Tuesday, April 30, 2013

Collinsport News Bulletins

* It's safe to say our recent JONATHAN FRID podcast is a hit. After only two days, it's already our third most downloaded episode of the year.

* Today is the last day of the CANADA'S WALK OF FAME nomination campaign, so please take a moment to nominate JONATHAN FRID.

* Director ANSEL FARAJ is asking folks who attended last weekend's premiere of DOCTOR MABUSE at the Dark Shadows Island Weekend event to stop by IMDB and leave a spoiler-free review of the film.


* POMEGRANATE PRESS is also holding a huge sale, which features deep discounts on various DARK SHADOWS books and CDs. Among the selections are the Dark Shadows Companion CD, Dark Shadows: Return to Collinwood, Dark Shadows Companion, and the Dark Shadows Movie Book.

The Horror Show: HEMLOCK GROVE

Episode 2, "The Angel"

I've come to the conclusion that HEMLOCK GROVE is objectively terrible.

I've only seen two episodes of the series, so there's two ways to look at that assessment. Either I'm a slow learner, or I really haven't given the show a fair shake. I guess it's a matter of perspective, but I don't see the strengths and weaknesses of HEMLOCK GROVE changing much before the end of this season. The most noticeable blemish on the show is the uneven acting and writing which sometimes reaches George Lucas-ian heights of stilted absurdity. While Lucas was usually able to make that kind of dialogue work by matching it with the proper actors, that has proven to be a crippling challenge for a long-form program like HEMLOCK GROVE. Each episode brings with it new challenges and the cast, particularly the younger actors, don't seem ready for it.

So, why do I still like this show?

The short answer? I'm a sucker for "Monster Rally" entertainment. Dark Shadows. The Munsters. Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein. Plan 9 from Outer Space. Destroy All Montsers. Throw a bunch of monsters into a blender and turn to knob to "liquify," and you can expect to get a Valentine's Day card from me. As much as it pains me to admit it, it's really that simple.

It helps that HEMLOCK GROVE has no artistic pretensions. It might have a shallow little heart, but at the end of the day it just wants to be GROOVIE GHOULIES: THE NEXT GENERATION. For the time being, I've decided to keep watching.

Even though the second episode, "The Angel," drops a significant bombshell early on, I can't say the story progresses much. Here's what Netflix says it's about: "Roman confronts Peter at the crime scene, finding common ground. Letha reveals a shocking secret and Olivia and Norman fall into old habits." 

Letha's "shocking secret" is, admittedly, pretty shocking. The teen is pregnant, but claims she was "visited" in the night several months before by an angel. Her father jumps to the conclusion that his family's company, which appears to be devoted to a number of different pseudosciences, is responsible for his impending grandfatherhood. He confronts his sister-in-law on the subject, and immediately jumps into the sack with her after she denies any involvement in the situation.

His response might seem illogical, but Letha's dad is Spock compared to the rest of the show's silly cast. While a bigger, bloodier, much more important moment is waiting later in the episode, it's hard to discuss this chapter without touching on the ridiculous school dance. The town of Hemlock Grove is mostly presented as being Hollywood "small town," the totally fake TV locale which expands and contracts depending on the needs of a particular episode. That sort of behavior is to be expected from a fantasy series: When a college materialized out of thin air a few seasons into BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER, audiences just shrugged and moved on. But HEMLOCK GROVE has a very unique bit of architecture in the skyline of it's rural landscape. Even though this sort of town this size shouldn't even have a skyline, there's a skyscraper right out of STAR TREK looming over the town.We get a good look at it as an unnamed man appears to escape the confines of the Godfrey's family business and stumble into the path of said business's heir apparent.

A statistically improbable event? Certainly. But at least it brought a merciful end to the cloying, horrible dialogue being swapped by Letha and Peter as he learns that his cousin has an unholy bun in the oven. Also, I'd be remiss if I didn't mention the two were leaving a school dance that had a 1920s theme. Which meant Letha and Peter were dressed like extras from THE GREAT GATSBY as this terrible scene unfolded (in front of rear projection while Peter pretended to drive.) Ed Wood only wished he had this kind of money to waste on terrible scenes.

Much like a Christian rock band, HEMLOCK GROVE has a fucked up, contradictory sense of ethics that are as gross as they are transparent. By the end of the second episode we've seen everything from SCARFACE-esque bathtub coke binges to menstrual oral sex. But the murder, incest, bullying, slut shaming and scientific abominations don't mask the show's message that THESE THINGS ARE BAD. While TWIN PEAKS and DARK SHADOWS sometimes mocked its straight-laced goody goodies (like James Hurley and Joe Haskell) something about HEMLOCK GROVE makes me thinks its real loyalties are with boring Letha and her boring life. All that's missing from the show is a disclaimer advising us that "The shit these people do might be entertaining, but will damn their souls to hell. So don't do it, m'kay?" 

So, if HEMLOCK GROVE later reveals that Letha's nocturnal visitor was OMG, LIKE, A REAL ANGEL!?!?, color me less than shocked. If there was ever a series designed to find Jesus at the bottom of the proverbial bottle, this is it.

The show's other big moment arrives in the final minutes, and it's actually pretty great. Roman allows Peter to witness his transformation into a werewolf. Not only is the transformation effective (which has a wolf clawing its way out of Roman's skin and then neatly devouring the leftovers) but the build-up is tense, too. Peter, Roman and his mother, Lynda, sit around their trailer and wait nervously for the transformation to take place. When it does, the violence of the moment makes it clear that a werewolf is something you really don't want to be.

Friday, April 26, 2013

Big Finish DARK SHADOWS episodes are on sale!

The upcoming DARK SHADOWS audio drama from Big Finish, titled THE PHANTOM BRIDE, has the unlikely duo of Tony Peterson (Jerry Lacy) and Cassandra Blair (Lara Parker) investigating a series of mysterious deaths on board a cruise liner. To help new listeners catch up on the previous Peterson/Blair adventures, Big Finish has put the first three audio dramas with the characters on sale this weekend for only $5 each.

The episodes available are:

Remember: the offer is only for this weekend! You can also pre-order THE PHANTOM BRIDE or order it as part of a subscription.


Here's a book that's shot right to the top of my "must read" list: Who Was Dracula? Bram Stoker's Trail of Blood by Jim Steinmeyer follows the creative development of Stoker's 1897 novel. DRACULA is a story I've been fascinated with my entire life, but Steinmeyer's book shows how perilously close the novel came to being a momentary blip on the cultural radar. SLATE has a look at the TRAIL OF BLOOD, including a page of notes that shows the development of the villains name.


"The page shows how Stoker initially named the murderous Count “Wampyr,” the German word for vampire. Stoker discarded this idea after coming across a mention of a 15th-century Romanian warlord in a book on Eastern Europe. Steinmeyer notes that after striking Wampyr and replacing it with the new name, Stoker wrote “Dracula” across the top of the page three times, as though trying out its power."

"Who Was Dracula? Bram Stoker's Trail of Blood" is now available at Amazon.

Thursday, April 25, 2013

Big Finish presents: THE NIGHT WHISPERS

In 2010, Big Finish Productions, a U.K. company specializing in "audio dramas" based on cult television programs (among other things) achieved the impossible: Coaxing actor JONATHAN FRID out of retirement to play vampire Barnabas Collins.

Frid had kept busy in the years since DARK SHADOWS ended with a variety of stage efforts, working mostly whenever the mood struck him. But, he left the role of Barnabas Collins behind when the series went off the air in 1970 and that, it seemed, was that. Interviews granted later in life didn't suggest he had any particular interest in returning to DARK SHADOWS in a professional capacity, so the announcement that he was taking part in a Big Finish drama was a surprise, to say the least.

Titled THE NIGHT WHISPERS, the episode re-teamed Frid with his friend JOHN KARLEN in the role of Willie Loomis, as well as cult actress (and Dark Shadows "revival" alumnus) BARBARA STEELE as the episode's antagonist. The recording would go on to win a Rondo Hatton award.

This week, I thought I'd gather together some of the COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY's Board of Trustees to talk about the landmark recording. It's not the entire board, but there was enough for a quorum: WALLACE McBRIDE (that's me!) PATRICK McCRAY, DAVID-ELIJAH NAHMOD and FRANK JAY GRUBER.


WALLACE: I’m always surprised THE NIGHT WHISPERS doesn’t get more love from DARK SHADOWS fans. Historically, the Cult of Jonathan Frid has been dismissive of the actor playing any role other than Barnabas Collins. I’ve read stories of fans skipping his spoken-word performances in the ‘80s and ‘90s, but still asking him to sign their DARK SHADOWS merch after the show. Where were these people when THE NIGHT WHISPERS was released? I’m sure it’s one of the best-selling DARK SHADOWS audio dramas from BIG FINISH, but I’ve rarely seen anybody discussing it online.

Is the audio drama medium too alien for fans, or do they just not care about anything Collinwood-related that was made after 1971?

PATRICK: I'm not sure it was very well advertised by Big Finish.  Nor did they make an attempt to weave it into a larger story involving more cast members ... odd because audio production gives you such freedom. 

The performance, itself, is also something that would fail to generate much buzz. Mr. Frid sounded, frankly, bored by the piece.  I hate to say it, but I can understand why. 

I think that if it had a story with the mythic power of KINGDOM OF THE DEAD, the rambunctiousness of OPERATION VICTOR, or the pathos of THE BLIND PAINTER, fans would have set the internet on fire. I've listened to it a number of times, including yesterday, and I can barely remember what happened. This was an actor who might not have been at the height of his vigor but was in full control of the richness and nuance of the language.  When I hear it, I kinda like it, but I don't rave about it.  I feel vaguely guilty about that, too.  I want to love it.  I really do.  But I just... like it.
DAVID: I've heard fans say they wanted 60-ish Frid play Barnabas in 1991, and even a few say they can't watch any DS incarnation that doesn't star the original 1960s cast.

There are marked differences between James Whale's Frankenstein (1931) and Terence Fisher's Curse of Frankenstein (1957), and that's good.

Why would anyone want to watch the same thing over and over to the exclusion of everything else?
Variety is the spice of life, and THE NIGHT WHISPERS offers a nice look at the Barnabas/Willie relationship years later.

I for one would like to know how our iconic characters fared in the years to come.

FRANK: I listened to THE NIGHT WHISPERS again while driving to prepare for this roundtable. There is a Barnabas line that made me pull over just to jot it down. It encapsulates my feelings about this Big Finish release perfectly: “Fate plays cruel tricks on those who remember."

We all recall what Jonathan sounded like in his prime on the series, a distinctive delivery and cadence that makes his vocal performance on this release all the more jarring. He no longer sounded like Barnabas Collins by 2010 when this recording was made in Canada. Unlike John Karlen, who always seems to slip effortlessly and convincingly into his sixties Willie Loomis performance, Frid is almost unrecognizable. At the 2011 Dark Shadows Festival I asked the audio’s writer, Stuart Manning, if he was disturbed by the changes in Frid’s voice. It could not have been how he imagined Barnabas saying the lines when he wrote them. Manning was very diplomatic and naturally reluctant to say anything negative about the icon speaking in the next room. All he would admit was that it was unfortunate they didn’t get to record Jonathan a few years earlier.

In the CD liner notes, Frid says “I’d always resisted the idea of playing Barnabas again, in the years since Dark Shadows ended. But having watched some of those old shows recently through fresh eyes ... the idea of revisiting Barnabas in an older incarnation on audio had me intrigued.” Big Finish made it as appealing and convenient as possible by recording Frid’s material in Ontario — without John Karlen even being present. What we have in THE NIGHT WHISPERS is essentially two actors a country apart reading lines without benefit of the other performer to react to. Through the supernatural medium of editing, the original Barnabas and Willie are finally reunited — but the vitality of our familiar characters is muted by the exigencies of the recording method. In their U.K. studios, Big Finish actually places actors in separate booths during recording, but they usually get to fraternize and presumably run lines in the green room to nail down their approaches. On their Doctor Who releases they even conduct post-recording interviews with the actors and include them on the CDs. Who knows what magic might have occurred if Johnny and Jonathan had actually been in the same studio?

WALLACE: For better or worse, I don't have especially strong feelings about THE NIGHT WHISPERS. I don't love it, and I don't hate it ... but the cast has a certain amount of magic that makes it impossible to dismiss. You're all correct in pointing out the story's missed opportunities, but just getting Frid and Karlen together again (no matter how artificially) for one last hurrah is an amazing feat. At the time of the recording, neither man was especially well, so it seems impractical (if not dangerous) to get these men living in different countries together for an hour-long recording. And, given Frid's temperament late in life, trying to direct him and another actor long-distance via something like Skype wouldn't have been a good idea, either. From a performance perspective, this is about the best anyone could hope for from either actor.

And, while Frid never sounds like the Barnabas we remember in this episode, his voice still had a great amount of power and charisma.

I just realized nobody's mentioned Barbara Steele, yet. While the decision to use yet another disembodied voice as the story's antagonist wasn't terribly inspired, Steele is always a welcome presence. Was there some reason they didn't go with Lara Parker, though? Was it a budgetary concern?

PATRICK: I have no idea, but the absence of Ms. Parker is awfully saddening.  I don't think there was anything odd going on, but hell, I would have been happy to have heard Ms. Steele as Angelique than to not feature that iconic character.  Or have her as Angelique's mom or something.  Or Naomi's ghost. Something to really tie it to the mythos.

With Star Trek: The Continuing Mission, I got a lot of experience directing separate voice actors for a UK-assembled show.  It's not as easy as having everyone in the same room, but it's not that hard.  LOTS of voice work is done that way.  I have no idea how cantankerous Mr. Frid was, but there is a simple way for a voice director to get what they need from even the most irascible of actors.  It's a magical incantation.  It goes like this, "I have no idea what Johnny Karlen may do with the part.  Mr. Frid, would you give me the line several different ways so that we're covered?  It'll be fun to see what these lines can do."
It's like giving a dog a jar of peanut butter.  Actors, especially good ones with a script in front of them, comfy chair, a free afternoon, a hot pot of tea, and a nearby corned beef sandwich will get both comfortable and bored pretty quickly.  But theatre is all about "hurry up and wait," so bored and impatient are two separate animals.
Also, this phrase might have been good, "That sounded great. What would a more mid-Atlantic Barnabas sound like?  The producers are British, and I think it would be interesting." Actors like to flex their acting muscles.  Even grumpy ones.  That's why they're actors.  Words like "try" are golden. 
The ultimate issue for me is not the age of Mr. Frid's voice.  It's the accent.  He had even remarked a few years before about how Barnabas sounded different than the -- his words -- "flat, Canadian accent."
I'm going to needle the script a bit more because of that.  I feel bad doing this because it must have been intimidating to write, but still ... it also could have been exhilarating.  I think if the script had higher stakes that really furthered the DS story, we would have gotten a better performance.  It just would have been more fun to act.  Yes, it answers some questions about Barnabas, but they were not questions anyone asked.  This is the opposite of HAUNTED REFRAIN, which addresses the Grant Douglas issue. So that's why it's a letdown for me.... and I suspect Mr. Frid.

DAVID: I though the story began well, with a nice look at the genuine camaraderie that Willie & Barnabas came to enjoy in the future. Frid's voice was still strong, but the gravelly pitch in his voice sounded odd. Story wise, THE NIGHT WHISPERS is OK, as a stand alone tale. But I'm going to assume that it's another parallel time story, perhaps set in an all new time band.

The implications that Joshua Collins' sins are what brought all that supernatural despair on the family directly contradicts established canon from the TV series, in which it was clearly stated that the family's curse began with Judah Zachary.

FRANK: I sincerely doubt the 85 year-old Frid was inclined to sit through numerous takes and accept persnickety direction. Tantrums of the famous Orson Welles variety might soon have erupted. As it stands, as David points out, some of the Barnabas/Willie character moments are remarkably evocative and well-scripted, even if the overall story itself is a bit predictable. For me, the moment Willie started being uncharacteristically demanding and assertive with Barnabas telegraphed the remaining plot twists.

We should probably just be grateful for what THE NIGHT WHISPERS represents. Yes, it would have been wonderful to have Jonathan join Kathryn, Lara, and the rest in one of those multi-cast audio epics of the Return to Collinwood or Kingdom of the Dead variety, but this was not to be. As it is, even taking into account the sometimes lackluster interplay between Frid and Karlen—acting more reminiscent of a staged reading than a proper audio drama — THE NIGHT WHISPERS is an absolutely essential purchase for any fan of Classic Dark Shadows. Jonathan Frid returns to the role of Barnabas Collins for the first time in almost 40 years. If that tag line is not enough to get your blood spurting quicker, to make you succumb to Big Finish’s search for plunder and unchain your wallet, then you are simply not a true fan. Besides that headline, there are other rewards to be found here. Stuart Manning’s script features some nicely subtle nods to series enthusiasts, which we should not spoil here, and I still argue his work was a bit ill-served by the production’s circumstances. In Manning’s imagination, and even on paper, he did recapture more than a few glimmers of the true Dark Shadows spirit.

“Fate plays cruel tricks on those who remember" may indeed serve as a caution for longtime fans, but is also a brilliant description of our eternally forlorn Barnabas Collins. How wonderful it is that Jonathan Frid, even at age 85, had the opportunity to again speak such words.

About the Collinsport Historical Society Board of Trustees:

FRANK JAY GRUBER is a freelance writer and college instructor in the New York City area. He has covered genre fandom and the convention beat for TrekMovie.com and trade publications. In 2012, CNN interviewed him about Star Trek and utilized him as a source for their coverage of Jonathan Frid’s death. You can read his very occasional reviews and musings at thewearyprofessor.com and follow him on Twitter @FrankJayGruber.

PATRICK McCRAY is a well known comic book author who resides in Knoxville, Tenn., where he's been a drama coach and general nuisance since 1997. He has a MFA in Directing and worked at Revolutionary Comics and on the early days of BABYLON 5. You can find him at The Collins Foundation.

DAVID-ELIJAH NAHMOD is an American/Israeli half-breed who has lived in New York City and Tel Aviv, where he managed to get several Israelis hooked on DS via screening VHS tapes. Currently in San Francisco, his eclectic writing career includes horror movie mags, LGBT publications, and Times of Israel. Find him on Facebook.

Wednesday, April 24, 2013

Ryan Murphy talks DARK SHADOWS


When a familiar cane made an appearance in the last season of AMERICAN HORROR STORY, a lot of people were left wondering if it was an intentional homage or just a happy accident. An interview with the show's creator RYAN MURPHY pretty much puts the mystery to bed, as the writer admits a long-standing love for DARK SHADOWS. Murphy, who also has shows like GLEE and NIP/TUCK on his resume, tells OUT MAGAZINE:
The Church, along with his Dark Shadows–loving grandma, Myrtle, provided Murphy with the heightened reality and grand sense of theater he craved as a pre-pubescent boy.

“Myrtle was the best. Everything I have in my life, in terms of my imagination and my ambition and my drama -- the love of all that -- comes from her 100 precent,” Murphy says. “She put on a lot of makeup and jewelry and loved the color purple, so she wore it every day.” On afternoons, Myrtle would sit her young grandson in front of the TV to watch the paranormal soap opera Dark Shadows “just to toughen me up,” Murphy says. “I went as Barnabas Collins, like, three Halloweens in a row, and my dad was thrilled because it was the first time I wanted to be a boy; I usually wanted to be a witch or something like that.”

You can read the entire interview is online HERE.

Monday, April 22, 2013

The Horror Show: HEMLOCK GROVE

Episode 1: "Jellyfish in the Sky"

The concept of "television horror" has been around long enough to have developed distinct archetypes that have their own inescapable gravities. For example, if you're going to dabble in sinister soap melodramas, you'd better be prepared to deal with comparisons to DARK SHADOWS, something HEMLOCK GROVE has been doing the series was first announced. The latest program to take a wild stab at the "gothic soap" subgenre, the Netflix series has an advantage that many of its contemporaries do not: The ability to plan and shoot its entire first season before the pilot airs. It's nice to jump into a new show without any worries that it will prematurely expire after two or three episodes.

With just a single episode under my belt, though, it's hard to tell where HEMLOCK GROVE wants to take me. It plays like a hybrid of the 1991 DARK SHADOWS revival and TWIN PEAKS, with a touch of THE X-FILES thrown in for flavor. The worst thing I could say about the show is that it feels like a glorified homage to '90s horror. But I miss those shows, so that's not such a terrible thing to be. Is it original? No. Fresh? Hardly. But it's got my attention.

The story revolves around the creepy Godfrey family, which harbors more than one monster under the roof of its stately mansion. One of them might be a werewolf (though we get not formal confirmation of that in the pilot) while the other is a deformed giant. At the top of the sinister hierarchy is the secretive, and probably not human, Olivia Godfrey (Famke Janssen.)

Wandering into the mix is Peter Rumancek, a 17-year-old Gypsy who has taken refuge with his mother in a trailer on the outskirts of town. A connection between the Rumanceks and Godfreys is alluded to but not explained, while a flashback explains why Olivia's husband is no longer in the picture. Frankly, it's a mystery that could have been milked for a few more episodes, but there's still enough of the family's toxic gene pool to keep things interesting for a while.

Playing opposite Peter is Olivia's son Roman, who seems to have devoted his life to developing the world's best James Spader impression. His relationship with his mother, as well as his cousin Letha, are both fairly unsavory. Olivia's behavior with the lad suggests he's her lover, which Roman has (possibly unrealized) romantic intents on his younger cousin. The Godfreys have such ravenous appetites that they're in danger of devouring each other.

So the citizens of Hemlock Grove probably don't stand much of a chance, seeing as how they're on the bottom of the no-longer-proverbial food chain. It looks as though this season will revolve around the murder of a 17-year-old cheerleader, a young girl Roman denies having known. His Facebook feed tells a different story, but the few moments of her life that are glimpsed at the start of the episode suggests there was more going on with this young woman than meets the eye. She was murdered en route to a secret tryst with one of her female teachers, who hears to the girl murder through an open cell phone connection.

While HEMLOCK GROVE sometimes looks like SPIDER BABY as filtered through the Disney Channel, it's not a terrible looking show. Keeping with the '90s revival vibe, the whole thing looks like a post-grunge music video. Unlike the shows that inspired it, HEMLOCK GROVE doesn't wear its pretensions on its sleeve and understands its own pulp value. Its cartoonish qualities sometimes gets in its own way, but tends to support the narrative more than undermine it.

And, while nobody in the cast will be threatened with winning any awards for their work here, most of the performances are solid. At the start, I was worried I'd have trouble telling the blandly attractive teens apart (the leads all look like American Apparel models) but that turned out not to be a problem. Even though most of the cast is pretty despicable, they've got just enough humanity in them to make them interesting, if not pitiable. As Roman, Bill Skarsgård comes across like the embodiment of every douche to grace the screen in a JOHN HUGHES movie. This is not a guy we're not supposed to like, but Skarsgård gives us hope that there's something inside the coke-sniffing, drug-dealing womanizing minor that might be worth saving.

Landon Liboiron as Peter Rumancek has more heaving lifting to do in the narrative. He's the audience's cypher, and we're essentially introduced to Hemlock Grove through his eyes. Using a thief and a liar (not to mention potential murderer) as a centerpiece character is a ballsy move but, again, he comes across like a kid trapped by circumstance. He hasn't earned his cockiness yet, and isn't nearly as smart as he thinks he is.

The adults of the series are a little less interesting, though they're performances are more assured. Janssen is sultry, sarcastic evil, while DOUGRAY SCOTT as her brother-in-law is tasked with being the show's moral center. Given than he was sleeping with Olivia at the time of his brother's apparent suicide, his morality isn't always sure bet. Scott was originally cast as Wolverine in the first X-MEN movie but had to drop out when production of MISSION IMPOSSIBLE 2 ran long, forcing the film add HUGH JACKMAN at the last minute. It's nice to finally see him share the screen with Janssen, but I can't help but think TOM CRUISE owes the man a massive apology.

LILI TAYLOR, an actress I'm always happy to see, also stops by as Peter's mother, but her place in the credits suggests it's not a permanent gig (hint hint.) Also, it's great to see AARON DOUGLAS of BATTLESTAR GALCTICA in the cast as the town's hapless sheriff. If you're looking for someone to play  "conflicted authority," he's your man.

Make no mistake ... HEMLOCK GROVE is trash. But it's fun trash, and I'm willing to accept its drinking-game style foolishness as long as it remains entertaining. Right now, it still feels too much like its bristling around the edges as it insists it's not TWILIGHT, which is difficult given the subject matter. Also, HEMLOCK GROVE really needs to work on creating a realistic-looking high school if it's going to spend a significant amount of time at the location. It feels faker the Sunnydale High. So yeah, the show's got a long way to go to find its own voice.

But here's the rub: A Network television series has the ability to receive audience feedback and adjust its story as necessary. HEMLOCK GROVE shot its entire first season the same way a network would shoot a pilot, and I don't yet know if that's going to be a benefit or a burden on the show's growth.

I guess that 's a topic to revisit in the next episodes.

Friday, April 19, 2013

Guest Blogger: ANSEL FARAJ

There are 8 days to go till the world premiere of DOCTOR MABUSE, my first major motion picture. Yes, if you look at my resume you will see that DOCTOR MABUSE is my 21st film, but really - it's my first true film. A real professional piece of cinema, as opposed to earlier efforts.

I have just watched the film for the last time, just one last glance on my own before it gets projected on a 60ft screen, and there are a few things I must say. Forgive me if I brag at times, but wouldn't you brag about your own work?

To begin with, I must thank two very important people: Linden and Kathryn. One said no, while the other said yes. Linden was first pitched the film 2 years ago, but said no to the role of Mabuse. He didn't feel sinister enough. And I thank him every day for saying "No" 2 years ago. If he had said yes, I don't think I would be writing this essay right now. And as a side note, he's a fine Inspector Von Wenk.

Kathryn on the other hand, said yes. She took a huge risk on me, she didn't know me from Adam, she could have very easily said no - but she didn't. She said yes; and with that "Yes", she started a snowball effect. That yes meant everything would be different. The movie would be bigger. The production would be more professional that it ever had been. The public attention would be greater. With her saying "Yes", it helped (I think - I might be wrong...) Jerry to say "Yes". And it most certainly helped Lara to say "Yes". And without Jerry and Lara, there would be no Dr. Mabuse, nor Madame Carrozza. Without Kathryn, there would be no Madame Von Harbau, nor would there be a movie. To the 'Dark Shadows Trio', thank you for everything. Not just for acting in my film (films if you count our upcoming sequel), but for teaching me how the industry works, and helping me improve my skills - whether it's in writing, directing, or even cinematography.

Second, I must thank Nathan. He jumped on board despite the troubles we had both endured on our previous film. He was willing to give me another chance at directing him, and directing him on one of the strangest, most complicated scripts he'd ever read. He took this character of Inspector Lohemann, and ran with it, turning in one of the most nuanced and disturbed performances I've ever seen come from an actor. He sold it. And if he couldn't sell it - the movie's plot would most certainly fall apart. It's his film dramatically as much as it's mine as a whole. I couldn't have gotten a better Inspector.

My supporting cast - Derek, John, Annie, Bahia, David, Vivian, and Julian; they all have turned in magnificent performances. They fully inhabit the world of MABUSE, they make it real. And they make it frightening too. All I can say is, I would not want to end up locked in a room with their characters if their characters were real. I think you will agree with me.

Bill Wandel - what else can I say? The man is one of the best composers in the business, and one of the best guy's in the business, regardless of his job title. I seriously believe he was possessed by the spirit of Bernard Herrmann while composing our score. He's been one of the few that I can rely on, whether it's in his work, or just asking his thoughts on a moment in the film. It's only our third film together, but I hope we have the chance to continue collaborating into the future.

To everyone who helped get the word out: David Elijah-Nahmod, Wallace McBride, Moe Banshee, Stuart Manning, William Maynard, Paul Rowlands and Rod Labbe (whose articles will be coming out soon) - thank you for taking such a strong interest in my film. I really owe it to you all for letting people know about it and helping it's audience grow. And thank you for teaching me how to do an interview, God knows I'll need to know how to do one in the future.

Gloria and Darren - two people who helped along the edges. Gloria for keeping Jerry's fan club constantly updated on the progress of the film, and for keeping Jerry's name out there, I think you're going to have to add Dr. Mabuse to Jerry's two other greatest characters, Humphrey Bogart and Rev. Trask! Darren, who gave me - and continues to give me great advice along the way. I cant thank you enough for your editing input after watching the film in December.

Jim Pierson and Lance Alspaugh - without these two men, you probably wouldn't be seeing DOCTOR MABUSE at all. The "distribution guys" as I call them, Jim's hard work with the Dark Shadows fan base has kept DS going after all these years, and his acceptance of DOCTOR MABUSE into the DS pantheon is something I shall always be grateful for. Lance, whose theaters DOCTOR MABUSE will be playing at, his continuous patience with me and kindness - to take a risk on me as well with agreeing to screen my film in theaters, and giving me the theatrical release I had always hoped for, something I still can't quite believe, to him I say "Thank You" times a million.

To wrap this all up somehow, I'm going to talk a bit about my film. DOCTOR MABUSE is not a Dark Shadows movie. Nor is it a traditional Dr. Mabuse movie. It's not a remake, sequel, reboot, adaptation, whatever-you-wanna-call-it. It's not even like my other films, really. It is its own film. It's a dark, psychedelic, Gothic, paranoia thriller. It's got an amazing ensemble of talent, a beautiful music score, and it's a great fun ride. And to all of you, who read this, I hope you enjoy my film. I ask only two things of you - tell all your friends to go see it, either in its limited theatrical run, or on DVD later this year; but please don't reveal its secrets. Let them discover those on their own... in the dark.

Thursday, April 18, 2013

Tony Peterson returns in THE PHANTOM BRIDE

BIG FINISH has released details about its next DARK SHADOWS audio drama, THE PHANTOM BRIDE, which sees the return of JERRY LACY and LARA PARKER to the series.

Here's the official synopsis:

In this latest story, Dark Shadows: The Phantom Bride by Mark Thomas Passmore, private detective Tony Peterson (Jerry Lacy) and the witch Cassandra (Lara Parker) are all out at sea. Their latest case sees them investigating a series of mysterious deaths on board a cruise liner. Tony and Cassandra were previously reunited in The Death Mask, with their adventures continuing in The Voodoo Amulet and The Last Stop.

“What begins with the apparition of a woman in a wedding dress leads to a series of gruesome deaths on board a transatlantic luxury liner,” says Passmore. “And if Tony and Cassandra don’t act quickly, there may be no one left alive when the ship docks in England…”

You can find out more about Tony and Cassandra in next month's free issue of Vortex magazine! He's a private detective and she's a witch - and when they get together it's murder...

THE PHANTOM BRIDE is scheduled to be released in May. Visit Big Finish for more details.

Dark Shadows Diary, Episode 81

Episode 81, "Matthew Morgan Vs. the World"
Oct. 17, 1966
Burke Devlin and Matthew Morgan have a rematch this episode, but this time they settle for verbal sparring over the physical conflict seen back in Episode 64. That doesn't mean they spare the threats, intimidation and violent innuendo, though. Like something out of a prison movie, Matthew wanders into the diner and pulls up a seat at Burke's table and makes his rather-large presence known.

And he's got a very specific question he wants to ask: Why does Burke have to be so greedy?

It's a fair question, especially from someone with such humble needs as Matthew Morgan. What the Collinwood groundskeeper doesn't understand is why a man as successful as Burke still craves more ("more" in this case meaning "Collinwood.") Burke smugly brushes off the question, promising Matthew that he'll still have a job once he takes possession of Collinwood. It sounds more like a threat than reassurance, so Morgan's response is appropriately nasty: "The place will burn down before you live in it." Burke isn't impressed.

Matthew represents violent, terrified conservatism, a running theme of DARK SHADOWS. Like many of the show's other villains, Matthew can't let go of the past and is willing to destroy himself to protect something that's long since gone. Matthew wants nothing more than to protect his imaginary status quo, no matter how stagnant his world has grown.  He fears change because he has trouble seeing a place for himself in any other world. For all his claims of defending Liz, he's really just defending himself.

Which is why he's suspicious of Mrs. Johnson's arrival at Collinwood in this episode, even though her presence couldn't possibly matter to him. Collinwood's would-be housekeeper visits the mansion for her "job interview," a gambit by Burke to place a spy in his the home of his enemies. I still don't know why Burke needs her, unless his boasts of destroying the Collins family aren't as certain as he wants us to believe.

During her chat with Liz, Mrs. Johnson curiously stresses her devotion to discretion, mentioning how she never said a word about any of Bill Malloy's personal affairs. First off, this is a HUGE red flag for anyone conducting a job interview (something Liz probably hasn't done in two decades, so I'll forgive her.) Worse,  it never occurred to me that Malloy even had personal affairs to gossip about ... and now I want to know what they are. I have to interpret this bizarre exchange as meaning Malloy had a few skeletons in his closet, and that both Liz and Mrs. Johnson were aware of them.

Just to drag things out a little longer, Liz delays making any decisions about hiring the housekeeper for Collinwood. Mrs. Johnson later winds up sharing a table at the diner with Matthew, who does his best to scare her off. Not only does he warn her that Collinwood's ghosts are very real, he more-or-less threatens to add to their population by threatening anyone who tries hurt Liz. The housekeeper makes it through the accidental date with the shaggy hulk only to have Burke berate her for not getting the job on the spot. Mrs. Johnson makes it very clear she doesn't like Burke or Liz, not realizing she's found a soulmate of sorts in her co-conspirator ... who is as singleminded as she in her vendetta.

Lucky for both of them, Liz has a change of heart in the final moments of the episode and calls Mrs. Johnson to let her know she's got the job.

Tuesday, April 16, 2013

Spectre Toys cancels DARK SHADOWS line

This is disappointing, but hardly surprising: Spectre Toys has cancelled the new line of DARK SHADOWS toys scheduled to be released in May.

If you recall, these toys were supposed to be released last year, but were delayed (presumably because of the perceived failure of the TIM BURTON film, but who knows.)  I was a little dubious that these toys would actually be produced. Even though Entertainment Earth continued to list them for a May 2013 release, Spectre Toys never re-launched its company website. It was promising that Entertainment Earth continued to take orders for the toys, I began to have serious doubts when they were not listed in its most recent catalog. I'm not sure who's to blame for stringing us along for the last year, but I suspect a lot of folks are going to be very unhappy at this turn of events. With luck, maybe a company that has it's act together will someday get the license to produce these figures.

Monday, April 15, 2013

Collinsport News Bulletins

* Desmond Haas interviews KATHRYN LEIGH SCOTT about her new book, DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HEELS.

* DavidSelby.com has announced the actor's appearance on the TNT series RIZZOLI & ISLES will air Tuesday, June 25, at 9 PM ET/PT.

* HULU has added episodes of DARK SHADOWS to its online collection, now offering the first 120 episodes of the series to feature BARNABAS COLLINS. These episodes make-up the first three DVD collections from MPI.

* The Multnomah County Library in Portland, Oregon, is hosting an event May 18 titled DARK SHADOWS & PUPPETRY. "Teens will use craft and art materials to bring their haunting ideas to life in the form of theatrical puppets," the library's website explains. "This project is inspired by the movie Dark Shadows and each puppet creature will leave the workshop ready to star in a moving picture!"

* An update on the campaign to get JONATHAN FRID on Canada's Walk of Fame. "At one point in his career, he was second in popularity to United States First Lady Jackie Kennedy, receiving 6,000 letters a week."

Dark Shadows Diary, Episode 80

Episode 80, "Pensiveness and Penmanship"
Oct. 14, 1966

There's more to serialized fiction that simply stringing together a bunch of scenes into a coherent narrative. Television is probably the most popular form of serialized fiction today, and it's a medium that brings with it some unique obstacles. Not only do you have to create vibrant characters and compelling stories, but you have to build them around regularly scheduled commercial breaks. Plot twists need to be created often and effectively, but not to such a degree that the audience realizes they're being played. And they need to be placed, more or less, at the same time in each episode. It's probably even harder to do than it sounds.

Daytime dramas have an additional hurdle that makes the routine commercial break look like a minor speed bump. The traditional pre-commercial plot twist only needs to be good enough to get you NOT to change the channel for a few minutes. Daytime dramas need to end on a note that makes you want to come back 24 hours later. Friday episodes have it even worse, which is why the most crucial cliffhangers tend to land on the last episodes of the week.

So far DARK SHADOWS hasn't really excelled at installing these plot devices. Some of it might be blamed on the nature of the story's early mystery, which has been fairly pedestrian. Whoever it was that killed Bill Malloy doesn't appear to pose much of a danger to anyone else on the show, so there's no sense of urgency to solve the mystery.It just leaves characters discussing subject endlessly.

Episode 80 was a Friday episode, and the best week-ending plot twist the writers could come up with was the revelation that Victoria had discovered the missing Silver Fountain Pen. It wasn't a exactly a revelation, because we saw her find the pen back in Episode 75. But now Roger knows she's got the pen, which means ... not much, really. The entire episode was spent casting further doubt on Roger's innocence in Malloy's murder as he quietly retraced his steps in search of the missing pen. We're supposed to believe he might be guilty of murder, but only because the writers have done nothing to paint anyone else as a serious suspect.

This story arc is a rough draft for what's to come later. In fact, the writers learned a lot from the failings of this mystery by creating more active (and dangerous) antagonists in the next few story arcs, so we owe a debt of gratitude to Bill Malloy. He's the human sacrifice that made the rest of DARK SHADOWS possible.

Speaking of sacrifices, we might have witnessed the end of the Joe/Carolyn romance in this episode. I know it ends soon, but Carolyn's behavior is so manic that it's impossible to evaluate the sincerity of her outbursts. Feeling especially dickish, Roger tells Carolyn about Joe and Maggie's "date," prompting the kind of response you might expect from her. Adding kerosene to the fire is the conversation between Joe and Liz about arranging his future at the company (which is connected to his future with Carolyn.) At this point, I don't Carolyn can be faulted for feeling as though she's getting pressured into a marriage she doesn't want any part in, and her mom and boyfriend are coming perilously close to strong-arming her into making a decision.

Still, the episode ends with the weak cliffhanger of the Silver Fountain Pen. Malloy's death has been ruled an accident, nobody is investigating further, the discovery of the pen has no real significance to anybody ... yet we're supposed to think it's a big deal. Had Roger taken a moment to say, "Oh! You found my pen!" it would have resolved itself immediately. But Friday demanded we end on DRAMA, so DRAMA we must have.


The original TV portrait.
DARK SHADOWS loves its portraits. At one time or another, most of the show's leads had their likeness done in oils, from Burke Devlin to Quentin Collins. Visual art played such a role in the series that the cast of characters even included a few people that were portraits come to life. Naturally, this fascination with art extends to fans of the series.

Last year, BILL BRANCH shared some of his DARK SHADOWS-inspired work with this website, but this artwork of Angelique (specifically Angelique Stokes Collins, for those of you keeping score at home) somehow slipped through the cracks. Branch created this art on an antique sewing machine cabinet that he gutted. And the tulips he added to the background of the image? Angelique tulips, of course.

Saturday, April 13, 2013

Ansel Faraj & Nathan Wilson on DOCTOR MABUSE

Curious about the new DOCTOR MABUSE movie coming from director ANSEL FARAJ? Last month's trailer established the mystery and tone of the film, but the video above might shed a little more light on the project. Faraj and actor NATHAN WILSON discuss the goals of the film, as well as what it was like to work with actors JERRY LACY, LARA PARKER and KATHRYN LEIGH SCOTT.

Ansel has also asked me to pass along some information about his film. Below is a brief FAQ about how, when and where you will be able to see DOCTOR MABUSE:

Will DOCTOR MABUSE be playing in other cities besides Los Angeles?
No - nothing has been confirmed at present. There are a few possible screenings we are working on, but nothing concrete.

Will DOCTOR MABUSE be screening overseas, or just in the USA?

Once again, no - not at the moment, but we are working out possible screenings in London and Madrid. But once again - nothing concrete at the moment.

When will a DVD be available?

Thursday, April 11, 2013

Dark Shadows Diary, Episode 79

Episode 79: "Method Acting"
Oct. 13, 1966

There's a lot of dialogue in this episode, even by the chatty standards of DARK SHADOWS. That's not necessarily a bad thing, because the script for this episode takes a positively Quentin Tarantino-esque approach to attacking its overriding question: "Who Killed Bill Malloy?"

Interestingly, none of the show's principals are directly involved with Malloy's death, which has taken on a different meaning for different people. For Maggie, it's an event that continues to trouble her already troubled father. For Mrs. Johnson, Malloy's death is a grave injustice that needs to be corrected, a sentiment that brings her goals in line with that of Burke Devlin, Collinsport's favorite vigilante. Meanwhile, Roger and Sam are freaking out because Malloy's death might prompt people to ask questions about another crime that took place a decade earlier.

The episode also presents opportunities for the characters to express, quite bluntly, their individual mission statements. Maggie continues to be the show's moral compass (she rightfully mistrusts Mrs. Johnson for reasons beyond the housekeeper's usual creepy demeanor.) Burke's priorities are the most concrete: "To get Collinwood and all it represents," and "to avenge the death of Bill Malloy." Right about now, Burke's enemies list is getting a bit cumbersome.

Mrs. Johnson is the most transparently deceptive, at least to the audience. She's the one character on the show we fully understand because she sincerely wants to find the person who killed her employer. Whatever transgressions she'll later be guilty of were only possible because Burke enabled them. Without him, she's just the community busybody. Burke's ambigous ruthlessness has made her an agent in the show's mystery and has possibly put her life in danger. And she's really getting into her new role, going so far as staging a dramatic accusation for the patrons at the Collinwood Inn's diner by loudly proclaiming Burke killed Malloy. Even he looks a little shocked by the strength of her performance.

Before she can really get wound up, though, David wanders into the scene and makes everyone feel uncomfortable. It's one thing to lie to adults for whatever the revenge du jour happens to be. It's another to set a horrible example for a child, especially one that came pre-loaded with ethical quandaries. Burke later tries to calm David by insisting Mrs. Johnson's outburst was provoked by grief and should be forgiven. He is unaware of the irony of his own advice.

Elsewhere, Sam, Maggie and Mrs Johnson are having a similar conversation, this time about Burke's nature to "upset" people. "We have to learn to forget ... live and let live," Sam declares, underlining one of the prevalent themes of the series. If anyone at Collinsport knew how to do that, though, we wouldn't have much of a series.

Tuesday, April 9, 2013


Well, this was an unexpected surprise. The RONDO HATTON CLASSIC HORROR AWARDS have named THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY the "Best Blog" of 2012! All I hoped for was to get DARK SHADOWS mentioned somewhere in this year's award winners. I've been a big fan of Pierre Fournier's FRANKENSTEINIA and Stacie Ponder's FINAL GIRL blogs for years, and it was just a thrill to see my blog mentioned next to theirs in the list of nominees.I never dreamed this site had a chance at actually winning.

And that's not all: DARK SHADOWS was mentioned frequently throughout the award winners. Here's the complete list:


BEST INTERVIEW (Award goes to interviewer)
MICHAEL CULHANE, interviews Jonathan Frid and other original DARK SHADOWS cast members, FAMOUS MONSTERS OF FILMLAND #261

MONSTERS FROM THE VAULT #30 (Vincent Price Remembered)
*VIDEO WATCHDOG #169 (Dark Shadows)

Runners-up: ROSEMARY'S BABY; GOJIRA/GODZILLA (Criterion Blu-Ray)

*Runner-up: DARK SHADOWS: Complete Original Series (131 DVDs)

*Honorable mention: WOMAN IN BLACK; DARK SHADOWS

Thanks to all of you who voted, as well as to those of you who meant to vote but forgot (I was almost among the latter, myself.) I'm also incredibly grateful to people like Will McKinley, Patrick McCray, David-Elijah Nahmod, Darren Gross, Jessica Dwyer and Bill Branch, who have pitched in over the last year to help make this website about something more than my own eccentric ramblings. The cast members of the original show have also been incredibly kind to me. Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Selby, Sharon Lentz and Lara Parker have all added an air of legitimacy to THE COLLINSPORT HISTORICAL SOCIETY by visiting with us. This site's first year has been fun and surreal ... and we're just getting started.

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