Friday, March 31, 2017

Review: Trask the Excorcist

Art from Dark Shadows: Year One by Guiu Vilanova.

Exactly how full of shit was the Reverend Trask?

Arguably the primary antagonist of the 1795 story arc of DARK SHADOWS, Trask was a man of mysteries. The self-styled "witch hunter" offered no first name, verifiable credentials, or even any tangible motives for his bad behavior. There was no doubt that Trask was a charlatan, but was he intentionally deceptive, self delusional or a bit of both?

"Trask the Exorcist" seeks to explore the many, many character flaws of Barnabas Collins' favorite punching bag. The first of four stories in Big Finish's "Echoes of the Past," actor/writer Jerry Lacy takes us back a short time before Trask's arrival at Collinsport as his character engages with a young woman perhaps possessed by a demon.

Trask is in a wretched state at the story's start. He finds himself in the idyllic town of Leapville, Massachusetts, his primary concern nothing more lofty than finding the next meal. Trasks' clothes are ragged, his cupboard bare and his future dim. His primary source of income is begging alms for the poor, money that goes directly into his own pockets. When he learns of the possible possession of Penny Bascomb, the daughter of a local farmer, he offers to help the family in hopes of scamming some money and a meal from them.

The real villain of the tale remains purposely ambiguous for much of the story. Penny's behavior, as described by her family, sounds like nothing more than youthful rebellion. Kids really don't need help from Satan to sass their parents. Naturally, Trask doesn't really care either way, as long as the ends justify the means.

The exorcism occupies the bulk of the story, as Trask and Penny spar primarily over the reverend's own shortcomings. I don't want to spoil any moments of the conflict but, in the end, any real devils that hell might offer up are no competition for Trask's own metaphorical demons.

Lacy, who wrote and performs "Trask the Exorcist," provides the answer to at least one mystery about the not-so-good reverend. His full name is Orville Villarous Trask, named for his maternal grandfather. Trask avoids the use of his full name for fear someone might connect him to his late relative, who was hanged for stealing horses. Orville the Elder got off pretty light, considering was awaited his descendants. 

55 hours of Dark Shadows audios are now streaming on Spotify

If you've got a Spotify account, you now have access to about 40 DARK SHADOWS audio dramas. The available titles date back to the earliest entries in the range, including the four-part "Kingdom of the Dead," all the way up to more recent tales like the David Selby/Donna McKechnie reunion "The Darkest Shadow." (Strangely, Spotify is offering just the second volume of the acclaimed "Bloodlust" serial, but the prologue and first episode of that storyline are available for free from Big Finish HERE.)

If you're new to the audios, the best advice I can offer is to find a character you like and dive right in. Over the years, the producers have created a loose continuity between some of the stories, but there is no prerequisite study involved. If you already like Quentin Collins, for example, you'll have no trouble following any of his stories in whatever order you happen to discover them. How these episodes interact with each other is mostly a bonus.

Below is a sample from "The Crimson Pearl" from Spotify. It's one of my favorites in the line, and was a testing ground of sorts for the kind of extended tales Big Finish would later tell.

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 31


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 995

Amy and Quentin are reunited, and she reports on his disappearance. They return to the storage room, where he examines the room. Trask reports about the ghost to Bruno, whom he encourages to leave. Bruno laughs him off, denying the existence of the ghost. Dameon's ghost calls Bruno. Trask answers, and the ghost tells them it's only a matter of time. The calls continue after Trask leaves. Later, Cyrus tells Sabrina that there is a conference, and that he'll only be gone for a few days. Sabrina discovers an IOU from John Yaeger for $100, and asks who he is. The phone calls continue to Bruno. His disbelief is shattered when the piano plays the Ode before Dameon appears to him. Bruno runs to Cyrus to hide from the ghost. Cyrus reluctantly agrees, as long as Bruno promises to stay out of the lab. Cyrus once more transforms into Yaeger, hoping that the formula will release the best in him.

Although he’d been referred to numerous times, this episode gives us our first glimpse of the raven haired, mustachioed nogoodnik, John Yaeger. It was the show’s attempt at giving us Mr. Hyde, and given the constraints of time and the desire to have Christopher Pennock play both parts, the rather bizarre appearance is probably the best that was possible. If it’s a shortcoming, none of it matters.

Pennock is marvelous as the impulsive, blackhearted Yaeger. It was his third role in the series, and no other actor on the show established himself so quickly with as much versatility and truthfulness. Jeb appeared in episode 935, and in the short space since then, Pennock nailed three wildly different parts with clarity and wit. Yaeger would go on to have moments of relatable, childlike enthusiasm and honest aspirations of romance that again showed the nuance that is Pennock’s trademark as one of the show’s finest actors.

Ain't no party like a Collinwood party (UPDATE)

There were two kinds of parties in the 1960s. The first tended to involve a lot of herbal essence and the opportunity for surprise nudity. The other: nicotine, scotch and a lot of Half Windsor knots. You can probably guess which kind took place at ABC studios at Halloween in 1968, but leave it to the cast of DARK SHADOWS to still make things a little weird.

On Oct. 31, 1968, ABC executives gathered with cast members from some of its daytime programming at Manhattan's West 53rd Street, where its hit daytime serial DARK SHADOWS was taped. While episode 614 had been broadcast that day (in which Joel Haskell famously tried to strangle Barnabas Collins), the crew had just finished taping 619, an otherwise unremarkable episode. Standing that day were the sets for Nicholas Blair's "house by the sea," the woods around Collinwood, and a hospital bed for poor, doomed Joe.

Some of the actors apparently weren't left with enough time to shed their costumes. Robert Rodan can be seen in photos from the party in full Adam-drag, scars and all. Jonathan Frid is, as usual, in costume as Barnabas Collins, perhaps because of time constraints, or maybe studio pressure to always be "in character" for these kinds of events.

Also attending the party were Peter De Anda of ONE LIFE TO LIVE, Mike Darrow of DREAM HOUSE, Robert Morse of THAT'S LIFE. (Morse would later appear on MAD MEN.) If those were the only guests for the event, though, the party was headed straight for Dullsville. Not even Don Briscoe and his penchant for marijuana-infused werewolf transformations could liven up this joint.

Fortunately, someone had the idea of inviting in some of the fans waiting outside the set. In those days, vigilant groups of teens could be found hanging around outside the Hell's Kitchen studio in hopes of meeting one of the cast members of DARK SHADOWS. These kids generally behaved themselves, and were rewarded on Halloween that year by being invited to the party.

Despite having worked that day, cast members Alexandra Moltke, Grayson Hall and Humbert Allen Astredo are conspicuously absent from the photos. It doesn't necessarily mean that they weren't there ... it's possible they had other obligations that evening. But it might also mean that the photos, for whatever reason, weren't deemed suitable. Moltke, for example, was winding down her tenure on DARK SHADOWS and would take just five more episodes before departing. She was almost certainly gone by the time these photos were published. Heck, even the director of the day's episode, the mysterious Sean Dhu Sullivan, was on the way out and would helm only four more installments of the series.

Briscoe's presence here is a real head-scratcher, though. I'm guessing he'd already ironed out the details about his return to DARK SHADOWS, because he was essentially "between roles" at the time of the party. His first character, Tom Jennings, had been killed off in an episode taped the previous August, and he would not return to the set again until Nov. 12. when Chris Jennings in introduced.

Joel Crothers and Lara Parker.

Robert Rodan, Robert Morse, Lara Parker and Donald Briscoe.

Peter De Anda, Mike Darrow, Lara Parker and Jonathan Frid. 
Jonathan Frid prepares to pounce on an unidentified young fan.
In the comments section below, reader Alan Gallant provided a few more photos from the Halloween party. I've seen many of these before, but it's nice to finally have some context for them. You'll see Lara Parker, Grayson Hall, her son Matthew Hall, and Humbert Allen Astredo in the new images.

Grayson and Matthew Hall. 
Grayson Hall and Jonathan Frid. 

Lara Parker signs a few autographs.

Humbert Allen Astredo meets his fans.

Thursday, March 30, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 30


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 994

1970 PT. Quentin hears the Ode to Angelique and begs for her to appear to him. Instead, he finds a stunned Dameon Edwards who vanishes as Quentin calls the hospital. Trask, the butler, returns to Quentin's surprise. Edwards then appears to Amy, but is tracked down by Quentin, who finds him in Angelique's room. When Quentin approaches him, Edwards dissolves into a blood stain on the floor, suggesting murder. Trask is transfixed by Alexis' resemblance to Angelique and disturbed by the appearances of Edwards. Quentin stuns Bruno with his visions of Edwards, but Bruno plays it cool, even when told that Edwards is dead. Edwards used to visit the house frequently, a year prior. Quentin orders Amy to stay with Will and Carolyn Loomis, but Dameon appears yet again, beckoning her to follow him under the stairs. In a storage room, she screams as he vanishes. Quentin frantically searches for her.

This episode marked two firsts. Jerry Lacy returned to the show when the 453 performance run of PLAY IT AGAIN, SAM (where he played the Spirit of Humphrey Bogart) ended on March 14 of that year. It also marked the first appearance of ghost Dameon Edwards, played by Jered Holmes, who had the later misfortune of playing in the two-performance run of the Broadway show, THAT’S ENTERTAINMENT before finding greater success in the 1980 nostalgia piece, 42nd STREET.

Wednesday, March 29, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 29


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 464

Roger is smitten over the portrait of Angelique, so much so that he mis-remembers the poem, “Dover Beach” by Matthew Arnold, which properly goes:

Ah, love, let us be true
To one another! for the world, which seems
To lie before us like a land of dreams,
So various, so beautiful, so new,
Hath really neither joy, nor love, nor light,
Nor certitude, nor peace, nor help for pain;
And we are here as on a darkling plain
Swept with confused alarms of struggle and flight,
Where ignorant armies clash by night.

Although Roger scoffs at Vicki's time jaunt, he absentmindedly calls Julia "Countess Dupres." Professor Stokes introduces himself, charming the house as he examines the painting. He wanted the painting, himself, knowing that the painting is significant to his family's history, having collected items from Ben Stokes' past. Gazing upon the painting, Vicki slowly remembers that Angelique married Barnabas in 1795 and almost destroyed the family. She identifies her as the witch, bolstering Stokes' own findings regarding the secret history of Collinsport. He believes that Vicki has ESP, a fact concerning Barnabas to no end.

Later, Barnabas commands Vicki to rise from her sleep and come to him when the music box plays in her room. He believes that she will identify more and more with the spirit of Josette. She comes as
summoned, and he implants a command for her to return to him when she hears the music again so that they may be together for all time, sealing it with a bite to her neck. Later that night, Julia sees the
bite marks on her neck and speeds to the Old House to confront him.

Barnabas claims that he is only trying to protect himself from her returning memory. Julia orders him to leave her alone or be exposed, giving him only a day to cease his attentions.

Roger recites poetry, Barnabas attacks Victoria, and Timothy Stokes appears for the first time. On a sobering note, this episode aired on the same day that the assassination of Dr. Martin Luther King was announced.

Tuesday, March 28, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 28


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 725

Quentin is still a zombie, Jamison is still possessed, and Barnabas is still trying to straighten it all out. Rescuing him from the cusp of an open grave, Barnabas attempts an occult ceremony to cure Quentin, but fails. Meanwhile, Reverend Gregory Trask arrives from the Worthington Hall school, eager to add Jamison and Nora to his roster. Judith resists, but is fascinated. Obsequious to the core, Trask insists on performing his own exorcism, but wants Barnabas nowhere near. Barnabas has no choice but to agree.

So much of art is about saying no. It’s neat, tidy, selective, and disciplined. And then there is Jack Davis. MAD Magazine artist extraordinaire, Davis was the genius behind film posters for movies like ANIMAL HOUSE and AMERICAN GRAFFITI. Big collections of far too many characters chasing each other around with zany abandon. Yes. Exactly. Roger Ebert said that BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS is like a Jack Davis poster, and he was right. So is DARK SHADOWS 1897. It’s an orgy of ‘yes.’ What more can be thrown in when you have a zombie Quentin and a possessed Jamison? Why not a Trask? But one with a libido! Yes, yes, and again, yes. The joy of a moment like the introduction of Gregory Trask is that, with an imagined laugh track, it turns DARK SHADOWS a sitcom as Barnabas rolls his eyes at yet another, cosmically inevitable impediment. Barnabas? Just wait for Petofi.

On this day in 1969, Dwight D. Eisenhower died. Despite ruling over the fifties, President and General Eisenhower was no mindless conformist, and wisely warned us against the rise of the military-industrial complex. Not sure anyone listened.

Monday, March 27, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 27


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 206

Liz continues to deny her fears over Jason and Willie, while the latter shows intense interest in ancestor Barnabas Collins and his possible connection to a lost cache of jewels. When Burke finds out how predatory Willie is being toward Carolyn, he goes to Collinwood to defend her, but is sent away with mixed feelings by Liz. Burke chides her on her Collins pride as he suspects that she is being dishonest with her reasons for defending Willie.

Is it politically incorrect to say that Liz is asking for it? It is? Okay, then Liz is asking for it. It’s class warfare-a-go-go when Liz prevents Burke from twisting Willie like a telephone cord. (Odd that Burke’s not a Collins, thus not good enough to solve a problem that’s not also a Collins.) If she had? Would the rest of the series even have happened? There’s a weird symmetry to the Collins Woes. The message? You just can’t find good help these days. What’s the trouble? Lower class greed invades Collinwood, wanting the best of the house, like, now, pops. And make it snappy. When they go through extraordinary means to get it? Pow! Willie, looking for wealth that’s not his, cracks open Barnabas’ coffin. Who’s Barnabas? Both the family curse and salvation … a vampire made such by someone from the working class who wanted what she couldn’t have. In that case, love. I mention this only in passing.

Episode 206 marks the first appearance by John Karlen. Street tough, yes, but also adept at playing fancy lads of all varieties. He was replacing James Hall, who played the part for five episodes with a darker and less playful edge. Karlen, I suspect, had a streak of vulnerability in his portrayal that Hall lacked. It’s fun to side with Willie’s schemes, and Karlen, hardly a wallflower, establishes himself immediately. Welcome to Collinwood, Mr. K!

In 2006, twenty days after his wife died, series creator Dan Curtis died on this day of a brain tumor. In happier news, it’s Jerry Lacy’s birthday.

Thursday, March 23, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 23


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1244 (the penultimate episode of the series)

Catherine finds herself locked in the haunted room with Bramwell. Although Julia and Kendrick eventually find out where the lovers are, no key can be found. Alternately possessed by Brutus and Amanda, Bramwell and Catherine attempt to destroy one another. Nonetheless, each shows a sense of willpower strong enough to overcome Brutus, who eventually surrenders. Had they been in the room alone, no survival would have been possible. But now they must face an insane Morgan.

In a show that caters to lonely and isolated people, this ending is both the ultimate fantasy and an accidental affront. From the very beginning, DARK SHADOWS is a world that moves because love has soured, been withdrawn, or was an illusion. I think that’s why it resonates so deeply with so many people. And let’s not kid ourselves; soap operas of the era were aimed at a relatively powerless, stymied, and arguably (voluntarily) enslaved underclass of society. I can’t imagine being an ensnared domestic technician -- saddled with several bawling infants responsible for my dysmorphia -- and NOT wondering where the love went. In essence, DARK SHADOWS can often be a you-are-not-alone survival kit for the loveless. But any story is the journey of someone trying to fill the vacuum in their life… or to die trying. This can only end one of two ways for the Frid and the Parker avatars. We’ve seen so much relentless tragedy and failure in the series that, if only in the name of variety (though it’s more than that), the show is cosmically obligated to balance its own scales.

And Keith Prentice yells a lot.

On this day in 1971, Russia performed underground nuclear tests. The mine shaft gap was closing.

Wednesday, March 22, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 22


Aired on this date in 1991: Revival Episode 12 (series finale)

In 1791, Vicki awaits execution while Barnabas accidentally drives his mother into near-catatonic, delusional madness. A snooping Abigail meets her end at Barnabas' hands, and Joshua, discovering this, arranges for Trask to visit via Ben Loomis. Barnabas and Ben extract an admission of Vicki's innocence from Trask, before walling him up for the public good. Peter Bradford takes the document with him to a magistrate, but Angelique's powers cause it to be forgotten. Meanwhile, Sarah dies, having hidden from Barnabas on a cold, Maine night. Daniel barely lives, thanks to Vicki's knowledge of treating fevers. Barnabas begs his father to kill him, but he cannot. Instead, he assigns Ben to chain his son forever in the mausoleum. In the present, Maggie breaks Julia's strange possession, only to become possessed by Angelique, herself. 

At a certain point, it almost resembles the end of THE WILD BUNCH. Cold, nihilistic, with a slash-and-burn viciousness regarding its own body count, the episode feels as if they know it's a swan song after the royal rogering of the Gulf War and NBC's lackadaisical management. Not the case, however. This was filmed in November of 1990, months before they would go to air. Still, it exists in the context of "The Best of Both Worlds," and even if they weren't Trekkers, the creative team now lived in a world where genre television went there. Again, there's almost nothing unsatisfying about these 1790 episodes of the 1991 series. Grand and sumptuous in every regard, they use handsome appointments to highlight what's already the star: the writing. These are dense episodes, full of action and plot-plot-plot after the occasionally pokey first six installments. I don't know how they play for those unfamiliar with the show, but -- excluding the missing Nathan Forbes -- this really demonstrates how arguably labored and plot-piebald the 1795 sequence in the original series could get. Especially in episode 12, we get a constant barrage of heartbreaks and triumphs, including wacky exorcisms and the end of Abigail, Sarah, and a drunken Trask. The performances are as fine as the best in genre television, with special kudos going to... well, the entire cast. Stefan Gierasch and Jean Simmons handle Naomi's descent into madness with tenderness and dignity, and Gierasch's stony heart continues to crumble as he becomes perhaps the saddest collateral damage of all of this: the one cursed to survive. Along with him is Jim Fyfe, playing a deeply sentimental man with a subtlety that adds a resonant counterpoint to the broad approach he explored as Willie. 

I remember communicating over Prodigy with young Joey Gordon Levitt, who implored fellow Prodigians to hector NBC, which I did. I knew it was hopeless, but it was something. I would have been far more perturbed about the cancellation, but... the show ended on a satisfyingly high note and never got a chance to get bad. The Gulf War can always be blamed for its ratings failure, and I rarely show it to people who don't deeply enjoy it. The show is a great ambassador for the franchise, and I hope it will continue to be honored as such. 

On this day in 1991, NBC made a big, dumb mistake. So there. 

Monday, March 20, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 20

Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 201


Burke arrives at Collinwood with an emboldened Sam and pressures Roger into finally confessing to the vehicular manslaughter that sent Burke to jail. He does so, and Burke leaves his fate in Liz’s hands. When Liz elects to call the authorities, Burke stops her with a newfound respect. That’s all Burke needed to see. Meanwhile, Jason learns more about the locked room in the basement from David. When Liz discovers him trying to get in, Jason ups the stakes of his blackmail, citing the night she fatally struck her husband and his own assistance in covering up the murder. It is implied that Paul Stoddard’s body may be in that locked room. Jason later calls Willie. Having misunderstood an overheard conversation about Roger’s culpability, Jason believes that he and Willie may be running out of time.

Liz’s choice to turn Roger in has a strange, self-destructive, wish-fulfillment to it. After all, she now knows that both of Jamison’s children are successful murderers. This is a dense, chunky episode, uniquely satisfying in the DS canon. It’s an episode containing a refreshing resolution to Burke’s quest, and he shows a maturity that can only be gained after the events of 200 episodes. It also allows us to say goodbye to the snarling Roger Collins of old and clears the way for the more lighthearted, avuncular Roger of the Barnabas Era. An episode like this will do it. Roger experiences a visibly painful transformation in the episode, but you can tell that it’s a necessary and salubrious one. The ensemble shines in this one, but none as much as Louis Edmonds and Mitchell Ryan. Ryan dials up his usual intensity even further without leaping into self-parody. For Edmonds’ part, he very bravely delves into the most loosely hinged parts of Roger’s personality. It is a vulnerable, anguished performance that is utterly real and deeply uncomfortable to watch. Roger’s had just enough mellowing that seeing him humbled with extreme prejudice elicits a wince. That may be why Burke shows such surprising clemency. Anyone who wants to accuse DARK SHADOWS of having wooden or hammy performances needs to watch these two turns and call me in the morning.

Today is also Don Briscoe’s birthday. Born in 1940, he was 27 today. Thinking that he had made it to thirty when he had his breakdown is even sadder. We miss you, Don.

On this day in 1967, The Supremes released “The Happening.” With an ‘H.’

Friday, March 17, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 17


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 716

Jenny escapes the tower room and locks Rachel Drummond within. Nora complains that her door is mysteriously ajar, but Judith writes it off to gypsies. Meanwhile, she exerts her authority over Dirk, who rescues Rachel. Judith later tells Nora that her mother is not coming to visit, despite the girl’s dreams.

Filler. Entertaining filler, but astoundingly filleresque filler. Lots of atmosphere and a pleasant way to spend twenty-two minutes, but not what you want to use to introduce someone to the show. Every character in the episode is something of a side character, save maybe Judith. So, yes, here’s a fine example of her flexing her muscles as executor. It’s fun to see Jenny on the loose, and this is her first appearance, so there’s that. Marie Wallace has the beginning of her own corner of the bittersweet, hellzapoppin’ blast that is 1897.

On this day in 1969, Golda Meir became the first prime minister of Israel.

Thursday, March 16, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 15


Vicki awakens from a dream where a robed Nathan Forbes threatens the life of young Daniel, leading her to believe that Forbes may actually harm Daniel and disrupt the lineage and timeline of the Collins family. At Collinwood, Forbes asks Daniel why he is looking for Naomi and Joshua, and Daniel responds that he’d rather be adopted by them than be in a position where Forbes could control his money. Later, when Noah demands money from Forbes, he realizes that Forbes has the power to frame him for Maude Browning’s death. Thus, he agrees to kidnap Daniel for him and deposit him in the ocean. Noah duly kidnaps the boy, who hastily escapes and seeks refuge in the mausoleum with a gun-wielding Vicki. Noah is not far behind.

What is it about Craig Slocum that is so strangely fascinating? His parts are lilting-voiced professional sleazeballs and victims, inevitably whining, sulking, and acting, well, like a grownup David Collins. And yet, this WillieBot seems like the most realistic person to wander into Collinsport. Is he the Kramer Painting of DARK SHADOWS?

On this day in 1967, LIFE magazine named Jimi Hendrix the “most spectacular guitarist in the world.” Or maybe that was Roy Clark. I get them confused.

Wednesday, March 15, 2017

Chris Claremont reviews SEIZURE, 1975

Yesterday, we brought you a lengthy interview with Jonathan Frid conducted in 1975 by comics legend Chris Claremont. The interview appeared in the final issue of Marvel's Monsters of the Movies magazine, which you can read in its entirety HERE if you already haven't. Also appearing in that issues was Claremont's review of SEIZURE, which is mostly notable as being director Oliver Stone's first and Frid's last. It's an interesting mess of a film, one I'm prone to be charitable toward because it's like nothing else. SEIZURE isn't a movie trying to fit into anybody's idea of a trend and is almost undefinable in its lack of focus. They don't make them like this anymore.

Below is a transcript of Claremont's review of the film, which is as fair an assessment as you'll find. It's not the writer's best work ... but it's more thoughtful and insightful than a lot of movie reviews you'll find from the same period. Meanwhile, you can find a restored version of SEIZURE on Blu-ray for sale HERE.

Monsters of the Movies #8, 1975


If any of you readers have been paying attention the last few pages or so, you may have noticed that Jonathan Frid and I are spending a lot of time talking about a film he has recently made—a film now in general release in various cities around the country and, according to Variety, the cinema business bible, doing fairly well at the box office; which is still harder than you might think, even in these days of recessed stagflation — a film entitled, SEIZURE. One assumes that you reading this magazine, being something of a horror film nut, will have already seen this film. However, when one got to thinking, it seemed equally logical to assume that there are those among you who might not have seen the film. And, consequently, might not know what the blazes Jon Frid and I are talking about. Which is a bad situation by any stretch of the imagination. I think.

Anyway. the least one can do is clue you all in on what this is all about; that is, the film. Which is what this insert is all about. Which brings us to the film in question, SEIZURE. Starring Jonathan Frid (Edmund), Martine Bestwick (Kali), Joe Sirola (Charlie), Christina Pickles (Nicole, Edmund's wife), and Hervr Villechaize (the spider) — along with others too numerous to name, such as Troy Donahue (Mark, a not-so-young stud who has the dubious distinction of being one of the first to get bumped off in this rather macabre dream of Edmund's). To continue, briefly, with the credits, the film was written by Ed Mann & Oliver Stone; and directed by Oliver Stone.

The film begins quietly, almost casually, with an opening reverse dissolve from black to the brilliantly colored autumnal shores of some North Michigan/Upper Peninsula lake nestled a fair distance out in the boondocks — near enough for civilization to be accessible but far enough away so that it isn't a constant annoyance/intrusion anymore.

After establishing the setting in this truly spectacular shot, we move to a rich-looking, comfortable old house set at one end of the lake. And there. we meet Edmund, a writer of some repute—the Edgar Allan Poe of modern American Literature, as we learn later in the film—a man trapped in a terrifying nightmare. He wakes from the nightmare, looking much the worse for wear, and stagger/stumbles into the bathroom, where he shaves and pulls himself together as best he can. It is Saturday, you see, and guests are coming.

Guests such as Mark Serge and his wife, Mikki—old Russian friends of Edmund's. And finally, Charlie and Nicole, a pleasant nouveau riche couple who we meet when Charlie Stops for gas at a remote filling station only to discover that the station owner won't take his American Express super-dooper hotshot gold-trimmed exclusive executive credit card. Charlie is upset, damn near fuming; the owner merely wants cash on the barrelhead. It's a minor scene but it sets Charlie's character for the film: a beer-bellied, sun-burned nose aggressive creep (used in decorous place of a word a trifle too basic even for this enlightened magazine in this enlightened age) who digs flashing his executive club credit cards and flashing his bankroll and putting people down with a capital "D".

And the day wears on and we discover that Edmund is having trouble with his latest book, which we hear is a sort of children's story, and that three inmates — one female, two male — have escaped from the state institution for the mentally insane, all people in the vicinity—a fair distance from Edmund's place—being warned to shut their houses up tight at night; and that Edmund's son's pet dachsund is missing— Edmund goes looking for it in the woods—and that someone mysterious is watching Charlie's wife, Eunice, swimming in the lake. Someone large and ominous.

Edmund finds the dog hung from a tree, hung by the neck until dead. He tells his wife but does not tell his son. Night falls. The teen-age girl at the house to help Nicole with dinner leaves for home; she doesn't get very far. A black giant with a scarred face, dressed in leather and looking scarey as hell, ambushes her. And then the giant and his two companions cut the phone lines leading out of the house, and steal the distributor caps on all the car engines. The house and all the guests are cut off, snd then they attack. A black giant, a dwarf and a beautiful, black haired, crimson lipped goddess-woman. Three of the guests die in the first moments of confusion; the rest are captured, trussed up like fowls.

Sentenced to death.

The woman, the Queen (Martine Bestwick), tells them they will all die, all save those who manage to survive until morning. The rest will be killed. The survivors do not believe this, even when they are forced to run a frightening race for life around the house—Edmund and Nicole make a break for their car, discover they can't start it, hurry to rejoin the race and catch up lost ground, because the last person over the finish line is a dead person. Everyone assumes that it will be Serge because of his lame leg. It isn't.

One by one the numbers are whittled down—Serge being led to an execution by the axe after he has explained the who and the what of the situation to Edmund. And to us. The woman is Kali, the Hindu goddess of Death; the Jackal (the black giant, played by Henry Baker) one of a number of mute black torturer/executioners favored by the Czar during the heyday of the Russian Imperial Monarchy; the Spider (Herve Villechaize, just before he went west to take up service as manservant/gambling opponent to a master assassin named Scaramanga, in 007's latest epic, MAN WITH THE GOLDEN GUN— a film which has been discussed in greater detail in our sister magazine, DEADLY HANDS OF KUNG FU), the embodiment of a French court torturer of some repute. This situation, it seems, is part of some great cosmic conflict between good and evil and the results are preordained; so all a man should do is accept his fate and go to it joyfully, knowing that death will only reunite the man with his God.

Edmund doesn't quite see it that way. But then, he was still alive, wasn't he? And so was his wife. Serge's wife had been one of the first to die, her face eaten away by acid. Edmund still had a chance.

Nicole knew better. She knew she was going to die, knew Edmund would betray himself to Kali and give the Death Goddess their son, Jason, as a sacrifice merely to save his own worthless life. And die she does, by suicide. And Kali does demand that Edmund make a choice, his son's life for his, one or the other. And Edmund does choose. And he ends up paying the ultimate price.

So, what have we got here? Not a great film, true. but a surprisingly good one, far, far better than the cheapjack, quickie flick horror nonsense that has been trickling onto neighborhood screens these past few years. The production values are excellent, the setting—the film was shot at Val Morin, Province of Quebec, Canada — very beautiful, the location photography doing justice to the lake and the forest and the house. Technically the film was very well done.

The acting was better than usual, too, with performance ranging from very, very good (Frid, Christina Pickles and Martine Bestwick being prime examples) to good (Herve Villechaize, Joe Sirola and Roger de Kovan) to ... not so good — but what the hell they weren't on screen that much, anyway — (Troy Donahue, Richard Cox, Lucy Bingham, Mike Meola). The direction seemed a trifle arty in some spots but it was well up to the  material.

The material was something else again.

Granted, horror is a much maligned medium, and granted that a lot of it has been done before and granted all the myriad excuses a person can make for a film of this genre — all equally valid — if it isn't quite up to snuff — anyway, it is in the script that the film comes up a fair cropper. Because the script is not that terrific.

Firstly, the basic premise of this film is that something horrible is happening to Edmund, a fact that is conveyed more by Jon Frid's performance than by any clues in the script. We see bits of his dream and see from his reaction after waking up that he's scared stiff by it. Or, at least, by something. Yet we never learn any specifics as to why this is all happening. At the end, during the final voice-over, we find out that he was the Edgar Allan Poe of modern American fiction — and that is supposed to justify/cover all the preceding two hours worth of strangeness and it doesn't. It seems like an afterthought. tacked on to give the film some point. If the fact that he is this kind of writer is important — perhaps crucial — to our understanding of the character and the situation what the hell is it doing at the end of the last reel. And if it isn't, it's gratuitous and misleading and it shouldn't be there at all.

This script never establishes any real emotional connections between audience and characters. We do not know more than a few isolated bits about these people — many supplied by the actors themselves—and consequently don't really care about them. Indeed, some we actively dislike and have no qualms about seeing get murdered —Uncle Charlie being the prime example. You're ready to cheer when he goes. until you realize how he's going. Yeech! But the horror in that scene is the physical action of the execution — the fact that this man's skull is being squashed like a ripe grapefruit or pumpkin — not that the man himself is being executed. He sort of deserves it and good riddance.

And, therefore, with the audience not really caring, except for a few isolated characters in a few isolated scenes, and not really involved, the film looses a great deal of its potential impact. Which is a pity because it has a lot going for it and it should have been a lot better. What separates it from the usual run-of-the-mill horror flick is that SEIZURE could have been a lot better. and one is angry that it isn't. One cares about this film; the rest are quickly forgotten.

Like the man said, you can't win 'em all.

Tuesday, March 14, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 14


Jason arrives at Collinwood, and through gently pointed insinuations about past events from eighteen years ago, persuades Liz to allow him to take up temporary residence at Collinwood. Roger is pleased to meet him, but then disturbed that he will be staying on. Carolyn, however, is charmed. It’s clear that Jason’s connection with Paul will be a source of tension. Liz asks Vicki for strength to get her through the ordeal of having Jason there… and to help keep her secrets. Jason makes a phone call to tell someone that things are going fine.  

Happy birthday, Dennis Patrick! Arguably the most naturally likable actor on DARK SHADOWS, he nevertheless plays one of its most loathsome villains. Ruthless and manipulative, Jason makes such an ideal heavy because he cashes in on the primary vulnerability of the protagonists: secrets. And he does so with relish. It’s such a joy to see an actor really enjoy his job while maintaining a sense of realism. In its early days, DARK SHADOWS seemed afraid to mix elan with the gravitas. Dennis Patrick changes all of that. It’s too bad that he was just a hair too old to be a true sex symbol for the show. I would have loved seeing him return as other characters beyond Paul Stoddard.

On this day in 1967, John F. “Jack” Kennedy -- the real-life basis for the hero played by Cliff Robertson in PT-109 -- was moved from a temporary grave to his permanent memorial.

Chris Claremont interviews Jonathan Frid, 1975

Marvel Comics has never met an idea that it couldn't steal. Legend has it that Marvel's first superhero title, The Fantastic Four, was created in the wake of the publisher's order to create a book in the vein of DC's Justice League of America. By the time the '70s dawned, this copy-and-paste attitude was in full swing. The House That Spidey Built decided to not only take on Mad Magazine with it's B&W humor mag, Crazy, they also took a swing at Famous Monsters of Filmland with its own Monsters of the Movies.

The title lasted just eight issues, with Jonathan Frid appearing on the cover twice during its brief  1974-75 stint. His second appearance was on the magazine's final issue, a cover painting by Bob Larkin that shows Barnabas Collins teaming up with Peter Cushing's Van Helsing. Inside is a lengthy interview with Frid about his film SEIZURE, which had just been released.

Because Marvel had no intention of creating independent publishing operations for new publications like Monsters of the Movies, the creators of their monthly comics tended to also serve double duty as writers and artists for their magazines. The bylines for their written features were sometimes buried in the design, so it's likely that DARK SHADOWS fans visiting these publications in later years might overlook the signature at the tail end of the 1975 Frid interview: the author is Chris Claremont, at the time an occasional contributor to Marvel Comics.

Shortly after the final issue of  Monsters of the Movies was published, Claremont would be handed the reigns of Marvel's Uncanny X-Men title and have a profound impact on the comics industry for decades to come.

And his interview with Jonathan Frid is a doozy. It's easily the most intelligent discussion I've ever read about SEIZURE, and features Frid at his most politely frank. It also features a few tidbits that I'd never before heard, such as his potential involvement with a torture porn film titled HOUSE OF THE KILLER APES, and some thoughts on the 1973 TV movie, THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER. (Also, if this interview makes you want to finally check out SEIZURE, you can find a gloriously restored Blu-ray on Amazon HERE.)

Once Upon a Time There Was a Vampire

Monsters of the Movies #8, 1975


Once upon a time there was a vampire named Barnabas Collins, who was created almost by accident to bolster the somewhat disappointing ratings of a New York-based soap opera titled Dark Shadows; and who turned out instead. to almost-single-handedly transform the show from a fairly dismal prospect into one of the really hot numbers of daytime TV. He also spawned two feature films based on the exploits of Mr. Collins and the other somewhat strange members of the Collins family of Collinsport, Maine and helped make Producer Dan Curtis' reputation in the industry as a producer of high-quality horror material (most prominent among his later productions was the fantastically successful TV-movie, THE NIGHT STALKER— which, in turn, spawned a series of its own under the same title).

Not bad for a character originally designed to be a three-four week fill-in gimmick.

But we digress. For this article is not so much about the character, Barnabas Collins, but the man who essentially made him what he is today. the actor who took a screenwriter's conception and breathed life into it — and, without quite realizing how, creating a sensation—Jonathan Frid.

I met Mr. Frid in New York, in the offices of Cinerama Releasing Corporation — the operation responsible for releasing his latest film, SEIZURE (about which. more will be said anon) — on a typical New York early summer blah afternoon where there seemed to be too many people, too many cars, and too much stinking gunk in the atmosphere — and one is left wondering what the point of building cities was in the first place. And wondering why one put up with it.

The first thing one notices about Jonathan Frid is that — cliche though it may often be — he is a very nice man. Soft-spoken. gentle, considerate, his every action belying the fearsome nature of the characters he has been portraying lately. We got our hellos over fairly quickly, settled down for a moment of introductory small talk — he sipping coffee, me grape juice — and then we got down to business. I began by asking him just how he had first gotten involved with Dark Shadows?

He replied that — back then, in those pre-vampire days — he had been down in Florida, doing regional stock theater.

Jonathan Frid at the White House, 1969.
JONATHAN FRID: We finished this tour in Florida, and I decided to stay down there for two or three weeks. I'd told my agent at the time that I was going to California to teach—my great ambition was to get a job in some Drama Department and do my own thing in that situation. And I said, I don't know when I'll be back in New York. I stayed less than two weeks and got back with no intentions of calling him necessarily. He didn't know when I was coming back: he thought about three weeks. Anyway, I got home. and I was opening my door and the phone was ringing. And I dropped the bags— I thought it was a friend of my room-mate's or something — and it was my agent.

And he said, "Oh you are back." I said, "Yes. I decided to come back a week early. "Well," he said, "I thought I'd just take a chance and call you" (call me once was the implication). Anyway. there was a soap opera called Dark Shadows and they wanted a vampire. I said, "Now look, George, I told you I'm going to the Coast. I want to go and carry through with the plan." And he said, "Well, when are you going?" I said, "Well, it'll take two or three weeks find out where I'm going to be." He said, "This is only two or three shots; you'll have a little extra money to go to the Coast with." And I said, "No, no, no, no." Come on; go up and so I said, "Fine," very indifferent to the whole thing. That's what happened — you know the rest.

But it was funny, that phone call. Now if I had been a minute later ... I wouldn't have called him. He wouldn't have called me again. He just took a chance — he wasn't really interested in the idea — he just thought, well, I'll call Jon, see if he ...

But then. of course, you see, the thing that makes you wonder ... was all the things you never have done because you missed that minute. I mean, the thousands of things, millions and trillions of things that could have happened in our lives that never have happened because of a minute one way or the other.

CHRIS CLAREMONT: The alternate route things. I mean, had you arrived a minute later—had you missed the phone call — perhaps a whole different ...

FRID: Well, you see, the thing I feel about life is that you decide what you're going to do with your life. I don't believe in fate—I'm supposed to be a Presbyterian but I don't believe in that predestination. You make your own life. And you do it the way you will. You will your way thru life and you do what you want to do. You think of all the things you would like to have done — nuts! You would have done them if you really wanted to — you do exactly what you want. If you do nothing; that's exactly what you wanted to do. If you want to do something once in a while, that's what you do do. End of speech. Get down to the nitty gritty.

CLAREMONT: That's weird, what you just said about man's ... free will. It seems to have a lot to do with the themes of both SEIZURE and Dark Shadows. Your character in SEIZURE seems trapped

FRID: I don't think he's trapped. I think he gets exactly what he deserves with respect to his own life. He ruins it deliberately just by his chemistry. I like to think you bring some of your own character —personality — to your roles. My life is so much like his in a way. I mean, I've ruined so many things in my life — you know, I know perfectly well what I should do and I shouldn't do most of the time —and if I don't do something — you let yourself go and I haven't had that experience yet and I hope I never do. Of course. the film occurs within a dream — after all, the character's life hasn't been that bad: it's only like that in the dream. He dreams that — except that he has a heart attack from having had the dream so many times. Who knows how many people have died of heart attacks from utter exhaustion after nightmares.

CLAREMONT: Watching the film, I felt that the impact might have been stronger if there'd been more people there, if it had been in a theatre with a crowd, the people's own vibrations building on each other. There were only two of us there in the screening room and it was kind of a controlled situation. It's funny: in this genre you start a kind of game at the beginning of the film, wondering who's going to get it when: you kind of figure some people are marked ...

FRID: Do you find that it's the value of suspense in the picture? I don't see it.

CLAREMONT: Well. there wasn't much suspense for me, actually. That started when it was just you and your wife and the son. You know, facing Kali and the giant and the dwarf. It was like a one-on-one situation. And then your wife died—committed suicide—and then the conflict was, Kali saying. "Give him up. Give me your son." And you suddenly come forward and we wonder, well, what's he going to do? Would he sacrifice himself — kind of half-knowing ourselves that he won't — and just seeing the character going thru that conflict — physically as well as emotionally — that's what was nice about the performance. A very solid performance that was ... enjoyable, if the word can be applied. I can't tell.

FRID: I can't tell whether a picture's any good or not. I mean — you know — I liked it. But I can't tell where the best dramatic values, the suspense — when he was watching the door or he was fascinated by this character or are you pulled wondering what's going to happen next? It's a curious thing, I haven't heard anyone speak that way about the film. I've never discussed the picture with anybody but it's interesting that you say that there are moments of at least a suspense of what way will he go, that concern ... sort of thing.

CLAREMONT: One had the feeling, the suspicion. I guess — basically because I've seen the style done before — that it was a dream. But at the same time, one wondered: usually dreams have happy endings, because you're in complete control of the situation. Theoretically. Yet this dream was wiping out people right, left and center

FRID: You say dreams usually ...

CLAREMONT: It seems.

FRIO: Lord. I've had some nightmares—a nightmare is out of control.

CLAREMONT: I find it's hard to find people who even remember their dreams. I personally forget ninety percent of  them ...

FRID: Oh, you don't remember the early ones. But what I like to do — and I'm a constant dreamer —is I wake up and even if it's a horrible thing, I lay there letting the dream kind of — not analyzing it — but letting it continue, the feel of it, let my emotions go with it. And then as I gradually wake up more and more and more I bring my analytical powers into play and work on the dream. But I keep it happening. It's become a little dream of mine and even if it's a depressing dream — a nightmare —and it's depressing, I know that all I have to do is get up out of bed and go make a cup of coffee. And my depression ends. So, it's like therapy. I let the depression go right thru me and as it's bathing I start to capture with my brain what it is. What is it at the core of the depression. really? Not what does the dream mean. But yes. in a way, it's that, but ... I love to get at the core of the ...

This morning for instance — it was funny — the phone rang. A friend of mine called very early and I was having a nightmare — a dream; it was not quite a nightmare — I was taking off in a plane. And there was something in the middle of the plane — it was a banquet or whatever.  I don't know; it was big. I wasn't quite sure what it was. But anyway. It was a constant thought of mine on a plane that I'm always fascinated and rather fearful of a plane's take-off. I mean, it's that you can't stop: you've got to go with it. and I've never been on a plane yet that I haven't been somewhat conscious of that take-off. And that was what the dream was about. It was a nightmare and I was wondering—not frantically. but just kind of curiously wondering—are we going to make it? I said to my friend. "God damn you. I was just having a beautiful nightmare. I was in a plane, taking off, and if it hadn't been for your phone call I would have found out whether we got off the ground or not."

Well, I was curious to know.

CLAREMONT: That's interesting, the way you yourself let the dream flow thru you. The character you portrayed in SEIZURE woke up. thought it was all over, walked into the bathroom — repeating the beginning of the film — and all of a sudden he hadn't gotten out of the dream at all. It had gotten worse. The dream had become the reality.

FRID: Well, of course. That's entirely the reason of the film. I think I'm still confused about it, too. It is a dream at the end of the picture — but you know that was very arbitrary. I think the original ending of the script was reality. But that's just a dramaturgical device: they made the end into a dream, which I think is much more effective. The character has a stroke from dreaming his dream so often.

CLAREMONT: One watches the character wake up and thinks, Okay. cool, it's a dream and we're all back to square one. And then he walks into the bathroom and they break the rules because there's his wife's suicide note — "I love you" on the mirror and the Kali figure is jumping out of the bed and seems to destroy him literally. And that's something one hadn't really expected.

FRID: It's still within the realm of possibility. I mean, I've done it myself. That's my worst nightmare, actually, waking up from a nightmare and finding that it's not, it's real within the nightmare.

CLAREMONT: At the end of the film, your character goes, "Ohhh, I've made it." One gets the feeling that each night is a battle and here he's finally made it to the finish line, one more night. and then he finds he hasn't and that's what destroys him. In that, one assumes that in his dream he doesn't have to fear destroying everyone he knows and loves and cares for as long as it's a dream. That's what shattered him. I think, him thinking that as this is a dream, everything's all right. And then to find out that it isn't.

FRID: Of course. he's dead in the bed at the end. So he hadn't gotten out of bed to go to the bathroom at all in reality. Just a double twist. I love the way that picture ends, and I love that shot the next morning — you know, the peaceful morning.

CLAREMONT: I was sitting there, honestly thinking: "Oh man, is that milkman ever going to get a surprise. He's going to find a body in the lake and fifteen-odd bodies scattered around the house and grounds." And I was sitting there waiting for his reaction.

FRID: That's not the way I ... of course. knowing the story, I just saw the irony.

CLAREMONT: Yes, once one gets into the irony, those minutes when the man is coming up the drive. One is thinking, "Wow! This is going to be right out of Hitchcock or Roger Corman at his best. This man is going to go absolutely bananas." But then to have those footsteps come down to the milk, one thinks. "What does Kali want with milk?" And then to discover it's the wife! And the "dead" dog is still running around and the boy is still running around and one thinks, "Aha! A double reverse twist!"

FRID: Then a double reverse twist after that.

CLAREMONT: When the son goes upstairs, one feels that Edmund — your character — is dead. But then again, there is a feeling that maybe they'll do another reverse. I don't know—you can loop it forever. What did you think about the use of violence in the picture? A lot of it was never actually shown — but I remember watching the scene where the giant crushed Joseph Sirola's head, thinking as I heard the crack, "Oh, the giant's breaking Sirola's neck." And then when I heard the pop and saw the giant shaking his hands. one knew that he had crushed the man's skull and was shaking off the man's brains.

FRID: Was it effective for you?

CLAREMONT: It was horrifying.

FRID: It was? Again, being part of it, I just thought it was funny. You know ... just between you and me, I didn't believe the effects were that good: I suppose because I was in it and saw how they were done. And if you're going to have horror, why not? Violence, oddly enough, violence bores me on the screen and on television. It just bores me. It's so unreal to me. I can't stand someone being tapped with a car and knocked down in the street; I'd practically have a stroke just seeing that much violence in reality but anything on the screen, ho-hum. That's why I never go to those things, those "horror" films. I haven't been to see THE EXORCIST. I haven't been to see any of those things. I like psychological — interior acting, interior stories. Exterior — all that stuff — I guess. is all right if it's seen. I've talked to people who were very affected by it, but I ...

It's as I was saying a little while ago, they're making two or three cuts in SEIZURE and there's one cut that they're making that I've been trying to get them not to make — the scene between my wife and myself in the bedroom where she tells me just what I am and ...

CLAREMONT: They're going to cut that?

FRID: It seems to me that's the whole point of the picture.

CLAREMONT: Then what justification do you have for her committing suicide? Does she just flip out?

FRID: Again, it's Edmund's dream. It's his conception of what she would do. I think the scene's very vital — psychologically — to the story. You know, I laughed when they first told me. I said, "Don't pay any attention to me: that's my favorite scene. I'm just an actor: forget what I say." Then I started to think about it quite objectively and I think it's stupid.

CLAREMONT: It changes the whole tenor of the character and the film.

FRID: There are parts they could cut — a lot of that racing around. The racing around is cinematically bad. There are scenes I think are irrelevant. There's too much emphasis given to the dining room scene between Serge and Charlie—Roger de Koven and Joe Sirola—l mean, they're both marvelous actors, no doubt about that — incidentally, that's one thing I liked about the picture: there's a lot of good actors.
CLAREMONT: I know. It's surprising; usually, one doesn't see that many good actors in a horror film.

FRID: Right. The scenes are played beautifully, but I don't see what relevance it has to my dream —to my nightmare. Perhaps in the sense that they're just friends and they're peculiar — but I still don't understand ...

CLAREMONT: Perhaps they justify ... give the audience a reason for why Sirola's character dies the way he does. It's a pretty horrible way for a man to die.

FRID: But it's pretty well established that He's not going to survive anyway so you can go on Monday morning quarterbacking forever. But on the whole I was quite staggered by the picture. I thought — I just thought it was going to be a mess, Because pressures of time — five weeks.

CLAREMONT: You shot the entire film in five weeks?

FRID: Either five weeks or a little less than five weeks.

CLAREMONT: It was all shot in Canada, right? It was a beautiful setting.

FRID: Lovely, lovely place. I thought the opening of the film was one of the best openings I've ever seen on the screen. Through the credits, when they have that black — it's just the first time I saw it. I saw this black background and at the end of the credits, my God, there was this beautiful lake. And so I watched it, this last time, it was just imperceptibly to the black — you know the technique — you see the lake and you don't see it. You think you're seeing something. like in a dream. You think you're seeing something and the progression is so slow, it comes On so slowly, it's fascinating to watch and then my God! It's a beautiful statement about the whole story, the whole picture in a way — just that one technical thing. the opening shot. Whoever's idea that was, was a genius.

CLAREMONT: That opening kind of throws you in a way because one expects that, because this is a horror film, it'll reek of horror and menace from the word GO. People cut up, things like that, to establish the right mood. But this idyllic opening took its time establishing what was going on, moving thru the events of the imagined Saturday morning. Really nothing ominous until the woman, Eunice — Anne Meacham — was swimming in the lake and one saw this shadowed hand among the trees on the shoreline.

FRID: You would characterize this picture as a horror picture?

CLAREMONT: Yes. I think more in a sense of something like Brian de Palma's SISTERS is a horror film. Everything resolves itself rationally at the end as to who these figures were or why they were there at your house — Kali, the Spider, Jackal the Giant — especially when the voice-over identifies your character as the Edgar Allan Poe of modern American fiction. Actually. if there was a confusing element in the film, that was it. Who you were. All one knows about your character is that you say you're writing a children's book and one really doesn't know what kind of books you've written before. But the fact that you are a Poe character or a Poe-like character helps clarify a lot of things. It just seems very strange to have to wait until the end of the film for everything to just bounce neatly into place as to why this is all happening.

FRID: I like to have hints as we go along, a little information now and then. I felt for the first half-hour you don't know how to make sense or anything. But I find that with many pictures nowadays, you're left at sea have to wait till the picture's over to find out anything. I've seen two pictures lately that have fascinated me when I saw them, although I was quite ready to walk out on both of them about threequarters of an hour  into each — LOVE AND ANARCHY, which I saw the other night, and GOING PLACES, which I saw a week or two ago.

CLAREMONT: GOING PLACES got butchered by most of the critics.

FRID: Well, it's a pretty wild picture, you know. But there're some beautiful things in it and it's beautifully shot. One of the most gorgeous pictures I've ever seen. of course. It's France, in beautiful, beautiful wood settings; and Jeanne Moreau. She was fascinating, of course. I now know what a star really is: a star is someone whom the director loves, is fascinated with. Because everything she does is just worshiped by the camera. I mean, she just eats and it's beautiful. You know, I was just reading a script the other day that was supposed to be doing late in September. It's produced by Bob Davis and it's sort of "Ape" picture. It's called. HOUSE OF THE KILLER APES.

CLAREMONT: Nothing relating to Twentieth Century-Fox's Apes are they?

FRID: No. I haven't seen any of those pictures, actually. I said to Bob, "Haven't we had the ape pictures?" But he's riding the wave: I don't know if it's too late or not. But I don't really think it's any relation to the Fox pictures.

It's about a Hollywood director who has been pissed off by the treatment he's had — and the treatment of his father who'd have been one of the giants of the industry sort of thing — a couple of years ago. He gets up at the Oscar ceremony, collects his Academy Award and says "Screw all of you!" and goes off to Ireland to make a picture about apes with this professor who's found a special breed of apes in Africa that can be trained to do things.

But anyway, to make a long story short, it's about this director luring all these people from Hollywood over to make this marvelous picture. He has a cinematographer who is his right arm, so to speak. and is involved in this whole mess. And the two of them sic all these trained apes on the people he's lured over. His way of getting his revenge against all these people. He's lured them over to do this picture and he photographs them and he's trained the apes with dummies and fake knives. Then he gives the apes real knives and the real people arrive and he films the ensuing carnage. It's gory. I read the script about a year ago and now Bob wants to go ahead with it. I was re-reading it the other day and I'd like to get, again, more of a psychological thing into the picture. I mean go and have your fun with all your blood and gore and everything — I don't know how he's going to do it, because there's a lot of technical things and stunt work and all that sort of thing: because it's grim; it's just about as grim, if not grimmer, than SEIZURE.

But I'm interested in the character. I don't think Bob's properly motivated the character at this point: at this point the man's just petulant. You know what I mean, that old saw. Hollywood mistreating me and all that and now I'm going to get even. It's got to have more interest for me. And it's that close; it's just these two or three scenes to motivate him more strongly. The structure of the story's marvelous. The suspense is kind of interesting. You know how the director tries to get away with it and he makes all  kinds of mistakes; and you wonder how can he get away with it? But the only way to play it now is a madman, but he plays it so fast and recklessly that before people have time to realize what's happening, it's too late. And he gets his comeuppance at the end. But it works — it's a very workable story. But from my point of view, the main character has got to be more motivated.

CLAREMONT: It'd be kind of an ironic twist if the film he was making with all these actors getting wiped out was finished and released and the man ended up getting a posthumous Oscar as Best Picture. Best Director.

FRID: That's an idea.

CLAREMONT: Your concern for the characters you play — how did that relate to the four years you spent playing Barnabas. Did you feel there was enough motivation when you were playing that role to sustain it?

FRID: Yes. I thought at times the character was very interesting. Depending on how it was written from day to day, there would be stretches where there'd be tripe and every once in a while — I always figured that every two weeks or so we'd put out a marvelous show. Nine out of ten would just be so-so and some would be downright dreadful, but there would come a day where it would production-wise come together, acting-wise come together, and writing-wise come together. That's the fun about soap operas; that's the reality of soap operas. There's something about soap operas that's much more close to life, in spite of the put-downs—and they are very trite very often—but they do have that relation to life, in that there's no end, there's no beginning. It will not end. As one trouble starts to get solved. there's another one coming in there. It's like politics — you know, politicians are always saying, "Oh, we're doing this for future generations." And everything ends up in a status quo — static. We all work for the perfect government, the perfect life for everybody and there's no such thing. Never will be. There'll be troubles multiplying as one gets cleared up; there's something else coming in so it makes a farce of what the politicians say sometimes. The way they talk Utopia will come and it'll all be there and nothing else will happen. This is silly! And the soap opera understands this. Not conventionally, maybe, but just by the nature of it. It just keeps on going on and on. Dark Shadows was that way, just like life. Sometimes it was interesting; sometimes it was bloody boring. But Barnabas ... you see, as long as in one episode I got two or three emotions to play, that's all I need as an actor; as an actor in a play, I mean. If I get three or four good scenes in a play. the rest can coast: as long as I have something to play. Even in the worst scripts there's a moment each day. My problem is just trying to get it under my belt, you know, to absorb the script and play it. I was never too critical of the thing; I was over critical of myself before I very often damned the script. A lot of actors used to damn the scripts because they learned the parts quickly and they were ready to do it, so let's have a good script. I was just so busy trying to remember the goddamned stuff and absorb it that I never had much time to be too critical.

CLAREMONT: Was Dark Shadows done live?

FRID: No, it was taped. But it is virtually live. It's almost the same thing, although we used to do a lot more stop and go than most soap operas because of the special effects.

CLAREMONT: I was speaking to some people who worked on Edge of Night and they were talking about how they would like to get back on a live schedule because of the Watergate hearings. They were about three weeks behind and they were taping three weeks ahead — that is. They were taping shows to be telecast three weeks later. Instead of live—and they were saying how they wished the political situation would settle down so they could be guaranteed their half-hour a day time slot so they could go back to doing the show live.

FRID: They wanted to be live?

CLAREMONT: Yes. The crew had the production down to a science. They used a three camera set-up and as one scene was bowing out, they'd pull one camera away and shift it to the next set — they had the day's sets grouped in a circle around the central cameras — and as the first scene ended, they'd key in the first camera and shift a second camera over to the second set. Meanwhile, the third camera would move on to a third set — or an interim set, whichever was needed next — and so on and so forth.

FRID: That's the way we did Dark Shadows.

CLAREMONT: Done just like that?

FRID: It has to be. Ninety percent of the time, we shot the show at one time, twenty minutes or so excluding commercials. In a sense, it was virtually live, even though we had to stop occasionally because of effects. I enjoyed those four years. But I got bored with it eventually — everybody did. The writers got bored: we got repetitious. That was the reason the thing closed — I was amazed it ran as long as it did — for a soap opera it had a very short run, but for a special horror thing it ran for a hell of a long time. Because it was kind of a special show and our material was limited — you see, with most soap operas the stories are about this thing and that thing that happen in real life, and they go on and on. But our show was very special material and you repeat the vampire story once too often and you keep the werewolf story just once too often and it's much more difficult point where you move from passive to active, your hates and so forth. I mean Barnabas was everything: he was a gentleman and then suddenly, he was a monster. He'd been motivated, you see — and a good actor can motivate these switches and be understood. I mean Barnabas was a law unto himself. I took him very seriously. And even though it was high camp to millions — college kids and all — and it would have been awful played on the stage — I don't know how it would have worked: I mean you would have had laughter half the time — but in the silence of the studio you could take it very seriously. And the over-acting — which I was accused of doing an awful lot — I could well believe it. I knew I was overacting because of just nervousness — of trying to get the damn thing going again. It was all ... the slow, heavy weight of the speech was just ... I couldn't get going, be light.

CLAREMONT: Especially with the long succession of ingenues ...

FRID: Yes. Because it's so special. I thought it had a very healthy run for something as unusual as Dark Shadows. But there were many times when I was first getting the character of Barnabas shaped, I used my Shakespeare background — I used Macbeth. I used Richard, I used Cant — I used things I've played, using emotions that I played in those roles — quiet feelings, loneliness ... maybe it was a blessing in disguise.

CLAREMONT: It's funny, there've been a number of revivals of the original 1921 play DRACULA— you know, the Hamilton Dean things — and a lot of actors have tried it. And they can't deal with it— playing the play for real — because it's such a 1920's piece. They almost have to go back to the classical vampire/high camp kind of thing.

We've interviewed Barry Atwater, who played the vampire in Dan Curtis' NIGHT STALKER, and he said that his conception of the vampire was that he was very much like a heroin addict. He had this addiction and nothing was going to stand between him and what he needed. It wasn't a question of morality or immorality: it was just essential to his life. Bela Lugosi and Christopher Lee, on the other hand. are generally assumed to embody a more classic evil.

FRID: Well, that's no comparison. I mean, even playing in a classic style, you still have to motivate your character. I suppose my style came across probably more strongly than my motivation because I was just trying to keep my service acting going, keep the lines going, keep the movement going. It's funny, though, I've been up for so many commercials that I cannot get because they all want me to "do my thing." They call me in to do monster things. And they say, "Well, Mr. Frid. this should be easy for you. you know," and so I read the damn thing and they say, "No, no, no: do your thing!" And I'll say "Well, I'm sorry, I don't have a 'thing.'" "Oh, but you do: you have this monster thing you do." I don't know, like I'm supposed to have tricks to do or something. I just play a man, the writing took care of the vampire. The only thing I ever did which I hate were those scenes — I felt so damn foolish — where I'd bite the neck of someone. But I did that only about twenty times in the four years I was playing the role. And I always felt so silly when I did it because they always wanted to show off the god-damned teeth. I just always was embarrassed with those scenes. just get them over with.

But the rest of the time. I played a man with an addiction and I knew I had to, you know, be seriously motivated. I had to eat. But my guilt was that I was living in a world of humans who had other values and I was trying — I did — relate to people, and I knew this affliction of mine was up against a whole way of living among normal people that I loved. And so that conflict is what I played those four years. The lie, hiding what I was — which is always a fearful looking thing when a person is hiding something. They always look frightened. They're hiding behind a mask: that's what made that a factor. But in my own inner planning, it was hiding, trying to keep my secret, and at the same time trying to deal with that problem in my affairs with other people. Which made it an interesting thing to play. all the colors involved

CLAREMONT: You said that you'd been up for commercials and you've had problems with being typecast. I'm curious about that because the only thing I'd seen you in prior to SEIZURE was a TV-movie on ABC, THE DEVIL'S DAUGHTER. Your role in that was fun, in a way, because it was silent, no dialogue: it was kind of nice ...

FRID: I was kind of disappointed with the part. They said they were going to make me much more of a character and they really didn't. It just sort of ended; you know, it didn't really go anywhere. But the idea of the character I'd like to see again. I think my horror things, my playing if it's well motivated and so forth ... I just don't want want the narrow typing of being a vampire person and, pardon me, being seen as a monster. That's why I like this picture, SEIZURE, because I am ...

Well, my favorite role is Richard Ill and there isn't a bigger monster in literature than Shakespeare's Richard III, but the playing values of it are so magnificent that they overpower any horrible image of him, of what he would look like facially, for example.

CLAREMONT: In a sense — say, at the end of Laurence Olivier's film or RICHARD Ill, you think, "What a bastard." And at the same time you have this sneaking admiration for him as you watch him move from one step to the other: he's always pulling something new and you end up saying "oh man, he's a son-of-a-bitch but he's so smooth..."

FRID: I always try to humanize things as much as possible, but the environment of the story, the writing, whatever all the — what I call the peripheral things from my point-of-view — will set up the horror. I play values and the horror is taken care of, takes care of itself. I always go out of character just playing mean some things I do in life are horrible to other people but they're not horrible to me; I love doing them. But they may be distasteful. We all do things other people think are distasteful, but you don't think they are — you do them. So, anything I do in a horror story is something I like to do. I'm guilty about it because other people think it's horrible but I love to do this. We do what we want to do.

CLAREMONT: It's like setting out to play something — to play the element "horror" instead of the realities of character and situation; you end up defeating yourself.

FRID: Incidentally, one thing I learned on Dark Shadows is that the audience does half to three-quarters of the acting for you. You just say your lines, go where you're supposed to go and pluck the line—so forth and so on (and this was proven time and time again by personal appearances). People would all ask me about so and so: what's going to happen. And I've even forgotten—I couldn't even remember.

There was one time—we were all sitting around the studio one day and there was one point in the plot we couldn't ... we had to be very careful because it related to something that had happened about six months before. And we sat around reading the script one day and we couldn't remember what that thing was. We asked everybody in the building — everybody in the studio — and no one knew. The writers couldn't remember — they all happen to be there that day — they couldn't remember themselves. And I said, "For God's sake, go out on the street: there's always a mob of kids outside every day. Go ask them." And they came right up with the answer. They remembered everything. They imbue the story with all of its colors and everything. They act — they do the acting — and I'm always quite convinced that the audience always does. It's passive, but it's filling in your imagination. Where you leave off, they take over.

CLAREMONT: That's one of the things, I think, that's so rich about live theatre, as opposed to cinema or TV acting: there's audience feedback to play off of.

FRID: My acting on television or screen is just as live as on the stage, because I play it with the technicians. As a matter of fact it gives me a great thrill to know you can play even off guys who are working while you're doing it. Actually, a lot of them aren't active while you're acting. They do work before and after but they're mostly standing around while the scene is being played. You can sense them. I sense when they're caught up by it and, you know, I sense when they're not. So, you play to anybody in the studio. You're playing to the director — you're playing to someone; you're not just playing blind just because you're not in a theatre. Your co-workers are your audience. I get great pleasure out of doing that sort or work.

The only thing I miss in the theatre is a long run, where you can really develop a character and be comfortable with it. That's what I miss. But I'm afraid that's my curse—is that I think my acting is as good as it ever will be under duress. It's an awful realization I have come to, and that is that you're better when you're a little out of control than when you're in control of all your faculties. I tend to slack — no matter how hard I try; I don't consciously slack, and I consciously work harder. But there's just that something that is magic that works when you're under duress and it irritates me, because I love to be in control of everything and know exactly what I'm going to do. I want to be the complete, the consummate artist. I don't think that'll ever happen — I don't think that's my temperament. My temperament works best under duress.

CLAREMONT: It's very strange, thinking back again, your desire to be in control of everything. Shifting back to Edmund, your character in SEIZURE, he was in a way in control of the dream situation and yet he was out of control. But you could almost say he was in control when he died. You got the feeling that he probably sensed where this was leading him. To have this nightmare occur over and over again, each time a little more terrible ... because in the original memory sequence where he's running and being chased by the dwarf, it's night. And yet, when it actually happens in the film. It's dawn—which is wierd in and of itself, because Kali had said whoever survives until dawn will be allowed to live. And then it seems that she's been faked out; you think, "oh, the sun's up; he'll be all right now.' But she wasn't and he wasn't and it wasn't and that was that. To turn to another problem you said you were having; how many problems — if any — have you had going for roles with this image you have of being the consummate vampire?

FRID: Yeah. Yeah. I never gained anything as an actor, you know. Since that show, it's been very difficult for me. I've been offered a number of things — all in the monster — um — vein. At first I wouldn't touch anything in the horror thing: you know, anything. But I had to compromise there. And I'm glad I have and I've got myself together, that I mustn't be so stubborn that I wouldn't play in horror stories. Because I know I'm going to get work that way, as long as the character is interesting. Certainly I'm not—if I play this role, and it seems likely that I will be, in HOUSE OF THE KILLER APES — certainly I'm not going to build an endearing following to that one. This man I don't know— depends on how I, how things might shape up in some strange way. Certainly, at first, Barnabas was not terribly interesting. I think I brought the human thing to that. And even on this picture, SEIZURE, Edmund's a despicable man but yet, he has a conscience. Oh well, I mean, he wouldn't be having a nightmare if he didn't have a conscience. But this character in HOUSE OF THE KILLER APES just has no conscience at all. He's out there and he photographs — he films scenes of people being mangled by these apes. And that's going to be a pretty tough pill to swallow for anybody who follows that career of — I don't know — the 'charming' Jonathan Frid.


I suppose that's one way of looking at the situation. On the other hand, one might look at HOUSE OF THE.KILLER APES— horror cliche as the title sounds—as just another facet in the multi-talented career of one of the more celebrated horror film actors of the last two decades. And hope that it heralds a day when Jonathan Frid is seen by the viewing public considerably more often than once or twice every couple of years. Until then. all One can do, is watch. And wait. And think back to those glorious days of yesteryear, when the organ ticked off its eerie theme. and those titles spiraled out of the surf and we returned once more to the slightly scary, slightly zany, slightly amusing, never dull world of Collinwood Mansion and Barnabas Collins. The world of Dark Shadows.
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