Wednesday, November 14, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: November 14



By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this day in 1967: Episode 366

When a seance thrusts Vicki back in time to the year 1795, will she alter history or be its cause? Sarah Collins: Sharon Smyth. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Mid-seance, Vicki finds herself in front of the Old House in the year 1795, where she meets a youthful Barnabas and Sarah, all quite human. They mistake her for Sarah’s governess and bring her in despite her protests. She later meets a skirtchasing officer, Nathan Forbes, and Joshua Collins, who elects to hire her. 

1795. If you’re a real fan, you may not remember where you were when you heard that the show was headed there, but you might recall how you felt. 

For me, it was a unique kind of excitement, and it was when I knew that Dark Shadows offered something beyond a one-off, fluke experiment… that strangeness that was Barnabas Collins. Shows sometimes stumble onto something like that. This was a promise by Dan Curtis that for once, there was a program on which anything could happen. Legitimately. When learning about the strange series through Fangoria and oral tradition, the 1795 flashback was the first thing I discovered. In a world of endless franchise milking, this may be nothing special. But in 1967, just seven months after the appearance of Barnabas Collins, this was an insane thing to do. TV was largely devoid of costume dramas -- unless they involved chaps, leather vests, and masks. Oh, and they also did a lot of westerns. But Masterpiece Theater was still four years from TV. It’s one thing to do a costume party episode. It’s another to ask writers and audiences to abandon the narrative creature comforts of cars, phones, cigarettes, and hospital scenes. Fortunately, Dark Shadows kept these at a minimum, anyway. In planning this, I have a feeling that Dan’s main concern was if he’d have to hire a string quartet to play “#1 at the Blue Whale” at the Eagle. 

A study of the history of show business is a study in the word “no,” especially toward good ideas. The more familiar you are with this, the more extraordinary Dark Shadows becomes. It’s a net-free highwire act that defines itself by disregarding conventional wisdom. Every place that they could have played it safe, they didn’t. Even down to 1841 PT, where they threw out every known character, an act that mirrored the thinking behind Night of Dark Shadows. Did it kill the show? Maybe. But there would have been no show to kill without the very same thinking. A vampire on TV is incredibly bold. Taking that show to depict his origin, with an entirely new slate of characters in another time period? For months? That investment is programming suicide. Unless it isn’t. And it wasn’t.

The move makes the program crackle with novel possibility. Sy Tomashoff, as always, is to be congratulated. Sets designed to look ancient feel new… so new that the idea of Collinwood seems vaguely premature. They even sound new. It may be my imagination, but when Vicki enters Collinwood, it actually sounds like the door of an empty under-construction house nearing completion. If that’s just the power of suggestion, he deserves even more credit. The Old House seems spanking new, and heretofore unseen areas, such as Vicki’s bedroom, give the place a sense of new possibility and grandeur. At every turn, novelty. 366 gives us what we wanted for months, whether we knew it or not. Joel Crothers confirms our suspicions as he and the show take off the gloves and portray a (so-far) lovable cad with an aptitude for eyebrow-arching normally seen only by graduates from Starfleet Academy. At this point, he seems like a prime ally, if a little grabby, and that’s a solid set-up for a fall. Seeing Sarah alive and well is as unavoidably heartwarming as you’d imagine, and her vaguely psychic prognostication of Vicki is an eerie detail they vaguely avoid later on. I enjoy seeing a progressive take on Naomi and Joshua, in which she’s always encouraged to speak her mind, and Abigail is always present to accuse others of booziness and other shortcomings. 

The inevitable question is, “What about Barnabas?” 

Jonathan Frid goes into Buster Brown overdrive to sell his wide-eyed, naive, innocence. There are subtle notes of Eddie Haskell to his first exchange with Vicki… notes drowned out by his overall sincerity. Seeing Barnabas warmly lit and made-up, sans the empty and bitter loss that will define his future debut, is exciting and heartbreaking. Barnabas often has paranoid fears or prideful aspirations that seems out of touch with reality. And that’s after the change. Here, we see him with the same sense of baseless optimism. Like the audience of a Shakespeare tragedy, we know that this quality will lead to his downfall. Dark Shadows is rarely more bittersweet.

This episode was broadcast Nov. 20, 1967. 

Review: The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries Series 2, “The Mystery of the Soulmates Hotel”



By JUSTIN PARTRIDGE

It is the brain, the little grey SPOILERS AHEAD on which one must rely. One must seek the truth within-not without.

“A creature from an unknown Hell dimension breaks into our world to run a MATCHMAKING service?!” “Well, everyone’s got to have a hobby…”

Get the episode HERE.
Hello again, creeps! It is your old friend Justin. Back at it again in my cramped vestibule of an “office”, hunched over my roll top, typing into a void, and desperately seeking some kind of contact to the outside world. I mean, reviewing audio adventures set in my not at all haunted hometown! HA! HA! We have fun here. In all honesty, this weekend was tough for me and while I avoided a stint in Windcliffe (THIS time) I want to thank you all for your patience with me as the new guy and for all the kind words and suggestions the community has offered since I’ve come on. Fandom isn’t always the horrid sludge pits you read about online and the Dark Shadows (and Big Finish Productions staff and fans) fandoms is a sterling example of how fandom can be such a welcoming and rewarding thing. Or everyone is secretly talking about me behind my back WHO KNOWS?! But from the bottom of my heart, thanks for making a yokel like me feel welcome.

Anyway, enough of my millennial touchy-feely nonsense, because boy, oh boy, do we have a treat of an episode to talk about today. The closing story of The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries Series 2, “The Mystery of the Soulmates Hotel” by Grace Knight! A little bit ago, I wanna say like a week or so, one of the Big Finish staffers, I can’t quite remember which, said that they were honestly shocked at how crazy this series of Tony & Cassandra was. At the time, I took it in stride, thinking “Okay, well that sounds fun.”. And then, holy cats, they were bloody right. Not only does this finale story have genuine heart and a cracking central mystery, but Grace Knight’s script completely explodes the scale of the series, sending our heroes bounding across TIME ITSELF, like some sort of unholy Doctor Who spin-off. After last episode’s intimate, but truly clever concept, “The Mystery of the Soulmates Hotel” sends Series 2 off on what could be it’s strongest episodes to date.

So before we dive into the episode’s core conceit and bananas cliffhanger (which can only be described as “cruel”), I want to talk about this episode’s not-so-secret weapon; it’s heart. Turned onto the Bar Harbor singles resort by a concerned friend of a missing former client, Tony and Cassandra go undercover as lovelorn singles, desperate to find their soulmates. On paper it sounds very Moonlighting, but Knight’s script really delves into genuine emotions here, with the whole cast, providing genuine pathos to enrich the supernatural intrigue, which is already pretty freaking rich to begin with. But these stories in particular have really endeared me to Tony and Cassandra’s relationship, amplified by Lara Parker and Jerry Lacy’s tremendous chemistry. While this episode may have not provided quite the closure I want (JUST KISS ALREADY), Knight’s story felt like a proper emotional payoff for them.

May I also just say, I am sincerely astounded by the way these Big Finish stories have integrated queer characters and relationships into their folds? In a time where major television and film productions are clumsily fumbling around with or coyly sidestepping the issue altogether while at the same time queer-baiting the absolute bloody hell out of an audience, stories like this one and Bloodlust and probably a whole bunch of others I haven’t even heard yet are just casually, and organically weaving gay characters into their narratives and making it look EASY. There is a lot to love about these productions but this has to be one of the biggest things for me.


And I haven’t even gotten to the best bit! That Tony and Cassandra basically act out a Doctor Who episode! It turns out the big bag of this episode, the stoically psychotic Mrs. Hill (played with relish by Abi Harris) is extracting the attribute of a person’s personality that means the most to them in exchange for depositing them in TIME through enchanted rooms in her sprawling hotel. Oh, she also EATS the personality trait in the form of a flesh pearl. Friggen nuts, right?! I knew that time travel wasn’t exactly something that was off the table in the Dark Shadows universe, but seeing it deployed in the fairly grounded sandbox of this series was a real hoot. One that pretty much allows this show free reign when it comes to stories from now on. This episode ends with a particularly juicy cliffhanger that shows that they are at least planning to run with the craziness. Series 2 really sticks the landing but stands ready to hit the ground running once again once Series 3 comes round.

I really can’t wait, but for now I am happy with how “The Mystery of the Soulmates Hotel” ends the series. Even if I do have to wait another year until I find out just what the hell happens. I suppose for now we can just be happy with the stellar audio adventures. Being a Dark Shadows fan is such a hard lot in life, isn’t it? And that is another beat walked for your humble narrator! And I hope you had just as much fun walking it with me! If you didn’t, take it up with the head office. I just work here.

Until next time, please please please send along any suggestions you might have about what I should listen to or read or watch next! I actually have a TV in my room over at the Collinsport Inn so I can watch stuff! It even has TWO knobs! Can ya believe it?! I have also heard some chatter about me tackling more of the “1983” stories post-Bloodlust, which would be fun to hear before Bloodline comes out (but keep your eyes peeled for something special possibly happening for that particular serial, my good ghouls). Admittedly, I have had my eye on one or two of the “1973” series myself. Stories like Beyond the Grave, starring my beloved, doomed Kate Ripperton and The House by the Sea starring my favorite classic Doctor (don’t @ me) Colin Baker. It is an embarrassment of dark riches, friends, but I wanna hear what YOU think either by e-mail or Twitter, or Facebook, or even dark words on dark wings. I am pretty sure we have a rookery here.

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 justin@betweenthepanels.com Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.  

Tuesday, November 13, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: November 13



By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 628

With Nicholas falling head over heels and Angelique getting a little too cozy, Diabolos finds that the water may be too hot even for him! Diabolos: Duane Morris. (Repeat; 30 min.)

In a shadowy underworld, Angelique rats on Nicholas to a cloaked figure named Diabolos. He puts her in charge of Nicholas’ punishment. Meanwhile, Julia reveals  Eve’s death to Nicholas. He relates this to Adam, and it seems as if they might need to leave town. Suddenly, a hypnotized Maggie appears and from her mouth, Diabolos tells him that his trial is imminent. 

And now, Diabolos. And by “Diabolos,” I mean Satan.

In an era when horror is chic, it can be hard to remember exactly how taboo the genre once was. Even in parts of the American south of 1997, it was far easier to find secular school teachers afraid to put up witch/ghost/skeleton Halloween decorations than it was to buy a devil costume. So, crank the WayBack Machine thirty years, and the rural reactions to Dark Shadows are sadly predictable. Parts of the country bullied TV stations into censoring the program and Jack Chick’s minions festooned windshields with tracts against the show. 

It’s an occasionally free country, so good for them. And good for Dan Curtis and ABC for doubling down. No one’s going to cite the appearance of “Diabolos” as a profound blow for civil liberties on the level of Captain Kirk kind of kissing Uhura, except....

You know, any time someone tells you not to do something, and they tell you not to do it because of reasons you can’t see, smell, or poke with a stick? It can be considered a cosmic obligation to do it. Even if they called him “Diabolos,” his appearance was a political statement. It was a rejection of the reasons that many people objected to the show. Normally, storytellers avoid pulling out their biggest guns. Doing so leaves them no other place to go. But not only was it a bold gesture of narrative, “going there” was about as eeevil as you could get. Once that went on the air and no one was fired, Curtis was pretty much safe to do anything else.

It doesn’t hurt that Diabolos is a ludicrous figure, dressed in a monk’s robe and seated behind a desk on a little dais, like the host of a Vatican game show. I know what they were going for -- a kind of ancient-yet-neutral officiousness. To either side of the desk in the smoky, wrought iron hellcave, little gargoyles adorn his workspace, making me wonder if he picked them out himself or if he had a decorator find them in the Infernal equivalent of Hobby Lobby. He’s a tall guy, and he doesn’t have much leg room under his desk. Does this bother him? Is it for his posture, because if so, it’s working.

Diabolos is also irritable at being disturbed, but takes appointments, anyway. He doesn’t get the latest news. He begins sentences with things like, “From what I know….” What? “From what I know?” What kind of underworld overlord is he? He can’t keep tabs on things better than that? He has no real idea what Nicholas is up to, staying ignorant of his ace agent having an affair behind his back. Then, he fumblingly trusts Angelique, despite her being on secret double probation, to punish him? For a guy who wants a master race to rule humanity, Diabolos seems like he’s just going through the motions nowadays. He even sounds bored.

Which is great. For all of the snarling, ranting, cursing, howling, and blood spurting that we could see the devil doing, instead, he’s just a guy at a desk, like any other network executive. If he had a putting set or a Newton’s cradle, with those four balls that rocked back and forth, I wouldn’t be surprised.

Later, when he contacts Nicholas, he has to go through Maggie’s mouth to do so, which is another piece of bureaucracy that must frustrate him. It turns the show into a supernatural Get Smart episode, which works, since Humbert Astredo sounds like Don Adams. At least he gets his own lighting, which is, predictably, red. Of course, why he gives Nicholas a day to prepare for judgment is beyond me. Not much to do in hell, I suppose, so he has to stretch it out.  I know I would.

This episode was broadcast Nov. 20, 1968. 

Monday, November 12, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: November 12

By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 627


WIll questions of life, death, Adam, and Eve send Angelique into the arms of Satan, himself? Victoria Winters: Alexandra Moltke. (Repeat; 30 min.)


Peter is seized by the police when Eve’s body is found outside his hotel room. Angelique assures Adam that it was for the best, and the blame will hang on others. Julia starts when Tom Jennings’ twin brother, Chris, arrives to investigate the happenings in Collinsport, but implies that he doesn’t stay in one place for long. Meanwhile, Angelique prepares for Nicholas’ departure by consulting the devil.


This is Alexandra Moltke’s last episode and Chris Jennings’ first. The show passes the baton very neatly and subtly in this episode. It is a great sport to split the program into two different parts, somewhat because there are dozens of “two different parts” in the series. Fewer divisions are more dramatic than what occurred during the exit of the leading actress, the woman who gave life to the character around whom your series is built. No, the character didn’t go away, but the fuse was certainly lit. At this point, chicken truly meets egg. Did the progression and evolution in tone edge out Victoria Winters, or was that tonal change allowed only by her eventual absence? I lean towards the latter. Even though the show had already ascended to the loftiest heights of daytime imagination, it seemed cosmically obligated to return to Vicki. Makes sense. She was kinda the main character, after all, intended to be a spunky problem solver and audience surrogate. While she certainly served as that very surrogate, there’s only so much that a naive orphan can do in the face of witches and vampires.  If you keep having to ground your story in the adventures and perspective of a character whose most famous and oft-repeated line insists that she doesn’t understand, your story can only do so much. She was great for observing the dual lives of Roger and Liz. But in a world where people negotiate business transactions with Diablos? She’s understandably lost. Yes, but perhaps she could be a constant victim? Always in peril? Maybe, but even in that case, a victim tests the victimizer. The more difficult someone is to manipulate and ensnare, the more we respect the captor.


This story arc is devoted to negotiating away those characters — the ones who either cannot accept the supernatural, like Joe, or the ones who simply have no business getting near it, like Victoria. It kills him, consumes her, and makes Barnabas feel right at home. The occasional ghost or psychotic groundskeeper is one thing. But now, characters with paranormal business are overrunning everyone else. Remember back when it was just Laura? Well, now it’s Barnabas, Julia, Angelique, Stokes, Nicholas, Adam, Eve, Jeff, Chris. and Diabolos. None of these characters were around when Vicki first arrived in Collinsport. With the exception of Chris, each is somehow tied to or triggered by the arrival of Barnabas. Dark Shadows began as a fish out of water story and remains such. It’s just that the biggest fish, furthest out of water, is becoming Barnabas. (When it isn’t Quentin, Jeb, or Julia.)

The first, great, post-Victoria story is the Haunting of Collinwood arc, heralding the arrival of Quentin Collins. There is only one episode to feature both Moltke and this storyline, and that’s here. Unfortunately, Moltke and Chris Jennings don’t meet. Chris Jennings belongs nowhere in her universe, nor she in his. He’s arrived to honor the upcoming passing of his cousin, Joe Haskell. Talk about torch passing! Both nice guys. Collinses-and-not-Collinses. Sort of on the sidelines. Both involved with Carolyn. But one is not equipped to deal with a supernatural world and one is a part of it. Even though they are cousins, Joe never earned the attention of Quentin’s ghost. Chris, however,  is a direct enough descendant to merit not only Quentin’s sympathetic murder attempts but also the lycanthropic legacy demanding it.


If the series began with a lost orphan from New York learning about herself as she discovers the intertwined truth of a family up north, it becomes the story of an orphan of time, the ultimate family secret, teaching future generations how to be the best versions of themselves. That begins in earnest with the Quentin storyline, and the Quentin storyline begins today.


This episode was broadcast Nov. 19, 1968.

Stan Lee. 1922-2018



By PATRICK McCRAY

Stan Lee.


This one’s tough.


Years ago, it felt like heroes didn’t exist simply to be deconstructed by wiseacres. Ugly contradictions never got in the way of printing the legend. So, yes, there are some weird business moments, and yes, he might not have been as responsible for Marvel’s creations as we thought, and yes, he got smeared with the #MeToo brush during the last year of his life. If it makes some people feel good to fixate on those things, that’s their right. But as a True Believer, Stan Lee’s importance for me is as symbolic as his Mighty Marvel creations. These characters aren’t real, and that’s probably true for Media Stan. But their existence in media allows us to cite, cherish, and talk about values, aspirations, and points of mourning with a sexy exactitude that doesn’t exist as poignantly in real life.


Stan the Man is that adult we can all set our sights on becoming. You could not fault his storytelling integrity. Issues of atonement, irony, and perseverance through life’s barriers were center stage, backing up, of course, the starring duo of power and responsibility. That was his Yin and Yang, and a properly post-Oppenheimer one, at that. It gave Marvel a dominant, unified, thematic conscience. For all of the ambiguity that the heroes would face, they nevertheless did so with one, overriding, consistent ethos. And it came from the friendliest guy in show business rather than some drab, Debbie Downer. He combined a literary sense of character and tragicomedy with, well, people with wacky powers and funny outfits, and he reveled in the combination rather than apologizing for it. But… and this is crucial… that revelry was never too tongue-in-cheek. He made fun out of these things, but never made fun of them. Whether he created them all or not, they were his babies, and he shared the family album like a proud poppa, with rhetoric that was intensely inclusive. This sense of inclusivity is crucial. By presenting superheroes as misunderstood outsiders rather than lofty gods, he allowed readers to identify with the creations on a new and wondrous level. They might be able to lift a skyscraper, but their baggage was as unmanageable as ours. DC allowed us to dream, but it was the personal touch embodied in Stan that allowed us to dream and commiserate. He made us part of a larger, shared experience, and I can think of few other media moguls who did something as bold. It connected to our aspirations and our pain, and in him, it felt as if we knew someone who understood both and loved us anyway. The Marvel world was one of characters seeking connections and family, and in his asides and rhetoric, Stan Lee extended that to us.  


This helped to shape Todd Loren, the eventual publisher of Revolutionary Comics, so much that, as a youth, he caught a ticket to New York from Detroit and marched right up to the Marvel offices, expecting to find a bunch of pals sharing the creative process in a bullpen, just as they were depicted in comics. Secretaries called security, I believe. But he never stopped truthful believing. When we launched the non-musical, non-sports equivalent of Rock & Roll Comics, our Contemporary Bio-Graphics imprint, Stan Lee was our first subject. 

When we announced it at the SDCC that year, Marvel’s mucketymucks went ape. They threatened this and that. Then, Stan walked by. He heard what we were doing and was exactly as thrilled and ebullient about it as you’d expect. He couldn’t wait to finally be the star of his own comic book! I don’t know what he was like backstage, but the Stan I met is exactly the archetype you’d hope would walk by. He was the cool uncle telling the parents to take a powder while never losing the gleam in his eye. Yeah, Stan, a comic of your own. That’s what heroes deserve.


That shut ‘em up.


And that’s my own Stan Lee memory. Couldn’t ask for a better one.


Excelsior to you, sir.

Friday, November 9, 2018

Review: The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries Series 2, “The Mystery of Apartment 493”



Editor's note: The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries Series 2 is now available at Big Finish!

By JUSTIN PARTRIDGE

“This isn’t Collinsport, Tony. People don’t check on their neighbors."

Cassandra Collins throws the dinner party from Hell in “The Mystery of Apartment 493” by Alan Flanagan. Co-directed by the man himself along with Darren Gross, this penultimate installment of Series 2 brings back a wonderfully creepy bottle episode gimmick from Series 1 and then uses it to deliver what could very well be Series 2’s breakout episode. Usually I try to delve into all aspects of the episode, down to even the slightest spoiler, but to do so would really undercut this episode’s incredible and insane turns. So this column is going to be a little different but rest assured when I say, “The Mystery of Apartment 493” is a stunningly fun night in with Tony and Cassandra.

So last series Alan Flanagan mucked around and delivered an absolute dynamo of an episode with “The Mystery of Flight 493”. Though my review was of the entire series, I heaped praise on to the episode and quite right too! The concept of the episode, a gut-wrenching time loop, really popped, as did the confined nature of the setting. So naturally I was really excited to see that Series 2 also had a “493” episode from Flanagan! I became doubly so after I listened to it because this episode takes the confined spirit of that first one and vastly improves on it, both in terms of emotional stakes and sheer terror.

Like I said, I am going to try to completely avoid outright spoilers because the twists and turns this thing takes are just way, way too good for some former Collins Cannery rube like me to talk about here. But what I CAN talk about and will at length is the sparkling chemistry of our two leads and the way the production really makes the space come alive. Easing back into barbed banter and genuine shocks, Alan Flanagan’s script displays a keen sense of Tony and Cassandra’s relationship and uses it as a solid foundation for the centralized plot. While “Flight 493” had the novelty of the time loop, this episode has no such ticking clock. So I was wondering how the script and direction would get an entire hour’s worth of story out a single room. Thankfully, the story proves pretty early that it can do a lot with just a little spearheaded by the performances of Lara Parker and Jerry Lacy.

If this sounds like I am being cagey, I promise I’m not. This episode really does impress and allows our core cast, which now includes the effortlessly endearing Sydney Aldridge, a great chance to showcase their skills. I am a bit let down that newcomers to the show Jake Wardle and Abi Harris don’t get much to do as their characters are largely there for atmosphere. But, that said, they really make a meal of their repetitive roles, amping up the episode’s scares and eerie vibe every time they are unleashed on our unsuspecting heroes. Aldridge also gets to display a bit of evil range herself, as Alice is a presence in this episode, but not in the way that you might think. This allows her a bit of free reign when it comes to her characterization this round and she really runs with it. Again, you know by now how amazing Lacy and Parker are but hearing them bantering so casually, only to be pushed nearly to their breaking point is a great turn from the pair and they more than rise to the challenges of this episode throughout.

So I think I should wrap this up before I go and blab something and give away the whole game but trust me when I say that “The Mystery of Apartment 493” is the episode to beat for Series 2. Led by it’s stalwart core cast, blessed with a truly tremendous script, and out of this world production values, this penultimate episode absolutely knocks it out of the park, sending Series 2 into it’s finale on the highest note possible. But enough of my yaking, go listen for yourself and you will see what I mean. I suggest leaving the light on.

NEXT TIME! The Series 2 finale! “The Mystery of the Soulmates Hotel” by Grace Knight. If Tony and Cassandra finally kiss this episode I am going to lose it. 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 justin@betweenthepanels.com Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.  

Thursday, November 8, 2018

Podcast Alert: Bodice Tipplers, "The Flame and the Flower"



Buckle up, buttercup – we’re doing this. This is happening. This episode we cover “The Flame and the Flower”, Kathleen Woodiwiss’ 1972 steaming pile of crap. This is the face that launched a thousand shits; the first bodice ripper. And it is awful.  And we are furious at it.

This book contains intense scenes of sexual assault (the worst kind, it thinks it’s a ravishment but believe me, it’s stone cold rape.) It’s also got emotional abuse and some truly weird expressions of racism. Also it’s boring as hell Seriously, do not read it if you’re triggered by anything like that because this book is FULL OF IT and also terrible, so honestly don’t read it in general. Just listen to us drip scorn on it, you’ll be better off.

You can download the episode as an MP3 file by clicking HERE, or stream it below.

Review: The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries Series 2, “The Mystery of West Vale Sanitarium”



Editor's note: The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries Series 2 is now available at Big Finish!

By JUSTIN PARTRIDGE

The world needs bad men, Marty. Bad men keep the SPOILERS AHEAD from the door.

“A trip to a spooky sanitarium in the middle of the night? Sounds like my idea of a perfect date!”

The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries Series 2 takes a hard right turn into more grounded horror with “The Mystery of West Vale Sanitarium.” Written by newcomers to the series Tanja Milojevic and Joshua J. Price and given resonant, sometimes heartbreaking direction by Darren Gross and David Darlington (who also continues to KILL it on the music here), this episode could arguably be the darkest episode this series has produced thus far. It also makes a pretty damn good case for being one of the best. Though still brimming with supernatural intrigue and the heartfelt interplay between our heroes, “The Mystery of West Vale Sanitarium” taps into a deep vein of visceral, realistic horror, much to this series benefit.

But don’t let my gloomy preamble rattle you, readers. There is still plenty of fun to be found in this installment as well. We even get a few returning favorites just to sweeten the pot! This episode’s script reels you in with a typically charming opening. Cassandra is eagerly awaiting their first applicant for the secretary position while Tony is, as per usual, grousing about how they don’t need a new one. And in walks Alice Wilkes, the pair’s...for lack of a better term, companion during Series 1’s stand out episode “The Mystery of Flight 493”! She is once again played by the luminous Sydney Aldridge and she fits right in with the banter heavy pair. This turn is also delightful just on a fan level for me as that episode, and her character in particular, really popped upon first listen and it is nice to see this series having a somewhat loose, but satisfying continuity.

That continuity even extends to this episode’s plot. Alice isn’t but two minutes on the job when she is possessed by the restless spirit of the dearly departed Rita Channing. She has been attempting to reach out for days but finally found a strong enough vessel in Alice in order to deliver a dire message. Someone is harming children at the West Vale Sanitarium and our heroes must set it right before she can rest. We will get into how deeply investing and emotional this plot is in a second, but again I just want to stress how cool it is that this release has built up it’s own little corner of Maine within the Dark Shadows efforts. It also speaks to David Darlington’s sound design AND Aldridge’s performance that I genuinely could not tell if it was all Aldridge’s voice plus some modulation or some sort of layering of Julia Duffy on top of the effects and dialogue, but either way, it sounded tremendous and really hooked me deep early on.

And then the rest of the episode just got me even more. As our duo starts to look into the crumbling ward, they discover insidiously evil experiments on supernaturally gifted children. Led by a doctor, Tom Michael Blyth’s Dr. Miles Wellington, who thinks he can “cure” the children with invasive surgeries and lobotomies. Though it is revealed that one of his nurses, Natalie Roth (played with a calm, cool villainy by Abi Harris) is warding the sanitarium and helping the process along, I was really and truly struck by how this antagonist was so disgustingly human and mundane. It is really the banality of evil that elevates this episode’s plot and gives it a striking humanity.  It is even even further enhanced by Jake Wardle’s touching performance as Billy, a patient and psychic, and a tender moment in the episode’s finale between series lead’s Parker and Lacy, which they play so beautifully, backed by Darlington’s wonderful score. Writers Price and Milojevic give us the worst and best of people in this episode, delivering a sophomore installment that capitalizes well on the screwball fun of the series opener.


I know that going from murderous cartoon characters to ghoulish experiments on gifted children is pretty jarring on a tonal level, but “The Mystery of West Vale Sanitarium” downshifts very well, giving us both heart and horror in equal measure. The relationship between Tony and Cassandra is blossoming well here and hearing them both, along with their plucky new secretary, getting put through the emotional ringer and coming out the other side much stronger was a truly satisfying experience as a fan and listener. I really think you guys are going to like this one, if only just for the deep emotional core it has.

NEXT TIME! “The Mystery of Apartment 493” by Alan Flanagan! The show’s second “493” episode. I love that this release has like it’s own themed episode now. If it is anything like “Flight 493” then we are in for a real treat. 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 justin@betweenthepanels.com Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.  

Wednesday, November 7, 2018

The Dark Shadows Daybook: November 7




By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this day in 1967: Episode 361

When Julia Hoffman squares off against vengeful ghosts, will she find her only safety in madness? Julia: Grayson Hall. (Repeat; 30 min.)

After escaping the bleeding burial site of Sarah Collins, Julia finds herself isolated at Collinwood. There, the ghost of Dave Woodard torments her, mocking her on the phone.

Not counting the terrifying prospect of watching endless episodes about a missing pen, horror on Dark Shadows falls into two eras. More than once, I have heard that Dark Shadows was far scarier in its earlier days, and I agree. For me, that has to do with something far more than the evil days of Barnabas Collins or the fact that we tended to see the earlier episodes at younger, more impressionable ages. The difference is in the origin of the fear, itself. 361 epitomizes the earlier brand of horror on the series, and given where it falls in the run, the installment also sends it off shrieking. 1795 is swiftly approaching, and when it comes to terror on the program, there is everything before and everything after.

Prior to the first flashback, no one knew anything about what was haunting Collinwood. Boy, Vicki, you think YOU don’t understand? Even Barnabas was an unreliable witness, because it was always possible that he was lying, driven mad by his time in the coffin, or both. The residents of Collinwood were born into (or arrived at) a fog of rumors, family legends, inexplicable events, and the overwhelming sense of doom it all composed. Look at Sarah. Maybe she’s making blood spurt from her own tomb. But maybe it’s Dave Woodard or maybe it’s Maybelline. Either way, I can’t go on the record to say what’s going on or whose friend or enemy she might be. All I know is that there’s blood on my shoes and Brewster’s is closed at this hour. She’s a kid... kind of. And that is about the closest we get to explaining her mercurial weirdness. Clearly, she has more power than we usually see her wield. That brings us into Riddle of Epicurus country. Why doesn’t she use it more? If she won’t, that makes her just plain mean. If she can’t, then is some greater force exerting control? Or worse, it’s probably something that, like Vicki, we just can’t understand. The early months of the program are full of legends just barely invading the real world. There’s nothing to hang on to, but there are just enough self-closing doors and materializing objects to remind us that we’re hopelessly outgunned. This is the era of a truly haunted, existential show where the forces of memory and the past obviously want something as they scare the bejeezus out of us, but they won’t tell us what. I don’t even know if they’re having fun while doing it. Like the weather, it may be a force that occurs for a mix of seemingly random, but wildly macroscopic events. No matter how unpleasant Gerard is, he ultimately has a goal. He has a clear-if-strage strategy to achieve it. In this era, there are no experts. Even the so-called authorities are powerless. That sense of constant victimization to the caprice of mystery is a profoundly existential brand of horror, and it kept us tuning in.

Until it had to deliver. And then we kept tuning in, anyway.

Once Vicki goes back in time, she takes us as eyewitnesses, and we become a shared audience to what the hell is really going on. After that, everything has a cause. Everything has a solution. Everything has a name. And we often spend just as much time hanging out with the Enemy as we do our heroes. Defeating it all might not be easy, but we are finally insiders to an extent that even Liz, Roger, and Carolyn, growing up in that madness, never were… until we all were, together. What we lose in fear, we make up for in adventure and all-around fun. We get to name and index the evil to such an extent that we even see the Devil’s office chair at one point. Death shows up at a bar, and in this case, it’s not the beginning of a joke. That’s a wonderful, three year payoff for loyally putting up with the mystery of Collinwood. We are all Collinses at that point.

361 takes us to such a point of fright -- at least as witnesses -- that the show really can’t top itself. Grayson Hall delivers a bravura performance in what is almost a one-woman show as the unseen torments her. She needs answers or she’ll break. So will we. 

This episode was broadcast Nov. 13, 1967.

Tuesday, November 6, 2018

Review: The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries Series 2, “The Mystery of Stone Heart Studios”



By JUSTIN PARTRIDGE

Forget it Jake, it’s SPOILERS AHEAD.

Get the episode HERE.
Our favorite supernatural detective duo return in The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries Series 2! Picking up a few months from the finale of Series 1, Tony Peterson and Cassandra Collins find themselves investigating the weird deaths of voice actors and taking on murderous cartoon characters in “The Mystery of Stone Heart Studios”. Written by Philip Meeks and directed by Darren Gross and Joe Lidster, this opening gambit for Series 2 brings all the charm and macabre comedy of the series back in full force, spearheaded by the wonderful performances of Jerry Lacy and Lara Parker. I will admit that this series will always hold a special place in my heart as it was my first major Big Finishverse experience (that wasn’t Doctor Who related) as well as my first interaction with all you lovely people here at the Society. But that said, it makes my job so much easier when the episodes are as fun and as well produced as “The Mystery of Stone Heart Studios” is. And from the sound of this opening entry, The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries Series 2 is going to be a hell of a lot of fun.

So Tony and Cassandra are back on the beat, trying to work in harmony together, while also resisting their clear attraction to one another. I love a good “Will They/Won’t They”. Thankfully they have plenty of casework to distract them and this episode’s case is a real doozy. Hired by a newly reopened cartoon studio to investigate the bizarre killings of their voice actors, Tony and Cassandra quickly find themselves hip deep in ancient Chumash magicks, haunted animation cels, and Hanna-Barbera analogues hellbent on feeding the trickster entity that spawned them.

Just as a hook for a mystery, this series opener has a real fun one. One that seems innocent enough at first, but reveals a real nastiness; something that really struck me about the first series and drew me deeper into each episode. Furthermore, this episode’s wryly funny tone and the script’s hilariously meta moments (Tony at one point wonders if there will ever be a long running TV horror serial) really starts this series off with a bang. Though I could have really gone without some of the script’s casually flippant fat-shaming of one of it’s characters, this opening episode effortlessly resurrects the charm and twisty fun of the opening series.

“The Mystery of Stone Heart Studio” is also a fantastic introduction to this series’ new cast of wonderful actors. You don’t need me to tell you that Jerry Lacy and Lara Parker rule. You are here, aren’t you? Well, it really does bare repeating. Lacy and Parker hardly miss a step, easily bringing back their bickering, but warm dynamic as they attempt to coexist and run a successful business. Tom Michael Blyth emerges early as a favorite as Myron Ratzenberger, one of the studio’s surviving original actors, who sounds like a hilarious mixture of Vincent Price and Paul Lynde. Jake Wardle, last seen being the Iron Fist we deserve in Twin Peaks: The Return, also makes his debut here as starry-eyed audio tech Randall Merrick. Armed with an impeccable American accent, he brings a real Jimmy Olsen-esque energy to the episode. I really loved his short, but vital part in the new Twin Peaks (which if you haven’t seen yet, jesus christ, what are you waiting for?) so I am really excited to see what all else he gets up to in this series. Abi Harris and Doireann May White round out this season’s troupe and they really go for the gusto here, the latter pulling double duty as one of the past victims and the episode’s antagonist. They both really display a vast vocal range in this opening episode and I cannot wait to see just how much more they can bring to this second series. I also really love the idea that this show has a gaggle of actors just at its disposal and they get to take on multiple parts throughout. Voice actors are brilliant just all around.

So with a killer hook, a deliciously talented cast, and charm to spare “The Mystery of Stone Heart Studios” starts The Tony & Cassandra Mysteries Series 2 off on a great foot. We even get touches of serialization like Series 1 which was an unexpected, but delightful turn for rubes like me who didn’t know what to expect from the release. This new series should drop here any day now and I really think, just based on the strength of this opening episode, that Series 2 is going to be another winner for the Dark Shadows Special Release range. And just to make sure, I am going to hole up in my office/sarcophagus here at the CHS and comb through each episode with a fine tooth comb! Join me will you? Wallace said he would let me see the sun again if y’all read these.

NEXT TIME! “The Mystery of West Vale Sanitarium” by Joshua J. Price & Tanja Milojevic! Tony and Cass need a new secretary and I think I have a sneaking suspicion of who that might be. 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 justin@betweenthepanels.com Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.  

Monday, November 5, 2018

Dark Shadows: Bloodlust - The Post Mortem Interview



BY JUSTIN PARTRIDGE

Our coverage of the epic re-release of Dark Shadows: Bloodlust might have wrapped up, but I still had a few lingering questions about the sprawling tale. Luckily, I was able to sit down with the impossibly nice and wildly talented Joe Lidster and get him to answer some of them! I figured with him being one of the company’s most prolific writers and directors he would at least have SOMETHING to say. Thankfully I was right! We talked about all sorts of great stuff, including the production of Bloodlust, the wonderful cast and characters of the franchise, and what we can expect from the upcoming sequel series Dark Shadows: Bloodline.

The Collinsport Historical Society: Just to start, how did Bloodlust come about? Was there a want on the production side to do more larger scale stories?

Joseph Lidster: It was a combination of things really. Stuart Manning decided to step down from producing the full cast series so we knew we wanted to do something to follow on from Kingdom of the Dead. David Darlington, my co-producer (the one who makes it all happen, basically) was very keen to do something that would re-capture the serial aspect of the television series and I was very keen to do something that didn’t just follow on from the cliffhanger at the end of Kingdom. There was a five-year gap between the two series and we’d spent a lot of time on the Dramatic Readings range trying to find ways to make the series more newbie-friendly so we didn’t just want the opening scene to be Carolyn and David in Collinwood possessed by Petofi. I also wanted to give the series lots of “wow” moments. If you know Dark Shadows then you know who the characters are but if you don’t then I wanted each of the supernatural characters to have a big entrance and so on. The House of Despair through to Kingdom of the Dead had lots of brilliant stuff in them but they kind of assumed you knew who everyone was and why the stuff that happened was important. I wanted to strip it right back – in a similar way to when Russell T. Davies brought back Doctor Who– so it was both a relaunch as well as a continuation. David’s idea of doing this as a 13-episode serial fitted with that perfectly so that’s what we pitched to Big Finish.

CHS: How did you go about choosing the characters that would be included?

J.L.: We knew we had to have the characters who were still there at the end of Kingdom of the Dead. So we had to have Isaiah Trask, David, Carolyn, Maggie Evans, Ed Griffin and his mother, Jessica. Although Quentin, Barnabas and Angelique had all been sent away at the end of Kingdom there was no way we wouldn’t be bringing them back. The main character we did bring back was Amy Jennings. We’d re-introduced her into the Dramatic Readings’ range and we’d fallen in love with Stephanie Ellyne who played her. We also wanted to create a “next generation” of the Collins family so we worked out that Amy was the character we could do this with. The 2003 audio Return to Collinwood had made it pretty clear that neither David or Carolyn had had children so we worked out how Amy could bring us some teenage characters. Soap operas rely on there being more than one generation but Dark Shadows – through a combination of the last couple of years of the television series being more about Barnabas and Julia travelling through time etc and Return to Collinwood being a reunion special rather than setting up new storylines – had stagnated with regards to continuing the present-day Collins’ family. We worked out that Amy was just old enough to have a baby and that if she was married then she could have a step-son. We quickly worked out that we wanted the husband to be killed off so she wasn’t tied to a man and that we could find some supernatural way to age up her baby so we’d have a nice family unit.

We then looked at exploring Collinsport some more. We wanted it to feel like a proper serial drama – with different family units in different locations in the community. As research, we watched how a lot of first episodes of soap operas did this, as well as watching the first episode of Twin Peaks – which was obviously a big influence on Bloodlust. We decided that we wanted to focus on the community and build up the supernatural elements so they felt big, so we created the Blue Whale group – Jess and her son Ed. We moved Trask into being a drunk who was often at the Blue Whale and brought back Ed’s wife Susan, as a ghost. We knew we wanted to look at how a murder affects a community so we knew we wanted to bring in a regular Sheriff, a doctor at the hospital, the editor of the Collinsport Star and so on. We wanted there to be a new everyman character – the new Joe Haskell – so created Frankie who also served as giving the editor of the newspaper a boyfriend. We also used Frankie to give Ed a friend as I’d always found his character to be a bit one-dimensional and non-sympathetic. We looked at the characters we could give children to and decided on the Sheriff and the Doctor. By doing all this, we could create a community of different generations living in different locations who would gradually start to interact with each other. It was actually quite a scientific process. One of the things I’m proudest of with Bloodlust is that I think it feels natural rather than extensively plotted but every character was designed to fulfil a specific purpose. There were a lot of Excel spreadsheets working out their interactions and what purpose they served.

One character I personally had to fight for was Kate Ripperton. I adore working with Asta Parry and felt she’d given an amazing performance in Beyond The Grave. Kate was pretty much the one character in that story who didn’t really get any kind of closure. The rest of the writing team were – quite rightly – worried about bringing back a character with so much baggage but I fought for her and I do think the character really works. Frankie was a hard character to get right, though, because when we were writing him, he was just coming across as nice and dull. I then remembered Roger Carvalho and realised he’d be perfect for the role so I sent his showreel to the other writers and said “This is Frankie” and we went through his dialogue and made it much more in Roger’s voice. Roger also meant we increased the number of people of colour in the series which I felt was very important. I also wanted there to be some out gay characters because I think representation is so important.

The original idea we had was that we would tell some kind of murder mystery and that it would all be a smoke-screen for what David and Carolyn were doing. We also knew that we wanted the series to open with a new character arriving in town and we would discover the characters and locations through them – as they did in Episode One of the television series. We decided that we’d open with Amy and her family arriving in town as she would have been away for ten years. We then started to work out who the murder victim would be and we kept coming back to Amy. The character you think is going to be the main character is the one who gets killed off at the end of episode one. But… we loved Amy. We loved Stephanie. We didn’t want to kill her off. Hence, the creation of Melody Devereux – who is so blatantly a Victoria Winters-type character. Melody arrives in town and then she becomes the victim. Then, episode two could open with Amy arriving in town.

With regards to making the characters more “wow” we then moved Angelique into a whispering cave because, again, I didn’t just want to cut to her in a house muttering about wanting revenge. It was all about building interesting soundscapes, making the supernatural characters seem big and exciting again, and creating a community that the listener would become invested in.

CHS:  Where there any characters that you wanted to include that you couldn't fit in?

J.L.:  I can’t think of any in particular. We didn’t want to bring back Cyrus and Sabrina at that point as they wouldn’t really have fulfilled a role in the series and we knew every character had to have a reason to be there. In fact, that’s why we killed off Isaiah Trask. We knew that Melody, Andrew and Deputy Eric would die (Melody would be our Laura Palmer, Andrew would be a baddie and his death would make the character of Amy stronger, and Eric was… cannon fodder). We pretty quickly decided that Kate and Frankie wouldn’t be long for this world as they were perfect “everyman” characters to kill off. Isaiah’s death wasn’t planned at all. We hadn’t fully worked out where he would go – in fact, I think the Excel spreadsheets for the later episodes pretty much had “Isaiah helps Angelique or something”. I was writing the episode and just found myself thinking “He’s served his purpose to the plot… he could just get shot now?” and I just wrote the scene and sent it to the others and they loved it. So sudden and shocking. I had also found the character slightly woolly – was he a Trask? Was he born there? Who were his family? Obviously, Jerry Lacy is an amazing actor so I knew we would bring him back in some way but that particular character just felt like he no longer had a function, now that we knew who the woman in the whispering cave was and so on. His death also served to highlight the madness that was engulfing the town.

CHS:  What was the discussion of how this particular story fit into the Big Finish mythos, or as I like to call it the Big Finishverse, like?

J.L.:  There wasn’t that much discussion really. We knew it would follow on from our Dramatic Readings and from Kingdom of the Dead and we knew that it was set roughly twenty years before Return to Collinwood. I’ve now got a huge a timeline of “things that need to be done.” So, the two “things that needed to be done” in this were to write out Angelique and to wipe Maggie’s memory of the supernatural. In the Dramatic Reading Path of Fate, Angelique is said to have lived in a cottage in the woods for ten years (c1993) and Maggie, in Return To Collinwood, has no knowledge of the supernatural at all. I also wanted to write out Angelique because I felt, in the previous full cast audios, she had become an easy way to end stories – she’s so powerful that basically she could just do a spell and that’s the problem resolved. Also, with Maggie, in Return to Collinwood it’s stated that Joe died ten years before after being happily married to Maggie – so we knew we wanted to get her out of town so she the marriage could take place and they could have a few years happy together. So, yeah, lots of continuity stuff that hopefully doesn’t feel too plotted.

CHS:  What was the hardest part to write for you? Was there as particular scene or episode that proved a tough nut to crack?

J.L.:  The hardest scenes to write usually involved the deaths of characters. We fell in love with Kate and Frankie and it would have been so easy for us to change our minds and let them live. Also, Andrew’s death was incredibly difficult because we couldn’t have too much time pass before the next episode and the plot had to keep going but we also had a teenage boy losing his father - so we really had to keep that in mind with Harry’s scenes. He couldn’t just forget his father had died but, at the same time, we couldn’t really spend too much time exploring the grief process. Anything involving the Petofi storyline was also difficult because we knew that – for new listeners – the character and his backstory would be new information, so we had to find ways to make him relevant to our characters rather than just “here’s an old villain from the TV series” – so the book about him came from Michael’s university days with Amy and Carolyn and so on.

Technically, possibly the hardest thing to do was to ensure that Barnabas was there as a character. He’s a vampire so can only be up and about at night, so we had to find ways to move time on so that episodes would quickly be set after dark – but it’s tricky to resolve an exciting cliffhanger by the next episode cutting to the following evening and having characters talk about what happened. One of the later episodes has David and Amy talking and he’s doing a spell so she doesn’t realise how much time has passed just so that we can quickly get to night and have Barnabas join in!

CHS:  I see that you are also directing some of these stories. Tell me about the transition from writer to director.

J.L.:  I’ve been directing for a while, really. It came about just because it was convenient really. So, with the Dramatic Readings, I would come in and just guide the actors while David (Darlington) does all of the technical stuff. It then became much more important with Bloodlust because it was so complicated and so few of the actors recorded at the same time, so my main job was just make sure everything fitted together performance-wise. And I think it does so I’m happy with that! Frankly, with actors as good as what we have there’s very little direction needed.

CHS- Were you pleased with the reaction to the story?

J.L.: We were so so thrilled. The way the story was released – two episodes a week – meant that people really got into trying to work out who the killer was. Everyone was talking on forums about the various clues and so on. It was really exciting to watch that unfold over the weeks it was released. And yeah, it seems to have really clicked with the audience. To this day, we still have people telling us how exciting it was and how well the series works. Which is nice!

CHS: Were you a fan of the show before getting the job?

J.L.: I became a fan through working on it, really. Stuart Manning introduced me to the show and I started to fall in love with it. I then wrote an audio for him and fell in love with it a bit more. Then I started producing the series and began to really realise just how glorious Dark Shadows is. It’s genuinely something so different to anything else there’s ever been on television and it’s genuinely a huge honour to be involved in keeping the series going. To actually have some control over the fates of these amazing characters is just really weird and brilliant.

CHS: Team Barnabas or Team Quentin? Or other?

J.L.: Oh, well I started with the 1897 storyline so it was all about tall, evil, silent, sexy Quentin so he’s always going to be my first love but they’re both just brilliant. But, genuinely, I’ve fallen in love with all the characters. It’s an over-used word these days but I think 90% of the characters in Dark Shadows are iconic – often because of the actors playing them.

CHS: Finally, is there anything you can tell us about Bloodline? And if not, is there a dollar amount you will take in order TO tell us something about Bloodline?

J.L.: Ha! Well, we’ve announced that it’s about the wedding of Amy and David and that whereas Bloodlust was a story about a mystery, this is a mystery about a story. What else can I tell you? I let slip at a Big Finish convention yesterday that Jessica Griffin and Sheriff Rhonda are back. This time next week we’ll have completed the UK recording – our final session is with two new actors playing the new characters of Bonnie and Jamie. Chris Pennock has revealed that he is back – which I’m SO happy with so… new fact – a character will be born who will have a huge influence on the town.

Dark Shadows: Bloodline releases in April of 2019, but is available for pre-order now, while Bloodlust, and all the other deliciously evil stories mentioned here, are available now in both digital and physical formats at BigFinish.com

Friday, November 2, 2018

Review: Dark Shadows: Bloodlust, Episode 13



By JUSTIN PARTRIDGE

SPOILERS AHEAD belong dead!

“Don’t turn from the light. It only burns a little.”

Dark Shadows: Bloodlust comes to a soaring conclusion in Episode 13. After last episode’s brava showcase of Lara Parker and Kathryn Leigh Scott, this episode once again becomes a rousing ensemble piece, gathering our heroes and monsters to stand for the Earth in the face of ultimate evil. An evil that has ensnared the Collins family and threatens to end the world in service of his own sadistic goals. End of the world stakes are a damn sight away from the simple murder mystery that we started with here in these pieces, but it has all lead to this moment and trust me when I say, it doesn’t come anywhere close to disappointing. Let’s get into it ... one last time.

Click HERE to get the episode.
So it has all come down to this. A scattered crew of monsters and humans versus an ageless, immensely powerful sorcerer. Just another day in Collinsport, amirite? Though I appreciate the creative team’s risky move with the last episode, making it essentially a two-person one act play, I am really glad they instantly get us right in the mix again with the whole cast as they plot and strategize just how best to best Pitofi and his thralls. Writers Joseph Lidster, Alan Flanagan and Will Howells have a metric ton of plot they need to get through during this finale, but I am glad to hear that they didn’t lose their handles on the character’s voices and their dynamics, keeping the serial’s streak of stellar character work alive until the bitter end.

This works wonders toward keeping the listener engaged through all the exposition, it also allows the whole cast to really shine through one last time. Andrew Collins’ Barnabas has really, really grown on me since his introduction and Episode 13 has solidified my love for his take on the iconic vampire. He is stodgy, but not without a sense of humor with an underlying ferocity that I really love. Stephanie Ellyne’s Amy also comes full circle, standing up for herself and her family even in the face of possible total annihilation. I have spoken endlessly here about my love of David Selby and Lara Parker and this finale episode is no exception. Both actors, along with their monstrous counterparts, reveal a raw emotion here at the end. The latter even going so far to sacrifice herself in order to save the town and world from destruction. A heroic end for one of Dark Shadows’ most infamous figures.

But all the great performances in the world wouldn’t save this episode had it not stuck the landing, but spoiler alert, it totally does! As the town starts to crumble, our heroes are subjected to illusions and attacks from Pitofi’s minions. It all leads up to a shocking “Drawing Room Scene” in the Collins mine where MIKE DEVEREAUX reveals himself to be the author of Collinsport’s pain. It is a really canny choice from the writer’s and one I truly, honestly did NOT see coming. The staff also give Mike a real Nice Guy like origin, having been spurred by Amy and Carolyn back at Salem College and then devoting his life to Count Pitofi in order to kill the world that cast him aside. Better still, the writers add an extra sense of grounded horror to this reveal by detailing how Mike staged all the monster attacks with some kitchen and garden tools proving the serial’s thesis that even the most unassuming among us can be monsters. It is a real nice gut punch from the story, one that is thankfully eased by the deep well of emotions that the staff draw from in the episode’s closing. Which finds all our characters finding some sense of closure in the walls of the great house of Collinwood, surrounded by their family and friends. Together, once again.

I honestly had no idea what to expect from Bloodlust when I started these. I thought I would have a few laughs and enjoy a few fun scares and then that would be that. But what I found in David Darlington, Ursula Burton, Joseph Lidster, Alan Flanagan, and Will Howells’ work was so, so much more. I found a story about fear and what that fear can do to a town. I found a story of outsiders and those considered the “other” arguing for their very existence. I found a story about the past and how it can hold power over you, even when you are trying your best to move forward. But most of all, I found a story that displays the power and presence this property still has and the kind of sagas it is capable of producing, giving the franchise a life beyond the screen and grave. Bloodlust was and is the best of Dark Shadows, distilled down to it’s very essence, and we are lucky to have it.

And I AM truly lucky to have listened to it and discussed it with your lovely people. I thank you so, so very much for going on this journey with me and making my first proper beat here at the CHS just a joy. I would also like to thank the patient and impossibly kind Wallace McBride for giving me this assignment, everyone from the production team that has offered kind words about the coverage, AND all the amazing listeners and readers who have made me feel so welcome in the fandom and here at the site. I hope you all have had as much fun reading these as I have had writing them. If you have any suggestions of what I should listen to next, please, please, please reach out! Bloodline is just around the corner! But until then…

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 justin@betweenthepanels.com Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.  
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