Wednesday, December 19, 2018

Another Very Special Holiday Review: The Christmas Presence


“You know, Good Will to All Men and stuff…” “And that’s enough to forgive me?” “For today? Yeah.”

Happy Yule, Ghouls! It is me again! Your favorite elf typing away from my snow covered roll top (there is a hole in the ceiling). Here is a real conversation that Wallace McBride and I had about the subject of today missive:

Me: Do we have a copy of The Christmas Presence? Or has that one already been done?

Wallace: It has not!

*a second later*

Wallace: I think it involves a turkey dinner coming to life. It’s been a while since I’ve listened to it, but some people HATE it.

*another second later*

Wallace: Like, Jar-Jar Binks hate.

*furiously and instantly typed from my end*

Me: GAHAHAH WHAT?! OH, man, now I’m SUPER excited

And honestly?! I don’t get it! Much more explicitly ABOUT Christmas, this blast from the range’s early past is a tremendously fun romp, one that revels in the mythos of the show and it’s emerging audio canon. Better still, this was the first audio that I have listened to here that actually felt and played like a TV episode! The gang is all here! Barnabas! (kinda) Willie! Maggie Evans! And the rest! Sure that turkey bit is ... a lot, but for my money, The Christmas Presence is a worthy addition to the “Christmas Special” canon. Right alongside the Rankin and Bass clay things and “Five Characters in Search of an Exit.” Shall we?

Though it was released in September of 2006 (something of a pattern for Big Finish’s Dark Shadows Christmas efforts), Scott Handcock’s script is very much in the Christmas Spirit. But fortunately for us it is more inspired by Krampus (a highly underrated Christmas horror film) than Christmas Vacation. Children have been going missing from Collinsport, but Quentin Collins (a warm, paternal performance from David Selby) has his own family to worry about. He sends out a psychic message to his family on Christmas Eve, but someone ... someTHING answers in his kin’s stead. Something hungry and something wearing the face of a friend.

Right from the jump, Handcock and director Gary Russell are leaning into the audio landscape of the season, integrating creepy carols into the story and playing up actor Toby Longworth’s jovial, but menacing vocal performance. But back up in Collinwood, the pair are taking some of our favorites through the preparation and anticipation for the holidays, giving the horror of the cold open a merry layer of pathos right underneath in the episode’s first part. It was here that I was struck at just how authentic to the TV episodes this story felt. I have talked a bit about how some of the later series do this, but those feel much more like a cohesive “expanded” universe that can stand on it’s own. But this one? It really felt like I was listening to a serial on a overly large tube TV once again and it was absolutely delightful.

Of course, while the script and direction deliver the foundation of a good Dark Shadows yarn, they are immediately classed up by the stable of wonderful actors that the range attracts. This also continues to add to the authenticity of the line. I have spoken at length about how great regulars like Lara Parker, David Selby, and Kathryn Leigh Scott are and if you’re here, you get it too. They again impress here, especially Parker who gets to display a more domestic and empathetic Angelique, but I was truly happy to hear John Karlen back in the fold! Even better, this episode was a much better display of Andrew Collins’ prowess as the newly regenerated Barnabas Collins. I loved his inclusion in Bloodlust, but I didn’t really get the best sense of him. Thankfully The Christmas Presence gave me that in spades, along with some fantastic Collins family supernatural hijinks, wrapped in the beautiful trappings and melancholies of Christmas.

Even despite a dead turkey coming to life and attacking Maggie (a scene in which everyone plays DEADLY straight which kind of adds to the charm TBH), The Christmas Presence is a lovely, spooky good time and is undeserving of the derision foisted upon it by a picky fandom. It could just be that I have low standards. I dunno. But I had a blast with this one and I feel like you and yours would to if you wanted to give it a spin while decorating your tree. But honestly if you haven’t got a tree by now, it might be a waste of good listening (and drinking eggnog) time.

From us to you, 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 Odds are he will want to talk about Hellblazer.   

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