Wednesday, March 8, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 8


The family buries Barnabas, and Josette prepares to leave for Boston, pleased that the book from the future was seemingly inaccurate about her date and mode of death. Joshua moves everyone into Collinwood, and when Barnabas rises, the new vampire finds considerable privacy in the Old House. He feeds off of Millicent and a local prostitute, gaining the curiosity of Trask, who sees him as a demon. Shortly before she is to depart, Josette goes to the Old House, where she sees Barnabas as a vampire and embraces him, nonetheless.

With the rising of Barnabas, the core of DARK SHADOWS finally solidifies. As with all of the 1790 half of the 1991 series, this is a beautiful, polished, classy, and passionate retelling. The writing has energy, economy, and poetry. Overall, the most outstanding dimension of the remake is in the cast. Dan Curtis has a remarkably good eye for crafting an ensemble, and each performance feels more winning than the last. As I noted before, they really solidify in the 1790 sequence, and their confidence with the characters and each other is evident in the sincerity of the drama and the wit (in this one, it’s largely thanks to Jim Fyfe, whose Ben Loomis is the straight-shooting, enthusiastic, ironic best friend every hero needs). If there is any element in the episode where the storytelling loses its footing, it’s in the interpretation of the vampire. It’s a shameful, music video depiction, leaving Ben Cross looking like a hybrid of Billy Idol, Jeff Spicoli, and Craig Wasson at the end of BODY DOUBLE. He hisses and snarls and just… no. What’s more poignant about all of this is that Cross makes great choices under this drag. He plays the soft pedal with clarity and humanity as he alternately represses, reveals, and even revels in his new condition. It’s the makeup and mugging that detracts from it all. Favorite and most subtle moment? After his first night, Barnabas awakens in a cellar. The first thing he does is run his fingers under his teeth, checking for fangs. His reaction, a very slight flicker of relief that never settles. Perfect. Just perfect. The rest of the cast bucks up just as admirably, and it feels as close to MASTERPIECE THEATER as DARK SHADOWS got. Take a decent actor, put them in contemporary clothes, and you see a, well, decent actor. What is it about aristocratic, historic garb that makes him look like a genius? This is really clear when we flash-forward to 1991 and the whole thing just feels leaden. 1791. A grand story for a grand cast.

As a (then) Californian when the revival first aired, I can attest that the Gulf War made watching the show a nightmare due to constant interruptions and reschedulings. And trying to get a friend to watch? They were even more hopelessly lost. DARK SHADOWS. Sometimes you seem cursed. By this point, the war was over, but the damage was done. Look at how the dates line up. The show premiers on January 13 and 14, with the first three episodes. Highly rated. So far, so good. Three days later, on January 17, military operations begin. The next day, January 18, episode four airs. On the east coast. On the west coast? Just before it begins, Iraq launches SCUD missiles at Israel. So, yeah, no show that night for us. At least, on time. This was a really crucial episode because it would have been the first in the regular time slot, training the public about where the show was. Episode five, on January 25, airs on the day when Iraqi troops spill millions of gallons of crude oil into the Gulf. Something of a news item. There were three unpredictable episodes in February, and by the time the show wraps up with its last four episodes, the war is over. But the damage is done.

Other trivia. This episode was directed by Rob Bowman, who abandoned the WB DARK SHADOWS pilot many years later to direct ELEKTRA, which was its own reward. Unfortunately, the new director, P.J. Hogan, largely crashed the WB pilot with nutty stylization.

On this day in 1991, US troops arrive home from the war and Iraq releases a number of journalists and two, captured, American soldiers.

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