Tuesday, May 9, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 9


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 755

It’s nearly dawn, and Barnabas frets over Jamison. Beth says the attacking beast wore clothes or walked as a man. Laura enters, demanding to care for Jamison. With Beth gone, Laura tells Barnabas she will have her revenge. As Barnabas goes to his coffin, the Old House bursts into flames. A spying Dirk sees Barnabas dematerialize. Then, the flames abate. Dirk reports all of this to Laura, who sends him back to the Old House to investigate the secret room there. Dirk finds part of the diary of Ben Stokes, telling all. Meanwhile, Quentin learns from Beth that he is transforming into a wolf by moonlight. At Ben’s grave, Laura and Dirk find more of Ben’s diary. A storm brews. As she reads, Barnabas appears at the height of his power behind her.

Rollicking. At this point, that is one of the only words adequate enough to describe the show’s trajectory. Can swearing vengeance and mutual destruction be next? In two years, we have gone from Gothic soap to (almost) science fiction to a full-fledged Marvel comic. If we break down the tone of DARK SHADOWS’ stories on its timeline, we begin to get a sense of its representative identity as a show. Is it dark, quiet, tense, and subtle or is it a pop colored orgy of the unlikely and the bizarre? Yes! It can be tempting to count episodes and see which tone dominates the series. My money is on the bizarre, starting around spring of 1968 and going through to spring of 1971. That’s sixty percent of the series. Great. So what? Yes, the goofy dominates DARK SHADOWS just like it does LOST IN SPACE, but is a more grounded beginning necessary to get to the goofy? It’s a principle of great horror storytelling. Start us off in a very, very real place, and after we deal with the credibility of that universe, methodically move our emotional investment to a heightened world. Is there a consistent message that pervades this trip? I used to think it was about forgiveness and the past. It is, but if we look at the very beginning and the very end, there is another theme that resounds. Orphans and fractured families live in a citadel of family. No one has won the genetic lottery of the nuclear 2.5 in either 1966 or 1841PT. To grow and to get the most out of what Collinwood can offer, people who have no reason to trust anyone must learn to do so. From Burke to Bramwell, it is the willingness to trust themselves and to trust the hearts of others that wins the day.  

It’s the birthday of Richard Woods and Michael Stroka. Woods was the first Dave Woodard, and for only two episodes. No worries -- he went on to appear in two Coen Brothers movies (MILLER’S CROSSING and THE HUDSUCKER PROXY) as well as films such as IN & OUT and I.Q. Stroka was the first in the second-to-last-ish wave of DARK SHADOWS cast members, making his debut on June 30, 1969. He was exceptional at playing Obsequious Sleaze, and did so to the hilt. You could always count on a Stroka character to entertain, and they were pretty much all the same (and that’s just fine with me). They all shared great smiles, wild wardrobes, and hairdos so increasingly amazing that they could only be topped by a fez, and so they were. He allegedly appeared on an episode of THE TWILIGHT ZONE, but I have yet to track it down. He absolutely appeared on BUCK ROGERS IN THE 25TH CENTURY (alongside Mark Lenard and Felix Silla) and WONDER WOMAN (in “The Deadly Dolphin,” one of the notorious swimsuit episodes). Everyone dies too young, but especially Stroka. 1997. He was only 58 years old.  

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