Friday, May 31, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 31


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 506

Willie pulls out the stops when he tries to halt the dream curse while also discouraging Barnabas from shooting a man who may have died twice. Willie: John Karlen. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas and Willie bicker over whether or not Adam survived the fall. Meanwhile, Carolyn confesses that she felt no danger from Adam. Willie, desperate to pass on the dream curse, scales the stones of Collinwood and breaks into Carolyn’s room. As he holds her fast to tell her the dream, she bites his hand to escape.

SFX: Steampunk cpap wheezing. 

INT: Bedroom. A restless man sleeps on a disheveled, steadily leaking heart-shaped waterbed. The man’s head is in an inflating-deflating rubber hood, connected to the copper, iron, and brass cpap by massive black tubes. 

The man murmurs form beneath the hood. 

The Spice expands consciousness. 
The Spice extends dream sequences.

FADE TO: A social microcosm by the sea. Inescapable. Old money. Science run amok. Repressed desires. Honorable fishermen. And a hapless workin’ guy named Willie trapped in the middle, born to take the easy way out, but destined to face trials of terror, bravery, and even madness. Nearly invulnerable to harm. Squaring off with muscled beasts and unnatural mutations. A misunderstood ambassador from a generation apart, but not. Once a mate to an overly confident sailin’ man, but now both are landlocked, cut off from the sailor’s life by circumstances they never could have foreseen and surrounded by women out of their reach. 

Cut to: Man wakes up and speaks from beneath the hood. 

Okay, that’s about as far as I can drag John Karlen into the joke. While it’s funny to imagine Karlen and Dennis Patrick as, of course, Ginger and Mary Ann, it’s even funnier to imagine Bob Denver and Alan Hale, Jr. as Willie Loman and Jason of Star Command. Wait. What? Get a grip, McCray. Stop goofin’ around. This is for posterity. You’re building up to a book. You have a Rondo, for god’s sake. Fives of dozens of people didn’t stuff that ballot box for nothing. Come out of it. 


Sorry. I don’t know what happened. These rhapsodies are becoming more frequent. I think it was the result of a half-waking hallucination I had as the episode became its own dream curse. So, I pass it on to you, and please don’t bite my hand.

I love this show, and every episode counts, and now that I paid my dues with that, I’ll admit that 506 has so much excess stuffing, it belongs on a fat man’s plate at Thanksgiving in an Alka Seltzer ad from 1974. I champion the writers. They have to stretch out more material than Reed Richards’ unstable tailor. In this case, we have two, maybe three conversations that have one point each:

Yes, Willie, I sense that Adam is still alive.

No, mother, somehow I sense that the large man meant me no harm.

Stop squirmin’, I gotta tell ya this dream, Carolyn! Ouch! My finger!

Then, move on.

As is my signature, that’s a wildly unfair oversimplification. Here is a fair oversimplification: Willie Loomis really is the Gilligan of Dark Shadows, and it’s an inspiring irony that both share the first name, “Willie.” (At least, according to Sherwood Schwartz, although he spelled it with a y, as was later established in the legendary musical variety special, “Willy with a Y.”) That really comes out in this episode… not in a cloying way, but sympathetically. Both are simple, but not simple minded. Both have clear sets of objectives often overlooked by those who surround them. They put up with a lot of abuse by social “betters” who never take the time to listen to their common sense. They have to do scut work, and they gain the sympathy of the audience even if many of their deeds are questionable shortcuts. You know, like going to Maggie’s house with a gun.

I curse John Karlen’s robust career because it kinda kept him from doing even more episodes of Dark Shadows. No matter how blandly filleriffic an installment might be, there is no such thing as time wasted watching Karlen act… and watching him act the characters and dialogue he inspired from the writers. The character of Willie really is the rug that ties the room together, despite being walked -- and sometimes micturated -- upon. He is necessary in almost every episode, and his absence becomes apparent when you imagine any Loomisless episode with him woven in. It gets better. Always. John Karlen, thou art the bacon of acting. And never the ham.

The show had all of the elements but one, before he arrived. Aristocracy? Check. Kind-but-dimwitted villagers? Check. Powerful threats? Check. One realist to comment on it all, speaking for the rest of us and taking (literal) bullets as the true audience surrogate? Ecci Loomis. Willie Loomis. Because, unlike Vicky, he understands all too well. Maybe better than anyone else. Yes, he’s a coward, but it’s a cowardice that makes sense, even if it makes Willie a semi-informed expedience junkie.

In this case, he keeps Barnabas -- the man in charge WITH A GUN, NO LESS -- stymied and shouting for at least the first 40 or 50 minutes of the episode. That’s a feat. Then he manages to at least speak of few sentences of the dream despite having scaled a wall and wrestled a co-ed. And he does this as an inveterate smoker.

I was wrong to discount episode 506. Willie climbing a wall. Barnabas with a gun. And Joan Bennett as Joan Bennett, which is worth it right there.  It’s a scientific impossibility to walk away from Dark Shadows without seeing something to love, and I mean that. Don’t let the abundance of episodes and uniquely prolonged storytelling structure keep you from seeing it.

This episode hit the airwaves June 3, 1968.

Thursday, May 30, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 30


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 251

When Barnabas wakes up to a homicidal, stake-wielding Maggie, will he finally swipe left for dear life? Maggie: Kathryn Leigh Scott. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Barnabas awakens to find Maggie hovering over his coffin, ready to stab him. He stops her and leaves to speak with Vicki, who has a clear love for and perhaps connection to the past. When he later shows her a lace handkerchief belonging to Josette, she is smitten with the past. This sparks Barnabas’ interest. Returning to the Old House, Barnabas warns Maggie that she will die if she does not embrace her identity as Josette.

Then there’s that time when the gentle guardian of Sarah… and David and Amy… threatened to kill his kidnap victim, Maggie Evans, because she wasn’t more easily hypnotized into willingly becoming the reincarnation of someone she never met. The only French she speaks has the word ‘fries’ after it. But there she is, anyway.

For defenders of Barnabas, it’s a tough sequence to come back from. It’s easy to see why so many have a taste for the ruthless and manipulative Barnabas and feel detached from the vaguely prissy and avuncular hero he later becomes. But as someone who is vaguely prissy and avuncular, myself, I would tell them that they have to just deal with it. As long as, you know, I were sure they’d still like me. Then I’d apologize somehow. Barnabas, perhaps, spends the rest of the series doing just that.

It’s Jonathan Frid’s third performance in the series, along with Good Barnabas and Bramwell. I’d wager it’s the easiest. The objectives are a clear and wicked joy to play, but there is an ambiguity here that gives the part a challenging texture. It’s clear that if he really wanted to kill Maggie, she’d be dead. Is it her beauty that stops him from doing so, or is it the fact that he knows that, while he may have it in him, it would still be wrong? Both Maggie and Barnabas find themselves cast by fate to roleplays for which they are profoundly unqualified. Maggie has no interest in Josette. Barnabas is not by nature a violent man. But she looks like Josette. And he’s an emotionally ruined and unwilling vampire and completely unintentional, one-way time traveler. He’s gone from a world of fishing and finery to curses, betrayal, threats, and suicide. In theory, nothing should matter and life will be easier if he becomes as bad as the Angeliques, Trasks, and Forbeses who stuck him here. They always win, anyway, and he clearly can’t rely on anyone to stake him, unless it’s at a time inevitably inconvenient for it. He makes a good show of being a Big Meany, but he can’t seal the deal. We know this because his attempts to do so are as self-sabotaged as Roy Hinkley’s attempts to escape from the Island.

Because he can’t mind-control Maggie, setting her free isn’t an option, so he may simply have to kill her for his own good. A lifetime sentence for him is no laughing matter.

His encounter with Vicki in the episode only complicates things. In Vertigo, the story from which this is clearly based (far more than Dracula), the Barnabas character played by Jimmy Stewart never recognizes that his ideal woman is right in front of him -- Midge, played by Barbara Bel Geddes. Dark Shadows complicates this because Barnabas indeed recognizes that Vicki may not be a ringer for Josette, but she gets him. With no coercion. Unfortunately, Barnabas -- through the embarrassing use of force -- has committed to the idea of reviving Josette in Maggie. His ego won’t let him easily withdraw from that. And yes, shame on him and how sad. This chiding ignores the fact that his ego, which is simply the comfort he takes in his own judgment, is all he has left. Sacrificing that means sacrificing everything. Until he has the certainty of hope, that is a lot to ask of anyone. Just because Barnabas is an undead monster doesn’t mean he’s inhuman.

This episode hit the airwaves June 12, 1967.

Sunday, May 26, 2019

Hear Dark Shadows as it originally aired 50 years ago today


Dark Shadows for me has always been a curious study of television. I have always been curious about more than the story, but the show as a whole experience. I could really say that about any television show, past or present. By that I mean that not only is the show interesting but the commercials and promos as well. I have been a tape collector for over 20 years now and like finding an old television show with all of the breaks included.

In January 2007, the Dark Shadows Fan Club offered an interesting item for a limited time -- kinescope negatives. Kinescopes are a black-and-white film made from a monitor as a show is broadcast. By 1969, they were only being used to distribute shows to stations that had not purchased videotape machines. As a matter of fact, there were very few stations still needing shows this way at all. I'll come back to that. I jumped on the chance to purchase some of these rare items at $25 each. I bought four of them. A broke college student such as myself at that time probably had no business spending so much money, but alas, I did. I couldn't pass it up.

When I got these negatives in the mail I was surprised to find that the picture and sound were on different prints entirely! I didn't expect to be able to do anything with the picture knowing it would be a negative, but at least I figured I could do something with the sound. So I laced it into my 16mm projector and gave it a whirl. Fortunately, it worked and I captured the sound of all four of these film recordings. These recordings give a great window back in time to TV of a different era.

Fifty years ago today, on May 26, 1969, the first of my kinescope negative film prints was made, recording Episode 761 (labeled here with the ABC production number of #106, shorthand for #106-DRK-69, or the 106th episode of 1969.) The audio of this film is below.

This episode deals with the aftermatch of Laura Stockbridge Collins being destroyed and failing to bring her children Nora and Jamison with her. Quentin Collins, having just recently being cursed as a werewolf, turns to Evan Hanley to use the black arts to try and undo his curse by summoning the devil himself. A mysterious shadow appears and Quentin passes out... leaving the audience hanging until tomorrow to find out who it is.

Beyond the show, the commercials themselves are a great time capsule of the typical life of the hip young person of 1969... which is definitely the demographic ABC was aiming for. Commercials for hair care products, weight loss fad Metrecal, Fruit of the Loom - trying to make men's underwear sexy (for 69 cents no less!) etc. etc. Even more fascinating are the ABC network promos at the very end for repeats of The Mod Squad and It Takes a Thief.

I hope you find this as interesting as I do. I'll be back with another one on March 5, 2020 during the Leviathan story.

Saturday, May 25, 2019

The Drive-In is Dead! Long Live the Drive-In!

The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs aired the season's final episode last night with a double bill of Blood Harvest and Hello Mary Lou: Prom Night II. All great things must come to an end, but luckily the high sheriffs at Shudder have already announced that Joe Bob and Darcy the Mail Girl will be returning for a second season. Yay! If you're not already a subscriber to Shudder, you can take 20 percent off an annual subscription by using the code MOREJOEBOB. I can't recommend this channel enough.

For those of you following me on Twitter, none of what you're about to see is a surprise. For everybody else, though ... I've been indulging my inner weirdo during the last few months through something I call "creative vandalism." You've seen me do this kind of stuff with Dark Shadows A LOT over the years, so it was a fun palette cleanser to be able to do this with another series. Below is a collection of fake posters, fake ads, fake comic book covers and other assorted fakery inspired by this season of The Last Drive-In. There are a few 3D images included, but you'll need to view them on either Facebook's desktop site or a Facebook mobile app for them to work.

If you like my work, please check out my store on Redbubble.

See you next season!


There are a lot of reasons to subscribe to Shudder. Joe Bob Briggs is worth the subscription price, alone
Posted by Monster Serial on Sunday, April 28, 2019

Friday, May 24, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 23


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 245

When Woodard needs a condemning sample, will Barnabas put the squeeze on a reluctant Willie? Dave Woodard: Robert Gerringer. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas guilts Willie into giving a sample of his blood to Dave Woodard, having stolen and swapped a clean sample some time earlier. He eventually reveals this to Willie, and warns him that he will not always be so protective. Woodard speaks with Burke and Vicki about the unholy goings on in Maggie’s blood.

Joe Caldwell had to be stopped. Dave Woodard had to be killed off. Daytime TV could have survived neither. With all due respect to St. Sam and St. Gordon, this is the best written episode of the series, and any more of it and the show would have collapsed under its own eloquence. Sam Hall and Gordon Russell had a series to write. Caldwell crafted a masterpiece, and that’s an accomplishment so situationally dependent, it would be rare to see one again.

On the basis of plot, alone, it is a tight and intense story of antiheroics and suspense, where you respect Barnabas’ realpolitik skullduggery while simultaneously admiring the incredible curiosity of Woodard. I don’t know what he saw in that microscope except for pure anti-life and the beginning and the end of the world.

Beyond that, the episode works because of its relentless and dark poetry. Most outstanding is the mind game that Barnabas plays and plays and plays with Willie. Ultimately, after an understandable background in the betrayal department, Barnabas is going to test and punish and punish and test Willie until he’s satisfied with the results, and then he’s going to do it some more. Back in the good old days, you’d just send Riggs out back to horsewhip Ben Stokes like banging a jar lid on the counter to loosen it. But, you know, you can’t do that now because “progress.” And because the cops are after you, so you don’t need extra attention. Why? Because you got your house back. And because you may get your fiance back. And because, along with it, some people are going to make their exits a little prematurely. Um, sorry. Yes, it’s a shame. It’s not like he doesn’t jump at the chance for a cure. Between here and there, it would be nice if Willie just, you know, put the seat down every once and awhile and stopped with the betrayal business. He is letting off some much needed steam here, and if he lets Willie dangle in uncertainty, it’s probably a fraction of the paranoia Barnabas suffers as he lies trapped in a wooden shell from the lethal rays of the sun while humans do Diabolos-knows-what in full view of the kids. I’m amazed that Roger is the alkie.

The real star of the episode is Robert Gerringer as Dave Woodard. It’s a human performance, both urban and urbane. The type of grownup we don’t see anymore. This was a generation of writers and actors who cut their teeth on Eugene O’Neill and have no compunction about mixing their poetry with their realism. It’s almost as if he and Barnabas get into a Flowery Introspection Duel, like a Profundity Slam as they talk about blood and the entity responsible for all of it. They share a bizarre duality of loathing and admiration. Woodard marvels at the unnatural progress of the biochemical rite. Barnabas all but confesses to the crimes. Woodard speaks with bizarre admiration that, “It’s the peculiar magnificence of the human spirit that’s required to provide the potential for such corruption.”

Barnabas adds that he must be, “at one and the same time, more than a man and less than a man.”

Woodard asks if he feels sorry for him, and Barnabas answers that he actually loathes him “very, very deeply.”

At the Blue Whale, Vicki’s take on life is at its most apocalyptically realistic. Woodard visits and rounds out the episode with a strangely aroused disgust at the unholy union going on in Maggie’s veins, and how her blood hastily accepts the corruption offered.

The metaphors run rampant, but at the core of it, there is the distinct feeling that Woodard is describing naughty sexy time, and he can’t bring himself to say it’s bad.

Mind games. Sexual metaphors. Probably homosexual metaphors. There is a bounty to unpack, all with a sense of inevitable doom for the entire town and maybe all of existence. Barnabas at this time is like a lingering rot, eating away at the pretenses of decency, and he is doing so openly compared to what the series has offered thus far. He is somewhere between a Ken Russell movie and a Prince album in his relative frankess, and although he would endear himself with a demand for mothering later on, at this point, Jonathan Frid is playing Barnabas Collins as pure sex in a world where only a Hefner would be such a thing. That openness is one world ending and another world beginning. Woodard admires it a little too much, but can’t take part.

Barnabas can. And right now, he knows it. 

This episode hit the airwaves June 2, 1967.

Thursday, May 23, 2019

Collinsport's Library of Lost Souls

President Emeritus,
The Collinsport Historical Society

If you can read at a third-grade level, chances are you've visited The Collinsport Public Library at some point in your life. And, if you've visited The Collinsport Public Library, chances are you've had an unpleasant encounter with "Alice," the cosmic vapor that seems to haunt only the library departments that anybody cares about.

Artist rendition of Alice from
The Collinsport Star, 1951.
Alice has been providing local color to Collinsport since at least 1967, when the town's second-most-unqualified librarian (we're looking at you, Janet) was officially christened. We're confident in saying that "Alice" was probably Vera Frances Carl, a young woman slain in the library in 1938. As far as murders go, Vera's death was particularly brutal. I won't go into the details of the crime here, but to this day patrons are still finding her blood stains on Laura Ingalls Wilder books. That ain't ketchup on the title fore-edge of "On the Banks of Plum Creek," champ.

Where did Alice come from? Even the most brutal murders are eventually forgotten. In 1898, a storm here in Maine succeeded in sinking a hundred vessles within 36 hours, and when's the last time anybody mentioned that? By contrast, a single murder is barely a blip on our cultural radar. It didn't take long for the Collinsport community to forget the local library was closed for a few days in 1938 for "remodeling" because someone decided to paint its walls with the blood of a co-ed.

Vera became Alice in 1967 for reasons that are less mysterious than they are stupid. There was a short-lived television series that year called Captain Nice, which featured actress Alice Ghostley. Laughing yet? I'm not sure anybody was laughing in 1967, either at Captain Nice or local columnist Bill Stubbs. A retiree from Connecticut, Stubbs had spent his life in finance but, during his twilight years, fancied himself a latter-day Will Rogers. If Rogers had been a prissy control freak who spent most of his time obsessing over "proper grammar," Stubbs might be better remembered. (Or remembered, at all.) But Rogers was one of those people who thought the abilty to read a newspaper meant he was qualified to make a newspaper and became a pain in the ass for everybody in The Collinsport Star's modest newsroom. They still tell stories about him to scare journalism school graduates.

To summarize: Alice is named "Alice" because a turgid dullard who fancied himself a "newspaper man" wrote a column about one of our local hauntings and thought "Alice Ghostly" was a funny name. HA HA HA HA HA HA HA HA.

"Who cares?" you're asking yourself. Nobody, truth be told. Except for whoever is running the social media accounts for The Collinsport Public Library, who called us out earlier today on Facebook. Behold!

Yes, there's more backstory. Remember poor Vera Frances Carl? She used to work here at The Collinsport Historical Society. She was working here when she died, which pretty well explains up our retirement plan. Because she was employed here at the time of her death, the legal experts at the local library think we have some kind of legal responsibilty for Alice's behavior. I'm just a humble  demonologist and don't claim any particular expertise in the American legal system. But possession is 9/10 of the law ... and ever since Alice possessed that homeless guy in their periodicals department, The Collinsport Public Library now owns that fierce bitch.

And it's not as if The Collinsport Historical Society isn't already up to its eyeballs in ghosts. We've partnered with Redbubble in a ceremony so arcane and foul that many of us had trouble making eye contact in the days following. Our plan? To transfer our backlog of cursed spirits from ancient bowls, dolls and music boxes to products more accessible to you fine people here in the 21st century. We've got t-shirts! Coffee mugs! Clocks! Stickers! Blankets! The demand has been so high that we've been forced to reduce our spectral offerings to a lottery system. One in every 13 products sold by us through Redbubble a gauranteed to be contaminated by the minions of Paenitentia, a minor archduke of hell who also happens to be the demon of buyer's remorse.

If you want a haunted t-shirt (or even a hainted mini-skirt!) please venture forth to our Redbubble store here:

Wednesday, May 22, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 22


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 764

What’s in the cards? Can Barnabas stop Quentin or will an ultimate assassin bring a new shadow of death to Collinsport? Tim: Don Briscoe. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas attempts to learn the identity of the werewolf as he tracks down the silversmith who made the amulet of protection that will one day be found in the 1960s. Evan tests Tim’s programming as an assassin and Beth, reluctant to out Quentin to Barnabas, has the choice removed when he bites her.

As the episode ends, Barnabas again bites someone to place them under his control, reminding viewers that he uses his abilities to strategic ends as much as to feed. Would he have been this cavalier in the 1960? He’s used this advantage twice in the space of a week or so. As much as I feel sorry for Beth, who ends up being a pawn of Quentin, Barnabas, AND Petofi, it’s nice to see her current, new master so confidently on a mission. It’s an increasing level of chutzpah. Would he have had it a year before, meaning seventy-one years ahead? Perhaps. Back then in the future, he recalls how he will be chasing Adam around with a gun. But certainly not in 1967, as he slyly swaps blood slides and works to revive the mind of Josette. Prior still? In 1795, his reactions are almost entirely reactive and based on following or defiling the codes of the day. Like the two-blooded, red fisted heroes before and after him, this time, Barnabas Collins makes his own rules. This time, it’s personal. This time, he’s bringing his Vigoda.

He also tells a young Abe Vigoda that he’ll have a bright future. Kind of. I mean, I wish. In a beautiful nod to continuity, young Ezra Braithwaite (played by Edward Marshall, who also popped up as Harry Johnson in episode 669) reappears for the very first time to make the pentagram that he’ll die for in episode 685. If that makes sense. By the late 1960’s, the fully developed Ezra was played by future nighttime TV hunk, Abe Vigoda. Even though Vigoda is not in this episode, he’s a well-crafted minor character in the DSU and Vigoda gives a touching performance. But he’s not in this one. (So Soo me.) However, Edward Marshall is, and he’s good, too.

The rest of the episode (that’s not about Barnabas trying to beat the fleas off of Quentin) is devoted to Humbert Allen Astredo and Don Briscoe starring in the first remake of The Manchurian Candidate. This is where 1897’s hellzapoppin approach to storytelling starts to consume itself with too many ideas thrown around too frenetically. You can feel the generous creativity oozing from every corner of the show, but perhaps there is so much going on that you increase the opportunity for a bad idea to slip through. Dark Shadows is known for, um, borrowing? Is that the right word? It seeks inspiration from many sources, reprocessing them for a different era and audience, and with the depth and dynamism of a soap, it arguably does some of them a service. But most of these are pretty old, or, in the Case of the Leviathanly Lifted Lovecraft, at least FELT pretty old. But the very liberal borrowing from the recent film and novel of The Manchurian Candidate is the strangest “quoting” ever executed by the writing staff. A guy gets a whammy to play cards until a specific card triggers the urge to kill. Same thing. It even feels stranger because it’s that rare case of the show taking a modern story that verges on science fiction and plunging it into the past. Dark Shadows defined itself by going in the opposite direction and confronting contemporary characters with the dangers of costume dramas. In the case of the Tim Shaw storyline, it accomplishes the plot objective, but with too much winking. When a quoted idea, whether for the sake of satire or not, exists to be recognized more than to be revised and reconsidered, it’s not a shining moment.

I mention it here not to bury Dark Shadows, but to praise it. Out of 450 hours of storylines, it may be the one fumbled misstep regarding the issue of storytelling-by-pastiche, constituting the smallest fraction of the show’s screentime. Exceptions do prove rules.

This episode hit the airwaves May 29, 1969.

The first year of Dark Shadows was goth as f*k

Happy World Goth Day! No extended commentary. No footnotes. No explanations. Just 13 photos of ghosts, demons, haunted houses and sad brunettes that prove the first year of Dark Shadows was goth as f*k.

Podcast: Barnabas Collins and the Bodice Tipplers

Jonathan Frid is on the cover of "Barnabas Collins," the 1968 Dark Shadows novel by Marilyn Ross, but he's otherwise absent from the book. You might even argue that Barnabas Collins, at least the character you might know from the television show, is also absent from the tale. A vampire bearing that name makes his way through the course of the story but, unguided by Frid's peculiar wounded menace and a staff of writers that understood how to find humanity even in the most inhuman of characters, there's not much in the story will look familiar to fans of the television series.

And that's OK. It might even be a good thing, even if the results are often not that good.

Tie-in properties are so tightly managed today that they rarely ever surprise. There's no place for innovation in stories intentionally designed not to affect the events around it. No matter the level of crisis introduced, we'll find our plucky heroes right back at square one by the end of the story. A Hollywood studio spent $200 million on the next movie in their blockbuster series and they're certainly not going to have their narrative upended by some $5 book.

The rules were different for tie-in proprieties when Dark Shadows hit the airwaves in 1966. Back then, these things were just products to be dumped on shelves, and little thought was given to whether or not they were any good. There were efforts taken to maintain a basic level of continuity (if you did nothing else, you had to at least make sure Spock, Napoleon Solo and Will Robinson's names were all spelled correctly) but after that all bets were off. It's just too difficult to maintain continuity between a monthly comic series and a weekly television series. The people that should have been doing quality control on these products were otherwise occupied, leaving those details to lawyers only concerned with making sure the networks and production companies got paid.

Dark Shadows had the additional complication of being a daily series. Whole characters and storylines would be over before the the next Marilyn Ross novel would hit stands, no matter how quickly he cranked them out. Trying to make these narratives line up was impossible, so Ross didn't bother trying. Besides, Ross (actually Dan Ross, a one-man gothic romance factory who wrote more than 300 novels under a variety of pen names) couldn't watch the show at his home in Canada, anyway. The end result was a line of books that only occasionally resembled the television series, usually by accident.

The same was true (to various degrees) for the Dark Shadows comics published by Gold Key, the daily newspaper strip and the two feature films, House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows. (Both movies killed off characters that were still appearing on the daily on the television series.) Just to make things even more difficult, the daytime serial even dabbled in parallel timelines, giving fans an almost endless buffet of interpretations.

While I've usually enjoyed seeing how the characters and situations from Dark Shadows might have developed in the hands of other creators, the differences can be quite jarring for even the most hardcore fan. And, if you don't already love the series, you might be less patience with Ross's seat-of-his-pants style of storytelling. He wrote more than 30 Dark Shadows novels in six years, as well as dozens of others during the same time frame. It's unsurprising that he was unable to maintain a continuity with the television series, but he was also unable to keep the facts straight in his own novels. The books frequently contradict each other. "Barnabas Collins" manages the stunning feat of contradicting itself.

This is the situation that Sara and Courtney wandered into with latest installment of the Bodice Tipplers podcast. To say they were confused is an understatement. If you're looking for an explanation for Dark Shadows' appeal, you ain't gonna find it in this book. It was kind of a lose-lose situation for everybody involved, not the least of which was Dan Ross. The novel was likely begun when Barnabas Collins was still intended to be a one-off villain on Dark Shadows in 1967. By the time the book hit the stands in November 1968, the character had become an unlikely pop idol and sex symbol. But the Barnabas Collins depicted in "Barnabas Collins" was a sexual predator with a penchant for grooming young girls into his service, a character that hardly earns the "America's grooviest ghoul" starburst plastered on the back cover. There's little fun to be had here, save for the archaeological kind.

To summarize: "Barnabas Collins" is a novel written by a man using a pseudonym about a television series he didn't watch, showcasing a character that had changed radically between the time the book was started and published, and features a supporting cast of characters that has almost nothing to do with anything seen on the daytime serial. Confused yet?

This episode marks the last one for Bodice Tipplers here at The Collinsport Historical Society. As of today they've got their own dedicated podcast feed, which means those of you listening here need to head over to wherever you get your podcasts and directly subscribe to them. (You can find them at iTunes HERE.)

You can listen to "Barnabas Collins" in the app near the top of this post, or download it directly HERE.

Jenn Vix has kindly let us use her song "In the House of Dark Shadows," a collaboration with Reeves Gabrels, in this podcast. Below is a full playlist of Jenn's music to accompany the "Barnabas Collins" episode. You can follow her on Twitter @JennVix or at her website

Monday, May 20, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 20


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 497

Will the gift of swanky earrings lead to new friendships or a lifetime supply of whipped carrots? Joe Haskell is about to find out! Joe: Joel Crothers. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Julia warns Mrs. Johnson not to tell David her dream, but she does so anyway. And indeed, he has the dream. Willie is his beckoner and spiders, his fear. Meanwhile, Joe informs Maggie that her new earrings are worth $15,000. When he suggests that there will be strings attached, she accuses him of being infantile. Later, Willie pressures her to become his friend when the earrings trigger her sense of vague memory about the Old House, leading her to visit.

So, Maggie thinks that Joe needs a restaurant that “serves baby food.”

Equally redoubtable and reliable, Kathryn Leigh Scott sells the suggestion with a trooper’s lack of self-consciousness. It’s both a fabulous bit of shade and a conspicuously poorly written line for Dark Shadows. It’s so awkward that I wish they had written more dialogue like it. It is equal parts completely unbelievable and totally realistic. It is an “allow myself to introduce myself“ moment. Almost. Maggie is clearly ticked off. Clearly needs to put Joe in his place. I think she assumes that this is the best way to do it. Either that, or she thought it was going to sound a lot better than it did when it came out of her mouth. Either way, the camera fixes on Joe’s expression, which is more baffled than insulted. As well it should be. Maggie is the one sashaying around with $15,000 earrings, and Joe is either envious of the person who gave them to her or is envious of the earrings. One or the other. Probably both.

The return of Josette is a strange bit of regression for the show. If I were Barnabas, I would demand a refund from Julia. How many times does he have to take her into the shop to get brainwashed? Between Adam and the fact that Barnabas is no longer a vampire and a dream curse that is more of an opportunity to tour the neuroses of the characters then it is to be scared, the program has run so far from Gothic romance that a gentle reminder of the show’s identity doesn’t hurt.  It’s both a good post-it of where we have been and of how far we have come.  There are contingents of Dark Shadows fans who dislike this storyline as if it took their lunch money and got them to write “pen 15” on their arm. It wears out his welcome now and then, but it’s also a prime example of the surprising versatility of the show’s format.

In terms of equal opportunity terror, the dream curse continues to impact everyone who has ever been on the show as it makes its march towards Barnabas. Thank God it got to Mrs. Johnson. Who among us has not wondered about her nightmares? Allegedly a woman who does not dream, why would she? She lives with the all-too-real fantasy of being Harry Johnson‘s mother.

Her eagerness to tell David is part of the curse, yes. We get that. And the show certainly is not ageist nor overprotective when it comes to excluding David from the accursed festivities. He gets dragged in with everyone else. If I were a recent viewer to the show, it would be easy to conclude that David were the poster boy for child psychological abuse. Because he takes a lot of it. Long-time viewers know that he is tougher than he looks, however, and in an odd way, including him in the proceedings is a sign of respectful acknowledgment that kids are more than spoonfuls of jelly necessitating constant coddling. They can be terrorized by giant dream spiders along with anyone else.

John Karlen is reliably outstanding in this episode, and the script supports him extremely well. One of his great strengths is showing characters who wrestle with deeply conflicted impulses and emotions. Most actors find challenge just accurately depicting one. Karlen can create a blend of inner conflict where each emotion is distinct-yet-blended. His desire to protect Maggie, romantically assert himself, be a friend, avoid the wrath of Barnabas, and sidestep Joe Haskell is a heady brew. He keeps it going with clarity and energy, and thus creates suspense over what will happen next that is more arresting than the horror elements in the show. It’s the episodes hidden highlight, and one of my favorite acting moments on the series.

No one’s telling HIM he needs baby food.

This episode hit the airwaves May 21, 1968.

Friday, May 17, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 17


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 501

Barnabas takes arms against a sea of Adam, but can he, by opposing, end him before the creature works his reamimated charm on the single Ladies of Collinwood? Adam: Robert Rodin. (Repeat; 30 min.)

I love to make things up. And in my defense when it comes to pulling a whopper, I always admit it immediately and then go on telling the tale as if the fact that it’s completely false were irrelevant. Because it is. We’re in the middle of a good story. So just go with it.

I mention all of this because even though I fully confess when I am full of beans, people can still take a lot of convincing when something sounds improbable, but is not. It’s an occupational hazard, and the wolf still hasn’t caught up with me. It goes with the territory of my hobby of claiming ludicrous things, like Ernest Borgnine being Playboy’s 1966 Playmate of the Year, a claim to which a bewildered cheerleader in the class I was teaching murmured in genuine wonder, “How does he know all these things?”

In the case of episode 501, I can’t believe that any description would or could pass as believable.  I would certainly not believe me. But I wouldn’t believe anyone if they described it. I was eating some barbecue as I watched it, and I think it may have been something in the sauce. Or it may have been the fact that it was episode 501. That the entire Dark Shadows staff was absolutely astounded that this bizarre, wonderfully ridiculous show had been going on for 500 episodes, which was over 200 past when 1960s standards and practices should have seen them canceled. I honestly think they just sat around, convinced they were sharing a mutual hallucination, and so they made up the events of episode 501 to test the theory. As far as I know, the top is still spinning. 

We begin with Barnabas, one of the most proper, thoughtful, and deliberately civilized heroes of television loading a gun. A big gun. Not the little flintlock he reserves for shooting occult spouses. No, he has gone completely John Wayne. Except he’s still in men’s clothing. He knows this act will kill him, or turn him into a vampire, which is kind of the same thing, but he has had it up to here with Adam and his entire storyline.  Later, as he is tromping around the woods with Julia, at her most nagging and ineffectual in tow, he brags about the fact that he is not thinking for once. 

Here is where I normally stop and do some sort of analysis of the arc of the character of Barnabas Collins, but this is so gloriously ridiculous that I’m not sure I need to. I may give it a shot anyway. I think this may be his most human moment thus far. When you think about everything that the man has gone through in his past waking year or so, not including his time in suspended animation, I’m not sure I can blame him. And I’m not sure he would stop with Adam. I think he would just go on a spree, then lock himself up in the Collinsport jail with a blanket over his head, and wait for sunrise, hoping that the blanket would protect him like some sort of Nosferatu Otis the drunk. The whole time, just bellowing, “not a jury in the land!“

A potential marriage was destroyed. And then another marriage was destroyed. His mother kills herself. His fiancé jumps off a hill. He winds up in a coffin for nearly two centuries. He meets his fiancée again, and he can’t convince her that she is his fiancée, so we has to lose her to some mouth-breathing fisherman. He falls in love with another girl who probably knows he’s a vampire, but then he loses her to Roger Davis. At some point, his assistant get shot in the back five times, which is actually a relief, but he springs him out of the nuthouse anyway because his only other friend keeps poisoning him. There’s only one person fancy enough for him to talk with about a good scherzo, but he goes off and marries the witch who caused all of the trouble he got into the coffin to avoid. So she’s back. That’s a thing. And he’s had to promise to be nice to her. Most of Collinsport knows where his coffin is. He’s still trying to figure out how Phyllis Wick fits into all of this. He gets cured, and then finds that his life is tied to a big, shambling idiot who doesn’t even have the decency to do a good job of it when it comes to killing Willie. And he probably has to potty train him. Yeah, imagine that. That’s how his day begins. Oh yeah, and he can’t go to sleep because there’s some sort of curse that’s going to kill him after making him walk around a foggy soundstage filled with embarrassing special-effects. And his sister’s ghost won’t forgive him, even though he really couldn’t control what happened and even begged there ineffectual father to kill him. And she won’t stop singing London Bridge.

So, yeah, we see where thinking has gotten him.

Meanwhile, Adam is reenacting a scene from Porky’s as he leers at Carolyn through the window Collinwood. He kind of does a pratfall backwards through the main doors, and Liz thinks she can scare him off with elevator music. But he likes it, so she grabs a knife that just happens to be laying out and goes all Michael Hadge on the lug. He responds, and I may have this out of order at this point, but it’s all a fever dream anyway, by chasing Carolyn around and grabbing at her from behind as her skirt keeps flying up. And there are a number of angles that look like their physical arrangement is exactly what you think it looks like.

Then, he kidnaps her. And that’s the most peaceful moment in the episode.

I swear, I’m not making any of this up. Top that, Secret Storm.

Roger Ebert had a Maxim. It was probably the one with Alyson Hannigan in it. But he also had a saying, and that was, “There are some movies where you would much rather hear the people who made it sit around talking about it for two hours than to watch the movie itself.”

This is the opposite. I’m sure there’s some kind of trenchant analysis that can be made of this hootenanny. But in this case, I need to stop thinking also. To overthink it would be like overthinking an ice cold Pepsi on a hot day because it lacks protein. This episode, when you try to describe it to people who don’t watch the program very often, is the creature on the wing of the plane, and I am, at the very least, John Lithgow.

The important point is that they got away with it. Imagine if they had tried this as the pilot. It would be the greatest pilot ever made, prior to Lookwell, and it would’ve been just as unsellable. But I am convinced, after 500 episodes, Dan and the team sat down, wondered how much longer this could go on, and tested the waters by plunging the entire program as deep as possible. It swam like Esther Williams in a pool full of Baby Ruths. Dry, Dark Shadows was nothing. Wet, and Thayer David is a star.

Children and authors of ostensibly daily columns about increasingly obscure television series often test boundaries to see where they can go and where they cannot. Dark Shadows tests a boundary with 501, and realized that there is none.

Nicholas Blair, Eve and the lucky pantyhose into which she was born, Magda, Szandor, Petofi & Aristede, melting Evan Hanley, John Yaeger, Mr. Juggins, Julianka’s voice, Judah Zachery’s Head, Dameon Edward’s Bea Arthurian pantsuit, Bruno’s hair, Mr. Best, Robot Roger Davis with Head Popping Action, and Chuck Morgan as the Best Fed Zombie in Town? Start limbering up. And you’re welcome. The water is going to be fine for nearly three more years.

This episode hit the airwaves May 27, 1968.

Thursday, May 16, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 16


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 759

With Angelique destroyed, Barnabas stands alone in the last stand against a pagan fire god…or does he? Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

After Angelique vanishes from Laura’s attack, Barnabas awakens to learn that she knows his secret. He attacks Dirk, placing him under vampiric control, taking him from Laura. She learns this after gloating over her knowledge of Barnabas and the recollection of her relationship with him when she tortured his uncle in the 1700’s. Going upstairs to gather Jamison, she finds that he is a decoy of stuffed pillows and that Angelique is alive and ready for action. Barnabas smiles broadly as Laura’s world crumbles.

Robert Cobert? You have the day off. Some times, like weddings and coronations, there is only one man to compose the proper music. In the case of 759, that man is Mike Post and Pete Carpenter. This episode lunges from the coffin, grabs art by the collar, and demands it. The only things missing are a jerry-rigged cabbage cannon, Szandor being drugged to the point where he’s not afraid to fly, and Barnabas lighting a cigar while loving it when a plan comes together. I suspect he even had Magda paint a red, diagonal stripe up the side of his coffin while he worked as a soldier of fortune in the LA underground. Make no mistake; this great episode of Dark Shadows does not look like an installment of The A-Team. It makes a great episode of The A-Team look like an installment of Dark Shadows. Get it straight.

With Jonathan Frid and Lara Parker, this much fun just can’t be legal. And what a way to kick off summer vacation for the kids. If I had been a ten year-old fan of the original run when this episode hit, you’d have needed a diamond-edged spatula to pry me off the ceiling. You may need one now. Outside of the sentimental moments of the bonding and friendship and alienation and loneliness that defined the series, storytelling like this defines why Dark Shadows is so watchable.

Like that time when he reveals the fate of Dirk Wilkins. And just stares at Laura as she finally realizes that she has no monopoly on mind control. Nor on a cruel disregard for the “sanctity” of human life.

To me, these moments -- are the absolute apex of Barnabas before his second fall and subsequent rise as the battlescarred, weary hero of 1840. He is so accustomed to being one step behind. Reacting only. Making decisions based on desperation and panic. 1897 -- specifically, this part of 1897 -- is his most heartening and endearing phase. Not only does he outwit Laura, but he does so while acknowledging their long, mutual history. She savors the fact that she has him in her power and has done so since he was a child. A little boy in love. Powerless to save his uncle from a doomed relationship. Creating the pattern that would make Jeremiah’s union with Josette just… plausible… enough. Barnabas always had to suspect that Angelique’s spell wasn’t the only thing driving his uncle.

The pleasure of his revenge is the pleasure of playing a game better than its ostensible master. Laura’s talents are for misdirection, a cultivated knack for being underestimated, and zero care for the lives of humans as she pursues her goals. Burn a kid. Release the worst in Dirk. She is the occult equivalent of Trask. There is no line between malicious madness and religious faith. Angelique may be a creature of the occult, but Barnabas is her higher power. Satan is just how she gets there. With Laura and Ra, it’s impossible to determine if she harms in service of Ra or if service to Ra excuses her bloodlust. Either way, Barnabas has seen too many people get the Ra deal, including Roger, Victoria, and David if he asked around upon his release.

Although they don’t celebrate victory with fist bumping and curling up in front of the latest episode of Fireplace!, we still get a true sense of how Barnabas and Angelique are an inevitable couple. This is a multiphasic collaboration of totally unnecessary set-ups and knock-downs designed not only to defeat Laura, but to humiliate her in a final blow for humanity. To send her back to the Egyptian underworld with no uncertainty that she is a ham-fisted amatuer in the occult cruelty department, and will never be better than second rate. Laura’s an immortal. Maybe a demigod. So there’s no true getting rid of her, and corporeal dissolution isn’t going to teach the lesson she needs. Laura needs the closest they can get to a prom night-sized bucket of pig’s blood, and that’s what she gets. It’s the kind of vengeful pedagogy that Barnabas can’t teach alone. He needs Angelique’s reassuring edge to overcome both his self-doubt and the distracting need to jump to Magda and Szandor as the next thing on his to-do list. Fortunately, he has Angelique in his corner at last, which is right where she wants him. Perhaps his eventual show of confidence in her in 1840 is his way of saying thanks. There are more ways to answer “I love you” than saying, “I know.”

How much does an imperfect man need to pay just to squeeze his way into purgatory? For Barnabas Collins, is it ever quite enough? Roger will get away with it. Whatever “it” is. Saint Joe Haskell, certainly. Poor guy. But no matter what Barnabas does, it may never be enough. There will always be new clauses to curses and further Trasks awaiting him in any decade.

It’s a troubling story if that’s the point. And it may be. But the point is not for Barnabas. It’s for us. Like everything on this show of outsiders, it’s to remind us, fellow outsiders, that we’re not alone. To reassure us of this when life throws us a Trask, life will also throw us a Roger Davis as our new familiar. Neither states are permanent. And that’s the good news. The only thing permanent is our potential for greatness. When he is later knocked down by the Leviathans, Parallel Time, and Gerard, it has increased resonance because we remember — even when he may not — what he has within him.

But for now? All of that matters for the series and none of that matters for the present. The only thing that counts in this moment is that Barnabas really, authentically smiles for the second of two times in the series. It’s a great smile.

The plan has come together. And that is just as much fun as it sounds.

This episode hit the airwaves May 22, 1969.
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