Friday, January 26, 2018

Dark Shadows Lives (on Amazon Prime)

I can't imagine anyone believed we'd still be talking about DARK SHADOWS in 2018. When the show debuted in on June 27, 1966, today's calendar date was a short nap away from the era of THE JETSONS. Even the writers of speculative fiction didn't often look too far beyond that eternal signpost of the year 2000, the year in which most of the young people graduating from high school in 2018 were born.

Yet, here we are. We've already carved off a not-insignificant slice of the 21st century and DARK SHADOWS is somehow still a relevant topic in our cultural dialogue ... and that conversation is continuing in ways that weren't even imagined when the series first hit the airwaves more than 50 years ago.

Last week, after months of oh so slowly adding blocks of episodes to its catalog, Amazon Prime provided the remaining pieces to its digital DARK SHADOWS offerings. For the first time ever, the show was available -- in its entirety -- streaming in America and the United Kingdom. A few media outlets stopped to acknowledge the moment, but none of them seemed aware of the show's tortured history with home video. A few writers expressed a "Holy shit, Dark Shadows has how many episodes?" attitude, but there was also a shared misunderstanding that the afterlife of DARK SHADOWS looked pretty much the same as that of STAR TREK, BATMAN and its contemporaries. And that has never been the case. If DARK SHADOWS remains relevant today, it's not because it has thrived on the traditional cycles of natural selection, but because fans have spent the better part of the last five decades fighting to keep it alive.

Unlike other classic TV shows, DARK SHADOWS hasn't been a comfortable fit for rerun programming. A lot of what he think of as "classic TV" exists because it was cheap and easy to program: filler for after-school, Saturday afternoons, those weird post-midnight blocks of television ... pretty much any place not already occupied by the local news or network programming. A series that can survive for more than 100 episodes on a network can usually find some sort of second life in syndication, followed by enshrinement on a boutique cable television channel (think "Nick at Night.") Once upon a time, home video releases for television shows used to take place at the very end of this cycle, but that milestone since moved to the front of the process, before the series even ends.

DARK SHADOWS, with it's 1,225-episode narrative, was an ill-fit for this cycle from the very beginning. Even during its peak the show was the definition of ephemera, each episode broadcast only once before presumably going into the studio vaults forever. While millions of people watched the show daily, there was no mechanism in place to let fans catch up on missed episodes or, GASP!, watch them a second time. The best you could hope for was to clip and save published episode summaries, such as the popular "The Whole True Story of Dark Shadows" which ran for years in 16 Spec magazine. The cast of the live-on-tape series got one chance to nail their lines, the audience had once chance to see an episode, and after that it was gone. Reruns were never part of the agreement.

So it's not that surprising that the first efforts to put the show into syndication during the mid 1970s weren't immediately successful. DARK SHADOWS didn't gain it's first precarious foothold on the after market until the New Jersey Network began airing DARK SHADOWS in 1983. The public broadcasting channel had just 510 of its 1,225 episodes available in its catalog at the start. “New” episodes were added as the series progressed: By the time NJN took it off the air in 1986, it had bulked up its catalog to include arcs beginning with first appearance of Barnabas Collins until the start of the “Parallel Time” storyline. (Many of these later episodes went unaired because of the cancellation, though.)

As always, this proved to be a temporary setback. Whenever DARK SHADOWS shambles out of its crypt, it does so with renewed strength and vigor. It followed the NNJ cancellation with its debut on home video and, eventually, The Sci-Fi Channel. Both of these avenues eventually brought every episode of the series to audiences for the first time, even giving people their first chance to see those murky, prehistoric episodes before the game-changing introduction of Barnabas Collins.

Home video also proved to be a different sort of challenge. The original VHS collection from MPI Home Video eventually occupied more than 250 cassettes before that medium was discontinued. While the DVD sets were more space conscious, they nevertheless remained expensive. While nobody will argue that the 2012 "coffin" set that collected every episode of the series (that's more than 450 hours of entertainment on 131 discs) was anything less than ostentatious, the original retail price of $600 was off-putting for many. While the price of the set has fallen in recent years to about $340, that's still a serious investment for a lot of folks.

For the last few years, streaming media has been the last, best hope for supporting the mammoth, toothy bulk of DARK SHADOWS and its sprawling, multi-century/multi-dimensional storyline. But even that has proven to be an up-hill battle. Back in 2012 everybody expected Netflix to be the service that would be the first to host the entire series online ... but as its priorities shifted toward original content, Netflix even struggled to keep even keep the DVD series in stock for snail mail subscribers. Blocks of episodes have appeared on Hulu and Amazon Prime for the last few years, but it wasn't until last fall that the prospect of any single service hosting DARK SHADOWS threatened to become a reality.

It happened last week, in the middle of the night when nobody was paying attention. Amazon Prime UK added the entire series to its catalog, followed a few days later in America where Prime customers finally got the remaining pieces of the series. A show that struggled to stay in syndication for a few months in 1975 was now available, in its entirety, at your fingertips. (Technically, MPI Home Video beat them all to the punch last October when it launched the streaming DARK SHADOWS media service at, but that website has a long way to go before it can compete with the reach of Amazon.)

When DARK SHADOWS was cancelled by ABC in 1971, there was no reason to believe it wasn't gone forever. That wasn't a circumstance that sat well with fans, though, who eventually began organizing festivals and supporting fundraising initiatives to bring the series back to the public airwaves. These people continued to rally for years behind DARK SHADOWS, helping support a series as its back catalog was re-built episode by episode until, 25 years later, technology had risen to match their passions. Today, you can watch every episode of DARK SHADOWS on your television, smart phone, PC, tablet or any other device connected to the Internet. And frankly, we're all being a little too casual about how big of a deal that really is.

Thursday, January 25, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 25


Taped on this date in 1991: Episode 5

Julia’s cure continues to transform Barnabas, who can now operate during the day. His confidence grows as his romance with Victoria deepens. An openly jealous Julia begins tampering with the formula, causing Barnabas to revert to a savage form of his vampiric condition. Barnabas demands that she administer a dose strong enough to cure him forever. Instead, she uses an altered version that causes him to age hideously. Carolyn stumbles upon him, and he attacks her. The result? He returns to his former youth, has Carolyn as a blood doll, and swears enmity to Julia Hoffman.

It’s a shame that the original series movie “franchise” and the 1991 revival didn’t go beyond Barnabas’ earliest days. Dan Curtis clearly had certain plot points that he cherished as part of the ritual. We’ve seen Barnabas age three times now, and although the vampire gets old, the moment never does. Thanks in part to the resulting “old vampire” Halloween mask, it may be one of DARK SHADOWS’ two main contributions to Original Horror Moments. I still prefer the first go, from the tv series. The character is old, but not repellent. But maybe that misses the point. It is part of the fabric of our collective horror unconscious,

With the exception of an endless date between Joe and Carolyn, this is an ideal episode to use as a series introduction. You can pick up 99% of the backstory from context, and it thrusts you into the action with one engaging scene after another. Writer Matthew Hall delivers vampiric peril, arch jealousy, and fairy-tale-if-fated romance. While those elements are in ample supply, what really keeps the installment going is its humor. Barnabas employs gentle wit in his occasionally playful seduction of Victoria, and Hall uses it with kindness and sympathy when exploring Jim Fyfe’s tragicomically affectionate take on Willie Loomis. It’s writing that can only come from growing up so closely to the series that you know each beat and why they matter. Once you see those intimately and intuitively, an appropriately ironic voice emerges.

Speaking of Jim Fyfe, I congratulate him again. Along with the writing staff, the choices they make with Willie set up the rest of the characters beautifully. Barnabas is the ultimate “cool kid,” and it’s clear why the awkward and drunken misfit, Willie, is drawn to him. In turn, we see a kindness in Barnabas that is alternately sincere and guardedly manipulative. Finally, it allows us to like this universe a little more when Julia turns on Barnabas and Willie is caught in the middle. If both Willie and Julia are out to get him, we are stuck in a world that’s a tad too cold and which lacks the interpersonal dedication of the original… once it found its most sustained voice.

This episode had an estimated thirteen million viewers with over one out of every ten TV sets in the nation tuned in to watch. It was only eleven days since the series premiered, and the Gulf War was kind to this episode with no recorded preemptions. It was about a month away from the cease fire. 

Wednesday, January 24, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 24


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 157

Vivid dreams and Josette’s scent of jasmine lead Victoria to the caretaker, Frank in tow. There in the cemetery archives, a book flies off the shelf and reveals that there was a Laura Murdoch Radcliffe who died in a fire 100 years prior, but 100 years after Laura Stockbridge. Is this a cycle? Returning to Collinwood, they learn that the dead Laura in Phoenix is set to be buried just like Laura Radcliffe, in an unmarked grave. Can there be two Lauras? Are they related to the ones in the past?

We are about fifty episodes away from the introduction of Barnabas Collins, and you can feel the show straining with the need for it. We are at least watching a supernatural show, now. Going back to something less exotic will take the charm of a Dennis Patrick to pull off. He and Laura have something new that they are bringing/will bring to the show. One of the problems with the first six months of the show is how sad it is. The villains are wracked with guilt, somewhat grating in their personalities, and driven by necessity. Laura changes that. Her contribution to the show is less supernatural than philosophical. She likes who she is. She likes what she’s doing. She is demented enough to see that burning David alive is just dandy. Contrast this with Roger. He just wanted to be left alone, like a quietly queeny, ineffectual Hulk. Burke? He just wanted to even the odds. I get that. But his victory would mean shutting down Collinwood, and that gives any viewer mixed feelings. As much as I like Burke, his storyline misfired because you’re left with nobody to root for. If Burke wins, the show has to end, and that’s not going to happen. For Burke to lose, justice must elude him once more, and a character we like goes away. I suppose that the show originally was so Vicki-centric that we weren’t supposed to care for either Team Burke or Team Collins compared with Team Winters. With the arrival of Laura, all of this changes. (I say this because Matthew was a loon and couldn’t take pride in his wrongdoing.) Like Burke and Roger or not, everyone is pitted against/used by the first in a series of Gloucesters employed by the series to delight viewers. I may be so-so on the Phoenix as a big bad on the show, partly because she was such an out-there villain, grounded in an unclear mythology. Nonetheless, she ushered in a sentient, supernatural threat and a new school of evil that finally gave viewers a moral compass to lead them through Collinsport.

This episode is rich in atmosphere and menace, but anything involving the mysterious Caretaker will do that. It serves up Collins history as a net that strangles generation after generation… and the place where the answers to today’s mysteries will be found. The show has always been about the past… Paul Stoddard, the car accident, Vicki’s parentage… but (Widows notwithstanding) never beyond the lifetimes of the protagonists. By having our heroes deal with ancient dangers that still long to cause harm, DARK SHADOWS truly begins.

Friday, January 19, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 19


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1198

Lamar Trask shoots Angelique before she can hear Barnabas pledge his love. Barnabas is stabbed in the attempt to apprehend Trask, and stabs him in return. Trask stumbles into Parallel Time, never to return. Meanwhile, Desmond and Letitia are reunited, and he oversees the destruction of the staircase after Barnabas, Julia, and Stokes return to a restored 1971. Barnabas is shaken, but proceeds with his friends and Liz to see Roger speak at the opening of the other Collinsport Historical Society.

I have watched this episode far more than is healthy. It is theatre as opposed to cinema. It is about consequences more than action, although Barnabas does what he can. As Barnabas chases Trask, and they have exactly the awkward and inept fight that you would expect from two guys who have no idea how to spar, the mortician finds himself in the Parallel Time room in an awful irony. (I kind of wonder how the show would have fared had he survived and tried to blend in.) When that happens, I wonder how Barnabas feels about Collinwood. He says that, without knowing it, he committed the perfect crime, but did he or did the house? It is the closest we come to the house being a character and exacting vengeance for one of its own. We rarely think of Collinwood as a character, but Collinwood shows more free will than any of its inhabitants. Do the Collinses find time portals, doors to mirror dimensions, and the crypts of ghosts on their own or does the house reveal them when its residents need them? With this episode, I think we can argue the latter, and that understanding reorders everything we’ve seen. Of course, it pingpongs Vicki and Peter back and forth to 1795 and 1796 from 1968. Of course, it unfurls Quentin and Gerard to David and the family even though they’ve snooped endlessly through the house and never found them before. What, don’t you think that Roger and Elizabeth’s dad ever wondered why his uncle’s room vanished? And what about the way it toys with the playroom’s blueprint baffling presence? What about the way in which it turns a Parallel Time room into a Vertical Time room to take Barnabas and Julia into a future it wants averted? Or how it gets Julia out of harm’s way on a staircase through the centuries when she needs it most?

It’s both completely random and completely intentional, and in this one moment, it has more than an investment in the survival of its denizens. It cares for the very recently cleansed conscience of its favorite and estranged son, Barnabas Collins — for whom the house was built, and who never lived there except to save it. Turnabout, etc, etc.

It’s easy to talk about the tearjerking nature of the episode and of Jonathan Frid’s masterful performance as he, Lara Parker, Joan Bennett, Thayer David, and Grayson Hall say goodbye to their most beloved characters forever. Just as touching is when we see the future of the Collins family, not just in Tad but in Desmond, and by Desmond, I mean Willie. Because they’re all the same characters, metaphorically, just in the drag of different centuries. To see Willie and Barnabas as brothers, and to see Willie finally clean himself up and win “Carolyn,” with the approval of “Liz” is a beautiful balance to the loss that Barnabas is suffering.

The most strangely poignant moment is only seen as such when you ask why it’s happening at all. When the subject of Angelique’s funeral comes up, Stokes insists they leave before it takes place. His lame excuse is that the time portal may not wait if they stay any longer.

How emotionally tone deaf. How sad for Barnabas.

My theory? He knows that if Barnabas sees that ritual, he’ll never come back… either to 1971 or be the man he was the moment before Trask fired the weapon. And Barnabas needs to return if he is to ever traverse the time stream and rescue Angelique.

It’s the last and most important DARK SHADOWS story, and the one that has never been told. 

Thursday, January 18, 2018

Amazon Prime gets "darker" in the UK, US

Amazon Prime subscribers in the UK woke up to good news yesterday morning: All 1,225 episodes of DARK SHADOWS are now available streaming on Prime. This number includes all 26 DVD collections, as well as the six volumes that make up DARK SHADOWS: THE BEGINNING, the so-called "Pre-Barnabas years."

It wasn't too shabby a morning here in the US, either. While there are still a few missing pieces, Amazon Prime subscribers in America have access to everytihing but seasons 18, 20 and 21. (UPDATE: Every episode of DARK SHADOWS is now streaming on Amazon Prime!) All six collections of DARK SHADOWS: THE BEGINNING are also available for the first time ever. Why there's a discrepancy between Prime offerings in the UK and US is anybody's guess, but it's possible those American gaps will be filled in soon.

And don't forget: MPI Media Group has also launched, a streaming service devoted to all things DARK SHADOWS, which includes all 1,225 episodes of the series, the "Fan Favorites" and "Best of Barnabas" collections, as well as a number of "exclusive" bonus videos are streaming.

Tuesday, January 16, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 16


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1197

Angelique interrupts the execution to deliver Judah’s head as evidence that Dawson and Stiles were behind the witchcraft at Collinwood. Afraid that he might escape, Desmond shoots an incensed Gerard, causing the possession to end. The head dissolves to an empty skull and Quentin is freed. Later, as Quentin reunites with Daphne, Barnabas sees Bramwell, on fire with jealousy over Catherine’s engagement, in the Parallel Time room. Going to the courthouse to free Angelique, he learns that she has been released. At Collinwood, he finds her, but Barnabas is unable to tell Angelique that he loves her before Lamar Trask shoots her.

On DARK SHADOWS, you can turn back the clock, but you can never stop time. And that’s one of the great tragedies of the show. There is a singularly unique, heartbreaking energy to those moments in the foyer when Quentin just knows that Barnabas wants Angelique. It’s clear. And he points him toward the drawing room. And Barnabas goes. And the only words that demand to be said are the only words that aren’t. There is some occult energy between the frames in that endless second. A five-year ritual working is at last delivering.

There is more irony here than in the entire TWILIGHT ZONE canon. Certainly more poignant. Angelique, felled by the one part of her curse that she forgot to lift. Killed at last by a Trask in the manner that Barnabas tried to do employ in 1795… the act that brought on the curse in the first place. She’s killed for an association with sorcery that is now a part the past she can never escape… after having been part of the past that Barnabas could never escape. This is the kind of irony that you slice into chunks and keep in the basement for the winter. But it’s not forced. As I said before, it’s inevitable. It is, as James Whale might have said, “part of the ritual.”

After watching the near-entirety of the series, this sequence is eviscerating. Especially after meeting his own son in Parallel Time and seeing how furiously tormented and shrill he is at being denied love. Very few DARK SHADOWS episodes are such freight trains of joy, and this one was too good to last. The shot heard ‘round Collinsport and my childhood more than drown out the laughter and gaiety of Quentin and Daphne and Desmond. In this episode and the next, DARK SHADOWS at last earns the mantle of horror show. But not one where fear and anguish are delivered by ambassadors of the supernatural. This comes from real horror. Real cruelty. The weapon is the human heart. The ammunition? The sickening knowledge that ego delayed happiness and salvation until neither could be seized and enjoyed. What use is being a hero if the peace you create is the last thing you’ll be allowed to share?

The message? Prize your passion without ego and without delay because nothing is permanent. How long did it take Angelique to do the right thing? How long did it take Barnabas to look past his parents’ expectations and follow his heart?

How long?

One gunshot too long.

Monday, January 15, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 15


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1196

Angelique’s attempt to thwart Judah is stalled when he appears in Gerard’s guise and robs her of her powers. She is reminded that he gave them to her in the 1690’s when she was known as Miranda Duval. They take her to Dawson’s, and her peril is clear, but faster than you can hashtag a metoo, she smacks the advocate over the head with a candlestick and escapes. Meanwhile, Barnabas vows to Quentin that he will deal with Gerard and then take care of Tad. Letitia and Desmond marry in his cell, and with Quentin, the new groom goes off the face the headsman with the casual calm of the just. Meanwhile, in Parallel Time, the elderly Justin becomes incensed when it is suggested that Catherine might be joining the family and exposing herself to the curse.

My favorite episodes of DARK SHADOWS are payoff episodes. Rarely has a slow burn paid off in such a spectacular manner. Probably because this has been slowly burning for three years and finally wraps up, pretty much, the series. The key question: is it satisfying? Immensely, and as the first of three episodes, it’s only beginning.

All of the potential energy for Angelique to be a force for good is released by just the chance that Barnabas might believe in her. But there are transformations and resolutions all over the episode. Judah Zachary no longer has to wear the mask of Gerard, and James Storm manages the new character with an elegantly brutal menace. He takes her powers as easily as she took Barnabas’ curse. The ease of both actions mocks the years of struggles endured to cure one and mitigate another. Yep. It really was just that simple. For someone in power, anyway.

Speaking of transformations and resolutions, the scene between Barnabas and Quentin in the jail cell sums up who Barnabas is by series’ end. When Quentin unfurls a laundry list of requests, Barnabas assures him, “I will do it all.”

Words for the character -- almost -- to go out on. Anyone doubting who Barnabas is (prior to Angelique’s death) need only hear that one sentence. Not the monster who kidnapped Maggie. Not the indecisive worrywart who semi-bungled through Adam and the Leviathans. No. This man. The clay is out of the kiln, and there should be no doubt that this IS Barnabas Collins. Everything else was just a rough draft.

Finally, I love the strange, macho-buddy pallsiness of Quentin and Desmond as they Bo and Luke their way to the headsman’s block. It’s taken nearly five years, but DARK SHADOWS finally has a masculine moment with more than two butch actors on screen at the same time. If they’d only had Mitch Ryan, it would have looked like a Rat Pack movie. They are ending an era. My, how a little show about a lost girl from New York has changed. 

Monday, January 8, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 8


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 405

Barnabas arranges for Josette to be moved to a remote location where he will later join her. When Angelique discovers this, she goes predictably ape and tortures Sarah via a voodoo doll to prove that she still wears the pointy hat in the family. Barnabas has had all he can stands and can’t stands no more, and just shoots her. It’s a fatal shot, but it leaves her enough time to curse him with words that will later curse even her: anyone who loves him will die. Much like with Bruce Wayne, a bat smashes through his window and bites Barnabas on the neck.

Barnabas Collins is the Inspector Clouseau of the DARK SHADOWS universe… and I mean that as a high compliment. In true Punchinello style, he mixes abject, hand-wringing fear with a bravado that has no interest in reality. When he smirks, it’s almost inevitably a sign that he’s in for a fall. I said ‘almost.’ Because of this, his moments of victory have the indescribable sweetness of the astoundingly rare. In 405, however, there is no victory… only the worst defeat of his life. We can rely on Gordon Russell to deliver a script of nimble power play between Barnabas and Angelique, and Jonathan Frid plays the build-up as if he were wisely navigating between Noel Coward and Edward Albee. His mellow smugness with Angelique is the perfect and satisfying retort to months of extortion and abuse. Barnabas finally has this one by the tail. For a moment. Unfortunately, he’s still no great shakes as a duelist and has never heard of a head shot. Come to think of it, poison would have done the trick.

Frid’s downplayed haughtiness portends the fall to come beautifully. He rarely seems this confident, and the same can be said for Barnabas. No real line trouble, either. Hijinx and exposition are senseless bores to memorize. Characters in vital action have easy lines to remember. The other hero of the episode is Lara Parker, who crafts such a playful menace that she must be a reincarnated cat. It’s the only explanation for her complex approach to mixing fury and sadistic fun.

The real hero of the beach, however, is Bill Baird. The guy swings a mean bat. He gets Frid on the neck with uncanny precision. A noted puppeteer, Bill had a ripe career in his field. He was the author of the steamy tell-all, THE ART OF THE PUPPET, and and was honored in 1980 by the Union International de la Marionette and Puppeteers of America at the Kennedy Center in Washington, DC.

Bil Baird with his lion puppet, Charlemane.

On this day in 1968, Jaques Cousteau became the most prominent, French seaman on TV with the airing of his first special. Mickey Dolenz celebrated this by having his wife give birth to their daughter, Ami, on the very same day.

Sunday, January 7, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 7


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 666

Ben stops Forbes from staking Barnabas, killing both him and the Countess in the process. In the present, Willie and Julia fret over how to draw Barnabas back to the present. In 1796, Barnabas helps Ben with disposing of Forbes and Natalie before being rechained in his coffin. Meanwhile, Willie’s trip to the mausoleum is fruitless. Later, however, the ghost of Josette implores Willie to return to the coffin. Barnabas materializes within, eager to escape.

The 1796 sequence ends with high adventure and some deeply satisfying moments, shifting back and forth between the past and the present. Seeing Nathan Forbes shoot Ben... only to have Ben shake it off like a an ineffectual mosquito bite... and come back swingin’?  THAT was fantastic enough for a week’s worth of episodes. But to have him induce a heart attack simply by looming over Natalie? Even better. Rarely has DARK SHADOWS cleaned house in quite that way, The 1790’s has been veddy, veddy good to the franchise and to audiences, and it’s nonetheless time to move on. If there were any real reason to do this sequence, it would be to close the lid on that, clean up the loose ends, and prepare the table for Uncle Quentin. 666 readies us for the insanity of 1897 by using the same kind of insanity to end 1796. We may still be at Collinwood, but the rules are wildly different.

Taking us full circle is the fabulous moment when John Karlen recreates his famous disentombing of Barnabas, and expectations have never been more skewed. Notable also is Grayson Hall’s turn as Julia. Standing in the cemetery, imploring the cosmos to return Barnabas, I am gobsmacked at how that character has changed from the hard-edged, empiricism-driven scientist we met back in 1967.

It’s been an interesting two years.

On this day in 1969, the WALKING DEAD’s Norman Reedus tore his way from his mother’s innards with a piercing shriek. So, happy birthday!

Thursday, January 4, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 4


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1187

Daphne reports on the events in the Parallel Time room, and later, the visions reappear. Now, Julia Collins learns that Morgan plans to bring a new love to Collinwood, despite the fact that no one new may be allowed in for reasons he clearly knows. In Main Time, Daphne sees that Edith is dead and assumes that Gerard is the killer. Instead, she learns that it was Gabriel, who rises from his chair to attack her.

Parallel Time strikes again as one forgotten storyline melts into a more forgotten storyline. I champion both 1840 and 1841PT. Because they may be the least-seen, I think of them as DARK SHADOWS’ bonus prizes, and if you can watch for months about pens and bleeder valves and the best lobster in Logansport, Vicki, you can watch this. Both time periods have hidden, dramatic gems and are visually sumptuous. By skewing the era a tad, vibrant costumes were introduced for 1841PT, and for the first time, they were custom made rather than rentals. The show’s hair and makeup design is also differing, allowing Grayson Hall and Lara Parker to have strikingly decadent looks. It’s the second time we see Morgan Collins, and I remain fascinated and a little challenged by the show’s last leading man (and eventual heavy), Keith Prentice. Yet another BOYS IN THE BAND alum, Prentice is easily the loudest actor on the show as the character becomes truly manic. Right now, he’s painted as a quietly tortured lover, bucking Collins tradition to bring someone new to the house. With the re-introduction of PT, it’s time to wrap up 1840, and as Gabriel rises from his chair, we’re reminded of just what a giant Christopher Pennock is -- and how frightening. The episode ends on a wonderful note of fear as he lurches to attack, like a strange cross between Boris Karloff and Dr. Strangelove.

On this day in 1971, Ohio agrees to pay $675,000 to relatives of Kent State victims. 

Wednesday, January 3, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 3


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 665

Angelique explains to Barnabas that Vicki was under her protection when she hanged, and would come back to life. True? False? Doesn’t matter. Barnabas and Ben have had it, and simply burn Angelique to cinders. Good riddance. Turns out, she is alive and tearfully leaves Barnabas with Peter Bradford to go west, where medical care is even worse than on the east coast. She still doesn’t understand. Meanwhile, Countess Natalie and Millicent discover that Barnabas is a vampire. As Barnabas sentimentally parts from Ben with orders that he be chained “alive,” they summon Nathan Forbes. The trio enters the “secret” room in the mausoleum, lift the coffin lid, and slam a stake downward.

If all of DARK SHADOWS moved at the pace, decisiveness, and economy of 665, Sam, Gordon, Ron, Joe, Violet, and Malcolm would have needed suites at Windcliff within a week. It’s a marvel to behold. I think twice as much happens in these twenty-three minutes than in the first twenty-three weeks of the show’s run. You know, back when it (felt like it) took Liz five episodes just to answer the phone. It is a marvel of satisfaction, putting an “I’ll always remember you, Scarecrow” finality to the story of Victoria Winters while giving Barnabas a new life as the Rick Blaine of the occult. We’ll always have Collinsport.

So many great moments of bait and switch. The writers have built a Disneyland of continuity and expectations, and 665 is an e-ticket ride. And the last turn is a doozy because it’s seemingly NOT a bait and switch. We think Barnabas will set himself up to die. He won’t. We think Vicki’s dead. She’s not. We think Angelique is triumphant because indecisive old Barnabas couldn’t possibly have had his limit of her shenanigans to the point that he’s happy to burn her alive. She isn’t and he is. And it goes on. The episode is punctuated by Nancy Barrett’s most surreal performance, suggesting that Millicent may indeed be insane rather than idiotic. As the episode ends, DARK SHADOWS presents emotional payoffs on a WRATH OF KHAN scale and frequency. See… Barnabas burn Angelique alive! See… his heart collapse as the optimism that she has transcended death turns into the resigned acknowledgement that she’s in Peter Bradford’s arms. If Barnabas’ upper lip were any stiffer, you could use it as a straightedge. Then, the goodbyes. Vicki to Barnabas. Barnabas to Ben. People leaving love behind for totally arbitrary and totally logical reasons. Which is always the way.

And finally… just when we’re used to the episode pulling fast ones, Barnabas is staked. Or is he? It ends with a boom heard ‘round ABC. For good reason. 1796 is over, as is (most of) the emphasis on Josette and Angelique and all of that is behind us. Barnabas has… almost… put his past to rest for good. It’s time to move forward to 1897.

On this day in 1969, TIME MAGAZINE actually got it right when they declared the crew of Apollo 8, which orbited the moon, as the Men of the Year. As I’ve discussed before, the horrors of 1968 make 2017 look utopian.  That incredible, insane, risk-rife trip defied the pessimism that would define the 1960’s. Still, chowderheads at the time contended that we were wasting money by sending men to the moon while Americans were still starving. 1968 was a monument to tragedy. If we’re going to throw money away, let it be in defiance to that.

In the name of hilarity, go look up why Apollo 8 was called “The Vomit Comet.” One more reason these guys are heroes. YOU spend a week in space surrounded by Frank Borman’s bodily fluids and see if you don’t feel heroic by surviving. 

Tuesday, January 2, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 2


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 664

Crystal’s body is delivered to Barnabas by Angelique, a woman fresh from Hell, and ready to settle down in the era to which she’s been sentenced by Diabolos. She’s there to save Vicki’s life, wanting only Barnabas’ allegiance in the bargain. With no time to fret, he agrees. However, at the execution, Victoria dies. Later, over her body, Angelique savors her plans to come.

This may be the most shocking episode in the arc. It changes both the tone and stakes of the DARK SHADOWS universe, and it does so with unusual atmosphere and economy. If DS were made for HBO in twelve-episode seasons, this is what it would feel like. Angelique retreads her blackmail toward Barnabas, and he has no more time to play Hamlet. Now, he’s Henry V. Her seemingly cruel twist at the end gives the show one of its truly shocking and most unexpected moments -- the hanging. Roger Davis really rises to the occasion with this one, balancing pathos and dignity with leading man aplomb. Lara Parker also seems to be having a ball, returning Angelique to her former powers. This story also demonstrates how fluid the rules of time would be for her, getting us ready for 1897. Interesting also is the chance to see the 1790’s sans Josette, with Vicki as the focus. I never really bought it until now, and Jonathan Frid completely sells the shift in affections that genuinely makes Victoria central to the action of this era.

Dan Curtis emerges in this episode as the most artistically daring of the DARK SHADOWS directors. Of course, it’s good to be the king. Never before (in color) have I seen an episode use candles and the suggested source lighting to create such mood and sense of the era. More than the costumes, Curtis’ lighting conveys the 1790’s with a rare verisimilitude. The make-up crew was ill-prepared for the shift. Frid’s shadow-and-highlighted Ben Nye cheekbones are really on parade, but it doesn’t matter. The atmosphere conquers all. Taking charge of his complete toolbox, his love of close-ups combined with a camera that often moves as it it were a prowling animal betrays the Alpha swagger and restlessness for which Curtis was famous.

On this day in 1969, Allan Sherman’s musical romp concerning his recent divorce opened on Broadway for a whopping four performances, despite starring the screen’s first James Bond, Barry Nelson. Sherman is best known for his album, “My Son, the Nut.”

Regards from Camp Grenada.
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