Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Rondo loves The Collinsport Historical Society


I'm not sure what Patrick McCray is doing as I write this, but he's likely recovering from an injury sustained while carrying this entire website on his back throughout 2020. Thoughts and prayers, man. You're gonna need 'em, because the health insurance provided by the CHS suuuuuuuucks.

The recipients of this year's Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards were announced yesterday and, despite our not having campaigned at all for it (and my efforts during the last year to let the CHS die from neglect) we somehow garnered a "runner up" nod from the Rondos. He's been incredibly modest about it, but it's difficult to see this honor as anything but a validation for Patrick and The Dark Shadows Daybook.

Speaking of which, production of the print edition of the Dark Shadows Daybook is progressing slowly but steadily. Expect an announcement about how you can grab a copy sometime during the next few weeks.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 29







By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 485

Barnabas knows that ultimate happiness is right around the corner because his best friends do all that they can to talk him out of it. Eric Lang: Addison Powell. (Repeat; 30 min.)


Lang relates the dream curse to Julia on the eve of The Experiment as she tries to talk him out of it. Meanwhile, Barnabas relates his instructions to Willie on the eve of The Experiment as he tries to talk him out of it. Across Collinsport, Angelique, tired of the moralizing, stabs a voodoo doll of Lang and then probably takes a long, well-deserved bubble bath. 


One of the great things about Ghostbusters is its use of science to address the supernatural. It would be convenient to say that this is something that started with the novel of Frankenstein, except that the process only hinted at in the book is as much alchemical as it was laboratory grade.  In exploring the dichotomy between the two methods of describing and controlling the universe, Dark Shadows generally comes down on the side of the supernatural, except when it doesn’t, and it doesn’t with surprising regularity. Science makes more appearances than you would think. Peter Guthrie is no witch doctor. Julia begins the show by literally seeing the supernatural through a microscope. The heroes of 1795 at least assert a preference for scientific thinking.  And if scientific thinking is not always the answer, it certainly has a seat at the séance table. Julia works with Angelique to combine bio chemistry and black magic to help Barnabas in 1897. The entire existence of parallel time is well-founded in vaguely articulated pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo recited by Stokes with incredibly precise ambiguity. You know, science. Along with Cyrus Longworth and a side-trip to 1840, via a chronoporting staircase well-founded in time honored principles of total scientific illiteracy.  But, Dark Shadows is under no obligation to be scientifically literate. It doesn’t have to worry about Isaac Asimov clutching his pearly muttonchops as he watches it, kvetching that “It's no Space: 1999.”


For Dark Shadows, science may simply be magic in lab coats, but that’s not all. It’s the Resistance. It’s often the sole force that man has against the new world of ancient gods and monsters. Although it is carefully protected from resembling reality, it still exists to troll hoity-toity magic users and level the playing field for the rest of us. And of course it has to be mad science. Because regular science is too boring and largely exists to give everyone reasons why they can’t have any fun. 


Eric Lang is my kind of scientist. Just imagine him instead of Anthony Fauci. I’m sure somehow Covid would have been cured by now.  Admittedly, we would all have giraffe heads grafted on to us.  Which would have absolutely nothing to do with curing Covid. But I have every confidence that Eric Lang was also on the board of the Collinsport Community Playhouse and was itching to do a modified version of some Ionesco, a playwright he admired for his gritty, hard-hitting realism. After that controversial, all-nude production of Darling of the Day, he had to play it safe.  Every year for a fundraiser, they would do a haunted house. Which was actually the only month out of the year that Lang would simply take down the schmattas covering everything in his home and show off his work in all its glory.


All seriousness aside, the episode crackles with more pure fun than a Chick-fil-A hijacked by RuPaul and Steve Shives, open for biz and spiking the lemonade with bourbon on a Sunday near you.  It begins with Lang trying to logic his way through the dream curse, and knowing that we’ll be saying goodbye to Dark Shadows’ most passionate showman, Addison Powell, it’s a glorious monologue that hovers somewhere between sobriety and appropriate sensationalism. As these people share nightmares, it’s the closest the program comes to presenting the characters presenting their own individual horror TV series. It’s as if they, themselves, are producing a meta-Dark Shadows.


Lang tries to persuade Julia that there’s nothing inordinately dangerous to injecting the soul of Barnabas into the body of Adam, you know, now that all of the heads have been sawed-off, reattached, and Roger Davis still has his face. Hearing this, Julia has her doubts and says that she might prefer if Barnabas simply went back to being a vampire.  


Yeah, you heard me.


Julia eventually emerges as the voice of conscience and common sense for Barnabas. You know, over a year from now.  But today she has one black-stockinged leg in the bold future of 1897 and another one still in the lab, trying to chemically shrivel Barnabas into a future Don Post bestseller. Like in that episode of Next Generation where they kept aging Dr. Pulaski by taking off layer upon layer of Diana Muldaur’s make-up. 


I kid, I kid. Better than Crusher, sez me.


But I have to question the moral compass of anyone who would put the inevitability of a serial killing Lord of the Undead, capable of spreading a vampiric pathogen that could decimate the human race if well-shaded and unchecked, above a wacky experiment that will probably just end in nothing but a crackle, a burning scent, some shrugs, and then Lang, Julia, and Willie splitting the contents of Barnabas‘s wallet three ways at TGI Friday’s, which, knowing what a cheap SOB he was, will barely cover the cost of the seven layer dip and that Ultimate Megarita that is how Julia spells r-e-l-I-e-f on any day ending in ‘Y.’


Why, indeed?


Shifting to the Old House, it’s immediately clear the Barnabas is trying to solve his ongoing existential crisis, because there’s Willie, at his side, wringing his hands and doing everything possible to discourage him from seeking happiness. Moments like these make Margaret Hamilton‘s Cora, from those Maxwell House ads, look like a free wheeling Dennis Hopper. Willie must have nothing to do, because he just watched Julia in the previous scene and is basically repeating what she said to Lang. His namby-pamby nagging and cheek give Jonathan Frid one of his greatest and most genuine line readings. And it’s the kind of moment, going by in a flash, that makes the program absolute gold. Because all of the vampire and curse stuff is interesting, if you like that sort of thing, but it’s not nearly as much fun as watching this old married couple go at it for the upteenth time. Loomis flatly states, “I don’t like it.” 


Barnabas responds with a withering cattiness worthy of Count Petofi. He opines, “That IS a shame,” sighs, and desperately tries to secure his fortune by writing a questionable letter instructing the family to hand over all of his possessions and the Old House to a “cousin from England.” 
Yeah, like they’d ever do that.


But Willie continues his campaign of simpering instead of doing what he should, which is quickly finishing a paint-by-numbers portrait of Robert Rodan in Georgian drag to sneak onto the wall of the drawing room as if it were yet another portrait of an incestor that “had been there the whole time.“  You know, the minimum litmus test that Roger and Liz need to fork over priceless real estate to a fancy-lad stranger. Hey, if it worked for Georges Baker and Lazenby, why not here?


Just for a moment, I want you to picture that version of the show. Picture a Dark Shadows where the experiment worked, and Jonathan Frid has to loop in the dialogue for Robert Rodan as if he’d just emerged from Boris Balinkoff’s mind-transplant device. For the rest of the series.


It’s a pretty good show, come to think of it. Calling Robot Loomis!


But all this fear over the experiment, and a preference for Barnabas to be a vampire again, has a disturbing subtext. People in abusive relationships tend to gravitate back to further abusers because a familiar love is preferable to taking a chance on a happy future. Although it’s unexpected, that is a truth reflected here by both Willie and Julia. 


However, Barnabas is willing to literally change his mind, so that’s next in line. “Barnabas, the experiment’s still free,” Lang might have reminded him, before adding, “take a chance on me.”


Yes, I once directed Mamma Mia. Or as I called it, “A Cry for Help.“  And those lambs are still decidedly screaming, Clarisse.


Barnabas is so ready for the process that he even puts on a blue bathrobe for the experiment. Like Red Sonia in that armor that I’m sure is just as protective, I assume it’s for “freedom of movement“ but I still feel like the old boy is being exploited. 


Actually, after seeing him manfully clad in suits, capes, jabots, ascots, tights, and various kerchiefs for a year, The semiotic impact of that blue bathrobe conveys the incredibly human vulnerability of Barnabas in a way that is unparalleled across the series. Either that, or he’s waiting for a Jean Shepherd narration to start describing his long-standing battle with Lang’s idiosyncratic furnace as Julia once again unsuccessfully attempts to get Willie to eat meatloaf. 


Well, there are no Bumpus hounds to devour the Ham of Progress as Lang charges up the ozone of electric sex to begin the transfer. But don’t think the supernatural will go down without a fight. With cosmic inevitability, Willie goes to Collinwood to personally hand Angelique the precise piece of information she needs, the letter about “Adam Collins,“ at precisely the right time for her to get out her trusty Eric Lang Mego voodoo doll and throw what was a sober exploration of scientific inquiry into total chaos. 


And for a moment, an important moment, all of the wackiness stops.  We see Barnabas, our friend and hero, screaming in a degree of pain that is suddenly and uncomfortably real. We see him worry. We see him fret. But television usually stops short of showing a character, destined to live, experiencing a pointless and sadistic agony.  And Lang is experiencing it as well. Maybe we could say it’s tantamount to the pain of childbirth, which is what the scene is about, but this is not such pain.


This is sadism. And it is sadism from a witch. A creature of darkness. A creature of anti-science. Someone whose existence knows only the spectrum of literal hellfire or the blazing execution stake representative of human justice. How dare he be cured? More pointedly, how dare he be cured by someone other than she? In that attack, we get a full-spectrum view of the quintessential struggle for the human identity. No, really. Male versus female. Science versus religion. Reason versus emotion. Fear versus informed optimism. What is at stake? Literally, the human mind and, if it exists, soul. 


No answers, except that one side seeks to use nature to control nature. One side wishes to punish the attempt to steal what was her fire, exclusively. Science will, as we will learn, win the day, but not without sacrifices. Adam will live, as will Barnabas. And no matter how big Angelique’s Twinkie, for one day at least, Eric Lang, Barnabas Collins, and Julia Hoffman had the guts to cross the streams. 


This episode hit the airwaves on May 3, 1968.

Saturday, April 24, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 23


By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 743

When Laura programs Jenny to become the ultimate assassin, will Barnabas and Quentin put their differences aside to combine forces? Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 minutes.)

Barnabas tricks his way into obtaining Quentin‘s Book of the Dead. It’s a successful gambit, perfectly timed to reveal that Laura Collins is actually Laura Stockbridge Collins, a returning fire demon from his youth. Quentin must trust Barnabas when considering his mysterious cousin against the obviously more destructive forces around him.

It should have been a matter of one world ending and another world beginning. Simple, right? There was a point when it happened before. The show shifted focus… officially. A story about Victoria changed to one where Barnabas was no longer this really interesting side character. He was the character. Where? Perhaps right before 1795 or during. During is a good choice because it starts out as Vicki’s story, but she has to be forced into a witch trial just to give her something to do. No, it’s officially Barnabas’ story. It introduces Angelique as the catalyst for his change. If she got the story moving, it’s no wonder that the show should finally resolve itself when she resolves herself. 

Batons pass hands in marathons… and sometimes they come back. Dark Shadows specializes in cycles that vary based on what’s happened in between. Even the structure of the show is a cyclical ritual. Recap. Title and theme. Narration. Resolve the recap. Add less information than it feels at the time. Unresolved crisis. Credits. 

In between all of that is where lives change, and 743 is what could and should have been the fulcrum from Barnabas to Quentin because it contains the moment any self-respecting fan is waiting for from the moment they hear that heroes on Dark Shadows didn’t stop with Barnabas. There was this other guy, Quentin. And for a time, they are both the heroes of the show and yet are constantly pitted against each other. Terrified mistrust is the one beloved and shared virtue tying all Collinses together across the centuries. It’s no wonder that Barnabas doesn’t save time by simply being honest with Quentin. Honesty bruises the gin, and the writers are going to need it if they have to unite these guys. 

Seeing them unite to deal with Laura is uniquely satisfying, and Jonathan Frid and David Selby maintain the tension with admirable gamesmanship. Bringing back Laura Collins was one of the show’s truest masterstrokes. She becomes a thread taking us from long before the appearance of Barnabas to a point even more distant in the past than his origin, and then into the fantastic future of 1897. I’m not sure what this does more of to critics of the program… prove its delightfully substantive complexity or give them ammo to cry, “Codswallop!” (By the way, that’s not asking for opinions. It’s a test with a right answer and a wrong one.) 

Laura is kind of the linchpin of this. The thing that stops Quentin‘s story from becoming the dominant one for the rest of the series is that it pretty much resolves itself in 1897. It’s extremely satisfying, but it’s brief. The story of Barnabas runs through the entire series. However, it’s fun to look at how the cycle changes itself, however briefly, and if only to comment on the Barnabas story.  Both stories involve men who cheat. Both stories involve women who are cheated on, Josette and Jenny, respectively. Both stories involve a magic user who inspires the cheating.  But Quentin’s story is far more cynical. Even though the man in it is more of a cad at the beginning, he also has much more destructive women surrounding him. Chicken or ovum?  Angelique legitimately loves Barnabas. I think it’s pretty clear that Laura has very little interest in Quentin except as an excuse to get her to Alexandria. Josette is a victim in all of this, but she is only used against Barnabas to induce guilt, anxiety, and two, at first, drive him to choosing Angelique. Laura, however, is an engine of pure destruction, which is, of course, the job of fire. Angelique is more of an elemental figure of nature, and thus, is more driven by natural urges in and around procreation and the emotional attachments associated with it. she uses Jossette, with a lot of cruelty, but it is to either get Barnabas or punish him for not attending that particular Sadie Hawkins dance. On the other hand, Laura positively weaponizes Jenny as an assassin, pure and simple. 

I’m sure the program examines Laura‘s motives, but I’m not sure they really matter. Just as Quentin is a passion driven mirror for Barnabas, allowing us to appreciate the latter‘s contemplative nuance, Laura‘s destructive nature is the perfect foil for Angelique. Angelique‘s evolving heroism is perhaps the most truly interesting part of the 1897 storyline, and by seeing her in relief to Laura, it’s easy to begin viewing her as the more sympathetic figure.  Quentin‘s storyline is ultimately less tragic in the Greek sense, but it somehow feels sadder. he is surrounded by no one who seems to really love him. Jenny is crazy, so whatever she feels is going to change in about five seconds, disqualifying it from serious consideration. And Laura is a nightmare who never really loved him. However, both Josette and Angelique genuinely love Barnabas, and this makes us continue to care about him as a vulnerable figure, because he is presented as intrinsically lovable. Why? He is ultimately a good man, and his seeming flaws, which are his conscience-based indecision and the rash action he takes to compensate, finally show themselves as virtues. No, they are not necessarily part of the masculine archetype, but that’s the point. Barnabas is an extremely feminine thinker in a world surrounded by women. Quentin shows what you get with an excess of masculine thinking. He is lust and he is action. You know, everything that a man is supposed to be. So unlike Barnabas. But it only makes Quentin a magnet for women to exercise their wrath for wrath’s sake. And it also manifested self in the nature of his curse: he is revealed as the savage, lone wolf who never finds a pack.

If the largely feminine audience always liked Barnabas, but could never quite identify why, the presence of Quentin defines it by implication.  It’s the show saying, “OK, now here is a traditional man with the traditional psychological traits of a man. Yeah, he’s a lot of fun, but he also winds up sad and alone. look at Barnabas. Not really the traditional masculine figure at all. And he ends up being all the better for it.”

Television at this time was beginning to explore these redefined models of manhood in characters like Spock. but Spock’s decisions seem to originate somewhere between the cultural requirements of being a Vulcan and actual biological pre-determinism, also associated with being a Vulcan. Barnabas comes about it simply by thinking a little differently. In many ways, he exhibits the sort of masculine representation that we would see in someone like Hawkeye Pierce, so someone get him a martini.

Seeing Barnabas and Quentin working together on magical workings in this episode, we begin to enjoy the synergy possible when the two men combine to take power back from a strictly vengeful figure like Laura. Audiences, desiring both men, briefly had their beefcake and got it to bite their necks, too. This was on the mind of the zeitgeist, echoing the most psychologically insightful episode of Star Trek, “The Enemy Within.”  With that, author Richard Matheson concluded that the balanced masculine psyche required both the Barnabas side and the Quentin side. Dark Shadows has a slower burn, and eventually, and subtly, champions the feminine thinker over the masculine one. I would imagine that this is certainly a more appealing conclusion for a largely feminine audience, many of whom were dreading the daily return of their mid century modern nightmares of husbands who would be coming home every day shortly after the show’s closing credits would roll. But it’s also excellent modeling for boys watching the show, and somewhere, deep in the minds of mothers, there had to be more than one who quietly valued that positive modeling.  

You know, sort of. If you ignore countless moral feelings and the potential for supernatural violence. But those are aspects of Barnabas‘s personality that he doesn’t want. it’s telling that he should return to women again and again to eliminate those abilities.

Because they probably aren’t worth it.  Not really. 

This episode hit the airwaves on April 30, 1969.


Tuesday, April 20, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 13


By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 996

What has black hair, a bushy mustache, and swings a mean sword cane? Parallel Time, meet your new best friend. John Yaeger: Chris Pennock. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Cyrus transforms into the giddy, roughhousing swinger, John Yaeger, who immediately goes to the Eagle to romance Buffie. In the process, he deals with his romantic rival, Steve, with extreme prejudice. When he offers to pay for the damage with one of Longworth’s checks, Buffie drops a dime on him to Quentin. Yaeger is well aware of the betrayal, however.

April 13 is a significant day for me because it’s not only the day they taped episode 210, where the iconic hand of Barnabas Collins shot up to grab the 20th century by the throat, it was also one year before I was born. But by that time, 1971, Dark Shadows had been off the air for eleven days.

I was eleven when I saw Dark Shadows for the first time. That was in January of 1982. It was very much of a different world from 1967 or 1970, betrayed by hairstyles and hemlines, and yet, as adults are cursed to do, I will tell you what you may know better than I; eleven years is nothing.  The show had only been off the air for eleven years. Eleven years ago from tonight, Barack Obama was president. We had iPhones. Marvel movies were coming out… one, anyway. Daniel Craig was still James Bond. It doesn’t seem that long ago. And 996 features a performance and an interpretation of a classic character that are both shockingly modern. Ahead of 1970. Of 1982. And maybe of 2020.

April 13. I can think of few better ways to spend this day than with Chris Pennock. With episode 996, we do. And how.

It’s the first time we see John Yaeger flex his muscles in the fullest sense. From the get-go, although the makeup is more Goulet than ghoul, this is no ordinary performance. How much was Joe Caldwell? How much was Chris Pennock? Inseparable?


Dark Shadows has a rich history of improving the classics, thank you very much, as they reinterpreted venerable texts for a postmodern era. The original authors -- Shelley, Stoker, Wilde, James, Stevenson, etc -- certainly had the edges and luxuries of poetic language and originality. But with the edge of originality also comes the myopia of having to do this now-now-now, with no time to let decades and culture mull over the ideas in context. Essentially, those original authors were beta testing their ideas. The James Whales, Jimmy Sangsters, and Dan Curtises (Curti?) were perfecting them for wide release to the public.

Good. Evil. So clear for Victorians and Edwardians whose sun never sat, whose racial superiority was axiomatic, and who didn’t have the troubled teendom that was the 20th century yet under their belts. The Jekyll and Hyde concept is now, post-Freud & Company, just… weird. Richard Matheson fired the first shot with The Enemy Within, wherein both the “good” and “evil” sides had as much to recommend them as to condemn. Pennock and Caldwell take this even further, giving Dark Shadows its most philosophical (and dramatically ebullient) moment, sadly stuck in a storyline that is, you know, babysitting the audience because we got a movie to make, people. Look alive!

Maybe that was a good thing. Maybe they couldn’t have gotten away with this if Uncle Dan were at home. (Or if Drug Culture had not yet been totally villainized, and someone tell Cary Grant to give us his source.) When we meet John Yaeger, he might not be what we think of as conventionally attractive, but he’s also not the semi-simian grotesque that March, Cagney, and the other guys became. The early Hydes were childlike. Yaeger is a cocky young man in full. You know when women tell you (well, tell me) not to be too nice, what they’re really saying is not to be too reliant on their validation. John Yaeger is an army of self-validation. No self-doubt. It’s not that the opinions of others don’t matter, but they don’t seem to matter more to him than his own.

Okay, yes, he beats Steve mercilessly, but Steve is no prize and his grabby way with the biscuit hooks, re: Elizabeth Eis, would not exactly fly in under the flag of #MeToo Uber Alles. This is redneck-on-redneck action, and I say let the boys duke it out, which is actually my way of saying that Yaeger was not unprovoked. When he comes to life, it is with as much joy as malice. He is the continuum of human reaction, and say what you will, he’s honest. As I’ve noted before, it’s hard to tell what Yaeger would be like if things went his way. I imagine a pretty fun guy. Similarly, if he sensed true loyalty, he’d probably be the kind of dogged advocate everyone wants in a friend.

The problem with Yaeger is not that he’s too much of anything. The problem is that everyone else is too little. If everyone took a dose of Longworth No.5, he’d be on a level playing field. I’m not so sure he’d go nuts at that point because, well, as Robert Heinlein imagined, (in some cases) an armed society is a polite society. Until then, while there are few actions of his that we can reasonably commend, we can still get a giggle or more from the spirit. As for the execution? Again, perhaps this is only a performance that you can get away with when the boss is in Tarrytown. If there’s anyone whose emphatic sense of conflict relations might meet its match with John Yaeger, it’s Dan Curtis. Am I the only one who sees this?

This episode hit the airwaves on April 20, 1970.

Thursday, April 15, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 13


By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 210

Willie’s scheme to rob the Collins family of its wealth may cost him far more than riches when the dead rise to take vengeance. Timothy Gordon: Barnabas Collins. (Repeat; 30 min.)

As Liz pays off Jason to leave Collinwood, Willie escapes the house to plunder the Collins mausoleum. As he cracks open a sarcophagus behind a hidden door, a hand from within the tomb grasps him by his throat. 

This is the first episode that most of us in the pre-streaming generation ever saw. It may not have been the first Dark Shadows episode, but in every way that matters, it's the first episode of Dark Shadows.

We generally avoid thinking of it as the pilot of the series, because, let's face it, it isn't. To the delight of literalists and pedants everywhere, the first episode is cleverly entitled, “Episode 1.” (And my favorite part is where Burke Devlin has to talk David into the pod race so that he can get a sample of his blood.) But 210 is the first that matters. Yeah, I said it. And I’m not just being a weisenheimer. If you start with today’s episode, are you really missing much? Clearly not. We didn’t see those early episodes for decades, and it didn’t slow us down at all. More than most other shows, Dark Shadows is true theater. It deals with consequences rather than causes. That means that there is always some kind of past we didn’t see. There are always, even for completists, “unaired episodes” being referred to. Victoria’s Sanka is barely in the cup before she finds herself over a decade behind, if dealing with Burke and Roger, or twice that time if dealing with Liz, Carolyn, and the case of the slightly bent fireplace poker. We’ve always missed something on the show. Isn’t that the very core of the haunted house mythos? Protagonists in stories like that only exist because of what they don't know. Because of the threats they're trying to solve…  threats that came from someplace else. Usually wrapping them up in problems they weren't even alive to help create.

The Dark Shadows that begins with this episode was a success to the extent that, 55 years later, you're reading about it and I'm writing about it.  So it stands to reason that this episode contributed to that success in a unique way because it started it. Most people might look at episode 210 and conclude that it works because of its last five seconds. While you would think it's appropriate to give the hand a hand, it works as a pilot in other regards. In more important regards. Barnabas is hardly the first vampire we see in the episode. In fact, all of the men in the episode are vampires to one extent or another. Jason is exploiting Liz. Willie is exploiting Jason and attempting to exploit the Collins Legacy. And while the women are largely victimized by this, I'm not sure that you can call them victims. They certainly don't act like it. Liz legitimately thinks that she is ending the situation, and she comes off as a matriarch who seems very good at ending situations she wants to see buried in a sea chest in the cellar. Which is probably why Roger had gas logs installed in the fireplace. Still, Liz clearly has secrets, and Jason knows them to the extent that he’s calling way too many shots for a man with a hat like that. 

Villains and heroes are immediately evident. Liz is dancing for Jason like his name’s Bob Fosse, and that immediately roots us in a world where aristocracy is a ramshackle lie. But Jason also seems under the thumb of his own underling’s unpredictability. He’s the one pleading to Willie to come clean about his secret plans, and Willie taunts Jason with his ignorance of them. Jason’s sole power, we quickly see, is in Knowing Things, so this stymies our would-be heavy to a point where he seems downright human. Perhaps more so than the austere Liz. Certainly more so than the vaguely sanctimonious Victoria. These may be the forces of good, but evil seems more compelling and strangely identifiable. Because evil is just as powerless as we are in the face of a raw stupidity that is too dim to see the limits of its own great ideas. Hence, we see Willie’s ability to keep everyone subordinate… even more than the show’s blackmailing mastermind or the bedrock of Old Money American Power. 

Even before the long pantomime of Solving the Puzzle of the Mausoleum, we are treated to a compelling story about the collapse of American power and the strange charm of moral corruption via Jason’s Irish lilt. But it’s more than that. All of these people in the power chain have fooled themselves into thinking they are the top dogs while being knowingly undermined by the guys right underneath. That’s the paranoia that defines the American identity. Live by the redneck, die by the redneck. The only one who didn’t get the memo is Willie, whose clues to the family jewels are the ultimate wardrobe of Emperor’s New Clothes. They will only lead him to death, which is all that’s below him on the ladder down from the Olympus of Collinwood. 

Sure, Willie. You go exploit the rich. Spend it fast, baby. What you don’t know is that death has a lot of plans for you. And we love the ending because we all know what it’s like to be taken advantage of. Maybe this episode of Dark Shadows is strongest as a standalone, ending in a profoundly Rod Serling-esque place. Seeing it end like this is to see that at least one person isn’t playing the game. Barnabas has no moral inversion because a dead man has no need for moral order at all. It’s a relief that the cold and misanthropic universe -- the one that gives cancer to infants -- will also turn the relentless cruelty of its inevitability toward even the worst. The Willies of the world may think they have it by the ass, but death truly does come for us all.

It’s just that in 210, we can finally shake death’s hand. You know, after it chokes the life out of He Who Thought He Could Get Away With It. The painting of Barnabas serves as a warning of this, but no one is paying attention.

People in the house see the regalia on Barnabas and talk about how he liked to wear jewelry. But that’s not jewelry. He’s bedecked in the honors of war. These are the medals of a soldier. A decorated one. Barnabas Collins represents the strength that built Collinwood. A strength whose apparent absence allows a grubby second-hander like Jason to victimize Liz, and for Willie to keep Jason equally off-balance. 

Only, it’s a strength that is not absent. Just patient. It is a strength so undeniably resilient that even death is powerless to stop it. 

Through it, in a fashion, Liz has her revenge. Willie is trapped by the literally unthinkable, and we know that it’s only a matter of time until Jason is, as well. 

Perhaps we didn’t tune in to episode 211 to see if Willie survived. Perhaps we tuned in to make sure that he didn’t. 

And then everything changed. 

This episode was broadcast April 17, 1967.


Monday, March 29, 2021

Robert Rodan's Frankenstein

By PATRICK McCRAY

I wish I could thank Robert Rodan

It was a thankless part. The next big thing after Barnabas. Grand expectations that could never be fulfilled because of the intrinsic differences. But, if you have done Dracula, then you have to do Frankenstein, and someone is going to have to play the creature. I'm not sure if Frankenstein is scary or sexy so much as sad. And sad only goes so far without other, continuing factors to propel it. My hope is that fans look beyond that... and beyond the fact that this lonely and  desperate character was the focus of a storyline that began with great momentum, but, as with most Frankenstein stories, went nowhere. Then again, unless you are a keen student of literature, it can be hard to remember how most Frankenstein stories end. Something about torches and pitchforks. In that sense, the non-ending is as true to the legends as everything else on the show. 

On Dark Shadows, the journey is what matters far more than the destination, and in lauding his contribution to the show, this is essential to remember.  With his death, we have an opportunity to stop and remember that contribution with fresh eyes. It's ultimately inappropriate to compare Barnabas with Dracula. Yes, both are smooth and aristocratic vampires, but that's where the similarity stops. With Robert Rodan and Frankenstein’s monster, we have a much closer analog. 

It's a strange mix of both representing these literary inspirations  and moving beyond them. Few of the show's riffs, though, came as close to the source material as did Adam. So, it's safe to take a moment of license and admit that no other actor was ever given the chance to explore the world of Frankenstein's creation as Rodan.

It was a gift he did not squander. The irony is that a part so broad could be charted with such sensitivity and intricacy. The thing that fascinates me about the creature is that he is, in every sense, us. Few of us feel entirely as in command and knowledgeable of our abilities and circumstances as we like to appear. We are always learning. We're always making mistakes. We are always making dangerous things out of little knowledge. Often before it's even out of the box. Rodan captured the full breadth of that exploration with deftness and commitment. And in one part, he played a variety of them. From pantomime to smug, intellectualized chess mastery, Rodan showed brave command of each phase and of the many gray areas of his evolution between them.  As anything based on Frankenstein would necessitate, it's a philosophical evolution. Humans grow until they die, assembled from the dead and lost parts of life experiences that are constantly forced into new service, just like Adam with his awkward limbs drafted into new battles. Few of us are graceful at it. Less so than any of us will admit.

In his attempt to grow up as quickly as he can, Adam is equally endearing and embarrassing. Rodan embodied that with the right kind of shamelessness. At a certain point, you can't worry about shame. Most compelling characters are beyond it. And most soap villains start out at dizzying heights of power that are then toppled by love. Adam started out as an endearing, oversized infant and was manipulated into abusing that heightened power as it developed. It is a painful reflection gifted to us with joy by this multifaceted actor.  In a show where monsters are used to explore the learning curve of becoming Us, few did so with the forgivable kindness and heart of Robert Rodan. He was our sad friend and most disturbingly accurate reflection. So much of that was in the writing, but so much of it was in him. 

Saturday, March 27, 2021

Robert Rodan, 1938-2021

 

Robert Rodan died of heart failure March 25. The actor had an outsized presence on Dark Shadows, appearing in just 82 episodes in 1968 on the controversial "Dream Curse" storyline. For me, Rodan, and his interaction with cast members Humbert Allen Astredo and Thayer David are the saving grace of that storyline. "The Dream Curse" was never meant to be binge watched and is a bit of a repetitive slog for 21st century viewers. Rodan's petulant man-monster "Adam" and his struggles with living up to the impossible standards of his sketchy "fathers" make his episodes a joy, though. And I'll fight anyone who says otherwise.

It's always bothered me that Rodan never got the second chance on Dark Shadows that other, less interesting performers received. Perhaps he just didn't click with viewers. Most likely he just didn't click with show runner Dan Curtis. But it would have been nice to see him in fancy dress during one of the show's many historical flashbacks, perhaps playing the ancestor of one of Adam's "donors." And it would have been great to have seen Adam return to Collinsport older, wiser and more calculating. 

Sadly. Rodan's only other big credits were as a Spock-like alien in a 1969 commercial for Cheer laundry detergent, and a lead in 1969 feature film The Minx, which makes drafting any eulogy a challenge. Rodan returned to Collinsport momentarily in 2006 for the Big Finish audiodrama Dark Shadows: The House of Despair as "Man on Train," and again in 2006 for The Rage Beneath as "Oswald Gravenor." 

None of this leaves me with a lot to say about a man I never met. But you know what they say about the perspicacity of pictures ... so enjoy the images below. The first is a drawing I commissioned from Darth Vader & Son and Unlikely creator Jeffrey Brown a few years back. The rest should speak for themselves. 

RIP, big guy.

- Wallace








Thursday, March 25, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 22



Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 459

By PATRICK McCRAY

In the wake of his mothers suicide, Barnabas Collins vows to take revenge… if his father doesn’t shoot him with a silver bullet, first. Joshua: Louis Edmonds. (Repeat; 30 minutes)

Hearing that his mother is dead because of revelations by Nathan Forbes, Barnabas goes about the business of revenge. Meanwhile, Forbes responds with a crossbow. 

In 1795, the cherished friends and beloved relatives around Barnabas Collins have been dead for years. Barnabas was, too. Until, and you see this coming, he died. This would all be “electrocuting a dead horse” except that this arc mentions the concepts of death and life constantly. When Jonathan Frid delivers the line telling Forbes that bullets will have no effect because he’s already dead, he’s savors the words with unusually deliberate relish. In fact, he is at his most Shakespearean in this episode. Not because of an accent. Not because he stands around posing in tights, using archaic language. No, for legitimate reasons. Listen to his treatment of the really grand statements.  Words are stretched into multisyllabic wrappings over decisions and discoveries of cosmic import.  He’s not only getting the most out of their intentional weight.  He has found the dreadful music of death and revenge and the language that describes them.

We take death for granted on Dark Shadows. In 1795, it’s not just a consequence. It is the subject of philosophical heft without weighing the audience down with ascetic and academic self-consciousness about it. Death is both a metaphor and a very real state of being. For once, it has, by explored implication, been given proper attention… and by implication so has a meaningful life. We stand on the battlefield of fallen characters who have no voice. Well, except for one.

By finally standing outside of Life, there are no more appearances to keep up. Really, all of the rules of the living are what cost Barnabas his life. Was he in love with Josette? Perhaps social class taboos and a marriage prospect with a business prospect chaser kept him from confessing his true feelings, even to himself. I don’t call that living. 

The fact that Barnabas walks and speaks and feels is all of the proof we need that, on this program, death simply releases a cursed figure to explore living. Joshua, on the other hand, is a prisoner to expectations. His need to appear in control is so pervasive and toxic that it takes being in the throes of death for his wife to say she still loves him. 

Of course, the real journey of the storyline belongs to Joshua, reluctantly exploring and admitting the moments of humanity forbidden to him otherwise. It’s unclear how Joshua became so incredibly stoic, but I will guess that life at sea, having to coexist among pirates and slavers, changes a man. His charting of an underdeveloped sense of humanity exists less on the page, and so Louis Edmonds must be lavishly praised for his efforts to do so. In theory, it’s a broad part. Shouting. Taking umbrage.  Being at a loss for words on a nearly hourly basis. You know, those things are easy. They are a puckish southerner’s spoof of New England finery.  Underneath that is a keenly focused, gently urged character evolution. Frankly, if the actions of Angelique could not bring that about, the character would lack humanity, completely.

More than anywhere else, we see the effects of the curse. Exactly what she said: those he loved would die. But why make him a vampire at the same time? Of course, so that he could be the cause.  The triple somersault of irony being that, outside of the domain of the living, subsisting by the ethics and standards of the dead, Barnabas would eventually live to a point that he realized he loved Angelique. And that’s the one part of the curse that, in 1840, she forgot to lift. This isn’t a soap opera. It’s Shakespeare writing a Greek tragedy commissioned by Rod Serling

On a technical level, it’s not a soap opera either. An episode like this is the payoff that we somehow knew was possible while making our way through often hundreds of episodes of semi-repeated exposition with a sidecar of looming implication. Every time Dark Shadows has an episode like that, it carries with it an implicit promise for something more. This episode is as tight and propulsive as anything written for prime time. Frid, Edmonds, Joel Crothers, and Thayer David glide through the action with equal parts passion and confidence. There has never been better chemistry on the program than with Jonathan Frid and Louis Edmonds as Barnabas and Joshua. Opening with the immediate fallout from Naomi‘s suicide, and with the ticking clocks of Victoria's fate and the oncoming sunrise, it manages to go about solving its problems (and inventing new ones) with purposeful urgency that never devolves into sloppiness or panic. It’s too busy addressing the problems of the living with the insight of the dead.

This episode was broadcast March 28, 1968.
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