Friday, January 29, 2016

The 10 Scariest Episodes of Dark Shadows

Welcome to The Creep Factor, a feature designed to scientifically determine which episodes of DARK SHADOWS are the scariest. The results of this evaluation were arrived at through a process involving the I Ching, no fewer than three séances and several experimental blood transfusions. They are presented in no particular order. Also .... SPOILER ALERT!

Knife to Meet You

Episode 509, June 7, 1968

Adam, believed dead after leaping off Widows’ Hill, arrives at the home of Sam Evans. Collinsport’s version of the Frankenstein Monster is wounded, a little pissed off at the world and brandishing a kitchen knife. Evans, who lost his sight in a previous episode, has no idea how close he’s standing to a violent death. The image above is almost Hitchcockian in its composition, with the knife both masking and replacing Adam’s eyes.

I've got a certain fondness for Adam, a character I didn't much care for the first time I watched the series. When I gave it another viewing a few years ago I was really taken with Robert Rodan's performance and realized it was the cheesy, repetitive "Dream Curse" part of this storyline that I didn't like. Much of Adam's story is about a battle for his soul between the father figures of Nicholas Blair and Timothy Stokes, who have very differing ideas on what it means to be a man. In that regard DARK SHADOWS brought something quite new to the Frankenstein story.

It's hard work following in the footsteps of Boris Karloff (something Robert De Niro found out the hard way) but Rodan created an interesting, tortured character that was as dangerous as he was sympathetic. It’s a shame that he was hustled out of the original DARK SHADOWS television show without fanfare.

This episode benefits from being a Kinescope salvage, which stands in here for the lost color masters. Although DARK SHADOWS learned to use color in some beautiful ways, there's a spookiness to the Kinescope tapes that I love.

Apocalypse at Collinwood

Episode 1,109, Sept. 24, 1970

Few television shows ever pushed their characters harder than DARK SHADOWS. In episode 1,109 things take a turn for the apocalyptic when the ghost of Gerard Stiles murders David and Hallie. And the death of two children was just the beginning of the end of Collinwood.  By the end of the episode, the mansion has been demolished by a band of zombie pirates and the family exiled from its home. As the mob storms the crumbling, burning building Julia discovers the stairway through time has re-appeared ... but it arrives too late to save Barnabas Collins. Julia has to travel back to the past and attempt to change history by subverting the tragedies that lead to the 1970 (and 1995!) haunting of Collinwood.

Funhouse of Madness 

Episodes 919/921, Jan. 5, 1970

Charles Delaware Tate was not among anyone’s favorite DARK SHADOWS characters. While his storyline brought a fun Rod Serling/Jerome Bixby/Richard Matheson element to the 1897 arc, Roger Davis was more than a little miscast as the temperamental artist type.

But when DARK SHADOWS returned to the "present" Tate's character became a lot more interesting. Suspecting that the reclusive Harrison Monroe is really the elderly Tate, Chris Jennings seeks out his help. Almost a century before, Tate had created a painting of Quentin Collins, a portrait that absorbed all of Quentin's ailments and injuries (including his pesky werewolf curse). Hoping that Monroe is the reportedly deceased Charles Delaware Tate, he finds the artist living in a house that would frighten a James Bond villain.

Monroe, who looks to the audience exactly like Tate in 1897, keeps Chris and Quentin at a distance as he taunts them from behind a shadowed desk. Quentin eventually loses his temper and hurls a vase toward Monroe, whose head topples from his body and rolls to Jennings' feet.

Jennings picks up the head and discovers it's an absurdly lifelike mannequin head. Adding to the creep factor is a quick cut to Jenning's "discovery," which shows actor Roger Davis looking back at him with glassy, doll-like eyes.

I didn't much like Charles Delaware Tate's arrival to Collinwood, but I loved his exit. It was also the last role Roger Davis played on the series, which might have been for the best. Davis only appeared in 128 episodes of the series but played four (possibly even five) characters during his brief stint. The decision to re-cast him so frequently created a few tedious storytelling issues ("You look just like so-and-so!") It was time for a break.

The Lonesome Death of Dr. Woodard 

Episode 341, Oct. 16, 1967

While relatively bloodless, the murder of Dr. Woodard is the first genuinely cruel scene in DARK SHADOWS. It lacks the gore and violence seen in later episodes, but the static nature of the camerawork adds a certain “snuff film” panache to the events.

After learning that Dr. Woodard has discovered he is a vampire, Barnabas Collins begins planning to do away with his new enemy. Rather than bloody on his own hands, Barnabas gives Julia Hoffman two alternatives: she can murder her friend and ensure Woodard's death is relatively painless, or Barnabas can deal with the problem and make sure things resolve themselves in a particularly painful manner.

Hoffman arrives as Woodard's office with a hypodermic needle and a narcotic that will make it appear the doctor died of a heart attack. When it becomes obvious that she can’t follow through with the plan, Barnabas arrives and begins … aggressive negotiations.

They try to reason with Barnabas, but Woodard is unable to promise that he will stand aside and let the vampire continue to use the women of Collinsport like so much energy drink. He bolts for the door, but Barnabas stabs him with the needle before he can escape.

It's not the best written scene in the series, nor is it the most overtly scary. But its cavalier attitude toward life and death makes it one of the more unsettling moments in DARK SHADOWS. It also stands in stark contrast to the sympathetic, often heroic take on Barnabas Collins in later years.

The Head of Judah Zachary 

Episode 1,117, Oct. 6, 1970

In 1840 Desmond Collins returns from a trip to the Far East with a gift for his cousin Quentin ... a human head in a glass case! While it might seem like an odd idea for a gift, the origin of the head is even stranger: It belonged to Judah Zachary, a warlock and all-around nasty fellow executed in Maine during the 17th century. Like Rasputin, Zachary proved to be very difficult to kill. He was ultimately decapitated and his head shipped off to the farthest corners of the earth.

If having a prop of a severed head decorating the sets of a television show isn't unnerving enough, DARK SHADOWS revealed that Zachary's head was still sentient by having it open its eyes. While this storyline had its problems (such as revealing Angelique has been alive somehow since the 17th century?!) DARK SHADOWS took the opportunity to ramp up its horror elements with the invention of the Zachary character.

Adam's Ghosts

Episode 544, July 25, 1968

In an effort to find Adam, warlock/badass Nicholas Blair summons the ghosts of the different men used by Dr. Eric Lang to create the monster. Two of them appear outside Collinwood missing the parts unwillingly donated to Lang's experiment and direct Blair toward Adam's location.
It's one of the goriest scenes in DARK SHADOWS, which might have been an unavoidable hallmark of the Adam storyline.

It's not the blood and suggested violence that makes the scene disturbing. Instead, it raises a few unanswered questions about the nature of the show's latest ambiguous monster, chief among them "Did Adam have a soul?" Diabolos and has lackeys clearly believed he did not, which was a major factor in their plan to create a rival to humanity that had no ties to divinity. But the driving force behind this arc was the loss of Adam's own innocence, which was gradually eroded by Barnabas Collins, Nicholas Blair, Eve and just about everybody else he came into contact with. If he never had a soul, then this conflict was a little beside the point.

Reach Out and Touch Someone

Episode 639, Dec. 5, 1968

Not all of DARK SHADOWS' spookiest moments involved blood, fangs and murder. Many of them were unsupported by props, make-up or visual effects and were the product of pure acting. While episode 639 features an appearance by a werewolf, it’s actually best remembered for a scene involving nothing more than children playing with an antique telephone.

David and Amy are exploring the west wing of Collinwood when they discover an old telephone among the dusty items. Amy suggests they use the phone to pretend to call the people who used to live in the room, which isn’t creepy at all. She begins a conversation that is far too engaging to be the work of imagination and tells David a ghost is speaking to her through the ear piece. Probably worried that someone is horning in on his shtick, David scoffs at her claims. When he takes the receiver he finds the line dead but, after a few seconds of silence, he gets the surprise of his life.
The scene's structure is pure drama and relies almost entirely on the acting skills of its two young actors. We never hear the voices on the other end of the line and it makes the scene all the more eerie. In fact, the voice of the character on the other end, Quentin Collins, wasn't heard until several months later.

That’s Just Gross

Episodes 933/934, Jan. 21-22, 1970

Paul Stoddard was one of the most discussed characters of DARK SHADOWS. His mysterious disappearance played a role in several of the show’s early years and was the driving force in Elizabeth’s decision to become a home-bound recluse. When it was revealed that Stoddard was not dead and buried in the basement of Collinwood (as Elizabeth had long believed) it was just a matter of time before he was introduced to the contemporary storyline.

Stoddard, as it turns out, had become associated with the Leviathan cult, a secretive apocalypse cult looking to bring its own anti-messiah to life in Collinsport. When it looked like Stoddard was having a change of heart about the plan, the cult’s bastard creation — Jeb Hawkes  — took matters into his own hands and killed him.

Jeb’s  “true form” was never shown on screen. It’s easy to dismiss this decision as a budgetary issue, but the verbal descriptions of his real appearance suggest he was too disturbing to show on television. He/it leaves a trail of slime in its wake, as well as a foul stench. Anyone familiar with the work of H.P. Lovecraft (one of the inspirations for the story) pretty much knows what Hawkes looks like … and it ain’t pretty. It’s safe to say that any costume or special effect created for the show would have paled in comparison to the monster created in the imaginations of its audience.

Barnabas attacks Carolyn 

Episode 351, Oct. 30. 1967

Barnabas Collins started life on DARK SHADOWS as a petulant psychopath, a guy in the throes of some very serious problems that he’s often unwilling to confront. This episode really brings those flaws into focus: His roving eye has fallen on waitress Maggie Evans, a relationship he wants to pursue without his problematic vampire curse. He coerces Julia Hoffman into accelerating the treatments so that he can woo the Evans during the daylight hours, but things don’t go as he’d hoped. Instead of curing his condition, his body begins to show the full affects of his 200-years of age.
Believing that blood will return him to his “normal” state, he attacks his cousin, Carolyn Stoddard. As he attacks  her, he promises he’d never drink from “his own flesh and blood,” illustrating just how delusional he’d become. During this story arc Barnabas didn't exactly a strangle hold on reality, spending most of his nights playing dress up games with a brainwashed hostage. While it was unclear if he really believed Maggie was the reincarnation of Josette, his attack on Carolyn shows he was in deep, deep denial when it came to his own actions.

Joe Haskell Goes Crazy

Episode 613, Oct. 30, 1968

DARK SHADOWS was a television show about moral ambiguity, but there were a handful of characters that lacked any shades of gray. Among them was Joe Haskell, an all-around Good Guy who was probably captain of the Collinsport High School football team. He was the town’s answer to Captain America.

Until Angelique hit town, that is.

Turned into a vampire by the Nicholas Blair, Angelique had become one of the warlock’s unwilling lackeys. He used Angelique to split up Joe and Maggie, ordering the witch/vampire to introduce a little infidelity into their relationship. Things go much worse than planned: Joe is unable to process the many levels of betrayal around him and goes insane. The character’s last hurrah involves trying to strangle a sleeping Barnabas Collins with a length of curtain cord. The last we see of him, he’s being dragged to an asylum ... proof again that nice guys finish last in Collinsport.

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