Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 17


Jeb begins his quest for revenge by overseeing zombies burying Quentin alive, while Nicholas smashes Julia’s experiment to keep Jeb in his permanent form. Nicholas tries to convince Jeb that he can never be fully human, and that his destiny is to marry Carolyn and then convert her into a Leviathan. After another meeting with Carolyn, however, Jeb’s love and drive to take control of his own destiny is revitalized. Meanwhile, Maggie visits Barnabas and, directed by the tattoo on her hand, draws him with her to the site where she senses Quentin is buried. They unearth him in time to save his life, and she and Quentin acknowledge their feelings for one another. Meanwhile, Jeb approaches Barnabas with Nicholas’ plan to unite him with Carolyn that evening. Later, as Nicholas begins the ceremony at the Leviathan altar, he calls for Barnabas at the last second. Barnabas rescues Carolyn as Jeb pulverizes the Naga Box. Nicholas hurries Jeb out, cursing him, as the Leviathan altar bursts into flames.

This. This is one of those DARK SHADOWS episodes that I love, adore, and fondly remember. Wallace is, as always, right. In his words, DS doesn’t tell a story; it accumulates it. Nevertheless, even such a storytelling model has a climax, and 965 delivers. In maybe the series’ tidiest example, love redeems (and often destroys) evil, and seeing Jeb and Barnabas take violent and definitive action inspired by that is just grand. Chris Pennock is impossible to dislike, and seeing him round the corner from heavy to romantic lead is a superb payoff. It’s a shame that the character won’t last, but with Barnabas and Quentin already on the scene, there’s only so much opposition the writers can throw at the Collins family without introducing Darkseid, Thanos, or a Billy Joel cover artist. I've been immersed in directing DRACULA, so deadlines have become somewhat abstract. It's, if you haven't noticed, no longer the 16th. However, this episode is one of the biggies. Watch! Enjoy!

On this day in 1970, we said goodbye to Hollywood’s great, golden age composer, Alfred Newman. Nominated for a stunning forty-three academy awards, he is also known for writing the 20th Century Fox fanfare, on the shoulders of which, Lucas and Williams merely had to hop to create the emotional high of the beginning of the STAR WARS films.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 16


Having learned that she has been selected in the lottery, Catherine believes that her disbelief in the curse will help her survive. Everyone else power-of-suggestion’d themselves to death. (Or went mad. Or possibly went mad and killed someone else.) Morgan begs her not to go… as does Daphne… as does Bramwell. She holds fast. Bramwell receives the portrait of his father -- the classic Barnabas painting -- as a wedding gift. Although touched, he’s obsessed with the idea that Catherine is carrying his child. When she and he meet alone, she tells Bramwell that she wants to disprove the ghost because dispelling the superstition will save lives in the future -- specifically, the one she’s carrying. When she goes to the haunted room, she finds it locked. Morgan is within; he says that he will spend the night there in her stead. 

“Loud noises!”
-- B. Tamland, climate journalist

That sums up Keith Prentice the more I watch the character of Morgan. I go easy on actors, and yet Prentice performs as if he’s unaware that there is a boom mic over his head. If Lara Parker claimed to have tinnitus as a result of the opening scene in this episode, I wouldn’t be surprised. The man can project, I’ll give him that. 

Two highlights in the episode. One is the golf-clap moment when Bramwell is presented with the portrait of Barnabas, and Daphne notes the eerie resemblance. I think a moment like this is part of the ritual. Is it fan service? Yes, but I am a fan and I like service, so there. The other moment worth appreciating is right at the very beginning. For a show that bread-and-butters itself with the supernatural, DARK SHADOWS has a healthy appreciation for skepticism. Catherine has a refreshingly rational approach to the haunted room, and I think it’s an important and subtle message slipped in for viewers. 

On this day in 1971, the Hell’s Angels sued the Rolling Stones for making them look bad. No, I’m not making this up. Footage of Altamont in GIMME SHELTER showed the stabbing death of Meredith Hunter, the murder of whom Angel Alan Passaro had just been acquitted. They sued on the basis of “invasion of privacy.” 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 15


Broadcast on this day in 1991: Episode 8

Barnabas and Josette enjoy a lusty reunion while Angelique casts a spell to unite the prospective bride with Barnabas’ brother, Jeremiah. Her plan is so successful that the two escape to Boston and elope, but Barnabas pursues them. After the two men are reduced to physical combat, Jeremiah reveals that he and Josette have married. Having been bested in battle by Barnabas, Jeremiah demands the satisfaction of a duel. Victoria’s family history tells her that this is how Jeremiah died, and tries to thwart the duel alongside Sarah, but to no avail. Barnabas vows that no harm will come to his brother, and when it comes time to load the pistol, he pockets the ball. However, Angelique casts a passionate spell that fires a separate blast, killing Jeremiah when Barnabas pulls the trigger. The family is shattered, and Abigail blames Victoria for the sorcery behind Jeremiah’s death. Meanwhile, in the present, a confused Phyllis Wick arrives from 1790 in Vicki’s place, dying of diphtheria. Modern Barnabas is terrified; he recalls her dying from it. Could the same fate befall Victoria? And if Mistress Wick dies, will that strand Vicki in the past?

Like the episode before it, Ep.8 betrays a series running at full steam, seasons ahead of most successful shows. The 1790 flashback is an underrated triumph for DARK SHADOWS, economizing in many ways, luxuriating in others, and taking (some of) the best of that storyline and distilling its essence from a marvelous wine into a powerful grappa. As with an HBO series season, the promise of seven episodes begins to pay off around the eighth. The cast is now more than confident; they are enthusiastic. Ben Cross may seem a bit lost as the Barnabas of 1991, but the Barnabas of 1790? Completely in his element. The casting of Adrian Paul is spot-on, as well. He has a miniscule portion of two episodes to make an impression as a vital catalyst for Barnabas, and the man succeeds. (I’ve heard a rumor that he was to play Quentin had the show continued. But I’ve also heard that Dan Curtis offered the part once more to David Selby.) Soap operas are often about the repression of emotion. You know, quiet desperation and all that. In this, emotion -- Hollywood-sized -- takes the top bill. Sentiment is somehow more heartening. The anger is justifiably explosive. Regret is at operatic levels, hold-the-soap-thank-you.

And the passion? It feels ahead of its time for 1991. The love scenes between Barnabas and Josette have honest, raw, lusty abandon. And the magicks forged by Angelique? Is it just me, or does it look like the unseen Magic Wand she uses while casting her spells was made by Hitachi? Lysette Anthony is shameless in the best way, behaving for all the world as if she’d wandered off the set of a Ken Russell movie and couldn’t tell the difference. That doesn’t interfere with the pathos of the story. If anything, it puts it into a context that makes this version Angelique all the more perversely hateful. She revels in the pain of others not only because the result brings her pleasure, it seems that the process itself does, as well. Intense, romantic, and ripe with supernatural intrigue, this episode reminds me just how much I enjoyed the 1991 show as it evolved.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 14


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 432

Barnabas rises to find Abigail on the prowl outside his coffin. He angrily explains how wrong she has been about the source of evil in Collinwood, but she remains obstinate. When she learns the truth of Barnabas’ fate, the shock kills her. At Collinwood, Naomi and Daniel chat, speaking of the value of honesty and kindness. Trask enters and asks to speak with Daniel alone. There, he presses the boy for information regarding Victoria, finding every inadvertent reason to cite her secularism as evidence of her occult leanings. Daniel takes exception to being told he bears the Devil’s Mark and flees. Naomi and Trask eventually hear him calling for them, and find that he has stumbled upon the dead body of Abigail.

This episode is one of DARK SHADOWS’ most inflammatory… if people pay attention. They underplay it so much, however, that it somehow slips by. That could be why it’s not on the cultural radar. Maybe religious viewers were less uptight back then. Maybe there was a sense of ideological safety in greater numbers. Or maybe they were simply smart enough to separate fiction from real life and see Trask as representative of nothing more than Trask. But if someone wants to be offended, and so many do, this is a great place to start. Trask and Abigail (“Trabigail”?) were never good representatives of the religious, but it’s Trask’s lack of ranting that actually gives this episode a sense of danger. It’s most insidious when he gladhands Daniel, casually questioning him, turning each statement regarding Vicki into “obvious” evidence of her guilt. He seems so convinced and full of conviction -- seemingly on Daniel’s behalf -- that even I want to rise up and follow him. Yet the content of what he says is pure, fear-mongering evil. Does he mean it? Is he just twisting a religious ontology to suit his needs? Or is it both, with a line so ambiguous that even Trask doesn’t know where it is? And doesn’t care. That may be the most frightening possibility of all.

A bit of housekeeping. Yesterday was Terry Crawford’s birthday, and I meant to note it. So, I’m noting it now. And on this day in 1968, the very first 911 phone system was being installed in Haleyville, Alabama. It would begin service in two days. 

Freak people out with these DARK SHADOWS Valentine cards

The idea was to mash-up those old Frankenstein Valentine Stickers using images from DARK SHADOWS. Because of the show's love for classic horror tropes, the captions used on the Valentine's Day stickers didn't need any re-writing. The end result, though, is making my skin crawl a little. That's a sign that something went very right or very wrong. You can decide for yourself which direction it took.

I don't know if the disturbing product is a result of the source material, an accidental lack of chemistry between the original stickers and DARK SHADOWS, or my own fragile state of mind.

If you're interested in freaking people out, I've shared high-resolution versions of these cards on the Blood Drive Tumblr feed. These are print ready, but I take no responsibility for any restraining orders that might result from deploying them IRL.


Monday, February 13, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 13


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 693

Chris Jennings bemoans his culpability for Sabrina’s catatonia, deciding that he must again flee his home. Part man, part wolf, driven by forces he cannot control, Chris Jennings is a soul in need. Sensing this, a lone figure emerges from the drawing room. The figure may not know the details, but he knows when a tortured innocent needs help. Chris departs before learning just how powerful an ally the figure is, but Julia Hoffman understands. She approaches the figure with equal parts human relief and feminine arousal. The figure smiles with a tight confidence, all too used to such attention. He is a strutting stag of a man, with the body of a Greek god, the mind of a Mozart, and the heart of a lion. He removes his monocle and surveys a Collinwood possessed by the restless dead, knowing only one thing; evil will fall. He’ll see to it. The figure’s name? T. Eliot Stokes. His profession? Legend, and tonight… exorcist.

Stokes quickly deduces that David is secreted behind a panel in the drawing room and brings him out. Just as swiftly, the Professor leads David to confess that he is becoming possessed by Quentin Collins. In the garden, Chris attempts to leave, with Carolyn becoming distraught. Julia later explains that he has to stay for Amy’s sake. As a storm rages, electricity runs amok, and Quentin’s song saws away mockingly, Stokes, fearless and undaunted, performs a powerful exorcism. The house, it seems, is clean. Later, however, the jealous and cowardly ghost of Quentin Collins, furiously envious of the first real man he’s probably ever encountered, attempts to mock said man -- T. Eliot Stokes. The professor casually smokes a cigarette, cocking an eyebrow insouciantly, unimpressed at the laughing specter in the mirror, even as the room he’s in lights ablaze.

He’s seen worse.

For all of my strange fixation on Professor Stokes, Thayer David claims this episode like few other actors have on the show. Both the character and actor have continents of range, and that range is explored with precision and confidence. As theatre of the occult, 693 is as shameless as the above synopsis (which I imagine was written by Stokes) and goes the limit to thrill the viewers. It contains one of the show’s iconic images, as well, as Stokes faces down a laughing Quentin Collins in the mirror. Thayer David’s committed and delightful work on the episode seems to intensify everyone. David Henesy’s pained confession has a fantastic sense of heart, and Don Briscoe’s articulate “angry young manwolf” is particularly edgy in this one. Although the Quentin story had been intriguing up to this point, I think this episode is what introduces the apocalyptic power and sense of zest that is swiftly coming to the series with the 1897 story.

Speaking of zesty and over the top entertainment, Dean Martin’s superspy film, THE WRECKING CREW, was a hit in theaters at this time. His Matt Helm series has (almost) nothing to do with the books, and are a scream. Nigel Greene, who played the greatest Hercules ever (in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS), is the villain, a man who says “shhhhedule” a lot. You got both Elke Sommer and Sharon Tate on hand. A helicopter lives in Matt’s car trunk. And look, there’s Chuck Norris!

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 9


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 961

Bruno visits the werewolf at the crypt and whips him savagely. He then locks Davenport’s zombie inside to be destroyed by the wolf. Megan is bitten once more by Barnabas, but has no knowledge as to Chris’ whereabouts. Bruno learns that Megan is under the control of Barnabas, but keeps it a secret. He explains to Jeb that the werewolf is contained in the crypt and sends him there to destroy him once and for all. Locked within the crypt with the werewolf, Jeb fires his pistol at him, unaware that Bruno has replaced the silver bullets with ones made of lead.

Another great installment to show those who claim nothing happens on DARK SHADOWS. Zombies, whippings, werewolves, vampire biting, and general skullduggery abound. This is the twenty-sixth episode with no pre-Barnabas cast members, and that may explain part of it. Most of these cast members are relative short-timers and play characters introduced after the show increased its strangeness and pace. Although my father had seen a few episodes here and there, this began the first stretch that he watched consecutively, and that says a lot about the heightened action and intrigue. This episode has a marvelous Universal Monsters feel to it, including the closest they came to FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN, as Davenport (very briefly) squares off against the lycan Chris. If this episode belongs to anyone, it’s Michael Stroka. He manipulates Jeb with believable aplomb, keeping things just this side of believable.

It was a profoundly quiet day in Lake Wobegon. Historically, however, Marie Wallace celebrated my father’s 30th birthday by narrating her first DARK SHADOWS opening, while a jealous Ed Riley decided that he would no longer appear as Sheriff Davenport, saying, “Go ahead. Have the guy eaten. See if I care.” Okay, not really. But it was the first time she narrated an episode and it was Davenport’s last appearance. The Zombie Davenport looked a lot like Solomon Grundy, and I wish they’d kept him around.   

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 8


Broadcast on this day in 1991: Episode 7

Victoria awakens outside the Collins manor house (later to be known as the Old House) in the year 1790. She calls Barnabas by name and passes herself off as the new tutor for young Daniel and Amy until she can find a way back to the present. Unfortunately, her strange clothing and mysterious origin draw suspicions from Barnabas’ Aunt Abigail, who is convinced that she is a witch and summons a maniacal clergyman, Reverend Trask. Meanwhile, the actual witch, Angelique, roams free and tries to reignite her affair with Barnabas from years past. She is unsuccessful, and vows to take control of the situation. The first to fall under her control is Ben Loomis, Barnabas’ faithful manservant.

This episode may be my favorite of the 1991 series. It has a sense of rambunctious enthusiasm and confidence that dominates the screen. When the daytime version goes into its first flashback, you can feel the sense of risk and danger behind what they were pulling off. The revival’s flashback lacks that sense of risk, trading it for a giddy confidence. DARK SHADOWS -- both the broad strokes and details -- had proved itself a lasting success. In the approach to the 1991 series, you can feel that. It has a strange swagger, and the 1791 flashback is Exhibit A. Knowing that Elizabeth would be Naomi, etc, etc, affected the casting with a foresight the daytime series never enjoyed. The double casting of the 1795 sequence feels like a stunt. The 1791 sequence in the nighttime show is clearly a choice. It’s where Dan Curtis reveals, if anything, the real program. Really, for such a young series (or young incarnation of a series), everything works. Making Barnabas, Peter, and Jeremiah a triumvirate of dear friends was a warm touch that humanizes the sequence immediately. The characters are well-drawn, anyway, and they serve as revealing foils for Barnabas. Barbara Blackburn and the writers find an entirely new way to make Millicent a nightmare. Stefan Gierasch’s Joshua is a stingy prig trying desperately to forget that he has a decent, loving heart. Lysette Anthony does all she can with Angelique, but this is the one misfire of the sequence. For all of the evil of Lara Parker’s Angelique, I believed that the love was genuine, and I saw traces of kindness whenever her mask would slip. Anthony goes a far more one-dimensional route, and the results are not the success they should be. Oddly enough, I love the snarling, long-haired zealot Trask played by Roy Thinnes. Both Jerry Lacy and Thinnes are forces with which to be reckoned, but in Thinnes case, I fear he might bite my fingers off while sending Vicki to the gallows.

At this time, the Gulf War had done its damage to the ratings by incessant preemptions, the Soviet Union was falling from within, and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was a box office champion. 
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