Monday, December 11, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 11



By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 385

Reverend Trask arrives to seek out the witch. Nathan Forbes, showing a broad streak of common sense, tries to get Vicki away, but to no avail. Similarly, Barnabas, fails in his attempts to exorcise the estate of the unordained clergyman. Trask kidnaps Vicki and ties her to a tree in a strange ritual he is convinced will prove her allegiance with Satan.

In 1967, DARK SHADOWS could afford to be progressive. Had this been written a few years later, maybe not so much. What changed? What set the clock back? A work of genius, unfortunately; ROSEMARY’S BABY, released the year after this episode aired.

The witch trial storyline lets the show have it both ways. Most importantly, the Collinses stand as voices of reason in the face of obvious fanaticism. On a horror show, a healthy dose of intellectual, anti-superstitious skepticism is bracing. Along with STAR TREK, DARK SHADOWS was a one-two punch of secular common sense in the genre. With, you know, vampires and werewolves and ghosts. But does it need a witch to facilitate Trask’s mission to play on the buried and forgotten fears of Collinsport, or are we all too vulnerable to hysteria? The scariest part of the show is to see the panic of the family as groupthink sweeps away common sense at the dawn of the 19th century. And there’s a witch in there anyway. Note how Angelique’s motives are all driven by love and desire, though. She’s not claiming Another Child for Satan. She may use dark powers, but she’s the only one at spiritual risk. She is a selfish sorcerer, not a dark missionary. Perfectly postmodern.

ROSEMARY’S BABY would change that. For decades, the devil had been a properly comical figure of cartoonish ridicule. He was Hot Stuff. He hung around on cans of potted ham and turpentine. He was a school mascot, for Pete’s sake. But he lurked in the deepest recesses of our instinctive mythology, anyway, and Roman Polanski released that fear and that side of him. A “Satanic Panic” resulted in pop culture, and despite the fact that the nation was at its most guardedly secular, the devil was back. But this was before all of that. Before the dark times. Before the Empire. Seeing Abigail and Trask as the new, threatening villains of the show dates it, and dates it in the best way. Never before has supernaturalism been so aligned with bullying. DARK SHADOWS is making a very strong statement here, and a subtle one. How many benevolent religious figures do we get on the show as significant characters? Exactly. None. But those Trasks just keep coming. This is DARK SHADOWS at its most subversive, and it’s a credit to the strength, creativity, and dedication of actors Jerry Lacy and Clarice Blackburn that we see it with its strangely fevered integrity. Yes, they are motivated by a communitarian ethos. No issue there. And they still seem like bullies beyond that.  All angles and obsidian, Jerry Lacy is the ideal counterpoint against Lara Parker, a French vanilla elision of aristocratic curves and indulgently refined contours. Even her voice has a gracefully playful mellifluousness that dips and rises like a Billy May arrangement, much too marvelous when set against the jagged ice of Lacy’s feral, slam-bang treatment of the language. She’s not in this episode, but since she has star-powered the storyline both as a character and as actress, we feel the confrontation coming.

Welcome, Reverend Trask.

Satanically speaking, the original BEDAZZLED had that very effect on delighted audiences right around this time in 1967. 

Friday, December 8, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 8


By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 384

Everyone at Collinwood attempts to talk Barnabas out of the duel with his uncle, but he refuses to back down. Knowing that death is certain, Angelique equips Barnabas with a special charm to wear. In the duel, Barnabas kills his uncle, and Josette swears enmity to her former lover.

I never liked the 1795 sequence. There, I said it. I always remembered it to be stilted, slow, and falling short -- emotionally -- of the subject matter it was designed to cover. Notice how few of those episodes I cover? Yeah, well, that explains it.

But DARK SHADOWS does one thing better than anything else: smash assumptions. For many writers, crafting dialogue with a 1790’s flavor would be a burden that would take them away from relevance. For Sam Hall? It releases him to depict sharp, eloquent men and women facing difficult truths with their educated and aware eyes open and informed. Charlton Heston once said that once you understood what Shakespeare was saying, there was no other way to say it. Rather than muddy things up, the right language clarifies, no matter how many contractions are denied. Yes, some actors struggle with it a bit. Not everyone can be Gwyneth Paltrow and believably play characters far smarter than they are. But then you have Jonathan Frid and David Ford, and you see actors at ultimate ease with the show at last. Just as Heston was born to wear a toga, Frid was born for breeches and neckcloths. In that era and garb, Barnabas at last has a simple, direct honesty. Rather than gain affectations, it’s as if he loses them and finally gets to tell the truth as he tells the story. There is such a clarity and elegance in his performance here. It’s both beautiful and sad, because we finally see one of Canada’s finest actors at full gallop. Had he not chosen early retirement? Had he been paired with a powerful agent? To me, Jonathan Frid would have landed parts that would have demonstrated a cross-section of William Holden, Albert Finney, and Hal Holbrook. Like Grayson Hall, there is a vaguely silly quality that he accidentally displays when snarling and shouting and fretting over gremlins and ghoulies. You try it and see how well YOU do. But here, working in seamless tandem with the marvelous Lara Parker, you see such easy confidence. Frid finally gets to do what eludes so many actors; he speaks simple, hard truths that are changing that character’s life against all better judgment. This duel is a terrible idea. But I really accept that he believes he has no choice. That’s far tougher to authentically sell than the hunger to drink blood. To see his sad, strangely self-assured acknowledgement that, yes, he’s going to duel and no, he’s never been in one, and no, Angelique, he’s never even seen one, but there you have it. Because-this-is-the-life-we-life-and-what-other-option-have-I?

In this one episode, I understand Barnabas on a deeper level than I have before. He makes really terrible decisions utterly rationally, and I guess in his case, I might do the same thing. This is revealed in both his scene with Parker and his scene with George. He owns up to his self-pity with open eyes, admitting to his delusion that he is capable of dealing with any problem. Lara Parker’s Angelique experiences a strange horror, too. It’s a sorcerer’s apprentice moment. He’d rather fight for a woman who will never have him than be with anyone else. Who’s fault is that? Oh, and it will probably kill him. Great. Angelique has such humanity, here. It was just a scheme gone awry at the end of the day. Has she triggered a death wish in lieu of the love she believed she was conjuring? And does this suggest that her seeming hate for others was really self-hatred?

Back to Frid, is his heartbreak over losing Josette or over losing Jeremiah? Love comes and goes, but friendship, I argue, can be much deeper. When Barnabas concludes that his uncle hated him all along, I think we see the central loss, betrayal, and heartbreak that not only leads to his greatest mistake, but powers the engine of pain that pushes him through all of his subsequent relationships. Is his fealty to Julia and Quentin an attempt at penance? Or is it a simple statement that he will never put someone else through the kind of betrayal that he experienced? If Angelique had known any of this, I think she would have had Josette run off with the stable boy. She does love the guy, after all.

It’s Anthony George’s last episode. I’ve read that George was uncomfortable with the parts he played on DARK SHADOWS, and pushing Burke to become a normative presence is a bit time-to-make-the-donuts for an actor. I can sense a shade of relief and freedom in his turn here. He’s moving on.

On this day in 1967, Otis Redding records "Sittin' on the Dock of the Bay," thus providing the soundtrack for endlessly cloying commercials aimed at pinot grigio swilling yuppies, convincing them it’s about not having a care in the world. Have these people listened to the lyrics? That’s all I’m asking.

Dark Shadows Gift Guide: Black Light Shadows



I mentioned the work of artist Dean Monahan back in September, specifically his series of black light posters featuring the characters of DARK SHADOWS. It was pretty clear at the time that I not only liked his work, but his attention to some of the show's minor arcana, as well. There are even some hardcore fans of the series who have never seen the original appearance of actress Diana Millay as "The Phoenix," but BLAM! Monahan created a kick-your-eyes-in poster of the villain. My favorite is the "American Gothic" of Barnabas and Josette somberly staring through the front window of the old house ... but I love the beautiful contrast of the melancholy content of Josette/Maggie walking along the shoreline in garish neon color. Monahan has dozens of pieces for sale on Ebay. You can find his store online HERE.

Thursday, December 7, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 7



By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1167

Lamar and Gerard dedicate themselves to proving that a vampire is loose at Collinwood, even if it means exposing the truth about Roxanne. Flora Collins helps them with the family history, tying in the “1797“ vampire attacks with the disappearance of Lamar‘s father. While investigating the Old House, Lamar and Gerard find incriminating letters related to Reverend Trask‘s death.  Meanwhile, the dashing young son of Mordecai Grimes begins to court Carrie Stokes.

I’m not entirely certain when Dan Curtis got the news that the show was in trouble. At this point, we are about six months away from the show leaving the air. I don’t think the writing was on the wall, however fate might have been shaking its spray paint in anticipation, standing by the bricks, whistling innocently. It’s fun to speculate what Curtis and company were thinking and planning for the future, anyway. Having plundered the applicable classics, I’m sure it was clear that they needed new sources of inspiration, and while that might have been an uncertain prospect, there is a sense of confidence that the series would continue. I see that when I look at Kate Jackson, Kathy Cody, and Tom Happer. Happer only appears in four episodes, but he’s the tall, dark, “Curtis type,“ and when I see him on screen with Cody, I get the sense that the next generation Carolyn and Joe are being conjured. We already have Victoria Winters 3.0 in Kate Jackson.

As for the show’s OG, Joan Bennett? Yet another afternoon with Flora Collins, the most bizarre character she ever got to play. Flora is at her best in this. Certainly, she gets deadly serious when she discusses the strange history of the 1790s, but before that, her flightiness is quintessentially creepy. There is a strange, baby doll quality to her performance that has weird touches of Norman Desmond-as-ingenue. In some ways, it’s the most decadent character on the show since Pansy Faye, and the only thing missing is an over-the-top southern accent to complete it. This is by no means a criticism. If anything, I celebrate it.

It feels like has been a long time since the needle on the continuity-porn-o-mometer has gone into the red, but 1167 sends it spinning.  Why they keep referring to 1795 as 1797 is beyond me. I can understand weariness and confusion from an overtaxed writing staff, but didn’t anyone else notice? In my desire to rationalize everything, I just take it as poor research on the part of the characters. It’s not like they had Bing.

On this day in 1970, Germany and Poland decided to get along much better. And good for them.

Wednesday, December 6, 2017

Let Kathryn Leigh Scott stock your Dark Shadows library



Few celebrities give back to fans like DARK SHADOWS' own Maggie Evans, Kathryn Leigh Scott. A prolific author and publisher as well as an actress, Kathryn shares Christmas with fans by offering numerous special collections of mystery novels, autobiographical books, behind-the-scenes histories of the entertainment industry, and photos -- all bearing her personalized signature. 2017 might set a record for Kathryn, with six different gift bundles, all including her personal holiday card, and all offering -- honestly -- outstanding savings. A visit to her website finds various packages, and three are of special interest to DARK SHADOWS fans.

Her Hollywood Holiday package features two, rare, lavish coffee table books of classic cinema lobby cards, the first of which features a foreword by Joan Bennett. (I own both of the books, and in the age of Kindle uber Alles, they are increasingly rare and beautiful.) Both are available for only $39, which is astounding considering that, together, they’d be worth at least $90. Her Collinsport Collection, also for $39, is another opportunity to save. It contains DARK SHADOWS: THE COMIC STRIP BOOK, DARK SHADOWS: RETURN TO COLLINWOOD, a color photo, and her holiday card, all signed. The most amazing value, however, is the Barnabas Bundle, containing her novel, DARK PASSAGES (not necessarily backstage at the show, but a credible look at the making of a fictitious show that’s a lot like DS), the 35th anniversary edition of the DARK SHADOWS ALMANAC, a signed “mystery gift,” and four autographed photos. This is over $100 in merchandise for only $39! Kathryn reports that her home looks like Santa’s workshop, so it’s a great time to benefit. Everything is going fast at kathrynleighscott.com.

- Patrick McCray

Tuesday, December 5, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 5



By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 644

Amy and David continue their quest through the east wing, finding antique clothes exactly their size while led by an old tune emerging from an unseen gramophone. Is Quentin summoning them? Perhaps he can’t leave. Meanwhile, Roger, Liz, and Carolyn, propelled by a dream from Magda and Jamison’s phantom signature on a mirror, begin searching for the children. In the east wing, David finds a hollow wall. Pushing beyond it, he is stunned at what he sees.

I’ve talked about repetition in soap operas before. Yes, it’s necessary for a number of reasons, but in the same episode? David repeats his reasoning about the hollow wall almost verbatim, two scenes in a row. Meanwhile, the search party discusses searching for David and Amy in the east wing over and over again and then talk themselves out of it. Despite this, 644 is a marvelous study in atmosphere that adores the scenic possibilities of their tiny studio, it feels as if it were written by Sy Tomashoff. I enjoy seeing the core family play Scooby Doo throughout their own home, with Roger coming off as surprisingly alpha in the quest. One of the subtle gems of the series is the evolving relationship between Roger and David. Two years before, Roger would have been burying David’s body in the east wing, personally.  A year later, Roger would have warmed toward David, merely praying that the boy were never found. But now? He’s leading the charge. From Carolyn’s nightmare to the redrummian writing of Jamison’s name in the mirror, the sense of dread extending from the past into the present is electric, and anticipates Quentin’s none-too-soon arrival. Compared with a new, tall, dark Collins, it’s easy to see why Adam/Angelique/Nicholas fell short of grabbing the golden muttonchops of public excitement. It’s easy to see why the ratings were skyrocketing. Today, Quentin’s theme was heard, at last. Portending an oncoming stranger from the past boded well for Barnabas. As with so many things involving Quentin and 1897, this is a both a reboot of Barnabas and 1795… and the opportunity to put the same wine in a new bottle after it’s fermented to a more powerful and confident brew. And by having Liz and Roger acknowledge Jamison as their father, the mythos grows with a relevance that the series has lacked since the days when Jason grew misty-eyed reminiscing about Paul’s love for Carolyn. This feels less like an episode and more like an easter egg, taking us through Collinwood’s hidden rooms on a private tour. And that’s a good thing.

On this date in 1968, holiday audiences “delighted” to Otto Preminger’s unwatchable acid epic, SKIDOO, featuring Groucho Marx as God in his last role. Meaning, Groucho’s last role.

Monday, December 4, 2017

Spend the holidays (and then some) with Tony & Cassandra



Santa Claus tends to avoid Collinsport. It's his loss, really. The place is like Halloween Town, but with more booze, shallow graves, werewolves and polyester. Who needs Santa Claus when you've got denominationally vague witchcraft?

If you're looking to binge on DARK SHADOWS beyond the holidays, Big Finish has just the gift for you. Dating back to the earliest days of their Dark Shadows audio line, the company has been plotting the international misadventures of Collinsport attorney Tony Peterson and practicing witch Cassandra Blair, aka Angelique Bouchard, aka Miranda DuVal, aka ... well, we could go on all day with Angelique's many aliases. But here, she's still posing as the sister of warlock Nicholas Blair, travelling the world with Peterson in a series that pays homage to classic mysteries such as "The Thin Man." These stories have a cult following all their own. All together, the entire series spans about nine hours, which ought to keep you busy for a while.

Big Finish has two boxed collections available. The first includes the original adventures, as written by Mark Thomas Passmore and David Llewellyn. The second is an anthology released just a few months ago of all new material. Here's what you get ... as well as some links as to where you can get it:

The Tony & Cassandra Collection
"The Death Mask," by Mark Thomas Passmore

“One of you is a murderer! None of you are above suspicion. You all had something to lose.” 

Moments after welcoming his guests to a party, millionaire Harrison Pierce is murdered. But his death is only the first of many as, trapped on an isolated island, his guests start to die in increasingly bizarre ways.  Attorney Tony Peterson must join forces with a woman who destroyed his life years before, the beautiful but deadly Cassandra Collins. But can she be trusted? And what really is the secret of the mysterious Death Mask?


"The Voodoo Amulet," by Mark Thomas Passmore

"We're surrounded by the living dead and you're worried about breaking the law?"

Supernatural investigator Tony Peterson is summoned by the devious witch Cassandra Collins to the bustling city of New Orleans.  On the trail of the mysterious Voodoo Amulet, they're hunted through bars, hotels, train stations and graveyards by the police, criminals, black magicians and zombies.
 Can Tony and Cassandra escape with their lives... and their souls?


"The Last Stop," by David Llewellyn

"Every man's a gambling man, don't you think?”

Tony Peterson is a lucky man. He's just caught the last train back to Collinsport. It's been a good day - he's renewed an old friendship and been offered a job he cannot refuse. His life is about to change.
 But Tony Peterson's luck has just run out. The last train home will turn out to be a very long journey. Will Tony be able to trust the only other survivor? And what decision will Tony make when he's presented with another offer he cannot refuse?


"The Phantom Bride," by Mark Thomas Passmore

“I'm Tony Peterson and this is my wife, Cassandra.”

A liner sailing across the ocean to London. Happy couples enjoying a relaxing few days of fine food, fine wine and the fresh sea air.  Until they start dying. Because also on board is a ghost seeking vengeance. A ghost of a woman who died in 1929.  Private detective Tony Peterson and the witch Cassandra find themselves embroiled in yet another mystery. Can they solve the dead bride's murder before they, themselves, become her latest victims?


"The Devil Cat," by Mark Thomas Passmore

"Only we could get lost in the English countryside and find ourselves trapped in The Wicker Man!"

While on vacation in England, detective Tony Peterson and the witch Cassandra visit Tony's estranged cousin Lord Trent Malkin and his wife Ruby. The two couples team up to investigate the disappearance of a maid from the manor and a series of murders by an ancient cat cult. Complicating things are hostile villagers, an unfriendly vicar and amateur sleuth, Miss Emma Simon.
Who can be trusted in the village of Little Bascombe? And if the legend of a Devil Cat wandering the countryside in search of souls to devour is true, are Tony and Cassandra about to face the greatest threat of their lives?

Get "The Tony & Cassandra Collection" HERE.

The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries

"The Mystery at Crucifix Heights" by Philip Meeks

“We need someone who doesn’t, shall we say, 'scare' easily.

When private investigator Tony Peterson goes undercover to Chicago with his no-nonsense secretary Rita Channing, he has no idea the formidable witch Cassandra Collins is about to make a suitably dramatic entrance back into his life. At a rambling mansion called Crucifix Heights and cut off by a ferocious snowstorm Tony and Cassandra have been hired by separate clients to attend an auction of deadly arcane objects and artefacts.

The pair at first struggle to reconcile their differences but then people around them start dying horribly, one by one. They have to try to work together, because the killer at large is ingenious and seemingly unstoppable. Everyone stranded at Crucifix Heights is in peril. Including themselves.

"The Mystery of La Danse Macabre" by Zara Symes

“I don’t take kindly to almost being killed. One attempt, maybe two; well, fair’s fair. But I won’t stand for three.”

Tony and Cassandra knew when they took their first case together that there would be a few bumps in the road but when the supernatural detective duo arrive at Busby Hall in downtown Boston, a dilapidated music hall that's rumoured to be haunted, they'll find that there's more danger afoot than just things that go bump in the night. Battling against curses, bargains with the dark side, and more than one attempt on their lives, will Tony and Cassandra be able to overcome their differences and work as a team? Or will this be their last waltz?

"The Mystery of Flight 493" by Alan Flanagan

“Nobody move! There's a man standing in the doorway of the cockpit…"

When Tony and Cassandra board a flight bound for home they think that their latest case is behind them, until a terrifying creature begins to murder their fellow passengers. Something is hunting the people on Flight 493, and Tony and Cassandra must deduce what connects it with a story about a little boy who's terrified of what might be under his bed… before it's all far too late...

"The Mystery of Karmina Sonata" by Aaron Lamont

"So just for clarity’s sake. You think you’ve accidentally unleashed a demon from the Spirit World during a bogus seance which is... potentially... killing your wealthy clients. And you want us to stop it before it gets to you. Have I missed anything...?"

When Karmina Sonata arrives in their office, Tony and Cassandra think it’s just another case. A séance gone wrong, a few violent deaths... Par for the course, if you specialize in the unusual. But what if this is not just another case? What if something else is going on? And what if, just if, their sins are about to find them out? Because for Tony and Cassandra, things will never be the same again...

Get "The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries" HERE.

Friday, December 1, 2017

World Aids Day 2017



I don't know that we will ever fully appreciate the toll that the AIDS crisis took on the world during the 1980s. For starters, the statistics are notoriously inaccurate because many of the people afflicted didn't want to spend the last years of their lives shunned by a supposedly civilized world. But even the reported numbers are staggering: By the end of the decade, the number of AIDS cases in the U.S. had reached 100,000 people.

By the end of 1990, more 307,000 AIDS cases had been officially reported, but even those numbers are likely conservative. Some projections speculate that the number is closer to one million. Between 8 and 10 million people were thought to be living with HIV worldwide that year.

The disease took a disproportionate toll on the cast of DARK SHADOWS. At least three actors from the series died from HIV-related illnesses: Joel Crothers, Kieth Prentice and Christopher Bernau. It's difficult not to get angry when thinking about the cultural apathy that met the so-called "gay plague." For far too many people, the word "gay" cancelled whatever initiative and/or terror the word "plague" should otherwise have inspired. Holocausts can only happen when people allow them to, and America absolutely allowed one to happen during the 1980s.

While the battle has since taken a more noble turn, the war has not been won. Below are two notable HIV/AIDS organizations that would benefit from any giving you do around the holidays. (Or any other time of year, for that.)

amfAR, The Foundation for AIDS Research
amfAR is an international nonprofit organization dedicated to the support of AIDS research, HIV prevention, education and the advocacy of AIDS-related public policy. The nonprofit is an industry leader in finding a permanent cure. Donate HEREYour tax-deductible contribution to amfAR will support the lifesaving research that is key to finding new treatments, better prevention methods, and eventually, a cure for HIV/AIDS. www.amfar.org

Elizabeth Glaser Pediatric AIDS Foundation
EGPAF is a nonprofit organization dedicated to preventing pediatric HIV infection and eliminating pediatric AIDS through research, advocacy and prevention, care, and treatment programs. EGPAF works in 15 countries around the world. Donate HERE. www.pedaids.org
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