Tuesday, February 28, 2017

Choose Your Own Adventure ... Dark Shadows-style

It's probably for the best that Bantam Books never produced any DARK SHADOWS stories for its "Choose Your Own Adventure" line. Odds are you'd get halfway through one story only to have your protagonist disappear during a séance and wind up in an entirely different book.

Monday, February 27, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 24


Barnabas awakens to find his spirit transported back into his body in 1897. He summons Szandor, an unscrupulous but lovable gypsy who, with his fortune-telling wife, Magda, squat on the Old House property and sing for their suppers by entertaining Edith Collins. Edith is the ailing matriarch of the Collins family, and the news of her impending death summons home Quentin Collins. Quentin is a smooth talking, utterly ruthless cad who last escaped Collinwood with his brother’s wife in tow. He left behind Beth, the maid. She bitterly resents him, and yet carries a torch for the scoundrel, nevertheless. It’s clear that Quentin wants to see Jamison, but after being told that the boy is sleeping, he visits his grandmother, instead. She’s charmed by him but knows his wiles too well. He clearly wants to bulk up his inheritance, but is that all? There’s also the family secret. But only his brother, Edward, is to have that imparted to him. Meanwhile, summoned by Barnabas and with visions of the family jewels dancing in his head, Szandor goes to the secret room in the mausoleum. There he finds a familiar trigger. A door opens. A chained coffin lies within the room it reveals. Szandor removes the chains and unleashes a hand that shoots upward to his throat.

The inhuman adventure is just beginning.

1897 is, without a doubt, DARK SHADOWS greatest, pure adventure and liveliest romp. The show and Barnabas now parallel one another. Again, Barnabas thrusts upward in a fashion that, with only a second go, seems like a fond ritual. There’s a new confidence. Yes, he’s a vampire, but only a vacationing one. Now, he can use powers finally familiar to him rather than be used by them. And he knows he has a cured, human body in the 20th century waiting for him at mission’s end. He knows his abilities. He knows the possibilities. He knows far more of what Angelique’s capable of. He’s had two years to mellow out from what she did to him and has enjoyed seeing her upended more than once since then. Barnabas is now an old hand at ghosts, guilt, demons, werewolves, witches, and promethans. Not to mention time travel. Oh, and servants who would as soon stake you as help you. It’s good that he can stay in during the day because there’s little new under the sun for this cat. At the same time, the show introduces him into a world ripe with the supernatural. It’s full of colorful characters and familiar figures pushed to their most extreme. Even the family lawyer is a satanist. Had you told Dan Curtis that THIS is the series he’d be making back when the biggest deal on DARK SHADOWS was Maggie’s coffee, he would have produced gastrointestinal marvels for the age and lo, a new form of brick would have come into the world. No doubt with very prominent teeth.

1897 is a Ron Burgundy-confident retelling of the best of the entire series, mit Phoenix, with everything turned up to 11. You like it when Roger is a stiff-necked snob? Wait until Edward. When Maggie is saucy? Wait until Lady Kitty. When Liz is icy? She’s steam compared with Judith. And Carolyn gets to be even more of a pin and even more of a flirt at the very same time. You thought Willie was comic relief? Carl is just warming up. Trask couldn’t be worse unless we add child abuse, greed, murder, and lust to his range of options. You want Barnabas as a hero? Here he is. And what if that the oddball monster brought on to be a monster could be a breakout sex symbol? Well, let’s just cast a sex-symbol waiting to happen!

Yep, 1897. It’s the ultimate reset, and they hit it so hard and so firmly that pretty much every option the show could have at that time, with that budget, is explored. I think that’s why every story after that involves the undermining or destruction of the family. It was the only direction to go until it bounced back hard in 1840PT to normalcy.

A lot of firsts on DARK SHADOWS today. Say hello to Magda and Szandor and hear Quentin say hello, speaking his first words. If Selby lacked confidence, he had the charm to cover it up. He struts onto that set and owns it. Maybe he’s from the future, and read Kathryn’s books about the show. He acts like he knows this show is now his… and not just his. It’s everyones. I mean that. It is now a show that exists for reasons beyond selling toothpaste and pantyhose. It exists to do more than telling stories within the soap format. It finally exists as DARK SHADOWS, uncompromised, unafraid, and unlike anything else.

Friday, February 24, 2017

Humbert Allen Astredo in FRAGMENTS, 1967

More than a year before joining the cast of DARK SHADOWS, actor Humbert Allen Astredo was sharing the stage in a one-act play called FRAGMENTS with Gene Hackman and James Coco. The production ran for 24 performances between Oct. 2 and Oct. 22 in 1967 and appears to have been a success despite its modest stint.

From what I can tell, Astredo was the top-billed actor in this performance, which also shared a stage with a second play from the same creative team, BASEMENT. (Hackman and Coco appeared in both plays.) Hackman had the louder of the roles, though, according to an Oct. 4, 1967 review in New York's Democrat and Chronicle. If the photos are evidence of anything, it's that Hackman had much more to work with that Astredo, who the newspaper said performed "while arranged supine on a cot so that only his bare soles confront the audience."

FRAGMENTS/BASEMENT has a pretty interesting pedigree. It was written by Marc Merson and Edgar Lansbury, the latter of which is brother of actress Angela Lansbury and the late producer Bruce Lansbury. (Edgar would go on to produce the movie adaption of GODSPELL and the cult classic BLUE SUNSHINE.) Merson was the executive producer of DOC HOLLYWOOD, a movie I've seen more times that I care to admit.

I'm not sure whatever happened to Hackman and Coco. I think one of them was in that moose movie with Ray Ramano.

Thursday, February 23, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 23


Taped on this date in 1970 

 Although Carolyn always expected a grand wedding, she realizes that all she wants now is Jeb. They marry in the drawing room, with Liz as witness and a reverend who looks like John Tesh. Jeb flaunts convention by refusing to name where they will go or for how long they’ll be away. In reality, he is escaping Angelique’s shadow curse. Sky Rumson visits Barnabas, angry that he is now the vampire slave of Megan. Through this, Barnabas learns that she is sleeping somewhere in the East Wing of Collinwood. He instructs Julia to keep working on Megan’s cure while he searches for her resting place. Meanwhile, Jeb is increasingly paranoid about his shadow as he leaves with Carolyn. In the East Wing, Barnabas discovers an occupied room that should be as empty as the rest of the area. Instead, he finds Elizabeth and Hoffman, now a maid, arguing about whether or not the room should be prepared for the new mistress of if it should remain the property of its owner. It’s clear that the owner is dead, but Hoffman insists she will return. The room shifts and is suddenly abandoned. He has gained his first glimpse of parallel time.

For a show that could crawl at a pokey pace, DARK SHADOWS moves breathlessly when it decides to, and this episode is panting. For Jeb, things are just a matter of time, and in some ways, waiting for the end is a strange cruelty for both him and Carolyn. During the wedding, I was struck that it was a rare appearance of a Christian clergyman who wasn’t trying to kill someone. They cut away during the actual vows, but I just imagined what was going on, on a cosmic level, as Jeb took his vows to the Judeo-Christian God. For one thing, what strange bedfellows. What brought us to this? A shikse. To many, the most potent and forbidden power in the universe. She alone truly brought down the Leviathans. So many mothers’ warnings were correct. But beyond that, it really is a bullhorn reading of the Riddle of Epicurus. You’d imagine that the Leviathan Messiah, pledging himself in his love to the God of the Bible, would be shielded from Shadow Assassins. But no. I would have thought that God might have protected him, if only for bragging rights. Sorry, Jeb. Yes, somewhere, Christopher Hitchens is looking up and smiling, I guess.

Just remember, Tina Fey is wrong. Women are no stronger than the rest of us poor slobs. Shikses, however? Whole other story.

We also glimpse Parallel Time. With this, more than anything, I can feel DARK SHADOWS growing full circle, to where we were when I began nearly a year ago. The scars of PT are fresh enough that I can still recall how profoundly disappointing -- and time consuming -- it truly is as a storyline. This is the first place where I feel like the breath of creativity was seeping from the balloon. Yes, yes, I know you have a movie to make, but if ever the rules of, well, anything didn’t apply, it’s now. What would you have done with PT, Gentle Reader? In her fanfic, Adriana Pena looked at their dark, fascist politics. I would have sent Barnabas into a world of vampires, where humans were both the ultimate prize and a daywalking threat. I can hear knuckleheads in the peanut gallery clearing their throats to tell me why that wouldn’t have worked, but I have a newsflash… neither does what’s here. DARK SHADOWS has few cheerleaders more athletic than I. Still… I am also not its Dr. Pangloss. I also dread it a bit because I know this is where Don Briscoe made his final exit. I still contend that he had everything necessary to the the breakout star for the 70’s.

 Behind the scenes at DS, all were gearing up to shoot HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS. About 23 days out as I see it. Also, Guyana became a republic, and the Catholic Church thumbed its nose at convention and, upstart revolutionaries that they are, allowed women to give out the host at worship ceremonies. It’s all too much for me to handle.

Witches plan mass hexing of Donald Trump

Tomorrow night, Feb. 24, starting at one minute to midnight and going on for six minutes until 12:05 a.m., a (mostly) unidentified group of witches plan to perform a mass binding spell on President Bannon's orange homunculus, Donald Trump. The whole thing sounds surprisingly complicated, involving a sackful of props (such as salt, orange candles, pins and ashtrays), a ritual/spell, a selection of "variants" on the ritual and alternative participation methods for those who can't pitch camp outside Mordor Trump Tower or wherever the hell Trump is vacationing this weekend.

The ritual will be repeated at "every waning moon" at midnight until Trump has been "driven from office." This thing is making me so giddy that I can barely type. This is a magic(k) war, people! With candles! And Twitter! Is it too late to enlist?

You can read more about the event over at Extra News Feed HERE, and keep up with the group on Facebook at Bind Trump.

Collinwood makes a surprise appearance in THE DISCOVERY

First off, I apologize for all those fake DARK SHADOWS trading cards, sequels, posters and everything else I've cluttered up the Internet with over the years. While they've been fun, it makes moments like this a little awkward.

See that image at the top of the post? I swear to whatever god you believe in that it's not my work. Honest. It's the first shot of a trailer for THE DISCOVERY, an upcoming Netflix film starring Robert Redford, Jason SegalRooney Mara and Jesse Plemons. If the trailer is evidence of anything, then Seaview Terrace, the Rhode Island location that served as the exterior for the fictional Collinwood in the original DARK SHADOWS series, also has a role.

Again, this isn't my work! You can watch the trailer for yourself below. (H/T to David H. for the tip.)

The "Heiress of Collinwood" arrives

So, you've already had three months to pick up a copy of Lara Parker's latest DARK SHADOWS novel, "Heiress of Collinwood." Maybe you're the cautious sort, the kind of person who waits for everyone else to get into the water to make sure there aren't sharks lurking around. Or maybe you just forgot! It happens to the best of us. It even happened to Quentin Collins that one time, where he spent several months thinking he was some jerk named Grant Douglas. Regardless of your particular situation/phobia/neurological disorder, Parker announced on Facebook this week that her copies of the new book have arrived ... those of you wanting to get a signed edition from the author, head on over to her website and place your order! Here's a LINK to help you on your quest.

Tuesday, February 21, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 21


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 700

While searching Quentin’s room, Barnabas discovers a stunned Amy, an old journal, and Quentin’s I Ching wands. Later, Amy explains that Quentin wants to transform David into Jamison, although that will lead to his death. Maggie rescues David from Collinwood, only temporarily breaking Quentin’s hold on him. By the time they get back to the Old House, he is in a coma. Barnabas asks Stokes to use the I Ching wands to communicate with Quentin. When Barnabas throws a pattern, it is the #49th… the Hexagram of Change. When he concentrates on it, he has a vision of coffin as his astral body splits from his physical one.

1897 begins, and as storytelling goes, it inaugurates DARK SHADOWS’ wildest, most entertaining, and most intriguing stint, and it does so with an episode emblematic of the mystery and sense of risk that defines the coming storyline. 1897 goes on for almost all of 1969, and is DARK SHADOWS’ own spinoff. Several years ago, I was stunned to learn that many fans have a cold shoulder to share with 1897. No, it doesn’t connect to The Whole Josette Thing, although she shows up in her most vital reincarnation there. This storyline is about Barnabas as a Man in Full. It’s 1795, but with a year of swagger under its belt. Guy fools around on a girl and gets turned into a monster over it… but it saves his soul. Sound familiar? It should. But in 1897, there are differences. It takes more chances because the writers know they can. Barnabas is an observer here, trying to mitigate the extent of the damage that similar circumstances once had on him. He’s now protector of the family because he is at once completely intrinsic to it and completely disposable. Barnabas savors the view from the top. Now that he’s complete, what’s he made of? When it’s taken away, what remains? What need still exists? Questions to be answered a year and a half later, in 1840.

It’s the birthday of George Mitchell, the first actor to play Matthew Morgan. His Matthew was a dour, sharp, fierce opponent. More of a scalpel to Thayer David’s hammer. He only appeared three times, but his work created the severity of the stakes in this universe. He can also be seen on THE TWILIGHT ZONE and in THE ANDROMEDA STRAIN. On this day in 1969, Time Magazine devoted its cover to figuring out what’s wrong with modern medicine. Medicine isn’t what it used to be. It seems it never was.  

Review: "Last Orders at the Blue Whale" is a winner


I approached the first story in the latest DARK SHADOWS anthology from Big Finish with a degree of sadism. "Last Orders at the Blue Whale" kicks off the new release, "Phantom Melodies," and features none other than Collinsport's answer to Jar Jar Binks, Harry Johnson. Let's face it ... nobody likes Harry. As I fired up this story, it was in anticipation that we'd get to see him die a horrible, horrible death.

As it happens, one person likes Harry: writer Rob Morris. Part of Big Finish's unspoken mission statement is to redeem some of the lesser-loved aspects of DARK SHADOWS. They did it with the Leviathans in "The Harvest of Souls," Aunt Abigail in "Blood and Fire" and even managed to one-up Parallel Time by giving us a sympathetic counterpart to Cyrus Longworth. Morris happily lacks fandom's sadistic streak, though, and attempts -- successfully -- to paint Harry as a confused, sympathetic figure.

That's not the same as being a good person, though. As Roger and Carolyn are hustling Harry out of town (tying up a loose plot thread from the original series that most people might never have notices) our reckless rogue makes the mistake of trying to steal from a very, very bad person at the Blue Whale. He winds up on the hook with a sinister sailor, who gives him a few hours to offer up another soul to pay for his transgression. His options? Roger and/or Carolyn.

"Last Orders at the Blue Whale"  feels very much like a lost episode of DARK SHADOWS. It's a good script and a terrific delivery by Matthew Waterhouse, who's tasked with not only playing the entire cast, but also in making sure we never lose track of the story's rising menace. Audio director David Darlington also provides perfect sturm to Waterhouse's drang. It's enough to make we wonder what kind of live reading these guys could pull off if left to their own devices. There's no reason they couldn't do this in front of an audience.

I'll be back later with reviews of the other three stories in this anthology ... and then try to play catch up on the previous entries. Meanwhile, you can find "Phantom Melodies" for sale at Big Finish HERE.

Barnabas Collins meets ... the Banana Splits?

Gold Key was essentially a comic book ghetto during much of its existence. While Marvel and DC were slowly changing the world with superheroes during the 1960s, Gold Key was gobbling up media licenses to publish mostly forgettable comics based on movie and TV properties. It's not that Gold Key hired poor talent; but they certainly provided poor editorial leadership. I try not to think about the good work that might have been produced with a good editor at the helm of the company's DARK SHADOWS, STAR TREK or THE MAN FROM UNCLE comics. Imagine Steve Ditko drawing DARK SHADOWS and try not to cry.

Gold Key's status as third-class citizens in the comic book world makes some of their books that much more interesting, though. That's not the same thing as good, mind you, but it's hard not to smile when seeing the likeness of Jonathan Frid buried in the back pages of Gold Key's THE BANANA SPLITS comic. Last week, Miss Baconalia found a teaser for the DARK SHADOWS comic in the pages in the second issue of THE BANANA SPLITS and sent me a few photos.

If you've got the theme from THE BANANA SPLITS stuck in your head now, I've included a video at the bottom of this post to help you get through it. Yes, that's Liz Phair singing.

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 20


Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 436

Pursuing Angelique out of the courtroom, Peter discovers that she may be more than a witch; Angelique may be a witch from beyond the grave. Peter: Roger Davis. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Vicki attempts to convince Peter that Angelique was the witch. Unfortunately, the eyewitness evidence died with Sarah. Their only hope is if Ben Stokes will talk. Meanwhile, Nathan Forbes tries to bribe Ben into admitting that Barnabas never went to England. Ben’s reluctance to do so emboldens Forbes that his suspicions are correct. Peter gets an admission from Ben that Angelique is dead and buried. When they try to exhume the grave, Ben stops Peter when he sees that he’s dug deeper than Angelique was buried, finding nothing. Peter tells Vicki that she must take the stand. Her word is their only ally.

CSI, Collinsport style! If you want to see Ben Stokes wracked with misery and Peter Bradford shouting in desperation, this is the episode for you. Looking ahead, they are only a year away from 1897. What an action packed year that would be. Adam. The Dream Curse. Eve. A trip back to 1897. Nicholas Blair. Werewolves. And a real cure for Barnabas!

These are the good times.

On this day in 1968, tensions between the law and civil protesters heighten as state troopers fire tear gas into a demonstration at Alcorn A&M. 1968 won’t be easy. 

Saturday, February 18, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 17


Jeb begins his quest for revenge by overseeing zombies burying Quentin alive, while Nicholas smashes Julia’s experiment to keep Jeb in his permanent form. Nicholas tries to convince Jeb that he can never be fully human, and that his destiny is to marry Carolyn and then convert her into a Leviathan. After another meeting with Carolyn, however, Jeb’s love and drive to take control of his own destiny is revitalized. Meanwhile, Maggie visits Barnabas and, directed by the tattoo on her hand, draws him with her to the site where she senses Quentin is buried. They unearth him in time to save his life, and she and Quentin acknowledge their feelings for one another. Meanwhile, Jeb approaches Barnabas with Nicholas’ plan to unite him with Carolyn that evening. Later, as Nicholas begins the ceremony at the Leviathan altar, he calls for Barnabas at the last second. Barnabas rescues Carolyn as Jeb pulverizes the Naga Box. Nicholas hurries Jeb out, cursing him, as the Leviathan altar bursts into flames.

This. This is one of those DARK SHADOWS episodes that I love, adore, and fondly remember. Wallace is, as always, right. In his words, DS doesn’t tell a story; it accumulates it. Nevertheless, even such a storytelling model has a climax, and 965 delivers. In maybe the series’ tidiest example, love redeems (and often destroys) evil, and seeing Jeb and Barnabas take violent and definitive action inspired by that is just grand. Chris Pennock is impossible to dislike, and seeing him round the corner from heavy to romantic lead is a superb payoff. It’s a shame that the character won’t last, but with Barnabas and Quentin already on the scene, there’s only so much opposition the writers can throw at the Collins family without introducing Darkseid, Thanos, or a Billy Joel cover artist. I've been immersed in directing DRACULA, so deadlines have become somewhat abstract. It's, if you haven't noticed, no longer the 16th. However, this episode is one of the biggies. Watch! Enjoy!

On this day in 1970, we said goodbye to Hollywood’s great, golden age composer, Alfred Newman. Nominated for a stunning forty-three academy awards, he is also known for writing the 20th Century Fox fanfare, on the shoulders of which, Lucas and Williams merely had to hop to create the emotional high of the beginning of the STAR WARS films.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 16


Having learned that she has been selected in the lottery, Catherine believes that her disbelief in the curse will help her survive. Everyone else power-of-suggestion’d themselves to death. (Or went mad. Or possibly went mad and killed someone else.) Morgan begs her not to go… as does Daphne… as does Bramwell. She holds fast. Bramwell receives the portrait of his father -- the classic Barnabas painting -- as a wedding gift. Although touched, he’s obsessed with the idea that Catherine is carrying his child. When she and he meet alone, she tells Bramwell that she wants to disprove the ghost because dispelling the superstition will save lives in the future -- specifically, the one she’s carrying. When she goes to the haunted room, she finds it locked. Morgan is within; he says that he will spend the night there in her stead. 

“Loud noises!”
-- B. Tamland, climate journalist

That sums up Keith Prentice the more I watch the character of Morgan. I go easy on actors, and yet Prentice performs as if he’s unaware that there is a boom mic over his head. If Lara Parker claimed to have tinnitus as a result of the opening scene in this episode, I wouldn’t be surprised. The man can project, I’ll give him that. 

Two highlights in the episode. One is the golf-clap moment when Bramwell is presented with the portrait of Barnabas, and Daphne notes the eerie resemblance. I think a moment like this is part of the ritual. Is it fan service? Yes, but I am a fan and I like service, so there. The other moment worth appreciating is right at the very beginning. For a show that bread-and-butters itself with the supernatural, DARK SHADOWS has a healthy appreciation for skepticism. Catherine has a refreshingly rational approach to the haunted room, and I think it’s an important and subtle message slipped in for viewers. 

On this day in 1971, the Hell’s Angels sued the Rolling Stones for making them look bad. No, I’m not making this up. Footage of Altamont in GIMME SHELTER showed the stabbing death of Meredith Hunter, the murder of whom Angel Alan Passaro had just been acquitted. They sued on the basis of “invasion of privacy.” 

Wednesday, February 15, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 15


Broadcast on this day in 1991: Episode 8

Barnabas and Josette enjoy a lusty reunion while Angelique casts a spell to unite the prospective bride with Barnabas’ brother, Jeremiah. Her plan is so successful that the two escape to Boston and elope, but Barnabas pursues them. After the two men are reduced to physical combat, Jeremiah reveals that he and Josette have married. Having been bested in battle by Barnabas, Jeremiah demands the satisfaction of a duel. Victoria’s family history tells her that this is how Jeremiah died, and tries to thwart the duel alongside Sarah, but to no avail. Barnabas vows that no harm will come to his brother, and when it comes time to load the pistol, he pockets the ball. However, Angelique casts a passionate spell that fires a separate blast, killing Jeremiah when Barnabas pulls the trigger. The family is shattered, and Abigail blames Victoria for the sorcery behind Jeremiah’s death. Meanwhile, in the present, a confused Phyllis Wick arrives from 1790 in Vicki’s place, dying of diphtheria. Modern Barnabas is terrified; he recalls her dying from it. Could the same fate befall Victoria? And if Mistress Wick dies, will that strand Vicki in the past?

Like the episode before it, Ep.8 betrays a series running at full steam, seasons ahead of most successful shows. The 1790 flashback is an underrated triumph for DARK SHADOWS, economizing in many ways, luxuriating in others, and taking (some of) the best of that storyline and distilling its essence from a marvelous wine into a powerful grappa. As with an HBO series season, the promise of seven episodes begins to pay off around the eighth. The cast is now more than confident; they are enthusiastic. Ben Cross may seem a bit lost as the Barnabas of 1991, but the Barnabas of 1790? Completely in his element. The casting of Adrian Paul is spot-on, as well. He has a miniscule portion of two episodes to make an impression as a vital catalyst for Barnabas, and the man succeeds. (I’ve heard a rumor that he was to play Quentin had the show continued. But I’ve also heard that Dan Curtis offered the part once more to David Selby.) Soap operas are often about the repression of emotion. You know, quiet desperation and all that. In this, emotion -- Hollywood-sized -- takes the top bill. Sentiment is somehow more heartening. The anger is justifiably explosive. Regret is at operatic levels, hold-the-soap-thank-you.

And the passion? It feels ahead of its time for 1991. The love scenes between Barnabas and Josette have honest, raw, lusty abandon. And the magicks forged by Angelique? Is it just me, or does it look like the unseen Magic Wand she uses while casting her spells was made by Hitachi? Lysette Anthony is shameless in the best way, behaving for all the world as if she’d wandered off the set of a Ken Russell movie and couldn’t tell the difference. That doesn’t interfere with the pathos of the story. If anything, it puts it into a context that makes this version Angelique all the more perversely hateful. She revels in the pain of others not only because the result brings her pleasure, it seems that the process itself does, as well. Intense, romantic, and ripe with supernatural intrigue, this episode reminds me just how much I enjoyed the 1991 show as it evolved.  

Tuesday, February 14, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 14


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 432

Barnabas rises to find Abigail on the prowl outside his coffin. He angrily explains how wrong she has been about the source of evil in Collinwood, but she remains obstinate. When she learns the truth of Barnabas’ fate, the shock kills her. At Collinwood, Naomi and Daniel chat, speaking of the value of honesty and kindness. Trask enters and asks to speak with Daniel alone. There, he presses the boy for information regarding Victoria, finding every inadvertent reason to cite her secularism as evidence of her occult leanings. Daniel takes exception to being told he bears the Devil’s Mark and flees. Naomi and Trask eventually hear him calling for them, and find that he has stumbled upon the dead body of Abigail.

This episode is one of DARK SHADOWS’ most inflammatory… if people pay attention. They underplay it so much, however, that it somehow slips by. That could be why it’s not on the cultural radar. Maybe religious viewers were less uptight back then. Maybe there was a sense of ideological safety in greater numbers. Or maybe they were simply smart enough to separate fiction from real life and see Trask as representative of nothing more than Trask. But if someone wants to be offended, and so many do, this is a great place to start. Trask and Abigail (“Trabigail”?) were never good representatives of the religious, but it’s Trask’s lack of ranting that actually gives this episode a sense of danger. It’s most insidious when he gladhands Daniel, casually questioning him, turning each statement regarding Vicki into “obvious” evidence of her guilt. He seems so convinced and full of conviction -- seemingly on Daniel’s behalf -- that even I want to rise up and follow him. Yet the content of what he says is pure, fear-mongering evil. Does he mean it? Is he just twisting a religious ontology to suit his needs? Or is it both, with a line so ambiguous that even Trask doesn’t know where it is? And doesn’t care. That may be the most frightening possibility of all.

A bit of housekeeping. Yesterday was Terry Crawford’s birthday, and I meant to note it. So, I’m noting it now. And on this day in 1968, the very first 911 phone system was being installed in Haleyville, Alabama. It would begin service in two days. 

Monday, February 13, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 13


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 693

Chris Jennings bemoans his culpability for Sabrina’s catatonia, deciding that he must again flee his home. Part man, part wolf, driven by forces he cannot control, Chris Jennings is a soul in need. Sensing this, a lone figure emerges from the drawing room. The figure may not know the details, but he knows when a tortured innocent needs help. Chris departs before learning just how powerful an ally the figure is, but Julia Hoffman understands. She approaches the figure with equal parts human relief and feminine arousal. The figure smiles with a tight confidence, all too used to such attention. He is a strutting stag of a man, with the body of a Greek god, the mind of a Mozart, and the heart of a lion. He removes his monocle and surveys a Collinwood possessed by the restless dead, knowing only one thing; evil will fall. He’ll see to it. The figure’s name? T. Eliot Stokes. His profession? Legend, and tonight… exorcist.

Stokes quickly deduces that David is secreted behind a panel in the drawing room and brings him out. Just as swiftly, the Professor leads David to confess that he is becoming possessed by Quentin Collins. In the garden, Chris attempts to leave, with Carolyn becoming distraught. Julia later explains that he has to stay for Amy’s sake. As a storm rages, electricity runs amok, and Quentin’s song saws away mockingly, Stokes, fearless and undaunted, performs a powerful exorcism. The house, it seems, is clean. Later, however, the jealous and cowardly ghost of Quentin Collins, furiously envious of the first real man he’s probably ever encountered, attempts to mock said man -- T. Eliot Stokes. The professor casually smokes a cigarette, cocking an eyebrow insouciantly, unimpressed at the laughing specter in the mirror, even as the room he’s in lights ablaze.

He’s seen worse.

For all of my strange fixation on Professor Stokes, Thayer David claims this episode like few other actors have on the show. Both the character and actor have continents of range, and that range is explored with precision and confidence. As theatre of the occult, 693 is as shameless as the above synopsis (which I imagine was written by Stokes) and goes the limit to thrill the viewers. It contains one of the show’s iconic images, as well, as Stokes faces down a laughing Quentin Collins in the mirror. Thayer David’s committed and delightful work on the episode seems to intensify everyone. David Henesy’s pained confession has a fantastic sense of heart, and Don Briscoe’s articulate “angry young manwolf” is particularly edgy in this one. Although the Quentin story had been intriguing up to this point, I think this episode is what introduces the apocalyptic power and sense of zest that is swiftly coming to the series with the 1897 story.

Speaking of zesty and over the top entertainment, Dean Martin’s superspy film, THE WRECKING CREW, was a hit in theaters at this time. His Matt Helm series has (almost) nothing to do with the books, and are a scream. Nigel Greene, who played the greatest Hercules ever (in JASON AND THE ARGONAUTS), is the villain, a man who says “shhhhedule” a lot. You got both Elke Sommer and Sharon Tate on hand. A helicopter lives in Matt’s car trunk. And look, there’s Chuck Norris!

Friday, February 10, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 9


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 961

Bruno visits the werewolf at the crypt and whips him savagely. He then locks Davenport’s zombie inside to be destroyed by the wolf. Megan is bitten once more by Barnabas, but has no knowledge as to Chris’ whereabouts. Bruno learns that Megan is under the control of Barnabas, but keeps it a secret. He explains to Jeb that the werewolf is contained in the crypt and sends him there to destroy him once and for all. Locked within the crypt with the werewolf, Jeb fires his pistol at him, unaware that Bruno has replaced the silver bullets with ones made of lead.

Another great installment to show those who claim nothing happens on DARK SHADOWS. Zombies, whippings, werewolves, vampire biting, and general skullduggery abound. This is the twenty-sixth episode with no pre-Barnabas cast members, and that may explain part of it. Most of these cast members are relative short-timers and play characters introduced after the show increased its strangeness and pace. Although my father had seen a few episodes here and there, this began the first stretch that he watched consecutively, and that says a lot about the heightened action and intrigue. This episode has a marvelous Universal Monsters feel to it, including the closest they came to FRANKENSTEIN MEETS THE WOLFMAN, as Davenport (very briefly) squares off against the lycan Chris. If this episode belongs to anyone, it’s Michael Stroka. He manipulates Jeb with believable aplomb, keeping things just this side of believable.

It was a profoundly quiet day in Lake Wobegon. Historically, however, Marie Wallace celebrated my father’s 30th birthday by narrating her first DARK SHADOWS opening, while a jealous Ed Riley decided that he would no longer appear as Sheriff Davenport, saying, “Go ahead. Have the guy eaten. See if I care.” Okay, not really. But it was the first time she narrated an episode and it was Davenport’s last appearance. The Zombie Davenport looked a lot like Solomon Grundy, and I wish they’d kept him around.   

Thursday, February 9, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 8


Broadcast on this day in 1991: Episode 7

Victoria awakens outside the Collins manor house (later to be known as the Old House) in the year 1790. She calls Barnabas by name and passes herself off as the new tutor for young Daniel and Amy until she can find a way back to the present. Unfortunately, her strange clothing and mysterious origin draw suspicions from Barnabas’ Aunt Abigail, who is convinced that she is a witch and summons a maniacal clergyman, Reverend Trask. Meanwhile, the actual witch, Angelique, roams free and tries to reignite her affair with Barnabas from years past. She is unsuccessful, and vows to take control of the situation. The first to fall under her control is Ben Loomis, Barnabas’ faithful manservant.

This episode may be my favorite of the 1991 series. It has a sense of rambunctious enthusiasm and confidence that dominates the screen. When the daytime version goes into its first flashback, you can feel the sense of risk and danger behind what they were pulling off. The revival’s flashback lacks that sense of risk, trading it for a giddy confidence. DARK SHADOWS -- both the broad strokes and details -- had proved itself a lasting success. In the approach to the 1991 series, you can feel that. It has a strange swagger, and the 1791 flashback is Exhibit A. Knowing that Elizabeth would be Naomi, etc, etc, affected the casting with a foresight the daytime series never enjoyed. The double casting of the 1795 sequence feels like a stunt. The 1791 sequence in the nighttime show is clearly a choice. It’s where Dan Curtis reveals, if anything, the real program. Really, for such a young series (or young incarnation of a series), everything works. Making Barnabas, Peter, and Jeremiah a triumvirate of dear friends was a warm touch that humanizes the sequence immediately. The characters are well-drawn, anyway, and they serve as revealing foils for Barnabas. Barbara Blackburn and the writers find an entirely new way to make Millicent a nightmare. Stefan Gierasch’s Joshua is a stingy prig trying desperately to forget that he has a decent, loving heart. Lysette Anthony does all she can with Angelique, but this is the one misfire of the sequence. For all of the evil of Lara Parker’s Angelique, I believed that the love was genuine, and I saw traces of kindness whenever her mask would slip. Anthony goes a far more one-dimensional route, and the results are not the success they should be. Oddly enough, I love the snarling, long-haired zealot Trask played by Roy Thinnes. Both Jerry Lacy and Thinnes are forces with which to be reckoned, but in Thinnes case, I fear he might bite my fingers off while sending Vicki to the gallows.

At this time, the Gulf War had done its damage to the ratings by incessant preemptions, the Soviet Union was falling from within, and SILENCE OF THE LAMBS was a box office champion. 

Tuesday, February 7, 2017

5 reasons I should watch FALCON CREST


Warner Archive Instant really thinks I should watch FALCON CREST.

Promotional ads for the '80s prime time soap have been hitting my Facebook feed pretty hard in recent weeks. It's easy to figure out why: thanks to this website, I have cause to mentioned David Selby every few days. The show's antihero "Richard Channing" was Selby's second great TV badguy, following (of course) "Quentin Collins."

Weirdly, I've never seen an episode of FALCON CREST. It’s not like I lacked the opportunity, which presented itself weekly on CBS from 1981 until 1990. I had exceedingly bad taste in television in those years, though, and snubbed many good programs in favor of THE A-TEAM, KNIGHT RIDER, RIPLEY’S BELIEVE IT OR NOT, THE MASTER, MANIMAL and even (ugh) AUTOMAN. These are the viewing habits of an asshole.

Not coincidentally, these are also the viewing habits of a child. I graduated from high school the year FALCON CREST ended its run, and there weren’t many boys in my age group that were into prime time soaps. DYNASTY might have had the occasional slap fight or murder attempt, but THE A-TEAM had Mr. T firing Uzis at hillbillies on a weekly basis. It's just hard to compete with that.

Since launching this website in 2012, The Collinsport Historical Society has led me down some strange rabbit holes. And it has changed me as a person. I never used to see the appeal of live theater until delving into the careers of the many actors to appear on DARK SHADOWS. Stage shows were “culture,” the kind of thing schools used to make children do on field trips — frequently a lame production that was guaranteed to make them hate theater. These days I walk around with the regret of not having seen Jonathan Frid in “Arsenic and Old Lace,” Mitchell Ryan and James Earl Jones in “Othello,” and David Selby and Tom “Thrill Me” Atkins in “Henry IV.” That last one especially haunts me, even though I was only two years old when the production premiered in Chicago. I have unreasonable expectations of life.

Because of Selby, FALCON CREST pops up daily in my various newsfeeds. His FALCON CREST Susan Sullivan even joined him in the DARK SHADOWS audio drama, “Panic” a few years back. Besides sharing the occasional photo from the series, though, I tend to steer clear of conversations about FALCON CREST. I already have ample opportunities to put my ignorance on public display, so why go looking for trouble? But, thanks to the availability of media in the 21st century, it’s not that difficult to fill in gaps in your viewing history … which has led me to a few reasons that I might give FALCON CREST an overdue spin.

1: My non-sexual man crush on David Selby
I was diagnosed with this condition sometime during the early ‘90s, roughly the time that "Quentin Collins" made his first speaking appearance on DARK SHADOWS during its run on The Sci-Fi Channel. Along with folks like Ian Holm, Walton Goggins, Julianne Moore and Jeff Bridges, Selby’s presence is usually enough to convince me to watch anything with his name attached to it. From what I know about FALCON CREST, Selby’s character was essentially the show’s answer to Barnabas Collins, an anti-hero introduced during the second year that radically changed its narrative. Without having seen the series, I'm guessing Channing was not a vampire, though.

2: That cast!
Jane Wyman! Sarah Douglas! Robert Foxworth! Susan Sullivan! Simon “I should have been James Bond” MacCorkindale! Bryan Cranston! William Devane! Cesar Romero! John Saxon! Jonathan Banks! Rod Taylor! Roy Thinnes! Kim Novak! Paul Freeman! Carla Gugino! Taylor Negron! Jonathan Frakes! Lana Turner! Michael Dorn! E.G. Marshall! Geoffrey Lewis! Mitch Pileggi! Dana Elcar! Austin Stoker! And ... Apollonia!? Yes! Apollonia!

How is this not already my favorite show?

3: The DVD’s are pretty damn cheap
The Selby-less first season is just $7.29 on Amazon at the moment. Even at that price, the utter lack of Selby in the first season has kept me from jumping into this series with both feet. I’ve spent too much time pooh poohing people who skip the first Barnabas-free year of DARK SHADOWS to do the same with FALCON CREST.

The downside to the low price point, though, is that only the first four years of the show are available on DVD; Warner Archive Instant offers just the first three seasons.

4: It was created by Earl Hamner
Earl Hamner is a stone-cold TV legend, which is no small feat to accomplish when, as a writer, your face is never attached to your work. The guy wrote a whopping eight episodes of THE TWILIGHT ZONE (which isn’t shabby for someone not named Rod Serling, Charles Beaumont or Richard Matheson), the screenplay for CHARLOTTE'S WEB and created THE WALTONS. Why would anyone ever argue with a resume like that?

5: I feel less pressure now to be “cool”
The year is 1990. I'm standing in line at a grocery story with an acquaintance who has decided to go to war with the cashier over a coupon for 50 cents. He's older, married and has a kid; I'm barely 19 years old. At one point during the exchange he turns to me and says something to the effect of "This is probably embarrassing to you, but it won't be when you're my age." Turns out he was correct. In retrospect, my adolescent punk rock sensibilities were incredibly selective and kind of crap. I'd defiantly wear Samhain or Body Count t-shirts in public and dare people to start static ... while also hiding my STAR TREK novels and love for TINY TOON ADVENTURES to keep from getting ridiculed by the very same straights.

The development arc since those days has been interesting. I went from reserved to defensive to hostile within a couple of years. These days, I'm more likely to take these kinds of challenges as an opportunity to convert you. "You think the ANNIE musical sucks? Well, let me tell you all the reasons why it doesn't."

So, the idea of someone finding a stack of FALCON CREST DVDs on my living room table is not the embarrassment it once might have been. In fact, why don't you sit down and watch it with me? The NEON DEMONs and LA LA LANDs of the world will still be there when we get back.

Monday, February 6, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 6


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 689

Barnabas finds David about to enter the mausoleum in which Chris is secreted as the werewolf. David is silent as to his real reason -- Quentin’s orders -- and instead claims he is hiding from Maggie, now his new governess. Barnabas takes him back to Collinwood, where Maggie is unsuccessful at getting a clearly tortured David to reveal exactly why he’s behaving so strangely. Meanwhile, Barnabas retrieves a reverted Chris from the secret room, where he tells the manwolf that Ned Stuart has been asking about him. Chris explains that Ned is the brother of his former fiance, Sabrina, the first person to see him transform. Her fate was a dark one, and Ned has been on the hunt for Chris ever since. Meanwhile, David tells Quentin he no longer wishes to serve him, and Quentin responds with a touch that delivers searing pain. 

We may be through with the past, but the past isn’t through with us. It’s (one of ) the message(s) of MAGNOLIA, and encapsulates so much of DARK SHADOWS. An episode like this is theatre at its best, since theatre is about consequences while film is about action. It’s an actor-driven episode, and it’s a prime example of Don Briscoe’s subtle, deep, and humane use of the text. Even better is Kathryn Leigh Scott. When she reasons with David about divulging the secrets that torture him, you can hear the echo of Maggie’s own experiences with Barnabas. Both the writers and the actress establish Maggie as a very different governess than Vicki. In all candor, Vicki was designed for ignorance. Maggie was designed for worldliness. This is evident. It ups the stakes for the writers and other cast members, and is more appropriate for a David rapidly growing up.

On this day on Broadway, Jerry Herman’s show, DEAR WORLD, opened. Starring Angela Lansbury, the play is a musical adaptation of THE MADWOMAN OF CHAILLOT co-written by Lawrence and Lee, the authors of INHERIT THE WIND. A fine and overlooked show, it displays a tremendous evolution in style and temperament by Herman, in some ways fusing the brassy tradition of the Broadway musical with the more sophisticated Sondheim/Kander and Ebb sound to come. He even evokes a style that ALW would ape in a song such as “I Never Said I Loved You,” while the complexity of “Dickie” is pure Sondheim. An upcoming production is set to star Tyne Daly, John Karlen’s onscreen wife on CAGNEY & LACEY.

Jonathan Frid at the Devon Horse Show

Jonathan Frid didn't get much rest during the years he spent on DARK SHADOWS. When not spending most of his waking hours on the set, he was traveling around the country to promote the series, often in character. In May, 1969, Frid attended the Devon Horse Show in Devon, Pa. The May 28, 1969, issue of The Delaware County Daily Times had a footnote about his appearance, which read:
"Devon has something for everyone. The TV crowd went wild when Jonathon Frid was escorted around the Gold Circle in a convertible painted bright enough yellow to dispel any 'Dark Shadows' he might meet when he stars as Barnabas."
The story was not accompanied by photos. Luckily, Frid held onto some from the event, and later gave them to his creative partner, Nancy Kersey. Nancy, in turn, sent me scans of these photos, which you see here. These are candid images from her personal collection.

Below is a sample of the event's press coverage.

Delaware County Daily Times, May 21, 1969.

UPDATE: DARK SHADOWS fan Anita L. DeFrehn was at the 1969 event and captured some rare color photos. "I pushed my way to get as close as I could to my childhood idol, she said. "I was so excited I cried!"


Thursday, February 2, 2017

Get some free Dark Shadows stuff today

Big Finish, keepers of the flame for all things DARK SHADOWS, are offering a free story to folks who subscribe to the company's newsletter. Up for grabs is "The Missing Reel," one of four standalone tales featured on the "Echoes of the Past" anthology. This one stars David Selby as Quentin Collins, hounded in 1950s Hollywood by a film buff looking into an urban legend surrounding a movie called "The Werewolf's Curse." I listened to this one on the plane ride to last year's Dark Shadows Festival and it's a good one. You should absolutely check it out.

Here's a link to help you begin your adventure: LINK

Wednesday, February 1, 2017

A look back at Dario Argento's candy coated nightmare SUSPIRIA

(Note: Way back in 2013 I went on a bit of a Joan Bennett binge. A few of those were interesting enough to me for write-ups here at the Collinsport Historical Society. One of those was SUSPIRIA from 1977. As it happens, today marks the 40th anniversary of the film's premiere in its native Italy. My first instinct was to push my original story back to the top of the page today, but then I remembered it has since been heavily revised as part of our Monster Serial publications. So, without further adieu, here's the expanded version.)


SUSPIRIA isn’t so much a movie as it is cinematic alchemy. There’s nothing about this movie that ought to work, from the lurching, deranged performances to the use of Technicolor film process to highlight the STAR TREK-like cinematography. The score sounds like the kind of stuff you’d find in the $1 bins of your local used record store*, the story makes no sense and the dialogue exists only because audiences have grown accustomed to hearing it since the release of THE JAZZ SINGER.

If “magic” is the art of causing change to occur in conformity to human will, then director Dario Argento is a sorcerer to be reckoned with. Because SUSPIRIA works, even when logic and reason tell you it shouldn’t. The movie is a candy colored nightmare brought to life, a film so hypnotic that it’s managed to stay vibrant and vital no matter how much audience tastes have changed over the years.

For much of its early life, SUSPIRIA was a movie that film fans could only hear about. My first experience with the 1977 film came from the pages of Fangoria about a decade later in a feature story that did nothing but add to the movie’s legend. “Here’s a great film you can’t see,” was the gist of the story, which was all the more galling because of the flood of miserable horror movies that were littering the shelves of video stores in those days.

The first time I saw the film, I was both impressed and disappointed. Nothing could live up to the years of ominous chatter about SUSPIRIA, and I was even a little saddened to have survived the experience with my mind intact. This was my generation’s “The King in Yellow,” after all. Was suffering a little madness too much to expect from a work of cinematic genius?

I also realized that, for all the rabid fervor for which fans had praised the film, nobody had said much about its story. There’s a reason for that: The story is complete bollocks. An American woman enrolls in a European ballet academy and comes to the slow realization that it’s run by a bunch of witches. The end.

But story is hardly the point of SUSPIRIA. Like his American soulmate George Romero, Argento couldn’t care less about character development. Argento used to be such a deft filmmaker that traditional storytelling elements simply weren’t necessary.

With SUSPIRIA, Argento takes audiences through such a tangled, wild path that it should have ended in disaster. Originally planned to be set in a dance school for children, Argento reportedly revised the concept in order to use older and more reliable actors. For reasons that are anybody’s guess, he kept the script’s original childish (and dumb) dialogue intact.

And that’s just the beginning of the bizarre creative decisions on display in SUSPIRIA. Characters are killed for no other reason that to populate the movie’s running time with as much gore as possible, while the coven behaves so insanely stupid that it’s amazing it could have survived into the 20th century. In one scene, the witches use a demon to murder a rebellious student, while in another they provoke a seeing eye dog to kill its master. The movie is so front-loaded with action that little is left over for the movie’s climax, which limps to a grinding, confusing halt.

And then there’s film’s title, which doesn’t mean a god­damned thing.

And none of this matters. I’m not sure anybody’s even been able to adequately explain why the movie works, but the film’s got a stunning 95 percent at Rotten Tomatoes and is universally beloved by critics. It’s a wet, stormy fever dream that has survived the years better than more pretentious counterparts like ERASERHEAD and CARNIVAL OF SOULS.

It’s difficult to evaluate the movie’s cast because of their incongruent presentation. Many of the actors are dubbed regardless of what language they’re speaking, while Joan Ben­nett, who is clearly American, is given dialogue that suggests she’s not. Early in the film she tells newly arrived Jessica Harper that lodging in town will cost “50 of your American dollars,” a line delivered with her upper class East Coast accent.

Cult icon Udo Kier makes a quick appearance, but is not only dubbed by another actor, but photographed in such a way as to mask his good looks. It’s a role that could have been played by anybody, and don’t be surprised if you forget he’s even in the movie. Meanwhile, Harper’s role is so vapidly written that it took a decent actress to do anything with it. While her performance didn’t win any awards, Harper’s inherent charm keeps us focused on her character. (Note: SUSPIRIA is Harper’s second stop in her trifecta of cult classics, landing between 1974’s PHANTOM OF THE PARADISE and 1981’s SHOCK TREATMENT. In recent years she’s written a number of children’s books. If there’s a canonization process for cult icons, it’s high time Harper made the list.)

And then there’s Bennett. By 1977, the woman who was almost Scarlet O’Hara found herself delivering amazingly absurd dialogue in this low-budget giallo film. Her career progression didn’t happen all at once, to be sure. You don’t go from being Fritz Lang’s favorite leading lady to taking a supporting role in a movie like SUSPIRIA in a single bound. A combination of age and scandal (as well as a very public feud with Hedda Hopper) closed a lot of doors for her as the ‘60s began. Her appearance in HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, a film that might accurately be called an American giallo, probably made her decision to appear in SUSPIRIA less difficult.

None of this is to suggest that Bennett should have been ashamed or embarrassed by her appearance in SUSPIRIA. But, the 1970s introduced a new world of cinema, most of which probably looked alien to her, if not utterly offensive. I’ve never read any interviews with Bennett where she discussed this movie, and I wouldn’t be surprised to hear she’d never seen it. Her role in the 1945 film SCARLET STREET was shocking for its time (and led to at least one city banning it) but that film is tame when compared to the blood that splattered across the screen in SUSPIRIA.

(*Within context of the film, I actually quite like Goblin’s score. Hopefully, this little note will spare me some angry e-mails.)
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