Thursday, February 14, 2019

Catch Master of Dark Shadows on the big screen April 13



By now you've probably already heard about the upcoming documentary about Dan Curtis titled Master of Dark Shadows. (If not, you can read about it HERE.) Set for release on Blu-ray on April 16, you've got a chance to catch the documentary on the big screen earlier that week in New York City ... with members of the Dark Shadows cast! Click on the image above to read the details about the event and to find out how to get tickets. And click HERE to pre-order Master of Dark Shadows today!

(Note: At the moment only the Blu-ray edition is available for pre-order. It seems unlikely that a DVD edition will not be offered at some point, so stay tuned!)

Wednesday, February 13, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: FEBRUARY 13



By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 693

When Julia recruits a seductive occultist to exorcise Collinwood, will the vengeful spirit of Quentin Collins meet his match? Timothy Stokes: Thayer David. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Chris wrestles with leaving until Julia tells him about the haunting of Collinwood and David’s possession. He is further shocked to learn that he may be a person of interest to the spirit. Meanwhile, Stokes manipulates David into confirming the haunting. He conducts an exorcism of the house as David screams for him not to and must be restrained. The professor seems triumphant. However, as Stokes maintains a vigil that night, Quentin appears in the mirror and taunts him with his failure.

Even though he’s not in every scene, and even though the “star” of the episode is Professor Stokes, the real lynchpin to 693 is Chris Jennings. Not so much for what he does, but for what he almost does, namely, get the hell out of Dodge. When Donald Brisco’s Jennings finds out that David is possessed, his stunned reaction is quietly authentic. In the jaded world of theatre insiders, werewolves are not known for their muted representation of dramatic truth, but Jennings is really struck by how deep this situation runs. He’s been a lycan for years. He’s responsible for Sabrina’s catatonia and hairstyle. Sees pentagrams on foreheads. It’s not a life devoid of the fantastic. And even he is thrown by this one.

This is one of the few episodes of the horror series to contain actual horror rather than the mere symbols of horror. Chris has consigned his young sister to live in a house with a boy whose relatives believe to be possessed. Moreover, so does their -- and his -- doctor. And the doctor further believes that he is somehow important to the possessing entity on a level she can’t pin down. Maybe it’s true. Or maybe they’ve got a wicker man on the other side of Widow’s Hill. Either way, there is no safe option among the people you once thought were the only safe option. A werewolf is a monster, and because monsters are special effects, they are rarely, legitimately scary. The horror factor in a werewolf movie has little to do with the werewolf. It’s with the amnesia of the human within. As much as you fear for the safety of those around you, you’re also grateful for them. They see what you can’t. They can restrain or even destroy you when the time comes. They are the last line of defense when you go mad. But what if they end up being mad themselves? Worse yet, what if they don’t, but just sound like it?

As abstract as Chris is, he is still us when we started watching the series. He’s an outsider to Collinsport. Unlike Chris, we’ve gotten used to the town. We’re hard to shock, as are the Collinses. It takes a real world surrogate to make us step back and appreciate just how jarring the situation is. Outside the house, Chris, a visitor, tries to leave. Within the house, another visitor -- Quentin -- is such an unwanted guest that the Collinses have to call in an exterminator: Stokes.

Never again will Stokes be given such an arc, largely because the defeat he suffers is humiliating on a level tantamount to his arrogance. Because of his charm, that’s an easy fact to lose in the sandpile of 1,225 episodes. Fortunately, he doesn’t take his crystal ball and go home. He advises. Time travels, himself. However, compared to the build-up he’s been given, Stokes never delivers like he tries to, here. Nor is he given the chance. Perhaps he doesn’t even give himself the chance. Where is he at the final climax of the Leviathan arc? I don’t recall. Where is he when Gerard reaches a fever pitch? Allegedly out of the country, but if I learned that he just put on a fake mustache and waited the whole thing out at the Blue Whale, I couldn’t blame him. Under other circumstances, looking in the mirror and seeing David Selby staring back would be a delight, but not cackling madly.

Stokes’ first and last major defeat has been coming since we met him, and Gordon Russell's dynamic and gritty script both roots and elevates the professor as both all-business and there to do nothing but take care of same. He smokes like a noir detective. He roars at David after snapping a symbolic pencil of him, making himself more viscerally threatening than Quentin has ever been. And thus, more of a match for the silent giant. Stokes lays traps but lays off the epigrams and witticisms. The bon vivant mask discarded at last, perhaps it was just a tool to bring him close enough to Collinwood to fight a danger he always knew was in residence. And then there’s the exorcism, which has an immediate sense of emotional violence that defines horror. It’s a perilously uncomfortable situation, and that’s the kind of authentic fear I referenced.

If it were merely Stokes conducting an uncharacteristically Abrahamic ceremony with his characteristic panache, the whole thing would be just TV. And if it were David writhing and screaming, I’d write it off as Desperate Bid for Attention #538. Putting them together is a deeply unpleasant alchemy, and it makes Quentin vaguely more sympathetic. As nasty as Quentin has been, there’s something unsettling-yet-necessary about seeing Stokes press David while deliberately withdrawing his warmth and sympathy to the point of humiliating him with a lie. By the time the exorcism happens, David’s raving response has an immediate panic to it that seems a little too real. Is David afraid that Quentin will retaliate or afraid that Quentin will once more leave him alone and defenseless amongst these increasingly angry adults? Either way, he seems like a victim of abuse from all sides and his helpless, hapless agony during the ceremony blends with Thayer David’s thunder to make this one of the show’s most disturbing installments.

Quentin’s returns, and by now, our responses are a carefully programmed ambiguity. I mean, of course he’s going to return. He’s the next threat and he has yet to say a word. And of course it was too easy. While I, like all red-blooded Americans, would be happy to watch an extended scene of Thayer David sitting in a chair (which was Warhol title, I think), I also know that  Selby is cosmically obligated to get him out of it. Stokes, nervously smoking away, has a seedieness here. He’s a man all too happy to terrorize a kid. Quentin? Oddly triumphant in his reassurance to Stokes that his skills are meaningless. Could this be intentional on Russell’s part for the short-and-long term planning of the show? Stokes must be defeated for us to more fully understand Quentin’s powers… and to catalyze Barnabas’ trip into the past. But Quentin is our next hero. And by showing him taunting a character who was, at least in this episode, an occasionally self-important bully who made a child scream (if for the best reasons)? It’s hard not to start liking him, already.

Maybe that’s the real reason behind Quentin’s laughter. Sometimes he’s better than the people he haunts.

This episode was broadcast Feb. 19, 1969.

Tuesday, February 12, 2019

Behind the scenes of Master of Dark Shadows



Nancy Barrett and Kathryn Leigh Scott prepare to record their segments during the initial Master of Dark Shadows video shoot in 2016. This behind-the-scenes photo was taken in the basement of the Lyndhurst Mansion during the weekend of the 50th anniversary Dark Shadows Festival in Tarrytown, N.Y., and comes courtesy of Jim Pierson.

Narrated by Ian McShane, the feature-length documentary from David Gregory (Lost Soul, Godfathers of Mondo) is due out April 16. Also featured in the film are Oscar-winning writer-producer Alan Ball (True Blood), screenwriter William F. Nolan (Trilogy of Terror), author Herman Wouk (The Winds Of War), actors Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost), Barbara Steele (Black Sunday) and Ben Cross (Chariots of Fire), Dark Shadows stars Jonathan Frid, David SelbyLara Parker, John Karlen, Jerry Lacy, Roger Davis, Marie Wallace, Chris Pennock and James Storm, plus other colleagues and family members.

For those of you keeping score at home, the last few years have been pretty good for fans of Dan Curtis. The Tim Burton film prompted Warner Bros. to release gorgeous restorations of House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows on blu-ray. In 2014 MPI Home Video released the uncut European version of Dan Curtis' Dracula (i.e., "the one with all the blood") on blu-ray. Since then, Kino Lorber Studio Classics released his third and final theatrical directing credit, Burnt Offerings, on blu, and then followed that with 4K restorations of the The Night Stalker*, The Night Strangler and Trilogy of Terror. Click on the image below to explore the avaialability of these movies on Amazon.



(* Yes, I know Curtis only produced The Night Stalker. Don't @ me.)

Monday, February 11, 2019

Remembering Jonathan Frid is a worthy a tribute



By WALLACE McBRIDE

I didn't have much to say about Remembering Jonathan Frid when it was released back in 2014. I quite liked the book but felt my opinion was beside the point. It's a collection of essays about a notoriously secretive man written by some of the people who knew him best. There was nothing for me to bring to the conversation, and it was enough for me to just point people toward the book whenever possible. It's essential reading for any Dark Shadows fan.

With time, though, my perspective on Remembering Jonathan Frid has deepened. I've spent the years subsequent to its publishing rummaging through magazine, newspaper and television interviews with Frid, leading me to this conclusion: He wasn't that secretive a person. No, he wasn't interested in having Dark Shadows fans ring his telephone at all hours, and he had an understandably complicated relationship with the series. Having read decades worth of interviews with him, though, he has always maintained a truth that fans refuse to accept: Jonathan Frid was not Barnabas Collins. In fact, he wasn't even especially secretive.

Frid was an even-tempered man who simply didn't much care that much if anyone else shared his interests. Complicating things was the predictable nature of journalists, who tended to harp on the same topics during his interviews. It didn't matter if it was 1969 or 1992, the questions were almost always the same. After a while his participation in interviews was hardly even necessary.

Which is why Remembering Jonathan Frid is so absolutely necessary. In it, his friends and family recount stories about the actor that no reporter would have thought to ask. And, coming from so many perspectives, it presents a multi-faced humanity about its subject that might never have emerged had it been the work of a single author. It's as worthy a tribute as anyone deserves and you should be so fortunate as to have these kinds of friends.

If you haven't read it yet, you can find in in paperback on Amazon. It only gets better with age.

LINK: https://amzn.to/2E21Wn5

A shared interiview with Jonathan Frid, 1969


A shared interiview with Jonathan Frid

“He looked us straight in the eye. He didn’t talk down to us — the girl from the private private school and the unpublished celebrity interviewer."

By Derek Gilbert 
Afternoon TV, November, 1969

“Hello,” said. “I’m here to see Mr. Frid.”

“Mr. Frid?” the blank-faced receptionist repeated like she’d never heard the name before.

“Yes, Mr. Frid,” I assured her. “I have an appointment.”

A bearded publicist on a sofa next to the desk explained: “He wants to see Jonathan.”

“Oh.” Now she understood. “Well, he’s downstairs taping the show. He should be up shortly.”

It was four o’clock, and I was on the second floor of ABC-TV’s modern two-story studio on Manhattan’s West Side. It is built between tenements and warehouses and practically in the Hudson River.

Somewhere a TV set dirged the eerie opening musical theme for Dark Shadows.

I was there for my first celebrity interview. And my first subject was the teenagers’ fright delight, Jonathan Frid.

I’d written to Frid, telling him about myself and requesting an interview. Two weeks later, a reply. Yes, he’d see me. Well, the big day came. It was raining. Bleak. Cold. Windy. Perfect weather for a visit to the great estate of Collinwood on the storm-swept coast of Maine. Or, rather, Studio 16 on West Street.

So there I stood waiting in the second door reception area and listening to a teenage girl talk to the publicist about the show.

And then Jonathan Frid breezed in, a script in a black cover under his arm. His tall solid frame looked good in a grey Edwardian suit. And you couldn’t miss those jagged Barnabas bangs.

A warm smile revealed no fangs as Frid approached the girl and me, He knew our first handshake was firm. “l hope you don’t mind if we combine interviews,” he said. “I’m a little rushed for time.”

I looked at the girl and gave a weak smile. We talked a minute while Frid conferred with the publicist. She was Barbara. I asked her what school she went to, expecting her to say DeWitt Clinton High or something. But “a private school” was the answer. The tone told me not to pursue the subject any further. And all the time I was quite  disheartened. Would Rex Reed have shared an interview?



Now Frid was ready, and we followed him down the corridor into a brightly lit make-up room. There was a lone barber chair near the door. It faced a mirror that ran the length of the room. Pasted on the walls were giant blow-ups of Frid with fangs unfurled next to 8x10s of the other actors on the show.

Barbara admired the monstrous black-stoned Barnabas ring which Frid described as tacky. “One day Lela Swift, our director, had me take it off this hand and put it on the other for a ‘better picture,’ I got a lot of letters. Why were you wearing the ring on the other hand? Does it mean something? Is there a curse attached to it?”

I lifted a dinette-type chair over the barber chair and placed it next to Barbara’s. Frid removed his jacket, revealing a pair of maroon suspenders, draped it around the barber chair and sat down.

“What school do you go to, Barbara?” Frid asked.

“Oh, it’s a private school,” she responded. Not even Jonathan Frid was going to know the name of it. Hut then she added: “It’s on Delancey Street.”

Frid lit a cigarette, and I asked him what time his alarm clock went off on a working day.

“About seven,” Frid answered. “I take a cab up here. Rehearsals begin at eight. We read through and block the script. Making changes for time, plot inconsistencies, awkward dialog. We break at for lunch. People send out for sandwiches. I use the time to go over my lines and get made up.
“Then at 11:30 we go down to the floor and catch a bite to eat all this. Then we have the run-through which I call the stumble-through. Finally, we tape the show at 3:15 and finish at 3:45. That is, if there aren’t any special effects that may take more time, Then if I’m on the next day’s show. I read for the ‘dry’ rehearsal and get out of here about 6:30.”

But how does an actor who’s played Macbeth and Marc Antony and Petruchio feel about playing the Swinging Sixties’ answer to Bela Lugosi?

“l don’t look down on Dark Shadows. I’m very grateful for the success it’s given me. All right, you don’t have great lines to speak. But there are plenty dull parts in Shakespeare too, and I’ve played them all. Barnabas is a great character. He was the villain of the show A vampire. But he was sympathetic, too, because he had no control over his affliction. He’s suffered a bad of unrequited love, too. And then when he was cured vampirism he attacked by a vampire ,himself.

“Almost show presents me with one or a dozen nuances I can play on. That gives me, as an actor, satisfaction. And I think that’s all any actor really wants.”

“What about your movies?” Barbara asked.

“l haven’t done any movies.”

“Oh, well. I thought you were in The Picture Of Dorian Gray.”

“Yes, the TV version. But I just had a walk-on. Before Dark Shadows I’d done small parts on TV. But this is my first big part, my first success. I’m very frank about that. I try not to make a big thing out of what I’ve done before this show.”

“But did star on Broadway?” Barbara added.

“No, I’ve only done one Broadway show, a piece of British fluff that flopped here in called Roar Like a Dove. Betsy Palmer and Charlie Ruggles were in it. I understudied one of the supporting actors and managed to get on a couple of times. Got my share of laughs, too. It was a good feeling. I like comedy. I’d like to end up playing the kind of parts Edward Everett Horton does so well.”

“Oh, no, Mr. Frid,” Barbara protested solemnly. ‘”Comedy is all right but you should stick with dramatic parts.”

Frid gave a big laugh. “Well, I’d enjoy doing Richard III on TV someday. Like Barnabas, he’s a  man of irony. I to specialize in men of irony. But I do like comedy, and I’d like to do more.”

Frid lit another cigarette and listened attentively while Barbara told him how she’d considered being an but then decided against it. He looked straight in the eye. He didn’t talk down to us – the girl from the private private school and the unpublished celebrity interviewer. He wasn’t the “somber” or “intense” man in other interviews I’d read. On the contrary, he was able to laugh at himself ant the show.

“I remember one time when when I was sstill young with the show. I was doing quiet little scene with Alexandra Moltke in the hall of Collinwood. During the actual taping, I saw huge flames on the other side of the studio. A fire had started. Lots of commotion. People trying to put out the fire. We got a signal to keep on going. At that time, I didn’t even know where the tire exit was. I could just imagine the last episode of Dark Shadows as Barnabas Collins goes up in flames –for real! They didn’t redo the scene. Tape is expensive, you know. So when this particular episode was aired I received a lot of mail. What happened? What was all that noise? It sounded like Grand Central Station!”

And what’s the invasion of privacy like for Canadian actor who’s been yanked from to TV Stardom as America’s Grooviest Ghoul? “I was listed in the Manhattan phone book when I started on the show in April of 1967. Then the kids began calling me at home that summer. So I had the number changed to an unlisted one. A fan magazine published a ‘big scoop.’ My home address. That’s when my name came off the doorbell in the lobby of my apartment building.”

But now Frid’s eager fans have his unlisted number. “I think they get one of their emissaries in and copy the number off the address-o-graph on the receptionist’s desk. And then they give it to everybody.”

“Oh, if I had your private phone number,” Barbara said seriously. “I wouldn’t give it to anybody.”

Frid laughed and plunked one of maroon suspenders. “Well, you’re different.”

“But doesn’t all this intrigue bug you?” I asked.

“Actually, it’s quite flattering. And it’s just a game to them. Not an unhealthy game, really. I think some of them will up to make very fine detectives!”

Frid fussed with the pointed Barnabas fangs and stared at himself critically in the mirror. “I was a fan myself as a boy. Although I wasn’t a collector of pictures –autographs–things. But I was a movie fan. I am a movie fan. I’ve been going to the movies since I could crawl. Movies cost about 11¢ when I was a child. I went all the time. I’d collect the money by taking deposit bottles back to the store. My mother was very strict but she let me go. I guess she figured I’d manage to get in anyway!”

“When told my mother I was coming to see you,” Barbara said, “she wanted to come too.”’

“Well, I’m delighted to hear that,” Frid said, walking us to the door. “



Exiting Studio 16, Barbara and I found a bevy of teenage girls armed with autograph books and 8x10s to be signed.

“Did one see him?” one girl asked Barbara, recognizing a kindred spirit.

“Yes,” Barbara said sympathetically. “He’s working very hard.”

I walked Barbara to the Seventh Avenue subway. “Oh, Jonathan’s so nice,” she enthused en route. “Even nicer than Dustin. Dustin Hoffman. I interviewed him on the set of Midnight Cowboy. I even had a picture taken with him. With his arm around me, kissing me. It’d be nice to have a picture like that with Jonathan. He is so wonderful!”

At Ninth Avenue, Barbara asked me what magazine I was writing for. I felt like saying a private magazine. But instead said I wasn’t sure. I couldn’t quite bring myself to say I had this magazine in mind.

“Well, be sure and send me a copy when it comes out,” Barbara instructed at Eighth Avenue, writing down her name and on a slip of paper and handing it to me.

All the while I was scared silly thinking about the article. Was it going to be my first – and last – celebrity interview? And boy, if Rex Reed only knew, he’d be sleeping easier tonight.

“Well, it was nice meeting you,” Barbara said, going down the steps of the Seventh Aenue subway. “Don’t forget to send me a copy of the article.”

I won’t. Barbara. 

Saturday, February 9, 2019

UPDATE: Master of Dark Shadows is available for pre-order


UPDATE: Master of Dark Shadows is now available for pre-order on Amazon! Order it today at https://amzn.to/2SCnajd

(The original post is below)

Well, THAT didn't take long. Just a few days after it was announced that David Gregory (Lost Soul, Godfathers of Mondo) had finished production of a documentary about Dan Curtis, the cover art for the Blu-ray release is now making the rounds.

There were quite a few missing details about the movie, titled Master of Dark Shadows, missing in last week's official announcement. Some of those details are beginning to come into focus. The DVD and Blu-ray is expected to be released "on or about" April 16 this year and will include more than an hour of bonus features, including a Dark Shadows "set visit" and additional cast interviews. It will retail for $23.99.

Here's the original Jan. 19 press release about Master of Dark Shadows:

MPI Media Group today announced it has completed production on the highly anticipated Master of Dark Shadows, a comprehensive celebration of the legendary Gothic daytime series Dark Shadows and its visionary creator, Dan Curtis. The feature documentary, which was shot in New York,  LA and London, includes interviews with key actors and filmmakers involved in the undyingly popular story of vampire Barnabas Collins and all the eerie goings-on at the gloomy Maine mansion Collinwood. The documentary was directed by David Gregory (Lost Soul, Godfathers of Mondo) and is set to be released this spring.

Narrated by Ian McShane (Deadwood), Master of Dark Shadows offers insights from Curtis himself in addition to Oscar-winning writer-producer Alan Ball (True Blood), screenwriter William F. Nolan (Trilogy of Terror), author Herman Wouk (The Winds Of War), veteran actors Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost), Barbara Steele (Black Sunday)and Ben Cross (Chariots of Fire), Dark Shadows stars Jonathan Frid, David Selby, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, John Karlen, Nancy Barrett, Jerry Lacy, Roger Davis, Marie Wallace, Chris Pennock and James Storm, plus other colleagues and family members.

In 1966, a phenomenon was launched when Dark Shadows debuted on ABC-TV as a daily Gothic suspense series. Airing in the late afternoon, the show attracted a massive youth audience as it shifted to the supernatural with the introduction of vulnerable vampire Barnabas Collins. Witches, ghosts and scary story lines turned Dark Shadows into a TV classic that led to motion pictures, remakes, reunions and legions of devoted fans who have kept the legend alive for five decades.

The feature-length documentary Master of Dark Shadows reveals the fascinating history, far-reaching impact and lasting appeal of Dark Shadows with a compelling blend of rare footage and behind-the-scenes stories while also exploring the dramatic talents of creator-producer-director Dan Curtis. Known as the "King of TV Horror," the Emmy-winning filmmaker followed Dark Shadows with other iconic genre favorites including The Night Stalker, Trilogy of Terror and Burnt Offerings before earning accolades for the epic miniseries The Winds of War and War and Remembrance.

Thursday, February 7, 2019

Horror Noire is an optimistic, necessary film


By WALLACE McBRIDE

There are no white voices in Horror Noire: A History of Black Horror, save for those of a handful of actors appearing in archival clips throughout the documentary. I've spent the last few weeks deciding whether or not it would be appropriate to add my own voice to the discussion. Would it be welcome? What are my motives for trying to define the film? Are my opinions as a white southerner even relevant?

In truth, I don't have an answer to any of those questions. Earlier this week I caught myself whining to a black woman about the pains of having to explain racism to my preschool age son, "pains" that don't involve coaching him on how to interact with police to better avoid getting shot. I'm working to evolve in order to fit into this better world we're trying to build, but there's a huge difference between being a fool and a public fool. If your instinct is to tell me to fuck off back to my lane, I would understand.

And here lies the problem: two paragraphs into this piece and I've already managed to push the pain at the center of Horror Noire deeper into the weeds in favor of my own experiences. But you know what? That might be OK.

Having just watched the movie (which landed today on Shudder) I believe the filmmakers are asking us to talk about the ideas on display in Horror Noire. And because it's impossible to have an honest discussion about race with white America without it turning into a confrontation, director Xavier Burgin and author/educator Robin R. Means Coleman have given us a movie that establishes parameters for a smart, healthy conversation ... parameters that will make it difficult for others to hijack the conversation for their own ends. It feels a little strange to call any movie that dwells this much on Blacula "sophisticated," but I came away from the film deeply impressed by its wit, perspective and patience.  If you take a run at Horror Noire you're going to need a lot more than a tweet that reads "But what about the history of WHITE horror movies, bruh?" So it's a safe bet the documentary can withstand my earnest stumbling in search of wokeness.

If this is your first time hearing about Horror Noire, it's a retrospective about the role of black Americans in horror films during the last century and boasts an impressive roster of guests. Among those on deck are Keith DavidTananarive Due (also a producer on the film), Rachel TrueJordan PeeleKen Foree and director William Crain to talk about their experiences both making and watching horror movies. If there's a throughline for the film it's the ebb and flow of the fortunes of black actors, a flow the documentary charts incredibly well through the evolution of a single genre.

Despite America's apparent cultural recession in 2019, Horror Noire makes it crystal clear that the tide has shifted in an unprecedented, positive direction, with Peele and his 2017 film Get Out taking the lead in the doc's final act. Peele comes across as equal parts Fred Rogers and Horatio Hornblower, a man who understands the creative risks he's taken, why he's taken them and what has been gained. He also has no intentions of letting those gains slip away and will not be baited. He's so goddamn serene (and I use that word respectfully) that some people might overlook what he has to say here about compassion, a value intrinsic to the theme of the film.

That's not to suggest that Horror Noire isn't an angry film. There's lots to be angry about, but in lesser hands that's all this documentary might have been. It's complex without being confusing and casual without being glib. More importantly, it's an optimistic, necessary film that also happens to be really fucking good.

(And for those of you who read this thing to the end: Keep your eyes open in the documentary for a quick appearance by Jonathan Frid.)

Tuesday, February 5, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: FEBRUARY 5



By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 688

When David begins writing stories about men with strange urges and unusual hair, is he of a certain age or just possessed by the occult? Ned Stuart: Roger Davis. (Repeat; 30 min.) 

Ned Stuart arrives at Collinwood seeking information on Chris Jennings, an old acquaintance of whom he is strongly antipathetic. David, manipulated by Quentin’s song, writes a story of a man who becomes a wolf. He then goes to the mausoleum to open the door that protects Chris.

The real phantoms in Dark Shadows are the metaphorical phantom limbs represented by absent, missing, or neglectful family members. At times, they seem to outnumber the characters who show up, and their influence quietly resonates throughout the series. I wish I could attribute this to the revealing, emotional wounds of the author. Because it was ongoingly crafted by committee, this is a frustrating impossibility. But it may have an even greater significance considering how many people and perspectives were involved in the production. It may -- may -- be something shared and important about the community behind Dark Shadows. Everything works at the home of Collinwood, except for what they claim to hold dear: family.

Victoria is looking for parents. Carolyn is missing a father. David is missing a mother. Barnabas, a fiancé. And then there are those who try to take the place of those absent -- or who find themselves cast in those parts. Julia, for instance, is neither Josette nor Ben, is ultimately Jeremiah. Part of him, anyway, as far as Barnabas is concerned.

In 688, missing family and surrogate family permeate the action. They’re present on both ends, and only at the climax do they threaten to collide. Ned is avenging his sister, a woman robbed from his life by a catatonia resulting from witnessing Chris’ transformation. On his part, Chris is an acid to family wherever he goes, if inadvertently. By turns he is absent, missing, and neglectful. He shows up in Collinsport after his twin brother dies, making him a living reminder of missing family. His cousin Joe is on his way out. He’s rarely in his sister’s life. It may be for her own good, but she has no idea.

So, between a grieving Ned and a both grieving and grief-infecting Chris, we get David by way of Quentin. One, arguably driven by paternal neglect, one driven by a curse ultimately resulting from abandoning a pregnant wife, and by default, becoming a neglectful parent. Dark Shadows can be a harsh, Victorian noir universe. It doesn’t care about what you know and didn’t know. Or what you meant to do. It cares about what you did. And whatever you do, don’t do it to a gypsy. This entire strain of family misery can be traced to a gypsy curse, and that was triggered by a Collins: Quentin, a man whose spirit is now becoming David’s father figure. It’s the ghost of a man, responsible for a son’s death, becoming an almost fatherless boy’s puppetmaster, and striving to eliminate the last descendent-recipient of the curse his actions initiated -- Chris Jennings, a man with no idea he’s a Collins.

The figure of the gypsy spikes briefly on Dark Shadows, but the significance is quietly seismic. Although they cause intense misery for Quentin and others, they do so in defense of family. They represent absolute familial dedication and, between Petofi and Quentin, they do not like bachelors. They may not have a home, but they have hearts as strong and impenetrable as iron when it comes to their relatives. Not only do they menace the Collins family, they shame them by implication. Compared to the Rakosi tribe, Collinwood is like the Golden Corral of clan cannibalism. It’s little but bile and betrayal, and most parents would secretly sell the kids for the right offer. It’s classic WASP culture, where family often results from antiseptic obligation rather than the earthier drives of passion or good, old-fashioned, religious guilt.

If the writers and crew share anything, it’s a well-represented WASP background. Dark Shadows talks about a lot of things, but the fallout from a WASP upbringing is one of them. Even with an Irish name and a paucity of a religious life, few are as WASP-y as the Collinses. It’s a tart commentary on an entire swath of America that’s usually taken for granted or not spoken of. Maybe because of the illusion of uniquity. Maybe because repression prevents it, and repression and codes of silence are two hallmarks of WASP behavior. The suggestion is that within the bedrock of what we think of as the American aristocracy is a fundamental untrustworthiness. What should you be able to trust? Family. What should always be there? Family. Yet, in Collinsport, your emotional welbeing and, for some, very life expectancy can be measured in the degrees of separation between you and the founders.

Whether they knew it or not, the writers are revealing and perhaps exorcising the demons of a culture that claims to have none. In this case, the secret that keeps getting out is symbolic of the Cosmic WASP’s cultural nightmare -- a werewolf. Hirsute. The ultimately familial animal, existing in packs. Lying under the skin. Literally, a dog. Driven by guttural impulses. A creature with late night stirrings that make brunch impossible. The very symbol of impurity, and you can fill in the blanks for any non-WASP group that may be sparking today’s round of protestant paranoia.

No matter how long since they’ve moved into Collinwood, that family may never run out of things to unpack.

This episode was broadcast Feb. 12, 1969.
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