Monday, August 28, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 28


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1098

When Carolyn fulfills another part of the prophecy by singing “her song,” it becomes clear that she and the children are possessed. Barnabas and Julia confront Quentin, who is lost in an angry funk. After vehemently denying it, Quentin admits to aiding the ghost of Daphne. As penance, he attempts an exorcism as the children try a conjuring of their own. Quentin fails, but the children are met with an ominous knock on the door.

But before that….

August 28. One of the ultimate “DARK SHADOWS DAYS” is also one of the least emblematic. And yet, the best. It’s a day that’s all about DS, is representative of none of DS, reflects the finest of DS… it’s a lot of feels.

On Aug. 28, 1970, HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS opened on its second screen as it methodically (in an Escheresque sense) unfolded across the country. First in NYC, then at the Diane Drive-In in Gastonia, N.C., and other Southern towns. The film has been covered extensively on the site, and I’ll add that, because of casting and creators, it is the Platonic ideal of the DARK SHADOWS motion picture. Of course, it’s also nothing like DARK SHADOWS, and this must have given some viewers, somewhere, pause. What do I mean? If you average together all of the Jonathan Frid episodes of the TV show, I’d wager he spends most of his time as the hero. Conflicted. Duped. Often driven by self-interest, sure. But if you stack up 1967 against 1968, 1969, and the beginning of 1970 (we’ll give him the Leviathan storyline since he was both mind-controlled and threatened with Josette’s life… I think), you have over two thirds of his time on the series (up to the shooting of the film) with Barnabas as your pal. We’d just finished the highly successful 1897 storyline. My gauge for any series’ tone comes from this question, “What was the show like for the longest sustained period of high ratings?” So, even if it spiked for a week at a certain point, that doesn’t count as much as a steady, high plateau that lasted for several years. I look at the plateau. That’s when the most people liked something the longest. For that period, the core family survived the storylines and Barnabas was the good guy. Kind of. So, when he’s a lethal drinking machine, unconcerned by guilt, conflicted fealty, a sense of family, or Angelique, I just… don’t know who this guy is. It’s a bleak, nihilistic movie that I would argue killed the franchise. Hey, when 90% of the beloved characters are dead at the end, and the other 10% have no reason to be recruited because of it, your chances of a film dynasty are nil. Canceling a show is just canceling a show. It doesn’t negate the continuation of the characters’ adventures. Look at STAR TREK. But killing your beloved ensemble and marking your cinematic turf by demonizing the lead? Good luck with that.

And yet, it’s a fun, engaging, crisp movie. It looks great, and audiences have a solid time with it. It gives you lots of DARK SHADOWS stuff… just DARK SHADOWS in a really dark mood.

At the same time, I imagine people tuning in a bit down the road to see the episode that was shot today in 1970. Statistically, some of them had to be first-timers. They’d seen the books and comics. The kids are talking about that movie. And they just couldn’t get “I’ll Be with You Always,” out of their minds after having heard it on a kid’s LP player eight jillion times. They picked up the fanciful viewmaster reel… and then they saw episode 1098.

My hope is that they’d be thrilled. It doesn’t have the onus of being the distillation of the series. It is, instead, the next step of its evolution. But just as HODS is not a representation of the average DS episode, neither is 1098. In this case, that’s a good thing.

Precious little has been written about this time in the series. Reportedly, it was a kind of desperate madness. The major classics had been pilfered. People associated intimately with the show were uncertain of the plot. Story events were speeding up and turning almost as nihilistic as the movie they’d just released. This was a post-Manson, post-1968 assassinations, post-Vietnam-wakeup-call DARK SHADOWS.

Yet, out of darkness and chaos comes a fixating brilliance. The stakes, dizzyingly high, Frid’s performance as Barnabas is as strong as any moment he’s delivered. He seems acutely focused, as does the rest of the cast. Barnabas-as-detective is a bit of a chess player in 1897 and 1970PT. He has no time for that now, and Frid’s ocular twinkle has been replaced with some legitimate steel. The performances across the episode are uniformly no-nonsense and committed. Nancy Barrett has a particularly disturbed hypno-madness behind her eyes, Stockholmed to the core by Gerard. David Henesy is especially determined. His -- and his character’s -- evolution is one of Wanting to be Taken Seriously, and it works. (He shows great spite with Barnabas when asked details about David’s life.) Take a bright and bratty kid, let him see the world, and then set him loose with newfound gravitas. He’s too old for games, ensnared in one anyway, and resentful of adults from two centuries. Kathy Cody, as his co-possessed teen companion, is given the same one-note to play that she is always given. It’s a variation on Julia’s, “Oh, Barnabas, what are we going to do?” However, it gets expanded with a strange, melancholy sense of nostalgia as she, possessed by a ghost from the dawn of Victoriana and trapped in the 20th century, misses the beauty that was the aesthetic norm of the world 130 years earlier. Add to this David Selby’s depiction of a Quentin eaten away at last by guilt over betrayals committed for a lover’s promise he knew would never be fulfilled. That’s as complex a psychological brew as the show would serve, and Selby explores an entire arc of responses in twenty minutes. The show jumps headlong from Romanticism into Modernism as the haunting no longer threatens lives. Gerard’s haunting creates crises of purpose and identity throughout Collinwood. If Gerard didn’t destroy it, the house would most likely collapse from sheer despair.

With evocative and desperate occult imagery and a simple, chilling knock, the episode also serves up a genuine sense of fear and doom.

On this day in 1970, the Jackson 5 released “I’ll Be There.” You could do a music video on YouTube with footage from today’s episode accompanied by that song, but I’ll buy you a pony if you don’t.

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