Thursday, November 27, 2014

Big Finish reveals new DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST artwork

Big Finish Productions has released the cover art for the second box set for DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST. (You can see the artwork for the first collection HERE.)

A 13-episode serial, BLOODLUST sees the American town of Collinsport ripped apart by a brutal murder. The series will be launched in January 2015 both as a series of downloads and in two CD boxsets.

“Big Finish have been producing Dark Shadows audios since 2006,” says writer and series co-producer Joseph Lidster. “Over the years, we've brought back most of the original cast and told stories featuring so many of those fantastic characters producer Dan Curtis created. We knew, however, with Bloodlust that we wanted to go even bigger.”

“For me, the appeal of Dark Shadows is the soap opera format,” continues co-producer David Darlington. “It's hard to recreate that in a series of audio dramas but, over the last couple of years, we've experimented with ongoing storylines and character arcs. And now, with BLOODLUST, we're really going for it.”

“Although the murder mystery has a beginning, middle and end,” continues Lidster, “there's so much more going on. Relationships develop across the series and there are a few surprises along the way.”

Big Finish is also pleased to announce that "Snowflake," the short story released on Halloween as a prelude to BLOODLUST, will be included in the CD release.

You can hear the various townsfolk introducing themselves at Soundcloud, and behind-the-scenes photography can be found at Instagram.

For further information, follow us on Twitter @darkshadowsbfp.

Wednesday, November 26, 2014

Mint BARNABAS COLLINS games hit Ebay

The BARNABAS COLLINS/DARK SHADOWS GAME produced by Milton Bradley in 1969 is one of my favorite collectibles from the original run of the series, even though the actual game isn't all that memorable. Coincidentally, I discussed this collectible earlier this week (which you can read HERE), and learned from a reader a few hours ago that two mint editions are currently for sale on Ebay.

Both sets are available from different vendors and have minimum prices separated by a decimal point. The first, which is an auction, has a starting bid of $1,500. While I'm not really qualified to speculate on the fairness of that price, copies of this game aren't exactly hard to find. It's more difficult to find complete sets that include the fangs, while "mint in box" sets like this one are almost unheard of. For all I know, $1,500 is a fair price. If you want to take a look, you can find the auction HERE.

The other vendor, though, has a similar auction with a "buy it now" price of $15,000. That's almost certainly too much, unless you're struggling with some kind of BREWSTER'S MILLIONS scenario. You can find that one HERE.

Kathryn Leigh Scott's new novel JINXED available for pre-order

JINXED, the follow-up to Kathryn Leigh Scott's DOWN AND OUT IN BEVERLY HEELS, is now available for pre-order from Amazon. Here's the official plot summary:

Back on the comeback trail, actress Meg Barnes, beloved for her role as amateur sleuth Jinx Fogarty in a renowned detective show, assumes she’ll star as Jinx in the revamped TV series, only to discover that a young ingénue has been cast instead. Meg swallows her pride for a paycheck to coach Chelsea Horne—until temperamental Chelsea goes missing before filming begins. Meg ignores the warnings from Jack, her FBI-agent boyfriend, not to do her “Jinx thing.” But when a threatening secret exposes a dark chapter in Meg’s past, it’s clear her life—and more—is in jeopardy.

JINXED (A JINX FOGARTY MYSTERY) is set for release on Feb. 6, 2015. You can pre-order the book from Amazon HERE.

Tuesday, November 25, 2014

Kathryn Leigh Scott to appear on Marvel's AGENTS OF SHIELD

Kathryn Leigh Scott
Kathryn Leigh Scott is set to appear on Marvel's AGENTS OF SHIELD in 2015. The DARK SHADOWS actress filmed her scenes earlier in November, but said she's not in a position to reveal many details about the episode.

"The show is so secretive that I was never given a script, only my dialogue!" Scott said. "I am going to respect their desire to keep the story a surprise ... besides, I can't provide a synopsis because I have no idea what the story is. My episode will air mid-season and I will supply more information as I get it."

AGENTS OF SHIELD has two episodes left to air on ABC in 2014 before taking a break for the holidays. Scott will appear on the mid-season premiere, set to air March 3, 2015.

AGENTS OF SHIELD has spent the better part of the season delving into the mystery of a prehistoric alien artifact recovered from the Nazis at the close of World War II. Fans have been speculating that the artifact is leading to the introduction of the Inhumans, a race of human/alien hybrids introduced in the pages of the "Fantastic Four" comics in 1965. Marvel has already announced an Inhumans film to be released in 2018, and here's where things begin to get interesting ...

Because of how Marvel sold the cinematic rights to its characters in the 1990s, 20th Century Fox owns the rights to the X-Men and its related concepts. This includes the word "mutant," used to describe characters that are simply born with superpowered abilities. The mutant characters Quicksilver and Scarlet Witch have roots in both the X-Men and the Avengers properties, which has allowed both Marvel and Fox to use these characters on film. Quicksilver appeared in X-MEN: DAYS OF FUTURE PAST earlier this year. He and the Scarlet Witch are also set to appear in next year's AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON, and it appears Marvel will be making these characters into Inhumans as a means to skirt these legal obstacles.

Which brings us to the timing of Scott's episode, set to air two months before the premiere of AVENGERS: AGE OF ULTRON. Marvel has been struggling to connect its television and cinematic properties with mixed results. AGENTS OF SHIELD has done a significant amount of quality control this season, rebounding from last year's mediocre start to create some compelling television. One of the villains appearing in the next AVENGERS film, "Baron Wolfgang Von Strucker," has already been mentioned by name on AGENTS OF SHIELD, which suggests the next AVENGERS film will serve as a denouement of sorts for this season's various storylines.

Airing just two months before the AVENGERS premiere, it seems incredibly unlikely that Scott's episode won't have a connection to the film. I spent part of my day chatting with the folks at ABC about the series and should admit that I know more that I'm sharing ... but let's just leave it at that for now.

Fangoria has some laughs at Johnny Depp's expense

Last night, Fangoria used an image from 2012's DARK SHADOWS for it's nightly caption contest on Twitter. The idea is easy: Write a funny caption for whatever image they share and tweet it with #Fangoria. Last night, they shared the image you see above. I was too busy to participate, but still felt obliged to re-tweet the original announcement. Here are some of my favorite responses:

The inevitable DARK SHADOWS/DHARMA AND GREG crossover

Mitchell Ryan
Mitchell Ryan and Susan Sullivan are set to appear in separate  DARK SHADOWS audio dramas from Big Finish in 2015, according to Dan Curtis Productions majordomo Jim Pierson. Ryan and Sullivan played Edward and Kitty Montgomery on more than a hundred episodes of DHARMA AND GREG, a series with some pretty direct (and often confusing) connections to DARK SHADOWS.

First up, of course, is the presence of Mitchell Ryan, who played the mysterious Burke Devlin on 107 episodes of DARK SHADOWS. Ryan went on to become one of the busiest character actors in Hollywood, appearing in everything from LETHAL WEAPON to STAR TREK: THE NEXT GENERATION to THE WEST WING over his long career. He maintains a cult status among DARK SHADOWS fans for his portrayal of Burke Devlin, who remains one of the show's most popular characters despite his early exit from the series in 1967.

Sullivan starred opposite DARK SHADOWS' own David Selby in FALCON CREST throughout the 1980s, and appeared with him on stage in 2014 in a production of A DELICATE BALANCE. Legend has it that Sullivan also appeared uncredited as a ghost on episode #156 of DARK SHADOWS in 1967. This is a difficult piece of information to validate, but has been passed around as fact for so long that it might as well be. That's how facts are made!

Selby and Sullivan will be reunited again in next year's (still untitled) audiodrama.

Susan Sullivan? Sure, why not.

Also, DHARMA AND GREG star Jenna Elfman is married to Bodhi Elfman, the nephew of Danny Elfman ... who scored Tim Burton's DARK SHADOWS film. That movie starred Johnny Depp, who appeared in EDWARD SCISSORHANDS with Dianne Wiest, who was in FOOTLOOSE with Kevin Bacon.

I should point out that Big Finish is still in production on DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST and has not corroborated the casting or story details for any episodes set for release after that serial.

Monday, November 24, 2014

Q&A: Peter Bebergal discusses SEASON OF THE WITCH

Author Peter Bebergal’s new book, SEASON OF THE WITCH: HOW THE OCCULT SAVED ROCK AND ROLL, takes a look at the marriage of mysticism and popular music, and how that union helped to shape the world at large. It's a book I've been looking forward to since first hearing about it during the summer. It was released last month (just in time for Halloween!) and Bebergal kindly agreed to discuss some the the book's topics with the Collinsport Historical Society. Below is a quick Q&A with the author, conducted via e-mail.

Interview with the Vampire: Barnabas meets Bozo.
As far as entertainment goes, it could be argued that the 1960s began without a consciousness. Songs, movies and television shows were generally without subtext. When The Beatles sang “I Want to Hold Your Hand,” they meant just that. 

By the end of the decade, though, things had changed significantly: Black Sabbath made rock and roll safe for overt occult references; witches, vampires and other assorted monsters had casually infiltrated popular media; and suddenly the occult was big business. No pun intended, but what the hell was happening?

Peter Bebergal: Despite the troubles of the 1960s by way of the Vietnam War, racism, and sexism (to name a few) the counterculture was hopeful that political action and an alternative spiritual consciousness could change the world. The new spiritual identity was heavily molded by the LSD experience, Eastern mysticism, and a romantic paganism. By the end of the decade, this hope had shifted. The war had not ended, LSD mysticism bore dark fruit like Charles Manson, and the overall promise of a new political and spiritual ideal fell far short. The paisley mystic of the 1960s gave way to the paranormal, the devil, UFOS, and bigfoot.

Monsters and aliens were better vehicles for our fears and anxieties than an abstract idea of “oneness.”

What was it about rock music that made it such fertile ground for occult interests?

PB: Rock and roll is, at its roots, the sound of agitation and rebellion.  For centuries, the occult and related practices were seen as heterodox, heretical, and demonic. But this did not stop people from seeking out ways to feel like they had some modicum of control over their own spiritual lives, often at great risk. This risk is something that was exciting to artists and composers, particularly in the 19th and early 20th century, where the occult became a method and inspiration for pushing up against the mainstream, particularly for those in the avant garde.  It only made sense that rock musicians who also believed they were on the vanguard of cultural change would look to non-traditional ideas about religion to make sense of their own rebellious instincts.

On the other side, many in the public saw rock as dangerous, as being to closely associated with black culture, which many believed was already suspect and barbaric. Rock’s sexual swagger and its blatant disregard for “taste” labeled it as the worst kind of secular pastime, and add dancing to the mix and you have a hormonal stew that many believed would destroy teenage innocence (as if there ever was such a thing). Rock musicians eagerly embraced the status as wreckers of morals, and often willingly embraced rumors of devilish intent.

These two things planted deep roots in that soil, and we are still eating the fruit of what grew there.

David Bowie channels Aleister Crowley.

By the end of the 1970s, most of the bands that had embraced it (either literally or fashionably) had pretty much jettisoned mysticism from their images. What was the tipping point for the occult in rock and roll?

PB: Bands like Black Sabbath started to channel this new darker awareness, and were not afraid to expose it. It was also quite fun. Images of devils and monsters added a mystique to rock and roll that evoked all kind of rumors and speculations.  I think the whole decade of the 1970s is really the locus; from Led Zeppelin to David Bowie, from King Crimson to Yes, and the early goth of Bauhaus and Siouxsie and the Banshees. Seventies rock has it all: Satan, aliens, lost worlds, vampires, swords and sorcery, even a cross-dressing Frankenstein in Rocky Horror.

From Jack Chick's notorious "Dark Dungeons" pamphlet.
Most of the acts persecuted by the PMRC in the 1980s had a juvenile understanding of the occult that was copied and pasted from old Universal Monster movies. Why did it take so long for there to be a cultural backlash against the occult in rock and roll? And why THOSE bands?

PB: I think there was always a cultural backlash, but by the time of the PMRC, there was the phenomenon of the Satanic Panic, a fear that anyone could be a Satanist, not unlike people seeing Communists everywhere in the 1950s. There were these terrible accusations about child molestation and abuse as part of underground satanic cults, and along with Dungeons and Dragons and teenagers looking more and more like emissaries of the devil, it all came to a head in the PMRC. The focus there really was on sex and drugs, but the occult was seen as a part of the overall moral decay.  Mercyful Fate and Venom were the two bands picked out as having this particularly egregious occult sensibility. The song lyrics are pretty ridiculous, and they only perpetuate the false idea that the occult is about worshiping Satan. But I can’t think of a single occult ritual where drinking a priest’s vomit is a requirement. Both the PMRC and the bands were in a mutual dance of shock and response. It might have helped sell records and to keep the occult mythos alive and well in rock and roll, but give me Led Zeppelin singing about Mordor any day.

Peter Bebergal writes widely on music and books, with special emphasis on the speculative and slightly fringe. His recent essays and reviews have appeared in The Times Literary Supplement, The Quietus, BoingBoing, and The Believer. Find him online at



DELLAMORTE DELLAMORE, (“On the Death of Love” or “About Death, About Love,”) foolishly branded CEMETERY MAN in English, is a gem of many facets. It is beautifully shot, deliciously weird and, more than once, highly disturbing.

This gorgeous dark comedy is a must see.  I’m going to lose some people with the next sentence, then spend the rest of the essay winning them back. CEMETERY MAN involves loneliness, zombies, rape, impotence, murder, MORE zombies, quite a bit of sex (with “The Girl”[1] admirably played by the stunning Anna Falchi in various guises), body horror and, woven through it all, an amazingly genuine and fun performance from Rupert Everett.

The film has all the “matter-of-fact, zombies are here, let’s deal with them” aspects of films like RETURN OF THE LIVING DEAD, SHAWN OF THE DEAD, or ZOMBIELAND.  Lots of nice close-up crushed skulls, blood, and vomit in the finest Italian horror movie tradition.  Wrapped in with all that is the slow unravelling of Francis Dellamorte, the eponymous Cemetery Man.  The story revolves around a gravedigger/watchman, called an “Engineer” by the townsfolk for some reason, who lives in the cemetery near an ossuary [2]. Francis is attended by his feeble-minded assistant Gnaghi who reminds me of a cross between a Stooge and an Addams.

In terms of tone, this movie always puts me in mind of EDWARD SCISSORHANDS; beautiful and sad.  CEMETERY MAN, however, has substantially more violence and nudity.

 If you’re looking for how director Michele Soavi fits in the pantheon of Italian horror, he has worked as an assistant director alongside Dario Argento on TENEBRE (1982) and PHENOMENA (1985), Terry Gilliam on THE ADVENTURES OF BARON MUNCHAUSEN (1988), and with Lamberto Bava on DEMONI (1985.)

In broad terms, this movie is set in a graveyard where the dead return to life.  Above the gate is the word RESVRRECTVRIS, which is pretty funny. The caretaker, widely rumored to be impotent, falls in love with a widow, “The Girl,” who then dies. Then a bunch of people die and return to life.  Then Gnaghi, his dimwitted assistant, finds love with the mayor’s daughter Valentina ... projectile vomit is involved. Then Our Hero Francis falls in love with a woman who is terrified of sex (another incarnation of “The Girl”) and goes to extreme lengths to be with her. 

Francis is thwarted when this incarnation of “The Girl” falls in love with another man; in this case, the other man was her boss/rapist. Francis gets a little (more) depressed.  He kills some people (who don’t stay dead) and finally, at long last, meets a woman who is both emotionally available to him and willing and interested in having sex with him. Perhaps the third time’s the charm? Nope. Turns out this incarnation of “The Girl” is a hooker. Francis burns her house down, with her and her flat-mates inside.
Then, in a hilarious, sad, and bizarre twist reminiscent of the ending of AMERICAN PSYCHO, Francis goes on a murder spree, which is entirely unnoticed. So he packs up his bags and his assistant to leave town. More on that later.

Into that mix of psycho drama you add a busload of dead Boy Scouts, arson, voyeuristic will o’ th’ wisps, Death, and all manner of gorgeously billowing diaphanous material [3]. (Really, the visual styling of this movie is beautiful, and it includes one of the most beautifully creepy shots of the female superior/cowgirl sexual positions ever filmed in a graveyard.

OK, buckle your seat belts — here’s where we go off the rails: what follows is some seriously wild speculation involving psychological terms far more complex than I’ll relate in a 1,300-word review. Also, I only know what a few general sociology and psychology classes and Wikipedia entries tell me about some of these topics, but I’m convinced they have a very real and entertaining relationship in this film. Also, spoilers follow, so take this next bit as you will.

Sigmund Freud posited that the “death drive,” or Thanatos, leads an individual on certain occasions to seek to reduce or eliminate tension through repetition of behavior.  Specifically, and I quote, Thanatos can manifest “an urge in organic life to restore an earlier state of things” through repetition (which is why we all make the same self-destructive decisions sometimes.)  The aforementioned urge is played out through the film’s structure. Francis’ repeated assignations with “The Girl” in her various incarnations service this drive.
The film begins with Francis living a placid existence as a cog in society. The man doesn’t even fill out paperwork to deal with a zombie outbreak; choosing instead to shoot them and rebury them.  He is a pretty good example of a functioning Superego (society’s grown-up instincts) well-modulated by his Ego. His retarded or “simple” assistant Gnaghi is a benign example of a childish, Id-ridden man-child.  Through the tension between Thanatos and Eros present in the movie (in this context mostly sexual love and survival), Francis moves further and further out of his original orbit (my favorite part is when the Grim Reaper appears to him and tell him to stop killing the dead and kill the living for a change.)

From the impotent “engineer” who kills zombies and lusts after beauty, Francis is driven (through repeat encounters with The Girl) into an active state unregulated by the SuperEgo or Ego, with sex and murder the result.  

Francis’ Ego and SuperEgo are eventually so battered through the repetition of losing “The Girl” that by the film’s conclusion he tries to flee, then finally trades roles and characteristics with Gnaghi (this movie’s representative of the Id.)

The movie concludes with a gorgeously shot and truly circular reveal that hearkens back to the very beginning of the movie.

In addition to that journey from Ego to Id, we have the striking comparison between the Eros embodied by Francis and The Girl and the Platonically idyllic love between Gnaghi and Valentina [4] (which may even be considered to be Ludus, playful friendly love as between children.)

Libido is typically seen as diverting the destructive instinct; in Cemetery Man the relationship evolves, and as the destructive instinct becomes ascendant Francis becomes confused, possibly as unable to affect the world as the dead names he has crossed out in the phone book[5].

To recap: go for the snappy writing, the zombie bikers, and awesome hottie Anna Falchi, stay for the existential struggle between sex and death. 
[1] Anna plays 3 different characters, but they seem to be facets of the same woman, or lookalikes, or reincarnations existing in the same temporal space. Pick your poison. She’s gorgeous.

[2]An ossuary is a communal bone pit/catacomb. It was also real, in this film, so the sex scene set there is…extra creepy.  Particularly given its overtones of necrophilia.

[3] More than the music video for “Total Eclipse of the Heart” by Bonnie Tyler.

 [4] Because she is an undead severed head, I’m going to go with completely un-consumatable, “let’s watch TV together with no ulterior motives” love. If your mind wanders elsewhere, shame on you. Also, ewww.

 [5]. (Fun Fact: the Necronomicon is also known as the “Liber Ex Mortis” or “Book of Dead Names: - Thus Francis could be figuratively conjuring zombies by writing in the Necronomicon. While a large stretch, this idea amuses me greatly.

JONATHAN M. CHAFFIN is an Atlanta-based graphic designer and art director and a lifetime fan of horror stories and film. His current project is where he uses artifacts and ephemera to tell stories... he also produces horror-themed tiki mugs and barware like the Horror In Clay Cthulhu Tiki Mug. In addition, Jonathan occasionally does voice-over and podcasting work and appears on panels at sci-fi fantasy and pop culture conventions on a variety of topics. You can follow him @CthulhuMug on twitter or by friending HorrorInClay on Facebook and G+

Friday, November 21, 2014

Barnabas Collins and the Lost Podcast

Last year, the Collinsport Historical Society recorded a podcast that never saw the light of day. The idea was to record some friends playing the offbeat "Barnabas Collins/Dark Shadows Game" produced in 1969 by Milton Bradley. These were people who knew nothing about DARK SHADOWS except for the things they saw on my Facebook feed, and I thought it might make for a fun podcast episode.

As it happens, it was a fun night. The game (not to be confused with the "Dark Shadows" board game produced by Whitman) is pretty strange, and more than a little morbid. For starters, there's no board. Players spin a wheel and compete to be the first person to complete their hanging skeleton from the pieces stored in a cardboard coffin. There are "advanced rules" that even allow for players to challenge each other via "vampire duels." The game isn't entirely successful, but I appreciate the effort involved in trying to create something different.

I recorded the session using an app on my phone. The sound quality was more than good enough for a podcast; all it needed was an introduction, a little editing and it was good to go.

Then a funny thing happened: I synced my phone to iTunes, which proceeded to add and remove whatever apps last recognized by my computer. I lost the the app used to record the game, as well as the recording.

If you're interested in playing the game for yourself, it's not especially difficult to find online. If you're missing parts, there are even a handful of vendors on Ebay selling everything from the individual skeleton parts to the wooden stakes (used to keep score in the game.)

Below is a television commercial for the game, which is interesting for a variety of reasons. First, it's the only commercial made by Jonathan Frid to promote something that wasn't specifically for the DARK SHADOWS series. The commercial was also shot on the ABC set in New York City. The commercial is also weird as hell, made even stranger by the awkward, uncomfortable performances by the child actors.

In other words: It's a real gem. My thanks to whoever located this commercial and shared it on Youtube.

Thursday, November 20, 2014

Star Trek/Lovecraft adventure nominated for Audio Verse Awards

Congratulations to the Collinsport Historical Society's own Patrick McCray, whose STAR TREK: THE CONTINUING MISSION episode "Cathedral in the Void" has been nominated for a number of Audio Verse Awards.

Patrick McCray and ENTERPRISE star Anthony Montgomery.
STAR TREK: THE CONTINUING MISSION is a fan-produced series of audio dramas that returned in 2014 after a two-year hiatus. The series chronicles the adventures of the USS Montana, a Federation ship under the command of Capt. Paul Edwards. Released in May, "Cathedral in the Void" combines STAR TREK with H.P. Lovecraft's "Elder God" mythos. The episode was co-produced and directed by Patrick McCray, who also plays the character "Lt. Cdr. Jack McGuire" in the episode.

You can find McCray online at The Collins Foundation.

The Audio Verse Awards is dedicated to celebrating the best in free audio drama. Go vote now at

You can download "Cathedral in the Void" for free by visiting the episode's Soundcloud page HERE.

Wednesday, November 19, 2014

Need a pair of retractable vampire fangs, no questions asked?

This isn't the strangest thing I've seen for sale on Amazon this month (that honor goes to "My Day by Jones," a short story retelling the 1979 film ALIEN from the point of view of the cat.) This set of "retractable vampire fangs" is right up there, though.

Most people probably aren't aware of the arms race among costume manufacturers when it comes to gothic paraphernalia. Most of us see some variation of  "vampire teeth" for sale around Halloween, but some specialized items actually have a year-round shelf life. It's a fairly recent concept that anyone not named "Christoper Lee" would even need a realistic set of vampire fangs, but the rise of cosplay has put these kinds of products in greater demand than ever before.

It started off simple enough back in the 1960s with those dimestore plastic fangs and, for a while, that was good enough for most people. A few years back, though, artists (a group that actually included a few dentists) began to create vampire fangs that not only looked real, but were customized to match the color of your teeth. Before long, costume companies took notice and began looking for a way to produce these for a general audience.

Which brings us to the retractable vampire fangs you see above. Looking at the image, I'm not even sure how these work ... the hinge at the base appears to hide the fangs under your upper lip, but the whole apparatus reminds me of that kind of SAW-esque torture devices used to take x-rays of your teeth. And I've got a gag reflex worthy of a Monty Python sketch.


Tuesday, November 18, 2014

David Selby haunts Baltimore parade, 1969

On Sept. 14, 1969, David Selby was grand marshal of the "I Am An American Day Parade" in Baltimore, Maryland. It was a huge event: Crowd numbers were estimated to have topped 200,000 for the Sunday parade.

"Thousands of teen-age girls swarmed next to the reviewing stand, where Mr. Selby sat throughout the day, screaming at the top of their lungs," reported The Baltimore Sun the following day. "One police officer, who helped escort the television performer during the parade, said the youths were 'behaving themselves' and had caused little trouble, but another officer attempting to control the crowd indicated the police had some difficulty. 'Motorcycle escorts don't mean anything,' he said, adding 'They knock over the motorcycles.'"

The newspaper also included the following quote from Selby, taken from a speech he delivered to the crowd: "With all the troubles and problems we have today, I wanted to tell you it's really not so bad to be an American." I'd love to have heard the rest of that speech, because Selby believed America was capable of doing much, much better that it was in 1969. But, he's also a gentleman, and probably would have thought it rude to bring his soap box with him. I'm not so sure I could have behaved myself in similar circumstances.

"It was the most frightening thing I've ever been through," Selby told a syndicated journalist  the following year. "I guess I felt much the same as the people in the committee. I had no idea how many people would come out and see me, or even if they would.

"I got knocked to the floor and somebody fell on top of me to protect me until the police could clear the people away," he said. "I don’t mind saying I was really scared.”

The Baltimore Sun didn't include any photos with their coverage of the parade. Luckily, 16 Magazine was on the job, publishing five photos in a feature titled  "David Selby on Parade." The photos you see below were taken from that feature. You'll note Selby is rocking 100% Genuine Sideburns™ in these photos. Selby went back and forth between wearing real facial hair and paste-ons during his tenure on DARK SHADOWS, usually depending on his commitments to outside stage productions in New York City. Not many people can pull off sideburns without looking like hipster clowns. Selby's definitely in the elite, along with Elvis, Wolverine, Lemmy Kilmister and my dad (though you'll just have to take my word on the last one.)

Ep. #849, with Kathryn Leigh Scott and David Selby.
So, what was happening on DARK SHADOWS that day? Not much, because it was a Sunday. Strangely, the DARK SHADOWS WIKI says that episode #849 was recorded that day ... an episode that features Selby. The episode summary also mentions that #849 was shot out of sequence on a Sunday ... so I have no idea what the hell was going on. It seems unlikely that Selby could be in Baltimore and New York on the same day (and there's a preponderance of evidence proving Selby was mobbed by fans in Baltimore that day) so it seems likely the wiki is wrong.

If you've never heard of "I Am An American Day," don't be surprised. Even though Selby's appearance marked the 31st annual celebration of the day in Baltimore, it's gone by many names over the years. Newspaper jerk William Randolph Hears first pushed for the day as a means to celebrate U.S. Citizenship in 1939. Congress followed suit the next year, reserving the third Sunday in May as "I Am An American Day."

In 1952, President Truman signed into law Citizenship Day as a replacement. In 1956, Congress once again tweaked the concept and asked the president to block off part of September ( Sept. 17-Sept. 23, to be specific) for Constitution Week.

The parade that Selby led was in celebration of Citizenship Day.

Just to make things more confusing, Congress acted in 2004 to make Sept. 17 “Constitution Day and Citizenship Day.”

Monday, November 17, 2014

Monster Serial: THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER, 1955


THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is a fairytale about children who are saved from their evil stepfather by a good witch.  It’s an American ‘50’s movie that looks like Fritz Lang watched TO KILL A MOCKINGBIRD and then ate some bad sausages before bedtime.  It was made by an actor who “just wanted to direct,” but who never made another movie after it failed to impress either audiences or critics.  I have seen a lot of movies in my life — fewer than some people but more than most — and I haven’t seen another one like THE NIGHT OF THE HUNTER.  It’s a genuine original; perhaps not entirely successful but always rich and strange.

The film declares itself as a nasty piece of work from the beginning; the first scenes feature a pack of children at play discovering the body of a murdered woman. We see serial killer and ersatz preacher Harry Powell (Robert Mitchum) driving away from the scene of the crime while having a cheerful chat with the Lord about all the lonely widows he’s killed and robbed for Him.  (His knuckles are famously tattooed with “LOVE” and “HATE,” which seems to be the first appearance of this oft-parodied trope.  I couldn’t find any earlier film knuckle tattoos, although I did learn that sailors traditionally had them read “HOLD” “FAST.” Feel free to trot that out at your next society cocktail party.)
Powell gets pinched by the cops at a burlesque show for car theft and sentenced to a month in prison; at the same time, a father (Peter Graves) returns home bleeding from a gunshot wound with the police hot on his tail. He hangs the responsibility for concealing $10,000 in stolen money around the necks of his two little kids, John (Billy Chapin) and Pearl (Sally Jane Bruce).  He hides the money Pearl’s rag doll -— incidentally, another female that has been cut open.  Of course, the bandit and the preacher end up in the same prison cell, and like all men in this plot situation Dad is a sleep talker.  After he’s hanged and Powell is released, the sinister minister comes looking for the children and the widow Willa (Shelley Winters).

There’s a lot going on in this movie. It’s certainly not the film I was expecting, or at least it isn’t all the film I was expecting.  That’s the first third, which is a tense, perfect thriller with disturbing sexual overtones and a nailbiting finish.  Then, when the children escape Powell and float down the river in their father’s boat, it becomes a dreamlike storybook fantasy.  Powell becomes more of a fairytale monster than a common criminal, and woodland creatures bear witness to the children’s flight. Finally, when the children land on the doorstep of tough-but-fair orphan collector Miss Cooper (Lillian Gish) it turns into a morality play as she wins a tense standoff against Powell and hustles her band of children through the ensuing lynch mob like a mother duck.

It’s difficult to decide what to make of the full picture. It’s always subtly unexpected; you think Powell will be a perfect killer, Hannibal Lecter style, but instead he’s a little goofy, impatient, and not very good at this serial killing business when you get right down to it.  He’s mean but not brilliant.  The fantastic standoff scene between Miss Cooper and the murderous preacher ends with both a bang and a whimper; he runs shrieking into her barn and is an easy catch for the state troopers in the morning. When another movie might end there, this one produces an extended coda with a lynch mob ... which misses its prey.  It’s definitely a movie that tells its own story in its own way with no particular care for how movies are traditionally made.

To somebody staring parenthood down the barrel (I’m eight months pregnant now and starting to really worry less about having this baby and more about keeping it safe), NIGHT OF THE HUNTER serves as a sad catalog of ways that adults can fail children. Until the redoubtable — and frankly unbelievable — Miss Cooper in the third act, every adult in the movie completely sucks at adulting in disturbingly realistic ways.  They’re venial crazy-ass murderers, passive victims who can’t or won’t protect their children, complacent townies who only see what they expect to see, well meaning drunks, fathers who in “providing” for their kids do stupid shit like robbing banks — there’s even a woman who’s kind enough to give out food to hungry children but sternly tells them they can only have one raw potato apiece.  It’s not the kind of movie where you yell at the kids on screen to tell an adult what’s going on; it’s the kind where you have nightmares later about how powerless childhood actually feels to children.

Willa, particularly, is an interesting study in Failure to Adult.  She’s a lamb eager for slaughter; she seems dazed and desperate for direction which of course she finds in the charismatic Powell.  His destruction of her begins long before her murder — on their wedding night when she comes to bed with natural sexual expectations he stands her in front of a mirror and psychologically dismantles her with shame and guilt. After that, she becomes his creature utterly and participates in his religious services in a feverish, claustrophobic scene lit by torches that dominate the frame and seem poised to light everybody on fire. She howls and shrieks that she drove her first husband to bank robbery and murder with her vanity and frivolity. When she finally realizes that John was telling the truth about Powell’s search for the hidden money, she goes to Powell perhaps intending to confront him.  However, she ends up essentially inviting him to murder her in a truly disturbing scene in their bedroom, which has the odd geometry of a chapel.  She lies in bed with her arms folded, waiting for him to cut her throat like a sacrifice.   My husband and I were once traumatized by a scene in a nature documentary where some sort of antelope chased by a predator just gave up and laid down in the grass to wait for the end; it still bothers me to think about it.

This column is among those featured in
 BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL, a collection of 
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The film owes much of its dreamlike intensity to the cinematography of Stanley Cortez. This is the most black and white of black and white films; the light and shadows are extreme and surreal.  The sets are always just a little off; the house seems smaller on the outside than the inside, and the angles are always a bit too extreme. The overall feel is less noir and more silent film; it harkens back THE CABINET OF DOCTOR CALIGARI and SUNRISE.  A fantastic shot of Powell pursuing the children on horseback through farmland feels like a minimalist picture book illustration come to life.  The sound design complements and enhances the aesthetic; there is some orchestral music, but it’s used more sparingly than in other films of the period.  Instead, hymns and lullabies enrich the soundscape, most notably “Leaning on the Everlasting Arms,” which is Powell’s musical signature (harkening back to M, where Peter Lorre’s approach to vulnerable children is always heralded by his whistling “In the Hall of the Mountain King.”) 

Adults are always telling children how great they have it and how awesome childhood is and that they ought to be enjoying it while it lasts. That’s a lie and a half — there are great things about being a kid but it’s also a time in your life where you’re utterly powerless, completely at the mercy of people who you hope have your best interests at heart, and live in a world you only barely understand. NIGHT OF THE HUNTER is a film that really gets that.  It’s about keeping secrets, running away from frightening things, and looking for safe havens.  It’s weird and beautiful and a lot like a nightmare and if you haven’t seen it you’ve left a hole in your movie watching.

Sara Shiver McBride is qualified to neither speak nor write about film, but once lost on Jeopardy. She makes up one half of the podcast team of DAY DRINKING WITH SARA AND ALEXIS

Friday, November 14, 2014

BREAKING NEWS: "Authentic" vampire hunting kits not authentic

It's official: Vampires don't exist! Probably!

The British Library confirmed as much today on its official blog. Despite there being exactly zero evidence supporting the existence of the undead, a weapons curator felt compelled to weigh in on the validity of "authentic vampire hunting kits" that occasionally pop up in auctions. Some asshole actually spent $14,850 on one at an auction in 2008.

One of these obviously fake kits is going on display as part of the British Library's Terror and Wonder exhibit (and is curiously on loan from the Royal Armouries). This is the scholarly equivalent of hit whoring, and Jonathan Ferguson, a curator of firearms at the Royal Armouries, weaves a glorious tapestry of bullshit to justify the exhibit. Here's what he has to say about it in a blog post at the British Library:
To some this might come as a disappointment, or even as a reason to decry the kits as fakes as some do. Would-be buyers should certainly not purchase under the apprehension that they are buying a Victorian antique as my own research has shown. So why acquire such an object regardless? Museums do collect deliberate fakes as comparators and for their own artistic and cultural merit, yet vampire kits are not fakes per se, because there is no evidence of a Victorian original. In the case of historical artefacts for which the original does not survive, we will also display reproductions. In this case, there very likely isn't an original. Self-defence against the supernatural was for many in history (and indeed today) a matter of life and death, but the weapons they used were ephemeral. The wooden stakes, guns, and agricultural implements that they attacked vampires and other revenants with either no longer survive, or have lost their provenance and are unable to tell us their story.

So, if they're not fake, and not reproductions, what are they? The answer is that they are 'hyperreal' or invented artefacts somewhat akin to stage, screen or magician's props. They can also be regarded, and indeed have been sold as, pieces of modern art.

I'd like to lay the blame on Hollywood for perpetuating this superstition, but film has inadvertently done more to deter this kind of superstition than any other institution in the world. Sure, if you were to step back and count the number of vampire movies produced during the last century, Hollywood would look like a glorified vampire factory. The truth is, though, that the conflicting mythologies adopted by movies throughout the years are all the evidence most reasonable people need. This is the kind of scrutiny that even Santa Claus can't withstand ... and that myth relies on outright bribery to maintain itself. And I've never so much as received a birthday card from Dracula.

from the Royal Armouries
This sounds like a fun exhibit as long as it doesn't involve anyone pissing down my back as they discuss the suddenly damp weather. I was kinda onboard with the idea of this exhibit until Ferguson began to willfully apply different meanings to words like "fake," "reproductions" and "invented artefacts," as though they all have different meanings.

What's really galling here isn't the presence of cosplay accessories in an exhibit about literature, or even Ferguson's self-fellating logical contortions ... it's that these kinds of exhibits have little to do with British vampire literature. Varney the Vampire kills himself by leaping into a volcano. Dracula's heart is cut out with Bowie knives. Lord Ruthven simply vanishes. OK, Carmilla was staked, but we're batting .250 here (though I'm willing to add a few points in honor of  Ingrid Pitt.) That's good enough for professional sports, but hardly good enough for the British library system.

Monday, November 10, 2014


It’s unlikely you’ll read another mainstream horror comic this year as f*cked up as CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA.

The teenage witch of Archie Comics has been reinterpreted here for a straight-up horror story that finds inspiration from sources as diverse as Stephen King, Ira Levin and J.K. Rowling. It would be unrelentingly bleak if not for a streak of dark wit running throughout. But “fun” is a subjective word, especially when you’re talking about horror stories. And, despite its flaws, CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA is a pretty fun book.

As with AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE, the new SABRINA series relies only on the character’s most basic ingredients. Our heroine is still a witch being raised in a suburban community by her aunts. Her cat, Salem, is also present, as are a few recognizable names and faces from Riverdale. But that’s where the similarities end. Here, Sabrina and her aunts have more secrets to keep than mere witchcraft. And, while we’ve been privy to a few of them in the first issue, there are quite a few more lurking off panel.

When the story begins, Sabrina’s mother is trying to rescue her from an uncertain fate at the hands of her father. Unable to bear children, she’d made a pact to surrender her firstborn to the family coven, only to get cold feet at the last minute. She is banished to an asylum and lobotomized; not long after her husband meets an even more grotesque fate, leaving the infant in the care of her aunts.

As Sabrina’s powers begin to grow, the aunts remove her from a private school for witches, opting instead to give her a public school education in a quiet town where the child’s heritage won’t be questioned. There are a few allusions that the family might be cannibals (the aunts comment on the advantages of living next to a funeral home, where they’ve got access to an “unlimited” food supply), and Sabrina gets her first familiar in the form of a “cat” named Salem.

Salem is a former warlock being punished for trying to destroy the world. Sabrina’s British cousin, who has also taken up residence with the family, is even more unsavory: Even Alistair Crowley has taken issue with the lad’s behavior.

It’s a pretty good set up, but writer Roberto Aguirre-Sacasa makes a critical error. There are a lot of ideas jammed into this first issue, but its linear nature leaves little room for character development. Sabrina spends much of the first issue as an infant without agency, while characters are introduced (and dismissed) at breakneck speed. It’s hard to invest much in Sabrina because we don’t know anything about her. Sure, we know her history (something even she doesn’t know), but we’re given little opportunity to see her behave as a person. While the opening scenes of Sabrina’s family self destructing are effective, I’m not sure we needed to see these moments unfold this early. It’s a problem that will likely right itself quickly as the series progresses, but it makes this issue less than essential.

Also: Robert Hack’s art here is terrific. His style is a welcome breath of fresh air for the medium, and rejects the traditional linework and digital color palettes that makes comicbook art so faceless these days. This guy’s good.

I’m not sure how CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA relates to AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE, which is also written by Aguirre-Sacasa. Archie Comics is doing a lot of crazy things these days, and it’s always hard to tell which books — if any — are related. For those of us bored with the “continuity management-as-story” policies at Marvel and DC, it’s nice to see a company putting creativity first. It’s possible AFTERLIFE WITH ARCHIE and CHILLING ADVENTURES OF SABRINA aren’t related, and I don’t really care if they are. The books don't need each other to work.

Despite its violent tone, Sabrina actually comes across much better in this story than she did when introduced to the Archie line back in 1962. Her first appearance is included as a back-up in this issue, and it’s going to come as a bit of a surprise to fans of the Melissa Joan Hart television series. I’m not sure what the original intent was for the character, but she comes across in her first appearance like a raging sociopath.

While Sabrina doesn’t outright kill anyone, she’s not exactly above hurting people. One panel shows her casting a spell on teenagers to ruin a dance … by giving them back pain. She also brags to the reader about meddling in high school sporting events, causing her own school’s team to win or lose at whim. Sabrina also casts spells to force teens to fall in love, makes students fail tests … she’s kind of an asshole.

The last panel raises the possibility that there might be hope for our junior super-villain, as she wonders if there might be some secret appeal to muggle life. I hope these early Sabrina stories are included in future issues of this series, because they’re kinda fascinating.
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