Friday, October 19, 2018

Satan is a just metaphor, Anton LaVey was just a man

Badness had nothing to do with it


In the most recent episode of American Horror Story, Church of Satan founder, Anton LaVey, is portrayed as one of the villains, literally worshiping the devil, consorting with the fictitious bad guys, and establishing himself as a force of evil in that supernatural universe.

None of this, of course, is accurate or even tangentially related to reality. LaVey was a lot of things, and there is still alleged controversy over the verisimilitude of his official biography, but the man was a solid atheist, and his books clearly posit Satan as a symbolic figure. One of the cornerstones of Satanism is that individuals are their own sources of salvation and judgment. Ritual is psychodrama meant to purge or focus emotions. Magic is a polite term for the ability to use diplomacy for interpersonal advantage. This is all documented and on the level.

Editor's Note: And then there's this bullshit

I have no interest in making you read a love letter to Anton LaVey. But ask more of your horror before letting this pass as acceptable.  Devil worshiping villains are classic go-to‘s in horror entertainment. From The Black Cat to Curse of the Demon, they make entertaining, compelling antagonists. But those are fictional characters, even if inspired by certain real life figures. You don’t have to like Anton LaVey to see that this kind of treatment is beneath the medium. If you have affection for the guy, this is bad enough. If you oppose him, it’s even worse. I like a good attack to be completely rooted in accuracy. If someone wants to depict Jerry Falwell badly, I want to make sure that the audiences who walk away with negative impressions of him have those impressions based on the many horrible things he really did and said. Because you can and should get away with exposing people who do rotten things. It’s a job of journalism, and if done well, a job of art.

I suspect that some of the justification is a variation of “come on, a guy who puts on horns and a cape and stands in front of inverted pentagrams is not exactly portraying himself as a Boy Scout.”

In other words, because he dresses that way, he’s asking for it? Isn’t that the thinking that would really be behind that sort of attitude? Good luck with that in 2018.

You don’t see Stan Against Evil pulling that one. 

Review: Dark Shadows: Bloodlust, Episode 7


No, tears. They are a waste of good SPOILERS AHEAD.

“This town doesn’t need the Collins family!”

Volume 2 of Big Finish Productions’ Dark Shadows: Bloodlust opens with some John Grisham-meets-the-Universal Monsters like theatrics with the serial’s seventh installment. A mere day after Quentin Collins, Angelique Bouchard, and a newly summoned Barnabas Collins stood against an angry mob of townsfolk, Sheriff Tate calls a town meeting in the hopes that cooler heads will prevail. What happens is decidedly...not that, but therein lies the super entertaining crux of this volume’s opening story. Centralized and focused on the show’s nerve wracking commitment to raising its own stakes, Bloodlust Episode 7 is a towering opening gambit.

Click HERE to get the episode.
Some big time junk went down last episode. We got the debut of Barnabas, played with a righteously seductive fury by Andrew Collins. He was summoned by his on-again-off-again rival Quentin to back up him and Angelique as the mob swells. A Trinity of monsters stood against the angry hoi polloi of Collinsport. This episode, again, smartly takes a day and allows the cliffhanger to breathe just a bit. I have talked before about how Will Howells, Alan Flanagan, and Joseph Lidster really know how to stage these episodes and their layout across the season and this “taking a beat” approach to some of the larger cliffhangers are really a big part of why they succeed.

This way we get to relish the story as it unfolds instead of being overwhelmed with twists and turns, because, dear readers, this thing has got so goddamn more in store just in THIS episode. After a quick meeting of monstrous minds at the bottom of Widows’ Hill, we then turn to the town as it prepares for a town meeting about the recent killings and their possible connection to the supernatural. First off, can we all just appreciate just how Dark Shadows having a freaking town meeting about monsters is? I am consistently impressed on just how true to the wacky, yet grounded spirit of the original show these audios are and this might be the serial’s greatest example of it.

But my kitchy delight aside, this centralization of the episode’s plot really gets some great stuff from the story. For one it allows for one hell of a scare in the attacking of poor Harry Cunningham, who gets stabbed (we HOPE just stabbed) once the lights are cut during a particularly heated exchanged. For another, the citizens of Collinsport engage in some Arthur Miller-esque courtroom banter, one side standing up for Sheriff Tate and the other with Maggie Evans, who is demanding her acknowledge the existence of the supernatural.

I am of two minds about this. On one hand, Maggie’s group has the right IDEA. They want the local authorities, who have been turning a blind eye to the monsters for years, to finally start taking it seriously and take steps to defend the town. On the other, the way reactionaries like Ed Griffin, who put the boots to old man Trask last time, are framing the argument is that Tate is incompetent and are starting down the slippery slope of fascism in regards to Collinsport’s monster community, given a voice by Quentin. This sequence kind of makes Maggie look like a bully and her group look all the more dangerous, but you can at least see where the fear and anger comes from, thanks to the script’s presentation of the platforms. Plus, the more Kathryn Leigh Scott the better as far as I’m concerned

The town meeting also brings about the return of Nancy Barrett’s Carolyn Stoddard! A development, I must admit, made me a touch misty. And I don’t think it is because of the mold in my “office” here at the CHS. Hearing Carolyn passionately speak toward the town’s hold on people and the things that it is capable of puts real heart into Maggie’s side, when it really needs it. Plus’ Barrett is another one of those presences in the show that I will always hold a soft spot toward, no matter how they are included in the story so hearing her again was a real emotional charge for me just as a fan and listener.

BUT ALL OF THIS leads up to the episode’s two major developments. One being the discovery of a voodoo doll in Amy’s purse and Rhonda Tate being deposed as sheriff and replaced by Maggie Evans, who is pretty much the picture of a Not a Police Officer. The latter of which is the episode’s biggest and closing gambit, but the first one is really interesting. Is Amy fully turning back to witchcraft and did she attack her OWN (step)SON to cover it up? Only time and future episodes will tell, but the idea of Maggie Evans being the Marge Gunderson of Collinsport is just officially Too Good. It could only spell disaster for the town, just from a logistical standpoint, but holy crow, is it the perfect capper to this civically focused installment of Bloodlust. One sure to have major lapping story ripples throughout this back half of episodes.

There is a new Sheriff in town so monsters beware. You know, just when I think I hit a ceiling on the kind of entertaining Bloodlust can be, it goes and brings back Barnabas Collins (played by a truly class actors), large portions of the original TV cast, and then plunges me deep into a story worthy of all those actors and characters. Episode 7 is just another example of how the serial keeps upping the ante on itself. It hooks listeners deeply with a consistently engaging, well produced story that utilizes the best aspects of the property and its talented troupe of actors. Volume 1 of Bloodlust was good, but I’ll be damned if Volume 2 might be even better. I can’t wait to find out.

NEXT TIME! Episode 8! We Need To Talk About Harry.  

Dan Curtis: Old School/New School

Dan Curtis on the set of The Strange
Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde
, 1968.
I doubt that Dan Curtis even intended to become a horror auteur. He began his career in television in 1950 as a salesman for syndicated programs, later playing a vital role in bringing golf to television. Even his first foray into narrative drama, Dark Shadows, didn't begin explicitly has a horror series, dabbling for a year in gothic melodrama that only sometimes involved ghosts. When Barnabas Collins landed on the scene, though, Curtis discovered he had a flair for creeping people out and his career changed for ever. By the end of the 1970s he'd brought an entire menagarie of terrors to screens big and small, including vampires, haunted houses, zombies, aliens, devil dolls and a host of other creatures that oten defy description.

On Oct. 25, The Paley Centre for Media in New York City is hosting an event titled Dan Curtis: Old School/New School, described as an exploration of Curtis' "horror oeuvre." Produced by the Miskatonic Institute of Horror Studies, the event will be hosted by instructor David Bushman, a television curator at the Paley Center. Admission to Dan Curtis: Old School/New School is $12 in advance, $15 at the door.

For more information, or to purchase tickets, click HERE.

Thursday, October 18, 2018

Dark Shadows returns to television Oct. 29

It's been a long, long time since Dark Shadows has been on television in any significant manner. Following its lengthy run on The Sci-Fi Channel during the 1990s, the show has made only fleeting appearances on television, usually around Halloween. That drought comes to an end Oct. 29 when Decades adds it to its weekday lineup, where it will appear every midnight like a ghostly wail \Monday through Friday.

The series will begins where it always does, with episode 210 and the arrival of Barnabas Collins. While I expect some of the old timers to gripe about this decision, it's as elegant introduction to the series as you could possibly ask. Those episodes from the spring and summer of 1967 represent Dark Shadows at its purest, when it was still a fairly traditional melodrama with a vampire lurking around the fringes. Decades plans to keep the show on its schedule until next spring, offering 260 episodes daily ... this will take viewers from Willie Loomis learning a hard lesson while graverobbing in #210, to #470, shortly before Adam is fully assembled by Dr. Eric Lang. That's a LOT of story.

If you don't get Decades in your area, don't sweat it right now. You can catch the first few dozen episodes streaming on Hulu and Amazon, and you're welcome to watch along with the rest of us every midnight. (I don't have Decades either, and this is my strategy.) If you don't already have a Twitter account, make sure to get one ... lively conversations during the broadcast will go a long way toward telling service providers what you want. If we can bring enough new fans into the fold we might even keep Dark Shadows on Decades long after #470.


To find out where to how DECADES visit

Stan Against Evil earns the coveted ❤ emoji from the CHS

I am a devoted fan of IFC's Stan Against Evil, a show that manages to scratch my constant cravings for EC Comics-style horror and Lynchian small-town weirdness. There's nothing else quite like it on television ... and perhaps there never has been, save for some of the more comedic episodes of The X-Files. Comedy and horror often make for troubled marriages and Stan Against Evil's almost obsessive devotion to making the show both a pure horror and pure comedy wobbles unpredictably between laughs and revulsion. It's a tone that won't work for some people, but you wouldn't want to hang out with them, anyway. They're buzz kills.

This is already running longer than I intended, so let me keep this brief with some random observations about Stan Against Evil: It's got some of the best monster designs to grace the small screen since The Outer Limits, it has as perfect an ensemble cast as you could ever hope for, John C. McGinley was in Platoon and therefore is allowed to do whatever he wants in perpetuity, Janet Varney is the moral and emotional anchor for Stan Against Evil (and a genuine revelation as an actress), Deborah Baker Jr. makes every scene she's in better, Nate Mooney needs his own spinoff Enos-style, and I want to be Dana Gould when I grow up. (I've been saying that last bit since 1991, but he doesn't show any signs of vacating the position.) Wow ... I'm out of breath now.

Anyhoo, it was my goal this summer to bring some of my love of Stan Against Evil to The Collinsport Historical Society but had concerns about diluting my mission. I've restricted my Standom to Twitter and Instagram, scattering my artwork to the digital winds. BUT: the series is returning for a third season on Oct. 31. It feels like a good time to pool some of these creations in one spot, a few of which are being seen for the first time. If you aren't familiar the show you might be a little confused by all of this ... the first two seasons of Stan Against Evil are streaming right now on Hulu, which should give you a chance to catch up. And you might want to, given that there's an homage to House of Dark Shadows planned for season 3.

If you're a Stan Fan, feel free to share anything you see here.

Review: Dark Shadows: Bloodlust, Episode 6


Ah! Listen! The SPOILERS AHEAD of the night! Vat music they make!

“We are The Trinity and we will protect ourselves.”

Volume 1 of Dark Shadows: Bloodlust comes to a thunderous conclusion in episode 6. The town of Collinsport is ready to boil in the wake of the newest attacks. Attacks that have taken the life of Andrew Cunningham and landed poor Jessica Griffin in a coma. And to complicate matters further Quentin Collins is back in town, his arrival unfortunately coinciding with the attacks. Everything is primed to explode and whether she meant to or not, Maggie Evans just might have lit the fuse. Episode 6 really feels like a real deal conclusion and though we still have a whole other volume to cover in the coming days, but this episode really sticks the landing for this first part rocking the very foundations of Collinsport and the fandom that loves it.

Click HERE to get the episode!
Before we proper start though, I must apologize for the lateness of this installment. We were hosting the annual sister city barbeque with delegates from Innsmouth, Mass. One of their aldermen, who smelled weirdly of cod, had a few too many Old Peculiers and accidentally knocked out wi-fi for the town overcooking a chicken on the Society’s lawn. It was a mess but the mayor of Innsmouth apologized profusely and left like a oppressive amount of crab dip so everything is comin’ up Justin!

But enough civil politics, BLOODLUST! So when we last talked, Quentin Collins had just swept back into Maggie Evans’ life and whoever (or whatever) is attacking citizens had struck again. Writers Joseph Lidster, Alan Flanagan, and Will Howells waste little time capitalizing on these developments. First up is David Selby’s naturally powerfully integration into the cast. The script does a nice job of contextualizing his inclusion, dropping hints about his relation to Amy and his standing among the town, pre-Bloodlust. This attention to context and continuity, especially around bigger characters, is really a key selling point for this serial for me. I was really worried going into this that I would be somewhat lost, being as how most of my Dark Shadows knowledge comes from the show and film entries. But Big Finish has really gone the extra mile to make these both accessible and entertaining and it really really encouraging to see.

But seriously, holy crow, David Selby rules. Each original actor has really shined throughout this serial, and Selby is no exception. Though he may be older, Selby’s newfound wizened timbre of his voice really hones the edges of menace and charm that he used so well back on TV screens. His inclusion also really amps up the tension in the town and finally, THANKFULLY, gives Maggie Evans some more time in the spotlight as his main foil. We all know how great Selby can be and he doesn’t disappoint here, but finally hearing Kathryn Leigh Scott get some meaty material to chew on was a real joy. Which makes her unfortunate positioning as the woman who may have doomed Collinsport all the more tragic.

Yes, after all this time of people warning Maggie that her meetings at the Blue Whale would lead to some sort of anti-monster mob...her meetings at the Blue Whale transforms into a full tilt mob. This is the major set piece of the episode and the production staff smartly build and build up to it making it hit all the harder. While I am not the biggest fan of poor Harry being pressured into revealing Angelique’s lair, mainly because he’s precious and I don’t want anything bad to happen to him, this turn toward violence led by a grieving Ed Griffin instantly raises the stakes even more than they already they already were, pitting all the normals of the town against the heaviest hitters of the franchise, including a certain vampiric and Bryonic nerd that we all love.

Big, deadly things are in store for Collinsport and I don’t think everyone can survive it. But that is seriously half the fun of this serial. Especially now that the whole monster gang is back together and such delicious plot threads have been introduced. For example, Harry might be a monster and Tommy is fur sure one, cursed by Quentin’s curse! The Trinity has once again gathered and God help Collinsport.

NEXT TIME! We begin Volume 2! Barnabas is back and he sounds proper pissed!      

Monday, October 15, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: October 15


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 874

Petofi must go on the run from gypsies as the power of the hand returns to Quentin, who uses it to restore minds. Meanwhile, Kitty begins to realize that she is Josette.

“How did you go bankrupt?” Bill asked.“Two ways,” Mike said. “Gradually and then suddenly." — Ernest Hemingway, THE SUN ALSO RISES

Endings in DARK SHADOWS frequently feel like they happen in the same fashion: quickly. It’s jarring for a show where everything else is, to be polite, in no particular hurry. In the case of Jason McGuire, characters like Carolyn and Barnabas have simply had enough and they end his shenanigans unceremoniously. (Literally, since the wedding doesn’t take place.) Adam wanders away. In the case of Petofi, it’s a controlled implosion with a variety of calamities all happening around the same time. A disturbed jolt back from 1969. A rebounding Barnabas. Garth Blackwood. King Johnny’s widow. Beth’s cooking. Whatever Aristede brought back from Cabo. (Okay, I’m conjecturing the last part.) Still, for a character who’s been around for months, it’s a shock to see him undermined and petard-hoisted so quickly.

Putting almost all of the end in David Selby’s hands (or hand, in this case) is a master stroke. Petofi’s wit and strange gentility always seemed like a function of his ungainly physique. It was a source of humility beyond the deniable. In Quentin’s body, he becomes understandably and insufferably smug. And then far crueler with far less nuance to his approach. As far as games go, he’s moved from an elegant and Puckish game of go to football, with a brutal playbook, at that. By the same token, Quentin has yet another lesson in humility to learn, and he’s graduating with honors. I’m not surprised that the character is so boring when we meet him again. If I were Quentin, I’d be too terrified of life to do anything but wash my hands, walk old ladies to the grocery, and turn the pages for the chorus pianist. I don’t think Gerard drives him crazy; whatever happens to him on the Night of the Green Flag is the final chunk in the mosaic of All of the Things in Life that Can Go Horribly Wrong.

Not that it’s a miserable ride for the rest of us. Not here. Watching Petofi lose the power of his hand is like seeing Khan getting caught with his shields down. Although it would be fun to see Thayer David find a new way to chew the scenery, Selby’s eyes register shocked umbridge with olympian powers. It’s a bit of full circle. We met him as a petulant ghost, eyes blazing with disapproval and reproach. As human and humane as Quentin becomes, this is a nice reminder of why the man and actor were so captivating when we were first introduced.

As Petofi falls and Quentin learns his last lessons in responsibility, Barnabas is also on the ascendant, and it’s our warmest time with him. Watching him actually, really, I-swear-to-God get Josette back has a sweetness that even the show can’t yet believe. It metes it out as if we’re a deserving dog, they’re out of treats, and all that’s left is the fois gras. On our end, we’ll take what we can get, and yes, it’s fois gras. In the same fashion, it won’t last. It can’t. Happy characters don’t belong on soap operas, and it still feels like Barnabas has lessons to learn. Who knew they’d be so ugly? And it’s not like the fois gras is being served up by the shovelful. Kathryn Leigh Scott is charged with serving it in tiny bites at frustrating intervals. I have no idea if she ever got to play Nina in THE SEAGULL, but she gives the audition of her life, here. Seagull/Actress/Kitty/Josette, it becomes a blur that she navigates nimbly, and it’s her best acting on the show since the depths of her first of many kidnappings. Kitty’s transformation into Josette could have easily degenerated into a Carol Burnett skit, and if you’ve seen KLS on the inaugural POLICE SQUAD!, you know she’s an astoundingly underrated comedienne. The fact that she keeps it on just this side of credible (without degenerating into the dull) is a tribute to her sense of taste and discipline.

She plays one more character who’s not what she appears. As 1897 ends, almost no one is. Kitty is Josette. Quentin is Petofi. Petofi is Quentin. Barnabas is a human Doppelganger. Amanda’s a painting. Charity is Pansy Faye. And a sketch of Garth Blackwood is about to kill the Count. The deceptiveness of appearances is a bedrock of soap operatic writing, but DARK SHADOWS, epitomized by 1897, will never be content with only the basics. Curtis and the writers top themselves with no concept of ceiling. If appearances are deceptive, then they’ll deceive like they’re doing a daredevil stunt. Is it a stunt? Does it feel like it? No. It’s intrinsic to the story. Like Petofi’s end, it’s been so gradually cultivated, we don’t realize it’s upon us. So much of DARK SHADOWS could feel like a gimmick. From concept to credits, the show seems like it would be television’s greatest engine for gimmicks until you watch it.  The writers are too good for that, though, and so are the performers.

This episode was broadcast Oct. 30, 1969.

10 things I learned from Barnabas Collins

Saturday, October 13, 2018

Review: Dark Shadows: Bloodlust, Episode 5


These are the SPOILERS. They are AHEAD. Drink full and descend.

“I forgot what normal was like a long time ago…”

Remember last column when I was moaning about how nothing happened during that episode and I kinda didn’t love it? Well, serve up the holiest of crows, fellow creeps, because holy smokes, does Episode 5 really come back with a vengeance. While everyone was poised juuuuust on the cusp of stories last time, THIS time writers Joseph Lidster, Alan Flanagan, and Will Howells fling every character off the narrative Widows’ Hill they have positioned them on, much to the show’s benefit and my immense enjoyment. Every plot thread hanging at this point is drawn taut, some are even broken, as the serial starts to kick into a higher gear and delves into the in canon pasts of some of our leading ladies. But enough of my preamble-ing, let’s get into it.

Click HERE to get the episode.
So fresh off the truly bugnuts crazy cliffhanger of Amy’s infant son Tommy, who has skirted around the fringes of this story because...ya know...he’s a baby, being dramatically aged up by Angelique, Episode 5 drops us right in the thick of the craziness. Amy Jennings, played with a brand new steel and resolve by Stephanie Ellyne, really takes center stage this episode and it is a delight to behold. After a long incoming confrontation with the philandering Andrew, who seems to have a PHD in gaslighting, she then takes it upon herself to clean up the mess he made down Widows’ Hill. By confronting the immensely powerful woman that wove this magick.

This scene between Lara Parker and Ellyne is the highest point of an episode that is pretty much all high points. The writers give both women a very clear position as Amy appeals to the immortal witch simply as a woman while Angelique is baiting the hook for Amy’s return to witchcraft, dangling the spell to turn Tommy back into a baby in front of her, but only explaining it should Amy agree to perform it herself. It is a classic Dark Shadows stalemate and the production staff and the actresses themselves really get the most they can out of it. Hearing Parker and Ellyne palaver just as women and, more than that, women who have undergone immense trauma and come out the other side is a really powerful turn for the serial. This also builds on the natural rapport with Maggie Evans that Amy has been forming. Kathryn Leigh Scott is still kind of a utility player in this saga as of now, but her warm, resolute energy is a real boon for the story and a testament to the power of Scott’s presence on the show that she basically just be nice to everyone and barely do anything and I still love her.

Hearing Andrew also get his just desserts is also particularly satisfying to hear. The writer’s use this fight to drop a bit of exposition about Amy’s origins before this story as well. As a newcomer to the Big Finishverse, I really appreciate the deft handling of this info dump. It never really drags the scene down, which is great because all the actors involved (Ellyne, Matthew Waterhouse, and Scott Haran) are really giving it their all. Better still, it gives listeners like me a nice slice of context that doesn’t clutter the flow and intensity of the scene. The writers even double down on this move in regards to Kate Ripperton. Speaking of which…

Kate really shines in this episode, which is great because I feared she was starting to move more toward the background of the story in previous episodes. While I have been enjoying her and Frankie (a charming, but kind of bland Roger Carvalho) basically being the romantic leads of the story, I was wondering when they would really get some time in the spotlight and Episode 5 more than delivered on my wish.

Lidster, Flanagan, and Howells give both characters a meaty section of the episode as Kate starts reveal her darker side to Frankie, basically revealing that she lives for all the murder and mayhem that has followed her since seeing her friend possessed on live television. That is why she moved back to Collinsport, not to get answers like she said, but to immerse herself in the darkness that is Collinsport. Asta Perry really kills it during this sequence, dropping Kate’s boozy, flirtatious walls to show a vulnerable hunger for understanding and addict-like attraction to monsters and the supernatural. She ALSO discovered that her boyfriend has been enchanted to never explicitly talk about what is happening at the Collins mine which FINALLY makes some headway in the Mystery of the Mine, which was my second favorite Hardy Boys book. The first, obviously, being The Witchmaster’s Key.

Meanwhile, back at the Blue Whale, Ed is telling every damn body who will listen about his dead wife, much to the terror of his mother, Jessica. This section of the episode is kind of the weakest bits but I am glad to to see that the writer’s aren’t going to drag out the plot for too terribly long. I really like the dynamic between actors Marie Wallace and Jamison Selby (who I have been informed is the son of the famed David! Which is kind of mind-blowing to a newbie like me). They actually feel like mother and son, which makes Jessica’s apparent death this episode all the tougher to process. Yes, the killer stalking Collinsport strike again this episode, claiming her life and it sounds like the life of Andrew as well, though his ganking isn’t any real loss.

But no moment of the episode made my heart soar as much as the cliffhanger did. A cliffhanger that finds one Quentin Collins, DAVID EFFING SELBY HIMSELF, returning to Collinsport. He only gets one line, but I will be damned if it isn’t a great one. And all the sudden I am back in in a big, big way. I will admit that last episode left me pretty cold, but cheese and rice, guys, this one really picked my spirits up. And to think, all it took was some genuine conflict, a gaggle of intensely talented women, and the appearance of yet another Dark Shadows heavy hitter. Things are only going to get better from here and the wise and powerful Wallace McBride has personally promised me that my mind will be blown. I sincerely cannot wait.

NEXT TIME! Episode 6! Who cares what happens?! DAVID SELBY! I even knew it was happening and it was still a delight. Like, I audibly yelped in glee. I named my son after this character, how could I not?! Anyways, be seeing you.

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

Friday, October 12, 2018

Review: Dark Shadows: Bloodlust, Episode 4


Click HERE to get the episode.
Abandon All Hope of Avoiding SPOILERS Ye Who Enter Here.

Welcome back, ghoulies! Reporting live from my cramped vestibule of an office here at the CHS, I bring you yet another report on Bloodlust, Big Finish’s first major ongoing serial with the property after numerous “expanded universe” one-off stories and anthologies. Today we are going to talk Episode 4, the story’s first table setting episode and arguably the first low point for the story (at least it was for me, as a listener). Now before you gather your pitchforks and make like Transylvanians (though DID a mob ever come for Dracula? I will have to look in the archives later), that is NOT to say that this episode is outright bad. It totally isn’t! The production staff still make great use of the moody atmosphere they have cultivated so far, they give the cast plenty to do at least laterally, and deliver a truly stunningly weird cliffhanger to send us into the next episode. But all that still doesn’t make this installment’s arrangement of elements and characters any less than just that; arrangements. Again, not bad per se, but just not to the dizzyingly entertaining heights that the previous installments have reached. Let’s talk about it.

Okay, so, yeah, I didn’t love Episode 4. But that doesn’t mean I am phoning this thing in! I don’t even really have a phone. Well, I do, but every time I try to dial out, I hear was can only be described as a “yawning void of white noise” so I mainly just send a lot of memos around here. BUT my Lovecraftian tech support issues aside, there is still a lot of good to be found in this episode.

Mainly Lara Goddamn Parker. This episode gives us another ill-fated meeting between Andrew Cunningham (Matthew Waterhouse, who is really dialing up the sleeze of his character) and the witch Angelique and Parker finds a whole new gear for the character. In the last episode she is bombastic and showy, telegraphing her presence and power through her booming vocal turn and eerie effects backing from directors David Darlington and Ursula Burton. But in this episode, the pair start to talk specifics of their “deal” and Parker really plays it intimately, lowering her voice to a menacing coo, still backed by the ambient noise of the ocean outside of her cave and the ever present whispers of the widows. It really works wonders for the scene and displays Parker’s fantastic range. While it was neat to hear her go “full witch” in the previous episode, I feel like Episode 4 gets some better, creepier things out of Angelique.

There is also the matter of The Collinsport Teens, a group of characters that I find myself increasingly loving. After brushing up against the supernatural side of Collinsport, young Harry has to find someone to confide in. Does he go to the cops? Of course not, because what can the cops do? Does he go to his parents? Piss up a rope with that because what teen wants to talk to their parents? NO, he goes to his friends! The plucky Jackie and the rakish Cody! They don’t really do too terribly much during this episode, save for hear him out and believe him (them being born and raised in God’s Own Spooky Country and all), but I really like this turn from the serial. It gives it a real jolt of youthful energy and really nails the generational make up of the property’s past casts, which gives it all the more “fandom cred”.

Other minor, but nicely deployed reveals are centered around Amy Cunningham and the regulars over at the Blue Whale. You see while Andrew is tom catting around town and meddling in stuff he shouldn’t, Amy is finally looking into his reasons for moving them to Collinsport and what she finds is that, in the immortal words of Phil Collins, it’s all been’a pack’a LIES. The script confirms a suspicion that I had last time, that Andrew has looked into Amy’s packed away magick materials and learned about the hidden face of Collinsport. But it ALSO reveals that he has basically lied the whole way there, uprooting his family in order to track down ill gotten fortune and power, using his “recommendation” to the Star as a cover. Classic soapy stuff and one that will hopefully lead to Andrew getting some kind of bloody comeuppance, either at the hands of Amy or Angelique. I vote keelhauling.

This episode also takes a much more Stephen King-ian turn back the Blue Whale between Frankie and Ed. Ed, who has been slowly cracking thanks to Sheriff Tate’s questioning and his interactions with his ghostly wife, finally decides to give up the ghost (I am so sorry) and tell someone about his returned wife. This thread doesn’t really go beyond that, but it is a really nice way to finally get Frankie in on the action of the narrative, aside from just him providing an alibi for everyone that discovered Melody’s body. It is also a nice bit of grounded creepiness for the serial, supporting all the witchy action happening back at the base of Widows’ Hill.

I think a lot of this episode is really hung up on trying to get certain characters to certain places in order to really start to move forward, but the rub is, they don’t REALLY follow through on it. That’s where my use of the phrase “table setting episode” comes from. I once read a book that said act breaks should be marked by the characters making a decision that they can’t come back from. By that metric, this episode gets the characters riiiiiight up until the moment they will decide to do something but then stops cold. I know that that is kind of the nature of serialized storytelling and it was only a matter of time before Bloodlust took a bit of a dip, but if this is their version of a dip in quality, then we are still in pretty good shape.

NEXT TIME! Episode 5! The youngest Cunningham is now big, thanks to Angelique, but what does that mean for the Cunninghams? Will Andrew gaslight Amy some more? And seriously, WHAT THE HELL IS IN THAT MINE?! All these answers and more (hopefully) next time.   

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

Thursday, October 11, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: October 11


Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 605

Stokes reunites his old crew to conduct one, last caper to rob Eve… of oxygen! Can they pull it off or does Nicholas Blair have the upper hand? Stokes: Thayer David. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Julia dreams that Barnabas’ mission to Blair House will end in death. He’s incredulous at this news, but they recruit Stokes anyway. Stokes visits Blair to gather intelligence and make a schematic, having located Eve’s room by its aroma. Back at the Old House, he schemes to invite Nicholas for dinner and bore him with stories as Barnabas sneaks over and drugs Eve. Unfortunately, Nicholas has seen the entire plan be sketched via his scrying mirror. The plan works until Barnabas discovers the blanket stuffed with pillows and Angelique waiting in the wings.

The most unwise assumption about Dark Shadows episodes is that they’re all alike. After all, out of the Fightin’ 1225, how many can be that different? The answer is, quite a few. Yes, there’s a lot of filler. Yes, Sturgeon’s Law dictates that only 10 percent of the episodes are any good. That’s 125.  Not much? If we apply that measure uniformly, it means that there are only two good episodes of Buffy the Vampire Slayer per year. Fourteen in all. Sixty-four The Simpsons episodes, which is not bad by any means. But you have to be 60 Minutes to beat DS, and how many 60 Minutes festivals have you been to? Exactly.

When I think of the very best of the best of Dark Shadows, there is surprising variety, and nested within, this particularly luminous gem. And, of all things, it’s a caper story. There are two types of these stories out there -- all plot or all style. Thanks to the urbane wit of Gordon Russell, we get a beautiful blend of both with a classic DS punchline.

I love it when a plan comes together, and before it does, the episode appropriately assumes the form of the Barnabas/Julia Dark Shadows sitcom where the only thing missing is a laugh track. Barnabas is on his way to Nicholas’ when Julia stops him. She does nothing for weeks but harangue him to get off his caboose and be a man, and now that he does it, she stops him. Before you can say, “That’s Our Julia,” she gives her reasoning… a scary dream. Jonathan Frid nails his you-gotta-be-kidding-me mug, and I completely expect him to look at the camera and proclaim, “As always, the doctor is OUT!” You may think I’m exaggerating. Watch the episode and get back to me. The show was finding a real rhythm between these newer characters, and rather than lose steam upon declaring peace, the duo departs off like a rocket.

When fans reminisce about the overabundant, cheerful self-appreciation of Professor Stokes, 605 is what we’re talking about. After we’ve gotten used to Barnabas and Julia being polar opposites on this battle, Stokes comes in and unites them with a plan while making them look utterly rational. Characters on Dark Shadows spend most of their time bewildered, frightened, or in denial, setting Stokes up as the show’s most memorable hero as he revels in a carnival of confidence. Whether it’s pulling out the hand sketched schematics of Blair House, identifying rooms by their owners’ scents, finding Nicholas’ boudoir ‘depressingly overdecorated,’ or torturing him with Collins minutiae rather than Willie’s cooking, Stokes makes the scene. There’s even a subtle homage to Ocean's 11,  the camera hovering unusually high in the air, as Team This Old House plans their wacky assassination attempt around a fancy card table that Willie, I’m sure, set up in the drawing room. It’s nothing but endearing joy, and if the scene ended with Stokes, then Julia, then Barnabas (with ring) putting their hands down in a stack on the table, I would have been satisfied on a disturbingly cosmic level.


The only thing better than the planning is the execution. Julia is petrified, Stokes is reveling in the scheme, and Barnabas is only barely keeping the dishonesty cogent. Now, of all times, he becomes a troubled bluffer. Well, if you’re used to having the luxury of 171 years of claustrophobic imprisonment to cook up a good whopper, it might sting to suddenly have but a few hours to get your lines down. Of course, the layered joke is that Nicholas is completely aware of the scene since he has Amazon Prime, too, streaming the show on his mirror at home. As smart as they are, Nicholas is just indulging them, making him a gamesman on par with the professor. It’s just a shame he doesn’t know it. Think how much faster Dark Shadows would go by if everyone on it watched Dark Shadows. Nicholas clearly does. Given how far ahead he is, Nicholas could have stopped the Stokespack at any point. Letting Barnabas wander into a ridiculous trap consisting of pillows piled up under a sheet and Angelique hiding in the corner? That’s not just winning. That’s an editorial. Take that, professor!

This episode was broadcast Oct. 18, 1968.

Wednesday, October 10, 2018

John Karlen, Robert Rodan added to Dark Shadows cast reunion

OK, so David Selby won't be attending the Dark Shadows cast reunion set for the weekend of Oct. 20 in Los Angeles. That one really stings. But to help ease that pain, organizers will be adding original cast members John Karlen and Robert Rodan to the lineup of guests that weekend.

Attending the Hollywood Show at various times are cast members Mitchell Ryan, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Roger Davis, and Lara Parker, Nancy Barrett, Jerry Lacy, James Storm and Christopher Pennock, as well as Dark Shadows composer Robert Cobert. That's a line-up that rivals the guest list for the 50th anniversary Dark Shadows Festival in Tarrytown, New York, back in 2016.

It's going to be a busy weekend, for sure. You can get additional details about this month's Hollywood Show in our original announcement HERE.

Tuesday, October 9, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: October 9


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1125

When Gabriel and Desmond team up to find hidden treasure, will a darker destiny find them? Desmond: John Karlen. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Desmond ponders Otis Green’s final words as the head of Judah Zachary moves him to find even more artifacts under Collinsport. Thanks to Gabriel, who’s been managing the angst of Collinwood’s jittery residents, he locates a hidden vault in a graveyard. Within? A coffin trapped under a giant cross. From a secret panel, Desmond finds a golden mask, encrusted with gems.

1840 is a storyline beset with ambiguity. It’s one of the show’s darkest, most occult entries and also the real culmination of the series. Why it should also have so many unwatchable elements is flummoxing, and it think it’s due to the long struggle the sequence has to connect us to the characters. 1795 can be seen through Vicki’s eyes if need be, but if not, we already know Barnabas and kinda-sorta know Josette. The central mystery -- about how Barnabas became a vampire -- has been talked about and pondered for nearly a year. Everything revolves around that or the agent of that change, Angelique. 1897 strives to take greater autonomy, but the puzzle of Quentin Collins is at least about a Collins. We follow Barnabas as he is introduced to the family on a clear mission to save David, and the initial foray into telling the story apart from him is about one, central point of suspense -- the matter of the will. It also has some of Barnabas’ fingerprints involved since he’s the Family Secret that may be divulged as part of the inheritance.

1840 is a largely independent story that moves without Barnabas or even Julia, and without those surrogates, it’s easy to lose us. Quentin isn’t Quentin, and we don’t see that much of him in the beginning. Who is Desmond? Who cares? He’s got a head and he’s ranting at Letitia, who is sort of Pansy, but not Pansy in any way. Finally, we meet Gerard, and he’s not even entirely Gerard. He’s some guy named Ivan Miller who’s loafing at Collinwood… why? To take it over from characters we don’t know nor care about. He’s a frenemy of strangers, and then when he gets around to real evil, he’s not even Gerard. He’s possessed by the head. Wait. Okay. He’s Ivan Miller claiming to be Gerard Stiles, who is actually the puppet of a disembodied, silent head of a man from Bedford named Judah Zachary. The guy who influenced Angelique back when she was… what? Who is Miranda Duval? Did I miss a staff meeting? Is Nicholas Blair involved with this? Was this in an email attachment? Because I never read those.

Well, when you put it that way, it reminds me of why I like it.

Do you see my dilemma? Fascinating and yet strangely not. Then in an episode like this, you get lots of arguing about Samantha, and I only care about that because the story tells me to. Will anyone here who gives a rat’s patoot about Samantha Collins raise their hand? What? Not a single hand. Didn’t you people hit the Mitchum after your showered? No one? Yeah, no wonder Virginia Vestoff left Collinwood to marry John Adams. 

In 1966, Victoria gets dropped into a story that’s been well underway for twenty years or so. Why do we care? Because Vicki is stuck there. Her past is a blank, but she (and we) know that her only real and new home is one in trouble. Whatever affects these people will affect her because it will affect David, and he’s her job. Oh, and where else is she going to go? Vicki is firmly planted in the eye of that storm. We are all new to Collinwood, and by stranding her in the midst of it all, we explore those pertinent mysteries together. 1840 has no Vicki Winters, and Barnabas is too tangential to the storytelling. So is Julia. 1840’s challenge is not that it’s too slow or too fast or too complicated or too simple. It’s that it is too distant to why we really care.

Thank goodness that a severed head is involved. The occult aspects remain compelling, and their exoticism is of a grotesquerie and size that we have to learn more -- if only to see what it does. Any episode involving a severed head leading a man to a cemetery’s hidden vault containing a casket pinned shut by a giant cross can’t be all bad. And that it has a secret compartment containing a jewelled mask? Thank you, Dan. Those are the cherries in the fruit cocktail that we were fishing for. What else kept us afloat? We may not care what James Storm and Chris Pennock are talking about, but I’d watch them read a Denny’s menu and find it compelling. As much as anything, the pleasure they take in their acting is a delight, and that kind of dramatic sportsmanship may be the real secret to Dark Shadows after all.

This episode was broadcast Oct. 16, 1970.

Jonathan Frid spotted on the set of new Tarantino film

Quentin Tarantino gave portions of Hollywood Boulevard a retro-makeover during the production of his latest film, Once Upon a Time in Hollywood. Set during 1969 during the lead-up to the Tate-LaBianca murders, Tarantino turned back the clocks on a one-block stretch of Hollywood Boulevard located between Las Palmas and Cherokee avenues. The results, as you'll see in the video below, are rather startling.

While everybody with a camera was trying to get photos of stars Leonardo DiCaprio and Brad Pitt, one person was kind enough to snap a pic of a bus bench advertisement for Dark Shadows. At this point in 1969, audiences would have been a few months away from the end of the 1897 storyline, the show's peak.

Tarantino has long been one of the more famous fans of Dark Shadows, but I'll be damned if I've every heard him actually discuss the show. Maybe Once Upon a Time in Hollywood's time period will jar something loose once he begins making the press rounds for the film.

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