Monday, December 31, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 31


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1186

Just when you thought it was safe to go back to the east wing, Parallel Time is here to stay. But will Daphne go with it? Morgan Collins: Keith Prentice. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Quentin is sentenced to a beheading and denied an appeal as Barnabas schemes for a new plan of action. Meanwhile, Gabriel overhears Edith and Gerard in the throes of passion and subsequently kills her. Daphne stumbles onto the Parallel Time room where her double confronts a sister, Catherine, who is ambiguous over a marriage proposal from Morgan Collins. She is still in love with a prior flame.

The future coughs significantly in the wings as 1840 begins fumbling for its boarding pass, and the transition is a complex, rich delight, and easily the most nuanced storyline transition of any on the show. It has become a huge universe, and a “transish” should not be a tidy thing.

1186 is typical of the 1840 storyline. It packs in all of the thematic and ritualistic good stuff we look for in DS and skips the repetitive running-in-place that so often turns off new viewers. I know, because I watched it with someone who had only passing familiarity with the program, and it kept his attention on more than a polite level. In one episode, we have…

  1. The results of a witch trial, where the real world contends with the supernatural, and vice-versa. 
  2. The remorse from one friend toward a troubled other, defying expectation and ending with threats over the stewardship of Collinwood.
  3. The revelation of romance within.
  4. Quentin’s Theme as ghostly bait.
  5. A seemingly disabled man stands and kills his wife.
  6. Someone ventures near Parallel Time. 

It’s an almost dizzyingly dense combination of show elements. Are the writers getting desperate or are they just tired of ploddingly plotting at the strangely arrested pace demanded by the medium? It’s cosmically irrelevant. By this point, Dark Shadows has become its own medium and it is finding a tempo commensurate with the intelligence of its audience. Hey, you guys… the ones complaining that we suddenly have to tune in for every episode? Yeah, please go watch General Hospital or something. The rest of us like tuning in for every episode, and now we get even more great stuff per installment.

It’s a brisk, witty, suspenseful installment full of satisfying moments and strange wonder. Anything that begins with the threat of a beheading can’t be all bad, and the surrounding treatment of government bureaucracy should please anyone in the jaws of a mindless machine. When Barnabas appeals the impending separation of Quentin and Head, he’s told that, since there’s no precedent for that kind of crime & punishment, there’s no precedent for appeal. It’s reasoning that’s delivered with all of the confidence we expect from a bureaucrat who has no idea what’s going on, and who cares even less if you know it. With a week before the inevitability of death and axes, you’d think that Barnabas might want to, you know, send to Boston for a real lawyer, but he’s too busy working himself up to more harebrained schemes. What? We’ll have to find out.

This is an intensely head-oriented storyline, and as we see Gerard in vague remorse for Quentin, it could be that it’s both genuine and strategic. I never really know how much of what we see at this point is Gerard and how much is Judah Zachery, and I like to believe that it’s far more of the latter. Meanwhile, Christopher Pennock, perennial hero of the Daybook, knows that Gabriel is going into the windup for his exit and is relishing it. Gabriel may be the most dynamic and unpredictable limited-lifespan character on the show, and after brief, saving salvos of help and wit, he’s going for the Gloucester award with gusto. It’s a shame to see Terry Crawford go since Edith is the opposite of the simp that was Beth, but what an exit. 1840 admirably mixes the supernatural monsters with the real. The buildup of Gabriel in the wheelchair is suspenseful enough that a double dip of arise-and-kill is completely welcome, and Pennock’s towering height adds to the menace.

Speaking of double dips, it’s back to Parallel Time. Has Dark Shadows finally admitted that it works best as a period piece? With the exception of about 1710-1760, 1860, and 1920-1940, Dark Shadows has explored its timeline thoroughly, and even the treat of visiting one of those periods would be a challenge given the strictures of the mythos (not that it ever stopped the writers before). At this point, the only way forward is sideways, and the introduction of Morgan Collins and a mysterious “other man” expands the DSU and harkens back to its sudsy origins. Morgan is in the classic mold of the Dan Curtis tall-dark-and-baritone leading man, which sets up a great bait-and-switch when Bramwell enters the picture. I don’t begrudge Jonathan Frid wanting the opportunity to play an earthier leading man. Less fun, ultimately, for Lara Parker. She’s commented that Angelique was too much of a goody-goody, which is true when the character’s not trying to murder children, and if that is the case, Catherine may be the chance to Be Real Pretty, but I’m not sure she’s more interesting as a figure of agency.

The underrated 1840 is entering its climax and denouement. Shifting completely to an entirely new storyline, with no substantive crossover, may be the program’s biggest gamble. Any ongoing crossover character would have been an ill fit, anyway, and the strangely mature 1841PT storyline finishes the show in a manner both familiar and strikingly different. Look beyond the surface, and what seems like “more of the same” is quite the opposite. Dark Shadows is about cycles, and the only thing left after  1841PT is Vicki’s arrival in 1966 Main Time… followed by the rest of the series, chronologically. The eventual and stable union of Bramwell and Catherine is the opposite of the seething mistrust and betrayals experienced by both Roger and Elizabeth in their Main Time marriages. It shows us the arc — not of “the characters,” but of Characters in the story of Dark Shadows. Only at Collinwood is the brightest future in the distant past… and in a parallel universe, at that.

This episode was broadcast Jan. 11, 1971.

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 27


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 660

Barnabas may be able to defy the centuries to save Victoria, but can he defy Julia? Julia: Grayson Hall. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Spurred by a photo that Quentin had David plant, Barnabas is convinced that he should go back in time and save Victoria Winters from being hanged as a witch. Stokes and Julia voice doubts, but the appearance of graves from the past convince him that he must proceed.

Finding purpose. It’s an onus for everyone. For Barnabas, even moreso, and the sheer amount of Dark Shadows makes it more than possible for him to explore that question… it makes it essential. At a certain point, what else are you going to do with these people for hundreds of hours. They can’t drink brandy and talk about a pen forever.

For the first time, we really see Barnabas contending with living in the past and present at once. At least, for the first time since his arrival and conversion. Just because he’s no longer a supernatural man doesn’t mean he’s immune to feeling the effects of the supernatural. The show opened the time travel can o’worms when Barnabas was first unleashed. Unusual time travel, but time travel nonetheless. We are all time travelers in a very similar sense, just on a different scale. One of the reasons the show resonates is that the past is always living with us… and living us… whether we like it or not. Conventional wisdom tells us not to focus on that. It’s pointless. But Barnabas has no choice, and here he’s confronted with a chance to do something about it. Will it change him? No. It will change others, and changing others for the better, rather than the worse, is perhaps one small way he can make cosmic amends. With Nicholas Blair out of the way, Barnabas is on the other side of intimidation. After he smashes the equipment to revive Eve, we see a different character. While the past thirty or so episodes have been a warmup, now Barnabas at his best and fullest is striding onto the field. It’s an appropriately timed emerging, since it’s in the service of taking the baton from the retiring protagonist. Fitting that it should happen in 1796, the year he left his home and the year she finally found hers — both in a life after death after life.

The show rarely deals in parallelism and metaphor, but it reaches for something beautifully sophisticated here. Julia takes on the role of parent, telling Barnabas again and   again he can’t will himself through time. Similarly, Barnabas tells the children they can’t go to Boston. David becomes a strange conscience for Barnabas when he complains that adults get to do as they please, only to be told it only seems this way. But this clearly sticks with Barnabas as he realizes that he does have free will, and that living a life where it is inhibited is to live the life of an intimidated child. He’s not even going to be intimidated by his own past, as we see when he comes as close as possible to outing himself to Stokes, only to be stopped by Julia, coughing like a sitcom character in a hamfisted coverup.

This begins a story that both stands independently, like a primetime episode, and connects the beginning of the series to its eventual resolution. Victoria has come looking for a purpose, and Barnabas will end by finding his. In between, they meet. 630 comes roughly halfway through the series. No episode nor arc could be more fitting.

This episode was broadcast Jan. 3, 1969.

Tuesday, December 25, 2018

Synchronize your clocks: It's the Bewitching Hour

'Tis the season to be wary: Despite what a thousand classic Christmas songs might tell you, the holiday season has the potential to be the most dangerous time of the year. According to the BMJ medical journal, your chance of having a heart attack peaks on Christmas Eve. Retail crime sees a spike in December. Robberies, burglaries and assault see a renewed interest around eves Christmas and New Year's, the same time of year that the baby eating Grýla and her more charming cousin Krampus nurse their grudges against children. It's enough to make you want to stay indoors and curl up with a book.

Which brings me to my point: There's a new Bodice Tipplers podcast! This episode brings together that most nefarious of holidays, Christmas, with our perennial heroines, witches. Sara and Courtney dive into Anne Stuart's 1986 novel "Bewitching Hour," the kind of nightstand reading that involves characters with names like "Sybil Richardson" and "Nick Fitzsimmons." The jacket summary uses the word "coming" about 18 times in case you have any doubts about the text/subtext of the novel. Also: witchcraft. It's like someone looked into Stevie Nicks' soul, wrote a book just for her and then deleted all the references to cocaine.

You can listen to the podcast below, and remember to visit the Bodice Tipplers website for additional background and reading recommendations. Merry Christmas!

Friday, December 21, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 21


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1179/1180

What’s formerly undead, used to subsist on blood, was almost murdered by a key witness, and now is Collinsport’s newest lawyer? Meet Barnabas Collins for the defense! Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

As Trask and Dawson seem triumphant, and as Quentin roasts without an attorney, Barnabas appears on the scene and takes over the case. He later catches Trask in several logical fallacies regarding his own participation in the occult, and although Trask fakes a coronary, Barnabas has already trapped him. Dawson turns the tables by bringing up Quentin’s relationship with the ghost of Joanna Mills, but this is turned upside down when a woman claiming to be Joanna mills enters the courtroom, asking to testify.

Pure joy. For a Dark Shadows fan with sensibilities like mine, that’s what this is. Victory at last!

They might as well have just allowed Jonathan Frid to come bursting in through the window, swinging on a rope attached to nothing but well-earned self-satisfaction. Would anyone have objected? He’s already wearing a cape. I have no objections to Lara Parker also dressed as Batgirl, although now that I think about it, this puts Grayson Hall in a Robin uniform. Yeah. Picture it. Merry Christmas. Not everyone can fill Dick Grayson’s tights like Thayer David, but Stokes isn’t in this episode.

It’s never been easy to get particularly excited about the Joanna Mills storyline, however the punchline of this episode can make even that an exciting moment. It’s one more victory for the heroes, perhaps, and yet another defeat for Trask and Dawson. Barnabas, by the way, makes a decent lawyer. This is another case for the classical education. Unfortunately, by the 20th century, specifically the 60s, I’m not sure there is much call for that. But this is still an era where your distant cousin might need an impromptu advocate, and the man doesn’t flinch. I have heard some people criticize this moment in the show as being one of the wackier non sequiturs in the latter part of the series. To me, it’s one of the most logical. It’s not like he’s a member of a vampire union that restricts its members. And if he work, I think Angelique cured him of his membership.

Barnabas isn’t allowed to have many moments like these because he’s too busy suffering; I’ll admit, the man is good at it. Maybe that’s why these vacations are so satisfying. Or maybe they’re just satisfying because, you know, they’re satisfying. Bad people are getting their keisters served up with bright, red apples in their… okay. Bad example. Or the perfect example? You tell me. In either case, the moment he enters the courtroom and the visit to Trask’s mortuary stand right alongside his revenge on Laura and the final moments of Nicholas Blair, part the first. He’s in the revenge business, not just for things like walling him up, but for all of it, from Josette leaping off the hill to Willie cracking his buttons while ironing. The whole magilla. Life is stingy with him.

Of course, much of the heavy lifting is brought to us by Jerry Lacy, who helplessly stammers as well as he excoriates. Lacy understands fear. It’s what motivates both his fright and fury. We cheer Barnabas as he vows a slow  revenge on Trask. Impatiently, we also just want him to get on with it, and if you’ve seen the show before, you know that Barnabas’ victory simply sets him up for final defeat worse than any he’s experienced. Of course, the slow burn of a revenge is what the DSU has taught him is appropriate, and we begin to buy it, too. But there’s revenge and there’s cruelty. By turning one into the other, you make yourself vulnerable to even greater suffering. That’s a lesson usually reserved for villains, but in this case, it’s for a hero.

But that day hasn’t come yet. The sun shines on Barnabas and Quentin with a  rare iridescence. Let’s enjoy it. This episode is a very pure pleasure, and Dark Shadows delivers a lot of things, but moments like the ones in this episode are some of the most fleeting.

This episode was broadcast Dec. 31, 1970.

Night of Drag Shadows

It's not a secret that I don't like Tim Burton's take on Dark Shadows. On a good day you could argue that MPI Home Video convinced Warner Brothers to spend millions of dollars to market their audacious "coffin box set," a product they might not have otherwise been able to afford to release. But that doesn't mean the movie was any good. You know it, I know it, and in those rare moments of the day when Johnny Depp isn't high as a kite, even he knows it.

But! Six years after Dark Shadows limped into the theater, this happened. I'm not going to attempt to describe these videos for fear that my priviledged, cisgender ass might unintentionally drop some inappropriate/obsolete terminology ... but I love this. It almost redeems Burton's film.

I look forward to reading the comments about this post on Facebook, many of which will probably be written without the benefit of actually having clicked on the link. Release the hounds!

(h/t to @PhilNobileJr)

Wednesday, December 19, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 19


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 392

There goes the neighborhood for Joshua when Barnabas announces he’s gone coconuts for an island girl! Will a walking corpse walk her down the aisle? Joshua Collins: Louis Edmonds. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas visits Josette at Jeremiah’s grave, tortured by his reasons for marrying. Her quiet insight remains as placid and piercing as ever. Later, Joshua bristles at the news of the wedding, and insists they move into Collinwood at once. Seeking to disrupt what may be rekindling feelings between Barnabas and Josette, Angelique resurrects Jeremiah.

What a sad, pained, mature, little gem of an episode. Everyone tries to make the best of it until there’s nothing left to do but reanimate the corpse of a beloved relative shot by another beloved relative. We’ve all been there. This is 1795 at its best, focusing on crucial depictions of character in conversations that define not only where they’ve come from, but where they are, where they are destined to go. But not just where they are destined to go… these are moments that define the future of the Collinses, as well. Everyone needs to be applauded for their acting in this one, because the humanity they show really reveals the truths of their contradictions and the contradictions of their truths. None more so than Joshua.

It’s easy to carry Naomi’s flag. She gets to be one of that handful of strong-willed-women-in-a-time-when-such-things-were-rare, and very proud we are of all of them. In that era, it’s only a handful, because any more is a waste. Joan Bennett excels at taking unbradge in the name of Decency and punctuating it with ultimatums. The writers clearly knew this was her strength because when she got to do anything else, it made the papers from here to Ulang Goom. Naomi is a voice of aristocratic uncommon sense until she, you know, kills herself. Largely to make another point -- largely that it’s wildly depressing to see your own son bite his cousin after Labor Day. Barnabas’ mother always was a bit extreme.

Joshua continues to reveal himself to be perhaps the saddest character among the profoundly Gloomy Gusses of 1795.

(Ok, maybe he’s not as sad as Barnabas when he shoots his uncle or sees Josette jump to her death because of the inhuman monster he’s become... or like that one time when he begs his own father to execute him. Or when he kills those prostitutes before he even gets a receipt for tax season. I don’t think he walked away from those tragic moments with his thumbs popping his suspenders and whistling “Turkey in the Straw,” buying the local orphans a round of daiquiris at the Eagle. [Historians would argue this is actually because “Turkey in the Straw” had not yet been written by Frederic Chopin and the daiquiri wouldn’t exist before the Spanish-American War. Truth be told, historians would argue anyway just to kill time while they’re waiting for more history to happen.] And I guess Vicki’s frown was maybe hard to turn upside down when the noose was placed around her neck for crimes she never commited, finally suspecting that Peter Bradford was no Dan Fielding. Of course, Dan was a prosecutor, so laws of nature prevent him from defending witches. And what’s the point of Markie Post if she’s not dressed like Elektra Woman? He’s a fictional character from even further in the future, so he’s of no help, anyway. Why was she thinking of him? And besides, we’ll never know if her frown turned upside down because they put her head in a bag to stop her from hyperventilating, which is a sight that really disturbs the kids and ruins a perfectly good hanging for everyone. Then there’s Naomi, again. She was arguably having a case of the Mondays that one time when she drank poison and ended her life. So, yeah, okay, okay, there are a maybe few other cranky fussbudgets hanging around in 1795. But if you exclude those whiny sad sacks, you’ll concede that Joshua is the tragic one.)

(And here’s why.)

Edmonds absolutely nails the performance of an incredibly fearful and tender man forced by his era to adopt complete rigidity. Everything he does is to fortify the Collins name, and it’s clear that no one -- not even he -- can live up to the standard they’ve bought into. Was it for business? Was it to keep the locals from seeing the man behind the curtain and ransacking the place? Was it because he absolutely believed in the highest standards and was going to craft the illusion until the rest of life caught up with him? Pessimist? Idealist? Yes to all. He even built a gargantuan mansion when he already had a gargantuan mansion, and for a family of five. It is the ultimate conspicuous consumption. Hardly an Old World sensibility. Correction. Joshua is an Old World bulwark forced to both exaggerate what he delivers for the bold frontier and maintain English dignity to the end. He both believes it and doubts it to the end, and the result is nothing but death and dissolution. There isn’t a so much a vampire soap opera; this is Arthur Miller every day at 4:30.

The episode is an embarrassment of riches elsewhere. Angelique has “the talk” with Naomi and Joshua about love and class mobility, and you can see Joshua caught between his sense of social propriety and his firm belief in the opportunities of America. Lara Parker navigates between the caste structure and optimistic common sense in a way that’s neither obsequious nor arrogant. You see a great woman here, and it underlines the exasperating circumstances that took that wise greatness and fused it with the evil of desperation. She didn’t need to turn out this way… a few hundred years and yet only 45 years hence, she won’t.

Equally winning is Josette. The scene in the graveyard with Barnabas is a masterclass by Kathryn Leigh Scott in portraying that strange, quiet wisdom that only comes from total decimation. Josette is a character we are so often told we must adore. Often, she’s just a bit of a porcelain doll. But not here. Here, we get it. Here, we see the controlled, intelligent woman for whom it could be argued Collinwood was ultimately built. It’s a Solomonic slow burn, and it’s one of our first glimpses of why Barnabas will risk everything for her, again and again.

The society of 1795 made these characters inhuman long before a curse did. In 392, we see the humanity that has struggled -- and will continue to struggle -- within.

This episode was broadcast Dec. 26, 1967.

Another Very Special Holiday Review: The Christmas Presence


“You know, Good Will to All Men and stuff…” “And that’s enough to forgive me?” “For today? Yeah.”

Happy Yule, Ghouls! It is me again! Your favorite elf typing away from my snow covered roll top (there is a hole in the ceiling). Here is a real conversation that Wallace McBride and I had about the subject of today missive:

Me: Do we have a copy of The Christmas Presence? Or has that one already been done?

Wallace: It has not!

*a second later*

Wallace: I think it involves a turkey dinner coming to life. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to it, but some people HATE it.

*another second later*

Wallace: Like, Jar-Jar Binks hate.

*furiously and instantly typed from my end*

Me: GAHAHAH WHAT?! OH, man, now I’m SUPER excited

And honestly?! I don’t get it! Much more explicitly ABOUT Christmas, this blast from the range’s early past is a tremendously fun romp, one that revels in the mythos of the show and it’s emerging audio canon. Better still, this was the first audio that I have listened to here that actually felt and played like a TV episode! The gang is all here! Barnabas! (kinda) Willie! Maggie Evans! And the rest! Sure that turkey bit is ... a lot, but for my money, The Christmas Presence is a worthy addition to the “Christmas Special” canon. Right alongside the Rankin and Bass clay things and “Five Characters in Search of an Exit.” Shall we?

Though it was released in September of 2006 (something of a pattern for Big Finish’s Dark Shadows Christmas efforts), Scott Handcock’s script is very much in the Christmas Spirit. But fortunately for us it is more inspired by Krampus (a highly underrated Christmas horror film) than Christmas Vacation. Children have been going missing from Collinsport, but Quentin Collins (a warm, paternal performance from David Selby) has his own family to worry about. He sends out a psychic message to his family on Christmas Eve, but someone ... someTHING answers in his kin’s stead. Something hungry and something wearing the face of a friend.

Right from the jump, Handcock and director Gary Russell are leaning into the audio landscape of the season, integrating creepy carols into the story and playing up actor Toby Longworth’s jovial, but menacing vocal performance. But back up in Collinwood, the pair are taking some of our favorites through the preparation and anticipation for the holidays, giving the horror of the cold open a merry layer of pathos right underneath in the episode’s first part. It was here that I was struck at just how authentic to the TV episodes this story felt. I have talked a bit about how some of the later series do this, but those feel much more like a cohesive “expanded” universe that can stand on it’s own. But this one? It really felt like I was listening to a serial on a overly large tube TV once again and it was absolutely delightful.

Of course, while the script and direction deliver the foundation of a good Dark Shadows yarn, they are immediately classed up by the stable of wonderful actors that the range attracts. This also continues to add to the authenticity of the line. I have spoken at length about how great regulars like Lara Parker, David Selby, and Kathryn Leigh Scott are and if you’re here, you get it too. They again impress here, especially Parker who gets to display a more domestic and empathetic Angelique, but I was truly happy to hear John Karlen back in the fold! Even better, this episode was a much better display of Andrew Collins’ prowess as the newly regenerated Barnabas Collins. I loved his inclusion in Bloodlust, but I didn’t really get the best sense of him. Thankfully The Christmas Presence gave me that in spades, along with some fantastic Collins family supernatural hijinks, wrapped in the beautiful trappings and melancholies of Christmas.

Even despite a dead turkey coming to life and attacking Maggie (a scene in which everyone plays DEADLY straight which kind of adds to the charm TBH), The Christmas Presence is a lovely, spooky good time and is undeserving of the derision foisted upon it by a picky fandom. It could just be that I have low standards. I dunno. But I had a blast with this one and I feel like you and yours would to if you wanted to give it a spin while decorating your tree. But honestly if you haven’t got a tree by now, it might be a waste of good listening (and drinking eggnog) time.

From us to you, Happy Christmas, and I’ll be seeing you.   

Justin Partridge has always loved monsters and he thinks that explains a lot about him. When he isn’t over analyzing comics at Newsarama or ranting about Tom Clancy over at Rogues Portal, he is building Call of Cthulhu games, spreading the good word of Anti-Life, or rewatching Garth Marenghi's Darkplace for the dozenth time. He can be reached at the gasping Lovecraftian void that is Twitter @j_partridgeIII or via e-mail at Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.   

Tuesday, December 18, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 18


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1174/1175

As Quentin’s trial heats up, why do Letitia and Desmond find themselves on the stand for crimes of the black arts? Letitia: Nancy Barrett. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Samantha is confounded when her actual “Joanna Mills “ plot seems undone by an actual ghost. Gerard and Dawson plot to draw in Letitia into the trial. The next day, her testimony accidentally hangs Desmond with the blame for bringing the head to Quentin. Desmond is discharged as advocate and charged with witchcraft, too.

So, he spells it ‘Zachery.’ Well, there you go. 

And in such a nutty font. Why not? Especially when he uses it in a book that gets Desmond, Quentin, and Letitia -- by implication or by quote -- by the short hairs. One of the reasons I prefer the 1840 witch trial to the one 45 (or 3-ish) years prior is that, in this case, there’s vaguely more to have a trial about because the defendants, technically, are kinda/sorta guilty of some of the things ostensibly in the same neighborhood as the charges. It brings a challenging ambiguity to the event, and I can’t say that about 1795. It actually has something in common with the Scopes trial. Beyond the fact that John Scopes taught evolution in neither Dayton nor Collinsport.

In both of the cases, the issue -- as pop history understands it -- was not whether the practices of witchcraft and evolution were right or wrong. It was whether or not someone had broken a law. It was illegal to practice witchcraft. It is illegal to evolve in Tennessee. Quentin and Desmond certainly give them plenty of material to work with, and when I watch it, I feel like one part of culture is grabbing the other by the lapels in an attempt to talk some horse-sense.

And my, how culture has changed since Victoria’s trial. Fascinating how it’s transformed in the time since we met a ghost named Quentin, as well. In those instances, you can see snapshots of progress headed to now. Vicki, for instance, had nothing to do with witchcraft. It was an evil practice that caused misery to all. Well, all except Angelique. These things had to be secret at one time, even if tangentially involved. Victoria was from the future, for instance, and this secret would be her undoing, seen as the height of black magic. Barnabas was familiar with her secret, but gained understanding with it -- as did the audience. Little did he know that one day, by living in the future, Barnabas would be living in Victoria’s secret. And fighting for the future of it.

In 1897, Quentin II was a decent guy, eventually, despite the dark rites. Just grab a blue candle and look past them. But by the filming of the 1840 sequence, there were new household names to learn along with a new spiritual ethos on the rise. Sybil Leek and Jane Roberts, specifically, were names to know. Dark Shadows, itself, was an agent of pop cultural reevaluation. Edgar Cayce books were getting regular reprints, appealing to what would morph into the New Age movement over the next ten years. TIME Magazine asked if God were dead. It was finally a good time to be an occultist. Quentin and Desmond approach the black arts in Victorian finery, bearing full heads of hair, with matinee idol good looks and the intentions of benevolent pseudoscientists. They are not victims of mistaken identity, although they keep the occult jazz on the downlow. The villain is an ignorant society guided by the agendas of Gerard and Lamar. And the implication is that the audience will be cool with that. I suspect that’s the case. If the 1840 storyline is a herald of progress, it’s in that regard, because we’ve seen much of the rest of it before. As with much of the show, it’s cyclical storytelling; Dark Shadows returns again and again to do variations on specific themes, characters, and plot turns. Later variants may or may not be as lovable as earlier ones, but they’re always enlightening and always suitably different. In this case, what happens if we do exactly the same trial, but invert almost every important detail… down to the one-time and seeming powerlessness of Barnabas, himself.

The result is a vicious, tight courtroom drama with high suspense and genuine food for thought. This is what you get for messing around with a disembodied head.  But enough about the Scopes trial.

This episode was broadcast Dec. 24, 1970.

Monday, December 17, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 17


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 652/653

When Maggie gets an invitation to move on up to the deluxe mansion on the hill, will she take her turn with a bat or strike out? Joe Haskell: Joel Crothers. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Liz is recovering, but still senses danger and refuses to sleep. Worried for the children, she instructs Barnabas to hire Maggie as tutor. Amy has a premonition of Joe as the werewolf’s next victim. At the Evans cottage, that’s exactly what happens.

I’m sure someone has a solution out there, but why isn’t Joe a werewolf? Or Tom? If Joe is a cousin, that means that he shares a grandparent with Chris, Tom, and Amy. This would be Quentin’s daughter, Lenore. In researching it, I was reminded that the first born is the only one to carry the curse, so it was nice for Fetus Tom to hold the door for Fetus Chris. Well, there goes that Daybook column topic. Either way, it’s fallout from the future and past. 1897 so beautifully colors the present that it’s sometimes a shame to see the show in broadcast, rather than chronological, order. If you’ve never done it, take advantage of streaming, etc, and give it a try. The first time through, it’s a mystery program. Not just whodunnit, but a whydunnit. After that, the show is yours, and don’t forget it. Some complain about the number of episodes. I say it’s a blessing. Even with the constant meddling in the timeline, a chronological reading beautifully colors the present, telling the story from the family-outward rather than the tale of a curious governess, gazing inward.

To do that is a madman’s campaign, so here is an incomplete and inaccurate list to help you. The show jumps around a lot, and this will violate the warranty, but try it anyway.

1140, 1144 (1690)
365-460 (1795)
623 (1795)
662-666 (1795)
885-887 (1795)
938 (1795)
1110-1198 (1840)
701-885 (1897)
900 (1949)
1-365, 461-701,  (1966)
888-980 (1969-1970)
1071-1109 (1970)
1061-1070 (1995)

The closest I came to attempting this was when I wrote the Collins Chronicles in 2014 and began the series with the 1795 flashback, jumped to Barnabas being released in 1966, and then, when Vicki went through time, I jumped ahead to her return. This put everything from Barnabas’ point of view. Hard to think of it any other way, after.

This episode finds us focusing on Maggie, Joe, and unseen characters, like David and Vicki. All are knit up in the changing of the tutorial guard. Maggie is finally in the house as governess, despite any given qualifications other than availability and already being on contract at ABC. My assumption is that Maggie has a really weird degree from a semi-unaccredited college run by one of Sam’s beatnik friends, which admirably prepared her for a career in diner operations. (I’m sure David and Amy hear the word hegemony a lot.) Do you know why Vicki is a j-e-r-k? Because she took her job. It had to be the hottest gig in Collinsport, despite and because of having to live at Collinwood. I’m sure Roger dropped hints about it every time the check arrived at the table. Free coffee and pie for years, folks. And THAT’S how the rich stay rich.

Ultimately, it’s been a long time coming. The show has almost always been confused about its primary female protagonist. (My vote is for Liz, actually.) Yes, yes, ostensibly Vicki, but the minute the Josette portrait was “cast,” the focus shifted off of her. Even after Kathryn Leigh Scott played the part for months in a flashback, they unsuccessfully tried to shoehorn Vicki in as having the spirit of Josette. Whatever that means. Ultimately, not as much as they’d hoped. Looking at the early episodes, it’s curious to think of a time when Josette was the only supernatural presence. Or at least, the only one with a distinct personality. It’s only after 1795 that we realize how many competing specters are potentially haunting the joint. Bathia Mapes, Abigail, Naomi… yeah, Naomi! Where’s her ghost? The First Lady of Collinwood died on site! Not even on/off Widow’s Hill. The more the producers try to retro-bond Vicki and Josette, the more diffuse the character becomes. Meanwhile, Maggie says “Pop” a lot, drinks Cuba Libres at the Blue Whale, and waits for her promotion. When it happens, you can immediately feel that there’s a slightly more hip and aware vibe in the offing.

When Barnabas gives her the news, the show employs one of its cleverest editing tricks. For a program with a very deliberate, realistic, predictable editing style, this feels like something out of A Hard Day’s Night. About ten minutes in, Barnabas is on the phone in the drawing room, telling Maggie and Joe about Vicki’s disappearance. Barnabas gives the news, and it quickly fades to a shot of the couch, where Joe (with Maggie) is reacting, as if in the same thread of conversation. This is one of the show’s fastest transitions in time and a sophisticated piece of storytelling for the program.

Lela Swift and the gang have a lot of fun here other places, including the werewolf depicted in a human bed, sleeping peacefully until awaking profoundly confused. Stunt coordinator Alex Stevens has the most expressive eyes on the program. If I were a werewolf, awakening tucked in on a bed, I’d have the same reaction.

After awakening like this, he has little choice but to attack Joe Haskell. All shtick aside, it’s a brutal attack, and Joe seems even more vulnerable because of the business suit that gives him an extra veneer of sophistication. Joel Crothers beautifully delivers a mix of compassion and a strange impatience, and it looks like art mirroring life. We’ve been sensing the fraying of Joe Haskell for some time as he disintegrates mentally and as a voice of human reason. Both Crothers and Haskell have two more episodes after this. Like a tremor, Joe will go the way of madness, just as Maggie will a bit under two years from now. Casualties to mixing it up with immortals. It’s the price for being little people at Collinwood. Vicki paid it by murder and marriage in another century. Joe and Maggie will pay it at Windcliff. This episode was Joe’s breaking point. It was also Maggie’s. It will just take her and her optimism far longer to pay the price. That’s the cost of admission to a new world of gods and monsters. 

Joe is neither. He is, in fact, us.

This episode was broadcast Dec. 24, 1968.

Friday, December 14, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 14


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 388

Can threatening the life of an innocent child land a girl the man of her dreams? Angelique is about to find out! Angleique: Lara Parker. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Angelique revels when she cajoles Barnabas into admitting that he hates Josette. His animosity is short-lived, however, and as Trask tries to exorcise Vicki, Barnabas admits that he still loves his former fiancée. Angelique reacts by threatening Sarah’s life.

Is it any wonder that Barnabas is so obsessed with Josette? Actually, I’m not sure that he is. If he’s obsessed with anything, it’s feeling like more than a dope. The one who’s obsessed with Josette is Angelique. It’s all some bizarre inversion of #MeToo as Barnabas is a vaguely powerless employer at his harassing employee’s beck and call. Not satisfied with destroying Barnabas’ engagement and landing his insincere kisses, Angelique won’t rest until he literally says he hates Josette. The only thing that would have satisfied her more would be if he’d crossed his arms and stamped his feet while he did it. Inevitably, this just makes him morbidly curious about why she hates Josette so much. Nothing drives someone into the arms of a rival like talking about them constantly.

It’s a painful episode for everyone. Angelique is uniquely relentless in her quiveringly ecstatic campaign to force Barnabas to curse his “new aunt” to the rafters. Frid’s native, on-camera jitteriness sells Barnabas’ uncertain commitment, at times looking like he’d rather kiss the Collinsport Afghan than plant one on Angelique. Nevertheless, he later shows more compassion than most when having, I kid you not, a “let’s be friends” treaty with Angelique. As unspeakably cruel as she is this this episode, extending her envious rage even to Barnabas’ kid sister, I can’t fault Angelique for not accepting the demotion. It’s the extent of the refusal that is appropriately appalling. Angelique’s strength lies in her audacity. She is emotion given life, and as such, an anti-Spock… and the Klingon that Martok only thought he was. The character is eventually one of the show’s most admirable. She just has to kill a child, first.

Her threat is so horrific that Barnabas wouldn’t fathom anyone, even Angelique, carrying it out. That’s evil’s secret. It’s shockingly honest. They got it wrong when they stuck Satan with the title, “Prince of Lies.” Lies are small-time and timid. Lies are products of fear. Real evil is fearless, perhaps out of ignorance. Perhaps out of audacity. It not only makes its plans known… it serves them up under glass. It’s anticipation and delivery. Angelique delivers both.

On her part, she learns the eventual decency to make up for it. It’s under strange circumstances… immortality, where the memory of your misdeeds is probably a worse punishment than the agnosticism that accompanies death. Atonement becomes a lifestyle by necessity. Barnabas exists on both sides of the spectrum. He would live -- and not live -- to take her seriously. The guilt, anger, and ongoing memory of powerlessness explains the spectrum of his behavior. Evil used him, so he might as well use it. In for a penny, in for a pound. All of that. And then, like Angelique, a cycle of constant reconciliation. It’s a ruthless contrition for both of them, but contrition anyway. In a story of many breaking points, is this not just a one, but THE one? It can be hard to respect Barnabas as the endlessly complex, troubled hero that he is when you see his actions upon first arriving in the 20th century. He’s become old companions with death. The acquaintance costs him everyone he loves. We know what he goes through to see Sarah again. To have even one of the others back -- Josette, in this case? Yes, murdering strangers to feed, kidnapping to court, and brainwashing to propose? That’s nothing compared to what he feels he condemned Sarah to suffer. This is moral madness, and Angelique is both architect and minotaur. Maybe, his eventual navigator. Unforgivable? Yes, she is. But what else are you going to do? In a life of mortal length, unforgiveness is a luxury. Immortals haven’t the time.

This episode was broadcast Dec. 20, 1967.

Step back in time with The Collinsport Historical Society podcast

Where has the time gone? One minute you're having a perfectly innocent séance with some friends and family, the next you're standing on the gallows with a noose around your neck and weathering accusations of witchcraft. Time really flies when the laws of physics no longer apply.

Case in point: Today marks the sixth anniversary of The Collinsport Historical Society podcast. It feels like yesterday that I first tried my hand at adding a multi-media aspect to the website, when in fact it was 2,190 yesterdays. We've published more than 80 episodes since then and it's been a terrifying, rewarding experience. The series stalled not long after the birth of my child and has since been kept afloat but the folks at Big Finish and, more recently, Bodice Tipplers. During our presentation at the 2016 Dark Shadows Festival we had requests to bring back the podcast, which was incredibly flattering. The idea was to reboot it in earnest this year (I even have a cool new theme for the show!) but the production has since been rolled into a larger plan that will come to fruition during the first quarter of 2019. We've got big, big plans for the new year and I don't think you'll be disappointed.

None of this was a factor back in 2012, though. It's not a secret that the podcast happened almost by accident. Kathryn Leigh Scott had agreed to do an interview with the website and I was looking for an alternative to writing notes by hand while speaking with her on the phone. Recording the call was the easiest solution to that problem and, after that, it seemed more interesting to simply share the audio. I roped in Patrick McCray, Will McKinley and Jessica Dwyer to provide commentary on House of Dark Shadows and a single-episode experiment turned into a series. It remains our most-downloaded episode, even edging out interviews with Humbert Allen Astredo, John Karlen and our Remembering Jonathan Frid special.

If you haven't heard it, you can listen to the episode below. Click HERE if you want to go spelunking in our podcast archives.

Thursday, December 13, 2018

I'm beginning to think Facebook might be evil, y'all

If you're reading this, you probably didn't get here from Facebook.

About a month ago the increasingly sinister social network "adjusted" its analytics for the umpteenth time, contiuing to alter who sees what on Facebook using an opaque, draconian system of values that it refuses to disclose. This happens often, suggesting a great many things ... none of them especially good. In the past these changes were often followed by pleas from content creators asking you to adjust your own behavior to overcome these new obstacles put between us by Facebook. "Don't forget to 'follow' our page!" "If you like our page, don't forget to leave a comment!"

I see fewer of these requests than in the past, mostly because content creators have given up. Facebook makes its money by selling advertising, but the value of that product changes from week to week. Facebook will ask you to pay to promote your page to gain more followers, and then ask you to pay to "help" reach those new followers. And then it randomly (?) adjusts its analytics so that fewer of those new followers see your content. Wash, rinse, repeat.

And the system is only getting more obtuse. Facebook doesn't like its users to leave Facebook, so links to other pages receive less visibility. (They do such a good job at this that we frequently find people who think The Collinsport Historical Society is a just Facebook group.) If you use an image or photo with "too much text" (however that is being defined this week) those images can also be flagged as possible advertising and be hidden from timelines. Frequency is even a problem: Post too often during a single day and the bartenders at Facebook will cut you off.

About a month ago Facebook adjusted its analytics and the traffic to this website dropped precipitously overnight. I've never seen such a sudden change in traffic here. You can review some of these changes yourself on The Collinsport Historical Society's Facebook page by looking at the number of engagements on post take a steep dive ... we are reaching fewer people on Facebook  despite having the largest audience we've ever had. It doesn't make much sense to invest sweat equity into a platform that is so invested in self destructing. It feels a little too much like lending money to a junkie.

If you like what we do, I'm not going to ask that you dive into your Facebook settings and make a bunch of changes that benefit us. But you might consider skipping Facebook entirely and visiting this website directly.

Wednesday, December 12, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 12


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 922

When Amanda Harris has a long delayed date with death, Julia learns that the best is yet to come! Werewolf: Alex Stevens. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Grant Douglas investigates the Tate house only to confront a werewolf and promptly punch him. The werewolf flees only to briefly encounter Amanda Harris, who confesses to Julia about her past. Spurned by Quentin in 1897 New York, on a really impressionistic bridge set, she tried to leap to her death after being greeted by an aging dandy named “Mr. Best.” Going unconscious, Amanda wakes up in a strange, otherworldly hotel lobby called “The Stopping-Off Place.” Mr. Best agrees to keep her young until a day on which she is destined to die. She needs to find Quentin, first. Decades later, she is still young. As she finishes telling all to Julia, a knock on the door reveals, you guessed it, Mr. Best.

There is so much going on in episode 922 that you would need the combined powers of all of Craigslist to unpack it. I mean it. And it has more Zen implications than a Kung Fu reunion movie. Right here.

This minor storyline? This old thing, you ask? Why are you making a big deal out of that? Aren't we just waiting for Christopher Pennock to show up?

Well, cosmically, we always are. But let's focus on Dark Shadows. Mr. Pennock will be glad that there will be actual, serious, Zen material later in the article, but I gotta talk about my vampire stories, first.

Because it doesn't really feel connected to anything as important as the Barnabas/Josette/Angelique core story, and because it all kind of loiterers at the beginning of a Leviathan storyline that will still be going on, bafflingly, months from now, this segment is easy to write-off. Or maybe it's easy to write it off because, while its story elements are more interesting than anything else going on, the show's treatment of them feels almost dismissive, at best. Yes, I realize that they are in a hurry to get Quentin back, but once they do, they don't seem to know what to do with him. Here. In the Stopping-Off Place. Because here, dueling with Mr. Best, he has a purpose. And his immortality gives him the unique sparring partner that only an anthropomorphised death could really be. Unfortunately, this is almost a case of, “what if someone gave a storyline and nobody showed up?” Like the prior episode, “Quentin, Chris, and the Foppish Android,” this is a great idea with so little airtime and arc impact that I have to remind myself that it happened. I need to consider this my permanent Post-It. 

There is a huge question lurking in and around this episode, and that’s “Who’s in charge?” In a little over a year, we have met three contenders for the Ultimate Boss of Evil in the DSU, and it can be debated who are the puppets and who is the hand….

Bachelor #1 runs an immense operation of punishment, demons, and Gothic office furniture. He likes the music of JS Bach, blonde women, and dominating the world through an army descended from the union of reanimated cadavers. Give a sunny Burbank welcome to “Diabolos.”

Bachelor #2 is a already hooked up, but looking for a third! He and his partner may be snakes in the grass, but that’s only because these nature lovers predate time, itself, and they wish to bring about the rebirth of an ageless serpent god to consume the planet. Heads of an immense, secret cult of powerful publishers and ludicrous, fur coat-wearing hipsters, get out the heat lamps for Oberon and Haza.

Bachelor #3 is the special guest star of this episode. A smooth-talking man-about-town, he loves fine suits, friendly wagers, and A View from the Bridge. Drop in at his saloon, The Stopping Off Place. And don’t be in a hurry when you say hello to the original ladykiller. Won’t you find out why they all call him “Mr. Best”?

I’d like to say that my money is on the Caretaker, but I think I can build a more solid case for Mr. Best. Why? It’s a process of elimination… and of limits. Oberon and Haza are much like Diabolos -- all three are obsessed with ruling the world. When you have an entire universe of planets to meddle with, wanting to rule these balding and squabbling apes seems a tad unambitious. I guess it’s to get back at a god who displaced them, but they must not be that great or they would never be bent on revenge. And who needs to rule existence, anyway? The upkeep and insurance are outrageous. And don’t even get me started on the utilities. As I shoulder all of that burden, does existence raise even a finger to help me? I think we both know the answer. All existence does is take perfectly good matter and turn it into energy, leaving me to spend half the morning turning it back into matter. And existence still doesn’t even have the decency to come by once a week or so and watch an episode with me for the Daybook.

Well, existence, you’ll get yours. You gotta sleep sometime, and when you do? Bang! Kobayashi Maru! That’s my friend, Mr. Best. You know… your other binary half. Did I say half? I meant more than half. Death is the transition between being and nothingness, and he is the Lord of Nothingness. Have you ever tried to take Nothing away from him? Nothing. Not just the absence of something. Nope. Nothing. Nothing in a form we can’t even conceive, because to do so would be to dignify it with a name, and once you describe it, it stops being Nothing and becomes a Thing. There you go, Mr. Best. Ruler of everything as it goes on to become something indescribable.

So, what does he do? Well, he’s the ruler of death, not time. He’s not psychic. Now that matter exists, he might as well do a tad of wagering. Amanda Harris. Wants to off-it by jumping off a bridge. Well, Tate created her, so who knows if she’ll die? But… wait. By creating matter from only imagination -- and from bending both matter and energy through paintings that transmute or bestow the effects of both matter and energy….

Oh, man. Mr. Best isn’t the most powerful being in the DSU anymore. I actually think it’s Charles Delaware Tate.

Roger Davis. Roger Davis. 

Yeah, Charles Delaware Tate.... and he still lost a babe to Quentin! 

Why? Because, as this episode demonstrates, Quentin can punch a werewolf right on the jaw. That’s the important part. He lands the ladies because he knows all of the werewolfian weaknesses.  We can pontificate all we want, but we tuned in for a man punching a werewolf. A man punching a werewolf we received.

And that’s how you get Capone.

This episode was broadcast Jan. 6, 1970.

Tuesday, December 11, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 11


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1172

As Barnabas faces his ultimate reckoning, can Julia risk an alliance with Gerard? Lamar Trask: Jerry Lacy. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Trask walls his father’s murderer up in the basement of the Old House in a grand gesture of revenge. Julia smells foul play, and Quentin faces a trial without a key witness. Meanwhile, in trying to contact Joanna, Daphne finds herself in a trap.

It occured to me that he could have just slugged Trask.

But he doesn’t.

I keep waiting for an episode to come along where I can depict Barnabas with Falstaffian grandeur and call him “the great man.” Those come along sometimes, but he’s usually just a man. Yes, sometimes “the man,” but just as frequently, a man. With or without fangs. And therein lies what makes him so rich and compelling and fallible as a protagonist. A matinee idol like Quentin would have wrestled Trask for his gun when faced with the alternative of locking himself in shackles for a last taste of amontillado. Barnabas realizes that he has a better than average chance at being shot and dying very painfully on the spot. Does he imagine that Julia and Angelique will come to his rescue? I’d like to think so, but more than likely, he is just out of plans. Not that he was ever much of a planner. Only in times such as 1897, when facing off with Laura, does he really emerge as a chessmaster of note. For the most part, Barnabas, like all of us, is a lucky improviser. Sometimes, aided by his unique and inconsistent application of honor. Often bested by it.

At least he appreciates the irony of becoming definitively mortal just in time to die from it.

Chances are, Barnabas is a coward. And so what? Like Graves’ Claudius, it’s kept him alive. Yes, yes, he shows bravery many times. Usually out of immediate necessity. Sometimes out of love. Maybe even the right thing. But out of all of literature’s heroic protagonists, Barnabas consistently finds himself over his head and struggling to get by. For all of Quentin’s propensity for scrapping, where does it get him? Aristede, Jeb, and even the occasional werewolf may be slowed down a tad by his right hook, but just slowed down. Had he dematerialized like any self-respecting Collins, the most it would have cost him is a little pride. For all of his moments of impudence, Barnabas has far more episodes of being bullied at the core of his mantle of apparent strength.

Bless him for it.

I think this is the real secret of his appeal. He’s not Captain Kirk. Even one hour out of the week. That would be exhausting. Who can keep that going? He’s more like a vision that Q might show Picard of how he’ll end up if he doesn’t take a knife to the chest as a teachable moment. But Barnabas appears in and around 188 hours of Dark Shadows. Kirk? About 69 of his show. That leaves him 119 more hours than Kirk to dodge stakes, bullets, and hex-hurling wives. And he could really use a Spock, because Willie isn’t cutting it and Stokes has papers to grade. He has a McCoy, but only after she stops trying to blackmail and poison him for months and months. The guy is very often on his own. I don’t know about you, but it has a familiar ring for much of life. Not all, but much.

Sports and Lord of the Rings are for people with a steady flow of friends. It’s an ugly truth that sounds for all the world like mopey self-pity if I say that Dark Shadows is for the rest of us. And good for it. Sometimes, the friend stream goes dry because of bad choices. Sometimes, just bad luck. Sometimes, as with the Julias in life, we push them away because of incessant Goldilockism or because we think we don’t deserve them. And sometimes? We’re just, you know, vampires. This show is a bountiful companion, yes. 450 hours of it. But at its core, the program is that most dreaded of artforms; the teaching tool. And it exhorts us to persevere. Yes, Barnabas is often a stiff-necked coward and the most imperfect of heroes. But he endures. His plans often are incredibly sudden, ill-conceived, and born from compromise, but he has them. He tries to regain Josette. He goes to 1897. He returns to Parallel Time to save a Maggie he barely knows. These are his friends -- or the closest things he’ll concede. He may be a coward, but you’ll have to chase him the extra mile to call him that, because that’s where he begins. Most heroes are who we’ll never really be. But Barnabas? He’s who we are. Despite it all, he holds fast to survival, and he if can, so can we.

This episode was broadcast Dec. 22, 1970.

A Very Special Holiday Audio Review: A Collinwood Christmas



“Is there NO corner of this HOUSE without an imprint of DEATH?!”

Happy holidays from my cramped Dickensian office here at the Collinsport Historical Society! Ah, December! The snows! The sniffles! And the crushing panic that looms during Christmas! How better to alleviate said bad juju then by taking a look at one of the two audio stories with the word “Christmas” in it, A Collinwood Christmas! Taking place shortly after the 1897 storyline, Lizzie Hopley pulls triple duty here, writing a wonderfully twisted send up of A Christmas Carol and then delivering two powerful performances as gypsy wise-woman Ivanka Romano and Catherine Collins. The latter marking the first canon appearance of the character, Jamison Collins’ doomed wife, aside from passing mentions. If you have ever wanted to inject more of those ghosts stories that “It’s The Most Wonderful Time of the Year” is always yarping on about while also delivering a moving tale of holiday character rehabilitation then Dark Shadows: A Collinwood Christmas is the audio for you!

So, not even five minutes into this audio, Jamison Collins (played by David Selby’s son and the man named after the character Jamison Selby) thumps his butler but good in the midst of a feverish nightmare he is having. You see, things have pretty much gone to rot in Collinwood and Jamison doesn’t really seem to care. After knuckling his man Steadman (played by Big Finish staffer James Goss), the embattled butler buttles over to The Old House where gypsy sage and spellcaster Ivanka Romano is residing, telling her that Jamison is off his nut and his children, young Elizabeth and Roger, are now her responsibility.

Just to state the obvious, Lizzie Hopley’s performance of Ivanka is...a bit camp to say the least. Maybe even a touch stereotypical in some instances. But I really believe that Hopley’s impassioned and empathetic take on the character on the scripting level and when it comes to her interactions with Selby really keeps it from skewing too hard into high camp, or even worse, offensive. Hopley’s Ivanka is driven by a true altruism and desire to see the children of Collinwood taken care of. That in itself gives the story instant emotional stakes, but Hopley’s script carries it a bit further once it starts building the relationship between her and Jamison.

Anchored to the tried and true structure of A Christmas Carol, the wise woman takes him on a journey through his and his infamous house’s past in order to stake him from his grief and open his eyes to the crumbling life he is subjecting his children too. I won’t lie, I kind of got a little misty thinking of poor tiny Roger and Elizabeth basically having to live in squalor with a slowly going loony father, so if that was the intention, Hopley friggen nailed it. My oversensitivity aside, the structure has become legendary because it bloody well works and it really works for this story in particular.

Aside from the emotional implications of it, it also provides some truly harrowing scares throughout, funneled through directors Joe Lidster, Darren Gross, and Jim Pierson’s keen sound design and staging. As Romano works a spell to shake Jamison from his funk, she unwittingly gives rise to literally dozens of ghosts and a long dormant sorcerer who has fused with the shattered glass of the house’s closed off dance studio, James Unsworth’s Redmond Van Buren, who gives the story a truly horrifying, cleverly designed Big Bad. This is a tremendous hook for the story and lets the directors and Hopley kind of play around with the history of the house, opening the spectral door for all sorts of juicy cameos in the form of clips from previous episodes. I was a touch concerned early on that this would feel like an untethered compilation of a bunch of stories that I hadn’t heard before, but I was pleasantly proven wrong by the way the story weaved them into the narrative, allowing them to heighten the heart and shocks of the tale throughout.

In short, I think fans of the period Dark Shadows arcs or those looking for a spooky Yuletide diversion into hopeful horror will find a lot to love about A Collinwood Christmas. I am not sure how it stacks up against the other “Christmas” Big Finish story, The Christmas Presence, but I certainly had a lot of fun with this one. It is rooted in the star crossed bedrock of the show’s “The Collins Family Vs. Gypsys” narrative, features a boatload of cameos from Dark Shadows heavyweights like Jerry Lacy, Kathryn Leigh Scott, and more, and, just for a top off of the ol’ eggnog, it is pretty great story just on it’s own! So if you are looking for something to cut through the monotony of the all-day Christmas Story marathon and you’ve already watched Scrooged a few times, turn down the lights, fire up some candles, snuggle in with your loved ones, and get spooked the hell out by A Collinwood Christmas.

From all of us here at the CHS, Happy Christmas, and I’ll be seeing you.

Justin Partridge has always loved monsters and he thinks that explains a lot about him. When he isn’t over analyzing comics at Newsarama or ranting about Tom Clancy over at Rogues Portal, he is building Call of Cthulhu games, spreading the good word of Anti-Life, or rewatching Garth Marenghi's Darkplace for the dozenth time. He can be reached at the gasping Lovecraftian void that is Twitter @j_partridgeIII or via e-mail at Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.   

Monday, December 10, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 10


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 919/920/921

When Chris and Grant match wits with a killer android, will they win… or will the werewolf? Chris Jennings: Don Briscoe. (Repeat; 30 min.)

At the home of Harrison Monroe, an eerily young Charles Delaware Tate taunts them from the dark until a hurled object decapitates him, revealing it to be a synthetic human. An aged Tate controls him from behind a curtain until Chris forces him to make a magic painting that doesn’t work to prevent his lycanthropy. Meanwhile, a new iteration of the Leviathan messiah, the teenage Michael, flexes his muscles against Philip.

The most notable thing to get out of the way is strictly mechanical -- what’s up with the numbering? The program had a numbering system that corresponded to the days on which they were shot and shown. With the interruptions of the Apollo missions, which were now three or more events (ignition, lunar excursions, and splashdown) longer than a few months before, they needed to force a realignment with certain days of the week to get their numbering pattern right.

The moon plays a significant role in the episode, of course, and it makes me wonder if Apollo mania had anything to do with the timing of the Quentin storyline. His first transformation was about a month and a half before the Apollo 11 launch. It’s a nutty reach to tie them too closely together, however, the world’s obsession with the moon certainly didn’t hurt at the time. It’s similar to the interest in vampires in 1967. The introduction of Barnabas Collins was shortly after Henry Kissinger confessed to being of the Nosferatu. You remember.

The Wild Wild West arc reaches its apex here. As tempted as I am to chide the show for letting a significant plot element go undeveloped, I also congratulate their discipline on not falling down that rabbit hole. While robots are a particular fascination for me, the show -- take note, for it may be news --  is not about robots. This may come as a shock to fans of Sky Rumson, but it's nevertheless true. Could they have fit them in? Yes. Clearly. Charles Delaware Tate builds one; Quentin destroys it. I am pleased enough that automata make a guest appearance in the DSU, and it's established that Robots Happen if you possess true genius, live long enough, can create cursed paintings and… wait!

That’s it!

Well, that explains it.

Clearly, Tate’s power resides in anything artistic.  This isn't a robot at all. It's more like a golem. A golem made to look like Roger Davis, because it's a sculpture of himself. I wonder if he even knew that it would come to life when he made it. If so, it must have been his prized creation and primary companion as he became Harrison Monroe. A narcissist’s dream of a RealDoll! To what extent did the sculpted RoboTate --brought to life by the second-hand Powers of Petofi -- appear to the world? Even more challenging and entertaining, did it also inherit the unique powers of its creator? Hey, Joe Lidster. I got it! The TateBot gets loose. Maybe it creates a secondary Amanda Harris? What if Nicholas finds out and enslaves it to finish what he tried with Adam? Petofi has to come back and stop him, thus pitting Petofi against Nicholas Blair. And they fight on the edge of a volcano. Yeah. I like the volcano part. And there's a car chase and an undersea lair and Petofi escapes in an aquapod with Jenilee Harrison. Not a character played by Jenilee Harrison. No. Jenilee Harrison. Then they drink champagne. 

Back to the drudgery of non-reality, let’s continue about Dark Shadows. The show was never about high-tech -- well, except for the high-tech used to bring Adam to life. Having robot duplicates running around would imply obligations to an entirely larger story. Perhaps a more interesting one. And who has time for that when there’s a remake of Magnum PI to actively oppose? But even if the RepliRoj is only a golem, it’s such an interesting new dimension of mythos that I wish the show had come back to it. At this point, the show is once again solidifying itself as a Jack Davis poster come to life, with an age-encrusted Roger as the Wizard behind the curtain as well as a young version skids to a halt by a taut extension cord.

Chris Jennings has come a long way from his entrance (kinda) a year ago where, despite being a werewolf, he scoffed at the supernatural chicanery of holding a seance. Now, he stands shoulder to shoulder with the actual Quentin Collins, facing down a golem and demanding a cure from a sorcerer-touched artist. Many Collinsporters just aren’t made for the supernatural. They go the way of madness and wind up like Joe Haskell. But Chris isn’t really from Collinsport. He’s a tortured swinger, and he’s learning to grab century-old men by the lapels and force them to paint, damn them paint! Why doesn’t it work? Lack of time? Lack of nuance? Maybe he’s old and it just turns a little werewolf. Whiskers. Maybe bad breath. You don't understand! Ngghh!  The pain!

Meanwhile, the Leviathan story loses some of its pervisity, but gains actual character depth as the bizarre tot despot, Alexander, evolves into Michael, a bright and aware teenage stage of the Jebolution -- a creature destined (like so many on DS) to be eventually undone by his capacity for love, and by that, I mean his libido. The power struggle puts viewers in a morally ambiguous spot, and that’s typical for the show and the medium… and maybe it’s the secret to its allure. In the words of Stan Lee, “Bring on the bad guys!”

Why do we watch stories? One of the reasons is to see the change that we experience all too rarely in life. Soap protagonists kind of match us because they experience a lot of struggle, but little true change. After all, soap heroes stick around, sometimes for decades. So, who changes? Short timers. Short timers destined to experience radical change. Other than victims, what other short timers experience radical change? Villians. If we want to see the change we rarely get in life, it’s hard not to quietly root for them. They’re the ones making things happen and shaking the barnacles off this one-lobster town. Villains have self-determination, and they revel in it. That's what makes them the secret heroes.

Even if golems.

This episode was broadcast Jan. 5, 1970.

Thursday, December 6, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: DECEMBER 6


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 645

When David and Amy are trapped in Quentin’s room, will they become the next morbid relics in his collection? Amy: Denise Nickerson. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Finding a dead man in the sealed chamber, along with a working gramophone, David and Amy are sealed inside until they agree to do Quentin’s bidding. Their first morbid task involves moving a rocking cradle from the Old House. After charming Barnabas and Liz, the two return to see someone they call to as Quentin within the room.

The prelude to 1897 deliberately builds the mystery of Quentin Collins one purposeful layer at a time. This is a reminder of how the writers took advantage of the soap format to load, but not overload, the audience with a mosaic of details. Most recently, a voice on a long-dead phone, a hidden room, a gentleman’s skeleton in an office chair, a Victrola’s phantom melody (included in an episode for the first time today), and now -- we think -- Quentin, himself. The origin of Barnabas literally tells itself, mostly within a few episodes of the character’s introduction. Quentin’s makes us work for it and rewards us proportionately. Perhaps the most macabre detail is the infant’s crib that Quentin makes David shlep from the Old House to his chamber.

One of the fascinating things about Quentin is that he reverses -- or at least delays -- the typical pattern we see with specters. When I think of most haunted house stories, I think of people encountering spirits who try to get humans to go away. By contrast, Quentin recruits them. Of course, the fact that it’s David and Amy is a coincidence, but who else would have been as vulnerable? David has a father who is rarely around and Amy is missing both parents and two brothers. Well, one of the brothers, anyway, during Collinsport’s almost constant full moon. Quentin and Beth, like cult leaders, provide that family. They craft occult scavenger hunts and arts & crafts projects. They laugh a lot. They wave their hands menacingly. They bulge their eyes. What more could you want in an undead surrogate uncle? There’s a bizarre logic to it all, besides Quentin wanting to permanently “release” Chris from the curse, dominate Collinwood, and respond to Jamison’s abandonment by slowly killing his identical descendant. Quentin seems to need human attention and contact. The more he gets, the more powerful he becomes. Is this some last occult working he arranged in life? That’s another good reason to seal off the wing. Short of burning him, what other way is there to isolate this black magic landmine from being triggered in a cemetery and haunting THAT? Because someone might recognize that ghost, and the whole thing would be incredibly humiliating.

Quentin nudges David and Amy into subtly bizarre directions (beyond trying to kill Roger, which is business as usual for David). The possession is proceeding apace, and both are maturing at a strangely arresting pace. It’s in a strangely sentimental way, appropriate for Edwardians. David speaks very sentimentally toward Amy, and were they a few years older, it would read more differently than it does. Right now, it’s just a notch below ooky. Amy also masters counterfeit affection, in this case with David’s advice, and aims it at Barnabas. These are affirming forms of manipulation based purely on giving people what they want to hear. Can Quentin’s charm be any more infectious? And what other ghost would use such a signature? The masterstroke is reserved for Barnabas -- a pint-sized bear hug from Amy. For a man still in mourning for his young, dead sister, there is no better way to (try to) win him over.

It’s also emblematic of how his character has changed in response to public reception. He was now a hero to kids across the country. The sight of her hugging him must have made every kid running home after school a study in envy. Amy knew what she was doing because David knew, and David knew because Quentin knew. It makes me wonder how Maggie’s kidnapping would have gone if Josette had decided to possess her.

For the hell of it, I also wonder how things would have gone if Sarah had possessed Adam.

This episode was broadcast Dec. 13, 1968.
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