Thursday, April 19, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 19


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 215

Maggie congratulates Burke on his handling of Willie Loomis when Joe arrives and explains in shock that his uncle’s calf has been drained of blood. Willie comes in, despite Burke’s prior warning, and collapses at the bar. Jason and Burke discuss Willie’s condition, and Jason confronts his former lackey.

With his nervously indefatigable sense of tally-ho in the later portions of the show, it’s easy to forget the truly portentous, necrotic essence that Barnabas brought to the show. There is an ugly and unforgiving feeling to what’s happening to Collinsport that goes beyond Lucy or Mina simply becoming a little pale. Dead cattle and a battered, terrified street kid are just a prelude. It seems so antithetical to the nostalgic charm that he uses with Vicki and the family. He’s like a deadly, carnivorous insect that has chosen to camouflage itself as innocently as possible. I’d argue for this being a Jekyll and Hyde riff, but there’s no remorse. Barnabas has almost two centuries to think about what he wants and deserves and has been denied. When it comes to wanting to see the world burn, the Joker barely has a smouldering match compared to Barnabas.

This is the first real episode to go beyond a romantically rhapsodizing, anti heroic man of mystery and show the dead rot under the Inverness cloak. Ironic that he’s not even there for the episode. We can thank the honest and shaken turns by the reliably truthful Joel Crothers and John Karlen for making Barnabas truly scary. Awed reactions to an offstage force engage the imaginations of the viewers, and together they can create a character that few actors can top. Jonathan Frid is one of them, and that’s a high compliment. (The nauseated confusion shown by Joe will take a lot to justify.)

The other contributor is Mitch Ryan. It’s one thing for John Karlen to show Willie’s vulnerability, taking a 180 turn from who we first met. It’s something else for the strongest character on the show to come to a dead halt over it. Willie has a fear so authentically-yet-subtly conveyed that Burke goes from wanting to slug fellow ex-con, Jason McGuire, to avuncularly collaborating with him on Willie’s condition. Barnabas’ effect is so profound that it changes loyalties and unites former enemies in a matter of seconds. Our fears have been justified; it will be impossible to know what Barnabas is capable of in the future, but there is one thing he cannot be: underestimated.

On this day in 1967, film producers finally got back to Ian Fleming with CASINO ROYALE. All kidding aside, it’s a wild mess of a mish mash and, if you turn off expectations, pure fun.

This episode hit the airwaves April 24, 1967.

Tuesday, April 17, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 17


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 476

Lang reveals his plan to elude Angelique’s curse by transferring Barnabas’ soul into a new body with a new face. Barnabas tries to confide in Julia, and when he sees Jeff and Victoria together, decides to go forward… if Lang can give him the head of Jeff Clark. Lang eagerly agrees.

There’s a little revolution in 476 when Barnabas goes to Julia, the cause of so much misery, for advice. Ever since the introduction of Eric Lang -- a perfect time to ditch Julia -- they’ve knit them closer and closer together. The writers used her tragic flaw of jealousy in an entirely new way. What was once the inspiration to punish Barnabas is now the inspiration to win him over. And maybe she just plain likes him… and “like” can be a much more powerful agent than love. Her transformation begins out of professional envy, when Lang cures him. It continues when Barnabas, who has no reason to trust her other than instinct, seeks her counsel in this episode. Of course, he never comes out with the truth of the plan because that would end the storyline, but the gesture is what matters.

How long could the show have lasted with Barnabas and Julia going at it as horror’s Tom and Jerry? Exactly. Nor could Willie have stayed completely disloyal. Angelique and Nicholas have to be brought in advance the relationships, and the relationships have to advance to cope with Angelique and Nicholas. Here is the spark that leads to show’s most interesting evolution. Why does Barnabas trust her? You can tell by his newfound human walk, he’s a loyal man, no time to balk. This will become his secret to staying alive.

The only way that either Lang or Barnabas can get away with years of vampirism and mad science is that DARK SHADOWS must take place in a universe where DRACULA and FRANKENSTEIN were never written. I’m pretty confident that there are scant references to either, if any, in the course of the show. Other than being, you know, the show itself. Otherwise, the characters would have just looked ahead to see how the books ended and worked backwards. But since no one bought Adam a parka or advised Barnabas to avoid knife-wielding cowboys, I can assume that the library was closed for Passover.

Visually, take a moment to enjoy how lush the episode is. In an episode about new life, flowering friendships, and strange hybrid plans for human development, the verdant settings are ideal. A happy accident. The extended and deep graveyard set must have dominated much of the stage, so getting the most out of it was a clever maneuver.

On this day in 1968, the Carol Burnett musical, FADE OUT, FADE IN -- a kind of spiritual continuation of the satire in SINGIN’ IN THE RAIN (by the same authors) closed on Broadway after 72 performances.

This episode hit the airwaves April 22, 1968.

Monday, April 16, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 16


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 212

Elizabeth and Barnabas talk of his remarkable knowledge of the family history, although he politely declines her offer to stay at Collinwood. Later, after meeting Vicki, he encounters David at the Old House. When David leaves, he gazes at the portrait of Josette and explains that he’s back to stay.

It’s hard to watch 212 without very strong feelings, and few modern viewers will ever share them with those who saw the episode in 1967. Contemporary viewers see the opposite story, in fact. In a world without Barnabas Collins and “a soap opera about a vampire,” 1967 audiences saw a show where familiar Liz, Vicki, and David meet their English cousin. They’d started the show nearly a year before, and as viewers of that era, they saw the events through the family’s eyes. For us, Barnabas is our context. We start DARK SHADOWS with him, and we learn the family and related details as he does. Although it would be interesting to induce a temporary amnesia and see the show as they did on its first broadcast, the contemporary reading is much more intriguing.

If you’ve never seen the show before, everyone is a stranger. If you’ve been through at least once, as is the case with most viewers, you already know Barnabas as the “main character.” You know his unfortunate origin, and you know his sometimes-heroic future. Given that, 212 is an episode rife with fear and sadness, but those emotions belong to Barnabas. Although the bangs may not yet be there, Barnabas wrings his hands like a champ. Imagine this from Barnabas’ perspective. The evil aunt you killed -- from your perspective, a month or so ago -- answers the door and introduces your mother who committed suicide when she learned your secret. Is it any wonder that he accidentally talks about remembering Collinwood and its first inhabitants? He was supposed to be its master only a subjectively scant time before. Then, he goes over to the Old House where his kind-of nephew tells him that the OTHER woman who committed suicide over him is haunting her own painting. Jonathan Frid gives a vampire performance like no other prior to this. Yes, he’s obsequious, but it’s not just to win the loyalty of locals. He’s experiencing genuine sentiment, loss, regret, and longing. Just as Vicki is lost, without a family, in a house that both is hers and is not, so is Barnabas. The only difference is that he understands that he should.

In most vampire stories, he’d be something like Jerry in FRIGHT NIGHT, there to feed and revel in ee-vil. Maybe talk about a master race at some point. Barnabas is a man out of time, first, and a vampire, second. He’s not a comfort eater; food’s not on his mind 24/7. All he wants is for his father’s ghost to know he’s free to “live the life I never had. Whatever that may turn out to be.”

With a lesser actor, we’d be given the obvious choice on that last line. He’d probably gloat. Barnabas dreads his own potential, and in his delivery, Jonathan Frid communicates an awed uncertainty that sets up a character on a fearful quest. He’s no conqueror. Like any of us, he’s just out to rediscover the modest happiness he thought was everyone’s birthright.

Ron Sproat never intended for this episode to be from Barnabas’ perspective any more than he planned on creating a protagonist who would carry DS until its end. But that’s exactly what happened.

This episode hit the airwaves April 19, 1967.

MPI slashes prices on Dark Shadows merchandise

MPI Home Video currently has a ton of DARK SHADOWS merchandise on sale at deeply ridiculous prices. I don't know how long the sale will last, but among the discounted items are are all four DARK SHADOWS bobbleheads, the 50th anniversary lunchbox, the Barnabas Collins replica ring, scarves, gloves and T-shirts ... all for just $10 each. Also available are the 8-disc CD collection of Robert Cobert's music from the series, collector plates, watches and a slew of kooky stuff on sale at various prices. You can find the sales listing HERE.

h/t to Will McKinley

Friday, April 13, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 13


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 210

I think it was January 4, 1982 that I saw this. Given how slow the series could be, and given that I was only eleven, I have long wondered how that show captured me so firmly. In watching it again today, I think I understand why.

Malcolm Marmorstein.

He wrote this episode, and if he had been hired to write a pilot for DARK SHADOWS, he could not have done a better job. Of course, for most people, this IS the pilot for DARK SHADOWS since broadcasts and collections usually start on 210. Although subsequent episodes drag, this one cracks along surprisingly quickly. It introduces everything we need to get us hooked and eschews anything minor enough to be left for later. The strategy is apparent in hindsight, and some of it is a happy coincidence, but the intent matters less than the result in this case… somewhat the opposite of real life.

Breaking down the episode, the elegance of its construction becomes clear.

The teaser cruises through Eagle Hill cemetery as Victoria describes the depths to which some men will sink -- desecrating sacred ground, sinking to depths of corruption, and violating that which should remain sealed forever. We know a vampire is coming, but how? A second party is implied, and they’re not going to be very nice. The story and our expectations are immediately raised and we have yet to meet a single character… until we come inside, where Jason is harassing Willie. The big one is abusing the little one, demanding that he account for his whereabouts and doing so violently. David and Goliath. Shrill and meek. Had we started earlier, it would be tougher to be on Willie’s side. Starting here? Jason is the villain. He accuses the bruised kid of having a scheme, and the kid obviously lies to the Irish galoot, gazing at the portrait conspiratorially. It’s as if he and the man in the painting already have a relationship. Cut to opening credits.

A lovable weasel. A bully. A silent and stern third party, hanging on the wall like a watchful ally, holding his action. Only a few lines, but resonantly human to anyone who’s been victimized by a know-it-all lout. Somehow, we know this power dynamic is bound to change, and that, for once, the know-it-all knows zip.

As we return, Jason gets physical, grabbing the kid and roughing him up. As they bicker, we hear the name “Collins family.” Nice people. Long history. Money. The man in the painting… an incestor of them? Willie’s been doing research. He swears innocence, but Jason contends with mordant wit that there’s not a Bible written that Willie could swear to. Then, a payoff is mentioned. Willie is getting money through Jason from someone named Liz Stoddard, and he’s to start packing to go.

As it goes on, we see the other side of Jason as he slimes his way around an iron lady of a matriarch, oozing subtle threats and extracting bitter payoffs, later confiding in an impossibly beautiful girl who must be her daughter. We feel immediate respect and sympathy for both of them. They are as captivating as Jason and Willie were nefarious. These scenes alternate with Willie at the crypt, driven by a phantom heartbeat, Indiana Jonesing his way around the graves of other prominent Collinses from the 1700’s, including someone named Naomi Collins. He works out a rope and pulley system --  implying an ex-sailor… this is Maine, right? -- to pry off a vault lid. It’s a black sequence broken only by smokey grays and tentative strings. When the pulley excruciatingly unlocks the ring from the lion’s mouth, we’ve left any kind of Collinwood that Liz, Jason, and Victoria are a part of. They never ran it. This place belongs to what’s behind the secret slab that suddenly-then-slowly grinds open. To whatever’s under the chains the kid breaks. When the spectral heartbeat stops. In the coffin. A force within as ready as a feral animal, primed to strike strike when the lid is opened, With the hand, the frilly cuff, and the regal, dead eye of a black stoned ring.

Characters with potential. Characters to love despising. A grand house with a past deeper than anyone knows. And an undead x-factor that could go anywhere. All exquisitely structured to compel you to watch the next scene and the next episode. Rarely has this much potential energy been promised to an audience. It would take Dan Curtis four years, five days a week, to do it justice. 

This episode hit the airwaves April 17, 1967.

Thursday, April 12, 2018

Rondos name Patrick McCray "Best Writer" of 2017

The winners of this year's Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards were announced online last night. When the dust had settled, DARK SHADOWS had done pretty well for itself. Our own Patrick McCray was named "Best Writer" of 2017 for his ongoing feature here, "The Dark Shadows Daybook." Here's what the Rondos had to say about him:
Patrick McCray
Few people know the secrets of Collinsport more than Patrick McCray, a Dark Shadows expert whose contributions to the Dark Shadows Daybook keep horror's enduring scare opera alive for new generations. A writer who viewed 1,225 episodes in 45 days, he shares his obsession with Collinsport fans daily.
There were some interesting runners-up, as well. The Collinsport Historical Society received an "honorable mention" for Best Website, while Rod Labbe's interview with DARK SHADOWS alumnus Marie Wallace from issue #104 of Scary Monsters was a runner-up for "Best Interview." You can see the full list of this year's winners at the official website of the Rondos HERE.

Now in its sixteenth year, the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards nominees are based on suggestions offered by fans and professionals at the Classic Horror Film Boarda 23-year old online community. The award itself was sculpted by artist Kerry Gammill ("Action Comics," "Power-Man and Iron Fist") and cast by modeler Tim Lindsey. The award is a miniature version of the bust of actor Rondo Hatton created for 1946's HOUSE OF HORRORS.

This year’s e-mail vote drew more than 3,700 ballots, which is reportedly a record for the Rondos.

Wednesday, April 11, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 11


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 473

Roger enters with his new wife in tow, a dead ringer for Angelique named Cassandra. Brittle conversations ensue as Roger and Liz fume at one another and Cassandra pretends to have no idea who Barnabas is. The episode ends with Cassandra alone, tintinnabulating a familiar laugh.

I think everyone has at least one Angelique.

As she returns (for the first time) in 473, we get the feeling why. That’s a tribute to the script by Sam Hall and the everything else by Lara Parker.

Barnabas has been dreading it, but even with the bizarre stuff he’s seen in Martinique, 1795, and the Sixties, I don’t think he believes she will actually reappear. As he opines that witches never die, etc, I think he’s doing it so that he can turn around and say, “Well, guess I was wrong. Ding-dong and all that.”

It’s hard not to impose inner monologues while watching the show, perhaps because Angelique is a living Rorschach blot of a character, drawing out the true intentions from everyone she meets. Wonder Woman needs a lasso. Angelique just needs to stifle a judgy little laugh. Whether it’s lust, violence, respect, or jealousy, the veils come off of others in her presence. And that’s such a refreshing thing on the show. Everyone else is dedicated to keeping and/or inducing secrets. Yes, she’s awfully evil, but she’s evil in the name of love, and we all have impulses to go there once or twice in our lives. And each audience member secretly knows that as long as they weren’t in her way and kept up some lively chat, they’d be spared, right?

It’s her ultimately romantic intent that redeems her. Do any of us really dread that she’s back? No. Finally, a woman at Collinwood who knows the score. Heck, just SOMEone at Collinwood who knows the score.  She’s what we’ve been waiting for since Jason McGuire -- an agent of action, change, humor, awareness, and love. I just imagine, alone with Angelique for the first time in 473, Barnabas sitting down with her and catching up on “how crazy it’s all been” before remembering she’s a monster he’s obligated to hate.

Lara Parker really must be given ample credit for this effect. The good stuff, not the monster part. Holding multiple college degrees, beauty rarely seen this side of the Louvre, and a balance of genteel, southern refinement and canny, metropolitan wisdom, Parker enlivens the wickedest dialogue with equal parts pathos and play with unerring instincts.

Her arrival signals the last major tonal shift we’ve been awaiting in the show, and you saw it here, first. Up to now, it’s a story about 1960’s mortals interacting with gods. With Angelique joining Barnabas to form the dysfunctional, time trekking, immortal First Couple of Collinwood, the situation is now reversed. The story of DARK SHADOWS is finally one of gods weaving through fields of mortals. That’s an important factor to consider when passing moral judgment on Barnabas and Angelique. They may have impossible crimes, but they also have impossible spans of time to pay impossible prices. Us? Short timers.

On this day in 1968, Lyndon Johnson signed the 1968 Civil Rights Act.

This episode hit the airwaves April 17, 1968.

Tuesday, April 10, 2018

Kathryn Leigh Scott is headed to Austin this summer

Kathryn Leigh Scott will be representing Collinsport this summer at the Greater Austin Comic Con in Texas. Scott has just announced that she is among the guests scheduled to attend the event, which is set for June 16-17 at the H-E-B Center in Cedar Park, Texas. It's going to be a little hot for DARK SHADOWS cosplay, but I'll still be disappointed if I don't see Instagram photos of at least one person wearing an Inverness cape at the convention.

For more information about GACC, visit their website at

And find Kathryn online at
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