Wednesday, January 30, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 30


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 955

When Angelique’s latest husband tries to burn her alive, can she reunite with an old flame?  Angelique Rumson: Lara Parker. (Repeat. 30 min.)

After Sky tries to kill Angelique, she flees to the Old House, where Quentin takes her in. Sky’s attempts at reconciliation are rebuffed. Meanwhile, Barnabas pursues Maggie and even gives her the fabled engagement ring, but Quentin stops him short of biting her. Angelique, seeing Maggie as her rival, has her fall in love with Quentin just as she once had Josette fall in love with Jeremiah.

Sometimes, which is most of time, I just want to talk about why I love an episode. Dan Curtis had a famous dream about a girl on a train. I had a dream about an Angelique TV sitcom pilot. They both came true. I may like the Angelique pilot more.

With a series as sprawling as Dark Shadows, there are almost countless reasons for tuning in. If yours is Lara Parker, you’ve made an excellent choice. Beyond her obvious beauty, she fascinates due to her incredibly bright, sharp, poised presence. Her background, one part academia and one part fine, southern society, is one of our closest analogues to the world in which Angelique found her American footing. As with Jonathan Frid, wicked wit, an advanced education, and a respectable social background give her a sense of anachronistic exoticism and authority. Unlike him, however, her roots trade his wry, detached, Canadian sense of irony for the underlying, fiery passion so often associated with the American south. Put all of that together, and you have Angelique. Moreover, you have an intensely watchable performance of a frequently reprehensible character. Even when we don’t like what she does to people, we like like watching her do it. And few others could pull off such intermittent evil and have us rooting for her, anyway. When she’s bad, it’s for understandable reasons. When she’s good, she’s usually being evil anyway, and that’s towards someone even worse. Again, for understandable reasons.

For many, Dark Shadows is a TV series about Angelique. If we ever wanted to make it official, 955 is the pilot, lacking only an animated opening credits sequence in which she kisses Barnabas, whips off his tie with saucy panache, and uses it to strangle a toy soldier while winking a huge, celluloid eye at the audience. This… is pretty close. Beginning an episode with Felix being thrown onto the streets of New York by his fed-up wife is amusing. What’s better? The Angelique series (meaning 955) begins with Sky Rumson barging into her room with a torch, saying, and I kid you not, “I wanted to work it out.”

Well, if you put it like that that….

From there, we see one satisfying scene after another, fulfilling the Angelique jones we never really knew we had. Quentin even greets her with a bemused warmth set aside for reuniting celebrity frenemies on the Jerry Lewis telethon. There’s a kiss on the cheek, of-course-you-can-stay-at-the-Old-House, and warm sympathy for her husband trying to burn her alive. What’s most important is that moment of, “Quentin, I think I really did love the big lug, all along,” which is her kinda-but-not coming to the same crucial realization that Barnabas will reach in the futurepast of 1840. This reduces Quentin to mentally stammering like Hank Kimball on Green Acres because -- cue laugh track -- he just saw Barnabas macking on Maggie, and successfully, too. With Josette’s ring! He’s a vampire again, so he might as well drink the best. I mean, Joe Haskell’s out of the picture. Victoria’s out of the picture. What’s touching in this is that Barnabas is pursuing Maggie. Not Josette. But Maggie. And it’s high time. Naturally, if only Sky had tried to kill Angelique just a few hours earlier she would have beat Maggie to the punch, but then we wouldn’t have the bittersweet makings of supernatural farce.

At least we get the relief of seeing her tell Sky to get lost. I’ve had plenty of moments of watching women knuckle under to jerk boyfriends who do one horrible thing after another, but always get taken back. It’s nice to have one of them try it with Angelique. It’s like another part of the pilot, but now the pilot has gone from the 60’s world of domestic comedy to the socially conscious era of Mary Tyler Moore. Only one more hurdle… Maggie! Who’s dressing like Rhoda more and more, but still stands in the way of Barnabas.

You can hear the gears turn louder than “#1 at the Blue Whale.”

You know what? Wouldn’t she and Quentin make a nice couple? Fans keep picturing them together; they’re the Mary Ann and Professor of Collinsport. Let’s give them what they want.

The devil’s brand makes it’s familiar return from 1795, and suddenly Quentin and Maggie are locking lips in a way that seems far more satisfying than the case of Josette and Jeremiah. Barnabas only asked this one on a date. It’s not like they’re engaged. But if you’re Angelique, and if your only tool is a love spell, then every problem looks like Kathryn Leigh Scott. At least she picked a suitor who’s bulletproof, if it comes to a duel again. All that’s left would be Angelique telling Barnabas that Maggie needs to see them kissing so that she’ll get jealous and dump Quentin. It’s for his own good.

“Angelique, it sounds crazy, but it just might work.”

You know… it just might.

Louis Edmonds turning into a cat tested well with audiences before.

This episode was broadcast Feb. 20, 1970.

Monday, January 28, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 28


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 951

What’s got fangs, a taste for booze, and a mild case of pyromania? Barnabas Collins: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat. 30 min.) 

Barnabas, retransformed by the Leviathans into a vampire, and after nearly biting Maggie, attacks one of their newly minted cultists and then burns the Todds’ antique shop to cinders with Jeb inside.

Jeb made a mistake. And this is why we watch Dark Shadows. Yes, yes, it’s a profound meditation on, you know, love and the past and the existential conundrum of culpability versus intent. And we just as much want to see Barnabas Down to Bite, and this episode is a hullabaloo. Perhaps extending into the realm of hootenanny.

Barnabas appears at all corners of the moral map in the series, from sinister to savior, but it’s generally a linear progression. Out of step with this, the Leviathan arc’s depiction of him is incredibly mercurial, and no matter how we’ve see him improve, they still play the monster pedal. But even within the arc, there is a progression. Until there isn’t. Rarely has the series had it both ways with such elegance and efficiency. Here, in 951, he’s a feral and ferocious vampire and a tragic hero, all at once. Cosmically, I blame (and credit) David Selby. Now that there’s another central hero to the series, Barnabas can be the bad guy. But since we’ve seen him go from bad guy to good guy, once, and know his tragic origin, it just won’t stick to have him be completely evil. That’s a job for Nicholas Blair. 451 reestablishes the precarious balance that’s essential to the character. And it does it theatrically as hell in an episode that’s determined to entertain the audience whether they want to only see a boring soap opera or not. Turning Barnabas back into a vampire is fine. Having him attacked by a bat that comes out of a demonic box in the fiery realm of a snake-god temple? That’s great television… and maybe great art, too.

Strike the ‘maybe.’

There’s a dizzying amount of variety that follows. Barnabas has a one-man vaudeville routine outside Collinwood where he decides to bite Maggie, talks himself out of it, then back into it, then back out of it as he nears the door. I’m vaguely surprised they didn’t let Quentin and Jeb have the rest of the episode so they could cut back to Barnabas see-sawing on the issue for the next ten minutes. But it’s all too much, and he needs a drink at the Blue Whale. Just as he’s courting a conspicuously dixie doxie who’s wandered in from a Horton Foote-written episode of True Blood, Julia and Quentin show up at the ‘Whale and Barnabas tries to ditch them. For good reason. Not only is he a terrifying vampire, but he’s killing cultists who are also terminally southern -- and who join snake cults via guys named Bruno, which makes them even more suspect. Oh, earlier, Quentin and Jeb get into yet another fight, which Jeb wins by threatening to injure Quentin’s suit. (Since Quentin’s immortal, I assume that’s the danger posed by the knife.) At this point, those boys fight more than Sonny Corleone. Jeb and Quentin either need to duel to the death or get married. But Jeb had better do it quickly, because Barnabas has had it.

Torching Megan and Philip’s shop is a true, Sopranos moment, and it speaks to my favorite part of Barnabas: the one with a gas can and a match. It’s a strikingly direct solution that really speaks of the no-nonsense aristocrat from 1795. OG Patriarchy’s got stuff to do, thank you, and it has unique ways of solving problems once it’s through indulging those beatnik antique peddlers and their shaggy-haired messiah/stockboy. Mess with hegemony, feel the horns, my friend.  We sometimes think of aristocrats of Barnabas’ time as fey and ineffectual fancy lads, but they had their staff ravage and savage entire continents before breakfast.

There are many dualities and dichotomies to Barnabas Collins. My favorite is when he crosses the line between timidity and to-hell-with-it. It usually involves fire. Like when he goes back in time on a mission. Off to the side, Angelique seemingly lies about saving Vicki from the gallows, and Barnabas & Ben simply shrug and douse her in flames as a response. You can tell it’s therapeutic. Same thing here. Barnabas has been dragged through time, saw Josette commit suicide, had to stop using Just for Men on his temples, was manipulated by threats to Josette’s ghost, and now is a vampire AGAIN. Then there’s the whole Sky Rumson business. And taking orders from Michael and Alexander. I’m amazed that this is all he does.

There are few things as satisfying as a fed up Barnabas Collins declaring war upon Jeb and all of the Leviathans. But Barnabas doing all those things while committing arson is right up there.

This episode was broadcast Feb. 16, 1970.

More than meets the eye

I can think of at least three quotes from Jurassic Park that should have persuaded me not to do this.

Saturday, January 26, 2019

Moominhouse of Dark Shadows

Wikipedia defines "The Moomins" as (checks notes) "the central characters in a series of books and a comic strip by Swedish-speaking Finnish illustrator Tove Jansson, originally published in Swedish by Schildts in Finland." I had to look that up because I live in America and we have no idea what's going on in the rest of the world unless it involves flaming oil derricks or Benedict Cumberbatch. We're a self-centered people.

So, when @lunettarose tweeted a six-page mashup of Dark Shadows and The Moomins my next stop of Wikipedia. Her art project is called The Collins and, while I still haven't hunted down any of the books to see The Moomins for myself, it felt like a bad idea to let my procrastination (that tweet happened more than a week ago) keep you from her art. It's pretty wonderful.

You can download a PDF of the full mashup in the tweet below.

Cheap Chills, bad dreams and horror movies

I've taken up journaling this year and have made a disturbing discovery: I have no interest in keeping up with my new hobby when I'm in a good mood. On what I've come to refer to as my "Poe Days" I'm all blood and thunder, whining endlessly into the void (in this case "the void" means "a cheap notebook from Walgreen's") about the futility of existence and how this all relates to Dark Shadows. But when I'm feeling happy? Eh. I'd rather watch a movie.

Which is what I was doing the other night when I stumbled on a new book from Cheap Chills. I'd already seen My Freaky-Deaky Book of Bad Dreams, a blank journal to document your dream life. Seeing as how I rarely dream, this product would be a better fit for somebody else. While watching Sleepaway Camp on Shudder's The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs the other night, a tweet alerted me to another item they've got for sale: The Horror Critic’s Journal. The inside was delightful and was something I can definitely put to use. At just $7.99 it was even cheaper than that that Walgreen's notebook, so I punched that "Buy Now" button and have since been laying in wait for the mailman.

You can find The Horror Critic’s Journal at Amazon HERE.

And get My Freaky-Deaky Book of Bad Dreams at Amazon HERE.

Friday, January 25, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 25


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1200

When the mysterious Woman in White appears on the grounds, Justin Collins knows that he must prepare the lottery… if only he can find his pants. Gabriel Collins: Christopher Pennock. (Repeat. 30 min.)

The Woman in White heralds Justin’s death and the oncoming lottery, the strange and mandatory ritual where each generation of Collinses must choose a member to stay in a room haunted by the humiliated torture of Brutus Collins, the cuckolded patriarch from 1692. Gabriel contemplates escape only to be chastised by his brother, Quentin.

1841PT roars to the screen in an episode packed with interesting variants on familiar characters and new avenues of mythos. Departing from the slow-burn romantic handwringing that will eventually merge with the lottery story, we careen into the latter with slam-bang inciting incidents. Morgan on the rocks, declaring that Collinwood is a house of death (true) and then Justin flailing about in Melanie’s arms like a ghastly Falstaff in his death throes, all thanks to the Woman in White. Eventually, the dynamic of brothers is demonstrated as we see their sense of character and family evidenced by the threat of the lottery, and the show has brought us up to speed with a curiously effortless mix of immediate intensity and subtlety.  Not to mention ghosts, coffins, and death in the clutches of existential dread and cool lighting.

So far, the focus of the PT glimpses has been on Bramwell, Morgan, and Catherine. Logical choices, since these are somewhat relatable (or related to relatable) figures, and the Bramwell/Catherine conflict informed Barnabas’ choice to pursue Angelique. Now that we’re no longer tied to the main series, Dan Curtis and company can expand the vista. By locking in to a set of characters and causality, Dark Shadows became more and more limited by obligations to past choices. Whereas the first PT jaunt was an odd non-sequitur & excuse to shoot a movie, this feels very different. And it has to be. By default, the main timeline has more red lights than green. It’s a world in which Roger has reconciled with David, Carolyn is heartbroken into romantic paralysis, Liz is free from the fears of presumed murder, Barnabas exists sans Josette and Angelique, Maggie is off the show, and Quentin drinks more coffee than brandy. The trajectories of four years of storytelling have reached their targets. Armed with the knowledge that he no longer has to put Gothic melodrama in Mad Men drag to comfort audiences, Curtis can simply present the raw feed of the period, making it our first time jump that exists as its own context, without an ambassador from (or at least through) the present. 

He’s moving closer to soap storytelling as well, with an emphasis on torn loyalties, questions of paternity, alcoholism, and the challenges of inhumane obligations to family. Given the medium, I’m surprised it’s taken this long for the show to explore those avenues. It was inevitable, and what’s interesting is how Dark Shadows deals with the arguably more mature and challenging emotional landscapes… especially without the crutches and/or restraints supplied by the original ensemble of characters. As it turns out, it does it quite well. With a ghostly and teasingly unseen Woman in White heralding family curses, it’s very much Dark Shadows -- just concentrated. Maybe we don’t need multiple Widows again. One might do. Maybe a single, haunted room is a more focused threat than an entire house, particularly if you have to spend the night in it to save everyone.

The concept of romantic betrayal will continue, but now the emphasis is on Brutus’ masculine wrath rather than the fallout of feminine umbrage, as we get with Josette, Jenny and Beth. With the entire family having to pay, generation after generation, that wrath is an intimidating contrast. And it’s a secret only to an outsider like Catherine. Unlike the reaction to past supernatural incidents at Collinwood, this is not Gilligan trying to convince the other Castaways that the west wing is haunted. No need. We’ve reached a point with the show and its audience that we can simply jump in with both feet and the whole ensemble knowing the truth. The program has shown us how they deal with secrets. Now, how do they deal with truths? The show presents a gallery of reactions to the lottery and to each others’ coping mechanisms. Brutus is a sad and furious fountainhead of this legacy, whose 1690’s roots have a strangely ancient quality compared to almost everything else we’ve seen. Dead or alive, he still dominates the family and reduces theoretical patriarchs like Justin to bobbing around Collinwood in an emasculating frock, supported by an impossibly svelte Melanie and needing a decent shave. A strange and sad ending, and we’re thrust right in. And yet, it doesn’t feel forced nor overloaded, a danger of the 1840 sequence. 

Mirrors grow subtler, here, too. And bolder, depending on the case. Quentin I is not the opposite of Quentin II… but 1841PT Quentin might be the most upstanding man of the three. It’s jarring to hear him castigate anyone for cowardice and drinking. But this Gabriel is implosive, rather than explosive, and Chris Pennock gets to explore his most straightforward and realistic character, yet. When used properly, the PT sequences are not reflections as much as kaleidoscopes, and here, it’s twisted to create what the show might need most at this point -- a new pilot for a new continuity, replete with the ghoulish and the guilty. Old lessons echo and new possibilities are ripe for exploration. The cast is heavy on familiar men put into roles arguably sadder and more contemplative than we’ve seen before, with the high volumes left for the shrill newcomer, Morgan. He’s a figure from melodrama in a Chekhovian world, and his efforts open up the space for David Selby, Pennock, and Jonathan Frid to play subtler notes. It’s not your father’s Dark Shadows or even your Dark Shadows. It’s a program for a generation that never got to inherit it. But it feels as if the cast sees this as a new opportunity for reconsidered choices, and they make the most of it. When the show should be flagging, it feels strangely fresh and ideally timed, allowing the pain of Angelique and Barnabas to resonate as an unbroken note while continuing the themes and fun of the program.

This episode was broadcast Jan. 29, 1971.

Dark Shadows, The 1973 Tapes: Carriage of the Damned


Oh, yes the SPOILERS AHEAD Wagon is a’commmmin down the way, oh, please let it beeeee for meeeeeee!

“Why is it that the ones obsessed with preventing death are always the ones causing it?”

Necromancy and taut emotional drama collide in the busy, but entertaining Carriage of the Damned! Yes, that brings us to the end of the line here at the CHS for this round of coverage and now I can actually and fittingly use that analogy since this story is about a train! I know I said last time that it was a bus, but you all should know by now that I like to be silly. My nickname around here is “Clifford” thanks to my boyish wit and mischievous nature. My finale induced nervous vamping aside, Carriage of the Damned is a fine finale to this latest round of my audio coverage. One that switches focus to the other Jennings sibling with tragic ease, ending this arc on a soberly affecting note.

The Jennings family is mourning a fresh loss in the wake of Simon Turner’s death during The Happier Dead. While Amy is sort of coasting through life around Collinwood, Sabrina is onto something big. Like, the cure for the werewolf curse big and that leads her to the grave of one Gerard Stiles, one time meat puppet of the magus Judah Zachary. I have to admit, when this started, I was very, very worried that this plot was going to be a bit Inside Baseball for me. Mainly because, while I know a fair amount about Amy, I am not so well versed on the canon surrounding Sabrina. I knew that she was cursed and the genesis of said curse was pretty tragic, but Stiles and Zachary were new elements to me and I worried they might derail my hyperactive Millennial mind.

But, thankfully, Alan Flanagan’s tightly contained script prepares for all of that and in the lead up to getting to the story’s main setting, an abandoned train car, it neatly lays out the connection Sabrina has with Stiles and Zachary as a legit magickal presence in the universe so that was much appreciated. And the plot itself really makes the most of its pulpy, slightly ghoulish premise and takes it to an unexpectedly emotion conclusion. After discovering the corpse, who Sabrina had planned to resurrect in order for the meatsuited Magus to tell her the secret of curing lycanthropy, is headless, the Jenning sisters perform a locating spell and see that the head is...moving. Specifically onto a train heading out of town. Naturally Sabrina gives chase and links up with a whole cast of characters who are slowly being possessed by...a like a hat box. It is absolutely bonkers.

But like all the best Dark Shadows offerings, the whole thing is played DEADLY straight, thanks to David Darlington and Darren Gross’ theatrical, consistently engaging direction and the stellar cast of often underappreciated Dark Shadows staples. I have kind of groused before in this column of this arc playing it safe in terms of settings and scope, but Carriage is a great example of the directors and script making a small location work for them. The sound design really makes a meal of the mobile setting and the chatty, gory centerpiece of Stiles’ severed head, jazzing up the single space beyond well mixed train EFX and ambient music. Lisa Richards shines thoroughly as Sabrina, our leading lady. Though we only get a few glimpses of a rich dynamic between her and Stephanie Ellyne, it is represented enough to know that Richards is capable of it which is really great stacked up against her as a solo lead in the rest of the story. She does, however, share a ton of scene time with one Kathleen Cody, who plays Professor Stokes’ niece Hallie, and the pair truly impress as foils for one another, both coveting the head for differing, understandable reasons.

And again, all of this is played deadly, painfully straight and that is where I think Carriage of the Damned really succeeds. While, yeah, the whole thing boils down to a severed head trying to possess people on TOP of a lady wanting to ask the head about how to not be a werewolf anymore (Dark Shadows, everybody!), Flanagan’s script goes to some very real, very emotional places with the premise. For example, while Sabrina’s motivation is a cure, Hallie’s is revenge. Based around the fact that she REMEMBERS being killed by Stiles in a Parallel Time and it is slowly driving her insane. I am kind of a sucker for that narrative trope and Dark Shadows is the PERFECT property to pull that stuff in! Plus, Flanagan goes a step further by really showing the cost of being cursed and how that would realistically affect a family, leading to Amy to famously proclaim that she would “Never return to Collinsport” right before the final theme strikes up.

I will admit this is one hell of a dark note to end a column on, but Carriage of the Damned was a tremendously grounded final offering from 1973 and one that I feel that clears the stage well for whatever is next for Collinsport and the many players that we all know and love. If anything it tells me that I and this range needs a lot more Lisa Richards, but I am more than happy with her sending out this arc on a down, but satisfying note.

And that is going to do it for me and this dusty box of wonderful and weird tapes filled with stories about this town we all are kind of unhealthily obsessed with. I hope you have enjoyed reading these half as much as i’ve had listening to these stories and recording my ramblings about them. If you have any other suggestions of what I should cover next or just random stand out stories I should be made aware of, please feel free to holler at me via twitter or e-mail, you’ll find both addresses below. I have the next column set, which is a doozy, but I am always on the lookout for more Content.

Until next time, dear readers, be seeing you.

The complete 1973 saga:

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.

Wednesday, January 23, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 23


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 948

Barnabas begins his war on the Leviathans by reaching through time and death to the woman he loves. Philip Todd: Christopher Bernau. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Via a seance, Barnabas verifies that Josette’s ghost is not a hostage to the Leviathans. She gives him back his engagement ring and permits him to move on. Free to wage total war on the cult, Barnabas recruits Philip, but Jeb apprehends him as he attempts to steal the Naga Box.

Well, it makes an astounding amount of emotionally mature sense, but I still didn’t see that coming. I should have, and by not doing so, I underestimated the writers and the basic needs of soap operas. Kathryn Leigh Scott had not played a viable romantic interest for Barnabas since early 1968, so they might as well free him up. The Josette relationship was a closed system, with her dying several times, and how often do you come back from that? Exactly.

Barnabas’ fit of guilt that triggers the Josette seance is long overdue. After seeing him at the height of his powers and emotional security in 1897, he’s not exactly in for a fall, but that doesn’t mean he’s escaping that old devil, denial. In 1897, yes, we see him as confident, kind, and vaguely ethical. Yes, he’s all of those things, but he’s all of those things with a lot of baggage, and that’s not nearly as healthy as being at a place of Zen without them. His Leviathan flirtation with villainy gives him one final burst of reflective truthfulness, perhaps about what he’s always capable of without vigilance. One key element of truth that eludes him again and again is the whole Josette Thing. It’s easy to understand the quantity of guilt at work, because he’s betrayed Angelique, he’s betrayed Josette, and he’s betrayed his own feelings. Understandably. He didn’t just do it because he was kicking around the docks and needed a new hobby. More importantly, he didn’t do it to cause intentional harm. As much as anything, Barnabas is a victim to the complexity of life; it’s high time that Josette acted her elapsed, undead age and addressed it. Someone has to be the adult around here. Donna Wandrey’s groceries aren’t going to pay for themselves. And it’s high time for the rating spike concomitant with Barnabas going back on the market. Josette is a surrogate for millions of fans with a crush, and while” star-crossed lovers” is one thing, Josette has gone beyond being a tease. She’s Maggie, then not. Maybe she’s Vicki? Nope. Vicki is Vicki. How about Rachel Drummond? Or Kitty Soames? Or that lamp?

At a certain point, she’s the best pal’s ex-girlfriend from hell. She shows up, kind of, after ruining things last time. But not. Because she “loves him” or something. Whenever she shows up, you know it’s going to slow everything down AND go nowhere. She does all that she can short of forbidding Barnabas from playing Deadlands with Quentin and Julia on Saturdays at the Blue Whale. And would will he be doing, instead? Probably watching something like Westworld with “their” friends -- you know, “couples’ time” -- and very pointedly NOT inviting Quentin over, too. Which is dumb, because Josette’s friends Henri and Chloe from Avignon are total posers who still think homemade hummus is a big deal and sigh audibly when Quentin wants to play something, anything, other than Pandemic for the millionth time. And the whole thing is even dumber, because you know -- you just know -- that Josette’s just going to vanish into a painting or drink poison again before Barnabas even finishes the second season of Westworld. And we all know that she knows it. Everybody knows it except for Barnabas. Good thing he doesn’t really like the show after the first season, anyway, but it’s the principle. (It’s because they took out “the good stuff,” but he can never say that around Josette because it’ll lead to a lecture. You forward the wrong Triumph the Insult Comic Dog clip from Roger, and it’s the end of the world for some people.) And Henri and Chloe keep encouraging the relationship while totally dissing Quentin. They pretend to be indifferent, but it’s clear they think ill of him because he dared bring over a cocktail waitress from Logansport once who said she didn’t get Monty Python as much as her brother. Well, so what?

Say what you will, but Angelique doesn’t pull that stuff. I mean, she’s bad news, but she’s loyal, in her own way. It must be kind of a relief that Angelique, rather than Josette, shows up in 1840. At least she’s consistent. And she likes Quentin, too. And Quentin I. Har-har. She knows he’s single, and she remembers what it’s like.

It takes a Leviathan non-kidnapping for everyone to admit that this is getting out of hand.

This episode was broadcast Feb. 11, 1970.

Tuesday, January 22, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 22


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 947

Angelique can always depend on her hunky, new husband… to betray humanity! Sky Rumson: Geoffrey Scott. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Jeb and the werewolf tussle, and it’s a draw. After Barnabas checks on Angelique, she confides to her husband about her participation in the resistance. Unfortunately, we learn that this was the wrong choice when he goes to tattle to Jeb. Sky Rumson: publisher, husband, Leviathan.

Geoffrey Scott takes the prize for perhaps the most slighted actor from the series, and this is, in retrospect, totally unfair. In the past, I’ve been one of the detractors. Cards on the table -- Sky Rumson is simultaneously wooden and somehow inflatable. But that’s Sky Rumson. He’s written that way. It’s not Geoffrey Scott, and that’s a distinction which needs to be made when assessing the Dark Shadows ensemble. There’s a larger and deceptive trend and tendency with the media, but especially Dark Shadows, and it’s being undermined with Scott. Not necessarily for the first time, but very, very strikingly. Handsome people are nice people. Even the evil ones. But Sky manages to be handsome AND evil, and the show isn’t necessarily ready for that.

I’m being quantitative when I say that daytime soap operas are written -- certainly were written -- for women. Just as importantly, they were cast with a female audience in mind. Dark Shadows had an admirable record not only casting very good actors, but very handsome actors, as well. When your most beloved actor is also the most idiosyncratic looking, and he’s still on the cover of teen mags, you’re doing something right in casting. But the writing is also, well, handsome. Up to this point, even your most evil characters have had a strange charm to them. Dammit, Jason McGuire, for all your wickedness, I can’t help but like you. And Nicholas, Ghost of Quentin, Adam, etc. Sky Rumson is different, and as such, he is one of the show’s first realistic characters. In the worst way. He may exist in art, but he is a little too true, and that throws us off as fans and viewers. The guy is exactly what he appears to be -- the handsome, bland, successful, privileged, vapid, evil goon who lands the girl to an extent that, of course, she’ll betray the real hero.  Because she loves him. If you’ve ever interacted with humans, you know the type. The rules keep you from being too hard on Angelique for marrying this idiot, but you can dislike said idiot all you like. And Geoffrey Scott gets stuck playing him.

Yeah, he’s that guy. He’s just a hollow, good-looking bully because that’s how he came from the manufacturer. More importantly, we dislike him because he provides illumination for what Barnabas is not. Even Quentin isn’t guy. We need a Sky Rumson so that we can appreciate Quentin and wait for the day when he beats the aqua-velva outta the big hunk of cheddar, at last.

At least he’s brilliant publisher. Yes? No. Who are you kidding? He doesn’t come across as that smart because he doesn’t need to be. I'm sure his magazines have no shortage of pictures. Big fonts. USA Today would fail the Rumson test as too elitist. A cerebral Rumson would defeat the point. He’s got four bedrooms and 2.5 baths at the platinum end of the bell curve, and he never even had to put down a deposit. Nothing he says is authentic or believable, and so of course he’s in league with the apocalypse. He reassures us of our mistrust of “that guy,” and as such, is a gift from the writers. Because I don’t think Sam and Gordon had a fondness for “that guy,” either. He gets a 1969 model Angelique, and then trashes the opportunity within a few episodes. It's the closest Dark Shadows gets to Bewitched or I Dream of Jeannie, and it has to be the episode where Tony Nelson joins a cult. And Angelique had come so far.

We’ve spent all of 1897 building a begrudging trust with Angelique. Yes, she inadvertently drives Beth to suicide and ruins Quentin’s emotional life and shatters Jamison… but for understandable reasons. Now, we’re seeing that she’s cleaned up her act in the present. It’s like a vacation from evil. You can argue whether or not she deserves it, but at least she’s not making Barnabas’ life a living hell in the same way (and just for fun). Until, you know, she marries a blow-up Blofeld and spills the beans about how there’s a war going on for the future of existence, and she’s decided to be on the side of existence. He just can’t have that. He just can’t wait to tell his frat bruh Jeb all about it.

Even Burke Devlin had hard-earned sophistication. Joe Haskell may be a fisherman, but he’s gentle enough that Liz has no issues welcoming him into the family. Speaking of St. Joel Crothers, even Nathan Forbes has enough good manners to serve as a sounding board for Barnabas and sit at the dinner table with Joshua. And there is no mensh to equal Ben Stokes. But Sky is the worst. Sky Rumson has the most and disrespects everything he gets. He is exactly the weasel you think that guys like that will be. And there was never a huh-huh-huh, rapey fratboy vibe to the characters on the show until Sky and Jeb showed up. Even the man named Bruno disqualifies himself from that by wearing a fur coat and hilarious amounts of product. And Jeb slips out of the noose by turning around. But Sky? This is the show’s opportunity to confirm your suspicions about every chowderheaded sportsballer who steals the skeleton out of the Barnabas Collins game of life. Poor Geoffrey Scott is really good at playing this guy. It’s acting. He does it really, really well and never gets another character to redeem his Geoffosity from his Skyvianness.

But we stay with Jonathan Frid, who would never do that stuff.

We’re protective of Barnabas. We ARE Barnabas. And we know there are only two ways that things with Angelique can end happily: marrying her or sending her back to Hell screaming in fiery agony. Either way, it’s a good ending for Barnabas, and he needs the pleasure of doing one or the other. (And at various times in the show, he does both.) So, like a creepy stepfather, Sky is instantly to be mistrusted. His plastic vapidity is the point.

Sky’s insincere proclamations of love are as unbelievable as his half-hearted proclamations of evil. The perfection of his villainy resides in the fact that he’s too entitled to even NEED to revel in being a villain. He just decides to screw over the world because it’s there. Sky Rumson is the reason that Gillette makes sanctimonious commercials. Thanks, Sky. I have to put up with the apocalypse AND condescending razor ads. But like the razor ads, it all may be necessary for the mythos to move on and and stand as comprehensive.

Blame the writers. They took a break from presenting monsters so that they could present a monster.

This episode was broadcast Feb. 10, 1970.

We might be doing this Marie Kondo thing wrong

Friday, January 18, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 18


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1197

Angelique, Barnabas, and Quentin unite to face their ultimate challenge. Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Angelique arrives at Quentin’s execution with the head of Judah Zachery, identifying it as coming from the home of Charles Dawson. Desmond uses the distraction to shoot Gerard, and he is finally released from Judah’s hold. When the head of the warlock dissolves into a skull, Angelique’s story has new resonance. She is held for questioning and Barnabas returns home to see his own son, Bramwell, attempt to win Catherine back in the Parallel Time room. Barnabas determines to express his feelings to Angelique. When he approaches her to do so, Trask bursts in and fires a pistol at her.

1197 is rife with some of the most profound moments in the series… some that are really there… some that play out in my mind’s eye based on implications and wishes. In classic, Dark Shadows tradition, it’s also bang-up entertainment. And it’s the start of goodbye.

I can’t ignore that when I watch it. The idea makes my chest tighten, and the execution has a strange, terminal excitement that exists in no other installment. It’s a resolution without a price -- until the very, very final seconds. Before that? It begins with a sequence so satisfying that I want to take up smoking just so I can have a cigarette afterwards. Appropriate salute for a show of the era.

It’s still hard to imagine that this is the penultimate installment in the whole thing. But it is. Keep that in mind. 1841PT is underrated, and it’s also an epilogue, existing outside the continuity we care about. Most viewers will be lost without thinking abstractly… or approaching it first, as the only Dark Shadows they know. But this… episode 1197? This is the real beginning of the end. It’s the series saying goodbye. It’s how nearly 1225 episodes of continuity depart without knowing it. And what was it like for viewers at the time? For the more aware, every day was alpha and omega. With no seasons and no full bundles dropping on Netflix at once, each  episode was the next, and the last, and a cliffhanger for more, and the final chance any of this might ever, ever, in any form, be seen.

Dark Shadows is a ruthless-yet-delicate show. For one with such a male-heavy cast, it is often effete. But not here. Not now. There are too many feelings at stake for the show to be obsessed with preserving them under glass. It may be a saga that begins with Louis Edmonds passive-aggressively sneering at Joan Bennett, but it ends with David Selby swaggering off the blindfold on an execution block. He’s got a backbone like the Rock of Gibraltar, but a Victorian scientist to the end, it’s never at the expense of his precision and dignity. Ending the show on a flashback gives us a sense progress and a point of departure against which we can measure the very first episode. On no other show can we reflect on how far we’ve come and how far we’ve strayed, all at once. 

The bravado of Desmond and Quentin -- and even poor, sad Gerard -- make wonderful counterpoints for Barnabas. Especially true as the great man commits to the most dangerous truth and choice of his life: true love. The pivot for him is the Parallel Time sequence. At this point, the PT sequences have become the Dark Shadows equivalents of lame musical guests on SNL -- time to hit the head, check text messages, and light some hookah coals.  But in 1197, the interlude is a beautiful metaphor, screened for Barnabas by a godlike Dan Curtis to spur him to take the chance he must. Seeing your own son and twin from the present and future at once is an Escheresque mirror without equal. Then to watch him struggle to overcome the loss of the duplicate of the love you’ve denied yourself because, for one reason, she’s not adequately respectable? A woman denying you for someone even more respectable than yourself?

That’ll get to a guy. For Barnabas, it’s a Marley’s Ghost moment. He’s completely transformed for the first of several times in just a few minutes. My favorite moment of potential energy is just after he’s seen off his shadow brother -- Quentin -- into his new and free future. Alone in the foyer, having seen someone leave him and Collinwood smiling for once, Barnabas turns toward the drawing room, where he knows Angelique awaits him. And for just a fraction of a second, you know he catches a glimpse of his portrait. Is he imagining his first moments in the Collinwood of 1967? How can it not? The entire journey allusively flashes by in an instant. It’s a moment of everything, abridged. Like the end of Cyrano, it has a genuinely terrible ending, and I mean that in the best way. Lara Parker gives it a bit of a melodramatic twist to her depiction of having been shot. Anything realistic would have been too much to watch. We need the cushion of art in a moment so incredibly cruel.

In episode 411, Barnabas discovers the nature of Angelique’s curse. He responds by executing her, and if that chain of moments forms the nadir of their relationship, 1197 is the summit. If we look at the 1795 flashback as the start of his story, then 411 and 1197 bookend his journey. In both episodes, only Barnabas survives.

Is it a ritual? To what end? Why does death await Angelique at either end of this spectrum? Miserable survival for Barnabas. Of what possible benefit is this? Especially twice. None. Because he’s not supposed to benefit. We are. The audience. We benefit by watching where his choices lead him. In both instances, Barnabas’ central sin is dishonesty with himself. It’s easy to understand why he’s initially blind to his love in the year 1840; he’s seen Angelique torment the inhabitants of three separate centuries. It’s harder in 1795 because his denial is more complicated. Maybe it’s a matter of social class and family pressure. Maybe it’s timing. He certainly loves Josette, and she provides none of the challenges posed by Angelique.

Love, especially in fiction, and even more especially in pop fiction, is so tempting to quantify. A bit like a character stat in a video game -- an achievement you unlock by revealing Judah. It’s far more complicated, and its unclarity leads to the inevitable fan cry of the true believer, “How could he love Angelique more than Josette… especially after all that she did?!”

I don’t think it’s an issue of more nor less. For one thing, Josette isn’t here. Hasn’t been, by Barnabas’ internal clock, for about 175 years or so. I mean, not really. Her ghost has given him the permission to move on. And it’s clear that Roxanne seemed like a good idea at the time, but, you know, um, yeah. Swipe left. That leaves Angelique by default, but how can he look past her misdeeds?

The only salient fact is that he does. Yes, it’s uncomfortable. Baffling. Yet, it’s strangely, horribly, wonderfully, inexplicably, infuriatingly, and unfairly right.

That’s what makes it love.

This episode was broadcast Jan. 26, 1971.

Ian McShane narrates new Dark Shadows doc

Jonathan Frid gets a light from Dan Curtis
MPI Media Group today announced it has completed production on the highly anticipated
Master of Dark Shadows, a comprehensive celebration of the legendary Gothic daytime series Dark Shadows and its visionary creator, Dan Curtis. The feature documentary, which was shot in New York,  LA and London, includes interviews with key actors and filmmakers involved in the undyingly popular story of vampire Barnabas Collins and all the eerie goings-on at the gloomy Maine mansion Collinwood. The documentary was directed by David Gregory (Lost Soul, Godfathers of Mondo) and is set to be released this spring.

Narrated by Ian McShane (Deadwood), Master of Dark Shadows offers insights from Curtis himself in addition to Oscar-winning writer-producer Alan Ball (True Blood), screenwriter William F. Nolan (Trilogy of Terror), author Herman Wouk (The Winds Of War), veteran actors Whoopi Goldberg (Ghost), Barbara Steele (Black Sunday)and Ben Cross (Chariots of Fire), Dark Shadows stars Jonathan Frid, David Selby, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, John Karlen, Nancy Barrett, Jerry Lacy, Roger Davis, Marie Wallace, Chris Pennock and James Storm, plus other colleagues and family members.

In 1966, a phenomenon was launched when Dark Shadows debuted on ABC-TV as a daily Gothic suspense series. Airing in the late afternoon, the show attracted a massive youth audience as it shifted to the supernatural with the introduction of vulnerable vampire Barnabas Collins. Witches, ghosts and scary story lines turned Dark Shadows into a TV classic that led to motion pictures, remakes, reunions and legions of devoted fans who have kept the legend alive for five decades.

The feature-length documentary Master of Dark Shadows reveals the fascinating history, far-reaching impact and lasting appeal of Dark Shadows with a compelling blend of rare footage and behind-the-scenes stories while also exploring the dramatic talents of creator-producer-director Dan Curtis. Known as the "King of TV Horror," the Emmy-winning filmmaker followed Dark Shadows with other iconic genre favorites including The Night Stalker, Trilogy of Terror and Burnt Offerings before earning accolades for the epic miniseries The Winds of War and War and Remembrance.

Thursday, January 17, 2019

Help send the Bodice Tipplers podcast to Collinsport

In March, the Bodice Tipplers podcast will be leaving the reservation to explore a few novels peripheral to their sphere of interest: trashy romance novels. They plan to do three books that month: the Star Trek: The Next Generation novel Imzadi by Peter David, Flowers in the Attic by V.C. Andrews and ... well, the third is still up for discussion. Seeing as how I'm married to one of the two hosts (and am producer-by-default of the podcast) I've got a little influence over the title of the third book. It will absolutely be a Marilyn Ross book from the Dark Shadows line, but which one should it be?

I conducted a loose poll on social media last week and have narrowed it down to four possible books. (Note: I've nixed Barnabas, Quentin and the Body Snatchers because it's already been discussed at length on this website.)

Here are the candidates. You can vote using the Twitter poll below.

Dark Shadows, #1
Summary: "Despite warnings from the townspeople, Victoria Winters accepts the offer to come to the strange Collins House as governess. For some curious reason she feels the secret of her past may be uncovered in the bleak manor high on Widow's Hill. From the moment she arrives, Victoria becomes the target of someone in the house determined to destroy her. As the wind moans and the rain lashes around the isolated Collins House, Victoria, without friends in the manor, feels death close in on her, a choking, frightening death."

Barnabas Collins, #6
Summary: "America's Grooviest Ghoul Barnabas Collins, the 175-year-old vampire who has taken the country by storm comes alive in this new novel of gothic suspense. Your blood will grow cold as you read the never-before-told story of the foggy night in 1899 when Barnabas first arrived at Collinwood. You'll chill to the full horror of the real truth about Barnabas - a secret so terrible that it could not be revealed until now."

The Secret of Barnabas Collins, #7
Summary: "While searching for the woman who will replace his long-lost Josette, and thus end the terrible curse upon him, Barnabas meets lovely Clare Duncan. The story of their romance--and of the terror it brings to the beautiful young noblewoman--is a tale of Gothic suspense that will chill and delight the legions of Barnabas Collins fans."

Barnabas, Quentin and the Magic Potion, #25
Summary: "Barnabas predicts trouble for Collinwood when Nicholas Freeze, in whose antique shop Carolyn Stoddard works, discovers a centuries-old potion that promises eternal youth. Soon after, Mr. Freeze's daughter Hazel, tricked into taking the serum, dies. Carolyn is grief-stricken over her friend's death. Barnabas insists she stay on at the shop to watch Nicholas Freeze and his associates, one of whom Carolyn suspects is Quentin Collins, back at Collinwood in a disguise. Then Carolyn sees Hazel's ghost. She interprets this as a warning that Mr. Freeze has marked her for his next victim. Barnabas still refuses to let her quit. Has Barnabas made a fatal mistake by deliberately endangering Carolyn's life? Or will his plan avenge Hazel's murder and put her spirit to rest?"

Wednesday, January 16, 2019

Barbara Crampton is a Dark Shadows fan, y'all

Confession: I typed the name "Barnabas Crampton" about 100 times while stitching this post together. It's pretty ingrained at this point. If I was in a coma you could put a pencil in my hand and it would still reflexively write "Barnabas." Some habits will die hard.

Which brings me to my point: Actress, horror ambassador and Fangoria columnist Barbara Crampton is a guest on the podcast Post Mortem with Mick Garris. She hits many of the expected bullet points (Re-Animator, From Beyond and Channel Zero are difficult subjects to avoid) but offers surprising sources of inspirations for her career choice. Among them: Dark Shadows.

OK, maybe it's not a huge surprise in this context (you're reading about this on a Dark Shadows blog, and there's that headline at the top of the page) but this feels like a win for our side. It also makes her recognition as Soap Opera Digest's "Villainess of the Year" in 1990 feel more poignant. I'm not going to steal Mick's thunder and post a transcript of the podcast, but here's a sample of what Barbara had to say:
"I really loved that particular show. I loved all the ladies in the show, but I really identified more with Barnabas Collins. I loved his character ... I wanted to be a vampir ejust watching him."
You can listen to the entire episode below. Thanks to Charlie Lonewolf for the tip!

And make sure to follow Barbara on Twitter @barbaracrampton

The Dark Shadows Daybook: JANUARY 16


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 411

As Barnabas returns from death, he learns that his resurrection comes at a price he can never repay. Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas awakens to find Angelique hovering over him with a stake. When he discovers that her curse rendered him neither alive nor dead, he kills her. As Barnabas discovers what he has become, Ben Stokes volunteers to help him, and while hiding Angelique’s body, must bluff Barnabas’ curious father. Barnabas returns, having found that his new life demands that he live off the blood of others.

This is it. I mean, IT.

There are those episodes that wind up in top ten lists. Huge turning points. But because of the strange structure of soap operas, the episodes of action sometimes differ from the more interesting moments of actual consequence. So, which do you pick? When looking at the whole reason we go to 1795, which is a front row seat for Barnabas Begins, when is “the moment”? It’s usually pegged as 405, the episode in which Barnabas shoots Angelique, she lays the curse, and he answers the door when the bat knocks. Yes, vital, crucial. All of that is true. However, it comes at the end of the episode, ripping the plate from us just as we’re reaching for the spork. Then we have five whole episodes as he tries to escape his curse and finally dies, distancing itch and scratch to a point that the dramatic impact is muffled. Are they necessary? Yes, for the development of Angelique’s rather Byzantine conscience. Arguably, the time gap heightens tension and creates more and more incentive to keep watching. Any more and they might have lost me, but 411 is so deeply satisfying to arrive at because the non-stop action and development make quintessential viewing. This episode, for me, is 1795 at its very best and one of the reasons that the flashback is so fondly remembered. Fewer things are better than good Dark Shadows, but this is so tight and intense that it ventures into the same realm as “City on the Edge of Forever,” coloring outside the lines of its own show’s standards to become not just an example of the program at its best, but of the medium at its best, as well.

Not to say that an episode has to be something beyond Dark Shadows to do that; it just has to be Dark Shadows at its best -- a core sample of why we care. This is it. And we care because we care about Barnabas, and we care about Barnabas because we care about what Jonathan Frid brings to the writing, and how that alchemizes with the work of Lara Parker. Maggie and Josette create frustration for Barnabas, and we feel for them both. Angelique brings threat, conflict, and desire on metaphysical, moral, mortal, and immortal levels. Maggie and Josette test greatness, but it is the transformation brought on by Angelique that makes him great. In 411, he realizes what he has become. Frid musters his full Shakespearean experience here, finding truth in the moment’s size. Barnabas surges with the panic and awe and woe that come with standing outside of life and outside of death. It’s so appropriate that they avoid the word “vampire” at this point, because the moment of his realization feels bigger than just becoming a folk tale-turned-penny dreadful baddie. By not using the v-word, we and he are focused on the more cosmic status of Barnabas and his alienation from both of the sides of existence. Not alive, not dead, but indifferent to both. Imbued with a passionate indifference to everything sacred in the natural order, he even overcomes -- if only for a moment -- all of Angelique’s powers. She’s not only a witch, she’s Dr. Frankenstein, desperately trying to undo her own creation and the only thing that can undo her. Angelique’s powers stem from nature… even the nature of the dark afterlife. By creating someone who stands outside of both life and what dark destiny lies beyond its gateway, she has an Oppenheimer moment. Barnabas demands to know why she was trying to destroy him before he rose. Yes, good question, and the answers are so myriad that the most powerful dramatic choice resides in not addressing them all. Because how can she?

As Barnabas sinks into the sad and terrified realization that his unwanted and Nietzschean state will require the loss of lives, he experiences the unique sadness of wanting the impossible end to an existence beyond what we can imagine. Fear drove Barnabas in life and fear drives him after. His dance with fear is as intense as his pursuit of love, and leads him into the paradox that drives him and the series. Just as love pushes him to do the hateful, fear will push him to be brave. We see this in his reflector, Ben Stokes, who recognizes his humanity as Barnabas loses his… and who quietly and hopelessly finds an impossible hope. As his master drifts from what it means to be human, Ben instinctively musters newfound will and compassion to help him, and by helping him create essential humanity for both of them. He stands at the opposite pole of Angelique, and somehow also shares a love for him that makes no sense, yet never rings as false. If Barnabas has to have his humanity ripped from him to eventually find it, Ben Stokes is his unwitting guide for that journey as he, himself, goes from murderer to conservator of life. As a final paradox, Ben can only take on the role of guardian of life by allowing the master in his charge to subsist by taking the life of others.
Does Ben do this because of social forces that define proletariat and working class? Put your pants on, Spartacus. He does it because of the Faustian spawn we call friendship. Impossible friendship.

But what friendship worth its grit isn’t?

Lives will be lost. There is no accounting for that. Literally. But the ultimate story of the show is how Barnabas pays a debt he can never afford. That’s a kind of pursuit with which everyone can identify, but might never admit. What is life, why do we love, and how to we justify being here? Through the best and worst of exploring both life and death, Barnabas searches alongside us.

This episode was broadcast Feb. 22, 1968.

Dark Shadows, The 1973 Tapes: The Happier Dead


The SPOILERS AHEAD are coming for you, Barbara! 

“These patients aren’t alive, Amy, they’re just...NOT DEAD!”

Hello and welcome back to The 1973 Tapes! How are you? Are you eating enough? Drinking enough water? You know, we worry about you. This is our penultimate entry into this column and today we are discussing 2014’s The Happier Dead! This might be the penultimate entry into the 1973 arc, but it is the SECOND part of the “Amy Jennings, Supernatural Avenger” canon that I totally in no way just made up. One of the great joys of listening to these audios has been the way that Amy Jennings has flourished as a character for me and I think The Happier Dead might just be the purest example of why she works in this universe and how much Stephanie Ellyne brings to the role behind the mic. Though I have to say this one wasn’t nearly as scary as y’all said it was, The Happier Dead was still a fine showcase of Ellyne’s talents and of Amy Jennings’ tragically powerful past.

One of the neater things about coming to these audios fairly blinds were the backstories that were hinted at throughout Bloodlust. And nobody seemed to have a richer backstory than Amy Jennings, who apparently had, as the kids say, been through it. A supernatural college career, a doomed romance, and more importantly, an actual life outside of Collinsport. We all know how all that turned out (and if not, take a gander at the Bloodlust Diaries, right here at The Collinsport Historical Society! Fuck yeah, integrated branding!), but thankfully, The 1973 Tapes have allowed me to finally experience a lot of that backstory and it has just made me love Amy all the more.

But while the first part of my “Supernatural Avenger” duology, The Lucifer Gambit, was basically just an episode of Supernatural with a higher production value, The Happier Dead felt much more substantial from the jump. In the middle of studying with her college beau, one Simon Turner, more on him in a bit, Amy is struck with stabbing pains in her side, the pain being so great it renders her unconcious. When she awakes, she finds that Simon has driven her back to Collinsport from Salem, a whopping three hour drive, in order to check her into the Collinsport Hospital. Amy, naturally, is horrified, but things take a sharp turn into weird when the pair discovery that nobody is dying there anymore. Instead, they are LIVING, some even rising from the dead, somehow “surviving” massive injuries in a short of limbo between living and dying.

As I was told that this one was super duper scary, I steeled myself for shocks, but to be quite honest, they never came. Sure the noises the victims made were truly haunting and the physical implications of the spell, which Amy voices throughout thanks to Adam Usden’s pointed scripting, are quite unpleasant to think about. But it didn’t really ever reach Beyond the Grave level spookiness for me and I have to admit it was kind of a let down. That isn’t to say that this one is bad or skippable by any stretch it is just...a special kind of frustrating to be told that a story is ultra scary only to find out that it isn’t.

What this story doesn’t have in terms of horror, it more than makes up for with tragedy, which is something I did expect after hearing the name “Simon Turner”. Yes, this story finally gave me the straight dope on his and Amy’s relationship and as I suspected, it weren’t great. At first though I have to say, I wasn’t really impressed with Simon. John Chancer certainly plays him with aplomb and he and Ellyne have a natural chemistry that the script makes good use of, but the character himself is kind of a lunk and seems like a real drag on Amy as she tries to suss out the mystery of the hospital even with fresh stitches.

However as this thing went on and the resolution barreled toward me, I was absolutely floored at the outcome and the heavy emotions the ending deployed. Of course the whole thing is centered around some madman trying to achieve immortality, but the way Usden brings it home is such a brilliant gut punch. One that haunts Amy still to this day and one that will probably stick with me for a long time coming. There was something so shockingly human about Simon’s sacrifice and the way he died for love; a recurring theme in Dark Shadows but one that hasn’t lost one ounce of power. Amy Jennings returned to Collinsport a different person and now after listening to The Happier Dead, I now know the full cost of that change and it has only made her a richer, fuller character to me as a result.

Horror and tragedy often goes hand in hand in the Dark Shadows universe and The Happier Dead brings that sensibility to the Big Finishverse in a big damn way. Amy might have been an early favorite of mine as a listener, but now, after this story, I finally feel like I have the full breadth of her character and of Ellyne’s full scope of performance. It may not have been super scary, but The Happier Dead was still a very important, and very satisfying entry.

NEXT TIME! The Finale! Carriage of the Damned! Sabrina Jennings vs…*checks notes* a bus? I think? This is going to be fun. Interesting stuff is in the hopper for y’all in 2019 after this wraps up. I hope you are ready. Until then, be seeing you.

The complete 1973 saga:

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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