Monday, November 2, 2015



Admittedly, I might not be the best person to review “And Red All Over.”

I’ve got an emotional investment in the early episodes of DARK SHADOWS that’s a little unusual. Most of the OG fans of the series didn’t start watching the show until after it became a phenomenon, with later attempts at syndicating the show (and even releasing it to home video) completely omitting the first 200 episodes. As weird as it might seem, these episodes aired only once on television until The Sci-Fin Channel picked up the series during the early 1990s.

This is when I first started to watch DARK SHADOWS in any meaningful way: two hours every morning on The Sci-Fi Channel, beginning with the first episode. At the time, episode guides weren’t easy to find, so I had no idea when Barnabas Collins might make his first appearance on the program. It always felt as if he might arrive at any time, like an uninvited — but thoroughly welcome — guest.

This anxiety went on for more than 20 weeks before we rolled around to Jonathan Frid's debut, but there was enough going on during these early episodes to keep me occupied and entertained. These remain some of my favorite stories in the series. As I’ve said before (and will certainly say again), you can’t really understand DARK SHADOWS without seeing these episodes.

Which is why I can’t fully approach “And Red All Over” with any real objectivity. I love having Mitchell Ryan back in the fold. He’s one of my favorite character actors (a short list that also includes Ian Holm and Stanley Tucci) and it feels like a semi-miracle to have him return to DARK SHADOWS after almost 50 years. Does it even matter if the episode is any good? Would I know the difference?

Director Lela Swift leads the cast of DARK SHADOWS through the shooting of the show's first episode, June 13, 1966.
Spoilers ahead.

I like to think “And Red All Over” is one of the best installments in Big Finish’s range of DARK SHADOWS audio dramas. I was engaged throughout, and not just because I was starstruck by Ryan. It’s not a coincidence that the best stories in this series feature Kathryn Leigh Scott, who is cursed with the kind of charm and consistency that makes it easy to take her for granted (see also: Tom Hanks). But she’s terrific here. Again.

Ryan created the role of “Burke Devlin” on DARK SHADOWS in the first episode of the series. When last we saw the character, he was played by Anthony George and headed for an ill-advised plan ride to South America.  Since 1967, we’ve all had to live with the character’s dubious, unsatisfying exit for the show: The Dreaded Soap Opera Plane Crash™.

While the logline for “And Red All Over” is a little coy about the presence of Burke Devlin in this episode, there’s little suspense in the tale about his real identity. The producers at Big Finish would have to be real assholes to tease us with Devlin’s presence, only to snatch it away. So yes, this is Burke. And we find out quite a bit more about him than we ever learned on the original series.

Writer Cody Schell delves deep into DARK SHADOWS mythology, revisiting everything from Devlin’s relationships with Roger Collins, his engagement to Victoria Winters and, most importantly, his mysterious business dealings in Montevideo. Which is where things get interesting. And occasionally confusing.

In 1966, Devlin returned to Collinsport with a grudge and a sizable fortune. The origins of this fortune were never revealed, but the hints that Devlin occasionally dropped were … unsettling. Schell expands on these clues in some interesting ways, revealing Devlin’s associates as the sort of creepy crime cult you might find in a DAREDEVIL comic. The Ink (as they like to be called) is either a gang of masked criminals who use costumes and hallucinogenic drugs to terrorize their enemies, or they have access to very real magical powers. What happens in the story might not actually be happening, at least in the ways that the characters believe. Don’t be shocked if you’re occasionally confused by the constant sleight-of-hand taking place in “And Red All Over.”

Still, I have quibbles. There are times that Ryan sounds like he’s reading the script for the first time, but these awkward line readings are in keeping with the theme of the tale — for better or worse. And the sound design for “And Red All Over” is not among the best produced by Big Finish (that title is still held by 2013’s “Beyond the Grave.”) It seems like a weird complaint to level against anything bearing the DARK SHADOWS trade mark, but the music and sound effects on this episode were sometimes … cheesy.

The dreamlike/acid-trip nature of this story also complicates its resolution in a way that reminds me of TAXI DRIVER.  People still argue today about that movie’s denouement, which sees disturbed vigilante Travis Bickle getting a (totally unearned) second chance at life. Here, we find Maggie Evans reunited with one-time boyfriend Joe Haskell — who we last saw on DARK SHADOWS getting carted off to a sanitarium. Later audio dramas claimed Haskell was dead, which makes his cameo at the end of “And Red All Over” a little startling. It’s also amazingly effective, and provides a much needed happy ending for the couple. You probably think you’re prepared to hear the sound of actor Joel Crothers voice, but I assure you that you’re not.

Assuming I’m not a delusional fanboy, it’s my opinion that “And Red All Over” serves as a fitting cap for the entire DARK SHADOWS storyline. While I’m hoping for more from Big Finish in 2016, this is as good an ending as DARK SHADOWS will ever get.


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