Friday, July 27, 2012

My Favorite Monster: Jeb Hawkes

THE LEVIATHANS story gets a bad rap.

Often blamed for the demise of DARK SHADOWS, the storyline rends ideas from ROSEMARY'S BABY and the work of H.P. Lovecraft and stitches them together to create some of the show's most genuinely creepy moments. The arc even manages to resolve one of the series' oldest mysteries by explaining what happened to Elizabeth's husband 20 years earlier, which is no small feat for a show known for it's love of dangling plot points.

We were going to tell you about Victoria Winters' real parents but VAMPIRES.

The Leviathans were a cult that worshiped alien gods and looked like something from the cover of a BLUE OYSTER CULT record. Destined to lead the cult was Jeb Hawkes, one of the most complicated characters to ever grace DARK SHADOWS. Initially dubbed the "Thing in the Box" by producers, Hawkes was introduced as a parade of increasingly older children, all known by different names. I'm not sure if this was a poke at Soap Opera Rapid Aging Syndrome (was that even a thing in 1969?) but the changing shape of the Leviathan "leader" gave the character lots of opportunities to interact with - and threaten - the individual cast members. It's the most oppressively paranoid story this side of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS.

That's not to say the Leviathans was flawless. It overplayed its hand by neutering its heroes: Barnabas Collins was turned into a cult drone, Quentin was given amnesia and most of the cast was gradually brainwashed into joining the Leviathans. It didn't take long for DARK SHADOWS to turn into a show about bad guys during the Leviathans arc. But none of that was the fault of actor CHRISTOPHER PENNOCK, who threw himself into a role that seemed to change on a daily basis.

Who needs a plausible backstory when you've got swagger?
Not only did Pennock bring youth and sex appeal to the role, but Hawkes seemed engineered to be everything that Count Petofi (the show's previous villain) was not: inexperienced, petulant, impatient, greedy and virile. He wasn't the brightest bulb in the basket, but keep in mind Hawkes was a 6'2" infant: the character bit the dust before he had the chance to blow out the candles on his first birthday cake.

Admittedly, I didn't warm to Jeb Hawkes right away. Had you asked me 20 years ago, I would have dismissed the character as a bratty misfire.  Gabriel Collins and John Yaeger are superior performances by Pennock, who was more versatile than he was probably given credit for at the time. For a guy whose photos regularly appeared in SIXTEEN and TIGER BEAT, he had a habit of playing seriously icky characters on DARK SHADOWS.

Today, Jeb Hawkes remains the most compelling of the bunch, though. A Lovecraftian Pinocchio, Hawkes is a character who revels in his lack of humanity, constantly chomping at the bit to reveal his "true form" to anyone who crosses him. His "true form" is never shown to the audience, partly because of budgetary restraints, but mostly because the vague descriptions we get sound repulsive. Covered in foul-smelling slime and leaving toxic footprints in his wake, I have trouble believing ANY network would let you show a monster like that on television at 4 in the afternoon.

Audiences didn't respond well to the Leviathans story, though. It's hard to get involved in a story where the bad guys consistently win, and whatever charms Barnabas and Quentin had were neutered by putting them on the sidelines for several months. It's also probable that the audience during the 1897 story had simply grown as large as it was ever going to get, and the decline experienced during the Leviathans story was natural fatigue. Whatever the case, producers learned what they could from the experience, returned Barnabas to his place as the show's figurehead, bumped off Jeb Hawkes (while graciously allowing him to redeem himself during his final moments) and instated Pennock as a regular cast member until the demise of the series.

I might be the only one clamoring for the return of Jeb Hawkes. Like ADAM, I'm curious to see where his character would have gone if allowed a "normal" life in Collinwood, but I seem to be alone in that regard. I doubt even Pennock gave much thought to Jeb Hawkes once he moved on to other roles. But that's the nature of DARK SHADOWS fandom: we always want more from our favorite television show ... even 40 years after the fact.


Barnabas Collins: Originally the villain of Dark Shadows, Barnabas Collins eventually morphed into the anti-heroic, teen-magazine cover boy star of the show ... but he was still a murderer. And even when he stopped (for the most part) chomping necks, he was still beating up his trusted assistant Willie Loomis and generally being a dick. Will McKinley

Laura, the Phoenix:  Burn, Baby, Burn! The Phoenix may not be Dark Shadows’ best supernatural villain, but she was its first, paving the way for the kinds of stories that would become the backbone of television’s first gothic soap opera.  Join us for a look back at the creepy charms of Laura Collins, motherly love ignited to a whole new, scorching level. The Drawing Room

Count Petofi: When it comes to the other “master villains” on the show, eventually we find out that they work for someone else, and this defangs them.  With two exceptions.  One is Judah Zachary, the oft-ignored prime mover of all misery in Collinsport.  The second is Petofi. The Collins Foundation

Eve/Marie Roget: Eve came along during a period in Dark Shadows history when Dan Curtis clearly realized that what the show was suffering from was a lack of voluptuous RealDolls with big red sexy hair and adorable button noses.  Plucky Chicken

Angelique: After 368 incestuous episodes, along came the most lovely creature a young monster could dream of: the housemaid Angelique. Her stunning beauty was only surpassed by her quest for demonic vengeance. It was a win-win really. Stuff Monsters Like

1 comment:

cynthia curran said...

Judah Zachery, the most evil character for me. I recently saw a clipped of the 1690's and Judah was in it I remember his head in the 1840's and it reminded me of something demonic.

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