Wednesday, November 29, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: NOVEMBER 29


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 640

Amy and David continue trying to communicate with a temperamental Quentin, now via seance. Chris visits, and leaves Amy heartbroken with his reluctance to move her into his home. That night, after a date with Carolyn, Chris chains himself up and transforms into a werewolf, whereupon he returns to the Blue Whale and attacks the waitress upon whose forehead he saw a pentagram some time earlier. 

The Quentin and werewolf arc begins in earnest now that the Adam/Nicholas/Jeff material is out of the way. What follows is a set of storylines so tight and disciplined that they underline how lost-at-sea the show has felt since Dr. Lang’s death. Enjoyable? Of course. Well-characterized? Naturally. Confidently structured? Not so much. In this case, everything is geared toward highlighting the threat of the werewolf, tying him into Quentin, introducing that new character, and crafting a crisis so vast that it triggers a flashback which will last nearly a year. You can tell this early on, just by the way in which Amy and David’s experience with the ghost unfold. This is going someplace. Each visit to and from Quentin builds on the last. After just one episode, Quentin’s spectral wrath is mentioned, upping the stakes. On his introduction and origin, Barnabas was a victim, making the best out of a chain of catastrophes and coincidences. Quentin has had nearly a century to plan and wait. It reflects the writers, as well. With the Barnabas storyline, they were trying to capture the wild horse they’d accidentally loosed, keeping up with something that never should have worked. By this arc, they’ve built a colosseum. It is with a supreme confidence and command of the medium that this cocksure team of writers truly brings the show into its own.

So much of the sprawling tale to come will center back on a bachelor’s responsibility for children he can’t save. How appropriate that it begins in the smallest, warmest, most intimate way possible, with a bachelor unable to comfort the child in his life. Strange, poignant personal bookends on a rollicking story. Don Briscoe is a perfect choice to humanize this beginning. He and Denise Nickerson have a marvelous chemistry, and he adds a sincerity and heart to the show that no male lead on the show matches between the departure of Mitch Ryan and the arrival of David Selby. For a child performer, Nickerson plays existential pain like a Bergman regular, and her indecision and loneliness propel the other characters brilliantly.

The real star of 640 is the werewolf, making his DARK SHADOWS debut. A Byronic-looking take on Jack Pierce’s original makeup for Universal, this design combines the anthropomorphic relatability of Lawrence Talbot with a newer athleticism. Thank stunt coordinator, Alex Stevens, for that. It’s an impressive debut, complete with floating pentagrams and on-screen transformations, rounded out by a smashing entrance through the window of the Blue Whale. Stevens, who was Frank Sinatra’s body double, had to arrive at work at 4 a.m. to begin the transformation in Vincent Loscalzo’s chair. It was a lasting partnership throughout 1968, ‘69, and (18)97.

On this day in 1968, U.N.C.L.E. agent Mark Slate was unable to stop THRUSH from releasing John and Yoko’s album, TWO VIRGINS. 

Tuesday, November 28, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: NOVEMBER 28


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 908

Alex insinuates himself at Collinwood, giving new orders to Liz and keeping everyone well on task. Meanwhile, new guest, Paul Stoddard, knows he’s up to no good, and tries to recruit Maggie to help him. Roger arrives, shocked that Paul is being allowed to stay. Paul, thinking he’s chasing Alex out of his bedroom, instead encounters the breathing sound of a fully revealed Leviathan.

It’s impossible to watch this episode and not think of THE OMEN. Somewhere, Harvey Bernhard was taking notes. He just had to be. At the center is Alex, the new incarnation of the Jebspawn, played here by eight year-old, David Jay. Jay had a moderately active career as a child actor, but went on to other things as an adult. Because I remembered his performance in a troubling light, he was the chief reason I was dreading the episode. Well, either memory failed me or my tastes have changed. (And it’s a little too tempting to pick on child actors, as poor Jake Lloyd can attest.) Is his Carnegie Deli cheesecake-thick regional accent arguably unbecoming for the anti-Christ? Maybe, but when Marie Wallace is your foster mom, you’re going to pick up an accent. In retrospect, while it can be seen as absurd, it also gives him a cold-hearted toughness that a Tennessee twang couldn’t match. Maybe we were better off. Jay pulls off his main challenge, and that’s shifting from little boy to a strange, intimidating man in the space of a breath. When he gets down to the business of castigating Liz and demanding radios and portrait albums, he projects a confidence that rises above his years. Goofy-looking? Yes. Icy and disturbing? Yes. Especially in that way kids can be. I have always found young children to be disquieting and unpredictable. This episode captures the spirit of why. As a counterbalance, we see David and Roger at their warmest, and the presentation of that evolved relationship has made the past three years worthwhile and gives the heroes one more thing to fuel their fight. Another champ in this one is Kathryn Leigh Scott, who has to believe Paul even as he’s in a paranoid frenzy. She plays kindness and honest doubt with a wonderfully subtle mix that should not go unpraised.

On this day in 1969, Time Magazine unrolled an issue with an abstract statue of Raquel Welch to promote MYRA BRECKINRIDGE. I, however, have no issue with a statue of Raquel Welch.

Thursday, November 23, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: NOVEMBER 23


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1160

Gabriel rises from his wheelchair to stop Daniel from altering the will. He has been able to walk for years, but feigned disability to give his father a reason to love and care for him. Daniel dies, and Gabriel begins to plot the new age of Collinwood. Edith swears satanic allegiance to Gerard, and afterwards, she and Gerard witness the impromptu reading of Daniel’s will. Desmond is shocked speechless by what he sees in it.

This is one of those episodes that, when we began the Daybook, I savored writing about. When the day came last year, I was terribly ill and the whole thing went kaput. Well, honey, I’m home. We talk a lot about Gordon Russell here at Daybook Command. Sam Hall, his dark twin and live-in, love-in maid of a writing partner, is tougher to capture. Russell is Noel Coward. He’s the bubbles in champagne. Witty, deft with wordplay, and poignant. On the other hand, Sam is known for his edgy, angsty gravitas. That sells him a tad short, though, and this episode is prime Sam Hall. The white hot core of it is the monologue that Gabriel gives to Daniel as the patriarch is in his death throes. It’s the reason I wanted to write about this episode, and it provides the opportunity for Chris Pennock to have what may be his finest moment on the series. It’s a monologue full of pettiness, weakness, and a vulnerable jealousy. At the same time, it is a cry for love that can be heard all the way over in Logansport. The audacity of the piece is singular. With Pennock, the energetic, insightful, risk-taker of the cast, it becomes perhaps one of the most unforgettably human moments in all 450 hours of programming that makes DARK SHADOWS. 

Is there more to say? Always. But that is so important, that it deserves to stand on its own.

Happy Thanksgiving.

Wednesday, November 22, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: NOVEMBER 22


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 373

Joshua places increasing pressure on Jeremiah to marry the insipid but wealthy cousin, Millicent. Meanwhile, Angelique prepares a spell, delivered to Jeremiah by the lovely and talented Ben Stokes. It’s purpose? To make him fall in love with Josette to vex Barnabas.

Lara Parker, for a woman born to more advantage than some, plays a tsunami of class envy that could level UBS headquarters. Much of the episode is spent with her plotting and planning and sending Ben Stokes out for spiderwebs, allegedly for a gown, which Stokes lustfully hopes she’ll wear. She brings such incredible strength to the show that it genuinely begins to come to life in an entirely new way, as if the program’s phantom limb were finally reattached. Before, the strength of women on the show came from situational panic or raw obstinance. In this case, this is a strength that exists in every dimension of this character’s mind and life. To call it refreshing would be an understatement. Sam Hall clearly adores strong women -- look who he married. When it comes to writing them, he does so adoringly and sincerely. He also satirizes weak ones. The introduction of Millicent allows Nancy Barrett to inhabit the Ultimate Flake, and that pushes 1795 to the realm of Molière. Vicki, also, shows new backbone. In the realm of ultimate “I don’t understand,” she makes connections and conclusions with a confidence and speed that reinvents the character.

It’s the Hulk’s birthday!  On this day in 1967, Mark Ruffalo came into the world. Happy birthday, big guy!  Smash! Smash!

Friday, November 17, 2017

Jonathan Frid and the crown of King Richard

A few weeks back, DARK SHADOWS guru Jim Pierson sent me a batch of recently unearthed photos of the late Jonathan Frid. Some of these photos (which will make an appearance here sooner or later) date back to his days before DARK SHADOWS, while others were taken during his later years as a public speaker. Among these images was this proof, above, probably taken at his home in New York City.

The thumbnail images on the left show Frid holding his crown from a production of "Richard III," which was among his favorite roles. Frid played the monstrous king in 1965 to rave reviews. "Frid's performance captures a Richard who is human because he is greedy, ambitious and evil," wrote one critic. "A Richard who is admirable because he is loathsome; a facile cripple, most cruel in power, winning of speech and unhesitating of the most foul murders in his climb to the English throne."

Frid held onto the crown for the remainder of his life. His family inherited it after his 2012 passing, and allowed it to be auctioned off for charity during last year's Dark Shadows Festival in Tarrytown, N.Y. Julie Gates, of Missouri, won the crown in the auction. You can see her wearing it in the image at the right.

Monday, November 13, 2017

Trilogy of Terror coming to blu-ray in 2018

The Dan Curtis 1975 TV movie TRILOGY OF TERROR has never had the chance to completely disappear from popular culture. This is mostly due to the strength of the tale's final act, "Amelia," which unleashed the so-called "zuni fetish warrior" onto the world. The movie was an anthology showcase for actress Karen Black, but nobody much remembers the other two stories (which feature DARK SHADOWS alumni James Storm and a misspelled John Karlen.) For better or worse, the zuni fetish warrior upstaged them all.

We're all a little confused, John.
Since 1975, TRILOGY OF TERROR has floated around cable and syndicated television, VHS, DVD and just about every major online media provider (you can watch it right now on Amazon Prime.) The zuni fetish warrior was even revived in the 1996 sequel TRILOGY OF TERROR II, which put the angriest little muppet in battle against  Lysette Anthony, "Angelique" from 1991's DARK SHADOWS. The ZFW has had a least one official action figure likeness, cameos in VENTURE BROS (above), the Stephen King series NIGHTMARES & DREAMSCAPES and Full Moon's PUPPET MASTER series ... the little dude's a superstar.

So, where does TRILOGY OF TERROR go from here? If you've read the headline, you already know: Kino Lorber Studio Classics has announced a blu-ray edition is coming to home video in 2018. While an announcement about special features is pending (as is a firm release date, cover art, etc.) the disc will include an all-new HD transfer. Stay tuned!

Thursday, November 9, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: NOVEMBER 9


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1145

Gerard hypnotizes Lamar into having a “psychic dream” where he finds further proof that Quentin is a warlock. Meanwhile, Quentin completes his Time Staircase and shows it to Gerard, not knowing that he will use it as further evidence against him. Although Samantha is initially sympathetic toward Quentin when she learns that Joanna has died, his coldness cancels that. She is further antagonized as she receives more and more evidence that he is an alleged warlock. She speaks to Daniel about altering the will, and although Daniel is noncommittal, he is willing to also listen to Gerard on the matter of Quentin. Gerard takes him to Quentin’s occult lab where he gives Daniel a vision of Quentin attacking the late Lorna Bell. How does 1840 cram so much storytelling into twenty-two minutes? It’s as if they know the show is headed for the gallows and they are dancing as fast as they can. And dance, they do. I always enjoyed the Time Staircase, and felt that it was a sharp, economical idea they happened upon a bit too late. Had the show continued, I suspect it would have been a fixture, allowing stories to be told in multiple time periods at once… and why not? At one point, I tried to convince Wallace to make a makeshift Mego-style Collinwood Drawing Room playset, which would just be the Enterprise bridge redressed. Of course, the transporter would have become the Time Staircase. 1840 feels more mature than most storylines because it hinges on uneasy truces between adults who either can’t stand each other or are seething with disappointment. It feels like a different type of storytelling for the show. It’s almost anti-romance, and I can see how that frustrated audiences. Of course, after years of other flavors, I think it’s a welcomed relief. And against those unions, the relationships between Barnabas and Julia and Angelique seem like bedrocks of sanity. On this day in 1970, the Soviets launched Luna 17 to the moon and the US Supreme Court said that it was a-okay for Massachusetts residents to not fight in undeclared wars. Good to be in Massachusetts. Meanwhile, in 1966, the cast keeps filming on location.  

Tuesday, November 7, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: NOVEMBER 7


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 889

Barnabas emerges from the Leviathan altar and gives a relieved Julia a chilly greeting, zealously protecting the Naga Box. However, she knows he’s lying about using the I Ching to return, and now she’s on the scent. That enticed nose leads her right to Eliot Stokes, whose meaty musk relaxes her into asking him to track down Charles Delaware-Tate, whose painting she now possesses. Secretly, she thinks it might help Chris Jennings, whose former lover, Sabrina, is now a patient of Stokes’. Stokes, naturally, is having success where all have failed. He is coaxing speech from her formerly frozen lips as easily as he could a passionate kiss. But Sabrina knows that Chris is the werewolf, and if that secret is revealed, his life will be in dire jeopardy.

For a storyline that arguably spelled the (temporary) creative decline of the series, the Leviathan sequence gets off to a cracking start. Starting with Barnabas’ return to Collinwood, you can feel the burst of creativity and risk that was surging through the production. From that stupid pen, three years earlier, to Barnabas stepping out of a pagan altar and reciting an apocalyptic incantation: DARK SHADOWS, we hardly knew ye. I think if the show had jumped over the interminable, embryonic stages and simply brought us to Jeb Hawkes, unfettered and in full career, perhaps things might have fared better. But that’s unfair. As I said, this story starts more dynamically than any other in the series. If you want a cruel and cold Barnabas, here you are. Whether he’s doing it to save Josette or not, to see him in the service of a larger evil is to see the writers giving both Jonathan Frid and the character license to not give a damn. When a relationship is tenuous, there is always that fear that a long journey will somehow change a friend or lover, and Julia contends with a bit of both, here.  Instead of seeing her heartbroken, we see her galvanized into action. How refreshing and appropriate. But the entire episode is propulsive, and instead of each sequence being about fitting three minutes of story progression into ten minutes of dialogue, the moments here advance the plot and characters at a rate that matches any nighttime program. Chris Jennings has had it with the padded room and Stokes’ mojo takes Sabrina Stuart where no Hoffman has gone before. Speaking of which, how long are they going to keep Eliot in the dark? Why don’t Julia and Barnabas just bring him in on secrets like Chris Jennings? Clearly, he’s not going to run for the silver bullets. 

On this day in 1969, authorities were unable to stop Yoko Ono and John Lennon from releasing their second album in the UK. 

Monday, November 6, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: NOVEMBER 6


Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 623

In exchange for distracting Nicholas, Angelique sends Eve back in time to 1795. There, she visits her old lover Peter Bradford, who awaits execution for killin’ some guy. But he’s innocent. Because he’s Peter Bradford. She offers to help him escape, but he refuses. Her plan is to gather evidence to convince Jeff Clark that he’s really Peter Bradford. Meanwhile, Joshua orders Ben Stokes to destroy Vicki’s book of Collins history. Eve gets wind of this, and hoodwinks Ben into giving it up. Ultimately, she is unsuccessful in rescuing Peter, but she does get a note that he writes minutes before his execution, and she proclaims it to be exactly what she needs.

This is the kind of thing you could only get away with while the boss is in Tahiti. And yet, I have no evidence that Dan was in Tahiti. In fact, I could just as easily see him giggling like a demented toddler at the audacity of what the show was doing. Less than a year before, when 1795 began, I’m sure there was a mixture of excitement and “we’re doomed” at the ABC offices. Now, what the hell?  Let’s throw a 1960’s soap back to 1795 for a day. Why not? Better yet, why? The answer was simple. Sweeps. It’s when the Neilsen ratings really examine the books. Look at November, February, and May, and you’ll find shows doing things at their wackiest. In fact, around this time, 1795 was beginning for the 1967 year, they were doing another 1795 flashback in 1968… with another one coming in December, 1969 was introducing the Leviathans, and in 1970, the events leading to Quentin’s witchcraft trial are coming to a (severed) head (in a box). 

The episode itself is the kind of nutty, absurdist fun upon which Gordon Russell could always be relied. So often, his scripts feel like parodies of DARK SHADOWS that won’t quite come out and admit it. First, the patent lunacy of Peter Bradford being the end-all-be-all for both Vicki and, bafflingly, the most evil woman on earth, Danielle Roget, in Collinsport from France by way of the Yancy Street Gang. What was the attraction? Who throws a shoe? Honestly? If he has a shot, I do, too, and my dance card’s open. (Ahem, ahem, female DARK SHADOWS fans.) Then, Joshua gets so upset over his inability to avert Peter’s death that he orders a valuable book from the future to be burned. I guess it was cathartic. Danielle even tries to seduce the elderly gaol guard, who just seems weirded out by the whole thing, as if she has an unwholesome fetish with which he wants no part. It’s a lot of fun and an unofficial sequel to 1795 that makes me wish they’d checked back more frequently. Of course, Jeb Hawkes would also be anchored back here, making 1795 the Queen Mother of all jonbar hinges.

On this day in 1968, Richard Nixon defeated Washington beefcake and teen heartthrob, Hubert Humphrey, to become the 37th president of the United States. In many ways, his administrations would satisfy a conspicuous number of left-wing initiatives for a republican. If you want a smoking conspiracy gun, it’s that.

Friday, November 3, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: NOVEMBER 3


Taped on this day in 1967: Episode 357

The arrival of harassing attorney, Anthony Peterson, gives Julia the opportunity to liberate and relocate the journal -- now in Peterson’s office. Carolyn follows up with a bid to retrieve the manuscript, but Peterson, while intrigued, has the strength to stand up to her. For now.

Although Gordon Russell is credited as the author of this episode, this marks Sam Hall’s debut on the show as writer. Hall, a Yale-trained, seasoned playwright, would go on to become DARK SHADOWS' most prolific scribe. When teamed with the urbane wit, Gordon Russell, he helped to give the show its eventual and most definitive voice. He has a punchy, immediate, high-stakes sense of intensity and literate, dramatic grit that gives the show a sense of lofty purpose mixed with realistic and human urgency. His authorship would run through the last episode, two films, and the 1991 revival. Beyond creating Angelique, he penned a follow-up article for TV Guide after the show had been canceled, detailing what happened to the characters beyond the program’s end. Is it canon? Strong arguments can be made on both sides.

Coincidentally, it’s Jerry Lacy’s first episode as attorney, Anthony Peterson. Peterson takes up where Burke left off… another once-impoverished Collinsporter/self-made man with a desire to see Roger knocked down a peg. Peterson has a greater dash of realism to him, however. He’s less Ayn Rand and more Arthur Miller. We can see him wanting greater things and -- compared with Burke -- just falling short of the ring. There’s a humanity to that with more nuance than was found in the lantern-jawed Olympian played by Mitch Ryan and Anthony George. Burke is DC. Anthony Peterson is Marvel. And that’s the Sam Hall touch. Just as tough, but with a slightly more fragile sense of humanity. That would also be the balance Barnabas would demonstrate on his roads to redemption, rise, fall, and rise.

Hall’s theatrical chops are especially on display in the two hander he has for his wife, Grayson, and Jerry Lacy in Tony’s office. We get exposition that flows naturally, as well as  strength, vulnerability, adjustments, surprises, and astounding emotional range, all within terse, captivating dialogue. And Grayson really goes for that range. Perhaps too much so. It’s a scene worthy of the stage, and her laughter and tears are of a size that may be too grand for the small screen. Nevertheless, she knew this was Sam’s audition, and thus, really went to town.

On this day in 1967, the Battle of Dak To begins, becoming one of the bloodiest of the Vietnam War. 

Thursday, November 2, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: NOVEMBER 2


Taped on this day in 1967: Episode 356

Julia secrets her notebook from Carolyn and Barnabas. It’s location? The foyer’s grandfather clock. Barnabas tells Julia that she’s a dead woman as soon as it’s found, but Julia counters by saying it will be released to the outside world if it’s found. She and Carolyn come to a stalemate over it… until the Collinwood clock refuses to chime.

In this orgy of suspicion and insinuation, if feminine eyebrows were arched any higher, they’d be cracking through the floor of David’s bedroom. More than any episode of SEINFELD, this is truly an episode about nothing... but posturing, going from icy standoff to icy standoff that you just know is going to go nowhere. The stakes are high enough to make people cranky, but compared with Quentin’s ghost forcing the family out of Collinwood or Laura trying to burn David alive, things are clearly not at a “to the batpoles” level of emergency. I can’t imagine this didn’t bore the writers. And yet, there are things to consider. Barnabas must know that Julia is stubborn enough to not surrender the notebook. Why doesn’t he just bite her and extract the information? Perhaps, on some level, he knows that it would be wrong. Or simply a pain to deal with. And if the notebook were found, so what? They would appear to be the ravings of a pathological liar who’d been scamming the family for months, pretending to be a biographer. Good riddance. However, he needs Julia for one thing: reverse whatever whammy she has on Vicki. And that’s a noble purpose, indeed. At least he has Carolyn. I’ve always enjoyed the perverse Barnabas-Carolyn relationship. She’s the one agent for Barnabas who seems to take pride in her work. She may be ineffectual, but that doesn’t mean she’s not trying. Overall, however, Barnabas truly faces the Curse of the Metrosexual. He’s surrounded himself with women who spend all of their time either making him miserable or trying to tear each other apart. I’m not saying that he needs to become an MRA and spend all of his time watching soccer in his man cave, but he’s clearly in need of a Quentin to hang out with.

There are other reasons, related to production, as to why this section of the series is so stagnant. Burke is dead, and with him, the last of the pre-Barnabas tension is forever gone. Barnabas can’t remain a villain, and Julia is too interesting a Jiminy Cricket to do away with. Besides, Grayson Hall's husband, Sam, was about to see his first script for the show filmed the very next day! Yep, on November 3, episode 357 was Sam’s debut on the show. It wouldn’t be long before his punchy gravitas vitalized the show. I think what we’re seeing are the last gasps of Barnabas-as-villain winding down. We are just less than two weeks from the 1795 flashback, a storyline that would humanize Barnabas, bring in two real villains, and wind up back in a future where Barnabas would be cured quickly before he and Julia would team up against years of truly malevolent foes. I’m sure that the staff had figured out this general tonal shift. At the same time, they were stuck with two more weeks of programming. No storyline could be so vast as to be unsolvable in two weeks… nor could it be so innocuous that viewer tension would drain away before the great experiment of the 1795 origin story.

In the top 10 charts at this time was the Strawberry Alarm Clock’s “Incense and Peppermints,” a song that is an immediate ambassador to the era, used for great effect in BEYOND THE VALLEY OF THE DOLLS and AUSTIN POWERS: INTERNATIONAL MAN OF MYSTERY. 
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