveled in the combination rather than apologizing for it. But… and this is crucial… that revelry was never too tongue-in-cheek. He made fun out of these things, but never made fun of them. Whether he created them all or not, they were his babies, and he shared the family album like a proud poppa, with rhetoric that was intensely inclusive. This sense of inclusivity is crucial. By presenting superheroes as misunderstood outsiders rather than lofty gods, he allowed readers to identify with the creations on a new and wondrous level. They might be able to lift a skyscraper, but their baggage was as unmanageable as ours. DC allowed us to dream, but it was the personal touch embodied in Stan that allowed us to dream and commiserate. He made us part of a larger, shared experience, and I can think of few other media moguls who did something as bold. It connected to our aspirations and our pain, and in him, it felt as if we knew someone who understood both and loved us anyway. The Marvel world was one of characters seeking connections and family, and in his asides and rhetoric, Stan Lee extended that to us.  

This helped to shape Todd Loren, the eventual publisher of Revolutionary Comics, so much that, as a youth, he caught a ticket to New York from Detroit and marched right up to the Marvel offices, expecting to find a bunch of pals sharing the creative process in a bullpen, just as they were depicted in comics. Secretaries called security, I believe. But he never stopped truthful believing. When we launched the non-musical, non-sports equivalent of Rock & Roll Comics, our Contemporary Bio-Graphics imprint, Stan Lee was our first subject. 

When we announced it at the SDCC that year, Marvel’s mucketymucks went ape. They threatened this and that. Then, Stan walked by. He heard what we were doing and was exactly as thrilled and ebullient about it as you’d expect. He couldn’t wait to finally be the star of his own comic book! I don’t know what he was like backstage, but the Stan I met is exactly the archetype you’d hope would walk by. He was the cool uncle telling the parents to take a powder while never losing the gleam in his eye. Yeah, Stan, a comic of your own. That’s what heroes deserve.

That shut ‘em up.

And that’s my own Stan Lee memory. Couldn’t ask for a better one.

Excelsior to you, sir.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Review: The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries Series 2, “The Mystery of Apartment 493”

Editor's note: The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries Series 2 is now available at Big Finish!


“This isn’t Collinsport, Tony. People don’t check on their neighbors."

Cassandra Collins throws the dinner party from Hell in “The Mystery of Apartment 493” by Alan Flanagan. Co-directed by the man himself along with Darren Gross, this penultimate installment of Series 2 brings back a wonderfully creepy bottle episode gimmick from Series 1 and then uses it to deliver what could very well be Series 2’s breakout episode. Usually I try to delve into all aspects of the episode, down to even the slightest spoiler, but to do so would really undercut this episode’s incredible and insane turns. So this column is going to be a little different but rest assured when I say, “The Mystery of Apartment 493” is a stunningly fun night in with Tony and Cassandra.

So last series Alan Flanagan mucked around and delivered an absolute dynamo of an episode with “The Mystery of Flight 493”. Though my review was of the entire series, I heaped praise on to the episode and quite right too! The concept of the episode, a gut-wrenching time loop, really popped, as did the confined nature of the setting. So naturally I was really excited to see that Series 2 also had a “493” episode from Flanagan! I became doubly so after I listened to it because this episode takes the confined spirit of that first one and vastly improves on it, both in terms of emotional stakes and sheer terror.

Like I said, I am going to try to completely avoid outright spoilers because the twists and turns this thing takes are just way, way too good for some former Collins Cannery rube like me to talk about here. But what I CAN talk about and will at length is the sparkling chemistry of our two leads and the way the production really makes the space come alive. Easing back into barbed banter and genuine shocks, Alan Flanagan’s script displays a keen sense of Tony and Cassandra’s relationship and uses it as a solid foundation for the centralized plot. While “Flight 493” had the novelty of the time loop, this episode has no such ticking clock. So I was wondering how the script and direction would get an entire hour’s worth of story out a single room. Thankfully, the story proves pretty early that it can do a lot with just a little spearheaded by the performances of Lara Parker and Jerry Lacy.

If this sounds like I am being cagey, I promise I’m not. This episode really does impress and allows our core cast, which now includes the effortlessly endearing Sydney Aldridge, a great chance to showcase their skills. I am a bit let down that newcomers to the show Jake Wardle and Abi Harris don’t get much to do as their characters are largely there for atmosphere. But, that said, they really make a meal of their repetitive roles, amping up the episode’s scares and eerie vibe every time they are unleashed on our unsuspecting heroes. Aldridge also gets to display a bit of evil range herself, as Alice is a presence in this episode, but not in the way that you might think. This allows her a bit of free reign when it comes to her characterization this round and she really runs with it. Again, you know by now how amazing Lacy and Parker are but hearing them bantering so casually, only to be pushed nearly to their breaking point is a great turn from the pair and they more than rise to the challenges of this episode throughout.

So I think I should wrap this up before I go and blab something and give away the whole game but trust me when I say that “The Mystery of Apartment 493” is the episode to beat for Series 2. Led by it’s stalwart core cast, blessed with a truly tremendous script, and out of this world production values, this penultimate episode absolutely knocks it out of the park, sending Series 2 into it’s finale on the highest note possible. But enough of my yaking, go listen for yourself and you will see what I mean. I suggest leaving the light on.

NEXT TIME! The Series 2 finale! “The Mystery of the Soulmates Hotel” by Grace Knight. If Tony and Cassandra finally kiss this episode I am going to lose it. Be seeing you. 

Justin Partridge has always loved monsters and he thinks that explains a lot about him. When he isn’t over analyzing comics at Newsarama or ranting about Tom Clancy over at Rogues Portal, he is building Call of Cthulhu games, spreading the good word of Anti-Life, or rewatching Garth Marenghi's Darkplace for the dozenth time. He can be reached at the gasping Lovecraftian void that is Twitter @j_partridgeIII or via e-mail at Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.  

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Podcast Alert: Bodice Tipplers, "The Flame and the Flower"

Buckle up, buttercup – we’re doing this. This is happening. This episode we cover “The Flame and the Flower”, Kathleen Woodiwiss’ 1972 steaming pile of crap. This is the face that launched a thousand shits; the first bodice ripper. And it is awful.  And we are furious at it.

This book contains intense scenes of sexual assault (the worst kind, it thinks it’s a ravishment but believe me, it’s stone cold rape.) It’s also got emotional abuse and some truly weird expressions of racism. Also it’s boring as hell Seriously, do not read it if you’re triggered by anything like that because this book is FULL OF IT and also terrible, so honestly don’t read it in general. Just listen to us drip scorn on it, you’ll be better off.

You can download the episode as an MP3 file by clicking HERE, or stream it below.

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