Tuesday, December 11, 2018

A Very Special Holiday Audio Review: A Collinwood Christmas



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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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

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