Thursday, August 27, 2015

DARK SHADOWS: THE BEGINNING hits Amazon Instant Video

MPI Home Video has always had an interesting perspective on the early episodes of DARK SHADOWS. The show was on the air almost a year before the introduction of vampire Barnabas Collins, but those early episodes were never repeated on television until the Sci-Fi Channel began to broadcast the show in the 1992. On home video, these episodes are almost marketed as a different series, sold as subset videotapes and DVDs titled DARK SHADOWS: THE BEGINNING. The company's disinterest in the early episodes is extended to how it handles online piracy: Complete episodes from the show's prime are usually taken down quickly from YouTube, yet the first 200 episodes have been streaming (illegally) there for years.

Now, it appears that DARK SHADOWS: THE BEGINNING has been added to Amazon Instant Video. Exactly when this happened is anybody's guess. Amazon has it slated as a "recent" release and, judging by the other products around it, these episodes look to have been added within the last few weeks.

So far, the pickings are slim. The "Beginning" catalog represents the first 35 episodes, none of which have received any customer reviews. I love these episodes and maintain that they're essential in understanding the rest of the series, but the business model for including DARK SHADOWS on Amazon Instant Video seems a little ... faulty. I'm delighted they're available, but at $1.99 multiplied 1,224* times, it's just cost prohibitive. The DARK SHADOWS: THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL SERIES DVD collection routinely sells for about $350, but buying the series on an episode-by-episode basis from Amazon will run you more than $2,400. Yes, there are "season" packages available, but those are still more expensive than any of the individual DVD sets.

(* The first episode is FREE.)

Via: Amazon

Was Vampira the model for Disney's Maleficent? Probably.

Maila Nurmi (aka Vampira) and her cat, Ratface, in 1956.
Back in 2014, R.H. Greene wrote a compelling argument in support of the rumor that Maila Nurmi (aka "Vampira") served as a model for the character of "Maleficent" in Disney's SLEEPING BEAUTY. It's one of those legends that we'd all love to believe, but always seemed too good to be true.

And Greene's evidence is pretty compelling. Nurmi's datebook suggests the actress knew something about the inner workings of Walt Disney Studios in 1956, specifically the name of SLEEPING BEAUTY's casting director. Sadly, Disney's secretive corporate habits mean that there's no records of Nurmi serving as a model for arguably its greatest villain.

And then there's the sticky problem of how Nurmi's datebook identifies another film she worked on that year: GRAVE ROBBERS FROM OUTER SPACE. The traditional history of that film, shot in Novemeber, 1956, says that the film was re-titled as PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE well after production ... but Nurmi mentions taking part in the production that month of a movie she slugs as "OUTER SPACE PLAN 9."

Green said there's a possibility that Nurmi, who had a habit of using a pencil to make revisions to her datebook, might have later altered the title of the film.

"I saw no evidence of erasures in any of the entries that were turned over to me but that doesn't mean a look at the physical documents might not reveal more about them," Greene said during a discussion about this discrepancy at the Classic Horror Film Board. "I mentioned erasures because it's a standard practice for datebook dedicatees to pencil in future events in case they have to be changed, and I saw evidence of this dual entry practice in Maila's entries (though nothing looked to have been erased as indeed all the bookings I saw came to pass)."

Just because this evidence might have been altered does not make it more credible, in my opinion. Greene said he shared photos of Nurmi's datebook with Salon as part of his 2014 story, but the magazine opted to publish a text transcript rather than scans of the pages. And what happened the shortly after her work on PLAN 9 might lend more credibility to the SLEEPING BEAUTY legend, should those pages in her datebook ever be shared.

Maleficent in Disney's SLEEPING BEAUTY.
The Medford Mail Tribune: Dec. 23, 1956.
1956 was a not entirely pleasant year for Nurmi. In January that year she was the victim of sexual assault, something that newspapers at the time seemed to thing was funny. An asshole named Ellis Barber (aka "The Vamp") broke into her home and assaulted her for two hours, leading to "witty" headlines like "The Vamp Rips Off Clothes of Vampira." The year came to an end with a fire at her apartment near Christmas that caused superficial burns to her arms and hands.

You can see a photo at the top of this post of a bandaged Nurmi and her cat Ratface, who she credited with waking her during the fire. And here's where things get interesting.

The following week, a syndicated news account of the fire began to hit newspapers. These kinds of stories are generally considered filler by editors and are trimmed to fit "holes" on newspages. Some of these stories are trimmed more than others, but at least one version of the story mentioned that Nurmi was playing "a witch" in Disney's SLEEPING BEAUTY (see right). This information almost certainly came from Nurmi, whose datebook mentioned meetings with the studio the previous month.

Even better, SLEEPING BEAUTY wasn't released until three years later in 1959. If Nurmi was lying, why pick an unfinished, unreleased animated feature?

It appears that Nurmi was not among the fans of Maleficent's design, though. Her niece, Sandra Niemi, told Greene that she saw sketches made by her aunt that revised the character's iconic headdress.

“I was told Maila found work on a movie for Walt Disney,” Niemi said. “Then a letter came with a full sized sheet of drawings in pencil that Maila had made with what I know now to be Maleficent’s head, only Maila drew huge cat ears.”

Via: Salon 

Tuesday, August 25, 2015

Podcast: Creating this year's DARK SHADOWS tales

Will Howells chats with fellow Big Finish writers Roy Gill and Rob Morris about DARK SHADOWS, this year's audio dramas PANIC and THE CURSE OF SHURAFA, the late director Lela Swift, Dorian Gray, Edinburgh, the Dark Shadows Every Day blog and, of course, bacon. (You'll also get a teaser for the upcoming audio drama AND RED ALL OVER, which reunites Kathryn Leigh Scott and Mitchell Ryan!)

If you’re in Edinburgh this Wednesday you can see Roy Gill talking with Paul Magrs about writing as part of the Edinburgh Festival.

Listen to the episode streaming above, or download it as an MP3 by clicking HERE.

And subscribe to THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY podcast on iTunes for free by clicking HERE!   

Metallica guitarist loans monstrous collection to SFO Museum

By day, Kirk Hammett is the lead guitarist for Metallica. By night (or whenever the hell he feels like it, I guess) he's also a world class collector of horror memorabilia. Among the items in his collection are Bela Lugosi’s annotated screenplay for DRACULA, monster kid-era model kits from the 1960s, paintings by Basil Gogos and Frank Frazetta, screen-worn costumes from Universal's classic monster movies ... well, you get the idea. He owns a lot of cool shit.

In 2012, Hammett chronicled his life as a collector in the fully illustrated book TOO MUCH HORROR BUSINESS. If you're passing through San Francisco International Airport this year, though, you'll have the opportunity to view some of these rare collectibles yourself. Hammett has loaned dozens of items to the SFO Museum, which has them on display now at the Terminal 2 gallery. The collection went on display in May and will continue to frighten travelers until Dec. 6 this year.


Famous Monsters sounds the death knell for DARK SHADOWS

(Note: I've got mixed feelings about sharing this feature. The text of this article is not among Famous Monsters' best ... given the magazine's proud tradition of purple prose, that's saying a lot. A few years earlier, Famous Monsters showcased DARK SHADOWS with interviews and lengthy photo series, but NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS received a fairly mundane summary and a selection of badly cropped photos. After sharing the magazine's other features on DARK SHADOWS, I felt obliged to include this one, which only gets interesting during its final paragraphs. 

If this issue is evidence of anything, it's that the death knell of DARK SHADOWS had been heard by everyone by the time this magazine hit the racks in 1971. Even the ever cheery cheerleader that was Famous Monsters couldn't muster the enthusiasm to pretend another film or television was on the way. While the magazine's story about NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS is forgettable, the show's obituary at the end is heartfelt.)


Wouldn't you be scared out of your skin if you came upon your own skeleton from a previous life? Well, that's the predicament that Quentin is in as he discovers the mortal remains of himself when, in a past existence, he was known as Charles Collins.


Imagine a great old decaying dark house, a survivor from the 19th century, where you might expect to be served a meal by a butler resembling Boris Karloff.

Walk down the dimly-lit gallery, where the ghost of Ann Radcliffe might materialize from behind a great gray curtain.

You are there: in the macabre mansion known as — Collinwood.

And to Collinwood comes young artist Quentin Collins (David Selby), who has just inherited the vast estate. With him, his bride Tracy (Kate

The young pair are awestruck by the hugeness of the house and the lavishness of its furnishings.

On hand to acquaint the pair with their new home is Carlotta the housekeeper (Grayson Hall). Miss Drake has lived in Collinwood since childhood.

High in the upper reaches of the mansion is a tower room. The first night, Quentin is mesmerically drawn to the room. Inexplicably, the next morning he remembers nothing of his nocturnal adventure.
Tracy has her share of concern: at breakfast she is unnerved to observe sinister man staring at her from the grounds. Two large fierce dogs accompany the mysterious man. Carlotta calms her fears by explaining, “He’s Gerard (James Storm), my nephew. He's the caretaker of your estate."

Later,  when Quentin goes to inspect the stables, he meets the man Gerard. Gerard recommends a particular horse to Quentin as being a gentle beast but the recommendation turn out to be far from the truth; the animal proves to be quite wild.

While Quentin is mastering the horse, he suddenly has a strange vision of a funeral.
Stranger yet, the mourners are dressed in the style the early 19th century.

As Quentin’s queer vision fades, his horse bolts, almost galloping into a car driven by Claire Jenkins (Nancy Barrett), a woman who lives with her husband Alex (John Karlen) in a cottage on the estate. They are old friends Of the Collins family.

Quentin. undecided as to which room out of the many he should employ as his studio, asks the advice of Carlotta.

"Why not the tower?” she recommends.

"It's quiet, remote from activity, ideal for concentration.”

Everything Carlotta says is true, and yet … somehow the suggestion fills Quentin with a sense of sinister foreboding.

That night, almost like the somnambulist from Dr. Caligari’s cabinet, Quentin again ascends to the tower. It seems to exert some hypnotic influence over him. Yet the next morning he remembers nothing of the visit.

However, he has another vision. This time the hallucination takes to form of two brothers quarreling in the master bedroom of the estate: one brother if Charles, who resembles Quentin to a remarkable degree; the other, Gabriel (Christopher Pennock), Angelique’s husband.

As the days go by, Quentin is increasingly troubled by visions.

He discovers portraits of Angelique by Charles Collins — or is it imagination? — that he sees Angelique (Lara Parker) being dragged from the tower room by her angry husband.

Quentin continues his nocturnal visits to the strange tower room, which draws him more & more like magnet, like a helpless fly to a spider’s net. And something new has been added: someone awaits him there — the ghost of Angelique! And Angelque is very amorous.

Gerard becomes mad with jealousy and one night attacks Quentin while he is in his trance-like state in the tower. Tracy awakens intervenes; her husband, still mentally in the past, still tries to kill her!

Quentin later remembers nothing of his savage attack on his own wife. He becomes more & more preoccupied with what he calls his “daydreams.”

Carlotta claims to be a reincarnation of the daughter the housekeeper who looked after Collinwood in previous life. From knowledge remembered from her past existence she tells Quentin a terrible truth:
“Angelique Collins was hanged as a witch!"

Anil more: "And you, Quentin Collins, are the reincarnation of Angelique's lover, Charles!”
"No, no! I can't believe it! I won't! cries Quentin.

But slowly, surely, insidiously, Charles’ personality takes over Quentin.

Next, Claire & Alex are attacked in their own cottage. Not by a human, flesh-&-blood prowler, but by — "A ghostly phenomenon!” They warn the young couple: “A upernatural danger threatens us all!”

And that same night Quentin tries to drown his own beloved wife when, under the influence of Angelique the witch, he is drawn to the old ruined swimming pool of the estate.

Terrified Tracy flees to the Jenkins’.

As usual Quentin remembers nothing of what happened during his hypnotic trance and is horrified when Carlotta tells him. She tells him something even more shocking: “Gerard has gone to kill your wife!”

Quentin arrives on the scene in time to see sudden death: his wife killing Gerard in self-defense.

Claire & Alex, Quentin & Tracy return to Collinwood. “It is clear what we must do now: exorcise the ghost of Angelique.”

But all evil spirits resist destruction and Tracy is trapped in cellar room and attacked by the wicked witch Angelique.

In the nick of time, Quentin & Alex save Tracy.

Then Angelique appear to Quentin. “I renounce you, evil spirit!” he cries. “You and the spirit of Charles. Begone!”

The spirit seems to fade (seems) and Carlotta, hysterical, jumps from the tower to her death.
Quentin his bride have had enough. They prepare to leave Collinwood with Claire & Alex Jenkins.
But — one last thing — Quentin returns to the room to get his paintings.

He should not have.

There’s the story behind this latest Dark Shadows film and this (can you take it?) is it:
June 1966.

The first episode of the first Gothic soap opera appears on ABC-TV.

It is called Dark Shadows and no one would then would have predicted how far these sinister shapes would creep.

The action (and there was plenty) took place in Collinwood, an ancient house in Maine. After several months of a plot featuring sinister, but natural, menace. A new element was added that really caused the ratings to soar:

The supernatural.

A vampire entered the corridors of Collinwood in the the darkly attractive form of Jonathan Frid.
And Dark Shadows settled into a supernatural groove that attracted a fantastically varied audience in the millions. Among the most faithful of the Dark Shadows fans (to this editor's certain knowledge): Fritz Lang. far-famed director of M. DR. MABUSE, THE WEARY DEATH, THE SECRET BEYOND THE DOOR and many other film classics.

Character actress Grayson Han became the familiar figure of the lady doctor who a contracted a case of vampiritis— that is, she fell in love with Jonathan Frid.

Quentin Collins was a malevolent ghost from the past of the old house.

Lara Parker was the witch who brought men to their doom.

Chills & thrills were provided by the many plots of varying lengths, often (via "'parallel time") taking place in other centuries, Worlds of If where even more variations of the familiar characters were introduced.

For awhile there was a Frankensteinian element to the episodes; at another time, a, wolfman was featured.

Last year Dan Curtis produced the first full-length film version of the TV series and HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS was one of the big horror hits o the year. The 82nd issue of FM featured a 10-page filmbook on the movie.

Early in '71, Dark Shadows, after five frightening years, finally went the way of all flesh (?) and "died". Not since the discontinuance of Star Trek did fans set up such a howl of protest.

To satisfy frustrated D.S. fans holding their breath for more of their favorite phantoms, MGM (Macabre Ghost Movies) has now produced the sequel to the original. Production, appropriately enough, began with a funeral and a mausoleum. The Weatherman cooperated to produce cold & drizzly day so that the mourners had an authentically woebegone appearance.

The séance scene promises to be one of the most nearly authentic ever seen on the screen as it was supervised by a world-famous authority on psychic phenomenon. When the mediumistic sequence photographed in the dimly-lit gallery of Collinwood, several takes were spoiled by

Ghosts, rapping with one another?

Well, that about wraps it up,


Get JINXED for just 99 cents today!

The Kindle edition of Kathryn Leigh Scott's JINXED is available today from Amazon for just 99 cents. The book is a sequel to her 2013 novel, DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HEELS. Here's the official summary:
Back on the comeback trail, actress Meg Barnes, beloved for her role as amateur sleuth Jinx Fogarty in a renowned detective show, assumes she’ll star as Jinx in the revamped TV series, only to discover that a young ingénue has been cast instead. Meg swallows her pride for a paycheck to coach Chelsea Horne—until temperamental Chelsea goes missing before filming begins. Meg ignores the warnings from Jack, her FBI-agent boyfriend, not to do her “Jinx thing.” But when Jinx’s iconic top hat goes missing and someone from her past is murdered, it’s clear Meg’s life—and more—is in jeopardy.
Via: Amazon

Monday, August 24, 2015


You might have noticed something funny going on with the first volume of THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION. The Blu-ray collection, released less than a year ago by Scream! Factory, is no longer available from Amazon ... but is currently being sold by third party vendors for outrageous prices.

A few minutes ago, Scream! Factory announced the collection has been discontinued because of rights issues. "Unfortunately we have lost our rights to put the films included in that set in a multi-film collection. What this means is that our VP COLLECTION will soon be going into an out-of-print status," it was announced at the Facebook page for Scream Factory.


While the online prices for the collection are soaring, you can still get it directly from the distributor for the original sticker price of $59.99. If you snooze, you lose. UPDATE: THE VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION is now SOLD OUT.

Note: These rights issue apparently don't affect VINCENT PRICE COLLECTION VOLUME II.

Via: Facebook

Interview with the (Romantic) Vampire, 1970

(Here's that interview with Jonathan Frid that I mentioned last week. The story was published by a newspaper in Hartford, Conn., not far from some of the locations used in HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS. Included are a handful of photos that accompanied the story, plus a few images from HoDS to help break up the text. It's an interesting interview  not just because of Frid's frankness about his growing impatience with celebrity, but also because it of some rare commentary from his assistant, Nancy Brown.)

Romantic Vampire 
By Ruthanne Devlin, The Hartford Times
Aug. 9, 1970

Nine million jealous women would like to see Nancy Brown contract an incurable tropical disease, or be bitten by a death adder, or in some way simply disappear from the face of the earth.

Hard to believe?

Not when you know that Mrs. Brown, formerly of West Hartford, is personal secretary to Jonathan F rid, ABC television's famous romantic vampire and a bachelor whose fan mail and mash notes from teen-boppers and housewives once surpassed Steve McQueen's, and is still going strong.

In the two years since we last talked, Jonathan's acquired a measure of artistic stability, a new apartment on New York's East Side, and a new secretary, Nancy — who takes casually the whole madness of, her boss's fantastic popularity and his fans' envy of her.

Later, Jon would join us. For the moment, Nancy agreed to talk about him.

During the six months of her employ, she's had few reminders that Jonathan, from 7 a.m. to 6 p.m. Monday through Friday, endures the "curse of the undead" as Barnabas Collins on the daytime soaper "Dark Shadows" (telecast in Hartford at 4 p.m. Chs. 6, 7, 8 and 40).

"It’s odd, really. He's so normal! It's like he goes off to IBM every day," Nancy said. "He rarely talks shop and never acts like a vampire around here."

Occasionally, however, strange things happen.

Jonathan and secretary Nancy Brown go over fan mail.
"We were looking around in a store when this bunch of teen-age girls began pounding on the window and crying 'Barnabas, Barnabas!' They were so rowdy because of him, I forget when I'm with him how popular he is, because he isn't the egotistical, theatrical type."

Although born in Manchester, Nancy grew up in West Hartford where she lived until her exodus to New York City in 1962.

"I never had reason to go back to Manchester," she began, because my family had moved to Hartford and "Windsor, Now I've got a sister in West Hartford, a brother in Wethersfield, and my mother Mrs. Richard Kirschen and another sister living in Windsor.”

Neither "Dark Shadows" nor the name "Jonathan Frid" meant anything to her when a friend mentioned an actor-friend was looking for a secretary. Conveniently, Nancy was looking for a job. They went for a hamburger and she was introduced to Jonathan.

“In the beginning I actually gave the job away to a girl friend because the hours weren't right," Nancy recalled. "After a while, she took a cruise and I got the job back. Jon and I agreed on a one-month trial, things clicked, and I stayed. "

Operating out of his apartment, Nancy reads and clips articles about Jon, helps organize his phenomenal fan mail ("I pick it up in huge shopping bags"), plans and is hostess for his dinner parties, arranges interviews and prepares an occasional meal.

"I’m around simply to coordinate everybody else," she mused. "Jon's already got a lawyer, an accountant, a maid and an agent. But being at the studio all day, he doesn't have time for the other things. And," she added, “a man who isn't, married can get bogged down with all the trivia like grocery shopping."

Nancy considers Jon relatively unaffected and "terribly thoughtful." Ironically. She also sees these traits as his one great fault: He's too easygoing for his own good.

“I always had the idea from past experience that people get less nice as they get more famous, but not Jon, His acting to him is just a job.

“Maybe it's because he's been through a lot, but he often thinks about himself and what kind of person he is, Because of this, I don't think he demands enough of others, especially in this world where you get only what you really go after. Jon doesn't like to say 'no' or demand things, and someday that might hurt him professionally."

Jonathan Frid is mobbed by fans at Norwalk during the shooting of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS.

Maybe someday, but right now Jonathan couldn't be busier. He has one of the largest personal followings in television He shares top billing with veteran actress Joan Bennett on "Shadows." After a I0- to 12-hour day at the studio, he returns to his apartment for a quick meal and several hours' study on the next-day's script. Weekends are given to more script study or appearances as Barnabas at special events, like Tricia Nixon's Halloween party.

Recently he completed his first movie, a full-length film based on and titled after "Dark Shadows,” two weeks of which were shot on location at the Lockwood-Mathews mansion in Norwalk.

Visitors expecting the actor's apartment to be furnished like a "Dark Shadows" set are surprised when there isn't a Gothic chair, guttered candle, or cobwebby corner in sight.

"I'm not sure the Spanish over there is Jonathan, but everything here is much softer than I expected," Nancy admitted. "He's a big- man (over 6 feet tall) and I had imagined big, hunky furniture, very old. Of course, I was going more by his looks than his nature. Now I know he's really very gentle and has a soft nature and all of these soft things make sense.”

Jonathan emerged from his bedroom as Nancy described the incredible variety of presents bubble gum, food fans send crushers decked out in flashing lights and plastic flowers, full size oil paintings, “I'm not wild about all the portraits," he began, in a voice 10 years enriched by Shakespearean theater, "but there is a grotesque one I like. It's very pink (the colors are not to be believed) but it has a tortured look and I like to think I'm tortured.”

Unafraid of Barnabas/Jonathan, this little girl engages in animated conversation with the actor.

Jonathan's convincing performances as Barnabas Collins, a romantic gentleman cursed and tainted by vampirism, have brought headaches as well as satisfaction. He is most disturbed when people act as though they believe he's a real blood sucker!

"You expect that sort of thing from youngsters, but when adults I think, 'My God, they vote!’”

Softening, he agreed there was merit in fantasy.

"I suppose we go through life as children. But it's a kind of sloppiness of the mind when imagination wins out over reason. When an actor I see on stage does an especially fine job, I get very uptight when someone I'm with wants to go backstage. I’m so in awe, I don't want to meet him."

The actor wished some of that reluctance had rubbed off on his fans in Norwalk who crowded sets and threatened to disrupt the entire shooting schedule of the movie.

"I was never more unattractive to the public than at Norwalk," he said apologetically. "The film was having problems. I was in a vile mood and there were those kids (someone said 4,000) everywhere. Heaven knows how they found out we were there.

"It was impossible to keep them out of the house, too many doors,” he continued. “I didn’t dare encourage them by chatting and being nice, so I didn’t.”

The film won’t be released until early September, but several Norwalk teens know the ending. In fact, they witnessed the death of Barnabas Collins.

“We thought we had cleared the kids out, but several sneaked in again,” he related. “During the final scene, my 'death scene,' was alone on the floor waiting to begin when I saw a bunch kids hiding in a room just off the set, watching me.

"I figured, so long as they’re quiet, let them stay," He chuckled. "They might have caught my look, because they didn't make a sound. And, there was enough of the actor's ego left in me to  appreciate an audience, so I played the whole scene knowing 20 kids were watching. Afterwards, there were a few gasps and they scurried away like mice."

In the beginning Jonathan researched his role, but now he just plays his moments and leaves the intricacies up to the writers. Since that day three years when Barnabas Collins, clad in his caped coat and carrying this silver wolf’s head cane, glided onto the set, the actor has shaped his character until now the lines of are fuzzy.

“We’ve gotten closer over the years, and to a certain degree — I don't know where — I play myself. Or," he reflected abruptly, "maybe I'm getting more like him.”

Jonathan has serious feelings about vampires. First, he's certain they're around, although his definition is a little different from Bram Stoker's "Dracula."

"A vampire to me is someone who can't sustain a give-and-take relationship. These are one-way people, only taking.

"In that way, Bela Lugosi was a better vampire than I could hope to be. He was so cold-blooded and passionless; he would command and someone would obey. I do that sometimes when I'm being very evil, or putting the zap on somebody, but mostly I'm engaged in a passionate give-and-take. I'm always in love, which in a sense makes me a bastard vampire.

"If I played it properly," he reflected, "I'd be the most hideous thing on earth- Instead, I come off as a human being with a terrible affliction. It's the agony of knowing what I am that comes across. My awareness of myself is equal to the horror experienced by the audience."

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