Tuesday, December 6, 2016

PODCAST — Dark Shadows: The Short Story Collections


In November 2016, across America and in the U.K., the first recording sessions took place for the 2017 Big Finish Productions DARK SHADOWS short story collections.

The collections feature the return of many favourite characters including Elizabeth Stoddard, Roger Collins, Dr Julia Hoffman, Professor T. Elliot Stokes and ... Harry Johnson.

I took the opportunity to visit the UK recording session to ask Stephanie Ellyne and Matthew Waterhouse about the stories they were performing. And Matthew, alongside fellow writers Rob Morris, Aaron Lamont, Alan Flanagan and Daniel Hinchliffe, joined co-producer Joseph Lidster to tell me about the tales they've got in store. You can listen to the discussion at the bottom of this post.

The last of the 2016 collections 'Haunting Memories' is out in December and  stars Kathryn Leigh Scott, Marie Wallace, Jerry Lacy and Lara Parker - reading her own story, her debut writing for Big Finish.

"Haunting Memories" is available for pre-order from Big Finish here:

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 6


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 382

1795. Attempting to reason out why Josette and Jeremiah eloped, the Countess and Abigail focus their attentions on the many ways in which Victoria is a little-too-coincidentally out of place. Naomi will have none of it, but while she confers with Vicki, Abigail searches her room. The rifling is disrupted as the cat explodes, revealing Joshua in its place. An interrogated Victoria hides behind a dim memory, a condition shared with a furious Joshua. As they try to understand what is motivating Josette and whether or not Victoria is responsible, Natalie and Naomi finish the search of the governess’ room, and they find modern clothes and a charm bracelet misread as occult. Abigail summons Trask from Salem.

Let’s just get it out into the open; I think it’s clear that Joshua remembers far more of being a cat than he cares to recall. He complains of a burning scent after regaining his human shape, but couldn’t he really be marveling at the taste of 1795’s equivalent of Whiskas still in his mouth? And the bigger question, still… and if no one else is going to ask, I will -- is his chamber pot filled with sand? Louis Edmonds has a feline quality, anyway. What habits remained? These deeply pertinent questions and observations are why we’re here. Are they dangerous to ask? Of course. But as Wallace explained when editing Sargon’s piece for the upcoming anthology, SMELL THE HAND OF MONSTER SERIAL, “I'm in command. I could order this, but I'm not because Edgar is right in pointing out the enormous danger potential in any reference to the fact that maybe Joshua liked being a cat a little too much, but I must point out that the possibilities - the potential for knowledge and advancement - is equally great. Risk! Risk is our business. That's what this Daybook is all about. That's why we're aboard her.”

Seeing Abigail as master detective is one of 1795’s highlights… much like the Ur-Mrs. Kravitz on steroids. The charm bracelet is a perfectly passable piece of evidence, but the 1991 series vastly improved upon it with the occult reading of Vicki’s clothes care instruction tags. “Cool iron,” indeed.

It’s taken the show a year and a half to name its ultimate bete noir, but in 382, “Trask” is mentioned for the first time. If he and his family are so intensely opposed to the Collinses, our stiff and secretive New England aristocrats are suddenly swingers by comparison. No, they’re not the anti-Collinses, but to devote so much time to their destruction? What do the Collinses have to earn such ire? Simple. For a Trask, that much power cannot exist with Abigail as the exception and not the rule. And each generation has different reasons for that. In 1795, it’s in the name of God. In 1897, it’s because the prideful are more easily gulled by the avaricious. In 1840, small-mindedness is advantageous to Trask in the saddest way; it’s a mediocrity commensurate with his own. Greatness is the birthright of a Collins, even if the greatness is grandly self-destructive. But even that kind of Gothic self-ruination requires a strange boldness and imagination. Trasks never lack for boldness. It’s much sadder than that. It’s the imagination they lack.

On this day in 1967, Adrian Kantrowitz performed the first human heart transplant in the United States, and the world took yet another bold step toward the future. I like that superstition was portrayed so honestly and ridiculously on DARK SHADOWS right before kids turned to the news and saw a life-extending triumph of science.

Never enough of that.

Monday, December 5, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 5


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 644

David and Amy search for an escape from the storage room in the west wing as Carolyn awakes from a nightmare about their deaths. Along with Roger and Liz, she sees her grandfather’s name -- Jamison -- written on her mirror. The family is galvanized into a search, but find nothing. Meanwhile, David and Amy find antique clothes that fit them all too well. A gift from Quentin? A sweet, Edwardian tune on a Victrola pulls Amy toward a wall that turns out to be hollow. Although the adults -- seemingly guided by the voice of Magda -- are fruitless in their quest for the kids, David finds a secret panel leading to an unknown chamber. They begin to crawl within.

When I hear ‘Dark Shadows,’ I don’t immediately think ‘vampire.’ Do you? I think haunted house, late at night, with a tempest outside hurling down rain like shards of rock from the hand of an angry god. 644? You deliver, and thus we get a marvelously respectable example to show someone as their first episode of DARK SHADOWS. We’ve known that Collinwood was haunted as hell since our first lectures on its history, and at last, the living residents take the battle to the undead, probing within to uncover their mysteries, armed with nothing but courage, foolishness, and candlelight. This is an episode where the characters don’t just allude to the past; they wrestle with it. Roger and Elizabeth must solve a riddle involving their own father. 1897 might sound like ancient history to use, but to them, it’s only seventy-one years in the past. For us now, that would be the equivalent of 1945, a time when my own my stepfather was a teenager. Doesn’t feel like so long ago, does it? (And, just for the hell of it, Dan Curtis was 25 in 1945.) We also begin the motif of ghosts forcing children into the clothing of their ancestors, a strange parallel to what the show was doing with their actors.

Also, let’s celebrate the first DARK SHADOWS performance of Quentin’s Song, “Shadows of the Past Night.” 1897 is such a gift to viewers, and a sentimental, inviting tune like this draws us further inward toward the mysterious, allusive world of Quentin Collins. It would go on to be a Grammy-nominated, Top Ten single in 1969, notably recorded by Andy Williams and Vic Fontaine.

On this day in 1970, the world lost Fred Stewart, the actor who played Dr. Reeves in the early part of the series. Stewart had an admirable Broadway career, appearing in original production of THE CRUCIBLE and CAT ON A HOT TIN ROOF. But not as Maggie. 

Friday, December 2, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 2


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 641

As Amy remains obsessed with the notion that her brother is appearing outside her bedroom window, crying, Victoria is similarly obsessed with Jeff. Strange sounds, the cry of the Widows (heard even by Amy), and the significant behavior of his watch all suggest that he is trying to reach her. Stokes, cock o’the walk as always, struts into Collinwood. Stopping short of setting off the smoke alarms with his testosterone, he nevertheless slays the ladies, including a charmed Amy. All too used to the fawning attentions of of emotionally disarmed women, Stokes turns his attention to Victoria. She implores him to, if not take her around the world, take her backwards in time to 1795. No dice. The only thing he knows is certain there is a hanging for witchcraft… it’s too dangerous, and so Stokes withholds the manly essence of his time warping workings. Later, hearing the calls of the Widows, Victoria makes a run for the cliffs of Widow’s Hill as Amy makes a call of her own… for the ghost of Quentin.

December 2! As has been said before, Thank God, It’s Frid-Day! Yes, it’s the birthday of Jonathan Frid, and what started as an annoyance to me now seems like a treat by Dan Curtis for the birthday boy; none of today’s episodes feature the Fabulous Mr. Frid. Yep, it’s JF’s feliz navidad, and I have no Frid Fawning to Savor. Sorry, kids. He’s the reason for the season, nevertheless, and like any good seasonal reasoning, I’m sure he’ll rise again for future entries. But for now, he has the day off.

Here's a photo, anyhow.
It’s a strange day at Collinwood… Fatalism Friday. We’re treated to a small-cast episode whose tight company and references to the Widows makes it a strange sibling to the offerings of the show’s first year. Is Vicki’s seeming desire to leap from Widow’s Hill total nihilism or an acknowledgement that at Collinwood, their unique temporal mechanics make death less than deadly? To know that death is the answer is both an utterly bleak end and yet, strangely, keys to George’s Argo is an oddly bittersweet powder that could only have come from the tip of Stokes’ pestle when swirled and ground in Collinwood’s mortar. Between the ghost of Quentin and the ghost of Jeff, I can’t tell who’s haunting whom. And that’s the great, cosmic mystery of the program.

Stokes is back in full strut in 641, issuing bon mots like confetti and revealing that, in the land of snappy zingers, writer Sam Hall is fully capable of giving Gordon Russell what for. It’s also the first of five consecutive episodes directed by “Penberry Jones.” I have to suspect that PJ was a pseudonym. Not only is it an hilarious moniker, like something out of FORBIDDEN ZONE, but the only thing I can find about Penberry is that he directed, yes, five consecutive episodes of DARK SHADOWS.

Warmongers rejoice! On this day in 1968, President Dick “Richard” Nixon named Henry “The Ultimate Aphrodisiac” Kissinger his security adviser. The world responded by giving us Lucy Liu on that day. Every action of aggression has an equal and opposite reaction by the cosmos.

Lara Parker Vs Lulu, 1971

Lou Reed released his last album on original music in 2011. LULU, an unlikely collaboration with Metallica, was called "one of the worst reviewed albums ever" by NME, which was one of the more diplomatic assessments of the sprawling 87-minute opus. The concept album was inspired by German playwrite Frank Wedekind's two "Lulu plays," which follow the misadventures of dancer-turned-prostitute who eventually runs afoul of Jack the Ripper. It was called "exhaustingly tedious" by Pitchfork, "an utter wreck" by The AV Club, and "one of the worst albums ever made" by The Quietus.

TL/DR: It was not well received.

By comparison, the 1971 stage adaption of the first of the Lulu plays, "Earth Spirit," got off light. It was savaged by New York Times critic Clive Barnes in a review that you can read in its entirety below. Lara Parker had the title role, leading an impressive cast that also included Dan HedayaDuane Jones of NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD and DARK SHADOWS alumnus Geoffrey Scott.

As with the "Loutallica" album, it was not well received.

The Lortel archives claims LULU ran for just a single performance, which seems unlikely but not impossible. The only performance date listed is March 27, 1971, which was just three days after Parker taped her final episode of DARK SHADOWS.

"We worked four of five months on that play, and it went through many changes," Parker told me in 2013. "That play could have been wonderful. It suffered from too many ideas. When you’re acting, you’re trying to fulfill the needs of the director. ‘Say this line this way. You have to move quicker through this scene. Play her like a kitten. Play her like a prostitute. Play her like a trollop.’ You’re constantly getting badgered by all these ways to do things, but the person who’s doing the creating is sitting out in the audience."

She also blamed the plays failure on her own performance.

"It should have been played completely different than the way I played it," she said, "I played it like a kittenish little sexpot and the critics didn’t like it, as well they should not have. But, when you’re young you don’t care about bad reviews. You still have your whole life ahead of you."

Theater: Lulu Returns
First drama of trilogy by Wedekind revived

March 28, 1971


Lulu is not as bad as she was painted at the Sheridan Square Playhouse last night by a company called the Metropolitan Repertory Theater. Lulu is the eternal-feminine heroine of a classic trilogy by Frank Wedekind called "The Lulu Plays." The first of these, "Earth Spirit" is what is being given here under the more appealing title of  "Lulu."

The two plays of the trilogy, "Earth Spirit" and "Pandora's Box," form the basis for Alben Berg's great, uncompleted opera, "Lulu," and perhaps nowadays the opera is so well-known and so highly regarded that to perform merely the play is tantamount ti producing Victor Hugo's "Le Roi S'Amuse" rather than Verdi's "Rigolette." Yet, the Wedekind is a classic European play, and the prospect of seeing it was most exciting. Unfortunately, the anticipation was almost all of the pleasure. The evening proved most tedious, but I cannot be persuaded that Wedekind was much to blame. The staging was deplorable and the acting varied uneasily between the competent and the atrocious.

Wedekind saw his Lulu as part earth mother and part immortal whore. She is all things to all men -- temptress, solace and eventually destruction. (In the sequel to this present play she ends up in London to be ripped by Jack the Ripper.) Writing at the end of the last century, Wedekind places his Lulu, a depraved yet gorgeous voluptuary, against a background of the shallow, pallid men who love her. The one man of substance who is tragically caught in her spell -- and the one man she loves -- she has to murder.

It is a strange play, full of a tortured Puritanism and that ambivalent just for sin that needs to extinguish the very thing it most hotly embraces. It is also a play that must surely be done expertly if at all. It is, after all, melodrama at a very high level, and without actors capable of walking its stylistic tightrope it crashdives to the ludicrous level of this present tatterdemalion travesty.

The director, Morton Siegel, has envisaged the play as a kind of commedia dell-arte harlequinade, which is kind of irrelevant mistake. Of course Wedekind demands a great deal of stylization -- as does his early idol Georg B├╝chner -- and there is nothing here that is intended realistically. But the stylization must carry a great deal more conviction that you will find here.

Lara Parker who plays Lulu is undoubtedly an attractive girl, yet Lulu needs perhaps less superficial prettiness and much more sensuality. Lulu is an animal -- Miss Parker is the kind of girl any boy would be proud to introduce to his mother, without any fear of Lulu seducing her.

The rest of the cast was far less attractive than Miss Parker. The whole production seemed rather a pity -- a chance bungled. But perhaps "Earth Spirit" is not the most viable of Wedekind. It might be interesting to see someone try his "Spring Awakening." But please, someone other than the Metropolitan Repertory Theater. 

Thursday, December 1, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: NOVEMBER 30


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1165

Daphne finds a letter from Joanna as a hooded specter appears intermittently. Samantha accuses Daphne of bringing Joanna’s ghost with her. Tad implores his mother to testify on Quentin’s behalf, but she demurs and later tells Desmond that she wants Tad away from the evil influence of Quentin on one side and Gerard on the other. Desmond admonishes her that Quentin is benevolent, unlike Gerard. The witchcraft trial begins… but it almost doesn’t. The prosecutor quits the case rather than indulge in something so medieval. No matter, Charles Dawson takes up the post for the state. He calls Samantha to the stand, who accuses Quentin of summoning Joanna’s ghost.

We mark one thing today. Yes, I’m certain that Vital World Events were going on that day, and very proud we are of all of them. But those potatoes can be savored only with the aid of an electron microscope compared to today’s event in DARK SHADOWS-dom. On this day, 46 years ago, David Henesy filmed his 276th and final episode. He was only fourteen years old by then yet was soon for artistic retirement after logging nearly one hundred hours before the cameras over three and a half years.

Despite his youth, it could be argued that he was one of the best elements of the show. So much of acting begins with showing up, knowing your lines, hitting your marks, and not bumping into the furniture. Not the highest bar, but with 22 minutes to do it, every day, every week, for years and years? Falling short of those is a forgivable sin under such circumstances. Henesy rarely fell short. So often, in fact, he met the challenge with a gusto that eluded a number of his adult costars. But beyond such workmanlike competence, his creativity as an actor had a deviousness whose freshness never expired. Regarding the material with which he was supplied, David Collins was most interesting in the first year. Later, David’s misanthropy just became typical adolescence, but the absolute glee he took in the first two hundred episodes of the show is one of the show’s most endearingly perverse indulgences. He is everything wrong, and you just gotta love him. Then he turns around and connects with Mitchell Ryan like glue with utter sincerity. And his scenes always work. Time and again during my projects, guests have watched a Henesy scene and declared, “He nailed it again!”

Then, he begins his transition out of the business. I say that with no happiness because I marvel at what he could have brought to adult parts. But I have more sympathy than regret. After all of those episodes of DARK SHADOWS, what was left? No wonder he retired. Say what you will about David Henesy, he had more than his hour in the limelight, and he made the most of it. And to watch him grow up, sadly leaving him as a proto-adult desperately failing in his attempts to be manly? Well, it gives most of us DARK SHADOWS fans yet something else with which we may identify.

On this day in 1970, George “The One Who Was an Authentic Genius” Harrison released his triple album, “All Things Must Pass.” I’m sure the irony was not lost on David Henesy.

David Selby joins the X-Men universe

David Selby has joined the cast of FX's upcoming X-MEN spinoff series, LEGION, according to his official website.

LEGION is scheduled to premiere on FX in February, but it's not yet clear what role Selby will be playing. The television show's IMDb listing has the cast and crew for three episodes listed, but does not yet include Selby's credit. Hopefully, producers will recall his roles in DARK SHADOWS and FALCON CREST and let him play a badguy, which is something he doesn't do much these days.

David Selby and Hamish Linklater in LEGION.
But the real question on the minds of fans is "How does this fit into Fox's X-MEN movie series?" It's easy to dismiss this show as a one-off but, since the success of THE AVENGERS a few years back, every studio has been trying to build its own "shared universe." Fox's DEADPOOL film has breathed new life into its X-MEN series, and it feels unlikely that the studio won't try to connect these movies to LEGION in some tangible manner. (If they're successful, it would certainly give the studio a leg-up on Marvel, whose television shows feel adrift from its cinematic offerings.)

And the connection to LEGION and the X-MEN universe is fascinating. The title character, a mutant named David Haller, is the son of X-Men founder Charles Xavier. In the comics, he's incredibly powerful and seriously disturbed. Haller was introduced in 1985 in Marvel's NEW MUTANTS comic, which featured a younger class of students at Xavier's School for Gifted Youngsters. I was an avid fan of this series at the time, but was both perplexed and amazed at the book's creative choices during these years. After more than a year of solid (if undistinguished) storytelling, editors paired writer Chris Claremont with artist Bill Sienkiewicz, creating a hybrid of superhero stories and arthouse comic. It's impossible to imagine that anybody was ready for that, but the book certainly had my attention.

Legion, as drawn by Bill Sienkiewicz.
Sienkiewicz was fresh off a head-turning run on MOON KNIGHT. Initially tagged as a Neal Adams clone, he began to expand his style on that book ... a style which exploded onto the pages on NEW MUTANTS in a way no mainstream comic had ever seen. Sienkiewicz rejected traditional panel layouts and line art in favor of a style that could barely even be described as expressionistic. It looked more like a psychic nightmare than a superhero comic. It was masterful work by a guy not even 30 years old at the time.

His art proved to be a problem for Marvel artists following in his footsteps, though. Many of his creations for the book were intensely idiosyncratic ... NEW MUTANTS characters such as Legion, Warlock and the Demon Bear looked utterly ridiculous when drawn by anyone else. It didn't take long for these characters to fall out of the ongoing story line after Sienkiewicz left the building.

While Sienkiewicz's style will also be an ill fit for television, the trailer below suggests it's still going to be a pretty nutty series.

Wednesday, November 30, 2016

The Dark Shadows Daybook: NOVEMBER 29


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 640

Amy speaks on the antique phone to the ghost of Quentin Collins, but he refuses to talk to David, leading the boy to start a seance. Vicki interrupts it, and Chris soon enters. Amy implores him to stay with her in Collinsport. Bolstered by Carolyn’s flirtatiousness and eagerness to host Amy, he is sorely tempted. That night, Carolyn and Chris share a drink at the Blue Whale, but the evening is cut short when Chris realizes that the sun is setting, the full moon is rising, and the waitress has the shadow of the pentagram on her forehead. Despite chaining himself to a radiator, Chris is quickly free after he transforms into a walking wolf. He sprints to the Blue Whale where he bursts in and savages the waitress.

With Adam, Nicholas, and Cassandra finally out of the way, DARK SHADOWS inaugurates its first major post-Barnabas storyline with a confidence that would read like a swagger were it not executed with such dignity. Why break with your protagonist? Whether they knew it or not, the writers were playing the long game. Yes, Barnabas attempts to help Chris and solve the Quentin issue, but his actions are fungible until happenstance channels him from the I Ching trance into his awaiting body in 1897. He’s quite literally the only man for the mission, but he’s more than up for it. Barnabas even commands his vampiric powers with an insouciantly stalwart sense of control. Yes, he realigns his moral compass thanks to his experiences with Adam and Blair, acquitting himself admirably. But he has no choice. Adam shares his soul and Nicholas is his demonic brother-in-law. In 1897, everything is a choice, and though those choices, we see the ultimate mettle of his character.

Back in late November of 1968, Barnabas is nowhere to be seen, however. Instead, there are new faces mixed with the old. Don Briscoe brings an entirely different energy to DARK SHADOWS as its temporary, resident protagonist. Few actors can vacillate as believably between desperate compassion and an electric sense of anger. Again and again, he suckers us in with kindness, turns with ferocity, and then reassures us that the anger is directed situationally, not personally. That layered nuance makes him an idea choice for a tortured lycan. Denise Nickerson’s energy and assuredness are an ideal compliment, making the brother/sister pair one of the shows most convincing, if unsung, duos. In this episode, Betsy Durkin continues to redefine and arguably elevate the character of Victoria Winters. I really hate that them’s fightin’ words. It’s a shame that she should only be aboard for the (first part of the) character’s Viking funeral. Or un-Viking, considering that she doesn’t burn.

A special triumph in this episode is the debut of their first, genuine monster, the actual, no-we’re-not-kidding werewolf. It’s an update of the Jack Pierce design, with a strangely mellowing emphasis on the nose and eyes. It’s one of the most human werewolves, despite its shock of wild hair, but it never lacks for athletic savagery. Alex Stevens, the stuntman behind the makeup, was a consummate daredevil, executing leaps and dives around the sets that are genuinely breathtaking. The very fact that there is, you know, a werewolf on the show really delivers on the promise of DARK SHADOWS’ conceit. But to see him so nimbly take potentially leg-breaking chances off railings and through windows is something truly unexpected.

November 28, 1968 saw the release of the controversially (un)covered album by John Lennon and Yoko Ono, TWO VIRGINS. It, um, was, um. You know, um. Have you ever heard Yoko?
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