Friday, February 22, 2019

Vandalizing the Famous Monsters "Dark Shadows" covers

If you follow the CHS on social media, you might have seen a "remix" yesterday I created of the cover for Famous Monsters of Filmland #82, which showcased House of Dark Shadows. I like the original cover just fine, but always wondered what we might have gotten had Forest J. Ackerman asked Basil Gogos to create the cover rather than the graphic design department. Basil is sadly no longer with us, so I knocked together a colorful homage to his Barnabas Collins cover from issue #59 on Famous Monsters. It wasn't intended as a criticism of the original cover ... it was just something fun to do. (I'm not fit to carry Basil's water, so the complete impossibilty that I might create something as good has his work was actually a liberating. It's OK to fail!)

Today I took a stab at the cover of Famous Monsters #88, and this felt a little more like a crusade. Nothing against James Storm (he's terrific on Dark Shadows) but the cover devoted to Night of Dark Shadows is among the worst in the magazine's proud run. It's just a weirdly tinted photo from a scene that's not even of real significance to the film ... WTF, guys? The Frid cover was an excuse to polish my vandalism skills, but the Night of Dark Shadows issue was an opportunity to right a wrong. I mean, Lara Parker should have been on that cover, right?

Below are my vandalized covers, as well as thumbnails as they were originally published.

Jonathan Frid's "hair" apparent

I'm going to begin this story at the end, because linear narratives are overrated.

In my living room is a small, plastic red and yellow table that my son has been using for several years for meals, play and other activities. It's actually a pretty neat design. If you remove the yellow tabletop lid, inside is a tiled board you can use with Lego blocks. There's also space to store Lego blocks, which is nice because we all know what it feels like to step on one of those little bastards.

Last September I used this table to take a few photos of items that had arrived by mail from the United Kingdon to my home in South Carolina. Inside the package was a letter signed by Kathryn Leigh Scott from 1996, and business envelope with the Dan Curtis Productions logo with its original address from the 1960s. The words "Barnabas Hair" were written in pencil on the outside.

Inside, as you probably guessed, was a rather large cutting of human hair. After taking the photos and reassembling the items safely back into their envelopes, I had to ... sweep tiny pieces of Jonathan Frid's hair from my child's table. Because that is the place this website has taken me.

How this package arrived at my doorstep is an interesting one. A few months earlier I'd received an e-mail from a reader named James in the United Kingdom about an oddity found in a book they'd recently purchased. He's bought a hardback edition of Dark Shadows Almanac and found the letter from Scott and the hair clipping inside.

"Pictures attached," he wrote. "Any chance this is genuine? The timeline date would surely be late 67 not 66. So maybe just weirdly committed hoax," noting that the envelope "still has someone's hair in it."

I reached out to Kathryn, who confirmed that the items were genuine. According to the letter found in the book (dated 1996 with Kathryn's Beverly Hills, California business address) Frid had just begun to receive his first wave of fan mail, which was beginning to accumulate in his dressing room. She went to see him in the makeup room, where Frid was having his hair cut, and told him "I could make a fortune selling your hair clippings!"

There are a few details in the story that appear to be wrong, though. She remembers the date of the event as 1966 (Frid didn't join the cast until 1967) and says the hairdresser wrote "Barnabas hair" on the envelope. Several people who have seen photos of the handwriting on the envelope believe it's actually Frid's handwriting. But that's memory for you.

Kathryn tucked the envelope into the pages of the script they'd taped that day and forgot about it. From there, the envelope traveled around the world. Kathryn would later spend time in France, England and California. It was in London in 1996 that she found the script and the envelope, and put them up for auction to benefit the Juvenile Diabetes Foundation. The winner was a Dark Shadows fan from Toms River, New Jersey. How the envelope found its way to the United Kingdom is anybody's guess, but I suspect eBay was involved.

Which brings me back to this last September. Once we confirmed that the envelope and hair were the real deals, James let me know his wife "was not keen on this particular piece of memorabilia lingering." He asked if I knew anyone who'd like to have it. I offered to take it off his hands, if for no other reason to make sure it didn't continue making the rounds on eBay in perpetuity.

And then it arrived and I understood why James' wife was a little put off by it. After sweeping bits of Jonathan Frid's DNA off my kid's table and sharing the photos with friends, I put the envelope on my mantle ... where it remained until this past week. It took a while to wrap my brain around it, to be honest. It was clearly an interesting collectible, but it was also a little ... creepy? I'm glad to have it and eternally grateful to James for sending it my way and hope he understands why it took so long to publicly say thanks. Thanks!

It's a weird world, isn't it?

Thursday, February 21, 2019

Dark Shadows,The Road to Bloodline: Panic


“Can we please discuss this like normal people?
You know, academic to lunatic?”

Hello again, my favorite ghouls! It is me! I bet you thought I had forgotten about you, but I would never! I know it has been a while since we’ve last spoken and a lot has happened in that time! Stuff like I now hold an editorial position at a new horror site set up out of Bangor called Dis-Member! I’m gonna be talking all things horror there with some good buddies, but I will also be tackling the whole of Dark Shadows’ TV canon in a column called The Dark Shadows Diaries so keep a weather eye out for more entries coming soon. I also moved house! That’s right, I’m out of that shabby room at the Collinsport Inn and in a wonderful little cottage by the sea that goes by the charming name of Seaview! The landlord is a real prig and he keeps ducking my questions about the previous occupants, but it should be pretty great, you guys!

But enough about my personal and professional growth! That’s not the dross y’all are here for! You are here for me blathering about the Dark Shadows Big Finishverse (COPYRIGHT PENDING)! So I am THRILLED here today to bring you from my new office here at the CHS (A much, MUCH bigger closet out from under the stairs! Right next to the bathroom even!), The Road To Bloodline! A brand new column covering the post-Bloodlust audios in the lead up to the release of Bloodline! Named for the ridiculous lead up trade dressing comics use in the issues ramping up to big events. I would say Bloodline is going to be a big event, so why not treat it as such?

Kicking off the Road to Bloodline is 2015’s Panic, from writer Roy Gill and directed by good ol’ Joe Lidster and Jim Pierson. Largely told in flashbacks to Quentin Collins’ time in London, Panic follows Professor Lela Quick (played with a sharp wit and hilarious presence by Susan Sullivan) as she attempts to go about her day-to-day as a teacher while contending with a strange tune that seems to haunt her dreams. Complicating matters is her chance encounter with teacher’s assistant Robin Goodman, who also hears the tune, which finds them darkening the door of Quentin Collins’ junk shop Pandemonium Antiques, seeking out the source of the strange melody.

At first I was a little disappointed in the direction this story had started to take. Though the script picks up right after the events of Bloodlust, with Quentin back at Collinwood and looking after a very hungry Tom Cunningham (the affably adorable return of Michael Shon), these “present day” scenes are merely a framing device, encasing the main story back in London. A bit of a let down for a column that expressly about the aftermath of Bloodlust, but what can you do? I was also somewhat concerned that I wouldn’t have much stake in Quentin and Lela’s relationship. At least not nearly as much as the opening suggested I should. I knew Quentin had gotten married along the way somewhere, but since I hadn’t actually heard it yet, I was worried Panic would leave me cold.

But thankfully, due to Lela’s overall wonderfulness as a character and Gill’s breezy, two-handed plot, my concerns were lifted once the thing really got going. Sure the main crux of the narrative gets literally deus ex machina’ed with the reveal that Robin is the trickster god Pan, who had tricked Lela into a deal as a child and has now come to collect. But that turn brings out some neat turns from the actor John Askew and adds to the overall engaging dynamic Lidster and Pierson strike up between the core cast.

Obviously Lela and Quentin’s relationship is front and center and both David Selby and Sullivan lean into the flirty antagonistic courtship the two go through, giving this slightly broad plot a real fun grounding. A lot of this grounding is centered around Quick and her wryly hilarious reactions to the various supernatural elements of Quentin’s life, which Sullivan nails with consistently dry deliveries. Readers of my Big Finish coverage will know that I really love when audio scripts lean into the “civilians” of the universe being thrust into very, VERY spooky situations and in that regard, Panic delivers in spades. Though I was worried at the start that I wouldn’t really care about this relationship, by the time Panic ended I was singing quite a different tune. I mean, they aren’t like my One True Pairing or anything but I am curious to see where these two end up in the coming stories. If they get featured at all, who knows?! I certainly don’t!

So, yeah, not exactly the most grand start to this new column, but Panic nonetheless is a solid start on the Road to Bloodline. Filled with Thin Man-esque banter, eloquently acted by Sullivan and Selby, and tied together neatly with some tight framing from the directors, this first post-Bloodlust story must have been a welcome downshift from the nerve shattering tension of the epic serial. Could have used a bit more juice for me personally, but hey, the more Quentin Collins the better is good with me from where I’m sitting. I know at least a few of you out there agree with me.

NEXT TIME! The Curse of Shurafa! One of Big Finish’s Greatest Hits (or so I’m told)! This thing had me at “Julia Hoffman in Egypt”. Until then (which I promise won’t be nearly as long as last time), 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.

Wednesday, February 20, 2019

Dark Shadows: How to make a monster

This is turning into one of those weeks where everybody involved is just too busy with real-life stuff to find time to blather on about Dark Shadows. Patrick McCray keeps watching episodes for the Dark Shadows Daybook and failing to find time to file the appropriate paperwork. Justin Partridge is still listening to the Big Finish audios and keeping his thoughts on them to himself. And I've been ... busy. My preoccupations have nothing to do with this week's full moon, as I explained to the sheriff at length this morning. No, I can't account for my whereabouts. If I knew there would be a test I would have taken notes. Am I expected to keep track of my comings and goings at all hours of the day?

I did find time to clean up a few images that you detail-loving nerds out there might enjoy. Below are some images relating to the 1969 Barnabas Collins model kit, including a comicbook ad, scans of the instructions, the box art and a hilarious insert included with the kit's 2012 re-release. Whoever wrote the copy for that box really knew their Dark Shadows lore.

Sunday, February 17, 2019

Glam, bam, thank you ma'am

In January, the Bodice Tipplers podcast began raising money for RAINN, America’s largest anti-sexual violence organization. The goal was to raise $500 before the end of February, a goal they hit earlier this week. Even though donating to RAINN was a reward in itself, BT hosts Sara and Courtney offered a few incentives. Anyone who donated before March 1 has a chance to win a Bodice Tipplers tote bag packed with most of the shitty paperbacks they’ve read so far for the podcast. Also, if they succeeded in collecting $500 ... they'd release their teenage Glamour Shots photos.

You can still donate to RAINN and enter to win the tote bag o'books HERE, but because the $500 target has been reached they've already shared their Glamour Shots. Just click on the photo at the top of this page to head over to their website!

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


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.)
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