Wednesday, January 16, 2019

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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