Thursday, January 3, 2019

Dark Shadows, The 1973 Tapes: The Lucifer Gambit


“Do you believe in evil, Miss Jennings?”

Happy New Year and welcome back to the 1973 Tapes! I know things got a bit festive around here with the coverage of the “Christmas” duology, but I have cleared out all the garland and empty Schlitz cans from my cramped vestibule here at the CHS to get back on track with these wonderful cassettes! Today we are discussing the proper return of our beloved Amy Jennings in 2013’s The Lucifer Gambit! A tightly contained spirit hunt from writer Eric Wallace and directors David Darlington and Darren Gross, this showcase of Stephanie Ellyne’s presence as a leading woman, backed by two fantastic female co-stars in Nancy Barrett and Sheila Steafel, is a wonderful return to work for me. Though it might not be the most substantial entry into the 1973 arc, The Lucifer Gambit really showed what Amy could do as a lead and what she could bring to future Collinsport yarns.

When Amy made her unceremonious return in Beneath the Veil, I was excited but disappointed that that was basically it. She showed up and then promptly exited stage right. Thankfully, Eric Wallace must have heard my anguish through the time vortex all the way back in 2013 because The Lucifer Gambit is 1000% an “Amy Jennings Episode” and it was a delight to hear. Amy is back in Collinsport for the summer, having finished her, shall we say, “occult internship” with Professor Stokes (who has a neat “off-screen” presence throughout this episode) leading to her attending Salem University. Basically this entire episode serves as Amy’s origin story going into Bloodlust. When we open this episode, she is once again shy, timid, and beset by nightmares of her brother Chris and Quentin Collins.

But even her timidness and terror cannot allow her to ignore a mystery or someone in need as she intercepts a mysterious phone call from another protege of Stokes’ a few towns over; a one Dominic Randall (played with a snide glee by Simon Lee Phillips). Dominic is being hunted by something and has reached out for Stokes for help, but instead found Amy, who more than rises to the occasion.

I was worried about listening to these early scenes. Mainly because, while I truly adore Stephanie Ellyne as an actress, I really did not want to hear her be a trembling waif throughout the episode. Some of her early interactions with Nancy Barrett’s Carolyn liven her up quite a bit in the opening tracks and they started to alleviate my worry. Amy throws a metric ton of shade at Carolyn, who is caught in the gravitational pull of a downward spiral adding a more grounded layer of tragedy to the supernatural sadness of the Jennings’ story. I am guessing Carolyn’s alcoholism is what allows her to be taken hostage in Bloodlust so I am curious to see that thread get paid off (if it does in this arc. That is the joy of being a fairly new listener.)

But once Amy hops a train to Saratoga Springs, the episode really starts to come alive. Armed with nothing but her wits and a few talismans, Amy wades into the drama of Randall clan as Dominic reveals that the spirit that is hunting him is his dead wife, The Witch of Wall Street, Isobel Randall (played with a scene-stealing theatricality by Sheila Steafel), who has come back from the dead as a black-flame wreathed specter that can only come out during the day. Amy is much more of a dramatic lead in Bloodlust, so it was really cool seeing her basically become a spiritualist throughout the run time of this episode. She susses out the demon who is making all this possible while at the same time healing the hearts of the couple, which was the cause of the fracas in the first place. As someone who has listened to Bloodlust, I know that her incoming journey to college will lead to murder and further darkness but it is neat having the context of her Big Finishverse origins, and wrapped in a pretty fun ghost story to boot.

Though I would have liked a bit more ambition in the directing from Darlington and Gross, who make the best of the contained setting, The Lucifer Gambit was a fine tale to come off holiday with, anchored by the luminous women of this franchise. Amy Jennings was a character that I could always take or leave on TV, but here in the Big Finishverse, she has become on of my all time favorites.  Now even more so having heard this early adventure from her pre-college days.

NEXT TIME! The Flip Side! My wish for a “Carolyn Episode” comes true! 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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