Friday, April 29, 2016

The many time slots of Dark Shadows

Let's do the time warp again!


"I used to run home to watch Dark Shadows" is among the show's most popular myths.

That's not to suggest kids didn't run home to watch DARK SHADOWS. It had a huge following among children and teens, who were often at odds with their favorite show's scheduling. ABC and its local affiliates had a maddening habit of giving the show whatever time slots worked best for their own interests ... and those interests sometimes involved not airing DARK SHADOWS at all.

In 1971, a television station in Texas moved DARK SHADOWS to 3 p.m. after receiving complaints of children throwing themselves into traffic in their mad dash to get home to see the show. A 3 p.m. time slot effectively put the series out of reach of children, but a quick glance at national television listings shows that DARK SHADOWS tended to air whenever the hell the local affiliates felt like it should air. In April of 1969 (which was arguably the show's commercial peak) DARK SHADOWS hit the airwaves in half-hour time slots as early as 7 a.m. (in Akron, Ohio) and as late as 5:30 p.m. (in Salisbury, Maryland.)

Most affiliates opted to show DARK SHADOWS during the hours immediately after school ended, which seems like an obvious (and rational) method of hitting their demographic sweet spot. Depending on the market, though, there were mitigating factors behind the scenes affecting local schedules ... and these factors sometimes had nothing to do with meeting an audience's needs.

"The ghouls, goblins and, well, a couple of hams will be off the air for a little while," wrote Martin Hogan Jr., of The Cincinnati Enquirer, on Jan. 16, 1969. "Channel 12 is dropping 'Dark Shadows,' but negotiations are in progress between WXIX-TV, channel 19, and the American Broadcasting Co., for channel 19 to pick up the show in prime time."

WKRC-TV had opted to drop delayed telecasts of both DARK SHADOWS and ONE LIFE TO LIVE as of Jan. 27 that year because ABC prohibited the practice. ABC had been broadcasting DARK SHADOWS at 3:30 p.m., but the channel had been delaying the program until 9 a.m. the following day, a practice the network has problems with. While the idea sounded intriguing, DARK SHADOWS never made the leap in Ohio to prime time. ABC decided it didn't want its own programs competing against each other in the same time slot.

The delayed telecast was prompted because of the channel's long-term commitment to THE MIKE DOUGLAS SHOW, which had taken up residence in DARK SHADOWS' former time slot of 3:30 p.m.

"You should have killed me when you had the chance, Frid."
The station's management probably expected some kind of response, but weren't prepared for the quantity and quality of ire that can be generated by DARK SHADOWS fandom. The Cincinnati Enquirer received so many angry letters about the show's eternally precarious situation that in early 1971, Cincinnati Enquirer TV Radio Editor Steve Hoffman announced the paper would no longer be publishing letters about DARK SHADOWS. (By that point, the show had been taken off the air again by WKRC, replaced with re-runs of THE MUNSTERS. ABC's decision to axe the show a few months later made the decision permanent.)

By the tone of Hoffman's responses to the final batch of published letters, he was fed up with discussing DARK SHADOWS "Apparently, the 'faithful followers' aren't a large enough group to count because a high rating would reflect a multitude of 'faithful followers,'" he snarkily told one reader.

Hoffman's responses are hilariously trollish. I've posted his full discourse with DARK SHADOWS fans over at Tumblr for your amusement. You can read them HERE.

In early 1969, DARK SHADOWS was beginning to have trouble down South. WWAY-TV in Wilmington, N.C, moved the show to wildly differing time slots in hopes of finding a home for the troublesome Collins clan. First, the station shuffled DARK SHADOWS from 4 p.m. to its block of morning programming. This change lasted all of a week: The station was reportedly hit with 5,000 hand-written complaints (i.e. "letters") from viewers, prompting them to move the show to 5 p.m.

In Michigan that year, things were even more complicated. Once again, Mike Douglas was a factor in the decision by WXYZ-TV to move the show from 4:30 p.m. to the student-unfriendly 3:30 p.m. But Mike wasn't the only roadblock, explained exasperated syndicated columnist Bettelou Peterson.
"The biggest problem, as we've tried to explain, is that Michigan voted, by a narrow margin, to stay on standard time while the rest of the country went to daylight savings time," she wrote in May, 1969. "Detroit stations tape evening shows so that can be run an hour later in Detroit than on the network. It costs too much money to do the same for all daytime network shows. This is one case where you can't blame TV, blame standard time supporters."
As a consolation, WXYZ-TV made written synopses of DARK SHADOWS episodes available to fans. An initiative measure was passed by Michigan voters in 1972 that repealed the state's exemption statute, if you're interested in how that problem resolved itself.

Later in New York in 1969, Mike Douglas cannibalized the DARK SHADOWS time slot at WOKR, but this time it wasn't because of contractual reasons. WOKR had received complaints about the show's "morbid" nature and decided that "viewer composition for the show was not compatible with programming preceding and following." DARK SHADOWS was just too violent and scary.

Once Mike Douglas was moved into the former DARK SHADOWS time slot on WOKR, he was bracketed on either side by ONE LIFE TO LIFE and THE BIG VALLEY. There was some chatter about revisiting the decision to cancel the series, but I could find no evidence that the show ever returned to the station's schedule. DARK SHADOWS continued to air in 1969 on WNYS in Syracuse, N.Y., followed at 4:30 p.m. by STRANGE PARADISE, a Canadian DARK SHADOWS ripoff with a few creative ties to its "inspiration."

ABC's inability to reserve a consistent time slot for DARK SHADOWS is probably something to take into consideration in future discussions about the demise of the series. Television real estate is perennially expensive and, even as the producer of one of daytime's most popular shows, Dan Curtis lacked the clout with ABC to fend off these kinds of assaults.

Wednesday, April 27, 2016

"My First Vampire," a 1968 interview with Vincent Loscalzo

For about two years, DARK SHADOWS was the hottest program on television … which is no small accomplishment for a show that aired at a time of day when most people were otherwise occupied. Because of this scheduling, soaps have traditionally been a safe place for actors to learn how to work in front of a camera, gain valuable experience and pay their bills. Very few people ever become celebrities while working on a soap, but between 1968 and 1969 almost everybody involved with DARK SHADOWS got their 15 minutes of fame.

Case in point: This 1968 interview with the show's make-up artist, Vincent Loscalzo. Part of being a make-up artist is having your work routinely taken for granted. When you do your job well, nobody should know you've done anything at all ... which makes a make-up artist one of the most valuable people on a set, as well as one of the most invisible.

Below is a syndicated newspaper interview with Loscalzo as it was presented in The Pittsburgh Press Sun. I've seen more truncated versions of the interview, all of which were probably tailored in some way to fit the needs of their readers. This is the longest version I could find and includes a startling revelation: DARK SHADOWS aired at 9 a.m. in this newspaper's market at the time of publication. Also, the apocryphal "Collins House," the original name for Collinwood during the pre-production of the show, was still being bandied about more than two years after its debut.

The feature is titled "Master of Ghouls Gallery" for reasons I don't get. It was accompanied by only one photo of Loscalzo working with actor Jonathan Frid, and that doesn't add up to much of a "gallery." I've included a collection of photos from the same shoot at the bottom of this post to make up (snort) for this oversight.

Master of Ghouls Gallery
Nov. 24, 1968


They are always there; leading I tormented lives, stalking the gloomy corridors of Collins House—the monsters of "Dark Shadows," ABC-TV's daytime suspense series (9 a.m., Channel 4). Although these ghoulish characters are the invention of imaginative writers, it falls on Vincent Loscalzo, the makeup man, to transfer them from the drawing board to the television screen. Vinnie, 38, is plump, balding, pleas-ant and likes to paint. He looks more like the nice little man who sells balloons to kids in the park than a creator of monsters. His schedule is so busy that instead of going out to lunch, he nibbles cheese and crackers. He keeps his supply of food in the makeup cabinet besides a bag full of bubble gum.

My First Vampire
"Barnabas was my first vampire," said Vinnie. "As the show started getting more eerie I began doing more and more monster makeup." Photographs of the supernatural creatures created by Vinnie are dis-played on the walls of his makeup room. Among these is a sequence showing Jonathan Frid being trans-formed into Barnabas, the 175-year-old vampire.

"The producer tells me what he wants in the way of a particular monster and then I'm on my own. What I usually do first is sketch the creature the way I think it should look," said Vinnie. "In order to create Barnabas I had to do some research on vampires. He wears bangs like the ones worn by men in the 18th Century. His eyes stand out because I've put dark shadows around them. His fangs were made by a dentist in Manhattan, who added to a plaster impression of Frid's teeth. I have Frid's makeup down pat so it only takes me 25 minutes to turn him into Barnabas, the vampire." Not all characters are as simple to make up. One of the most complicated is Cassandra Collins, played by a 20-year-old blonde, Lara Parker. Cassandra is really a 175-year-old witch called Angelique.

Lara Parker in "hag drag," Episode 499, May 23, 1968.
"Cassandra was gorgeous, but the show's resident warlock, Nicholas Blair (Humbert Allen Astredo), cast a spell on her and made her lose her looks because she was disobedient. It all happened gradually. First she aged 25 years, then 40 years and finally 95 years.

"I used special glue and cotton to form all the lines and jowls in the neck, chin and face. Then I covered her face with rubber liquid latex. I put dark makeup around her eyes to make them look sunken and formed all the character lines on her face with flesh-colored makeup. To say the least, Lara was quite shook up when she looked at herself in the mirror." Vinnie has been with the series since it began in June, 1966. Prior to that he did free-lance makeup work for "Confidential Woman,' an ABC-TV weekly series. (Note: I could find no reference to a television show called "Confidential Woman," but there was a short-lived ABC program in 1966 titled "Confidential for Women." It starred Darren McGavin and Jane Wyatt.)

Native New Yorker 
A native New Yorker, one of 11 children of Italian immigrants, Vinnie got into makeup work through acting. "I used to perform in neighborhood theater groups, and also worked as an extra in television programs and a few movies. One day, a girl friend of mine, who was working on a movie, invited me to do her makeup. I accepted and I liked it."

There was a knock on his door and Jonathan Frid entered. "Vinnie, I need some blood on my face," Frid announced. "Someone's supposed to botch me up. It's all a nightmare." Vinnie opened a cabinet, revealing shelves stuffed with an assortment of teeth, wigs, plaster heads, hands and of course, grease paints. He took out a jar of gory liquid and went to work.

Tuesday, April 26, 2016

Dark Shadows audios nominated for Scribe awards

Congratulations to the gang at Big Finish for this year's SCRIBE nominations!

The 13-part serial "Dark Shadows: Bloodlust," by Alan Flanagan, Will Howells and Joseph Lidster, and "Dark Shadows: In the Twinkling of an Eye," by Penelope Faith, have been nominated this year in the "Best Audio" category.

The Scribe Awards are presented by the International Association of Media Tie-In Writers to recognize licensed works that "tie in" with media such as television, movies, gaming, or comic books. Also nominated are:

The Scribe Award winners will be announced at ComicCon San Diego in July. Click HERE for a full list of nominees.

The last time a DARK SHADOWS audio won the "Best Audio" award was in 2013, for "Dark Shadows: The Eternal Actress," though the line has been nominated multiple times in this category over the last few years. While I won't throw shade on the other nominees, I've got a pretty good feeling about DARK SHADOWS' chances this year. 

Monday, April 25, 2016

Jonathan Frid in the 1966 National Shakespeare Festival

In 1966, just two months after DARK SHADOWS debuted on ABC, Jonathan Frid appeared in the annual National Shakespeare Festival at San Diego's Old Globe Theatre. That year’s festival straddled four months, beginning in June and ending in September, showcasing three of Shakespeare’s plays along the way: “The Tempest,” “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and “Romeo and Juliet.”

At the time, the Old Globe Theatre was home to an odd mix of professional and amateur performers. Many of the professionals appearing at the festival that year were on the cusp of stardom. Frid was not far from his break-out role in DARK SHADOWS in April, 1967, while the festival’s leading man, Jon Voight, was three years from his Academy Award nominated performance MIDNIGHT COWBOY.

Left,Jonathan Frid and Terrence O'Connor.. Right, Jon Voight and Lauri Peters.
Also part of the casts that year were Will Geer, Anthony Zerbe, Richard Lupino and Voight’s then-spouse, Lauri Peters.

Curiously, it was “Two Gentlemen of Verona” that was the best received of the three productions, at least by the press. William J. Nazzaro, a drama critic for the Arizona Republic in 1966, suggested it was the general familiarity of the other two plays that made “Verona” shine a little brighter by contrast. Nobody was prepared for how weird and funny the play could be.

“Both ‘Romeo and Juliet’ and ‘The Tempest’ are respectfully competent,” he wrote in August that year, “but both seem earthbound after ‘Two Gentlemen.’”

Jonathan Frid and Lauri Peters in ROMEO AND JULIET, 1966
Frid had three roles in the festival: Caliban in “The Tempest,” The Duke of Milan in “Two Gentlemen of Verona” and Lord Capulet in “Romeo and Juliet.” It was the role of Caliban that won him his best notices, but the part almost went to another actor. Frid was originally cast as Prospero’s brother, Antonio, with Zerbe cast as Caliban. After a handful of rehearsals, the director opted to switch their roles, preferring the more imposing Frid as Prospero’s henchman.

Frid as Caliban, left, and the Duke in Milan.
“Frankly, Jonathan chewed the scenery as Caliban, which was no bad thing to do, as you can go in any direction with that part,” wrote actor Rand Bridges in the book, “Remembering Jonathan Frid.” Bridges also appeared in all three productions, the most notable role being Alonso in “The Tempest.”

“Jonathan Frid and Jon Voight as Caliban and Ariel are as different as daylight and dark,” wrote Marjorie Rogers, for the San Bernardino County Sun. “Caliban, the physical animal part of man, is hunched and smells of fish. He is deep and raspy voiced and moves heavily and clumsily. Ariel, an airy spirit, who represents men’s souls, looks absolutely transparent from top to toe. His voice sighs like the wind, especially when he sings.”

"Verona" was actually a musical, which gave Frid one of his rare opportunities to sing on stage. Conrad Susa, the theater’s composer in residence from 1959 to 1994, wrote new music for the production, which relied on Shakespeare’s own words for the lyrics. While it’s difficult for DARK SHADOWS fans to imagine Frid driving audiences into fits of laughter, that’s apparently what happened during “Verona.”

“Mirth builds as the indignant duke (Frid) begins to sing Valentine’s letter urging his daughters to elope, grows into a dud as a servant looks from the balcony, and smashes into a ludicrous trip with Valentine himself, horrified but helpless, joins in the song from memory,” wrote Rogers. Keep in mind that Zerbe – an actor not known for taking light-hearted roles – played Valentine.

“(Frid) had a wonderful sense of comedy, which I always liked,” remembers Bridges. “He would not go for the laughs – he just did the lines and the songs, which were pretty absurd. You couldn’t help but laugh at the way he played it – he was very funny.”

Thursday, April 21, 2016

Listen to the trailer for Dark Shadows: Blood & Fire

We found out earlier this week that "Dark Shadows: Blood & Fire" has a terrific cast. Now it has a trailer! The two-hour anniversary special is due in June and is already sporting the most impressive cast since "The Crimson Pearl." I have it on good authority that additional cast announcements will be made in coming months, so hang onto your collective butts.

You can hear the trailer for "Blood & Fire" below. And visit the Soundcloud page devoted to Big Finish audios HERE.

Dark Shadows is cancelled! Again!

Warning: I’m about to open a can of especially ugly worms.

The cancellation of DARK SHADOWS is a phenomenon that almost transcends generations. No matter their age, fans of the program have some variation of the “Where were you when DS was cancelled?” story to tell. Old school fans will tell this tale with the kind of reverence usually reserved for the Kennedy assassination, with later generations suffering varying degrees of heartache when the series was yanked from syndication, the Sci-Fi Channel, etc. Factor in the untimely demise of the 1991 “revival” series and the lack of sequels to Tim Burton’s 2012 feature film and you’ll find that DARK SHADOWS fans have a lot of shoulders on which to cry.

The show’s ugliest exit took place in 1986, when the New Jersey Network opted to pull the plug on DARK SHADOWS, as well as PEOPLE, PETS AND DR. MARK and the cult classic THE UNCLE FLOYD SHOW. The announcement was met with resistance from fans, who immediately went into action to keep these shows on the air.

Jonathan Frid hosts a televised fund raiser for DARK SHADOWS on the New Jersey Network.

Well, two of those shows, anyway. Nobody seemed to care much that PEOPLE, PETS AND DR. MARK was going the way of HELLO LARRY. But on May 1 that year, fans donated a small chunk of change in support of those other programs. DARK SHADOWS received $1,200 during a pledge drive that day, while Uncle Floyd collected a whopping $14,600. It wasn’t enough to save either show, though. In December, NJN announced neither would return to its programming schedule.

And the reason? The network’s governing board considered them “unsuitable for PBS.”

The decision to cancel these programs was apparently made by the politically appointed New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority, the body tasked with oversight of the public television network. DARK SHADOWS and Uncle Floyd were added to the network’s schedule in 1983 by Hendrix Niemann, who resigned as the executive director of the New Jersey Public Broadcasting Authority during the final weeks of 1985. Niemann claimed the office of Thomas Kean, then-governor of New Jersey, forced him out because it was unhappy with the network's news coverage of the administration.

Without Niemann’s support, both Barnabas’ and Floyd’s days were numbered. A network memorandum penned in 1986 expressed concerns that "prime- time programming of non-public broadcasting material" would tarnish the network’s image and distract the public “away from its basic public-broadcasting mission."

Shortly before his resignation, Niemann defended the inclusion of these programs on the NJN roster. “We’re in the most competitive market place in the county, if not the world,” he said in October, 1985. “We need shows like (DARK SHADOWS) to attract the kind of audience that will interest corporate underwriters in supporting our other programs.”

When the New Jersey Network began airing DARK SHADOWS in 1983, it had just 510 episodes available in its catalog. “New” episodes were added as the series progressed: By the time it was cancelled, it had bulked up its catalog, which stretched from the first appearance of Barnabas Collins until the start of the “Parallel Time” storyline. Many of these later episodes went unaired on the New Jersey Network because of the cancellation, though.

Now, the New Jersey Network was not obliged to continue to air DARK SHADOWS beyond its contract agreement. But the timing of the network’s decision to dump the Collins family proved to be problematic, if not outright unethical. NJN decided on June 25, 1986 to end its relationship with DARK SHADOWS. Curiously, they continued to solicit funds from viewers until June 27 — the 20th anniversary of the show’s ABC premiere.

Needless to say, fans were pissed. And it wasn’t just because their favorite programs had been taken away: During the televised pledge drive, it was implied that viewer donations would be used to help keep specific programs on the air. Network officials later insisted that donations were never earmarked for individual programs, and that the money collected would be used for the betterment of the entire network.

But that defense didn’t fly very far with DARK SHADOWS fans, who’d spent three years fighting to keep the show on the regional airwaves. At the time, the Dark Shadows Festival was essentially a fundraiser for the New Jersey Network. (The first festival was launched the year NJN began to air DARK SHADOWS, and those dates are not coincidental.) I’ve got a feeling the festival organizers weren’t under the impression they had been volunteering their time and labor to help PEOPLE, PETS AND DR. MARK pay their bills.

July, 1986: Fans protest the cancellation of DARK SHADOWS.
How much money was collected specifically from DARK SHADOWS fans in 1986 varied, depending on who was doing the talking. According to one news story from the period, a sum of $1,200 was collected from a single DARK SHADOWS television pledge drive, while a report in The Bernardsville News reports that a separate DARK SHADOWS-themed drive collected “a record $18,000.” And none of that take into account the money raised by the annual festival.

It also appears the cost of keeping some of these shows on the air would rise during the next fiscal year. For reference, the network's budget in 1986 was $11.1 million. The state of New Jersey provided $6.8 million, with the rest coming from federal grants, private contributors and other assorted fees. The renewal contract for Uncle Floyd would have been $104,000, which was $10,000 more than in the previous agreement. DARK SHADOWS would cost NJN $125,000 to renew its contract, but it's unclear if this sum represented a price hike. Added expenses were never cited as a reason for either show to be cancelled, though.

The New Jersey Network eventually concluded (with a little pressure from the Federal Communications Commission) that it had erred during the summer pledge drive. NJN became the first public television network forced to return money to its contributors. DARK SHADOWS aired its last show on the network Sept. 30, 1986. Uncle Floyd lived to fight another day, continuing to air on other networks until 1992.

(You can listen to David Bowie's eulogy for THE UNCLE FLOYD SHOW below.)

Tuesday, April 19, 2016

Dark Shadows: Blood & Fire has my full attention

Holy hell, check out the cast list for "Dark Shadows: Blood & Fire":

Lara Parker
Kathryn Leigh Scott
Mitchell Ryan
Andrew Collins
Daisy Tormé
James Storm
Jerry Lacy
John Karlen
Lisa Richards
Christopher Pennock

Those are the names attached to the upcoming anniversary audio drama, per today's press release from Big Finish. The story takes a present-day Angelique and sends her back in time a generation prior to the landmark 1795 storyline. Those names are enough to grab the attention of any DARK SHADOWS fan, and it's cool to see Mitch Ryan getting a do-over ... he left the show before things got weird and never had the chance to take part in the later time-travelling shenanigans.

Here's the official summary for the two-hour episode, which will hopefully be available prior to this year's Dark Shadows Festival in June:
The year is 1767. Young widow Laura Murdoch Stockbridge is to marry Joshua Collins, heir to the Collins fortune. Meanwhile, Joshua’s sister Abigail is in love with disreputable sailor Abraham Harkaway. But the course of true love never did run smooth… especially when the witch Angélique Bouchard is around. For Angélique has been sent back in time. And she has one mission… To destroy the Collins family forever.
You can see the full cast list (and pre-order the episode) HERE. Also, take note that Laura Murdoch Stockbridge is mentioned explicitly by name in the summary, but has no actor attached to the role. I have no idea what that means but it's certainly interesting.

Via: Big Finish

Friday, April 15, 2016

Dark Shadows: Into the Light, Episode 4

To celebrate the 50th anniversary of DARK SHADOWS, Jim Romanovich recently launched an 8-part retrospective titled "Into the Light" at The Collinsport Historical Society will be archiving these episodes as they become available; you'll be able to find the series in the tab above slugged "Dark Shadows: Into the Light."

The latest episode is titled "A Charmed Life," and features an extended interview with actor David Selby, who discusses:
  • The truth behind the rivalry with Jonathan Frid and why he wrote Jonathan a letter.
  • Why he would have played Quentin forever.
  • Why he had to keep his marriage under wraps as a teen idol!
  • The comparisons of Elvis and Quentin.
  • How crowd hysteria prevented him from attending his own event!
  • His amazing connection to Abraham Lincoln!
  • Why he turned down the role of Gary Ewing on DALLAS!
  • The private prayer sessions with Jane Wyman on the set of FALCON CREST!
  • His emotional memories of Dan Curtis’ final days.
You can stream the episode below, or click on the arrow button to download it as an MP3.

Monday, April 11, 2016

Dark Shadows: The Best of the '70s


Jonathan Frid, who passed away in April 2012, remarked that, when all of its elements came together in just the right way, ABC-TV’s DARK SHADOWS became something very special indeed. Frid was quite right, and every fan can cite several “perfect” episodes that were extremely atmospheric and effective. Some of my choices as gems from the highly familiar episodes of the show’s oft-syndicated middle years (1967, 1968, 1969) are Dr. Woodard’s death at the hands of Barnabas and Julia, Barnabas’s shooting Angelique and her cursing him (a milestone 1795 episode), Josette’s fall from Widow’s Hill (the final moment of one of the greatest episodes of the entire series), Barnabas’s forcing Vicki to tell him the Dream Curse and his having the dream, an aging Angelique’s holding Barnabas at gunpoint, and Judith, Edward, Karl, and Quentin’s heated discussion of their grandmother’s will.

Perhaps less familiar are some perfectly written and/or executed episodes from the more elusive final year (1970-1971), whose episodes were not seen again until MPI Home Video and the Sci-Fi Channel progressed to them in the mid-1990s. More than one dozen post-Leviathan episodes distinguish themselves in my mind as some of the finest segments of the entire TV series.  The following is a list of eight such delights — not with too much plot description to give them away if you have not yet seen them but with just enough praise to urge you to acquire the particular MPI videotapes or DVDs on which the episodes appear. (I have included VHS volume numbers and DVD set numbers for your convenience.  VHS tapes are still available on eBay, and a coffin-shaped box of DVDs of all 1225 episodes of DARK SHADOWS is available from MPI and Amazon.) If you have seen these episodes recently, see if you agree or disagree with my assessments of them.

It goes without saying that some of the finest moments of the DARK SHADOWS episodes of the 1970s occur near the end of 1970 Parallel Time, in almost all of the shockingly effective 1995 episodes, and in the highly emotional last three 1840 episodes.  Eight additional shows that I feel are truly superb are listed below.

EPISODE #1012  (Tuesday 12 May 1970).  Written by Joe Caldwell.  Directed by Henry Kaplan.  First episode on VHS volume 155.  Original DVD Collection 20, disc four.  Coffin-box disc 104 (first episode).

1970 PT. This is a perfect episode and one of the greatest of the entire series.  Many of the basic themes of DARK SHADOWS are represented in this show, which includes vampirism, parallel time, Barnabas’s longing for Josette, his introduction to the family at Collinwood, and a scary ghostly visitation.  There are no technical gaffes or flubbed lines; the episode is both written and performed flawlessly.  Show #1012 also boasts four of the TV series’s most memorable sets—Collinwood, the Old House, Eagle Hill Cemetery, and the parallel-time room.  Even better, episode #1012 presents six of the greatest stars of DARK SHADOWS — Louis EdmondsJonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, John Karlen, Lara Parker, and David Selby.  Show #1012 is superlative in every way.  (We fans always knew that DARK SHADOWS was ahead of its time, but this episode certainly demonstrates that fact as Will Loomis conducts an interview with the vampire — and Barnabas Collins asks, “Is that your final answer?” a la WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE.)

EPISODE #1017  (Tuesday 19 May 1970).  Written by Joe Caldwell.  Directed by Lela Swift.  First episode on VHS volume 156.  Original DVD Collection 20, disc four.  Coffin-box disc 104 (sixth episode). 

1970 PT.  Another stellar cast — Nancy Barrett, Jonathan Frid, John Karlen, Kathryn Leigh Scott, and David Selby — elevates this excellent episode, notable for its examination of the hungry compulsions of vampirism and the anguish of its victims. Jonathan Frid’s portrayal of Barnabas Collins is filled with desperation and emotion, and the show concludes with perhaps the best-ever bat-to-Barnabas transformation.  This episode is a black-and-white kinescope.

EPISODE #1113  (Wednesday 30 September 1970).  Written by Sam Hall.  Directed by Henry Kaplan.  Second episode on VHS volume 175.  Original DVD Collection 23, disc two.  Coffin-box disc 114 (second episode). 

1840 & 1970.  Featuring Nancy Barrett, Thayer David, Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, David Selby, and James Storm. Perhaps even more so than the superb #1012, show #1113 is one of the finest episodes of the series.  This show, which takes place in two different time periods, includes almost everything that makes DARK SHADOWS so magical and irresistible — time travel, vampirism, chained coffins, portraits, insanity, Wyndcliffe, visions of the future, great music cues, the I Ching trance, and microphone shadows!  Show #1113 has it all; it is our whole, beloved DARK SHADOWS in microcosm.

EPISODE #1143  (Wednesday 11 November 1970).  Written by Gordon Russell.  Directed by Henry Kaplan.  First episode on VHS volume 181.  Original DVD Collection 24, disc one.  Coffin-box disc 117 (first episode). 

1840.   Featuring Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, Gene Lindsey, Lara Parker, Virginia Vestoff, and Donna Wandrey. In terms of plot and writing, 1840 ranks with 1795 and 1970 PT as one of the greatest time periods of DARK SHADOWS. In a way, 1840 is a grand, Gothic summation of all of the previous events and themes of the series. Most 1840 episodes are highly atmospheric and have excellent production values; many are like mini-Hammer horror movies. Episode #1143 begins with the first appearance of Gene Lindsey as Randall Drew (a role originally intended for Don Briscoe) and ends with the newly-risen vampiress Roxanne Drew closing in on her victim.  In the middle, there is an electrifying confrontation among Angelique, Barnabas, and Julia and, later, an even more powerful scene between Angelique and Julia. At this point, Angelique, who has not yet lived in the 20th century, is suspicious of the drastic change in Barnabas’s psyche and is completely baffled by Julia, whom she has never met before. In this episode, Angelique gets some answers — and, in another Dark Shadows staple, she works voodoo magic by the fireplace.

EPISODE #1169  (Thursday 17 December 1970).  Written by Sam Hall.  Directed by Henry Kaplan.  First episode on VHS volume 186.  Original DVD Collection 24, disc three.  Coffin-box disc 119 (sixth episode).

1840. Featuring Louis Edmonds, Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, Lara Parker, Christopher Pennock, and James Storm.  This is another episode that comes together perfectly and delivers definitive DARK SHADOWS.  There are more Angelique/Barnabas/Julia dynamics and two stunning scenes between Barnabas and Angelique. Also in this episode, Barnabas receives unusual declarations of love from the two most important women in his life.  Additionally, Angelique tells Barnabas about her background, and Gabriel Collins is the victim of an extremely effective haunting.

EPISODE #1195  (Friday 22 January 1971).  Written by Gordon Russell.  Directed by Henry Kaplan.  Fifth (last) episode on VHS volume 190.  Original DVD Collection 25, disc one.  Coffin-box disc 121 (tenth episode).

1841 & 1841 PT. Featuring Jonathan Frid, Kate Jackson, Jerry Lacy, Lara Parker, Charles Reynolds, David Selby, and James Storm. The thrilling 1840-1841 storyline reaches a fever pitch in this episode, which features several heated confrontations and a pivotal scene between Barnabas and Angelique. Other highlights occur when Barnabas looks into the parallel-time room and sees Catherine and Daphne and when Angelique works more voodoo magic at the hearth. This is another superb episode, as are the next three episodes (the first three on VHS volume 191 or the first three on DVD Collection 25, disc two).

EPISODE #1211  (Monday 15 February 1971).  Written by Gordon Russell.  Directed by Lela Swift.  Fifth (last) episode on VHS volume 193.  Original DVD Collection 25, disc three. Coffin-box disc 123 (fifth episode).

1841 PT.  Featuring Joan Bennett, Grayson Hall, Lara Parker, Christopher Pennock, Keith Prentice, and David Selby. This well-acted episode is a good representation of the show’s final, change-of-pace 1841 PT storyline.  Especially notable are the powerful scenes between Morgan and Gabriel and (especially) Quentin and Gabriel.  The episode concludes with the start of the storyline’s trademark: the lottery.  1841 Parallel Time is a well-written romantic mystery, but its drawback is that it has nothing to do with “our” world and “our” characters.  In all of the show’s previous time periods, someone from “our” world (e.g. Vicki, Barnabas, Julia, even Stokes or Eve) was present and interacted with the characters, and that link to the original Dark Shadows universe is painfully absent in this otherwise enjoyable storyline. As little screen time as Thayer David received in 1840, wouldn’t it have been interesting if, when Barnabas and Julia took Quentin’s stairway back to 1971, “our” Stokes could have stayed behind in 1841 and migrated to 1841 Parallel Time?

EPISODE #1231  (Monday 15 March 1971).  Written by Gordon Russell.  Directed by Lela Swift.  Fifth (last) episode on VHS volume 197.  Original DVD Collection 26, disc one.  Coffin-box disc 125 (fifth episode).

1841 PT & 1680 PT.  Featuring only four actors. Unlike episode #1211, show #1231 is the least typical 1841 PT episode, for it switches the action, for one day only, to the distant world of 1680 Parallel Time. If many of the 1840-1841 episodes are like Hammer horror films, then this self-contained 1680 PT segment is like an episode of Boris Karloff’s THRILLER. In one violent, eerie episode, we learn the whole story of ruthless Brutus Collins (Louis Edmonds), his sister Constance (Grayson Hall), his unfaithful young wife Amanda (an especially beautiful Nancy Barrett), and his ambitious young business partner James Forsythe (Keith Prentice). Although the episode has a few technical flaws, this unique DARK SHADOWS segment is well done and memorable. (One amusing note is that the Collinwood of parallel time was built in the 1670s while the same structure was not built in “our” world until the 1790s!)

These are my choices for eight of the many finest 1970-1971 episodes of DARK SHADOWS.  Who knows what other excellent storylines and episodes the ABC-TV serial would have featured if it had had a much longer run?  In light of how SEARCH FOR TOMORROW and ANOTHER WORLD each lasted 35 years, GENERAL HOSPITAL and DAYS OF OUR LIVES have been on the air for 53 and 51 years and counting, and Guiding Light and As the World Turns continued for 57 and 54 years, the five-year-long run of DARK SHADOWS is very short for a daytime serial.  However, DARK SHADOWS obviously has enormous staying power, for it is the only daytime drama which has spun off three feature films (Dan Curtis’s HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS and Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS), had its own comic book (1968-1975, 1992-1993, 2011-2013) and newspaper comic strip (1971-1972), gone into TV syndication (since 1975), been released in its entirety on VHS (since 1989) and DVD (since 2002), and even been remade twice by its creator, Dan Curtis. (A DARK SHADOWS nighttime series aired on NBC-TV in early 1991, and a 2004 pilot episode for the WB network never aired.) Now that Tim Burton has directed a DARK SHADOWS  feature film starring Johnny Depp — and the 1966-1971 and 1991 episodes are available in several different media (including Netflix) — DARK SHADOWS  continues to gain new fans and to keep its long-time devotees under its spell.    

Dr. Jeff Thompson teaches English at Tennessee State University in Nashville.  He is the Rondo Award-nominated author of The Television Horrors of Dan Curtis: Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker, and Other Productions, 1966-2006 (McFarland, 2009); House of Dan Curtis: The Television Mysteries of the Dark Shadows Auteur (Westview, 2010); and Nights of Dan Curtis: The Television Epics of the Dark Shadows Auteur (Ideas, 2016).  He writes about the Gold Key Dark Shadows comic books for Hermes Press.  At home, Jeff has a Dark Shadows guest bedroom, a Joan Bennett wall of pictures, and a Psycho bathroom.  

Friday, April 8, 2016

Monster Serial: Night of Dark Shadows, 1971


As a cultural phenomenon, DARK SHADOWS ended not with a bang, but a whimper. Four months after the show’s 1,225th (and final) episode, MGM released the second feature film based upon the ABC-TV daytime drama. Directed by series creator Dan Curtis, NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS reportedly fared well financially, but proved to be a baffling denouement for fans.

Thanks to bizarre creative decisions on both sides of the camera, the movie was just as confusing to new audiences, though. NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS wasn’t edited as much as it was eviscerated, with an estimated 40 minutes hastily cut from its 129-minute running time thanks to a last-minute studio mandate. The movie that eventually screened to paying audiences was a frustrating compromise that satisfied hardly anyone.

David Selby and Kate Jackson play a young married couple who move into a mansion they’ve recently inherited. Before long, Selby begins to have violent changes in his personality as spirits begin fighting for possession of his soul. This isn’t GHOSTBUSTERS, though. There are few special effects in the film, and the ghosts make most of their on-screen appearances via flashback. Save for a few action scenes, the conflict in NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS is mostly internal as Selby’s character struggles with nasty impulses he can’t understand.

While not the most sophisticated story ever put to film, NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS certainly deals with mature concepts that were probably lost on the younger audiences that so loved the daytime series. Selby and Jackson’s marriage slowly unravels throughout the course of the story as director  Curtis and screenwriter Sam Hall narratively argue against the adage “Those who forget the past are doomed to repeat it.” There’s a greater danger in this film from people who are unwilling to let go of the past, which was always a favorite theme of DARK SHADOWS.

From a creative standpoint, NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS is “Dark Shadows In Name Only.” Curtis made the bewildering decision to have members of the television cast reprise their roles for the movie, and then change those characters so completely that they were unrecognizable to longtime fans. Lara Parker, the actress who played the obsessed witch Angelique on the TV series, plays another witch entirely in NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS … a witch also named Angelique. It’s no surprise that the MGM/US marketing department famously screwed up the story summary on the original VHS release of the film, mistakenly referring to the villain as “Lara Parker.” The movie's name-game was enough to confuse anybody.

The half-hearted similarities suggest Curtis had grown tired of Collinwood but couldn’t figure out how to leave, a problem shared by many of the characters in this movie. Still, there are a lot of solid ideas on display in NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS and I can’t fault it for ditching the blood and guts of its predecessor in favor of a more psychological approach. At its heart, NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS is about an artist chasing his own self destruction. Throw in a haunted house, not-quite-forgotten murders and the occasional ghost, and you have a story that plays like a rough draft of Stephen King’s “The Shining.” King was a fan of DARK SHADOWS and wrote a bit about the series in his horror memoir “Danse Macabre,” and I have to wonder if this movie played a nascent role in the development of “The Shining.” I’m not suggesting King stole any ideas from NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, but it’s hard not to imagine King, sitting in some Maine theater in 1971, ticking off the various problems with the film while letting his imagination seek out solutions.

The biggest problems with the film — pacing, editing, confusing story elements, etc. — were clearly exaggerated by the whirlwind editing session that left approximately 1/3 of the final film on the cutting room floor. I’ve seen the movie a handful of times over the years, but I don’t feel like I’ve ever really seen it. The main story doesn’t end as much as it just stops, with a typically ‘70s nihilistic epilogue tacked onto the end.

While Selby and Jackson aren’t given much to work with from the script (on paper, their characters aren’t any more dynamic than Brad and Janet in THE ROCKY HORROR PICTURE SHOW) it doesn’t stop them from turning in solid performances. There’s a certain give-and-take between the actors, and it’s easy to overlook Jackson’s role in the film. If you don’t buy her fear, you won’t buy Selby’s growing menace. The reverse is also true, and their chemistry becomes increasingly important as the story unfolds. NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS could easily be turned into a stage play, leaving every scene in the movie to be driven by the actors.

And then there’s my favorite performance in the entire film: Grayson Hall. Playing an even darker version of REBECCA's Mrs. Danvers, Hall is actually kind of sexy in the film. And, like Collinwood itself, she’s comfortably haunted and totally at ease with her situation. As the house’s favorite agent, she’s left to seduce Selby’s character, which she does with a quiet voice and slinky body language.

Unlike other older films that were extensively abridged before hitting theaters, the excised footage of NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS still exists, and surviving cast members have re-recorded dialogue tracks in hopes of preparing a restored edition for a future home video release. I don’t know if the lost  footage will have a transformative effect on the overall film, but at least it would give us a chance to evaluate a version of the movie that doesn’t play like a glorified highlight reel.

Perhaps someday we’ll have the opportunity to travel back to 1971 and solve the final mystery of Collinwood once and for all.

This column is among those featured in "Bride of Monster Serial," a collection of horror essays written by contributors to The Collinsport Historical Society. Buy it today on Amazon!

Tuesday, April 5, 2016

The Leviathans and Others



Zombies roam Collinsport!

Nicholas Blair returns to earth with another devilish scheme.

Quentin Collins turns up alive, young, but with amnesia, in 1969-1970.

Charles Delaware Tate and Amanda Harris are still alive in the present time, but a personified Death has decreed that Amanda’s time is up.

Quentin and Amanda challenge Death as they race through the netherworld a la Orpheus and Eurydice.

Chris Jennings, in vain attempts to halt his werewolf curse, turns to the mystical powers of Charles Delaware Tate and to the dubious powers of a “moon poppy” flower.

A vampiress preys upon a member of the Collins family.

Angelique shows up in 1970 as a mortal woman married to a millionaire — and she is betrayed by her husband, who is not what he seems to be.

Barnabas Collins and Julia Hoffman become adversaries again and then become even closer friends.
There are some of the finest, most thrilling moments from ABC-TV’s DARK SHADOWS.

Paul Stoddard returns to Collinsport after 20 years and suffers a fit of hysterics in almost every episode in which he appears.

Barnabas Collins, no longer a vampire, returns to the present with his spirit broken, with virtually no will of his own, and as a slave to the mysterious hooded figures who spout inane, murky dialogue.
The integrity of the character of Barnabas Collins is damaged as Barnabas meekly takes orders from all of the show’s brand-new characters — even including most of the little kids.

The behavior of Barnabas, Elizabeth, David, Amy, and others changes drastically as they become cold strangers to those around them — and perhaps also to the viewers.

The usually sexless DARK SHADOWS finally introduces heavy breathing — but it comes from a carved wooden box whose panting “occupant” (apparently a slimy, scaly, fire-breathing-dragon type of shape-shifter better suited to STAR TREK or DOCTOR WHO) is never seen on camera.
DARK SHADOWS, which for three-and-one-half years had brought Gothic romance, supernatural suspense, and occult intrigue to its avid viewers, suddenly veers into a pseudo-sci-fi storyline reminiscent of INVASION OF THE BODY SNATCHERS, I MARRIED A MONSTER FROM OUTER SPACE, and ROSEMARY’S BABY.

These, sadly, are some of the worst, most disappointing moments from ABC-TV’s DARK SHADOWS — and these low points and the aforementioned high points all can be found in the puzzling Leviathan storyline, which took place on the show in late 1969 and early 1970 (between the 1897 and 1970 Parallel Time stories). This unusual storyline ignites fierce debate among fans even today — especially after MPI Home Video released the Leviathan episodes on DVD to a new generation of TV collectors. The episodes appear on discs 91-100 in the coffin-shaped boxed set of all 1225 episodes of DARK SHADOWS. Some fans love everything about the Leviathan period, other fans hate everything about it, but most concentrate on the storyline’s many merits and overlook its numerous drawbacks.

Years ago, the Collinsport Players acting troupe had good-natured fun with the Leviathan storyline. The Players’ musical production "Wedding Bells or Death Knells?" (performed at the 1987 Newark Dark Shadows Festival) spoofed almost every Leviathan-related aspect of the 1969-1970 storyline. In Double Play (performed at the 1991 Los Angeles Dark Shadows Festival and again at the 1993 New York Dark Shadows Festival), Dr. Julia Hoffman chided Barnabas Collins with the accusation, “You obviously didn’t watch the Leviathan episodes.” Barnabas replied, “Who did?” Indeed, the show’s ratings slipped during the Leviathan story, and many fans believe that this thematic “wrong turn” hastened the cancellation of the series. Ironically, the subsequent 1970 Parallel Time saga was (in terms of good writing and excellent characterization) one of the greatest stories ever told on DARK SHADOWS, but the Leviathan misstep had driven away many viewers by then. The ratings of DARK SHADOWS were the highest they ever had been (or ever would be) during the 1897 time period, and apparently the drastic change that the Leviathan sequence brought to DARK SHADOWS did not meet with numerous viewers’ approval. (At one time, the writers had planned to follow up the popular 1897 story with Count Petofi’s invasion of the present time. Why was this plan never realized?)

The Leviathan creatures — those shapeless “elder gods” of earth, air, fire, and water which supposedly ruled the earth before the dawn of humankind — apparently were inspired by the early-20th-century writings of H.P. Lovecraft. The weird, chilling short stories of Lovecraft were enjoying a resurgence of popularity in print and other media in the late 1960s and early 1970s, so the writers of DARK SHADOWS apparently were attempting to capitalize on this interest. It appears as if the writers’ efforts were lost on many of the children and teenagers who did not want off-camera “aliens” to supplant the show’s customary on-camera ghosts, vampires, witches, and werewolves.

The worst offense committed by the Leviathan storyline was the humiliation of Barnabas Collins. By 1969, Barnabas Collins was DARK SHADOWS (just as J.R. Ewing was DALLAS or Erica Kane was ALL MY CHILDREN), and viewers cringed when they saw their “hero” suddenly turned back into an unredeemable fiend with no compassion for Chris, Julia, Quentin, or even his “cousins” Elizabeth, Roger, Carolyn, and David. Adding insult to injury was Barnabas’s timidly doing the bidding of Oberon, Haza, Phillip, Megan, Alexander, Michael, and Jeb. The sight of the once strong, noble vampire bowing and scraping to new characters and even children apparently was unpleasant to many viewers (especially diehard fans of Barnabas Collins and/or Jonathan Frid). By the time the writers realized their mistake and allowed Barnabas to rediscover his free will and backbone, to express concern for Carolyn and David, to take his stalwart friend Julia Hoffman into his confidence, and to resist Jeb Hawkes, the damage already had been done. Even the reason for Barnabas’s original acquiescence to the Leviathans was nebulous. In the early episodes, it seemed as if Barnabas was under a spell and could not help himself. In later episodes, viewers suddenly learned the jarring “fact” that the Leviathans were holding Josette DuPres Collins hostage in the past — despite the fact that when Barnabas found himself in 1796 after his time in 1897, viewers (but not Barnabas) saw Josette kill herself (this time) by drinking poison. (Barnabas later learned that the Leviathans had been lying to him about holding Josette hostage. But before then, why couldn’t Barnabas merely have traveled back to 1796 and “rescued” Josette or even brought her with him to the present, thereby ending his eternal regrets and longing once and for all?)

Making Barnabas Collins the leader of the Leviathan cult was a wrong move — and the whole storyline would have been much more palatable if Barnabas had retained his integrity and someone else had become the Leviathan chief instead. The “someone” who would have been perfect for the job was Roger Collins. As one of the characters in my play Wedding Bells or Death Knells? joked, “Roger never had anything to do in this storyline” — except offer money to Paul Stoddard; express disapproval over Alexander, Michael, and Jeb; and serve as the victim of vampiress Megan Todd. The character of Roger Collins — not to mention the talents of Louis Edmonds — would have been utilized far more effectively if, after a temporarily bewitched Barnabas had brought the Leviathan box back from the past, Roger had wielded his prestige, power, money, and business connections as the Leviathan chief. Roger was a shady rogue when the TV series began, so a return to his unscrupulous ways now would have been much less unsettling than the near destruction of the Barnabas character. Additionally, Roger’s villainy in the Leviathan storyline would have foreshadowed the other Roger’s actions in 1970 Parallel Time several months later.

Placing a partially bewitched, partially power-mad Roger at the top of the Leviathan cult would have made much more sense than entrusting the box, the book, and the boys to the ineffectual Todds and their small-time antique shop. Indeed, Elizabeth once remarked that the Collins family’s prestige and money could further the Leviathan cause, and Jeb told Barnabas that he wanted Roger to become a Leviathan anyway. Marie Wallace still could have played a Megan-type character — perhaps an incarnation of Haza — but she would have played Roger’s sudden, third wife, perpetuating the tradition of Roger’s bizarre choices of wives (the phoenix Laura and the witch Cassandra). What could the relatively insignificant Todds offer the Leviathans — and what (other than passage through time) could Barnabas offer them? The spell over Barnabas could have worn off — or been hypnotized away by Julia — shortly after Barnabas had turned the box and the book over to Roger, and then Barnabas, Julia, Quentin, Maggie, and Willie could have begun the business of battling the Leviathans without delay.

To the Leviathan story’s credit, the show improved dramatically with the introduction of the Jeb Hawkes character, chillingly portrayed by Christopher Pennock. (The storyline would have been much more compelling if the essence in the box had become Jeb immediately, thereby eliminating the eight tedious weeks of Joseph, Alexander, and Michael.) After Jeb arrived, the story began moving more swiftly, and there were numerous scenes of great excitement. By that late date, those viewers who had persevered had become accustomed to the idea of an unseen “dragon” flying around Collinsport — outlandish even for DARK SHADOWS! — and could appreciate the satisfying nuances and positive touches of the Leviathan storyline. There are plenty of plusses about the peculiar Leviathan storyline, but such a quirky, sci-fi-type story did not fit the established mood and tone of the Gothic serial DARK SHADOWS and more than likely contributed to the TV show’s premature demise one year later.

Dr. Jeff Thompson teaches English at Tennessee State University in Nashville. He is the Rondo Award-nominated author of The Television Horrors of Dan Curtis: Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker, and Other Productions, 1966-2006 (McFarland, 2009); House of Dan Curtis: The Television Mysteries of the Dark Shadows Auteur (Westview, 2010); and Nights of Dan Curtis: The Television Epics of the Dark Shadows Auteur (Ideas, 2016). He writes about the Gold Key Dark Shadows comic books for Hermes Press. At home, Jeff has a Dark Shadows guest bedroom, a Joan Bennett wall of pictures, and a Psycho bathroom.
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