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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