Thursday, March 29, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 29


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 464

After Angelique’s painting causes Roger to refer to Julia as a frenchwoman named “Countess Natalie,” a knock at the door signals the arrival of the man who was supposed to buy the portrait: a fastidious occult expert named T. Eliot Stokes. Smelling salts are passed out for the women, all of whom must be gently informed by Julia that this is what a Real Man looks like. He has deep knowledge of the life of his ancestor, Ben, and Barnabas is shocked by his suspicion that Vicki has paranormal insight into the 1790’s. Barnabas later bites Victoria, and when Julia discovers this, she threatens him with exposure.

Upon returning from 1795, the show moves at a rare, brisk pace, piling on new choices, twists, and vital characters with zesty abandon. Nothing stimulates the imagination for writing like writing, itself. It’s as if the mythic level of 1795 gave them permission to think big, and the form-free liberty of 1968 gives them room to explore the results. In just four episodes, we have Carolyn rebelling against Barnabas, Victoria finally under the control of the vampire, portents of the return of Angelique, and now, the arrival of one of the show’s most memorable characters, the fabulous T. Eliot Stokes.

The domination of Victoria is the most profoundly symbolic shift for the show since the arrival of Barnabas. Maybe more than that. It’s one thing to quietly swap protagonists. It’s another to have the new one enslave the former protagonist and use her as walking juice box. Victoria started out as a raven haired Nancy Drew, and it’s sad to see her devolve into little more than a bewildered victim. In the face of characters who are built to be more interesting, the focal shift is inevitable. The fact that she is being consumed as literal fuel by and for the new lead is a beautiful, poignant irony. Barnabas, you truly do drink her milkshake.

Barnabas needs all of the blood Wheaties he can eat for this one. The shock of seeing Professor Stokes is either the best thing or the worst thing he’s encountered in this week from hell. The fun of the (re)union scene is watching him try to figure out which end of that spectrum it will be. Just as he needed a physical strongman in the 1790’s, now he needs a paranormal heavy lifter. But with that brilliance comes autonomy, and that’s the last thing he needs in his associates with Angelique in the offing. 

From his entrance, Thayer David establishes a clear, confident, and charming character in Professor Stokes. The existence of Stokes also creates profound change in the fabric of the DSU. Up to this point, you either had civilians, who had no idea what was going on or antagonists, who usually only had slightly more of an idea of what was going on. Stokes changes that, and does so with great wit and seasoned cockiness. No one other than T. Eliot Stokes delivers exposition with greater gravitas, and no one has better judgement about when to look evil in the eye and tell it to catch that one and paint it green.

On this day in 1968, Lucy Lawless was born. The connection? She played Xena: Warrior Princess. Maybe… just maybe… this is a character who could have landed Stokes and kept up with him.


Wednesday, March 28, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 28


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 463

Vicki and Elizabeth find Peter’s grave, establishing that he died shortly after she left 1796. Later, they buy a painting that, to Barnabas’ horror, is Angelique! Under increased pressure, Barnabas summons Carolyn from a date with Tony, ruining it even further. Tony misinterprets Barnabas’ mouth on Carolyn and assumes they’re dating. Carolyn, humiliated, begs Barnabas for her freedom. He dismisses her and tries to burn the painting of Angelique. With the sound of her laughter ringing overhead, Angelique’s painting reassembles itself.

There are just some days when you can’t get rid of a portrait of Angelique. If I were Barnabas, I’d cover the doormat with the painting and watch it repel dirt, stains, and pet odors with its supernatural resilience. Just line a trash can with it. Anything you throw on it is going to vanish as it recycles itself. If Angelique had patented this, it would have been the marvel of the age. She would have had her pick of the gents.

463 is a marvelous place to start the series. Thus far, this has been all about ghosts (or their equivalents) recreating the past, culminating in 1795. Now, we enter a new frontier of nuttiness as agents of the past arrive and take action as new immigrants to the future. They’re building forward more than redressing yesterday. When Barnabas arrives 1967, he just wants his house and engagement back as they were. Now, this is no longer the case with ambassadors from the past. By 1968, not only does Angelique want Barnabas back (or to punish him… or both) but she wants to take over Collinwood and create a master race with Nicholas. This is what makes this phase of the series so unusually exciting. They’ve established the major players. We’ve seen the rituals that made them who they are. Now, free, they can and do anything. Because the Maggie kidnapping/Barnabas aging/1795 arc is at the front of the syndication package, I feel like that’s where DS starts and stops for most people. But for me? This is where the adventure begins.

Jonathan Frid really has painting-slashing fun in this one. He plays such an ideal hero because Barnabas’ bloody and thunderous ways are consistently applied for heroism as well as villainy. Heroes expect to be thwarted. Not heavies. When that happens, the stakes couldn’t be higher. Jerry Lacy and Nancy Barrett continue to show themselves as some of the show’s finest actors today. Close your eyes. Trask and Millicent should not come to mind. That, AND they show a delightful chemistry that will go nowhere because Tony is just an attorney and not a man-made man nor Lovecraftian snake god.

On this day in 2016, the first Dark Shadows Daybook hit the internet. Thanks for reading and sticking with it.

Tuesday, March 27, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 27


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 724

Zombie Quentin kidnaps Rachel Drummond, but a conscientious Szandor tussles with him enough in the graveyard that she escapes. Trapping the muttonchopped automaton in the Old House, Barnabas conducts a voodoo ceremony that should fuse Quentin’s body and spirit. When the body staggers away, our heroes have no idea that it has fallen in the graveyard and can’t get up.

The cork has been opened confidently on 1897, and the wine has just about breathed to perfection. This is the show’s new home, and there’s something about this world that feels like DARK SHADOWS, but even more so. If Roger is stiff, Edward is stiffer. If the streamlined contours of sixties fashions are severe, Victorian clothing makes them look dumpy. And if the sixties are fun, the great-grandparents defined cutting a supernatural rug. 724 is a tight adventure with no real subplot; it’s exactly what can fill an episode and is yet another mondo day in the life-slice for our long-suffering hero. We are still in the general spring break time of the year, and what a thrill for kids. Zombie Quentin Kidnaps Governess! No wonder the record and ViewMaster set were in the offing. If you make a show with these elements, the Geneva Convention requires you to make ViewMaster reels and a spoken word album. This was 1969, the show’s zenith and the time when DARK SHADOWS mania was unmatchable.

If there is a watchword for the overall feel of 1897, it’s “decadence.” The sets and costumes spring to mind, but so do the performances -- broad and freewheeling when not intentionally arch. The possibilities of the story are decadent -- we’re contending with a zombie in this one. Even the horror is decadent, with damsels being buried six inches under (in what appears to be the empty grave of Laura Stockbridge, so says the stone) in graveyards whose smoke wafts into the gypsified Old House, giving it an appropriately seraglio-like atmos.

Even the bloopers have appropriate lushness. Szandor and Magda begin the day by fighting over cold soup like a couple in an Odets play, and Szandor attempts to defend his dignity with said soup trickling from his outrageous mustache. In the words of William Blake, “The road of excess leads to the palace of wisdom,” and there is wisdom to be had in that mustache. Not only are these actors having the most fun they’d ever have on the show, the characters of Magda and Szandor are the most relatable, reminiscent of an Eastern European West and Fields. How close do you think Szandor and Magda are to Sam Hall and Grayson? This is one of the many, great 1897 episodes written by Sam Hall, and there is a sting of reality to the language -- and a twinkle in his wife, Grayson’s, eye -- that makes me think it’s an ethnicized transcript of whatever was happening the night before. It’s like the Roma touring production of WHO’S AFRAID OF VIRGINIA WOOLF, except there’s a dead, reanimated Quentin rather than a dead, imaginary son. Albee damned!

They also provide an entirely different world to which we can compare and reveal Barnabas. He’s an entitled aristocrat at his funniest when forced to fence with words and endure those whom, under other circumstances, he’d just as soon strangle. If he thought that Loomis and Hoffman tried his class privilege, they were the Alan Napier Alfred compared to the Rakosis. As much as Barnabas just… barely… puts up with them in true, sitcom style, he still mixes the exotic with the mundane. We think of him as so bland if we recall his polished innocence when he first appears to Vicki in 1795. Hogwash. He’s a hard-lovin’ scoundrel who was bedhopping ‘twixt the classes in the Islands when not attending voodoo ceremonies, as we learn here. No wonder Angelique loved him.

Did I mention decadence?

On this day in 1969, we sent the Mariner 7 probe to Mars. It found no life.

Officially, anyway.

This episode hit the airwaves April 3, 1969.

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 27


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 990

Sabrina Stuart, dazed from time with Cyrus, arrives at Collinwood insisting on a seance. As Quentin tries to make Alexis feel at home, they get drawn into recreating the spectral ceremony where Angelique allegedly died of a stroke. Sabrina, seemingly stuck at that point in time, eagerly participates in the ritual and screams “Murderer!” as it goes on.

If DARK SHADOWS had begun with this sequence, it may have been a more powerful, if less atmospheric, way to begin the show than what aired four years earlier. It’s a new beginning in so many ways, but still steeped in its own past. This episode is dominated by recreating a seance that happened before we joined the storyline -- one that took Angelique’s life. They spend a lot of time justifying recreating something so insane, but they ultimately go forward because, from what I can tell, they don’t have cable. Exposition runs heavier than normal, and the appearance of Angelique’s “twin” gives them plenty of reason to fill us and her in on what’s happened so far. She is a blonde Vicki Winters at this point: a stranger to Collinwood who is both foreign yet intrinsic to the home. By all means, bring her up to speed.

Parallel Time. Very rarely has DARK SHADOWS chased its own tail with such passion, but at least it’s for a reason. They were only a few months past one of their most memorable storylines and were shooting a movie. The franchise was riding high, but not so high that they were invulnerable. How do you protect your brand while keeping it moving?

The previous Leviathan sequence had been an experiment in formula-tampering by restoring Barnabas to his earlier villainy. Romance-driven skullduggery has a thrill to it. Barnabas grimly taking orders from Philip Todd just kind of... doesn’t. Following that, Parallel Time was a perfectly harmless place to drop off viewers with the Next Generation crew while the Original Ghouls went to shoot the film. It’s modern enough to be less expensive than a time travel sequence. But because everyone is a short timer, very little actually matters.

But PT does more than just serve as free parking for Dan’s top hat. It’s part of an annual ritual with the show, which is the oft-mentioned soft reboot, resetting the series in a way that allows new viewers to easily jump in. It also gives the writers a fresh slate. Appropriate for springtime, it happens around this time each year. In 1967, Barnabas is about to appear. In 1968, Vicki is back from 1795 and Angelique is arriving in the present -- with Adam, Stokes, Lang, and Nicholas along for the ride. At this time in 1969, the 1897 story is establishing itself. And in 1970, we begin an entire mirror universe.

As an introduction to a show called DARK SHADOWS, it’s a passionate, moody, evocative success. For a continuation of the DARK SHADOWS story? It’ll be good to get home.

This episode hit the airwaves April 10, 1970.

Monday, March 26, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 26


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 461

Vicki is almost-hanged in 1796, immediately chronoporting back to 1968 and changing places with Phyllis Wick. Barnabas is terrified that she’ll remember who he really is and out him, and Julia seems delighted at the prospect.

Back from 1795… 461 has a lot of work to do. 1968 inherits a very different show than we “last saw” several months ago. They just spent months in the 1790’s, dealing with witches, time travel, and Louis Edmonds as a cat. The rules were always pretty wonky once Barnabas entered, but now the rule book is in the furnace. Literally, anything can happen. Dealing with a mindbender of the seance -- with Vicki’s cha-cha body swap with Phyllis Wick -- is an experience that transcends anything they’ve seen before. Ghosts? There’s a reason a ghost exists. Vampires? The same. A Phoenix? Maybe not, but she at least tries to explain herself. But to the Collinses of 1968, there is nothing causal about what happened at the seance. As nutty as seances are, they’re not time portals. And the Collinses react appropriately -- with a mix of frightened confusion and businesslike problem solving.

No one is more unsettled than Barnabas. Jonathan Frid unleashes an encyclopedia of frightened and baffled expressions and goes for a Guinness record for “most ways a man can look like he’s about to bolt from a room.” Let me see if I have this. Julia is sort of on the verge of blackmailing him. His blood doll, Carolyn, is too ambitious for her own good. He’s in love with Vicki, who is kind of Josette-but-not because things with Maggie, who is kind of not-Josette-but-is, didn’t, um, really work out. Okay, that’s his life walking INTO the seance. Now, his brain is split by two timelines that he’s suddenly remembering at once, REALLY complicating his relationship with Vicki. And you know, under other circumstances, the accusation of vampirism would be easy to write off. But this woman just vanished, was replaced by someone no one had ever seen, and then reappeared in period dress with an instant bullet wound and rope burns around her neck. If she accused someone of being a vampire, I’d be inclined to listen.

New viewers are efficiently introduced to 1968, and veteran viewers are tantalized by the possibilities of returning to the present. The agendas of Barnabas, Julia, and Carolyn are clear. Julia instantly outs herself as a doctor, thus ending one scam and opening a host of new story possibilities. Vicki represents new dangers based in what she knows of Barnabas, which increases the need for Barnabas to intensify his pursuit of her… in both timeline and means. Returning from his origin story, the show suddenly and definitely poses him firmly as the dark hero and Vicki as the unwitting antagonist with the threat she presents.

Few episodes are tighter or cover so much new ground. The cast seems revitalized, reinhabiting their characters with a newfound confidence, comfort, and enthusiasm. All three of the core Collinses -- Joan Bennett, Louis Edmonds, and Nancy Barrett -- jump into the action with a clarity and spark unseen since the show’s inception, and in many ways, it feels like a new premier. I’m not sure that any other point in the series is such a point of redefinition. The existence of a time travel mechanism that works with such mystery and yet individually-tuned purpose reveals a universe where the characters are just that -- characters. There to be manipulated for much larger and more mysterious reasons and with much more complex and unknowable mechanics than we ever thought possible. Sometimes, I think DARK SHADOWS fans write off mysterious time travel or universe-shifting mechanics to expedient writing. Let’s not do that. Let’s at least confront them as the show’s most vast and unknowable puzzles. Let’s take a moment to put them center stage and say that these are happening for a reason by a force with an agenda… even if the agenda is chaos or that chaos results as a side effect of its existence. Collinwood and the surrounding estate almost become a strange, rocky, Lovecraftian god. No, not that. Those gods had only contempt or disregard for humans. This is something else. This has a purpose. People are moved too specifically for this to be completely random.

Discussions like these are the dinner bells for hungry pontification. I’ll spare you, except for the fish course. One of philosophy’s great debates is free will versus determinism. Are people unpredictable or are all of their choices the inevitable result of what’s happened before? DARK SHADOWS’ answer is ‘yes.’ Everything up to now is the result of the past. But starting now? We are perpetually free.

Today is the birthday of actor Phillip R. Allen, who played a police detective in the Parallel Time storyline and is best know as the captain of the USS Grissom, J.T. Esteban, in STAR TREK III: THE SEARCH FOR SPOCK, which may be one of the most underrated sequels in all of cinema.

On this day in 1968, audiences were yukking it up with cinematic funny men, Heywood and HAL, in Stanley Kubrick’s zany adaptation of Arthur C. Clarke’s heartwarming short story, “The Sentinel,” 2001: A SPACE ODYSSEY.  

Friday, March 23, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 23


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 205

Liz discovers Carolyn’s gun and the reason for having it: an amorous Willie. The matriarch goes on to confront Jason, who then corners his protege, asking him to exercise some patience. Willie’s curiosity about Barnabas Collins is peaked by David’s tales of his wealth and the evocative painting in the foyer. The eyes of the painting glow as the episode ends.

Four years prior to the show filming its penultimate swan song, it filmed its overture. Episode 205 is notable for two things -- we say goodbye to James Hall’s Willie Loomis and hello to The Portrait. And it becomes a vastly different show. Although there have been plenty of loopy, larger-than-life characters on the program so far (the Caretaker, Matthew Morgan, Frank Garner), overall, the tone is gritty. Between Dennis Patrick and John Karlen, that will mellow considerably with charm and warmth. Karlen, especially, will give a nuanced turn by creating one of the most human characters in all of television -- a figure made human by dealing with humanity’s antithesis. Does that make him the Rick Deckard of horror? 

This is an episode typical of the storyline… a series of two-handers where characters either threaten or reassure each other. Sometimes at once. But once we get to David bragging about the fortunes of Josette’s husband, we get something else. There were hints of Collinwood’s past from almost the beginning. The Ghost of Josette is an exceptional example of that past reaching into the present. But with the very exact portrait of Barnabas, glowing eyes and all, Josette’s example is no longer exceptional. It’s the norm. The characters we thought were the protagonists are just the opening act. They are short timers, only temporarily occupying Olympus until the titans awaken.

Poor James Hall. His performance is properly scary, and as a reflector character, allows Jason McGuire to nearly become a candidate for sainthood. It was not to be. In a rush to praise John Karlen, let’s not be too hasty to use terms like ‘better’ or ‘worse.’ We have no idea how Hall’s take would have changed and evolved over time and under the thumb of Barnabas. This is an exhibition, not a competition. Please, no wagering. 

Thursday, March 22, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 22


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1243

Bramwell explores the haunted room and discovers the bodies of James Forsythe and Amanda Collins. Julia explains that if he touches them, he’ll be possessed. Meanwhile, Morgan tells Catherine that he knows she’s carrying Bramwell’s child. She persuades him to let Bramwell out, but instead, he locks her in the haunted room with her lover.

Entering the last three episodes, reflection is inevitable. Although, yes, it was “just the ending” to “just a soap opera,” it’s also neither. It’s the first of Gordon Russell’s last two scripts, and so a fine writer with hundreds of pages of investment is going to have something to say in and about this sprawling adventure of monsters and metaphors.

The episode is rich with parallels. Bramwell is trapped in the forbidden room with the ageless corpses of Andrew Forsythe and Amanda Collins. The latter was the wife of Brutus Collins, the ghost who rules the haunted chamber. She cheated on him with Forsythe, thus explaining the specter’s grumpy mood. The episode ends when Morgan, cuckolded by Catherine, tricks his wife into trapping herself in the room with her lover (and his brother), Bramwell. Two jealous and obsessive men -- Brutus and Morgan -- trapping two sets of lovers in a toxic room.

Although DARK SHADOWS’ main story literally ends at the end of the 1840 story, 1841PT can’t be ignored... if you choose to enjoy the show as one, complete story. What function does the last chapter serve? 1841PT comments on the series and story in a number of ways, testing and rewarding the archetypes that have inhabited the series from the beginning. 1243 echoes back to 1795 with a strong ethos. The vampire and witch elements are so entertainingly lurid that the emotional pain of infidelity and the accompanying messages are eclipsed. If we make one stretch, it’s easy to consider 1795 to be the (out of sequence) “beginning” of the story, if not the series. At its heart is the pain of the romantic betrayal inflicted on Angelique. A jealous overreaction. Nearly two centuries of ensuing misery. And then a discovery at the end that Angelique and Barnabas were actually the lasting couple in defiance of convention and expectation. Barnabas was supposed to marry the proper Josette rather than the low born Angelique. This is just as Catherine married the highfalutin Morgan rather than the rough hewn Bramwell. In both cases, with a brutal ardor, romance persists despite socially sanctioned pairings. To an audience of housewives, this was an attractive and subversive message. Be the Angelique. Pursue the Bramwell. At the very least, it’s wish fulfillment. In both cases, as well, they are trapped in a haunted place that is only conquered by their brave fidelity. For Barnabas and Angelique, it is all of 1840. In 1841PT, it’s narrowed down to a single room, bafflingly older than Collinwood, itself. Barnabas wasn’t prepared for the aftershock of Lamar Trask. His son, however, was, and Morgan crafted his own end.

Well, two more chapters from now.

On this day in 1971, Merle Haggard was a big winner at the Academy of Country Music awards, beating out fellow PBS luminaries, Alistair Cooke and Louis Rukeyser

Tuesday, March 20, 2018

Mansions of the Gilded Age Symposium returns to Collinwood

The Mansions of the Gilded Age Symposium is returning this year to the historic Lyndhurst Mansion, the location used as the fictional "Collinwood" in HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS and its sequel, NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS.

Lyndhurst is a Gothic Revival country house that sits in its own 67-acre park beside the Hudson River in Tarrytown, New York. Designed in 1838 by Alexander Jackson Davis, the house's last resident was railroad baron Jay Gould. In 1961, Gould's daughter Anna Gould donated it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. The National Historic Landmark is now open to the public.

On April 29, Mansions of the Gilded Age Symposium will present a day of lectures and activities at Lyndhurst. Five speakers and authors will discuss topics related to Gilded Age homes, society and art at the mansion. You can find a full schedule of lectures and tours for the day at the official Facebook event page HERE. Tickets are available at

(H/T to Will McKinley for the tip. Follow him on Twitter at @willmckinley.)

Monday, March 19, 2018

You can't see our faces, but we're blushing

Kathryn Leigh Scott gave the Collinsport Historical Society and Patrick McCray a shout out via Facebook over the weekend. The CHS has been nominated for Best Blog/Website of 2017 by the Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards. I'm currently stumping for Patrick as a write-in candidate for "Best Writer," primarily for his work on the "Dark Shadows Daybook" series. You can read more about the nominations HERE. (And thanks again, Kathryn, for the vote of confidence!)
Attention Dark Shadows fans . . . The Collinsport Historical site is up for a Rondo award, which is like the Hugo of...
Posted by Kathryn L Scott on Saturday, March 17, 2018

Saturday, March 17, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 17


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 985

Maggie is stunned to find that Angelique’s twin sister, Alexis, has arrived from Italy. As the house falls under her spell, few believe she’s not Angelique returned. Meanwhile, Cyrus Longworth tells Chris Collins about man’s duality. At Collinwood, Quentin is entranced by Alexis’ rendition of “Ode to Angelique,” and as they are about to kiss, Maggie stumbles in and storms out.

Riddle me this: when is a twin not a twin?

Cyrus Longworth quotes Shakespeare in this episode, and it begs the question of questions: just how parallel is Parallel Time? After all, there’s still Shakespeare, and there’s still a recognizable quote from the Cliff’s Notes to HAMLET. What’s really changed? At times, it feels as if the differences are too slight. When the show could have taken a massive risk in format and tone, instead it shifts just enough to ditch certain actors to go film HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS while not confusing the viewers… for instance, by having Harry Johnson attempt to take his mother’s job by assassinating her or Liz running around with a beard being told by Barnabas that, “Every revolution begins with just one spinster.”

But it’s not Mirror Time. It’s Parallel Time. Perhaps the differences should be slight. Protecting the brand is important, and they make hay with characters who largely won’t be in HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS. If they had made this a universe where vampires were the norm and Barnabas joined a human resistance or something, it would have set insane expectations for the movie.

It is a twin of DARK SHADOWS. Not identical. Not too deviant. And like any fictional twin, it gives us a chance to appreciate the counterpart. Most of them are simply more extreme versions of their Main Time equivalents. This episode drives home the importance of twins because it illuminates the fact that this story will focus on the impact of specific twins in a sea of them. With the arrival of Alexis, we have the establishment of one set. With Cyrus Longworth, we have the next, as he strives to give figurative birth to his own twin, John Yaeger -- his other side.

It seems confusing, these twins upon twins. But none of them really are. Alexis is Angelique. Longworth is Yaeger. Smoky is the Bandit. Following that, the larger question is whether or not this parallel universe is a twin or is it simply our own universe with the implications of more extremity (Longworth) or more deception (Alexis)? It’s up to Barnabas to navigate Parallel Time’s maze, and as a man given to outbursts of extremity and a life of deception, this universe may ultimately serve as a very personal mirror.

Today features the last SHADOWS script written by Violet Welles. A press agent for Broadway productions, she was also a ghost writer for Gordon Russell, specializing in characters and the emotional subtext of scripts when assisting him. Vaguely the DC Fontana of DARK SHADOWS, Dan Curtis insisted on hiring her, and she made solid contributions to the show, especially in the 1897 storyline, where she began by helping Evan Hanley and Quentin summon Angelique from Hell. 

Thanks, Violet!

This episode hit the airwaves April 3, 1970.

Thursday, March 15, 2018

Sidequest: Rob Zombie announces "Devil's Rejects" sequel

2005's THE DEVIL'S REJECTS was a mission statement of sorts for Rob Zombie. The newly minted director had stumbled out of the gate with his first outing, HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, a primal scream of a film that Zombie had to compromise in order to secure any kind of theatrical release. Another director would have sought to remedy those sins with an expanded director's cut DVD and feature length commentary track/apology, but Zombie took a different approach: he gathered as much of the cast as he could and made a sequel. THE DEVIL'S REJECTS was raw, unsettling and uncompromising, right down the the film's climax that saw its anti-heroes gunned down in a blaze of glory. The heroes were villains, villains were heroes and everybody died. The end.

Since then, Zombie has taken a my way or the highway approach to filmmaking, alienating a lot of people in the process. He's as true an auteur as Hitchcock, for sure, but his obsessions don't always mesh well with audience expectations. His adaption of John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN is among the most controversial horror movies in recent memory, but response to that film was almost muted in comparison to his sequel, HALLOWEEN II. Since THE DEVIL'S REJECTS Zombie has done things his way, but it's a way that has lead increasingly to direct-to-video purgatory and crowdfunding initiatives. In 2003, Zombie made deep cuts to HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES to get it into theaters; today he only cares about completing a film on his own terms ... even of those films fail to find an audience (I don't know a single person who has seen his 2016 movie 31.)

Yesterday, he announced via Instagram that a follow-up to THE DEVIL'S REJECTS, titled 3 FROM HELL, had begun shooting. The response has been about what you might expect. Zombie's films are genetically engineered to be provocative, so it shouldn't be surprising that fans/haters immediately began to draw battle lines. I think this summarizes it in the most polite way possible:

There are a few ways to interpret Zombie's announcement, and none of them very helpful. The most pessimistic read is that the guy who directed the awful and/or gloriously bonkers HALLOWEEN II is making a sequel to THE DEVIL'S REJECTS. If you haven't enjoyed Zombie's recent output, then you're probably not all that excited about seeing his best work extended during the downward arc of his career.

On the other hand, THE DEVIL'S REJECTS was also made by the same guy who made HOUSE OF 1000 CORPSES, so anything is possible ... even in Zombie's misanthropic cinematic universe. Relationship Status: It's complicated.

Note: You can see RZ's original Instagram announcement below.

Wednesday, March 14, 2018

The Dark Shadows newspaper strip collection is at the printers

The Dark Shadows newspaper strip made its debut on this day in 1971, so it seems appropriate to share some news about a collected edition of this series: the hardback, restored collection that's been promised by Hermes Press since 2014 is now at the printer!

Hermes Press has been fighting to get this book published for almost as long as this website has been around. The company successfully reprinted the entire run of the Gold Key comics line, but pre-orders for this particular title have stalled on several occasions. This has been disappointing to me, personally, because the Ken Bald illustrated newspaper strips are among the best of the licensed materials ever spun out of DARK SHADOWS.

The 224-page hardbound collection looks to be a keeper. Not only is it chock full of bonus material, but this edition reprints Sunday strips in color for the first time. While the various DARK SHADOWS comics that have appeared over the years have featured some terrific artwork,  Bald's linework on the newspaper strip might the best of the bunch. It's reportedly Bald's favorite work of his career, which is no small statement given that Guinness World Records has crowned him as the world's "oldest comic book artist." The man has worked on everything from "Doc Savage" and "Captain America" to "Dr. Kildare."

A paperback collection of these strips was published in 1996 by Kathryn Leigh Scott's Pomegranate Press. For whatever reason, those strips were published in format that emulated the dimensions of traditional comic books. This meant shrinking the strips down to sizes that weren't always pleasant to the eye. The Hermes Press edition presents the strips in a landscape format, two strips per page to better appreciate Bald's artwork. (Note: The Sunday strips have three-deck layouts and get entire page to themselves.) Also, this collection presents the Sunday strips as they were original published ... in color.

Amazon is predicting a July 10 release for "Dark Shadows: the Complete Newspaper Strips," and has the book available for pre-order HERE. (It is also available for pre-order directly from the publisher HERE.)

You can get a look at the cover and interior samples below.

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 14


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 196

Jason McGuire reintroduces himself to Liz by requesting favors and a room, reminding her about Paul and explaining that he’s her most important guest. Carolyn is thrilled, Roger is concerned, and Victoria promises Liz that she will never reveal what she saw the night before.

It’s Dennis Patrick’s birthday, and it’s wholly appropriate that it should also be the episode in which Jason McGuire and Liz Stoddard are reunited, allowing her to have her “Burke Devlin,” and allowing Patrick to charm the daylights out of the cast, characters, and audience. The Zen of DARK SHADOWS rests in the Koan of Jason McGuire: how can the show’s most lovable character be it’s one of its nastiest villains? One of my first memories of the show was the dirty secret that I tuned in for Barnabas, but I stayed for Jason; he was the real villain. Barnabas was just making the best of a bad situation.

Jason parallels both Burke and Barnabas in nefarious ways, making him an ideal reflector character. Like Burke, he was wrapped up with a predicament where one of Jamison’s kids was wrapped up with murder. Burke took the rap for a crime committed by Roger. Jason helped Liz dodge the rap for a murder she only thinks she committed. No wonder Liz went so easy on a guilty Roger. Similarly, both Jason and Barnabas deal with reluctant brides. Barnabas moves the world to win back the woman he sincerely loves. Jason just uses old-fashioned blackmail. But both are engaged with dark engagements at the same time.

In this episode, Jason tests the waters with Liz, gently advancing in his campaign of Gaelic guile. In the era of #MeToo uber Alles, we’re all too aware of the power of grooming, gaslighting, and social compliance. Everywhere from the film, COMPLIANCE, to the recent Derren Brown special, THE PUSH, the dark force of gently escalating mind control is on parade. In this sense, DARK SHADOWS was so far ahead of its time, it makes me wonder if Ron Sproat worked for Ewan Cameron and MKUltra. Watch Jason’s technique in this one. By gently reminding Liz of Paul Stoddard while making small, vaguely inconspicuous requests of a person of wealth -- some new clothes, a room with a view out of so many empty bedchambers -- he makes more and more extravagant demands seem imminently rational. And he’s in for far more than a penny.

On this day in 1967, President John F. Kennedy’s body was permanently moved to Arlington National Cemetery. 

Tuesday, March 13, 2018

Here's how Marvel's version of "Dark Shadows" might have looked

For anyone who made a living creating comics during the second half of the 20th century, the Comics Code Authority was a huge pain in the ass. Adopted by comics publishers in the 1950s, the CCA was a misguided attempt at self-regulating an industry that had developed a lurid, exploitative reputation. Congressional hearings helped portray comics at the chosen entertainment of juvenile delinquents and perverts, the less-literary sibling to pornography. Everything from "Tales from the Crypt" to "Batman" was targeted, leading to a new set of industry regulations that dictated how elements such as crime and horror could be presented ... which was almost "not at all."

These rules are probably the reason why the DARK SHADOWS comic series was published by Gold Key, a company that mostly published licensed properties like THE TWILIGHT ZONE and STAR TREK. The license holders, not the Comics Code, had the ultimate say in Gold Key's product, so the publisher was among the few not to use the "Code Approved" seal on its covers. Meanwhile, Marvel and DC Comics still obeyed the rules, more or less ... rules that prohibited them from presenting vampires, werewolves, zombies and pretty much everything else depicted daily by ABC on DARK SHADOWS.

These rules relaxed a little as the 1960s came to an end, prompting DARK SHADOWS fan Roy Thomas to introduce Morbius the Living Vampire in the pages of "The Amazing Spider Man." Pretty quickly, Marvel began to adopt an editorial strategy that looked exactly like that of DARK SHADOWS: a "who's who" of public domain literary characters, from Dracula to Frankenstein's monster, shambled their way into a universe already inhabited by the likes of the Hulk, Doctor Strange and the X-Men. Joining their ranks were "The Living Zombie," "Werewolf By Night," "Satana" and more. Had Marvel been willing and able to adapt DARK SHADOWS into comics, this is pretty much what it would have looked like. (We would almost certainly have seen Barnabas Collins mixing it up with Spider-Man, as well.)

If you're curious about Marvel's horror universe, Amazon is holding a massive sale on digital graphic novels and collections with hundreds of books going for just 99 cents each. This includes a lot of superhero stuff, but also collections of "Tomb of Dracula," "Werewolf By Night" and an anthology of horror tales from the black and white magazine like called "Marvel Horror."

Click HERE to get started.

Monday, March 12, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 12


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 451

Millicent continues to behave erratically as Joshua and Bathia try to rend the curse from a possessed Barnabas. Joshua shocks Victoria by pressing for her release. Bathia eventually is immolated by the spirit of Angelique.

Bathia, it was nice knowing ya! Actually, it was! 451 begins the wrap up of 1795 with bold and uncompromising writing by Ron Sproat and Jonathan Frid’s Shakespearean knack making you think that actual blood will fall from a thundering sky, no matter the material. But Anita Bolster’s turn as Bathia Mapes is what sells it. A seasoned performer from Dublin’s famous Abbey Theater and the Broadway stage, DARK SHADOWS signaled one of her last appearances. One of our most avid readers uses “Bathia Mapes” as their online pseudonym -- or do they? It might be a gesture of camp, but it might not. Mapes only appears for a brief moment in the series, but between the performance and the script, she’s as memorable at the last episode as she is in 451, three years earlier. A hawklike crone, she seems to be such the keen match for Angelique that we never see her death coming. As if we needed any more reason to fear Angelique, Bathia’s death provides. Mapes is at a Stokes-level of formidability, and if Angelique can posses Barnabas and turn a potent sorceress into a pillar of flame, her powers know no limit.

She could even convince Roger to abandon life as a confirmed bachelor. 

Friday, March 9, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 9


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 976

Bruno again tries to kill Caroline by locking her in a room with a transforming Chris Jennings. Roger comes to the rescue, clocking Bruno and saving his niece. Later, Bruno persuades Carolyn to meet him, and the werewolf stops his assassination attempt by mussing Bruno’s ‘do to death. Roger tops off the day by checking on Parallel Time, seeing that PT Quentin is returning with a wife, and his dead former wife’s ghost will take him back to court or something. Roger is appalled to see his PT self wearing some questionable lapels.

Two-Fisted Fightin’ Fops!

Bruno and Worf. They have an important similarity besides being of the House of Martok and sporting girlish bouffants. They also get beaten up a lot by sometimes unlikely perpetrators. It’s one thing to be savaged by a werewolf. Happens to the best of us. But to be beaten up by Roger Collins is a clear indication that you need more roughage in your diet… maybe a brisk, daily swim, too. Roger used to dread thumb-wrestling with Liz and Indian burns from Mrs. Johnson. David would threaten to bruise his father’s palm by meriting a spanking. Well, clearly, he’s upped the snifter size he uses in his daily curls because he dispatches Bruno (with a candlestick) like Stokes going through a slice of Stilton.

I kid, I kid. But the hidden gem of the Leviathan arc is seeing Roger mix it up, Jack Lord-style. The Midnight Stroka goes out swinging, duking it out with a werewolf and holding his own until overcome by a fuller hairdo. 976 provides kids with the spring break joy of no less than two fight scenes broken up by another installment of Fretting About Jeb with Liz and Roger. It’s like its the series’ way of saying, “Man, you’re really going to miss us. In almost no time, it’s Parallel Time and jet black fatalism. So, have fun with some fight scenes while you can.”

DARK SHADOWS is about to hit puberty and become the sullen teenager of 1840 and then the  hallucinating college student of 1841 PT. Before that, Bruno gets blowed up by a wolfman real good as the last sip of childhood’s dandelion and lobster wine is vinted in the house by the sea.

I drink to your leg.

Thursday, March 8, 2018

It's International Women's Day, even in Collinsport

If you haven't heard, today is International Women's Day. As a 46-year-old white American man it's been my tradition during the previous 45 years to sit on my ass and do as little as possible ... which is pretty much what I do on every day that isn't Halloween. It's a plan that seems to be working out for a lot of people, right up to the point where it doesn't. How many women have accused our sitting president of sexual harassment, if not outright assault? How does everybody not already have the number memorized?

The theme of this year’s International Women's Day campaign is #PressForProgress, more clearly defined as “a strong call-to-action to press forward and progress gender parity.” So, what better way for a DARK SHADOWS fanpage to press forward than by leaping backward in time? Our destination is June 27, 1966, the broadcast date of the show's first episode. My first thought to was determine and discuss the first episode of the series that had an all-female cast, something that shouldn't be too difficult given its ostensible origin as entertainment for housewives. That episode arrived a little less than four months after the debut on Oct. 4, 1966, featuring a cast of Joan Bennett, Nancy Barrett, Clarice Blackburn, Kathryn Leigh Scott and Alexandra Moltke. In that episode Scott gets to deliver the revealing line, "I guess in a lot of ways, being a housekeeper for one man for so many years is almost like being a wife." Her character, Maggie Evans, has become the de facto head of her own household thanks to her father's depression and alcoholism. Many of the women of DARK SHADOWS carry the burdens that come along with having power, but very few wield any of it themselves. (Keep that in mind when Angelique arrives on the scene and upsets the apple cart.)

When Barnabas Collins crashes Collinsport in 1967, though, the dynamic of the series shifts violently. Yeah, DARK SHADOWS would continue to carry many of the hallmarks of passive feminism until its end. Women, for example, delivered the opening narration for 961 of 1,225 episodes ... but Moltke was responsible for almost 60 percent of those and she quit the show in 1968. After her departure, DARK SHADOWS fully became the Jonathan Frid show, for better and for worse.

Considering the gargantuan number of episodes and actors accrued by the production during its 1966-1971 run, it was going to hit the occasional all-female episode without even trying. The same can be said when applying the "Bechdel test," a tool that helps define the presence (or absence) of gender equality in a work. The test is named for Alison Bechdel, an illustrator who presented the concept in an installment of her “Dykes to Watch Out For” comic strip. It asks three very basic questions: Does the movie contain two or more (named) female characters? Do those characters talk to each other? If so, do they discuss something other than a man? Easy, right?

Again, applying this "test" to a series that has 1,225 episodes doesn't prove much. But I thought it might be interesting to put the very first episode of DARK SHADOWS to the test. Conclusion: It takes about four minutes for the episode to clear all three incredibly low hurdles ... but what is more interesting is what was also missing.

Last year, I wrote a bit about how DARK SHADOWS used reflections and portraits to talk about the nature of identity. (You can read that piece HERE.) The series hit the ground running with this theme in the very first episode before the credits even roll. We're introduced to Victoria Winters, our protagonist, on a train ride from New York to Collinsport, Maine. Everybody she meets along the way has questions about her identity. Who is she? Where is she from? Where is she going? Why is she doing any of this? The fact that Victoria has no real answers to these questions makes up the core mystery of DARK SHADOWS, a puzzle whose solution is nothing more or less than the construction of one woman's identity.

And at no point in the episode does anybody ask Victoria who she is boning.

It takes three more episodes before anybody really asks that question, and when they do it arrives in the form of a rape-y inquiry from Roger Collins: "Pain sometimes precedes pleasure, Miss Winters, or are you too young to have discovered that yet?" Consider that a line drawn in the sand by the writers of DARK SHADOWS.

The traditional romantic entanglements associated with popular entertainment wander into frame later in the series ... and when they do, Victoria's dance card reads like a litany of bad ideas. There's the dependable-yet-boring Frank Garner, Burke "I just got out of prison" Devlin, and Barnabas Collins, a veritable forest of red flags. DARK SHADOWS refused to commit Victoria to any one person until Moltke negotiated her way out of the series, after which Victoria is literally absorbed by this new relationship and ceases to be. That resolution is cynical by design, and might even represent a little passive aggression on the part of Dan Curtis and co. about the actress's resignation. But the message is clear: Commit to being yourself, or commit to being nothing.

- Wallace McBride,

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 8


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 449

Joshua confides about Barnabas with the Countess, who begins a ritual to bring about a magic user who will erase the curse. As they wait, Nathan and Millicent discuss the light in the tower room. Millicent, despite her pleas for companionship, goes up alone, where she encounters Barnabas. He attacks. Downstairs, a strange, old crone arrives and announces herself as Bathia Mapes, there to lift the curse.

There are three 1795’s. There’s what we remember. There is a reality that’s often slower than seems possible. And then there’s an episode like this: the series at its finest. No lectures on camp, cultural relativism, nor irony are needed because none apply to the action. It is a gripping, straightforward supernatural drama worthy of MYSTERY! -- as hosted by Gene Shalit, thank you. Yeah, THAT era. 

The Bathia Mapes sequence received a dramatic makeover in the DARK SHADOWS YEAR ONE comic series.
At its core? People desperate to solve a problem rooted in paranormal unknowns. The solution, intoned by candlelight, is equally mysterious. The strange working used to summon Baphia Mapes has all of the logic of a dream… meaning none, yet it must be and is trusted implicitly. Like a dream, it is mundane, yet dramatic. It works, with dreamlike lighting to match. Rarely is the show this dark, yet steady and purposeful. 449 is rich with an atmosphere that arises from the situation and characters rather than being a desired, imposed “feel” in search of a story. (Tim Burton, take note.) There is a quiet, confident, and at times desperate sense of cosmic awe to the episode. It is about a leap of noir faith that, just as arbitrarily as the universe stuck them with Angelique, it can also -- just as bafflingly -- bring the solution. Faith usually represents sloppy thinking and sloppier storytelling. In this case, it is an organic response to the way reality has shifted out from under Joshua Collins, and his ability to work with the new normal makes his an astonishingly modern man and unsung hero of the sequence.

It’s deeply human and poignant, too. Within all of this is the strange, sad double-doublecross of Millicent and Nathan, each trying to manipulate the other upstairs to meet Barnabas. Millicent is simply outmatched in the bluffing department by the seasoned sailor, and we and she see her sliding toward fate with another bit of dreamlike inevitability. We know and she -- somehow -- knows what awaits her, but she goes anyway, embracing entropy without question nor pause. The saddest moment may be when Barnabas offers her the option to escape and live if she’ll simply agree to conceal what she’s found. Here, Jonathan Frid and Nancy Barrett shine like klieg lights. Millicent’s tragedy is that her nature compels her to tell the truth. She knows it will kill her and she knows that she is consigned to it. She is addicted to chatter and chatter will kill her. When she screams at Barnabas’ attack, I think she’s not so much screaming at the terror of the vampire as she is screaming at herself.

On this day in 1968, you could go to the movies and enjoy QUATERMASS AND THE PIT, PLANET OF THE APES, or THE GOOD, THE BAD, AND THE UGLY.

Wednesday, March 7, 2018

Cinefantastique loves House of Dark Shadows, 1971

HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS was treated upon its release in 1970 as if it was pornography. The marketing campaign, with its sleazy double entendres, didn't do a hell of a lot of it's credibility, either. A motion picture based on one of the biggest television shows  of the generation (and one that was providing the move with promotion every afternoon on ABC) should have landed with a splash. Instead, the few critics that took the time to write about HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS did so from a condescending point of view. There's little in Roger Ebert's superficial review, for example, to suggest he'd actually seen the movie.

Luckily, the late Frederick S. Clarke was on the case. The creator, owner, editor and publisher of Cinefantastique gave HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS the cover of the magazine's second issue in 1971. Clarke attacks the film from every angle and leaves no stone unturned. (Even set decorator Ken Fitzpatrick gets a mention.) He also smartly positions HODS against the tide of contemporary vampire films, many of which were playing against the Hammer tradition or the work Jonathan Frid had been doing on television with DARK SHADOWS. The writing here isn't going to win any awards; Clarke was still a young man in 1971, and was only 20 years old when he launched the magazine a year earlier. His writing style in these days was still a hybrid of scholarly journals and the kinds of purple summaries found in Famous Monsters of Filmland. Regardless, this review might be the single best thing written about HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS upon its original release Enjoy!

Review: "House of Dark Shadows"
By Frederick S. Clarke
Cinefantastique, Winter 1971

The seventies have begun with an inordinate number of vampire films, chief among which are COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE, from AIP in June, MGM's HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS and Hammer Films' TASTE THE  BLOOD OF DRACULA, both in September. This is not to mention THE VAMPIRE LOVERS in October, Hammer's latest entry, THE SCARS OF DRACULA, in December, and the indie-exploitation release GUESS WHAT HAPPENED TO COUNT DRACULA in August, as well as several titles which were in production in 1970 but will not appear until this year.

HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS is the superior film of the new crop, and less modestly deserves credit as the best vampire film since HORROR OF DRACULA, which began this modern trend back in 1958. These two films are, in technique, at opposite cinematic poles. HORROR OF DRACULA is slow and brooding, wonderfully suggestive of horror, and in that respect, remarkable as much for what it leaves out as what it shows. HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, on the other hand, is a fast paced, harrowing thriller, which shocks on the purely graphic level. These are, of course, grossly oversimplified generalizations, for both films utilize both techniques in some measure. HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS is, in fact, the culmination of the graphic trend begun in that earlier film. Although HORROR OF DRACULA is, in the main, of the suggestive school, it was remarked on, when it first appeared, more for its graphic scenes of horror; Dracula's fierce encounter with Harker in the library; the branding of Mina with the holy crucifix; and Dracula's destruction at the hands of Dr. Van Helsing. The success of the film Sharpened the already existing debate that fantasy and horror of the suggestive school was the most potent form; opponents of this thesis now had, in the graphic scenes of HORROR OF DRACULA, some evidence to the contrary. HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS marks the pinnacle in the ascendancy of the graphic school and should remove any doubts concerning the power and effect that can be achieved by the graphic method in the horror and fantasy genre.

The film's opening minutes are a fine showcase of the suggestive method, and go far in establishing a complicated array of interesting characters as well as setting a tone of violence and horror, which the film relentlessly maintains throughout most of its 97 minutes. Collinwood and its bizarre inhabitants seem to be a serious embodiment of a Charles Adams night mare in which fantasy belongs as part of the natural order. Young David is a warped little boy who delights in hiding and lurking about in the gothic ruins at Collinwood; he locks his friend Maggie, come to find him, in an abandoned building and leaves her. Willie Loomis is a shiftless hired hand looking for lost Colonial treasure amid the ruins of the old estate. Elizabeth Stoddard is the matriarch of Collinwood, who rules over the estate and her weak willed husband, Roger. Into this scene of decaying opulence, the entrance of their vampiric ancestor, Barnabas Collins, is appropriate.

The first shots of Barnabas show us his hand and ornate finger ring. He lurks in the shadowy woods surrounding Collinwood, stalking his first victim, the Stoddards' private secretary, as she leaves the estate late at night. The camera focuses on the feet of the dark figure, moving up to examine the shiny black walking stick and his hand, protruding from the ruffled cuffs, grasping firmly its grotesque head. In this manner, the anticipation in the audience of seeing the expected features of Jonathan Frid as Barnabas is well played upon, until they are revealed upon his first visit to Collinwood, where he looks upon his own portrait hanging there and the Stoddards remark how like this English cousin is to their ancestor.

Aside from the opening moments, the film is unparalleled for its type in presenting scene after scene of chilling horror. This fast-paced treatment of the subject matter is a welcome change from the usual vampire film, which, spending most of its time in the suggestive mode to carefully build mood and atmosphere, becomes, frankly, boring. A case in point is the recent THE VAMPIRE LOVERS, which contains some of the finest mood and atmosphere seen in any horror film, quite reminiscent, really, of the eerie imagery of Roger Corman's heyday at AIP. The eye soon leadens to all this wonderfully suggestive imagery, however, after 90 minutes of it and little else.

The first scene of graphic horror, tame in view of what is to come, has tremendous impact following, as it does, the slow and studied opening sequences. Barnabas, frothing with rage over the jealousy of his first conquest at Collinwood, Carolyn, impulsively attacks her before the horrified eyes of his lackey, Willie Loomis. The camera provides a truly chilling view of Barnabas gnashing voraciously at the bleeding neck of his hysterical and screaming victim and then tracks up to Willie, shaking with indecisiveness and screaming "No, Barnabas, no!" With an impulsive burst of energy, Willie knocks Barnabas free of the girl and the camera gives us a view of his evil protruding fangs, his blood spattered face contorted with rage as he yells "Get her out of here, Willieeee!" The audience is struck dumb.

As Barnabas, Jonathan Frid does excellently with one of the most difficult parts imaginable, for his Barnabas is at different times, gentle and sympathetic, then the ranting incarnation of supernatural evil. It is no mean talent that manages to pull it off. In excellent support are members of the television cast, particularly Grayson Hall as Dr. Julia Hoffman, who cures his vampirism temporarily, and Thayer David as Professor T. Eliot Stokes, the Van Helsing figure. The latter will be fondly remembered as the deliciously sinister Count Saknussemm from JOURNEY TO THE CENTER OF THE EARTH in 1959.

HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS is particularly successful in mixing the modern world with the world of superstition and fantasy, which aids greatly in suspending our sense of disbelief. Somehow, the standing philosophy of these films, that the establishment must pooh pooh any supernatural manifestation, using reverse psychology on the viewer to force him to accept the supernatural element, has never worked. It is oddly reinforcing to the supernatural motif to see the Collinsport police accept the existence of vampirism when faced with the evidence; to see them each brandishing a large metallic crucifix, to see them loading their guns with silver bullets. One of the most effective scenes in the film has a cadre of uniformed officers, equipped with gleaming crosses, ringed about Carolyn, who is languishing fearfully before the dreaded symbols. The officious, neatly uniformed police are such commonplace figures, that within the context of vampirism, they lend the scene an almost surreal quality.

The screenplay by Sam Hall and Gordon Russell is highly inventive, while borrowing selectively from the past. They invest the vampiric lust of Barnabas with some quite human motivations, making him all the more comprehensible for it. They wisely steeped the tale with an elegant sense of lore
and history, which provides Barnabas a solid base in Colonial New England's past, full, as it is, of wonderfully macabre associations with witchcraft and the supernatural.

However, credit for the film's unqualified success must go to director Dan Curtis, who previously had exhibited his skill in the genre by producing, incomparably, the finest version of Robert Louis Stevenson's DR. JEKYLL AND HYDE on television several seasons ago. Curtis provides HOUSE
OF DARK SHADOWS with a stylistic flair indelibly his own, a restless, roving visual sense, never content in projecting a static image. Curtis directs Arthur Ornitz's excellent camerawork not at a scene, but into it, through it, and around it with a hypnotically fluid ebb and flow of nightmarish montage. As little David walks toward the cold embrace of his vampiric sister, the deft editing hand of Arline Garson intercuts between a sweeping master shot in which the camera pans slowly with him as he walks, with various closeups carefully matched with the motive sense of the master shot; the close-ups dissolve into and out of the long master shot, creating an exquisite sense of his be-
ing inexorably drawn toward her by some unseen power. Curtis is, however, at his peak with scenes of graphic violence. This is precisely where most films of the genre break down into laughable burlesque. It is one thing to suggest horror, the venerable technique of the classic cinema, yet quite
another, and more difficult thing, to actually show it. Yet show it Curtis does, and with such conviction and unerring sense of composition that the result has an unnatural fidelity that thoroughly shocks; shocks in the finest Hitchcockian sense, as PSYCHO. On re-viewing HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, one becomes aware of the great tension within the audience during these scenes of
graphic horror; the usual audience clatter of coughing, rustling candy wrappers and idle chatter is gone; this unusual silence lasts just beyond the scene, at which time the audience figuratively exhales, and their usual animation and noisiness returns.

The end-all of graphic horror is the climactic death scene of Barnabas, coming, as it does, after a series of gruesome encounters which leave nearly every major character in the film dead. The camera presents an eerie point of view shot as Jeff slowly descends a staircase, mistily enshrouded by creeping fog, slowly bringing into view the beckoning Barnabas, standing beside Maggie, lying unconscious on the sepulcher, dead Willie lying at his feet. But Willie, his degraded and weak willed slave, is not quite dead, and as Barnabas inches forward, smiling grimly and about to dispatch his last living antagonist, Willie gropes painfully to his feet and removes the large wooden shaft on which he is impaled. The camera presents us with a close shot of Barnabas baring his fangs, about to sink them into the yielding throat of Jeff, when Willie lunges and with his dying hand plunges the shaft deep into the vampire's back. Still in close shot, the head of Barnabas rears up in agony and confusion, blood and spittle gushing forth from his gaping mouth. Curtis wisely does these agonizing scenes of violence in slow motion to obtain the full impact from their fleeting existence. Broken from the vampire 's spell, Jeff maneuvers behind Barnabas who is groping and thrashing wildly, and pounds the stake through his body until it protrudes bloodily from his chest, and Barnabas drops limply to the floor. In slow motion, the grisly effect of the scene is unforgettable. The superb gothic flavor of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS is the result of ideally selected filming locations which are, far and away, more convincing than any set could ever be, yet as strikingly grotesque and haunting as anything imaginable. The credit for dressing up the location shooting and carefully matching it to interiors goes to production designer Trevor Williams and set decorator Ken Fitzpatrick, who have taken meticulous pains in detailing the musty abandoned buildings as well as the decorous drawing rooms of the old mansion, replete with a crackling fireplace, overstuffed chairs and other trappings of sumptuous living.

The music of Robert Cobert is familiar, and becoming, perhaps, a bit overworked by now, after appearing in both the DR. JEKYLL AND HYDE television special as wen as continually on the DARK SHADOWS daytime serial, however, it does not suffer from familiarity, being so well suited and put to use here.

The viewer leaves HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS with the affirmative sense that the horror film can also be a work of art, and that Dan Curtis is certainly one of the finest talents working in the genre. Once and for all, the film should stifle the argument that the suggestion of horror is per se always more effective and believable than its graphic depiction, a fallacy which quite naturally arose from everyone's failure in the graphic mode, until recently. To actually show horror and the supernatural in graphic terms with any conviction and believability demands considerable creative genius; there is no wonder it has been so long in coming.

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 7


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 191

Laura and David face off in a burning shack, and she works her magic to induce him to roast alive. The ghost of Josette reveals the location to Victoria, who rushes there. As she pleads for David to pull back, the boy begins to recite the magic legend of the Phoenix, but stops and escapes before completing the ritual. Across town, Liz comes to her senses.

Why does it take twenty minutes for a boy to decide whether he’s going to leave a burning shack or not? Because it’s a soap opera. 191 represents everything in the medium that DARK SHADOWS would quietly rebel from as well as everything that made it ludicrously grand. The Phoenix story can’t end quickly enough and it takes its time not doing so. Still, DS’ FIRST major supernatural supervillain makes her temporary exit, and the road to the mausoleum is now paved for Barnabas to come out of the coffin.

Not that the episode lacks stakes and a sense of payoff. The success of this installment rests on the narrow shoulders of David Henesy. At the end of a big Henesy episode or scene, it’s common to announce that the kid nailed it, and this episode is no exception. His scene partners have it easy. They have straightforward, high stakes objectives to pursue. Either David goes into the fire or he doesn’t. There are only so many ways that people can implore the kid to come to them. On the other hand, Henesy has to stretch out indecision and keep it fresh for twenty minutes… with the help of an “ancient legend” that he recites. Not only does he succeed like a champ, but he concludes one of his better Hagen Days with a tearful catharsis that reads as properly-uncomfortably authentic.

Mythologically, one of DARK SHADOWS’ frequent weaknesses is a strength. As with Petofi and the Leviathans (who also played at my prom), the Phoenix is a mythological figure with no citable root in anything recognizable. It lacks a resonance of cultural memory, and feels somewhat slapdash and arguably “who cares?” Fortunately, this ambiguity also guarantees the writers flexibility and room for surprise. The Phoenix is a warm-up for what would become the show’s bread and butter of very successfully post-modernizing supernatural lore, and in that regard, is an invaluable element to the show’s success.

Characters make important leaps to shatter old grudges in 191. David is in the position of choosing mothers, and his election shows unusual wisdom as he follows Vicki to liberty. Similarly, the warmth shown between Carolyn and Liz in the hospital is one more step toward bringing them together beyond Carolyn’s constructed ennui and Liz’s studied distance. In this sense, the Phoenix is new life… just not as Laura expected.

On this day in 1967, Jimmy Hoffa went to jail while Alice B. Toklas shattered the world of poets and pro-wrestlers alike by dying. 

Tuesday, March 6, 2018

Dark Shadows wasn't Beverly Hope Atkinson's strangest credit

If you were an actor working in New York City during the Nixon years -- and had any kind of success -- you found yourself working on some weird projects. Mitchell Ryan crossed swords onstage with Christoper Walken in the Greek classic "Iphigenia At Aulis." Lara Parker was in "Hi, Mom!," one of Brian DePalma's earliest (and still strangest) movies, alongside a very young Robert DeNiro. And both Thayer David and Christopher Pennock found themselves acting in the very first Merchant Ivory Production, "Savages." It was a wild time.

Beverly Hope Atkinson's career was no less weird. Atkinson was the first person of color to appear on DARK SHADOWS with dialogue, granting her an outsized presence in our memories. Ask a random fan and they'll probably remember her, perhaps even believing that she was in more than that one episode broadcast Aug. 21, 1968. (She was credited only as "nurse.") A year would go by before another person of color (Henry Judd Baker) appeared on screen in DARK SHADOWS. Unlike Atkinson, though, Baker lingered in Collinsport for a few episodes ... but was given no dialogue. That's just what television looked like in those days: blindly white.

Atkinson died in December, 2001, of cancer. Her obituary in the 2001-2002 edition of Theater World reveals that she was a student of Lee Strasberg and a member of the Actors Studio, Cafe LaMama in New York, and Theater West on Los Angeles, and that her career included international tours of "Skin of Our Teeth" and "Tom Paine" in London. Her stage credits also include "A Midsummer Night's Dream," "Lysistrata" and "The Blacks" at Seattle Repertory Theatre.

Wikipedia paints a much more distressing, though hardly surprising, portrait of her career. Before her stage work is even mentioned, the anonymous author explains that Atkinson was best known for "playing women down-on-their-luck or caught up in drug addiction." Acting is hard work. Acting for women is even harder, and if you're going to try to do all of those things while also being black? You'd better goddamn love the job because it's rarely ever going to love you back.

Things are better today ... but better does not automatically equal "good." I feel like that needs to be said, if for no other reason than to preemptively fend off Facebook comments from people who believe institutional racism is a thing of the past.

Beverly Hope Atkinson and Joseph Kaufmann in HEAVY TRAFFIC, 1973.
Which brings me to Atkinson's most memorable screen credit: "Carole" in Ralph Bakshi's 1973 feature film HEAVY TRAFFIC. The film combines live action and animation to Bakshi's usual provocative effect, one that initially earned the film an X rating upon release. The story follows a young cartoonist who finds inspiration in the seedy cast of characters surrounding him in pre-Giuliani New York. I don't know that I'm equipped to comment on Bakshi's animation, but ... it's something, all right. You can watch a clip below if you're feeling daring. Ralph Bakshi is one of those filmmakers I'd describe as "important," but that doesn't make his work any less icky.

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 6


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 447

Joshua learns that Barnabas is a vampire created by Angelique. He vows to rescue Victoria and hide his son until a cure can be found. Meanwhile, Millicent transfers the fortune to Daniel, and Naomi knows that Joshua has a secret life in the tower room.

It’s easy to get used to Barnabas as an easily flummoxed hero because he spends so much of the series overwhelmed, frustrated, and asking Julia, “What are we going to do?” This is as inaccurate as seeing him only as the Collinsport Strangler. In this episode, we witness his proud savagery on full parade. Joshua foolishly orders him not to kill, and Barnabas resolutely reveals that this is a useless request. The blunt, uncompromised ferociousness of Barnabas’ thirst is surprising, and it demands more of Joshua than we’ve seen. A man used to getting his way, firm of vision, Joshua quickly revises his stance and shows enormous adaptability. It feels as if the entire 1795 sequence has been a slow-burning setup to see him quickly and dedicatedly grow into modernism in the space of a few seconds. Seeing your son survive your gunshot and bellow, “I am a vampire!” can have that effect. We’re not used to seeing adults grow up, but Joshua discovers and dives into moral particularism like a pro.

As feral as Barnabas is, there is another villain whose shadow looms over this episode and sequence. If Barnabas is the most inhuman heavy in 1795, Nathan Forbes is the most human… and (in the hands of the masterful Joel Crothers) maybe one of the most interesting and well-rounded. Technically, he’s not in this episode, but the news of his engagement to Millicent makes up the B-story, spurs her to secure the family fortune, and allows us to see him through Daniel’s eyes, and Daniel has no complaints about the overgrown kid-lieutenant. Growing up (occasionally) in that house, would you? For all of his opportunism, Forbes has moments of compassion, charm, and conscience. In other circumstances, he’s Harry Flashman. The man is never a hero. Never trustworthy. But we see the clockwork of his impulse management control clicking away, and it’s understandable in a sad and uniquely engaging way.

It’s the birthday of the Caretaker! Daniel F. Keyes was born on this day in 1914.
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