Tuesday, March 31, 2015

Johnny Depp: 2012 Staring Contest Champion

Did you notice Johnny Depp blinking in DARK SHADOWS? Well, you shouldn't have, because the 2012 production went to great lengths to remove casual human elements from the character of Barnabas Collins.

In a feature posted today at Cracked titled "7 Famous Movies That Got Tiny Details Absolutely Perfect," they discuss some of the (totally unnecessary) steps taken to make Depp's presence  in DARK SHADOWS subtly supernatural:
"But the craziest part of this movie wasn't just that they gave Depp supernatural sexual magnetism while making him look like a 14-year-old who's sweated off most of his juggalo makeup; it was that they digitally removed every one of his blinks and reflections from the whole movie."
I don't know how much money was spent to create an effect that nobody cared about. It might have been used to hire a real screenwriter, though.


The Mask of the Brown Death

In my humble opinion, there's just not enough symbolic cannibalism involved with Easter. While other holidays require us to eat the various body parts of gods and/or martyrs, Easter has to settle for less-visceral fertility rituals. I mean, nobody's afraid of brightly colored eggs.

Contemporary food designers Bompas & Parr have stepped up to make your Easter holiday a little more unsettling. The London-based artists are offering chocolate death masks customized to look like ... well, whoever.
"Eat My Face is a hands-on-face service that will see us create an exact mould of you or your child, mistress or dog's face for that matter, in chocolate."
As a bonus, you get to keep the mould, which you can "display at home" or use to make other confections in your own kitchen. All for the low low cost of "price on request."

Is this an appropriate time to mention that I own a life mask of Jonathan Frid?


Taste the Blood of Monster Serial (Again)

Card #616 of Fleer's 1989 baseball series is notorious among collectors. It's actually a marvel of incompetency, one that involved all levels of professional baseball to make happen: While posing for photos for the card series, Baltimore Orioles second baseman Billy Ripken was handed a bat with the words "FUCK FACE" written on the knob. Allegedly, he was clueless about the message on the bat's grip. The photographer didn't notice it, nor did Fleer's graphic designers or editorial staff. Once it went to press, though, the card was subject to the scrutiny of fans ... who quickly spotted the problem.

Subsequent printings airbrushed out the offending words (although I'm not sure what was so offensive about the word "face.") Today, the original version of the card remains a valuable collector's item.

If you're among the people who have already purchased TASTE THE BLOOD OF MONSTER SERIAL — the third book from The Collinsport Historical Society —  you've got a similar collector's item on your hands. In this case, though, I'm the "fuck face." A number of errors slipped through the proofing process, a few of which were insidious. For example, Desmond Reddick's piece on GOKE: BODY SNATHCER FROM HELL was particularly a problem, with bits of his text sometimes migrating into other people's work. It's a good piece and I'll be sharing it here sometime during the next few months ... but don't be surprised if it manages to possess random Word files on your computer.

Anyhoo, I've made several corrections to the text, which should fix the problem in future editions. If you happen to spot me at a convention, I'll gladly do an embarrassing, clothing-optional dance in penitence for my mistake when presented with a copy of the first edition of this book.

Monday, March 30, 2015


Enter: Barnabas Collins.

I’m sure a lot of people have spent the last five episodes (and a prologue!) waiting for this moment. For many fans, there is no DARK SHADOWS without Barnabas Collins. These people have probably been baffled by Big Finish’s insistence on continuing the DARK SHADOWS story without the character. I don’t count myself among that demographic, but I’d be lying if I said the presence of Barnabas Collins in BLOODLUST is unwelcome.

But I’d also be lying if I said this episode wasn't a bit of a letdown. After the slow-build of the first five episodes (which allowed the writers to establish the story’s many characters and conflicts) this episode seems a little rushed. And the entrance of Barnabas Collins smacks of dues ex machina.

But I’m getting ahead of myself.

Quentin Collins (David Selby) is back in Collinsport, to the delight of absolutely nobody. His reputation remains that of a dangerous troublemaker, so many of his conversations in this episode begin with polite chitchat followed by “So, when are you leaving?”

Maggie (Kathryn Leigh Scott) is particularly hostile, pointedly telling him to go back to wherever it was he came from. In this case, that happens to be London, where he’s started a new life with a new wife. Before moving on, though, he’s got a few wild oats that need sowing.

You see, Quentin hasn't forgotten the rush of becoming a werewolf. Even though the magical portrait created by Charles Delaware Tate has protected him from physical ailments (including age, injury and gypsy curses) he’s decided he needs to feel that lycanthrope high again. He’s in Collinsport, we learn, to seek Angelique’s help to “wolf out” one last time. If you’re thinking this subplot is a little gross, you’re not wrong.

But Quentin’s issues haven’t robbed him of wisdom. While he lacks perspective on his own problems, he’s got a firm understanding of Maggie’s demons. He cautions that her group therapy sessions are in danger of turning into a lynch mob, which is exactly what happens in this episode’s closing moments. “There are normal people here who have done terrible things,” Quentin says. “And then there are creatures like me who have saved your life. It’s not black and white, Maggie.”

Oh, and there’s one other complication: Man-baby Tommy Cunningham is also Quentin’s great-great grandson, making him subject to the werewolf curse. Good luck with that!

Artist’s rendering.
If the bigotry subtext of this series wasn’t strange enough, there’s also an underlying criticism of post 9/11 U.S. foreign policy buried in the narrative. Maggie is spouting off a lot of “If you’re not with us, you’re against us” Bush-isms, flavored with just a hint of lawlessness. “It’s time for us to stop waiting to die,” she tells her followers, directing them to take action without providing them with legitimate guidance. The message: If we don't take action immediately, we leave ourselves vulnerable to attack. Consequences are a problem for other people.

People like the Rev. Trask, who gets his ass thoroughly kicked as Maggie's Lynch Mob(TM) descends on the cave where Angelique is lurking. Sheriff Tate (Lachele Carl) is essentially powerless to stop them, leaving Quentin to take charge. Luckily Quentin has a cunning plan.

A very confused Barnabas Collins arrives, heralded by localized earthquake.  “He just likes to make a dramatic entrance,” Quentin tells Angelique (which isn't exactly true, but whatever). Quentin was preparing for this moment, admitting that he's the one who invited Barnabas to the party. In a melodramatic moment, they dub themselves “The Trinity” — the vampire, the wolf and the witch.

While it all sounds very exciting, I couldn't shake a sense of disappointment in this episode. Barnabas’ presence didn't feel earned, especially since there’s been so much talk of a vampire being responsible for the recent violence in Collinsport. The "V" word has been bandied about quite a lot, yet there's been no mention of Barnabas or his whereabouts. He’s introduced near the end of this episode to justify the moment, and it didn't work for me. His appearance felt like a glorified talk show "walk on."

In fact, the entire episode felt decidedly unbalanced, as though the return of Quentin Collins somehow upset the narrative scales. We've spent a lot of time getting to know the "Next Generation" cast of BLOODLUST, but Quentin's return advanced the story so quickly that Amy, Cody, Kate, Harry and the rest were momentarily pushed aside. It's going to be interesting to see how all of these pieces fit together in the second half of the story, once the dust from this installment settles.

This episode marks the end of the first collection of episodes, contained on Vol. 1 of the compact disc collection. I have no idea where the story is headed, or how this collection of misfits is equipped to deal with … whatever is going on. Barnabas, Quentin and Angelique aren’t able to solve their own problems, and I suspect things are going to get worse for everybody before they start to get better.

This week's song is ...

Sunday, March 29, 2015

Adam West, Burt Ward return for BATMAN feature in 2016

During yesterday's BATMAN panel at Mad Monster Party in Charlotte, N.C., guests Adam West and Burt Ward announced they'd recently recorded dialogue for an animated BATMAN film slated for release in 2016 — the 50th anniversary of the classic television series.

Burt Ward and Adam West at the Mad Monster Party panel.
Actually, the actors speculated that the as-yet untitled film (presumably part of Warner Animation's line of direct-to-video DC Universe series) might be split into two movies They didn't share any additional details about the film(s), but its safe to say there's going to be extensive recasting of the show's principle actors. The legal dispute between 20th Century Fox (the creators of the original series) and Warner Bros (which own the BATMAN characters) dragged on for so long that almost everyone associated with the series died in the interim. While its easy to imagine Julie Newmar participating in the upcoming animated film, nobody's really clamoring for the return of John Astin to the role of "The Riddler." Will we see Mark Hamill take the place of Cesar Romero as "The Joker?" John DiMaggio? Wally Wingert?

It's not the first time Ward and West have returned to the roles of "Batman and Robin." Both have loaned their voices to the characters in everything from 1977's THE NEW ADVENTURES OF BATMAN AND ROBIN, to episodes of THE SIMPSONS. They also announced during yesterday's panel that they've recently recorded dialogue for an upcoming episode of ROBOT CHICKEN.

Watch video from the panel below.

Friday, March 27, 2015

Monster Serial: GANJA AND HESS, 1973


On June 22, 2014, Spike Lee’s Kickstarter-funded feature, DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS, screened for the first time. Moments before the screening, it revealed that the film is actually a remake of the 1973 horror-art film Ganja & Hess. There’s an easy joke in here about Lee learning from his experience remaking OLDBOY that if you’re going to remake a cult film, stay away from beloved titles and go for the deep cut.

It’s not all that surprising that Lee was able to keep a lid on his new film’s lineage - relatively speaking, not many people have seen the original Ganja & Hess. And it’s maybe equally unsurprising that the nearly-forgotten film has returned from the dead in a new form, as it seems to have been doing just that over and over for decades.

GANJA & HESS played theaters in its original form for less than a week in 1973 before it was pulled from distribution, re-cut, retitled and forgotten. While the film was pitched (and financed) as a horror flick, it’s closer in tone to Nicolas Roeg’s inscrutable, non-linear THE MAN WHO FELL TO EARTH, which GANJA & HESS predates by three years. Director Bill Gunn’s shooting script allegedly contained more traditional, mainstream horror elements. Gunn later claimed he intended all along to remove most of them, very intentionally leaving a frustrating but weirdly resonant meditation on addiction, cultural extinction and the struggle of the “Blackman” (Gunn’s term) to retain his identity.

We get early hints of Gunn’s preoccupation with the slippery nature of identity: the film begins with a minister (Sam Waymon) discussing his faith in voiceover, accompanied by handheld, documentary-style shots of him commanding a church service. But we soon find out that the minister’s main job is quite different - he’s a driver for Dr. Hess Green (NIGHT OF THE LIVING DEAD’s Duane Jones), and we learn from some oblique exposition that this well-to-do “doctor of anthropology and geology” is studying artifacts from an extinct civilization of African blood-worshippers called the Myrthians. As the surviving crew members note on the blu-ray commentary, seeing a respected, affluent black man onscreen, being chauffeured around New York in a Rolls Royce, was quite a bit of culture shock, and was likely a hell of a way to start your film in 1973.

Hess studies dead civilizations; Gunn’s camera slyly suggests the doctor is also part of one. That’s about as overtly political as the film gets: there are no rallying cries for equality or quaint-but-clumsy speeches about race, just frame after lonely frame of Gunn’s Blackmen occupying near-deserted bars, sparsely populated streets and big empty rooms. Even dialogue scenes are framed in ways that isolate the individual. As Hess quietly ponders a relic and dreams of ancient Myrthia, there’s a genuine feeling of mournfulness, of mortality, of memory bleeding out into history.

The plot, such as it is, is set in motion when Hess hires George Meda (played by the film’s director) as his assistant. We find out as abruptly as Hess does that Meda is quite out of his mind. After dinner, Hess finds Meda sitting in a tree, threatening to hang himself in Hess’ yard (easily the film’s funniest exchange, in which Hess asks Meda to consider the amount of trouble his suicide would bring to “the only colored on the block”). Meda then gives a long speech about his suicidal impulses with a stalactite of snot dangling precariously from his mustache. In the very next scene, for reasons the viewer is never given, he attacks Hess in bed, stabbing him with the Myrthian dagger, an act which transforms Hess into a blood drinker (the word “vampire” is never used in the film).

Thinking he’s killed Hess, Meda takes a bath, brushes his teeth (using his cloudy bathwater), and kills himself. Next, Hess is seen sitting up in bed, no worse for wear, and upon discovering Meda’s body begins to drink his blood. Much of this film can’t rightly qualify as horror, but the sight of Jones slurping congealed blood off the bathroom floor is a moment of genuine revulsion (reportedly for the actor as much as the audience), and says everything the film aims to about addiction.

Meda ends up in Hess’ walk-in freezer, and Hess begins the life of an addict - petty theft from a blood bank, cruising bad neighborhoods for his fix. The commentary isn’t terribly subtle, but it’s delivered with a measured hand. Soon Meda’s estranged wife Ganja (Marlene Clark) shows up looking for her husband. She finds him in Hess’ walk-in freezer. From here the film becomes a kind of love story, before sending the title characters down a road of increasing debasement and self-loathing to feed their craving. As their addiction brings them together, it slowly drains their humanity. METAPHOR!

I’m not quite in the “masterpiece” camp on this film, but I’ve been fascinated by it for over 20 years (I watched a sort of incomprehensible 16mm print back in 1992). On a first viewing, the film often feels a bit patchwork and unwieldy in trying to get even the basic narrative setup across, as if Gunn has so much to say, but is battling his own framework in the process. And his subtext feels at times as confusing as his talky, wandering narrative. The Christian church scenes are messy, sweaty bits of handheld vérité, while the flashbacks/dreams of the Myrthian Queen are shot in loving, elegant slow motion. Is he criticizing the Western European eclipsing of African culture? It often seems so, but the film’s finale suggests otherwise.

Similarly, posing Ganja and Hess as a well-off black couple in 1973 seems a deliberate, progressive stance. But why are they then portrayed as such assholes about their status? Hess’ black butler is a constant object of the couple’s ridicule and derision (and of Gunn’s as well; the director literally robs him of all identity in almost every shot, his head cut off by the top of the frame in nearly all of his scenes). Is he criticizing Ganja and Hess for their bourgeois social status, or the butler for his willing subjugation? Or both? And the film’s final shots are guaranteed to frustrate as much as they resonate.

But what seem like problems with the film begin, on repeated viewings, to feel like stubborn badges of honor. And you begin to realize it’s not that Gunn CAN’T make a more traditional story; he simply refuses to. (There are 17 minutes of deleted scenes on YouTube which connect the details of the evasive plot; Gunn shot them and threw them away.) There are just enough moments in the film to show you that Gunn could have easily gone a more mainstream route: the film is beautiful when it’s meant to be beautiful; the use of ambient sound is innovative, almost masterful. Gunn is not an amateur. But not every movie is willing to meet you halfway. There are films that are fun to watch; Ganja & Hess compels you to watch. There are films that ask more questions than they answer; Ganja & Hess answers zero questions, nor does it aim to. Maybe that’s why it lingers in the brain.

This essay is one of dozens featured in our new
book, "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial."
It’s such a cheap bit of irony that a film rife with subtext about a dying culture devouring itself was carved up and shortened by over 30 minutes to make it more palatable to the blaxploitation crowd. As the legend goes, Gunn took a single print with him to Cannes, where it received a standing ovation and was named one of the ten best American films of the decade (in 1973, but still). New York critics were less impressed, and Gunn’s film was pulled from release after playing less than a week in one theater, after which its distributors hired another filmmaker to re-cut the film into the 76 minute Blood Couple (also released in various formats and markets as Black Evil, Black Vampire, Blackout: The Moment of Terror, Vampires of Harlem, and Double Possession for good measure). Stories vary, but at some point Gunn stashed the uncut print from Cannes at the Museum of Modern Art, and once the original negative was reworked, this became the only surviving print of Gunn’s original cut, and remained so for nearly two decades. (For the whole, amazing history of the film’s rescue from oblivion, check out the great Video Watchdog article by Tim Lucas and David Walker, reprinted on the DVD. Reading it, one realizes it’s nothing less than a miracle that the film exists at all.)

Gunn never directed another film (he started work on the Muhammad Ali biopic THE GREATEST, but was replaced by Monte Hellman). He returned to the stage and television, and ended up on the set of “The Cosby Show” as one of Bill Cosby’s poker buddies. Gunn died in 1989. In the end, the burial of GANJA & HESS perfectly illustrated the kind of cultural extinction which preoccupied the filmmaker.

Fittingly, the film refused to remain buried. A grass-roots movement to restore the film culminated in a DVD release in 1998. Today an even more fully restored blu-ray is available. Amazon will even stream the movie to you for $3.99. And early reviews of DA SWEET BLOOD OF JESUS suggest that Spike Lee might have given the tale yet another cinematic resurrection. Though reactions from the film’s premiere describe a fun tone that’s light-years from Gunn’s film, the plot descriptions coming out of the initial screening sound eerily accurate to the original. It’s astonishing that we live in a world where GANJA & HESS has been remade, and way more astonishing that said remake might actually be good. But sight unseen, it sounds as if perhaps Lee has engaged the material correctly. And much to my surprise, I’m finding the story of GANJA & HESS calling to me once again.

PHIL NOBILE JR is a writer/director of non-fiction television projects, including the feature-length A&E documentary HALLOWEEN: THE INSIDE STORY (2010.) He is a contributing writer for badassdigest.com and its sister print publication, BIRTH.MOVIES.DEATH.

Thursday, March 26, 2015

Counting down to DARK SHADOWS on Decades

If you want to watch DARK SHADOWS when it begins airing on Decades later this year, you won't need cable.

The nostalgia channel is set to formally launch on May 25, and currently holds affiliation agreements with 21 television affiliates in 15 states. You'll actually be able to watch Decades using an television antenna, though you'll need one that's HD compatible to receive anything more than static.

While a formal schedule has yet to be announced, Decades actually began airing programs in January in bulk-episode packages called The Binge. DANIEL BOONE is currently airing, to be followed in quick order by THE SAINT, PETER GUNN, MISSION: IMPOSSIBLE and others. You can get a full scheduled of The Binge by clicking HERE.

Beginning 6 p.m., May 13, Decades will begin airing 68 straight hours of DARK SHADOWS. We're going to have to wait and see how this show will fit into its regular programming when Decades begins in earnest May 25, because Decades ain't exactly Nick At Nite.

What sets Decades apart from other nostalgia channels is its intent to "theme" daily programming. THROUGH THE DECADES, a one-hour daily program hosted by AMERICAN JUSTICE's Bill Kurtis, will highlight these themes by providing news clips and commentary. It will be interesting to see how a daily program like DARK SHADOWS — which had hardly anything to do with the era in which it originally aired — will fit into this kind of schedule. It isn't a show that's going to mesh well with clips of the moon landing, Woodstock, the Vietnam conflict and other historic touchstones of the day. It's also possible I'm completely misinterpreting the concept.

(Note: It's probably not a coincidence that Me TV recently included DARK SHADOWS in its MeMadness event. Decades has partnered with Weigel, a Chicago-based company that distributes Me TV.)

Below is a list of stations that will be carrying Decades. Visit rabbitears.info for updates


Los Angeles KCBS-TV
Sacramento–Stockton–Modesto KOVR
San Francisco–Oakland–
San Jose KPIX-TV

Denver KCNC-TV

Miami–Fort Lauderdale WFOR-TV

Chicago WBBM-TV

Baltimore WJZ-TV

Boston WBZ-TV

Detroit WWJ-TV

Alexandria KCCO-TV
Minneapolis–St. Paul WCCO-TV
Walker KCCW-TV

New York City WCBS-TV

New Bern/Greenville WCTI-TV

Valley City, KRDK-TV

Philadelphia KYW-TV
Pittsburgh KDKA-TV

Johnson City WCYB-TV

Fort Worth–Dallas KTVT

Green Bay–Appleton WBAY-TV
Milwaukee WDJT-TV

The Rocky Horror Skype Show

A Florida-based charity is auctioning a 15-minute Skype call with actress Patricia Quinn of THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW, I, CLAUDIUS, THE LORDS OF SALEM and lots of other stuff. The auction is courtesy of  Give Kids The World Village, a nonprofit resort for children with life-threatening illnesses and their families.

The auction ends Sunday, March 29, and is being conducted on Ebay.




Licensed storytelling is often seen as something inherently illegitimate.

If you have any doubts about that, remember that Disney effortlessly flushed several decades of "expanded universe" STAR WARS storytelling with its purchase of Lucasfilm. Once the Mouse House took control, they deemed the hundreds of books, comics and videogames produced since the late 1990s as no longer canon. Because they're still interested in making money, though, Disney opted to keep most of these products in circulation ... but now they're designated as "just for fun." But wasn't that always the point?

Technically, it was the second time Lucasfilm had purged the system. The tie-in novels and comics produced during the original life of STAR WARS (1977-1986) had already been written off by the company. A lot of fans cried foul, feeling as though they'd been tricked into reading fanfic.

Well, yeah.

I had to step away from DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST for a while because of personal obligations. These write-ups require a bit more time and effort than news-related posts. I spent the early part of the week re-visiting the first four episodes, as well as the "Snowflake" prologue. During some downtime I also listened to 2012 DARK SHADOWS audiodrama, "Speak No Evil." The contrast between the two stories is startling.

When I fired up "Speak No Evil," I was under the impression that it was my first time listening to it. About half way through, though, I realized I'd already heard it. The tale was so insubstantial that it slipped my memory ... and will probably do so again.

"Speak No Evil" exists in that negative space where all tie-in properties live: between plot points in the canonical narrative (wow, that sounds pretentious). The main character is an adult version of "Tad Collins," played by David Henesy in 19 episodes of the original DARK SHADOWS. I don't think many people wondered what happened to the character in the events following the 1840 storyline. "Speak No Evil" is the answer to a question that nobody asked, and wanders perilously close to the old "two characters arguing in a darkened room" formula that made some of the early DARK SHADOWS audiodramas kinda lame.

But this is how tie-in properties work. If you can't retell/reboot/rehash the original storyline, you have to build your story in the narrative's gaps. And these areas are on notoriously shaky foundations.

Big Finish is rapidly approaching the release of its 50th (?!) DARK SHADOWS audiodrama, and BLOODLUST is evidence that lessons have been learned from past mistakes. The series has spent the last few years developing its own continuity and no longer has to rely on the table scraps of the original series. Many of the "new" characters in this series aren't really new, at all. Kate Ripperton has already appeared "The Phantom Bride" and "Beyond the Grave," while its a safe bet that there's some kind of relationship between Matthew Waterhouse's two "Cunningham" characters from BLOODLUST and "The Creeping Fog."

There are also deep ties to the KINGDOM OF THE DEAD, the multi-part DARK SHADOWS serial from 2010. While I doubt Big Finish will ever outgrow the need for formal ties to the original series, those ties are definitely less important than they used to be.

And there's drama galore in this episode of BLOODLUST, hardly any of it relying on your good will for classic DARK SHADOWS as a crutch. This series is working without a safety net and taking some real chances.

Exhibit A: Tommy Cunningham. As an infant in previous episodes his dialogue was limited too background cooing (I like to think it's producer Joseph Lidster providing the baby babble). Thanks to Angelique, Tommy is now a fully gown man with a rapidly developing vocabulary. His interaction with his incredulous parents is sweet, funny and bizarre in all the right WTF? kinds of ways.

While Andrew Cunningham is aghast at the change in his younger son, mom Amy isn't quite is rattled. As an occult expert she quickly figures out what has happened and devises a plan to set things right. First up is kicking Andrew to the curb, a plan that receives surprising support from his elder son, Harry. This leads to a confrontation with Angelique that made me realize the two characters might not have actually met on the original series.

Angelique comes across as sadistic in a way that was surprising to me. She's the DARK SHADOWS patron saint of vindictiveness, but had evolved over the course of the series to be a little less petty and cruel. Here, she couldn't care less about Amy or her problems, and is disinclined to even barter with her. Angelique is certainly more bitter than I'd have guessed ... and that's saying a lot.

Carvalho and Perry
Meanwhile, back at the Blue Whale, Jessica Griffin (Marie Wallace) finally meets the ghost of her son's late wife, Susan ... to disastrous results. Unlike the unflappable Benjamin Franklin (who asked the ghost who'd win the Super Bowl that year) she freaks out and runs off into the night. Which is where things go terribly wrong for her and the newly homeless Andrew Cunningham. Both cross paths with the town's resident serial killer.

As sad as I am to see Matthew Waterhouse leave (presumably; I haven't listened to the next episode yet) I'd also really grown to like Wallace's character. She seemed like the kind of local kook that would be fun to hang out — and gossip — with.

Then, just as the cast was beginning to thin itself out, Quentin Collins wanders in during the episode's final moments, looking for a room at the Collinsport Inn.

In between all of this Franklin (Roger Carvalho) and Ripperton (Asta Perry) have some serious talks about the nature of their relationship. Ripperton admits she's become a danger junkie — which will make Collinsport a difficult place for her to quit. Franklin has a few secrets, himself ... one of which is so deep even he's unaware of it. He tells Ripperton he's in love with her, but also compulsively repeats the phrase "Another day, another dollar" whenever asked about his job at the mine.

David Collins is going to have some 'splaining to do.

This week's theme song:

Tuesday, March 24, 2015

The Truth is Still Out There

It's official: THE X-FILES is returning.

I'm a little uncertain whether or not to use an exclamation point at the end of that sentence, though. THE X-FILES is in a weird place in that it died during its creative nadir. Unlike STAR WARS, INDIANA JONES or THE GODFATHER, the series didn't exactly leave audiences wanting more when it limped to a halt 13 years ago. Most people barely remember those final seasons even happened (or that there was a second feature film.)

The show's return was announced today by Dana Walden and Gary Newman, chairmen and CEOs of Fox Television Group, and Chris Carter, creator and executive producer of THE X-FILES. Production on a new six-episode "event series" is set to begin in summer 2015

No other details about the revival have been disclosed. Mitch Pileggi damn well better be involved, though.

“I think of it as a 13-year commercial break,” said Carter. “The good news is the world has only gotten that much stranger, a perfect time to tell these six stories.”

THE X-FILES premiered in  the fall of 1993 with lukewarm support from Fox. At the start of the season the network was all about THE ADVENTURES OF BRISCOE COUNTY JR, but they proved to be fair-weather friends to the Bruce Campbell-led show. Before the end of the season, Fox had gone all-in on THE X-FILES. (So much so that Fox arguably left the show on life support a year or three longer than it should have.)

Even though the conspiracy driving the "mythology" episodes eventually led nowhere, I'm still a fan of the show, which was good (if not great) more often than not.

Carter has also been involved in THE X-FILES: SEASON 10 comic series from IDW, which claimed to be part of the same continuity as the television series. It will be interesting to see whether or not Carter chooses to ignore those books. I'm betting he will.

Via Fox.com.

Barnabas Collins (Wants To Get Funked Up)

If you need only one funky vampire theme, make it "The Stakewalk" from the 1972 soundtrack for BLACULA. If you  to need two, though, then check out The First Theremin Era's trippy take on Robert Cobert's DARK SHADOWS theme from 1969.

Don't be surprised if you can't find any background on The First Theremin Era. As with many novelty recordings of the 1960s (such as "Alley Oop" by The Hollywood Argyles) it was one-off recording created by an industrious producer. In this case, the producer was Charles Calello, one of the original members of the band that would become The Four Seasons. Calello also produced and arranged "The Name Game" for Shirley Ellis, "The Clapping Song" for Pia Zadora, "My Heart Belongs to Me" by Barbra Streisand, and numerous tracks for Frankie Valli and The Four Seasons.

"The Barnabas Theme" is not something Calello lists among his online Billboard credits, though. Interpret that however you will.

The single, backed with a track titled "Sunset in Siberia," was released Feb. 7, 1969. When the official soundtrack for DARK SHADOWS was released a few months later by Phillips, it included a traditional rendition of the series theme. The First Theremin Era version was eventually included in DARK SHADOWS: THE 30TH ANNIVERSARY COLLECTION, released in 1996. It's an interesting anthology and plays more like an audio scrapbook for DARK SHADOWS, rounding out its track listing with a greeting recorded in 1969 by Jonathan Frid for the "Vampire Fan Club."

Monday, March 23, 2015


Grayson Hall spent the better part of her career denying she appeared in SATAN IN HIGH HEELS, a 1962 sexploitation film starring Meg Myles. You can see photographic evidence to the contrary above. (For the record, Hall is pretty great in the film.)

A few years ago Robbie Robertson developed a stage adaption of the film which has been performed in Columbia, S.C., and New York City. Over the weekend, he announced he's developing a musical version of the stage production and posted six minutes of demo recordings on YouTube. Listen to them below!

Come see how the vampires do it

After almost a year in production, TASTE THE BLOOD OF MONSTER SERIAL is now available for sale!

Our third collection of horror movie essays was slated for release last Halloween, but life had other ideas. The writers had their pieces finished and submitted by August, 2014, and have been patiently (and politely) waiting for me finish editing this sucker. It's our biggest book yet, and I hope you'll find it worth the wait.

We've got a few new names joining us for this book, including Kathryn Leigh Scott, who's contributed the introduction. Because this collection has a vampire theme, I asked Kathryn to write about her four very different viewing experiences with HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS  and boy did she deliver.

And there's a lot of DARK SHADOWS to be had in this helping of MONSTER SERIAL. The book is divided into three areas, titled "House of Dracula," "House of Dark Shadows, and "The Family Tree." Counting the introduction by Kathryn Leigh Scott, there are seven pieces that deal with DARK SHADOWS's cinematic progeny in some capacity.

For an idea of the variety of films discussed in the book, see the gif at the top of this post. (And don't forget that our previous book, BRIDE OF MONSTER SERIAL, has been nominated for a Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Award. Please vote for us!)

You can find the book on Amazon!

The contributors are:

Sunday, March 22, 2015

THE MORGUE: "Unnatural occurrences" plague DRACULA, 1929

America's relationship to horror has always been, in the words of Laura Ingalls Wilder, "profoundly fucked up.*" While we'll never know the identity of the person that told the first ghost story, it's likely they found themselves tossed into a bog for their efforts. Superstitious people have trouble distinguishing fantasy from reality, and there was little difference to our primitive ancestors between telling a ghost story and conjuring an actual ghost.

By design, horror stories should be a little bit dangerous, but that status means creators will always be at odds with those in their audience with a less-than-confident grasp on reality. Which is why urban legends attached to horror movies so easily thrive. Was the death of Max Von Sydow's brother during the filming of THE EXORCIST punishment for making light of demons for entertainment purposes? Was Sharon Tate's murder occult retribution for ROSEMARY'S BABY? Were all of the tragedies attached to the POLTERGEIST films a curse?

Don't be daft.

These kinds of urban legends are hardly new, and they're not restricted only to movies. MACBETH has some of the best known superstitions in theatre, but the Hamilton Deane and John Balderston stage adaption of DRACULA had a few of its own. Above is a story from the July 15, 1929, issue of The Bakersfield Californian about problems that plagued the production. While the play was a financial success, the cast and crew were known to be "unlucky in private affairs."

There aren't a lot of names included in the story, which is interesting in itself. Here are a few highlights of The Dracula Curse:

  • In New Haven, Connecticut., the stage manager, "a man noted for his coolness under fire," fell victim to asphasia ... a language disorder caused by brain damage.
  • The play's leading lady lost her voice "for no accountable reason."
  • A photographer fell into the orchestra pit while taking pictures of the play in Asbury Park, New Jersey. The focusing screen of his camera was smashed "without apparently being touched by human hands."
  • Light signals from the stage manager to the electrician "went dead" without explanation.
Clearly the handiwork Satan.

(* She didn't actually say that.)

Friday, March 20, 2015

Monster Serial: DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS, 1971


Ah, Belgium: home of chocolate, waffles, pale ale and vampire lesbian films. Well, one, anyway. “Daughters of Darkness” is a cult classic dripping with sensuality, stunning photography and symbolism. Lots of symbolism.

The film starts off with a bang. Literally. The train goes speeding down the track as a young couple get about as creative as you can in a sleeper berth. Focus on the bride’s white bridal bouquet, looking quite virginal.

Yes, the horror movie begins with a young, honeymooning couple. Isn’t that cute? Their happiness is short lived, however. As they lie together in post coital bliss, the girl asks, “Stefan, do you love me?”
“No.” That was quick. The flowers aren’t even dead yet.

Valerie (Danielle Ouimet) is established from the start as sweet, innocent, compliant; in fact she has VICTIM written all over her. And that’s all you get, since we learn nothing about her or why the young lady married this strange man she just met. Or why Valerie is from Switzerland and has a French-Canadian accent. 

Stefan (John Karlen) seems to be hiding something when he continually puts off telling his mother about their recent nuptials. He lives in an English manor, was raised in America, yet sports an accent of vague European origin. It works for his character, though, and manages to keep his Brooklynese at bay.

Now on to main event: the couple ends up being the only guests in an ominous, grand hotel in Ostend—until a vintage red sedan pulls up, building to one of my favorite entrances of all time: The Countess Elizabeth Bathory (Delphine Seyrig) who commandeers the film from the first glimpse of her ruby lips.

The countess is a mysterious, stylish Marlene Dietrich look-alike traveling with a pouty-lipped Louise Brooks clone, Ilona (Andrea Rau) whom she refers to as her “secretary.” Just two lonely ladies looking to make new friends and share a drink or two.

Seyrig’s performance is deliciously understated as she sets out to seduce the young couple—first the vampire gets Stefan off with descriptions of how she would brutalize and torture virgins in order to bathe in and drink their blood. Yes, Valerie, your husband has just been revealed as a very sick puppy.

Then Ilona hits on Valerie, Elizabeth hits on Valerie, Ilona hits on Stefan. Come on, folks, let’s just all rip off our clothes and jump in the pool.

But our lovely countess is the mistress of manipulation, and when she and Stefan butt heads over who gets to keep the victim, guess who wins. The husband is so unsettled at the prospect of calling his mother, he viciously lashes out at the conniving bitch who made him do it, driving her right into the arms of the consoling, honey-voiced vampire.

Worst honeymoon ever.

I can’t go further without mentioning the Mother scene, a compete WTF moment, and played over the top by Dutch filmmaker Fons Rademakers, who lives in an English manor and has a Castilian accent. Mother lounges on pink and lavender satin pillows, sniffs an orchid and chides his boy toy over the telephone for being foolish…or just unrealistic.

Oh, Mother, your time was too short. You are the stuff from which prequels are made.

About this time, the body count is starting to climb, resulting in three of the most camp, improbable death scenes in film history. First Ilona manages to stab herself in the back with a razor, Stefen ends up served under glass (ending in a picturesque, Jesus pose—is this symbolic?) and the countess goes the way of all vampires—on the stake…or does she?

At first glance, it seems Elizabeth met her doom and Valerie assumed the vampire’s persona in the epilogue, but the actress was dubbed with Seyrig’s voice, implying to me that the countess switched bodies at the last moment and survived to drink another day. You learn tricks like that when you’re 600 years old. I’m not sure which ending is better or which was the filmmaker’s intention.

This film is worth watching for the director’s stylistic surrealism, lots of eye candy and Delphine Seyrig’s outstanding performance. It’s also worth it to buy or rent the DVD just for the extras.

First is the commentary by Flemish director Harry Kümel who whines incessantly throughout the viewing. He chose to film in English, despite a mostly German and French cast speaking phonetically, and then complains about the girls’ acting. Karlen is too old and does not have enough “beefcake.” But he dotes on Delphine, who reassured him, “don’t worry, when I am on the screen, they will look at nothing else.”

This essay is one of dozens featured in our new
book, "Taste the Blood of Monster Serial."
Kümel also discusses his meticulous camera shots and can spout a lot of film history. And don’t forget the in-your-face symbolism. Deep blue and gray exteriors, everyone costumed in black, white and red. In every scene. Silly me, I thought it stood for death, innocence and blood, but no, they’re the colors of the Nazi flag.


To contrast, then listen to the commentary with actor John Karlen who reminisces mostly about getting to romp with gorgeous, naked women, eat outstanding ham sandwiches during a night shoot, and make the acquaintance of another actor who doubled in real life as gourmet chef, in addition to meeting Ouimet’s husband who owned restaurants, and staying for two weeks in Paris at Seyrig’s villa. Hopefully, those moments made up for the show down between Karlen and Kümel when the director slapped Danielle, who went crying to her costar. So, Karlen slugged him.

But let’s not end on an unhappy note. Here’s something to look for. In Ilona’s death sequence on the bathroom floor, you’ll notice the vampire has a tan line.

Marie Maginity is an actor, director, teacher and free-lance writer, living in Bucks County, PA, with one husband, two daughters and two cats. She is known in the Dark Shadows fanfiction world as Mad Margaret.

Now is the time to explore Big Finish's DARK SHADOWS line

If you're looking to catch up on Big Finish's many DARK SHADOWS audio dramas, this weekend is the perfect opportunity. The company is offering more than 30 episodes of the show at discounted prices, beginning sometime Friday morning.

The selections include the original four-part DARK SHADOWS audio series, its sequel, "Kingdom of the Dead," and 32 titles in the audiobook range. The first episode of DARK SHADOWS: BLOODLUST is being offered for the low low price of absolutely nothing. Just add it to the basket with the rest of your purchases, and you won't be charged for it.

The episodes are on sale this weekend for $2.99 per title as downloads. The price of the CD editions will vary based on the U.S./U.K. exchange rate, but expect them to cost about $7.30 each.

If you're new to the DARK SHADOWS audio series, I've marked a few episodes below that you might enjoy. Here's the link to Big Finish's DARK SHADOWS page: http://www.bigfinish.com/hubs/v/dark-shadows


Full-cast dramas:
1.1 The House of Despair
1.2 The Book of Temptation
1.3 The Christmas Presence
1.4 The Rage Beneath
(£15.00/$10.00 for all four)

2.0 Kingdom of the Dead
(also available separately) (£15.00 /$10.00)

* 1. Angelique's Descent, Part 1: Innocence (Download Only)
2. Angelique's Descent, Part 2: Betrayal (Download Only)
3. Clothes of Sand
4. The Ghost Watcher
* 5. The Skin Walkers
6. The Path of Fate
7. The Wicked and the Dead
8. Echoes of Insanity
9. Curse of the Pharaoh
10. Final Judgement
11. Blood Dance
* 12. The Night Whispers
13. London's Burning
14. The Doll House
15. The Blind Painter
16. The Death Mask
17. The Creeping Fog
18. The Carrion Queen
19. The Poisoned Soul
20. The Lost Girl
* 21. The Crimson Pearl
22. The Voodoo Amulet
* 23. The House by the Sea
* 24. Dress Me in Dark Dreams

25. The Eternal Actress
26. The Fall of the House of Trask
* 27. Operation Victor
28. Speak No Evil
29. The Last Stop
30. Dreaming of the Water
31. The Haunted Refrain
32. A Collinwood Christmas

Thursday, March 19, 2015

Collinsport Mail Call!


First off, thanks to all of you who sent me messages about the passing of my father in law earlier this week. I tried to wait until after the funeral before responding to you individually, but still feel like I've overlooked someone. If so, my apologies ... your words meant a lot to me.

I'm currently putting the finishing touches on our third MONSTER SERIAL book, for real this time. The proof arrived in the mail yesterday, and I anticipate the final corrections will be made in time for the weekend. This volume showcases essays about vampire movies, and includes a section devoted to HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS and its related films. More on that later.

At the top of the mail bag is a letter from Adam and Eve, which has expressed an interest in paying to publish content on this website. They’re not interested in display advertising so much as “paid content.” I can’t imagine why my site seems like a good candidate for them, unless some bot has scanned my website and concluded that the occasional appearance of profanity is meant literally. (Or maybe it was that post about the porno shot at Seavew Terrace.) I’m morbidly interested enough to let them do it, though, just to see what happens. Adam and Eve is actually a pretty responsible company.

"Good riddance! Glad to see the last of you, you irritating asshole."
— James Spielberg

James and I had a falling out on Facebook, which is pretty much Facebook's raison d'etre. You can probably figure out why he got banned based on this e-mail.

"My name is Brian, and I am an Internet Rankings Engineer. I scrolled across your website Collinsporthistoricalsociety.com and performed a Google search for your business keywords. Upon perusing in the first page, I saw that your website is currently not listed on the first page for your niche and popular keyword (Product) search."
— Brian White, Ranking Expert

While I'm sure your intentions are good, you're way out of your league here, Brian. Regardless of your credentials, I seriously doubt you've got the tools or the patience to deal with DARK SHADOWS fandom. My website isn't ranked higher on Google because of an unusual variety of circumstances I've been powerless to change. For example: Many readers visit this site via Facebook links ... and then return to Facebook to comment on said link. (Which is why there are so few comments left on this site.) Discussions about content have a habit of migrating elsewhere, robbing me of traffic.

There are also problems with the maturity with some of the longtime fans. This website has been nominated for three years in a row (winning once) for "Best Blog" by the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. Despite being a DARK SHADOWS fansite, the "official" ShadowGram newsletter has never mentioned these nominations. In fact, the people with the Dark Shadows Festival have spent the last three years pretending this website doesn't exist. They won't even send me news about the festival, which I'd gladly run.

Meanwhile, other "fans" occasionally lift material from this site and share it without attribution. (Or worse, act like that creepy James Spielberg.) All leading me to sometimes ask, "Why the fuck am I still doing this?"

"I can't download the Waterhouse podcast."
— Avid Fan

This was a message from one of our hardcore readers, a guy who loves this site so much that he's gratuitously appointed himself to be our unofficial proofreader. He's actually pretty helpful, so it's difficult when I can't return the favor: This appears to be a technical issue, possibly relating to the browser he's using. It's rare that I get messages about bugs in the podcast, but I thought I'd ask if any of you were having similar problems. If so, please comment below.

Finally, here's message from Charles Avent, who I'm 99% sure I've seen haunting the various DARK SHADOWS Facebook groups. I get hit was a lot of requests to promote products ... so many that I've taken to ignoring requests out of embarrassment. I'm just one person and don't have the time to read and review much of anything these days. And, on the off chance I don't like something, I'm uncomfortable giving negative reviews to independently produced works.

Charles sent me a thoughtful message about his novel, which was very easy to share in a feature like this. Here's what he had to say:

My name is Charles Avent. I am the author of "Silent Dawn: Chasing Sunrise". Although the storyline is nothing like that of "Dark Shadows", that show did influence my writing style and, more to the point, my perception of the mind of a vampire, as I wrote this book. You see, Jonathan Frid's portrayal of Barnabas Collins, yes I'm that old, made him the first vampire, in history, who you felt a sense of compassion for. You actually WANTED him to do the things he did, because they seemed justified.(although he DID get a little carried away, when he would beat the crap out of Willy with the cane. LOL)

This is my website address: www.charlesavent.com where readers can obtain a personally autographed copy of my book. When it is ordered from this site, the publisher ships me a copy, the same day and I sign it with a personalized autograph that they have suggested, and send it out the next day, with the reader only being charged one shipping fee.

All in all, Barnabas only fed on people because he was tortured into doing so, to survive. It was not his choice and you felt "sorry for him". I loved the original series so much that I wish I could bring a witch into the mix, but I am afraid that I would not be able to do any of the characters justice. There are a group of wolves, but it is unclear, in the book, if they are werewolves or vampires, thanks to Bram Stoker enabling vampires to shape shift into pretty much anything they wish. ;)
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