Friday, January 25, 2019

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.

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