Tuesday, September 30, 2014

Come see how the vampires (and witches) do it on TCM

Turner Classic Movies is getting into the Halloween spirit in October with broadcasts of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS.

There's no real rhyme or reason to the schedule, though. NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS is first on the roster, airing Thursday, Oct. 23, at 2 a.m. HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS is set for the following week on Tuesday, Oct. 28, at 1 p.m.

It will be interesting to see what happens with NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, a film that's long since fallen off the television broadcast cycle. For the longest time, TCM was the only place to see HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS letterboxed. Since the last time either of these films were shown on TCM (is this actually the debut of NIGHT OF DARK SHADOW on TCM?) both movies have been digitally remastered. It seems logical to assume NIGHT will air widescreen; but will these be the films' former transfers, or the shiny new editions available on DVD, Blu-ray and digital download?

(Thanks to Will McKinley for the tip. Go follow him on Twitter!)

Monday, September 29, 2014

SAM HALL, 1921 — 2014

"As a head writer, I didn't really write the scripts ever. I just plotted them. If I didn't like the writing (my staff) did, I could certainly rewrite it. But it became more of a routine: editing and plotting and dealing with networks."

From left, Grayson Hall, Sam Hall and Jonathan Frid.

 In the early hours of Sept. 27, Matt Hall reported on his blog that his father, Sam, had died.

It was a short post, possibly the shortest that's ever appeared on his website, titled "Sam Hall" and accompanied by the text "March 11, 1921 - September 26, 2014." This is one of those occasions where brevity carries more weight than a 4,000-word obituary, and makes a very clear plea for privacy. A writer like his father, I suspect Matt will get around to saying more about his Sam Hall in the near future.

Sam and Grayson, courtesy of SHADOWS OF THE NIGHT.
Hired near the end of 1967, playwright Sam Hall quickly became the default voice of DARK SHADOWS for many fans. Myth has it that Hall was the reason that his wife, Grayson, landed a role on the series, but he was always quick to point out the faulty math inherent in that story: Grayson made her first appearance on the show earlier that year and was actually responsible for getting Sam a job on the series.

With more than 300 episodes of DARK SHADOWS credited to him, it's likely that Hall wrote more of the series than anybody else. But television writing is a lot more complicated than credits might suggest. While a credit implies that a writer is responsible for an entire script, it's common that they're just responsible for a preponderance of the material. Television shows like DARK SHADOWS have a staff of writers working together to keep the machine moving forward; scriptwriters often go uncredited for minor contributions.

Of course, this also means that Hall's contributions to DARK SHADOWS weren't limited to the scripts that just had his name on them. He was eventually promoted to head writer which gave him much more control over the future direction of the series. When Dan Curtis decided to translate DARK SHADOWS to the big screen with HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, he recruited Hall and Gordon Russell to write the screenplay. As an example of how complicated the show's DNA can be, the film's screenplay distilled the television show's first "Barnabas Collins" story ... which had been written by guys like Malcolm Marmorstein and Ron Sproat.

Grayson Hall and David Selby in NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS.
The following year, Curtis brought Hall and Russell back to write the sequel. The film was simply known as DARK SHADOWS 2 during the writing stage before changing to CURSE OF DARK SHADOWS, then NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS. It was a (mostly) original story that also provided a meaty role for Grayson. Much of her performance would wind up lost in the vaults for decades, though, thanks to a last-minute decision by distributor MGM to mutilate the film in an effort to reduce its running time.

"It just wasn't my work they butchered, but my wife Grayon's, as well," Sam Hall recounted in THE DARK SHADOWS MOVIE BOOK. "That affected me more. I didn't want to have to tell her."

When DARK SHADOWS was cancelled in 1971, TV Guide turned to Sam Hall was details about where the series might have gone had it remained on the air. While Hall points out that these plot points are not definitive, fans were so grateful that that many quickly elevated his concepts to the level of canon. You can read the entire thing for yourself HERE.

Hall would work again with Curtis on the adaption of FRANKENSTEIN for "The Wide World of Mystery" in 1973. Two years later, the series would reunite him with DARK SHADOWS director Lela Swift and former castmembers Diana Davila, Bernhard Hughes and wife Grayson for THE TWO DEATHS OF SEAN DOOLITTLE.

While it's a mere blip on his career, Hall also worked on a TV movie in 1969 titled DEAD OF NIGHT: A DARKNESS AT BLAISEDON. Produced by Dan Curtis and directed by Lela Swift, the short film (it clocks in at less than an hour) was meant to serve as a pilot for a primetime variation of DARK SHADOWS. It also featured two other Collinwood stalwarts, Louis Edmonds and Thayer David. It was not picked up as a series, though. In 1991, a second (and more legitimate) attempt was made to bring DARK SHADOWS to primetime. Again, Curtis recruited Hall, as well as his son, Matt, to write for the series. The show's pilot was based less on the original series, and more on 1970's HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS.

Hall would later write for GENERAL HOSPITAL, SANTA BARBARA and ONE LIFE TO LIVE. Earlier this year, he filed a lawsuit against ABC for royalties he believed were owed to him when the latter was made available on Hulu and iTunes.

"I'll probably be remembered for DARK SHADOWS instead of the things I really cared about," Hall said in Jeff Thompson's THE TELEVISION HORRORS OF DAN CURTIS. "DARK SHADOWS will be the thing that's on my gravestone but I love DARK SHADOWS. I guess it's terrific to have somehow created something that will live forever. It will live forever.)

More actors join cast of DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST

Alexandra Donnachie and Walles Hamonde.
Daisy Tormé and Jeff Harding will be making their Big Finish debuts as newlywed couple Melody and Michael Devereux in the upcoming serial, DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST.
Daisy Tormé.

“We wanted to make BLOODLUST easily accessible for new listeners,” says co-producer Joseph Lidster, “so we created the Devereux family to be our eyes and ears. They’re not from Collinsport, and they don’t know anything about its history. I don’t think it’s a spoiler to say that they’re going to discover that it’s maybe not the ideal place to have their honeymoon - especially after the killer strikes...”

“Melody and Michael are very sweet,” says co-producer David Darlington. “She lives life to the full but is hopelessly disorganized. He’s an intelligent, thoughtful man - but a bit uptight, and shut-off from the world. They’re polar opposites who found what they need in each other when love struck...”

“Daisy’s a voiceover specialist,” Lidster continues, “whose vocal talents have featured in many computer games, such as the Final Fantasy series, and feature films including RAMBO, SYRIANA and AN AMERICAN VAMPIRE STORY. She was recommended to us by original DARK SHADOWS star Kathryn Leigh Scott, and is perfect for Melody. Jeff is another voice artist of renown – he is heard on dozens of new audiobooks every year – as well as having had an impressive  career in British film and television, with credits including HOWARDS WAY and TOMORROW NEVER DIES. Genre fans probably know him best for playing General Damon in the '90s run of THE TOMORROW PEOPLE on TV – or maybe for his recurring role as Ed Winchester in THE FAST SHOW!”

Jeff Harding as Michael Devereux.
 Also joining the cast are Alexandra Donnachie and Walles Hamonde as Collinsport teenagers Jacqueline Tate and Cody Hill.

“Jackie is the daughter of the local Sheriff but is a bit of a rebel really. She’s best friends with the doctor’s son, Cody who’s a real science geek,” continues David Darlington. “They soon join forces with Harry Cunningham (Scott Haran) and, well, they're three adventurous teens in a horror series. Anything might happen...”

DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST is a 13-part miniseres set to begin in early January, with two MP3 installments in the series scheduled to be released weekly on Tuedays and Fridays. The series will later be collected in two compact disc collections.  It's available to pre-order HERE.

Big Finish has an official Soundcloud page that includes dozens of teasers and behind-the-scenes recordings from their various DARK SHADOWS productions. The site includes introductions from the nine cast members that have been announced. Listen to them HERE.

Monster Serial: ROSEMARY’S BABY, 1968


You can learn a lot from ROSEMARY’S BABY, Roman Polanski’s 1968 film adaptation of Ira Levin’s best-selling horror novel. But here’s the most important lesson: never date an actor.

If only someone had warned poor Rosemary Reilly when she got off the bus from Omaha in 1962. She would never have married frustrated Another World day player Guy Woodhouse, they would never have moved into the apartment next door to that kooky old couple, and Guy would never have bartered Rosemary’s reproductive system to a coven of geriatric devil worshippers in return for his big break in showbiz.

Oh, well. As my mother would say, “Life is a learning experience.”

Here’s another thing mom used to tell me: “You can’t sleep in our bed every time you watch a scary movie!” And ROSEMARY’S BABY has been a favorite of mine, ever since my parents’ ill-advised decision to let me watch it on TV back in the late ‘70s. I became obsessed with the concept of evil living amongst us, like in that mysterious old lady’s house down the block, the one where none of us would dare trick-or-treat. ROSEMARY’S BABY did for senior citizens what JAWS did for beach-going; I haven’t trusted the elderly since.

And, nearly half a century later, it still holds up, like so many films from the American New Wave of (roughly) 1967 through 1977. Freed from the self-censorship of the Taliban-esque Motion Picture Production Code (first enforced in 1934 and abandoned 34 years later in favor of the MPAA rating system), and desperate to offer a competitive alternative to increasingly provocative broadcast television, the major Hollywood studios produced a trove of startlingly original, often highly pessimistic films that still resonate today. Nearly a quarter of the AFI’s 100 Greatest American Movies of All Time come from that decade, and the total jumps to one-third if you extend the era through 1982, as many film scholars do. I like to think of those years as “The Era of the Unhappy Ending” and, in that regard, ROSEMARY certainly doesn’t disappoint. Unless you’re a Satanist.

In fact, ROSEMARY’S BABY serves as a perverse bridge from Old Hollywood to the New, with familiar faces from the Golden Age re-imagined as figures of secret menace: screwball comedy sap Ralph Bellamy as Rosemary’s evil obstetrician; wisecracking short-subject comedienne Patsy Kelly as cradle-rocker Laura-Louise; former matinee idol Sidney Blackmer, who played Teddy Roosevelt on screen more than a dozen times, as anagrammatic warlock Roman Castevet; and actress/screenwriter Ruth Gordon, co-writer (with husband Garson Kanin) of ADAM’S RIB (1949) and PAT AND MIKE (1952), as the malevolent Minnie — a bravura performance rewarded with a well-deserved Oscar.

Waifish and freckle-nosed Mia Farrow, fresh from her lead in the primetime soap opera Peyton Place and looking barely out of her teens, plays Rosemary as a dreamy Mid-Western girl a few years behind the feminism curve. And that leads us to the second lesson of ROSEMARY’S BABY: a young housewife should always keep cash on hand, just in case she needs to escape from a husband who has lent her womb to Lucifer in return for a plum role in a television pilot. (See above.)

As the duplicitous thespian, Method master John Cassavetes gives the most motivationally consistent performance in the film, grounding it with vital believability. We meet Guy as a charmingly macho 1960s chauvinist, banging his much-younger wife on the floor of an apartment financed by a single appearance in an aspirin commercial. Soon he devolves into a glassy-eyed con-conspirator, chain-smoking his way through every interaction with Rosemary, un-able to look at her, haunted by the supernatural depth of his betrayal. But he fools her because he is an actor. (See above, again.)

Though ROSEMARY’S BABY was the first Hollywood production for the Polish filmmaker, Polanski directs the film with the assurance of an industry veteran. From his frequent use of intimate, handheld camerawork, to his artful juxtapositions of silence and ambient sound, Polanski exhibits remarkable restraint with a story that, in less-confidant hands, might have crossed the imaginary line of camp. In fact, the delightfully pulpy novel, to which Polanski’s Academy Award-winning screenplay is slavishly faithful, offers a detailed description of the baby (claws, tail and “the buds of his horns,”) yet the director chooses to leave the li’l devil to the audience’s imagination. It’s a creatively courageous decision that seems prescient. Nothing dates a horror film more irrevocably than no-longer-special effects.

Polanski does make one creative big misstep, and it happens at a key moment. During the brilliantly surrealistic sequence in which Rosemary and Beelzebub give new meaning to the term “beast with two backs,” the director employs shots of an actor wearing what is supposed to be, I assume, a devil costume. Although the images are fleeting, it appears that Mia Farrow is hooking up with the Gill-Man from THE CREATURE FROM THE BLACK LAGOON. The scene is already the most disturbing in the picture; adding a dopey costume only makes it less so.
This column is among those featured in
 BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL, a collection of 
horror essays written by contributors to 
Buy it today on Amazon!

Maybe this was the trade-off Polanski made to win the battle of not showing the baby. Or perhaps it was the influence of producer William Castle, who made his bones directing B-grade horror quickies with Barnum-like marketing hooks, such as tingling seats, inflatable ghosts, and costumed “nurses” in the lobby to treat frightened patrons. Whoever’s decision it was, it was the wrong one.

And that is the final thing we are taught by this film: there is nothing more chilling than betrayal by those you trust. That’s the true horror of ROSEMARY’S BABY, not a guy in a rubber suit. And that’s why you should never date an actor – because they are trained to deceive you.

You should, however, get your claws on the beautifully restored new transfer recently released by the Criterion Collection. There’s nothing better than watching this creepy classic late at night, with all the lights out, preferably in a New York City apartment building where you don’t really know your neighbors. It’s an experience that can’t be duplicated in a crowded theater, with people gleefully chomping on popcorn all around you. But if you do a get a chance to see it on the big screen, I have one request: please don’t shout “He has his father’s eyes!” in unison with the soundtrack during the climax, as the guy sitting behind me did the last time I saw the movie at Film Forum in Lower Manhattan. Ecstatic yelling may be appropriate at demonic rituals, but it’s still frowned upon at the cinema.

For modern moviegoers, that may be the most important lesson of all.

 WILL McKINLEY is a New York City-based writer, producer and classic film obsessive. He’s been a guest on Turner Classic Movies, Sirius Satellite Radio and the TCM podcast. Will has written for PBS and his byline has appeared more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager. He watched his first episode of DARK SHADOWS on April 12, 1982 and hasn’t been the same since. He writes about classic film at CINEMATICALLY INSANE.

Monday, September 22, 2014

Barnabas, Angelique and Maggie Evans return for BLOODLUST

Lara Parker, Andrew Collins and Kathryn Leigh Scott.
Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker and Andrew Collins are returning to the roles of Maggie Evans, Angelique Bouchard and Barnabas Collins for the upcoming Big Finish serial DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST.

“Like any soap opera, DARK SHADOWS often involves a love triangle,” says co-producer Joseph Lidster. “But unlike other shows, the central love triangle in Dark Shadows is between a vampire, the witch who turned him, and the manager of the local motel.”

Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker were stars of the original DARK SHADOWS television series as well as appearing in the spin-off films, and are now Big Finish veterans. “Maggie and Angelique have a long history,” says co-producer David Darlington, “but there’s still so much more of their story to tell. Both characters are heavily-involved in Bloodlust’s central murder mystery. Angelique has killed many times before  - could she be the murderer? Maggie has always been an innocent but she’s been through so much. Has she finally lost her sanity?”

Barnabas, the ancient vampire, left Collinsport at the end of "Kingdom of the Dead" – banished by Maggie Evans as she finally learnt of his true nature. Has he come back to get revenge on her? Or does he return for other reasons?”

“It's been a while since we last met him, but we couldn’t not have Andrew back as Barnabas,” says Joseph Lidster. “His portrayal of the tortured vampire is just fantastic. Finding a way to bring him back to the town was one of the real challenges of writing Bloodlust. One thing I will say is that the dynamics and relationship between Maggie, Barnabas and Angelique are going to be changed forever ..."

Parker, Scott and Collins joins the already announced cast that includes Matthew Waterhouse, Alec Newman, Roger Carvalho, Asta Parry, Scott Haran and Stephanie Ellyne.

DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST is a 13-part miniseres set to begin in early January, with two MP3 installments in the series scheduled to be released weekly on Tuedays and Fridays. The series will later be collected in two compact disc collections.  It's available to pre-order HERE.

Big Finish has an official Soundcloud page that includes dozens of teasers and behind-the-scenes recordings from their various DARK SHADOWS productions. The site includes introductions from the nine cast members that have been announced. Listen to them HERE.

Monster Serial: RE-ANIMATOR, 1985

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Friday, September 19, 2014

Jonathan Frid not yet famous enough for Canada

The results of this year's Canada's Walk of Fame campaign were announced earlier this week. Despite the long-standing effort to get Hamilton, Ontario, native Jonathan Frid recognized in some capacity by the organization, his name was not among the 2014 finalists. Here's who will be inducted during the Dec. 19 ceremony.
  • Louise Arbour, a former Justice of the Supreme Court of Canada,
  • The Band
  • Rachel McAdams
  • Ryan Reynolds
  • Hayley Wickenheiser (athlete)
  • Jeff Healey (Cineplex Legends Award) 
Frid's name was on the ballot this year for the "Cineplex Legends Award." Now, if you're visiting this website, chances are you're a DARK SHADOWS fan. It's pretty easy to make fun of a list of honorees that includes Rachel McAdams, Green Lantern and the guitar player from ROADHOUSE. I mean, HOLY SHIT it's easy. But I won't go there.

Slim Goodbody: The Motion Picture took audiences to some disturbing places.
"As the administrators of Nominate Jonathan Frid to Canada's Walk of Fame, Cathy Robbins, Kathy Colby and I are very disappointed that Jonathan Frid did not make it into CWOF this year," said
Elena Nacanther, who has been canvassing the Internet for several years to get Frid on the walk of fame. "But, since we started our campaign four years ago, we have built momentum and got him on the list for Cineplex Legends Award Nominees, and we will continue this campaign until we accomplish our goal of getting this loyal Canadian son the honor he truly deserves."

"I would say that Jonathan Frid will be recognized, it's a matter of time," said Robbins. "There are many deserving Canadians and Jonathan is one of them. Canada's Walk Of Fame has noticed him and they have told me they realize that he his is a 'Great Canadian.' Persistence is the key here."

Despite the setback, Nacanther said the campaign plans to keep moving forward.

"We would ask everyone to continue nominating Jonathan every day at www.canadaswalkoffame.com/nominate, and together we will celebrate his induction into CWOF in the very near future," she said.


Last month, The Collinsport Historical Society asked you to name your five favorite DARK SHADOWS audio dramas from Big Finish. Every day this week we'll be revealing the results.

#1 The Night Whispers

While the character of “Barnabas Collins” has made scattered appearances in Big Finish’s line of DARK SHADOWS audio dramas, only once was he played by the actor who originated the role on television: Jonathan Frid.

In fact, “The Night Whispers” represents Frid’s only return to the role since the cancellation of the series in 1971.

“‘The Night Whispers’ was probably always destined to be Jonathan Frid's swansong,” said Stuart Manning, the episode’s writer. “There was a vague notion that it might be the first of many Barnabas stories, but I always expected it to be a one-off.”

“‘The Night Whispers’ was produced before I joined the DARK SHADOWS audio range, but I remember just how utterly exciting it was to hear Barnabas again,” said Joe Lidster, who today produces of the line for Big Finish. “A fantastic script by Stuart Manning that explores his relationship with Willie, three lovely performances and some beautiful sound design make it really something special.”

"The Night Whispers" received a great deal of attention outside of DARK SHADOWS fandom, as well, and won the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award for "Best Horror Soundtrack" in 2012.

Frid has been resistant about not only returning to the role of “Barnabas Collins,” said Jim Pierson, the marketing director and producer at Dan Curtis Productions. The actor also refused to take any role even vaguely similar.

“The art for Jonathan was in delivering the lines,” said Pierson, who directed Frid’s recording session. “He was in paradise when delivering his one-man shows like ‘Fools and Fiends,’ the ‘Shakespearean Odyssey,’ and all the variations of those performances — whether it was in a library, a theater or somebody’s living room.”

The audio dramas proved to be an easy transition for Frid, Pierson said.

“He resisted doing anything vampiric after DARK SHADOWS, and he turned down tons of things,” he said. “Everything from movies to tooth paste commercials. Because he was coming back to be with fans for the 40th anniversary of ‘Barnabas,’ it seemed to be a natural progression.

“He got his fangs wet again and really had a good time,” Pierson said.

Jonathan Frid and John Karlen
 “As detailed in the ‘Remembering Jonathan Frid’ book, the play took a long time to come together and it's really only due to the gentle persistence of Jim Pierson and Bobbi Jacobs-Meadway that it happened at all,” Manning said. “During the writing I listened to Jonathan's narration from the old Dark Shadows music LP on a loop, trying to get his vocal tics down, and those speeches are probably etched onto my psyche permanently as a result. I may well have been the first ever sufferer of Frid earworm.”

Darren Gross, co-director of “The Night Whispers,” said it took careful coordination to get the actors’ lines recorded. Because of the international nature of each production (Big Finish is headquartered in the United Kingdom) the participating actors sometimes never meet in the studio.

“Often the actors are recorded separately, sometimes months apart and thousands of miles away,” Gross said. “‘The Night Whispers’ was done in three pieces, with John Karlen, Barbara Steele and Jonathan Frid done in separate recording sessions.”

Frid in the studio for "The Night Whispers."
Frid’s session was recorded in Canada, while Steele recorded her lines in Burbank, California. Both sessions were supervised by Jim Pierson.

Gross directed Karlen’s performance, which was also recorded in Burbank.

“For this kind of piecemeal recording, I brought in Andrew Collins to read-in for Barnabas and the other characters, so that Karlen had someone to play off of,” Gross said. “You don’t know how the other actors are going to play their lines, so for scenes that are tricky or where there’s arguing, low key line delivery or some kind of intense moments, I would tend to get a couple of different versions to give Nigel Fairs or David Darlington latitude in the editing.”

The goal, he said, is to make sure the actors sound as though they’re performing together in the same room.

“It doesn’t always work, but sometimes it’s miraculous and very convincing,” Gross said. “We did the same thing for ‘Beyond the Grave,’ where most of the pieces were recorded in the U.K., except for the sessions with Kathryn Leigh Scott, which I recorded in Los Angeles, again playing off of Andrew Collins.”

Andrew Collins, who played “Barnabas Collins” in earlier DARK SHADOWS audio dramas from Big Finish, was a vital part of recording sessions, Gross said.

Barbara Steele as "Dr. Julia Hoffman" in the 1991 DARK SHADOWS television series.

“Andrew just makes these sessions fun, as he’ll do a dozen different voices as he jumps from character to character, feeding lines to his scene partner,” Gross said. “These sessions can be a bit of a challenge for the actors, as we’re frequently jumping from scene to scene, but it does create a very focused atmosphere, as we only focus on their character’s scenes.

“I’ve always felt blessed to have actors like John Karlen and Kathryn Leigh Scott, who can just turn on a performance like a light switch,” Gross said. “That kind of engagement in the material is invigorating."

“Honestly, I was just grateful that Jonathan played ball,” Manning said. “After 30-plus years, he finally agreed to be Barnabas again for a day, and that alone was a milestone. It was a little piece of history and I hope we did the old guy proud.”

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