Monday, December 11, 2017

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 11


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 385

Reverend Trask arrives to seek out the witch. Nathan Forbes, showing a broad streak of common sense, tries to get Vicki away, but to no avail. Similarly, Barnabas, fails in his attempts to exorcise the estate of the unordained clergyman. Trask kidnaps Vicki and ties her to a tree in a strange ritual he is convinced will prove her allegiance with Satan.

In 1967, DARK SHADOWS could afford to be progressive. Had this been written a few years later, maybe not so much. What changed? What set the clock back? A work of genius, unfortunately; ROSEMARY’S BABY, released the year after this episode aired.

The witch trial storyline lets the show have it both ways. Most importantly, the Collinses stand as voices of reason in the face of obvious fanaticism. On a horror show, a healthy dose of intellectual, anti-superstitious skepticism is bracing. Along with STAR TREK, DARK SHADOWS was a one-two punch of secular common sense in the genre. With, you know, vampires and werewolves and ghosts. But does it need a witch to facilitate Trask’s mission to play on the buried and forgotten fears of Collinsport, or are we all too vulnerable to hysteria? The scariest part of the show is to see the panic of the family as groupthink sweeps away common sense at the dawn of the 19th century. And there’s a witch in there anyway. Note how Angelique’s motives are all driven by love and desire, though. She’s not claiming Another Child for Satan. She may use dark powers, but she’s the only one at spiritual risk. She is a selfish sorcerer, not a dark missionary. Perfectly postmodern.

ROSEMARY’S BABY would change that. For decades, the devil had been a properly comical figure of cartoonish ridicule. He was Hot Stuff. He hung around on cans of potted ham and turpentine. He was a school mascot, for Pete’s sake. But he lurked in the deepest recesses of our instinctive mythology, anyway, and Roman Polanski released that fear and that side of him. A “Satanic Panic” resulted in pop culture, and despite the fact that the nation was at its most guardedly secular, the devil was back. But this was before all of that. Before the dark times. Before the Empire. Seeing Abigail and Trask as the new, threatening villains of the show dates it, and dates it in the best way. Never before has supernaturalism been so aligned with bullying. DARK SHADOWS is making a very strong statement here, and a subtle one. How many benevolent religious figures do we get on the show as significant characters? Exactly. None. But those Trasks just keep coming. This is DARK SHADOWS at its most subversive, and it’s a credit to the strength, creativity, and dedication of actors Jerry Lacy and Clarice Blackburn that we see it with its strangely fevered integrity. Yes, they are motivated by a communitarian ethos. No issue there. And they still seem like bullies beyond that.  All angles and obsidian, Jerry Lacy is the ideal counterpoint against Lara Parker, a French vanilla elision of aristocratic curves and indulgently refined contours. Even her voice has a gracefully playful mellifluousness that dips and rises like a Billy May arrangement, much too marvelous when set against the jagged ice of Lacy’s feral, slam-bang treatment of the language. She’s not in this episode, but since she has star-powered the storyline both as a character and as actress, we feel the confrontation coming.

Welcome, Reverend Trask.

Satanically speaking, the original BEDAZZLED had that very effect on delighted audiences right around this time in 1967. 

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