Friday, November 1, 2013

Review: DARK SHADOWS: BEYOND THE GRAVE

A few years back, I convinced one of my nieces that I'd bought a pet snake. It wasn't one of those snakes that needed a special habitat to survive, I told her, and it was entirely tame. Friendly, even. It was allowed to roam free around the house, and was probably sleeping under the couch in the living room. For dramatic impact, I made sure she was sitting on this same couch as I spun this entirely fictional tale of Charlie the Snake.

Her feet immediately left the floor as she climbed fully onto the couch. She was 90 percent sure I was full of crap, but wasn't willing to bet the farm on it. I laughed, told her the snake wouldn't hurt her, and encouraged her to go looking for it. While she was doing so, I said "Boo!" (or some other ooga-booga sort of noise) and scared her. If you ever need a babysitter, feel free to give me a call.

I share this less-than-flattering story as a set-up for another. When I was three years old, my father gave me a glass of tomato juice, but told me it was strawberry Kool-Aid. I liked tomatoes just fine, and always have ... but you can imagine my surprise when the drink tasted nothing like strawberries. My schizoid relationship with tomato juice continues to this day. Tomatoes are still A-OK, but give me a glass of V-8 and I'll punch you in the throat.

There are two points to these stories. The first is that I wanted to lead with the V-8 anecdote, but was afraid of painting my father to be an asshole. (The misadventures of Charlie the Snake makes be the clear villain of this piece.) And the second is that it's never wise to underestimate the power of suggestion.


Last night, I had the house to myself. It was Halloween, but I was ill-prepared to deal with trick-or-treaters, unless they wanted handfuls of crushed walnuts, dog food or a glass of boxed wine. Rather than hand out disappointment and rejection to the neighborhood children all night, I turned out the lights, hid in the back of the house and listened to the new DARK SHADOWS audio drama from Big Finish, BEYOND THE GRAVE.

About 45 minutes into the episode's 55 minute running time, though, those lights came back on. I was a little freaked out by the episode's creepy soundscape, which was turned up to 11 in the story's climax. I think the sound design will be unnerving to a lot of people, thanks to the aforementioned power of suggestion. Luckily, some asshole kids were drawn to the dim light from my windows like moths to a flame, providing me with something else to worry about for a few minutes. By the time I returned to the story, the willies had been properly exorcised.

The lights, though, remained on.

Kathryn Leigh Scott
BEYOND THE GRAVE is a complex production with a simple story. In the tradition of "found footage" movies like THE BLAIR WITCH PROJECT and CANNIBAL HOLOCAUST, the story is told in real-time through salvaged recordings from a live TV broadcast that took place 40-odd years ago. British producers travel to Collinsport in search of the truth behind the legend of Mad Jack, a fisherman who murdered his family and committed suicide at Eagle Hill Cemetery at the start of the century. Along they way they meet some familiar faces, my favorite of which is a hilarious/creepy cameo by DARK SHADOWS veteran Marie Wallace. Also in small roles are Nancy Barrett, Jerry Lacy and Kathryn Leigh Scott. (It's  worth mentioning that Stephanie Ellyne as Amy Jennings is beginning to feel like a part of the traditional cast. The role has the potential to be obnoxious, but Ellyne is very easy to like.)

Despite the sizeable cast, this episode belongs to Scott, who carries most of the dramatic weight of the story. It's a terrific performance, and writer Aaron Lamont (who I spoke with in our previous podcast) makes the canny decision to explore some of Maggie Evans' public tribulations in this episode. Even though Maggie was confined to a sanitarium on more than one occasion in the original TV series, there were never any social consequences for her illness. In BEYOND THE GRAVE we find out that Maggie's credibility has suffered greatly in the community, which is one more crime that Barnabas Collins has yet to answer for.

I'm not sure that anyone can fully appreciate the juggling act needed to create a story like this. The depth of detail in this episode didn't happen accidentally, and required a great deal of coordination at all levels of production. Had Big Finish tackled this on an episode-by-episode basis, I'm sure the stories would have been fine. But, by planning ahead, they were able to create a few narrative threads that were loose enough to let the episodes have distinct voices, while also contributing to the multi-episode arc that makes this year's series so special.

Bravo.

6 comments:

...... Bobbi said...

Great post! I can't wait to listen to this newest audio drama!

BT said...

Is this available in the USA?
I looked on iTunes and Amazon with no luck.
I thoroughly enjoyed the podcast and want to look up the other shows mentioned. Do you know if they are available either?
Thanks again for all you do.
Best,
B

Cousin Barnabas said...

The Big Finish audio dramas are available for purchase from the company's website. Here's a link to the Dark Shadows line:



http://bigfinish.com/ranges/released/dark-shadows---audiobooks


If I'm not mistaken, you also get an automatic MP3 download with each CD purchased as soon as you place your order, or you can just opt to buy the less-expensive MP3 by itself. They ship internationally, and even accept Paypal. (Amazon has only a handful of their Dark Shadows stories available.)

BT said...

Just bought it. THANKS!

BT said...

I finished the tale and loved it! Very well down.

Kathryn was fantastic. I saw sides of her I never knew. Really superb. She gave me chills.
The rest of the cast was super too!

Thanks for the heads up about the download!

BT said...

Very well done.

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