Friday, January 16, 2015


Off the top of my head, I can’t think of another television series that had the kind of sexual hang-ups as pervasive as those on DARK SHADOWS.

Any kind of longform drama dealing with the occult is going to encounter this issue, because the occult is inherently sexual. BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER was never very subtle about the parallels drawn by its heroines “powers” and her sexuality, nor were BEWITCHED and I DREAM OF JEANIE (in their own gross ways.) No matter how you might try to hide it, magic is always about sex.

DARK SHADOWS had a raging case of identity crisis from the very beginning. Victoria Winters’ “power” with her own virtue/virginity, which was in constant peril (usually figuratively) during the show’s first two years. When Barnabas Collins entered the picture, things became a thousand times more complex. Censors no longer had to worry about the occasionally filthy word games being played by the writers, or how long the actors might hold their on-screen kisses … they now had to worry about the presence of perceived homosexuality on the program.

It was rare that Barnabas Collins would ever bite (or “zap,” as the kids said at the time) another man. Willie Loomis, his first victim, was drained from the wrist, possibly by cutting him with a penknife. The idea of a man placing his lips anywhere on another man’s body was simply too close to oral sex for some people.

And not just oral sex … the gay kind of oral sex. (Cue spooky theremin music.)

I like to think the actors on DARK SHADOWS had a sense of humor about all of this. A great many of them were gay or lesbian, and were probably accustomed to at least pretending to be in the closet. But there must have been some sense of sadness and frustration to know that they’d probably be less welcome in many American homes than a werewolf.

DARK SHADOWS has always been thought of as a television show for outsiders because of its gallery of freaks and mutants, while simultaneously being as WASP-y as THE BRADY BUNCH. Perhaps there’s some comfort in knowing that men and women with the supernatural good looks of David Selby and Lara Parker might also have difficulty finding acceptance?

In the second episode of BLOODLUST, Big Finish makes a seismic push for diversity at Collinsport. Seismic by the standards of DARK SHADOWS, anyhow. The episode sees the show’s first acknowledged gay character, as well as black actors who are being asked to do more than hit their marks for a few scenes.

Most fans remember Beverly Atkinson on DARK SHADOWS, but forget she appeared on only ONE episode.
I’m actually incredibly uncomfortable with discussing this in any real depth, because it feels like I’ve invited actors Lachele Carl and Roger Carvalho to a party just to talk about how black they are. It’s absolutely rude on a personal level, but is something that also needs to be discussed on a social level. Rather than continue to make an ass of myself here, let me just extend to them my warmest welcome to DARK SHADOWS.

I had planned on segueing into the next paragraph by discussing the theme of “change” that’s being explored in BLOODLUST, but decided that it wasn’t fair … and maybe even inaccurate. Yeah, Collinsport is not the same place it was when DARK SHADOWS was cancelled in 1971 (the series is set in the early 1980s) but the new emphasis on diversity really isn’t a part of that. The script isn’t heavy handed about the new characters, and assumes you’re mature enough to deal with skin tones and sexual preferences not in line with those of Victoria Winters.

But the times, they are a’changing. And we’re getting a good look at the new landscape through the eyes of more new arrivals to Collinsport in episode two. Yes, MORE new arrivals. I flinched when the episode started, fearful that we were in for re-run of the first episode’s guided tour of newbies, but that proved not to be the case.

Matthew Waterhouse, Scott Haran and Stephanie Ellyne visit Collinwood.

Amy Cunningham (née Jennings) has returned to Collinsport, and has brought with her a new name and family. I’ve been vocal about my support for Stephanie Ellyne in the past. She’s one of the only actors to replace an original TV cast member, and was hired when Denise Nickerson was unavailable. Nickerson (who played Amy Jennings on the original DARK SHADOWS series) has since returned to the fold playing another character in the Big Finish series, but Ellyne remains an MVP in this episode. Her rant about chucking all the vampires and werewolves off Widow’s Hill is one of the episode’s best moments.

In fact, all of the Cunninghams are interesting characters. I like them a lot, may god have mercy on their souls.

The writers are taking their time in re-introducing us to the original cast members, but the story is trucking along at terrific speed. There might not be a lot going on physically, but not a line of dialogue is being wasted. Everything that takes place in episode 2 moves the story forward. We learn that Kate Ripperton, the British journalist from “Beyond the Grave,” was more or less stranded in Collinsport after her televised ghostbusting experiment went tits up. She’s now running the Collinsport Star, Andrew Cunningham’s new employer. Meanwhile, Amy's stepson Harry is exploring the town’s spookier locales with two other teens, a group I’ve taken to calling The Collinsport Goonies. We learn that Isaah Trask is probably more than just the town drunk after is lets slip a reference to his “mistress.” Also, there’s a cave at the base of Widow’s Hill that seems to be having a conversation with itself.

And all of this happens in about 26 minutes, capped with a cliffhanger ending.

(NOTE: Episode 3 is now available!)

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