Tuesday, May 19, 2015

Dead Men Tell Tall Tales: May 17, 1967



"To me, horror is when I see somebody lying. I mean a person I know. A friend. And he's telling me something that I accept. And then suddenly, as he or she is telling it, there's something that gives them away. They're not telling me the truth." Jonathan Frid, 2001
Jonathan Frid cemented his place in television history 48 years ago this week.

At the time, he'd been a part of the cast of DARK SHADOWS for just a month, making his 12th appearance on May 17, 1967. There's very little in the way of "action" in this episode. While the word vampire was more than a hundred episodes away from first being uttered on the show, the audience already knew who — and what — was responsible for the mysterious illness of Maggie Evans.

Unfortunately, the viewers at home weren't in a place where they could be of any use to the show's characters. When resident vampire Barnabas Collins decides to pay a visit to Collinwood in this episode (in the middle of a thunderstorm and power outage, no less) there's already a sense of tension in the air. He arrives to find Victoria Winters and Carolyn Stoddard alone in the drawing room, a lit candle as their only source of light.

And then the show really begins.

Barnabas decides to entertain the ladies with a tale from Collinwood's past. While her name isn't used, the tale clearly details the death of Josette Du Pres, Collinwood's most perky spirit. The pretense is that Barnabas' tale is a product of his fascination with history. The reality is that he's relating it from personal experience, omitting his own involvement (and culpability) from the narrative.

This is Barnabas Collins is full bloom, suddenly more awkward and vulnerable than Carolyn and Victoria.Throughout much of the tale Frid positions himself between both of his audiences. The performance is as much for Victoria and Carolyn as much as it is for us, and has to work on both levels. He positions himself throughout the scene to face his two audiences, turning away from the ladies when compelled to lie, revealing to us which elements have been altered. For a few minutes he plunges Collinwood into the past. Here's a sample of his dialogue:
"There was a night such as this. A night when a young, beautiful woman was pressed to the limits. She could no longer accept what the future held for her. She knew she had to destroy herself before she became something she did not want to be. She had quarreled with her lover. She tried to send him away, but he would not be put off. He tried to put his arms around her, but she broke away from him and ran out into the stormy night. Her white dress contrasted against the darkness. He ran after her as she headed for the one place on earth that seemed to be designed for the termination of life. Rain drenched her, the winds buffeted her, blowing her long hair wildly. Her clothing was torn by the low branches. Her small white feet were bruised and mud-stained with the stony cruel pathway to the summit of the cliff. The shouts of her lover were lost in the wind as he moved swiftly after her."
The script is credited to Malcolm Marmorstein. If you're thinking Barnabas' dialogue runs a little too purple, that's entirely the point. DARK SHADOWS was originally conceived as a modern gothic romance, the sort featuring dark haired women fleeing old mansions on their covers. Victoria was the pulp heroine of DARK SHADOWS, a thinly sketched analog for ABC's (presumed) audience of housewives in need of mystery and adventure in their lives.

What this episode also makes clear is that Barnabas was designed to be a suitor for Victoria. She was a blank slate, a character reaching into the past to find some clues to her real identity. Along comes Barnabas Collins, reaching out to Victoria from the past. And his dialogue sounds if it was ripped from the very pulp novels that inspired both her character and DARK SHADOWS.

The threat is not that Barnabas is going to turn his unwanted attention toward Victoria; It's that she's going to invite this corruption into her life. Barnabas makes it clear in this scene that Josette's history will almost certainly repeat itself, if for no other reason than his own lack of self control.

''You're a clever girl" he tells Victoria at the close of the scene. "Just be careful that what happened to Miss Evans doesn't happen to you.''

But don't take my word for it. Watch the episode below on Hulu!
Note: The quote at the top of the page appears in "Halloween Candy," a collection of interviews and essays by Thomas M. Sipos published in 2001.

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