Which is why I've been procrastinating on this review for the last few weeks. This website has introduced me to many DARK SHADOWS fans over the last year or so, but some of them are fairly pedestrian in their habits. Others can be selectively fanatical, pouring over specific elements of the show while violently excluding all others. If you want to see this in action, find a DARK SHADOWS-themed Facebook page and mention JOHNNY DEPP. But don't say I didn't warn you.
For a lot of people, the show begins and ends with JONATHAN FRID, and those can be the hardest people to reach when it comes to audio dramas from BIG FINISH. While there have been a few sly references to Barnabas Collins, Frid appeared in only one installment, leaving Frid-ians occasionally disinterested in Big Finish's offerings. Which is a shame, really, because their products are usually entertaining, and sometimes even great.
And then there are episodes such as THE PHANTOM BRIDE, which became available for sale from Big Finish this week. If DARK SHADOWS were DAVID BOWIE, then THE PHANTOM BRIDE would be TIN MACHINE. It's an delicacy for hardcore fans, but those looking for the show's patented blend of gothic tragedy might be a little confused by its shirttail relationship to Collinwood.
Returning for this episode are JERRY LACY and LARA PARKER, reprising their roles of Tony Peterson and Cassandra Blair/Angelique. Here's the episode summary from Big Finish:
A liner sailing across the ocean to London. Happy couples enjoying a relaxing few days of fine food, fine wine and the fresh sea air. Until they start dying. Because also on board is a ghost seeking vengeance. A ghost of a woman who died in 1929. Private detective Tony Peterson and the witch Cassandra find themselves embroiled in yet another mystery. Can they solve the dead bride's murder before they, themselves, become her latest victims?Now, I included the "official" summary because, as is the case with many of Big Finish's stories, THE PHANTOM BRIDE is confoundedly difficult to discuss without letting every last cat out of the bag. I didn't slug this post as a "review" in the title, because I don't plan on discussing its story here in any great detail. It would be like discussing a joke with someone who hasn't heard it yet.
What the official summary doesn't capture is the episode's tone. THE PHANTOM BRIDE falls somewhere on the spectrum between the movies of William Powell and Myrna Loy, film noir and a campfire ghost story. Having actors like Lacy and Parker in the cast lends the story a lot of credibility (THE PHANTOM BRIDE probably wouldn't have worked with other actors) and goes a long way toward making it relevant. Not only do you have Lacy's "hard boiled" delivery, but Parker proves to have a talent for comedy that never got a chance to really bloom in her film and television roles. (I'm pretty sure she makes at least one other appearance in this episode as a snooty Southern belle who gets harassed by Cassandra.)
THE PHANTOM BRIDE is an oddity, though, even by the already odd standards of DARK SHADOWS. Relying of some of the show's obscurities gives it a sense of freedom not granted when using its core characters. Tony Peterson just kinda disappeared from Collinsport, while Angelique's alter ego of Cassandra Blair helps to set this episode on a nebulous, dreamlike place that could run parallel to existing continuity.
All of this should be taken with a grain of salt. As I mentioned at the start, I can be deeply obsessive when it comes to art and entertainment. That's not to suggest that fanatics are more forgiving. Quite the opposite is true: We've got a more developed palette and are known to overreact. It's taken restraint to keep from delving into spoiler territory, but THE PHANTOM BRIDE is a fun romp with some witty dialogue. While it's probably not going to be essential listening for casual fans of the series, this episode is a clever way to revisit elements of DARK SHADOWS that went mostly unexplored during the show's original run.
I say check it out.
(NOTE: At the beginning of May, PATRICK McCRAY spoke with MARK THOMAS PASSMORE, the writer of THE PHANTOM BRIDE. You can listen to them talk about DARK SHADOWS, THE PHANTOM BRIDE and what's it like to work the the show's original cast members.)