Monday, December 31, 2012

2012: Jonathan Frid remembered

As 2012 winds down, it's a pleasant surprise to see JONATHAN FRID's name appearing so frequently in year-end retrospectives. When the actor passed away in April, it took a solid day for major media outlets to even recognize it. His low profile during his final years meant that some news services were worried nobody remembered him, while others were pretty sure he died years ago.

THE CANADIAN MOVIE DATABASE has a feature about "Northernstars" who passed away in 2012, which features Frid prominently (which is doubly ironic when you consider DARK SHADOWS didn't air in Canada during it's heyday.) There's not much there that his fans won't already know; it's mostly just a rundown of his stage and screen credits. But it does point to one troubling detail that has slipped through the cracks this year: When, exactly, did Jonathan Frid die?

The Northernstars story says April 19, while says he died April 14.  Frid Wikipedia page claims the April 14 date is correct (a fact attributed to Frid's nephew) but his death was originally reported as April 13. I'm not suggesting there's a conspiracy to cover up his death; I'm just pointing out there are a lot of sloppy writers in the world.

The story is worth reading, if only for the quotes from Frid taken from a 1990 interview. "(Dan Curtis) wasn't in New York at the time they actually cast the role of Barnabas," Frid says. "I doubt whether I ever would have been Barnabas if he had been there. Because he wanted somebody who was very aggressive, very macho and very strong. And violent, in a sense. But while he was away, the mice played. The associate producer, with the writers, decided that they wanted to go for a more complex kind of character." actually includes Frid's death as one of the "Top 10 Entertainment Stories of 2012," saying "Our love for the show however, is also immortal and Jonathan Frid will live on when we remember those afternoons spent watching him and the Collins family after school."

Collinwood Cocktails: Dr. Lang's Theremin Martini

Dr. Frankenstein was a putz.

Henry, Victor, Wolf, Frederick, Frodrick or whatever the hell they wanted to call themselves, not one of them knew how to stick the landing. These guys majored in Mad Science with one specific purpose: TO PLAY GOD. And what do they do when the game doesn't go entirely their way? They start whining about how man shouldn't play at being god, pack up their toys and go home to mope over their Tesla coils. (Or die lonely, miserable deaths in the arctic. Either way spells F-A-I-L.)

But not Dr. Eric Lang. Dude not made a monster out of boneyard scraps that ALSO doubled as a cure for vampirism. Lang was the MacGyver of mad scientists.

I thought Dr. Lang needed a drink that was a daring and dubious as his scientific visions. It's a simple drink that works despite itself, a combination of rye and a blue martini mix that, when combined, create a vivid green rarely seen in nature. Here are the ingredients; mix to taste.

Dr. Lang's Theremin Martini
  • Martini Gold "Wildberry"
  • Bulleit Rye American Whiskey
  • One maraschino cherry (Use Italian imported maraschino cherries, not that candy crap you find with the banana split fixins at the grocery store. You'll thank me later.)

Sunday, December 30, 2012

Cosplay is Serious Business

From the outside, cosplay might look like a child's game. If you've been paying attention to the phenomenon in recent years, though, you'll see that cosplay has been highlighting the occasional discriminatory nature of popular media, especially in regard to race and sex. Cosplay has provoked more discussions on these issues that the stories that actually inspired many of the costumes. So, if you're new to the concept, I'd suggest not looking on this hobby (which is actually a full-time job for some) as though it's quaint or foolish.

Let me put my soapbox aside for a moment to share some photos from DARK SHADOWS fan Stephen Haydon, who had this to say:
"Back in May, I attended the Dark Shadows movie premiere party at the Vista in Los Angeles where I dressed as Barnabas and my friend dressed as Quentin. He’s wearing a wig BUT that’s my real hair. We had the privilege to pose for photos with Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker and had an all around good time."
 While I'm not prone to dressing up on days that aren't Halloween (I've got plans for DragonCon next year, though) I've been fascinated to watch this hobby evolve over the last decade. It's OK for women to dress as male characters, yet it's still taboo for men to dress as female characters (when it's done it's often in jest, which offends me for reasons I can't quite explain.)

It also shines a bright spotlight on the weird sexuality of fantasy entertainment. There have been tons of female characters spunoff from superheroes (Supergirl, Batgirl, etc.) but outside of the KINGDOM COME series in 1996, I can't think of a single male "franchise" character created from female characters. Factor in America's own confused sexuality (men who dress up as women are assumed to be gay, a value judgement that isn't applied to women who dress as male characters) and the angry, baffling responses from men unaccustomed to women wandering into their He Man Woman Haters Club and you'll see that cosplay is a hobby worth discussing. (I'm going to post this link again because you need to read it to believe it.)

I'm not suggesting the San Diego ComicCon is Selma, Ala., or anything. But there's definitely something happening at conventions that's worth keeping an eye on.

What are your thoughts?

Moonlight Maxims

Now animated!

Thursday, December 27, 2012

Dark Shadows Diary: Episode 58

Episode 58: "A Nine-Year-Old Horror"
Sept. 14, 1966

Americans will forgive people for almost anything, as long as they have to good taste to eventually die. If you doubt that, just take a look at the philosophical contortions put on display following the deaths of Richard Nixon, Michael Jackson and Strom Thurmond. Live long enough and you'll earn the coveted "controversial figure" award posthumously, your karmic slate wiped clean.

While Bill Malloy isn't one of America's most colorful rogues, he also wasn't the beacon of virtue that everyone is making him out to be since his death. I'm sure he was a good guy, but in just a few short weeks we've gone from Liz planning to fire him, to "Bill Malloy was god's gift to Collinsport." That's not a real quote, but it might as well be.

Joe Haskell has the day off from work after the Collins family closed the plant for the day, and decides to spend it at the Blue Whale. Sam Evans is already there when he arrives (though it's possible he spent the entire night there) and the two begin to erect the Myth of Bill Malloy. While Sam has always been a romantic, he's got ulterior motives for chatting up Joe about the murder. He wants to know how the Collins family has responded to news of the murder death, and is specifically interested in finding out if Roger did any spontaneous confessing during the night.

The episode features one of the most awkwardly staged scenes I can remember seeing on DARK SHADOWS. The show's blocking can be a little stagey as the actors jockey against each other for the audience's attention, but the first scene between David and Carolyn was poorly thought out. Just as Sam is studying Joe for any clues that someone (well, Roger) has sold him out to the cops, David is interviewing Carolyn about the gory details of Bill Malloy's death.

The boy has a limited social circle, and nobody's told him much of anything about the man's death ... so he takes his education into his own hands. But the scene is a little hard to follow: David is sitting on the floor while his cousin sits in a high-backed chair. You can see the cameramen struggle to shoot around the obstacle, but to no avail: from one point of view you can see David and the back of Carolyn's chair; from the other you see only Carolyn's face as she talks to his disembodied voice. It doesn't feel like an experiment on the part of the director as much as sheer laziness.

It doesn't undercut the weird tension between David and Carolyn, though. I don't want to take sides here, but David's natural (if creepy) curiosity about Malloy's death makes sense when stacked against Carolyn's insistence that the tragedy is really about her. "David, you're disgusting," she tells him as she moves to leave the drawing room. She stops just shy of actually leaving, though, because there's nobody in the foyer to listen to her bullshit.

There's an alarming method to David's madness. It's not bored cynicism that's driving all of his questions about Malloy's corpse; David has a plan. He wants to discover when Bill Malloy was killed so that he can help put the man's ghost to rest. Without that, he warns Carolyn, then Malloy's spirit is sure to haunt Collinwood forever.

David is not relying solely on his "friends" at Widows Hill for help; he's hit the books and done a little research into tidal currents in hope of understanding where Malloy's body might have entered the ocean. Which begs the question "When the hell did DAVID turn into the hero of this series?"

David Henesy steals the episode, and not just because he gets the best lines. There' a casual "fuck it" attitude about him, even when the dialogue addresses his sociopathy a little too directly. After locating Malloy's likely murder spot, Carolyn does her best to dissuade him from any activity that doesn't spotlight her own grief. "What you're doing, it's morbid. Can't you see that?" she asks him.

"No. Because I don't know what that means," he answers, and wanders off.

The rest of the episode is devoted to police procedural as Sheriff Patterson rattles Sam at the Blue Whale before making his way to Collinwood (again) to quiz Roger. We also take a ride in the Joe Haskell Shame Simulator as Carolyn makes a point of ritually castrating him with her every word. When he takes an interest in David's new hobby (which he probably doesn't know is really "Corpse Tracking") she even finds a way to twist THAT against him. Carolyn might be the most thinly written character on the show, but at least she's consistent.

I was going to point out that Maggie is right around the corner for Joe, but then I remembered his character doesn't exactly have a happy ending.

Moonlight Maxims

Kathryn Leigh Scott meets Roman Polanski


David-Elijah Nahmod noticed something interesting about Isabelle Adjani's voice in the 1976 film, THE TENANT. Adjani's dubbed voice sounded suspiciously like that of Kathryn Leigh Scott, who has since confirmed it's her voice you hear in the film. Interestingly, Adjani would later become menaced by vampires, herself, in 1979's Werner Herzog remake of NOSFERATU.

Watch the video above to hear Scott's voice in the film. Warning: Polanski gets a little gropey in the clip, which is NSFW. There's a joke here about his long-standing problem with American law enforcement, but I'm going to skip it.

Wednesday, December 26, 2012

Dark Shadows Diary: Episode 57

Episode 57: "The Death of Honesty"
Sept. 13, 1966

Bill Malloy and Burke Devlin were a lot tighter than we'd been lead to believe. After waxing poetic about Malloy showing him the ropes about fishing as a lad, Devlin vows to buy the man "the biggest and best meal he's ever had in his life." His banter makes Maggie increasingly uncomfortable, forcing her to break the news to Devlin that his mentor has been fished out of the ocean like so much Namor. Devlin takes the news better than I'd have guessed, in that he doesn't drive directly to Collinwood and give Roger Collins an acute case of lead poisoning.

Malloy's problem? He was ultimately too honest to live, in Devlin's assessment. It's not a philosophy that appeals much to Maggie. "You talk about honesty as thought it were a disease," she says, and logically speculates that Malloy's swimming skills might have played a bigger part in his death.

Victoria Winters, the town's Gothic Pollyanna, wanders into the crossfire of this conversation and doesn't much care for Devlin's attitude, either. Devlin toasts to "the death of honesty" and from the looks on the women's faces he might have also admitted to a fondness for kicking puppies.

Burke soon finds himself a "person of interest" in the death of Malloy, which is curious given everything that's known about him. Even though Malloy has been missing (Christ ... I have no idea how long the man's been gone. A day? A week? They've drawn out this story for so long that I've lost track) since calling a mysterious meeting with Devlin, Roger and Sam, Sheriff Patterson doesn't think the event is of much significance. He doesn't offer much explanation for why Devlin's is a suspect, either, unless being a badass is now a felony offense in Collinsport.

Victoria and Maggie have a sweet tête-à-tête about all the spooky goings on in town and how the governess relates to it all. Maggie doesn't understand why Victoria is subjecting herself to the hardships that accompany the Collins family. Victoria says she's got no plans of leaving until she knows how she's related to the family, if she's related to them at all. We also get a quick recap of clues about her past and how these plot threads tie to Collinwood.

These threads are already reaching out toward Maggie. Her father has already bound his destiny to the Collins family, a decision that will lead to his death in a few years. And, whether she knows it our not, Maggie is already being sized up for a governess's uniform. Once Victoria disappears from the show Maggie assumes the characters practical and dramatic responsibilities. In light of this, Victoria's explanation of her role at Collinwood seems more like an omen than exposition.

Moonlight Maxims

Grayson Hall at the 1965 Oscars

Grace Awaits uncovered a bit of footage on Youtube of Grayson Hall at the 1965 Academy Awards ceremony. Hall was nominated that year for Best Supporting Actress for the John Huston film NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, losing out to Lila Kedrova for ZORBA THE GREEK (you can see ZORBA star Anthony Quinn sitting in from of Hall in the video.)

BONUS: And here's a newspaper notice promoting that year's nominees for Best Supporting Actress. Agnes Moorehead deserves a humanitarian award for not killing the editor who selected her photo.

Monday, December 24, 2012

A Very Marley Christmas

Lizzie Hopley reveals what's in store in her Christmas Dark Shadows adventure

So, what’s A Collinwood Christmas all about?
It’s a spooky but hopefully heart-warming story featuring two loners – Jamison Collins and gypsy Ivanka Romano. Jamison is a virtual recluse, shut up in Collinwood with his two children following his wife’s death. Ivanka is a gypsy – childless, spurned by her tribe and living in the Old House. The story pitches the two against each other – first as reluctant neighbours, then as a desperate team to fight an invasion of ghosts from the past, present and future.

What was the inspiration behind it?
To give us a nice Christmassy feel, the story draws from Dickens’ A Christmas Carol. Jamison is our Scrooge figure, a stubborn man who has cut himself off from family and friends but whose miserly heart is nevertheless injured and crying out for love. Through Ivanka’s reluctant attempt to redeem him, he is forced to confront his past, present and future. However, her gypsy spells conjure up much more than they bargained for! Moo-ha-haaaaa!!

You also star in the audio as Ivanka Romano. What can you tell us about her?
I’ve adored Ivanka since playing her in the wondrous The Blind Painter and The Crimson Pearl. She’s headstrong, funny and impulsive and nothing is ever dull when she’s around. Fortunately, the great minds behind the Dark Shadows audio series were keen for her and her wild accent to return! In this story, we get right to the heart of the woman and her effect on Jamison is deeply intriguing…

Are you a fan of Dark Shadows the television series?
I adore the TV series! The acting is far braver than you realise at times. It’s good old-fashioned heightened gothic frolicking, and who doesn’t love that? It’s an honour to be a part of the legend – there’s plenty of heightened gothic frolicking in our audios too. Each audio adventure is a great little horror story with some fabulous plots, ideas and ingenious new characters encountering old favourites. A perfect blend.

You’ve done a lot of work for Big Finish over the years. What else have you got coming up?
I’m lucky to be part of the Christmas telly scheduling this year as I’ll be appearing in the Call the Midwife Christmas special. I think we’re head to head with Downton Abbey so it’ll be fun to be part of the viewing battle. As long as I get more hits than the Queen’s speech, I’ll be happy. I’ll also be filming for Luther this winter – a very different beast to Dark Shadows so it keeps me on my toes!

(This interview was taken from issue 46 of VORTEX, published by BIG FINISH. A COLLINWOOD CHRISTMAS is now available as an MP3 download and on CD from the company's website.)

Jonathan Frid reads 'Twas the Night Before Christmas

Happy Holidays, everybody! I'll be running around visiting family for the next few days, so enjoy this message from JONATHAN FRID, as he reads 'Twas the Night Before Christmas (also known as A Visit from St. Nicholas.)

Sunday, December 23, 2012

Dark Shadows Diary: Episode 56

Episode 56: "An Oasis in a World of Horror"
Sept. 12, 1966

I think the image at the top of this post summarizes the first year of DARK SHADOWS better than I ever could.

Victoria's bloodline was never fully resolved, and the original plan for the character was eventually reveal her to be the illegitimate daughter of Paul Stoddard. Fans have rejected that idea, even though the flashback stories tend to support the notion: time and again we the original cast members playing their own Collins family ancestors, yet Alexandra Moltke is never among them. Yeah, the actress left the show, meaning she'd never get the chance to play an actual Collins, but that also meant she'd the ancestors of Victoria Winters would never play into the family's history. She's pushed to the fringes of the family by whatever remains of the family's dubious sense of honor, and us ultimately consumed by the that same corrupt heritage.

 We don't know where Victoria is at the start of the episode, but she's presumably working. Her sister, though, has decided to sleep late, and expects a lecture from her mother after wandering downstairs in her nightclothes at noon. "I hope it's not a lecture for sleeping this late," Carolyn says. "I haven't done it for years." It's not like sleeping until noon is going to get in the way of her busy schedule. Shouldn't she be in school? Or have a job? Maybe a hobby? WHAT DOES SHE DO WITH HER TIME?!

Liz gives Carolyn a crash course in passive aggressive grieving. She returns Carolyn's missing watch and tells her their Scooby Doo shenanigans the night before weren't just products of a hysterical female mind. Before she gets to reveal the identity of their undead guest, the sheriff's office calls and tells Carolyn something blunt (we don't hear what's said) about fishing Bill Malloy's smelly, eel-infested corpse out of the Atlantic.

To the show's credit, it's playing its first murder very straight. The characters are genuinely upset about the turn of events and don't behave as if murder is an expected part of life. Also true to form, Liz thinks it's necessary to defend Matthew Morgan's actions, as though pushing a body into the ocean is justifiable as long as you can mount even the shakiest of defenses.

Carolyn drags out news of Malloy's death as long as possible with Victoria, turning the announcement into a weapon. She starts by bitching about Victoria not knowing how to make a bed to her standards, and when THAT doesn't goad her into an argument she gets all "Oh, pooh! Bill Mlloy got himself deceased. Why do all the bad things happen to ME?!" What a sad character, and a clear descendant of Naomi Collins, a woman whose soul becomes so denuded by a life that she turns to booze to help the days ease by.

Liz gives everyone the day off (while also discouraging anyone from speaking about Malloy's death) which prompts Victoria to fish for evidence: She tells Liz she's going to visit local artist Sam Evans. Liz's response to this announcement reveals nothing.

If it's noon and you've got a guilty conscience, it's always Happy Hour at the Blue Whale. Roger finds Sam getting drunk at the bar which seems to be the venue of choice for public self destruction in Collinsport.  Sam says the bar is "an oasis in a world of horror," which immediately got the song WONDERWALL stuck in my head for which I'll never forgive him. Sam is worried the cops will figure out that Malloy's death was murder, and that he's responsible, even though A.) nobody knows for sure yet that Malloy was murdered, and B.) Sam is actually blameless in the crime. But the show needs a few red herrings,and Sam is practically fire engine red.

Roger reminds Sam that this is a terrible time for honesty. The entire conversation is rather mundane, and staged for no other reason than to create some terrific noir lighting (which is fine with me.) DARK SHADOWS has reached its adolescent stage and is experimenting with its own identity the way teenagers do. I half expect it to start showing off its piercing and tattoos while proclaiming its love for the Sex Pistols.

If its new hard-boiled persona isn't enough, it's reminding the audience that some very real ghosts are walking the grounds of Collinwood while ALSO stressing that the nature of these ghosts are open to interpretation. After Roger and Sam's talk, we cut to a close up of the family history book slowly opening to a drawing of Josette Collins. The last time we saw this happening it was the work of a ghost. As the camera pulls back, though, it shows Carolyn turning the pages. She's not interested in the past, though, and asks Victoria if Liz plans to include Malloy's name in the book (just as the teleprompter wanders into view to demand more screen time.)

Victoria greatly overestimates Sam's stock by speculating that he might know something of her past. It's forgivable (I guess) because Victoria doesn't yet know what a drama queen Sam really is: the man worries about everything without really knowing anything. Hell, he's mostly just a pedestrian in Burke Devlin's frame job. Regardless, Roger isn't crazy about the idea of a jittery, drunk Sam Evans talking to ANYBODY, especially his nosey governess.

Friday, December 21, 2012

Dark Shadows Diary, Episode 55

Episode 55: "Life's Black Inevitabilities"
Sept. 9, 1966

Roger Collins might be the most metaphysical character on DARK SHADOWS.

Yeah, Roger. Not the time-traveling vampire, immortal rogue or black-hearted witch who seems to have existed forever ... Roger. The sherry swilling black sheep of the Collins family has one of the most well-rounded philosophies of any character on the show, and I can't think of any immediate examples of the writers having Roger do something that violates the character's central principle.

Let me 'splain: Roger's return home to Collinwood prior to the start of the series wasn't motivated by desperation. He wasn't looking for a cushy job, free rent of some place to stash his son until the boy was old enough to legally abandon. Instead, Roger's return was prompted by the understanding that the universe operates by strict, dogmatic rules that humanity is unable to change. There's not even a consciousness attached to this system to which was can appeal: the world is what it is and we're unable to change it. Roger knows his place in the world is as meaningless as anyone else's, but has committed to the track that he's on. It's as good as any other.

His backstory suggests this wasn't always the case for Roger. But, a crazy wife, a crazier son and a moment when honor demanded he betray his best friend eventually impressed upon him that there was no escaping the horrible Rube Goldberg Contraption that is life. More to the point, there's no escaping Collinwood. He might need the occasional snifter of liquid courage before dealing with his sister, but that's only to help steel himself from life's black inevitabilities.

So, when Sheriff George Patterson arrives at Collinwood and tells him that Bill Malloy is dead, he's justifiably confused when he learns that no arrests are planned. It's not that he believes the guilty party should be arrested, but somebody should charged because that's just how shit works. Guilt is entirely beside the point. It's this kind of conviction (no pun intended) that has put him at odds with Burke Devlin since the start of the show. He knows he didn't kill Malloy, but doesn't believe he won't be charged for it, anyway.

That doesn't mean he wants to go to prison, and he fights (kinda stupidly, really) to keep Patterson from looking for Malloy's body and having an autopsy performed on it. The faster the whole thing is done, the less likely he'll be fitted for prison stripes. He especially likes Patterson's proposal that Malloy might have committed suicide.

Liz, on the other hand, isn't so sure about anything Roger said. "How much of what you told him was true?" she asks her brother a split second after the sheriff's leaves.

Meanwhile, Sam Evans is starting to regret writing his Get Into Jail Card that confesses his role in Devlin's railroading. He tries to get Maggie to return it to him, but she's not stupid. Maggie is probably a better avatar for the show's audience than Victoria, and if there's anything we like more than a mystery, it's learning the solution to said mystery. While there's genuine concern for her father's latest alcohol, caffeine and tobacco binge, she suspects she's in possession of the final few pages in the mystery novel the whole town is talking about. And she's running out of reasons not to take a peek and see how things end.

Sam is doing his usual "I'm not looking suspicious by trying not to look suspicious, am I?" thing at the restaurant when Patterson arrives. There's something of a performer in Sam, who brings his sketchiest A-game when he sees the sheriff, and gets twitchier than Peter Lorre with a pocket full of letters of transit. Luckily for him, the sheriff has other things on his mind. The Coast Guard has found Bill Malloy. Dead.

I'm beginning to lose track of how often we've been given the news that Malloy is dead.


This week's installment of Bill Branch's classic HOWLERS comics.

Tuesday, December 18, 2012

Moonlight Maxims

Dark Shadows Diary, Episode 54

Episode 54: "The Essence of a Groundskeeper"
Sept. 8, 1966

Matthew Morgan isn't a sentimental fellow. His reasoning for tossing a dead man into the ocean? "He was dead, ma'am. It didn't matter to him." It's a shame Morgan didn't apply himself to writing, because I think he would have made a singular literary voice, equal parts JAMES ELLROY and EUDORA WELTY.

Even though Burke Devlin was created to be the show's first Voice of Cynicism, he's been overtaken in recent episodes by the mysterious, Nietzschean wit of Matthew Morgan. You'll see this kind of violent rationalization a lot more often later in the series as characters (mostly Julia Hoffman) as they struggle to justify some truly horrific behavior. For now, it's Morgan who sees himself as the dark antihero of the series, and his crimes seem so selfless on the surface that they're almost (but not quite) justifiable.

But, for the time being, we don't know that Morgan did anything other than dump a body in the ocean. It still hasn't been revealed who, if anybody, killed Bill Malloy.

There's been lots going on behind the scenes since the last time local law enforcement had to get involved in Collins family business. Apparently, Collinsport Town Council took action to restructure the department, abandoning the "constable" system and contracting with the county for law enforcement services. When Sheriff George Patterson arrives at Collinwood at the start of the episode, Liz seems hardly surprised not to see Constable Jonas Carter. I guess Liz was keeping up with current events in The Collinsport Star and knew Carter had moved on. Still, it begs the questions: How much money is Collinsport paying the county for law enforcement, and will it have an affect on property taxes? Or did they just spent $20 to change the title on the door and make no real changes to the department? Was there room on television to spinoff Patterson into his own police procedural? I guess we'll never know.

Morgan, in his evasively honest way, admits to throwing Malloy's body into the ocean. Much like a lying child, he pretty much avoids answering any question not directly asked. We eventually learn he "found" the body on the beach but he claims he doesn't know how it got there.

Even though the county has changed its law enforcement system, not much else is different. Patterson doesn't think he's got much to charge Morgan with, except for maybe "improper burial without a license." But, he's not convinced Morgan is being entirely forthcoming about his motives for "protecting" Collinwood by relocating the body, and suggests the caretaker might have been covering up his own actions, instead.

Patterson says it's unlikely Malloy drowned at Collinwood, because the body would have washed away in the 24 hours since he went missing. As for where it's gone now, who the hell knows? When it returns, I hope it's covered in travel stickers from Cucamonga and Walla Walla, Wash., like something out of a Bugs Bunny cartoon.

The episode's B-story doesn't really go anywhere. Burke and Roger verbally spar at the cannery as the show continues to muddy the waters around Roger's perceived guilt in Malloy's death. Burke thinks he did it, but has no proof. Their dialogue results in nothing more or less than the writers finding new ways for them to say "You're a murderer!" and "Nuh-uh!"

Roger is summoned home by Liz to get the bad/good news about Malloy ... and finds himself the focus of the investigation.

Monday, December 17, 2012

Vampires 101: Dracula A.D.1972

DRACULA A.D.1972 (1972)
Starring: Christopher Lee, Peter Cushing, Stephanie Beacham, Christopher Neame
Directed by: Alan Gibson

WHAT'S IT ALL ABOUT, ALFIE? Damn, that's a lot of numbers in the headline. It looks like a math problem. Anyway, Count Dracula is resurrected in the swinging '70s by a bunch of horny young hedonists. Bad shit ensues. 

WHAT'S IT REALLY ABOUT? Old people are scared of young people, which was the theme of a LOT of movies in the late '60s/early '70s. When DRACULA A.D.1972 was released, some people over the age of 40 couldn't tell the difference between The Beatles, The Manson Family and The Brady Bunch, and this panic quickly found its way to the silver screen in different ways. Some of the more interesting were the "Devil Child" films of the 1970s, such as THE EXORCIST, THE OMEN, etc. Where those movies played fast and loose with the subtext, DRACULA A.D.1972 wears its terror of youth on its sleeve. The Moral of the Story: If kids don't quit with the sex, drugs and rock and roll, Dracula is going to kill their asses.

DRACULA A.D.1972 is about a lot of things, but story really isn't one of them. The movie is a pandering attempt to make a hip, "modern" film for the youth market, and it works best when it totally fails. A movie made by old people who really don't understand young people, in some ways its more a film of its time than its soulmates, PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE and THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, because it serves as an unintended commentary its contemporary counterculture. In fact, the character of Count Dracula is almost beside the point in this film.

Interestingly, the movie also has the habit of lingering a little too long on the cleavage of its young female stars. This wouldn't be a problem if it didn't have such an authoritative tone, making the movie come across like the creepy uncle who's always bitching about "These Kids Today" while also ogling every young lady within eye shot.

DRACULA A.D.1972 begins with a mindfuck of epic proportions. Peter Cushing, reprising his role as Van Helsing, slays Dracula after a quick fight scene atop a racing carriage. His enemy vanquished, Van Helsing promptly dies, robbing the movie of both its hero and its villain during the first five minutes.

Audiences should rightfully have felt a little confused at the start of DRACULA A.D.1972. The opening has the hallmarks of a "... previously in DRACULA" segment to remind viewers how the previous film ended, only this is an entirely new bit of footage. It's safe to assume Dracula persisted in returning from the grave so many times that we missed a movie or two in the interim since 1970's SCARS OF DRACULA.

The world had changed quite a bit since Hammer made its first Dracula film in the late '50s. By 1972, the Comics Code Authority had been amended to allow for vampires, werewolves and other monsters, while DARK SHADOWS had spent several year giving American audiences daily doses of creature features for free. The original Bram Stoker novel went into the public domain in Europe in 1962, meaning anyone could make their own Dracula movie. Even Hammer was helping to dilute its own brand with movies like COUNTESS DRACULA, THE VAMPIRE LOVERS and THE LEGEND OF THE 7 GOLDEN VAMPIRES.

So, a change was inevitable.

WHY ARE WE STILL TALKING ABOUT THIS MOVIE? In addition to all the Dracula-come-lately vampires that were invading popular culture, Hammer was having an increasingly difficult time convincing Christoper Lee to return for sequels. The series had to adapt to survive, and that sense of desperation pervades DRACULA A.D.1972, but in a good way. Desperation isn't the worst motive to ever inspire a movie. In the case of DRACULA A.D.1972 it produced a lively, bugnuts motion picture that's hard not to love. It's like someone took glam rock, A CLOCKWORK ORANGE, Oscar Wilde, slasher movies, REEFER MADNESS and gothic horror and made a Banana Split Sundae of Insanity. 

While the cinematography is inconsistent, it's usually a visually interesting film, shot in bright, lurid colors that hint at SUSPIRIA a few years later. DRACULA A.D.1972 also boasts a few good performances, not only from Hammer stalwart Peter Cushing as the latest Van Helsing to get saddled with the chore of kicking vampire ass, but Christopher Neame, as well. As Bowie-esque "Johnny Alucard" (yes, they went there) he steals the movie as a fey satanist manipulating everyone to achieve a very specific goal. He's just as charming as he needs to be in the film, stopping shy of making Alucard romantic or sympathetic. He's not only the real villain of the film, but the real star, as well.

IS IT TIME TO STOP TALKING ABOUT IT? DRACULA A.D.1972 is a time capsule from another world, and it depends on your interest in the period. By 1972 audiences had already seen tons of "modern" vampire stories and this movie still sticks closely to the Hammer formula despite its groovy pretenses. Still, it's a blast watching the formula play play out in a contemporary setting, and it adds a dose of realism to Hammer's dreamy romanticism. It's a singular film worth searching out.

Friday, December 14, 2012


This week's installment of Bill Branch's classic HOWLERS comics.

Thursday, December 13, 2012

Dark Shadows news digest

I'm putting the finishing touches on the first COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY podcast, which you will be able to hear first thing tomorrow morning. In the meantime, here are a few DARK SHADOWS news items, both new and not-so-new.

Issue #319 of FANGORIA will include interviews with actors JIM STORM and DONNA WANDREY of DARK SHADOWS.  David Elijah-Nahmod is responsible for the Wandrey interview, while Rod Labbe speaks to Storm.

* JOE MABEL recalls a time when JONATHAN FRID made a surprise appearance in his classroom. "Suddenly, Jonathan Frid burst through the office door, bit the nearest girl (one Sandra Waldman) on the neck, and practically sprinted out into the hallway." This anecdote was published not long after Frid's death in April. MORE.

* Speaking of JONATHAN FRID, the man was an intensely private person. I don't think it's an exaggeration to say that few of his fans had an inkling as to who the actor really was. Famous for playing a vampire, Frid hated horror. Touted as being a "Shakespearean actor," much of Frid's early stage career was spent performing in contemporary plays. He could sometimes appear contrary, damning DARK SHADOWS in one breath while treating fans of the  show with the utmost courtesy. After his death, Margaret Houghton, a librarian in his home town of Hamilton, Ontario, received an interesting telephone call concerning the actor's will. Frid left his collection of books to her, a woman he hadn't seen in a decade.
"Houghton, who lives in a one-bedroom apartment downtown already laden with books, had to say no to the 30-volume Encyclopedia Britannica. But Frid was clearly a man who used those big books. In one volume, for instance, there were yellow Post-it notes on Prosody, Quebec and Richard I. Houghton packed everything else into the car, for careful consideration at home. The Dark Shadows Companion, a 25th-anniversary collection. The Brando biography. Bette Davis too. A 2,363-page Illustrated Shakespeare, more Post-its throughout. And Final Exit – The Practicalities of Self Deliverance and Assisted Suicide for the Dying."
I'd rather not think too much about that LAST book mentioned above. Read the full story at CBC News.

* Lastly, here's a video review of 2012's DARK SHADOWS from someone who really, really loves Tim Burton but knows nothing about the original TV series. I should note, though, that he refers to Eva Green as Alice Eve throughout the commentary ...

Dark Shadows: Diary Postscript

I interviewed Maggie Evans this week.

Well, not Maggie Evans. It was KATHRYN LEIGH SCOTT, actually. It was the second time we've talked on the telephone, and both times it was a little confusing to be speaking to a real person while having a fictional character's voice coming out of the speaker. I've interviewed a lot of people in the public eye over the years, from presidential candidates to musicians to criminals. Those people were all famous for being themselves, while actors are known for their roles (if they're doing their jobs right.) I don't get starstruck easily, but talking to Scott was a pretty amazing experience.

The Collinsport Historical Society is getting into the podcast game this week, and my interview with Scott will be featured as part of that project. The first episode is devoted to HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, and we talk a little about when she was offered a role in the film, the movie's most notorious deleted scene and JOHN KARLEN's passion for entertaining the many fans that flocked to the shooting location. She's also got a new book coming out at Amazon in March, a comedy titled DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HEELS. It's available now for pre-order. Scott has also extended the signed holiday giftcard offer on her website.

Tuesday night, WILL McKINLEY, JESSICA DWYER and PATRICK McCRAY and I spent almost two hours talking about HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, a conversation that wandered over all kinds of Collinsport ground. I'm in the process of editing my interview with Scott and the group discussion into a coherent podcast, and the whole shebang should be available as a free download by the end of the week.

Also, PATRICK McCRAY pointed me in the direction of a DARK SHADOWS blog that I hadn't seen. Lo and behold, the author had some very kind things to say about my website, so I thought I'd return the favor. Check out JOSETTE'S MUSIC BOX ... you won't regret it.

Wednesday, December 12, 2012

Dark Shadows Diary, Episode 53

Episode 53: "Murder Forecasts"
Sept. 7, 1966

Not a lot happens in this episode. David returns to act like a little monster, Joe stops by Collinwood to make sure Carolyn still has him wrapped around her little finger and HOLY SHIT, DID MATTHEW MORGAN JUST ADMIT TO DUMPING A BODY IN THE OCEAN?

But I'm getting ahead of myself.
David's got his mind on murder, and murder on his mind. With so much drama in Collinwood lately, it's been hard being a little G. But somehow, some way, David keeps coming up with creepy ass shit every single day.

Always hearing and seeing things he's not supposed to (both worldly and otherwise) David heard the screams the night before after Victoria and Carolyn spotted a corpse on the beach near the mansion. He's
surprisingly nonplussed about it. He pesters Victoria about the incident, but seems less interested in whatever horror show was transpiring during the night than in irritating his governess. The more she says tries to distract him back toward his school work, the more insistent be becomes. It's only a matter of time before David plays the murder card in any argument, though.

"Someone is Collinsport is going to try and kill you," he tells Victoria over breakfast. "When you're dead I won't even come to your funeral." He also speculates that, if it wasn't for his Aunt Liz, that his father would "beat" him. I can't imagine why anyone would want to do a thing like that.

These murder forecasts come from the crystal ball given to him by Burke Devlin, a toy that has occupied David's time in between his time spent with Collinwood's ghosts. He maintains that the mansion is haunted, but doesn't seem to care much if anyone believes him. I mean, he still insists everyone thinks he's a liar, but he genuinely doesn't give a shit if anyone embraces his belief in the supernatural. He's much more interested in hearing about the dead man Victoria and Carolyn might have seen. He's also creepily excited by the prospect of his father going to prison for the crime.

Matthew warns Liz to keep Carolyn away from Widows Hill, the spot where Josette, the "first Mrs. Collins," jumped to her death. It might not have been suicide, he says ... "She might have been drawn there by unnatural forces." If he only knew. Josette is the thread that ties the entire series together, which is no mean feat given that she's in just a fraction of the show's 1,225 episodes. But, she's there in the show's first year as a ghost, and even makes an appearance (played by a different actress) in the final story arc set in a parallel timeline that allowed her and Barnabas to be happy.

 Liz doesn't buy Matthew's bullshit about searching the property for the corpse, noting a few omissions that suggest he wasn't telling her the whole story.  "You chose your words very carefully," she says, pressing him to clarify his story. He confesses to it immediately: "There was a drowned man there. I pushed it back into the water and watched the waves carry it back out to sea."

Much to my surprise, Liz calls the cops. Now let's see if they actually arrive next episode.

Tuesday, December 11, 2012

Dark Shadows Diary, Episode 52

Episode 52: "Josette's Book Club"
Sept. 6, 1966

I've been thinking about the rules of storytelling this week. Not the bullshit cultural aesthetics you need to obey to be commercially successful, but the rules of art: creating a structure for your message that allows you room for creativity, but not one so loose as to promote chaos and dilute whatever feeling you're trying to invoke (or provoke.)

I was thinking about these rules after a recent viewing of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, a film that abandons many of the trappings the audience had come to associate with Barnabas Collins. Most of the supernatural elements are dropped in favor of using pseudo-science as the root of the vampire's curse. It's not that pseudo-science is any more plausible than a witch's spell, but it certainly sounded more plausible to audiences in 1970, especially the teens raised on a steady diet of red suns, radioactive blood and gamma radiation. The same thing happened to GREEN LANTERN in the comics. Originally a superhero with a magic ring in the 1940s, the character was entirely revised in the 1960s to make him a space cop using science instead of sorcery ... even though the end results were exactly the same.

 Lo and behold, Patrick McCray was thinking a bit about rules, himself. On a recent post at The Collins Foundation he had this to say about DARK SHADOWS:

"The lessons I see here have a great deal to do with social class mobility.  That is a tension that exists from the moment Vicky walks into Collinwood.  How can one be a Collins?  Who would want to?"
I'm not sure I have the answers to those questions, but I've barely scratched the surface of the series. Still, it was interesting that this episode begins with the following introduction by our gothic heroine, Victoria Winters:
"I originally came to Collinwood to solve the mystery of my past. But the mystery of my present has overshadowed that, for the moment."
Carolyn questions the rules of DARK SHADOWS in the very first scene of this episode as she threatens to lock a bedroom door to keep out angry spirits that might wander in the night. Having none of this foolishness, Victoria tells her "I thought ghosts could come through anything." Just wait until Barnabas Collins shows up ... that kind of thinking will go right out the window.

But, I'm starting to think there's a more sinister set of rules at play in DARK SHADOWS. Victoria observes that she's lost track of time, noting that she's only been at Collinwood "a very short time" despite the many months we've spent with her. Carolyn begins to say that Collinwood didn't start to get weird until Victoria arrived, but backpedals to lay symbolic blame on Burke Devlin ... who arrived in town the same moment as Victoria. Whether it's intended or not, the writers are suggesting the entire series might be a dream, one than will begin and end with Victoria Winters. "You can leave any time you want to," Carolyn tells her. To make her origins more opaque, Victoria later tells Carolyn that she doesn't even know when her real birthday is.

The character of Victoria becomes increasingly obsolete when Barnabas Collins is born into this "world" from his stone womb later in the series. Before long, the new life generated in this nightmare becomes so self-sufficient that it no longer needs its host, Victoria. Once that happens, Victoria literally fades away ... and then things get really crazy in Collinsport. The only rules we're left are those of a nightmare, where logic and reason become something to be feared. A television show originally about a young woman trying to find her parents turns into a show about a 200-year-old vampire using the I Ching to astral project into his body a century earlier to stop a man from being killed, preventing a future haunting ... and when that moment happens it ACTUALLY MAKES SENSE. Later on, this world begins to asexually reproduce, splitting off into divergent timelines that, by the end of the series, make the original dream of Collinwood as obsolete as Victoria, herself.

For the time being, the show is more concerned with simpler problems, specifically the grim slight of hand being played with Bill Malloy's dead body. In a sudden display of independent thinking (as opposed to the reflexive rebelliousness she usually passes off as independence) Carolyn decides they really did see a dead body at the foot of Widows Hill ... no matter what anyone else says.

The show is suddenly concerned with time. From Victoria's offhand remark about time having passed very slowly, to the costuming in the episode, we're reminded constantly that this episode takes place late at night. There has been so much coming and going at all hours that it's been difficult to keep track of the time of day. DARK SHADOWS just seems to be set in a land of perpetual night.

But it's nightgowns for everybody in this episode. Victoria and Carolyn go ghostbusting in Collinwood wearing gowns that would be more appropriate on children, while Maggie wakes her father while wearing a gown made for a much older woman. Sam, as usual, is sleeping in his clothes.

As if Victoria and Carolyn didn't have enough metaphysical ennui to deal with, Sam makes a telephone call to Collinwood and promptly hangs up after Victoria answers. When the door to the drawing room slams, the Dramatic Duo investigate and find a book laying open in the floor. Concluding that no human being would stack books like this, Carolyn declares it a supernatural crime scene and herds them back to their bedroom (which they seem to be sharing on this episode.)

But, even a stopped clock is right twice a day, more often if you take it across time zones. Once the women leave the drawing room we see the book open to reveal a drawing of Josette Collins. And yes, the dates of her birth and death are totally wrong, but that's not really a problem when you consider Victoria can't keep track of what day of the week it is.

Maggie continues to try to grill Sam about whatever bug has crawled up his ass since Burke Devlin came to town. Meanwhile, Victoria hilariously guesses that the prank call they received was "the kind of thing a drunk would do." Maggie trumps THAT bit of reasoning by telling Sam pointedly that she's going to read the note he gave her to lock up ... which causes him to freak out in a manner I'd describe as "Shakespearean."

Monday, December 10, 2012

Jonathan Frid featured in TCM Remembers video

JONATHAN FRID is among the men and women featured in TCM's annual tribute to movie professionals who passed away in 2012. Look for Frid at the 4:18 minute mark in the video, between Marvin Hamlisch and Celeste Holm. (Thanks to Will McKinley for the link!)

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