Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 27

Episode 1, Taped on June 11 & 13, 1966

When Victoria Winters abandons life in New York for a small fishing village in Maine, she finds the beginning and the end of the world. Victoria Winters: Alexandra Moltke. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Quick, operating definitions… “story” is the overall tale, including backstory and exposition. “Plot” is the sequence of events seen by the audience in a given presentation.

Since most viewers begin the show around episode 212, with the release of Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas into 1967, the idea of “first episode of Dark Shadows” is more academic than it might seem. Technically, “1” is indeed the first. However, while it may be where the plot begins, the story of the series has been going on for at least 18 years, with the relevant modern action beginning with the murder of Paul Stoddard. But is even that the first major event? Not quite. The story of this series begins in 1946 with the birth of Victoria Winters, whose abandonment creates the first, true, chronologically-correct mystery to contemplate. But neither of those storylines amounts to a hill of bones for the majority of audiences, since the series has moved on by the time Barnabas appears. And yet, the have value, both literally and metaphorically.

Thanks to syndication and the salad bar nature of audience-selected watching, the series begins wherever we, as individuals, want it to. Many who began in the Leviathan era simply continued back at the “beginning,” whether with 1 or 212, and as far as they are concerned, it keeps going after 1245 with episode 1. This makes Dark Shadows unique among serialized television because it’s a Moebius strip. Begin where you want. Stop where you want. The plots always fit into a larger story, and one that I hope will never be fully told.

In this sense, 1245 and 1 exist both at opposite ends of the series and as neighbors. They are bookends, yes, and they occupy the same space. Watching them together draws the series into one of the few perspectives not usually thought of, and while the plot may not be contiguous, the theme is. Important to qualify that because, yes, technically, one takes place in a parallel universe. But when the difference is 131 years anyway, I’m not sure that’s germaine. Last week often feels like a parallel universe. Primary Time or Parallel, it’s still Dark Shadows, and looking at the two literally defines the parameters of what that means.

In episode 1, a highly isolated Liz squabbles with an unusually repressed Roger over the impending arrival of a new governess. Said governess, Victoria, arrives on an evening train amidst a flashback. In it (and another), we learn that the mature orphan was hired by Elizabeth, a woman she’s never met. With no key to her past and no real path to the future, Victoria sees this as her way both out of and in to her destiny. Brooding businessman, Burke Devlin, reluctantly ushers her into the inn where both he and waitress Maggie Evans are unsuccessful in dissuading the strangely, forlornly plucky Victoria into abandoning the new job. She arrives and is greeted by Liz as the credits roll.

In episode 1245, Bramwell and Catherine survive their night in the haunted lottery room, but not before Catherine stops the ghost of Brutus from choking Bramwell, which she does by refusing to join the specter in, yes, a bizarre act of unnatural love. Morgan awaits outside, and as dawn breaks, he shoots Bramwell and carries Catherine onto the roof. There, Kendrick tussles with Morgan until the madman falls to his death. A wounded Bramwell comforts Catherine. Across the estate, a revived Melanie is rejoined with Kendrick, and the two couples celebrate having survived the last curse (of many) at Collinwood.

The differences are obvious. Both take place in vastly different time periods, literally, and by 1245, the Bryl Cream, beehives, and black & white are distant memories. Both are intense, but one is a Pirandelloesque study in existential angst and the other is a truly Gothic ghost story where love defeats the anguish of the past. Episode 1 begins just past sunset, and episode 1245 arrives with the rise of the sun.

Still, this blend of storytelling chalk and cheese both involve the same message: Collinwood (and whatever it represents) has no future unless it opens its doors. Both Collinwoods (1841 PT and 1966) are dying. Both Collinwoods are cages to trap the sins of yesterday… and their witnesses. Both Collinwoods find the eventual path to the future by embracing newcomers. Both Catherine and Victoria are of Collinwood and apart from it, and both are outsiders whose brave examples reveal the home as a place for the living more than the dead. Each is haunted (in one form or another) by the ghosts of husbands (Brutus and Paul) whose marriages gave way to disaster. By opening their fortress of aristocracy to strangers, despite its secrets (or perhaps because of them), the Collinses save themselves after decades of standing apart. They illustrate and outmaneuver the definition of insanity by, at last, trying something different.

June 27 falls at the end of Pride Month and one day before the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Concomitantly, Dark Shadows is cited as a place where outsiders find a haven. Which it is, but not necessarily on the surface. When looked at character-by-character, most of the outsiders are seeking a “cure” to be “normal,” a disastrous assertion. This makes the show’s sense of inclusiveness seem inarguably problematic. And yet, it’s still a tribute to inclusiveness down to its storytelling DNA.

To the outside world, Collinwood, itself, is self-alienated from any kind of healthy, normal home. It is obsessed with guilt over crimes that were all ultimately explainable. Crimes with context. Crimes that, in some ways, were not crimes. Brutus was not justified in his wrath, and perhaps Liz was. In the light of Paul’s subsequent and cruel manipulation-by-silence, he is clearly worthy of disdain. Maybe not a fireplace poker’s worth, but disdain, nonetheless. If this were a true crime, Liz would not have been forgiven by the series.  But she is. Her journey begins here, by letting in someone new. And that fact that Vicki is never revealed as her daughter makes that governess an outsider as much as Catherine Harridge. Outsiders who change that small world by asking the right questions when they don’t understand and taking decisive action against tradition when they do and when others simply accept the status quo.

Yes, microcosmically, Dark Shadows may seem to be about outsiders pursuing cures so that they may be welcomed inside. Reconsidered from a larger vantage, Dark Shadows actually reverses this. It shows an establishment saving itself by opening its doors to those who thrive outside them.

Yes, the beginning and the end of the world -- that refuses to end.

This episode hit the airwaves June 27, 1966.

Welcome to the Beginning (and the End) of the World

A look back at the first week of Dark Shadows 


It’s hard not to love Victoria Winters, at least in the early days of DARK SHADOWS. Yeah, she’s not the sexiest character on the show, at least from an actor’s perspective. The writers maintained her fragile innocence by divvying the better dialogue and dramatic confrontations among the rest of the cast. This practice lasted long enough for actress Alexandra Moltke — and perhaps even the audience — to lose their patience with the character. After a while, Victoria stopped looking naïve and started looking kind of dim.

But that wasn’t the case when DARK SHADOWS launched on June 27, 1966. Winters was a blank slate by design and saw the world with a childlike, if reserved, sense of wonder. She was such a sweetheart that the writers discovered almost immediately that the easiest way to establish a villain on DARK SHADOWS is to have them act nasty to Victoria.

The “pilot” for DARK SHADOWS is one of the most complexly staged episodes of the entire series. Not coincidentally, it is also the only episode of the show's 1,225 episode run to be shot over multiple days. Beginning with the second episode, the unforgiving production demands of a "live on tape" series meant there would never be any second chances to get things right. But the first episode was given two (!) days for taping, both in the studio and around the locations in Connecticut and Rhode Island that served as the exteriors for various Collinsport landmarks. It's worth nothing that some details in the series had yet to be firmly nailed down when the cast first stepped in front of the cameras. Collinwood, for example, is referred to as "Collins House" throughout the first episode script. The name was changed so late in development that some of the promotional materials (not to mention the early tie-in novels my Marylin Ross) continued to use the "Collins House" moniker.

The number of scene changes in this short, 22-minute episode is staggering, especially when you consider the amount of exposition that had to be transported from script to screen in such a short amount of time. We see two locations for the “Foundling Home” in New York, a train car, a train station, the lobby and diner of the Collinsport hotel, Collinwood, the Blue Whale and a handful of pre-filmed location shots. We’re introduced in the opening shot to Moltke as heroine Victoria Winters, a woman with no clear past or future, her reflection looking back at the audience from the darkened window of a train as it speeds through the night. You’ll see Vicki’s reflection quite often in this episode, and it’s this “second” Victoria Winters that she’s come to Collinsport to find. It’s an idealized version of herself, one that has a material connection to the world through her absent family.

Winters hopes she’ll get these answers from her mysterious benefactor, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (fallen screen ingenue Joan Bennett), who has offered her the job of governess for her nephew. Victoria can’t imagine why a stranger from another state would offer her a job she hasn’t applied for, and rightfully assumes that the two mysteries in her life actually one mystery. Adding fuel to her suspicions: Stoddard’s home is a short drive from the place where Victoria was abandoned as a child.

The identity of Victoria’s parents is a plot point plot that has confounded DARK SHADOWS since the very beginning. Her background is never adequately explained in the original television series, and even became a dangling plot point in the Ross spin-off novels. When Victoria was added to the cast of the 1991 “revival” series and the 2012 movie, neither production seemed to know exactly what to do with the character, leaving their respective actresses to do most of the heavy lifting. While still considered an essential element of DARK SHADOWS, Victoria became a narrative loop of frustration for fans. In June, 1966, though, Victoria was still bae. But her mysterious past isn’t the only unanswered questions posed in the first episode.

Arriving on the same train as Victoria is Mitch Ryan as the show’s first anti-hero, Burke Devlin. Looking a little like the unholy offspring of Lloyd Bridges and Aaron Eckhart, Devlin has a dark mission in Collinsport that somehow involves the Collins family. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s brother Roger (Louis Edmonds), really really doesn’t want Victoria in Collinwood. Introduced to the series while pouring his trademark glass of sherry, it’s strongly hinted that Roger’s motives for wanting Victoria to fuck off back to NYC have little to do with a singular love of privacy.

Along for the ride (and to provide ominous exposition) is Kathryn Leigh Scott as Maggie Evans, a brassy waitress that's distant from the vulnerable figure she'd later become. Scott, along with every other actress in the cast, had auditioned for the role of Victoria Winters, so there might have been some concern behind the scenes that she too closely resembled Moltke and confuse audiences. Luckily, the production quickly realized that was nonsense.

The first episode ends on an ominous note, as Victoria crosses the threshold into Collinwood, met by black widow Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. The final scene (hell, the entire episode) is Mythology 101 and one of the reasons why this series continues to resonate with fans all these years later. Collinwood isn’t meant to be a real place: It’s a symbol of the unconscious mind, a place of magic and monsters where Victoria has the chance to discover her “true self," whatever that might mean.

In the second episode we’re introduced to Elizabeth’s daughter Carolyn (Nancy Barrett), a character only hinted at in the series premiere. We meet Carolyn as she's party rocking at the Blue Whale, dancing with any guy in the bar who’s not her boyfriend. In her defense, Joe Haskell (Joel Crothers) is sitting only a few feet away from his girl and doesn’t have much interest in “dancing,” if you catch my drift. Joe is the series’ hero for the first few years, though the writers took sadistic glee at underlining his impotence at every turn. He’s powerless to protect Maggie from Barnabas Collins later in DARK SHADOWS, and here he picks a fistfight with some guys over Carolyn that Burke Devlin has to break up. DARK SHADOWS doesn’t have much use for heroes.

Speaking of introductions, we also get our first taste of the jukebox at the Blue Whale in the second episode, which boasts a few dozen tracks on its playlist but only seems to play the same three songs over and over. But that’s OK, because they’re pretty good tunes.

Carolyn isn’t the most likable person in the episode, finishing a distant last even behind Roger. After intentionally antagonizing the men at bar she goes home to whine to her mother about how she wants more from life than being rich and living in a mansion. I wouldn’t go so far to say she’s spoiled (because Collinwood isn’t the warmest, most nurturing place in the world) but she comes off as bratty.

It’s strongly hinted throughout the series that Victoria and Carolyn are sisters, and the two characters seem to be running parallel to each other at the start, though they’re moving in opposite directions. Carolyn needs to escape the shadow of her family to find out who she really is, while Victoria thinks she’ll find herself by getting closer to the Collins family.

Vicky’s answers won’t come easily, though. The more time Victoria spends at Collinwood in the first week, the more isolated she becomes. While strolling the grounds alone (wearing a trenchcoat and looking a little like Bjork cosplaying as Inspector Clouseau) she finally meets Roger, who lays on the charm as they chat at the edge of the (as yet unnamed) Widows Hill. He’s all “Please call me Roger!” until she makes the mistake of saying Burke Devlin’s name. After that, he gets grabby and runs away to parts unknown. Victoria returns to the mansion to find Elizabeth doing her best Robert Smith impersonation while playing piano in the dark.

(Aside: Elizabeth says the painting hanging over the fireplace in the drawing room is of her great-grandfather, Jeremiah — which is impossible, given that Barnabas Collins blew Jeremiah’s brains out before his uncle had chance to spawn. I’ll chalk this error up to Elizabeth’s own confusion. There was a great deal of intentional misinformation concerning the events of 1795, so it’s understandable if facts about that era of Collins history are a little murky.)

The established characters take some time to socialize in the third episode, but the script also adds a new one to the mix: Bill Malloy (Frank Schofield). The head of the Collins shipping fleet, Malloy has taken an interest in Devlin’s arrival, asking him to lay off his already troubled employers. His motives are uncertain (is “altruism” even a thing in Collinsport?) as is his knowledge about Devlin’s business in town.

Roger’s anxiety about Devlin’s arrival also prompts an opportunity for many of the characters to interact. In fact, most of the episode is conversational: Devlin talks to Joe, Roger talks to Maggie, Malloy talks to anybody who stands still for too long. It’s a busy, talky episode, and it’s a credit to the writers that the show has taken on an oppressive air of mystery without giving us the slightest clue as to what’s going on.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the unintentionally hilarious opening. The episode begins with some film of Roger driving up to the Evans home, with a careful cut to the “live” recording of him pounding on a door and shouting “Open up you drunken bum!” The door doesn’t open, Roger walks away and we get the DARK SHADOWS opening credits. Had this been your first episode, you would have been thoroughly baffled about what you were watching. It was a little surreal, but I’d watch an entire episode of Edmonds angrily knocking on random doors in Collinsport.

Carolyn and Victoria meets for the first time in a scene that begins awkwardly before exploring some creepy subject matter: Carolyn has a bit of a crush on her uncle Roger, and seems put out that she’s got to settle for a common fisherman like Joe. Victoria politely entertains this icky display of TMI before the scene mercifully segues into a tour of Collinwood. But strange things are afoot! A door mysteriously swings open behind the two as they discuss a painting of 17th century ancestor Isaac Collins. Carolyn rightfully refrains from calling the Ghostbusters but seems concerned when Vicky finds one of her letters discarded carelessly on her bed. David Collins has yet to make an appearance, but fret not. This might be the third episode, but 24 hours have yet pass since Victoria’s arrival in town.

With episode four, though, we finally get to move the calendar forward a day. Vicki is roused from her bedroom by the sounds of mysterious crying, which lead her downstairs to the drawing room. Collinwood has ghosts, which is hardly a surprise. It also has a sexual predator stalking the corridors in the form of Roger. He’s interrupted by his sister at the start of the episode as he’s letting himself into Victoria’s bedroom shortly before midnight, and Liz’s attitude implies this is a long-standing problem for the family. Insisting he was “merely trying to talk to the girl,” he still manages to bring Victoria downstairs to grill her about her association with Burke.

Roger is convinced Burke wants to kill and/or destroy him and doesn’t believe his arrival on Victoria’s train is a coincidence. He later gets Vicki alone (where he can better intimidate her) and offers her a drink. She declines, saying the drink “burns,” to which Roger answers “Pain sometimes precedes pleasure, Miss Winters. Or are you too young to have discovered that yet?”

If the rapey vibe of this episode wasn’t gross enough, Vicky’s answer is equally distressing. Instead of getting angry, shocked or offended, the writers use the moment to declare her virginal bonafides: “I’d rather avoid the pain for as long as possible,” she tells Roger as though they were bros.

Carolyn, in one of her many visits to Victoria’s bedroom this night, casually mentions that Roger’s wife (and David’s mother) is not as dead as the new governess was lead to believe. Carolynquickly changes the subject, but the absent wife’s status will become much more important later in the series.

The episode comes to a close with the reveal of Victoria’s charge, David (David Henesy). He’s been mentioned throughout the week but has yet to make an appearance, and his debut doesn’t disappoint. After following the ghostly sobbing to the drawing room, Vicki sees that David has followed her downstairs. His first words to the new governess are “I hate you!” Welcome to the show you loveable little sociopath.

Episode four gave us our first definite signs ghostly activity at Collinwood. As the week closes, one of them gets a name. Sam Evans discloses to Victoria that the mansion is haunted by the spirit of Josette, a French woman brought to Collinsport to marry the builder of Collinwood. The details of this story change a little over the years, but the bullet points remain the same: Shit goes bad, Josette throws herself of Widow’s Hill (formally named in this episode) and ghostly shenanigans ensue for the next few centuries.

The early version of Sam Evans looks and sounds little like the character we’ll get to know over the next year. Mark Allen plays Evans for only seven episodes in the series and is an imposing presence on screen, certainly moreso than David Ford, who will soon replace him. Sam makes a short appearance on this episode, stopping by to ask Victoria to deliver a mysterious non-message to Roger before lumbering off to wherever he came from. I don’t much like this version of Sam, who comes across like a pretentious thug.

Even for Victorias Winters, enough is enough. Five episodes (and 24 story hours) into the series and our heroine is begins packing her bags for home. As she has breakfast with Carolyn, David finishes packing for her, carelessly tossing her clothes into her suitcase while muttering something about his mother. To add injury to insult he defaces her luggage by scratching her initials off the casing.

While trying to talk Victoria out of leaving, Carolyn learns the new governess was raised in a foundling home and is (presumably) an orphan. This nugget of information is delivered to Carolyn as she’s whining about being young and rich, and uses Victoria’s disclosure as an invitation to compete in a “Whose Life Sucks Hardest” rap battle. Carolyn reveals that her mother is a shut-in who hasn’t left home for 18 years, and that her father has been absent her entire life. It’s like a gothic paperback version of 8 MILE.

During this scene we also learn that Victoria received $50 a month from a mysterious benefactor until she turned 16, after which she was expected to get a job or something. Carolyn notes those payments started to arrive around the same time her father vanished, but the plot point doesn’t lead anywhere. Not just in this episode, but ever.

Victoria discovers what David’s done in her room and finds him waiting for her, hiding behind a curtain. He plays a quick game of “keep away” with the note left with Victoria as a baby when she was abandoned at the foundling home. David crumples the only connection she’s got to her real family and throws it to the ground (about a foot away from a piece of tape on the floor identifying the actor’s “mark.”) He then begins an elaborate bit of performance art to illustrate how crazy he really is: Ghosts have told him to get rid of Victoria. Granted, we know there are ghosts at Collinwood, but David’s galloping mental illness and the haunting of Collinwood aren’t mutually exclusive concepts. The combination of David’s mommy issues and his proclivity for rummaging in Victoria’s drawers means the new governess could find herself participating in a reenactment of the shower scene from PSYCHO.

Having been confronted with a maniac for a student, a sexual predator for a housemate, a chronically depressed employer and the promise for unwanted drama in the future, Victoria is uncertain of her future at Collinwood. “I’d be a fool to keep on staying here,” Victoria says about 30 seconds before she decides to keep on staying here.

Welcome to Collinwood, Victoria Winters.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 25


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1049

When a drunken Carolyn announces that she knows the deadliest secret at Collinwood, will she live to tell it? Carolyn Loomis: Nancy Barrett. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Carolyn, thinking she knows the secret of Angelique and Alexis, gleefully taunts everyone at Collinwood. Unfortunately, the killer lures her away and stabs her in retribution.

As a showrunner, Dan Curtis was too far ahead of his time. The Parallel Time sequence of the show is an experiment in and testament to that, as is the project he had running, yes, parallel, the film House of Dark Shadows. An episode like this allows him to test waters and flex muscles that we can see later in his career as a bloodthirsty and unsentimental filmmaker. He sets up the cliches of the soap opera and then shows his frustration by smashing them with an unceremonious sense of ritual. And if he didn’t, the writers, reading the room, did it for him.

Even though I’ve summarized the episode twice, let me take my own go at it, neither doing a TV Guide nor a vaguely quantitative recap. Carolyn, in a miasma of booze, bitchiness, and low self-esteem, plays informational keepaway without realizing the actual consequences that follow. As a result, she gets stabbed to death by the one character bitchier and low self-esteemier than she: Roger. Dark Shadows has had enough of that nonsense and starts playing for keeps, a practice that it will follow throughout the final sequence of the series. If you screw up (or even if you keep company with screw ups), you’ll die. In today’s world of ruthless “real” television series, killing off central characters is an event that’s no longer shocking. Dan Curtis inarguably invented it, so all you other guys, get back in line.

Nancy Barrett and Dan Curtis on the set of
House of Dark Shadows, 1970.
Across town, Curtis is preparing House of Dark Shadows. Although we rarely acknowledge it as such, it’s the second Parallel Time storyline that he would present, each one getting uglier and more nihilistic. Each one, more relentlessly transparent in the logic of what it plays out. In 1970 PT, we see a Carolyn who is also widowed, paranoid, and unstable. Just like in “real life.” In her dialogue with a heartbroken Liz, it’s not so much a glimpse into a parallel universe as it is into a future that Dark Shadows never quite reached. She’s both explosively abusive toward those with failed love and implosive as a reaction to the one she’s lost completely. Unlike the world of standard tv (of the era), there’s only so long that can go, and the show finally exploits that ugly truth.

Similarly, on the big screen, Curtis will take it a step further. I’m no expert on things that don’t exist, which is why I’m not a theologian, but I can guess that an emotionally shattered hemopathic man who profited from the dehumanizing slave trade, starved for two centuries, will probably dine without sentiment nor remorse when released on an unsuspecting world by an incompetent redneck. And someone will eventually take him out once he plays all of his cards by becoming the most prodigious and swiftest serial killer in the history of Maine. Because that’s Barnabas 2.0.

This is a reflection of Dan Curtis, himself. Uncle Barnabas the hero is a concession to tv. Barnabas the killer is probably more like the truth. When writers asked Dan where the tv version was, and he responded that he wasn’t doing it that way again, we get the most revealing statement about the creator possible. This is the producer who would send writers running from meetings throwing up. And Parallel Time -- this kind of blunt, pained, short-timer, unsentimental Parallel Time as we have in this episode -- is not necessarily so parallel. It’s unfortunately true. The secret to Dark Shadows is not that we’ve gone to Parallel Time, but that we’ve finally emerged from it.

This episode hit the airwaves July 2, 1970.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Pride Month: Our thoughts and feelings are valid


Growing up in a town of less than 2,000 people in rural Montana, I never encountered anyone I knew to be gay. It was never discussed and thus did not exist. Even before I realized I was gay, I was an outcast in school. I had nothing in common with most kids my age. My classmates loved football and snowboarding, while I sat in the corner reading Macbeth. I wanted the lead in the school play, not to be head cheerleader. I spent most of my adolescence shroud in black hoping my creepy exterior would repel my fellow classmates. I wasn’t out of the closet by any stretch, even to myself, but was still routinely called “faggot” and singled out for not conforming to the crowd. As Alice Collins mentioned in her column, the arts tend to be common ground for LGBT kids. We often find they are safe havens for us as we struggle to survive high school and beyond. We are allowed to explore our true selves through embodying others on stage or channeling our emotions through art and music. In addition to falling in love with theatre, in high school I also became enamored with the horror genre. Since then I’ve realized a passion for horror is common amongst much of the queer community. As a young girl I cried with Frankenstein’s creature as he was shunned by society while he so hopelessly tried to belong. I was in awe of Carrie White as she burned the school gym to the ground and wrought vengeance on her cruel classmates. Watching these films was deeply cathartic for me. I discovered Dark Shadows in my early twenties, just as I was coming to terms with my sexuality. I felt a connection to Barnabas Collins, the reluctant vampire who wanted so desperately to be human. These feelings of being ostracized run throughout much of the horror genre and strike a chord with me and the LBGT community at large.

As I delved deeper into the Dark Shadows fandom, I learned many of the actors who appeared on the show were queer. Unfortunately they lived in a more conservative and closeted time, when identifying as gay was still considered radical. It was also dangerous and could mean the end of an actor’s professional career. We will never know for sure how Jonathan Frid, Louis Edmonds, or Joel Crothers would have chosen to identify in today’s more accepting society, but what we do know is they too were misunderstood outcasts in a straight world. Although I’ve moved on from the conservative rural life and found love and acceptance identifying as a lesbian, I have also learned the heteronormative community I grew up in still exists in every sphere, including the internet. A small but vocal portion of the Dark Shadows fandom cling to their conservative ideologies that love may only exist between a man and a woman. If youbreathe a word suggesting the beloved Jonathan Frid may have been romantically involved with men they will be on you like blood on fangs. These fans time and again sing the refrain they “don’t care what adults do in the bedroom as long as they don’t have to hear about it.” Initially this makes many queer fans such as myself reluctant or even fearful to share their views online. Gratefully we have many spaces, including CHS, where queer fans can feel safe from bigotry.

In addition to the backlash fans receive for celebrating the queerness of the talent involved in creating Dark Shadows, queer fans are also criticized by our straight counterparts for daring to see ourselves reflected in “their” characters. Although queer representation is making leaps and bounds today historically, the LGBTQ community have little to no representation in the media we consume. To find ourselves represented we have to read between the lines. Recently I saw a comment accusing queer fans of “appropriating Dark Shadows to push their agenda.” For instance one of my favorite plot lines on Dark Shadows is 1970 Parallel Time. This timeline more or less mirrors the plot of the classic gothic novel Rebecca. The main reason I love this story is that it brings my two favorite characters together. Julia takes on the Mrs. Danvers role while Angelique serves as the mysterious deceased wife Rebecca. Danvers has become a lesbian icon in popular culture due to her homoerotic devotion to the dead mistress of Manderley. What makes the storyline on Dark Shadows even more fun than the novel is here Rebecca rises from the grave and the two women are allowed to plot and scheme against the master of the house’s new bride. The knowing and flirtatious glances Hoffman and Alexis exchange when she ‘“arrives from abroad” betray something deeper than the mere professional relationship between a mistress and her maid.  Will some of the Dark Shadows fandom take issue with my interpretation of their relationship as sexual? Absolutely. Does this make my interpretation any less valid? Not for a second.

Dark Shadows has attracted a large queer fanbase over the five decades since it first aired. I truly believe on an instinctual level the LGBT community recognizes art that has been touched by our kind. Is this what draws us to the early horror films of James Whale or to Dark Shadows? I like to think so. What I love most during pride month is our visibility amongst thefandom. It brings me great joy to be reminded we are many and outnumber the bigots we often encounter on Facebook and elsewhere. I am so grateful for the wonderful people I have met and the queer friends I’ve made through the Dark Shadows community. Let us always remember we are many and our thoughts and feelings are valid. I know the many queers who have contributed to Dark Shadows over the years are looking down on us today, proud of the legacy we have created together. Happy Pride! 

Monday, June 24, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 24


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 530

Can Barnabas stop his ex-wife from returning from Hell before a reanimated monster kills a middle-manager who reeks of tuna? Sam Evans: David Ford. (Repeat; 30 min.)

As Adam and Joe tussle in the woods, Vicki tells Barnabas that Cassandra is back and determined she learn the dream. Cassandra raises the ghost of Sam Evans to tell her, and after Barnabas squabbles with the witch, he returns home to find what may be a dead Joe Haskell tumbling out of his closet. Adam looks on in delight.

At a certain point, where is Barnabas supposed to go? At first, it seems like the Old House is the logical choice. Unless he goes out. Either place, he has women vaguely, if confusedly, throwing themselves at him as if he were the Tom Jones of the occult. That’s the good news. Kind of. Especially because neither of them are Julia. Vicki shows up just as you’ve donned your smoking jacket, and she drops a dime on Cassandra. Bad news that the ex is back from Hell, but at least you’re getting the intel early. But the dream curse is back, too. Oh, and Angelique’s ghost is simultaneously around as well being as Cassandra, which is really confusing, and now she’s delivering cheap perfume from the props department. I’m not sure what the bigger threat is -- the dream curse or having Vicki wandering around and smelling like a dead flight attendant from a Jennings Lang movie.

It’s a mixed bag at home. So, you go into the woods only to find Cassandra, probably reeking of the same perfume, pretending not to be Angelique, which is ludicrous, and the only thing to do is to declare that you’d better avoid each other -- as if you were Jan and/or Marcia in a tiff over who’ll be running for student government. That is, if Jan and Marcia had weird crushes on each other, which they didn’t, so don’t go there because Alice is listening over the sound of meatloaf sizzling in the oven and is sure to drag Julia into it, which is all anyone needs right now. And, outside, over the smell of the perfume, you could swear you could detect Joe Haskell’s Hai Karate. Mixed with the KFC drenched aroma of Adam. And there’s the stench of their combat. But between the two men or the two fragrances? Maybe both. 

Coming home from this olfactory nightmare, Joe falls out of the closet in the Old House drawing room -- and stop snickering -- while Adam leers and laughs manically from the window like some perverse Alan Funt. Which means, like Alan Funt.

As if that’s not enough, you get the feeling that Sam Evans’ ghost is mixed up in this. Is he delivering from a multi-level-marketing scheme, too? Since that’s the essence of the dream curse, probably. Which may be why Angelique was delivering perfume along with it.

It’s kind of as if the Dark Shadows writers were playing an improv game, sort of topping each other while never quite completing anyone’s idea, but just adding on more and more. Even a straight-faced description of the nonstop nuttiness sounds like a ten year-old’s breathless description of the action to a beleaguered dad, just coming home from a long day at happy hour. In other words, TV magic. When I think of Dark Shadows, I think of episodes like this one, because it both has everything and is at the crossroads of what the show will be. It’s not great Dark Shadows, but it’s far from bad, and has a madcap sampling of everything in this era. Crazy Joe, unable to deal with the madness of what the story has become without picking up a gun. Adam. Cassandra, raising the dead. The dream curse. Barnabas, probably wondering if being a vampire were all that bad compared to what humans deal with in this day and age.

It’s David Ford’s last episode, and that’s yet another reminder of where the show has come since the early days of red meat drama. You know, what he signed up for. Think Dan Curtis is going to apologize for the evolution in tone? No. He doubles down on Ford by making it the wackiest episode possible -- without having Sam jump out of a cake with a coconut bra on. Which was probably next.

Even the details of Sam’s Life as a Ghost are bizarre. Why does a ghost need to be wearing a trench coat? Is it raining in the afterlife? Did Maggie bury him in a raincoat because she couldn’t send it off on consignment? Did it not fit Joe? And why is Sam still blind and wearing sunglasses? Doesn’t that get reset if you’re a ghost? You’re lucky they didn’t edit in Hayden Christiansen to play a young version of you. In reality, whatever that is, Ford was allegedly too put out with it all to learn lines, and so the glasses allowed him to read off of the teleprompter without anyone noticing. David, baby, no one noticed because everyone was reading off the teleprompter, capice? 

And I wouldn’t have it any other way.

In the next episode, Barnabas just decides to let Willie take the fall. Why? Probably and ultimately because Barnabas would still be writhing in his coffin, enrobed in agonized peace if he hadn’t been so rudely interrupted the the year before. He’d go back there, I’m certain, but have you ever tried to chain your own coffin from the inside? Of course not. No one has. It’s a ridiculous question.

But is it any more ridiculous than episode 530? We all know the answer. And we wouldn’t have it any other way. Farewell, David. You think things are strange NOW?

This episode hit the airwaves July 8, 1968.

Wednesday, June 19, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 19


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 525

When Roger lets slip that Vicki once was tried as a witch in 1795, Nicholas hatches a scheme to rescue Angelique with the help of black magic and hypnosis. Nocholas: Humbert Allen Astredo. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Jeff awakens from a dream where Nathan Forbes berates him as Peter Bradford. Upon waking, “Jeff” realizes that this evidence ensures that he is Peter Bradford. At Collinwood, Nicholas connects Vicki to the painting and induces Roger to explain her convictions about 1795. He realizes that she knows the location of Trask’s execution tree, and uses her knowledge to locate it. There, Nicholas performs a ritual to summon Angelique. The sound of screaming indicates he may be a success.

Dark Shadowsis a paranoid’s delight, and is sure to leave you with reflexes and impulses that will last a lifetime -- an eternal gift to make a neurotic out of anyone. Vicki shows amazing fortitude and professionalism. Here she is, at her job, and living there -- living at her home and work -- is someone who is clearly the witch responsible for her murder. But, you know, the witch says she isn’t and is married to your boss, so you have to play along. Then, a sleazy guy with a mustache shows up, kisses hands, and claims to be her brother, which may be worse. One night, you come downstairs for your nightly brandy & bullion and catch him making weird hand gestures at a painting that looks like said witch… then he asks to “borrow it” for reasons that seem uncomfortably Kentuckian. Who borrows a painting of someone who looks like their sister? Nicholas Blair, that’s who.

This kind of stuff goes on there all the time. People at Collinwood, in the name of lack of evidence, lack of witnesses, or just a desire to be darn nice, end up sleeping three doors down from all manner of apocalyptic ne’er-do-wells, and they just lump it. Can you trust anyone?  I’m always wary when life throws me a guest star. The Collinses. Spend enough hours watching a show about them, and you’re in serious danger of taking that home and to work. Word to the wise.

525 is a joyous little core sample of the good stuff on the program. It’s Jonathan Frid’s day off, and the writers are determined to keep the suspense and ratings high. A wacky dream sequence with Nathan Forbes laughing maniacally is a reliable way to start any episode, corporate event, or bris. Joe must be either really tired of being associated with this weirdo or strangely proud, because it’s happening with a constancy that must make him think that Forbes is doing two sets nightly at the Blue Whale. All’s well, however, because it knocks a big chunk of the Jeff Clark identity crisis out of consideration. Quickly, we move to Nicholas sleazing around Vicki and drinking it up with Roger, finally comforting him with the company of a fellow fop. You kind of wish Burke Devlin would show up and try to intimidate Roger NOW… now that his buddy Nicholas is there. They’d just laugh at his taste in shoes until Burke skulked away to pen an angry letter to Brewster’s department store in furious shame.

Roger, on cue, spills the beans about Vicki’s conviction that she’d traveled to 1795 and was harassed by a witch hunter named Trask, tipping Nicholas off to the location of the Sacrificial Tree. It’s easy to be a villain on Dark Shadows. It’s not a job so much as a vacation. Nicholas just sits around the drawing room and drinks and leers at babes until people deliver exactly the exposition he needs, on cue. What’s left? Hypnotize Vicki, go to the tree, and call back Angelique. All in a day’s work.

Let’s praise Humbert Allen Astredo for carrying the show so effortlessly that it feels like we’re watching a talented writer unselfconsciously improvise rather than some guy reciting lines and working through blocking. It’s to the show’s credit that they didn’t simply hand over the storyline to him in perpetuity. How do you not screw up a scene? Include Nicholas Blair. It would be enough to make the rest of the ensemble paranoid. And, I guess, they share the wealth with us.

This episode hit the airwaves July 1, 1968.

The Silver Age of Dark Shadows fandom

Believe it or not, this isn't a photograph ... it's a composite image made up of more than two dozen individual elements assembled to give the impression of a three-dimensional image. Believe me, it would have been so much faster to just stack some VHS tapes and take a photo ... but that would have defeated the purpose here, which was to create something.

This image was inspired by a piece I made a while back for The Last Drive-In, the new show with  Joe Bob Briggs that currently wrapped its first season on Shudder. You can see that piece here, but it was a similar concept: to create a stack of VHS tapes depicting all of the movies shown on the show's first season.

I wanted to pay tribute to the Silver Age of Dark Shadows fandom, back when the quickest way to interact with the show was through home video releases. It was always a delight to walk into Suncoast in those days and see entire shelves full of Dark Shadows VHS tapes. I hope the love for those days shines through in this piece, though there might also be a troubling subtext about fandom's nostalgic obsession with consumerism. But that's a topic for another time.

You can find Analog Shadows at my Redbubble store here. And feel free to look around the rest of my silly store here.

Monday, June 17, 2019

Here today, gone today

The marketing for the audiobook editions of the classic vintage Dark Shadows novels by Marilyn Ross has been ... interesting. Compact disc and/or digital downloads for most of the series appeared on Amazon back in March, but I was told that these advance sales links were anomalies and that "nothing happening" with the books at the time. The name of an actress attached to perform the readings was included with these solicitations,which made these accidental listings seem improbably elaborate. The online concensus was that these new audiobooks were unauthorized recordings being produced by unknown persons ... a conspiracy theory I was not equipped to dispute. Three months later there's a not-insignifcant number of fans who believe these audios are bogus.

But now it looks like they are happening. The proof? Amazon has posted revised (and kind of awful) cover art for the first two books in the line, "Dark Shadows" and "Victoria Winters," with samples of a new, familiar actress perfoming the readings: Kathryn Leigh Scott. You can listen to a sample for yourself HERE.

Good news, right? Who knows! These first two recordings (MP3 CDs available for preorder for $5.86) were scheduled to be released today ... and are now tagged "temporarily out of stock."

You can find "Dark Shadows" available for preorder HERE, and "Victoria Winters" HERE. I guess we'll get them when we get them.

"Marilyn Ross" was the pen name of Dan Ross, a gothic romance hack who wrote more than 300 books over the course of his career. Among those titles are 31 books in the "Dark Shadows" series, published between 1966 and 1972. I'm actually excited about the audio adaptions of this series and delighted that Scott is reading them ... but early indications suggest this effort is going to be a bumpy ride. Buckle up!

UPDATE: I pre-ordered the first audiobook back in March, which is now marked as "shipped" and scheduled for delivery today. I'm on pins and needles.

UPDATE #2: After being marked as "Shipped," Amazon revised my order to "We'll let you know when the product is available." For what it's worth, it appears that "Dark Shadows" and "Victoria Winters" are available as audio downloads from Audible.

Sunday, June 16, 2019

Pride Month: Witches and Role Models

Angelique Collins, Witch and Role Model:  
Thoughts on the Nature of Power and Pride


She’s staring sadly down at the little statue she’s cradling, the one he gave her, handsome hubby, standing behind her, Sky Rumson stupid soap opera name; it’s his tie, in fact, that she’s even now coiling around the statue’s neck.  “Nicholas didn’t tell you very much about me, did he,” she says.

Of course he didn’t; this is Dark Shadows.  Everyone’s got some kind of deep dark secret, things their friends and family don’t know about them because reasons.

He’s coming for her with a poker, by the way, and the poker is on fire.  Fire is anathema to her; she’s a witch, which is why she’s treating the statuette like a voodoo doll. In a moment it will be. He coos, says he wants to look at her one more time before he begins jabbing at her with the flaming stick.  At which point she – Angelique, that is, Bouchard Collins Collins DuVal DuBois Rumson, currently – viciously twists hubby’s tie around the neck of the doll, with instant results:  he gasps, beginning to choke.  “Put the poker in the fire, Sky,” she orders him, “or I’ll make it worse!” Her voice cracks a little at the end, or maybe it just goes up a register.  She’s terrified and she’s furious; she’s been living like Samantha Stephens, her television cousin-counterpart from Bewitched, for a few months now, and it’s been wearing thin.  She’s Angelique All-those-last names, after all, and she’s got mad skills.  She’s demonstrating them right now as she chokes the hell out of poor dumb blood-lusty Sky, her latest husband, and the second to try (unsuccessfully) to kill her.  Later in the episode, she’ll revert even further to type and zap two other characters with a love whammy. 

I’m spending so much time describing my favorite episode of Dark Shadows (#955, if you’re curious) because I’ve been pontificating on the nature of power the last few days, since Wallace graciously asked me to write this article, as The Collinsport Historical Society is celebrating Pride Month.  I’m a gay farmboy from eastern Montana who spent most of his life obsessed with monsters, which is why Dark Shadows appeals: it’s got a little bit of something for every monster kid out there, and since I was super into Universal and Hammer at a tender age, it was a natural fit. As I explored more and more the world of Collinsport, Maine, with its myriad monsters and multiple timebands, I enjoyed the monsters, yes, and the monster tropes (werewolf attacks and vampire bites and stakings and séances and lots of screaming); however, the older I grew, the more I began to appreciate the story elements, the characters, and the soapy nature of it all.

Episode #955 has all of that.

Originally, I considered writing about the in-the-closet nature of Barnabas Collins and his lycanthropic cousin Quentin, who must pretend to be their own ancestors so their hapless twentieth century relatives don’t discover their – gasp! – true natures, but that seems rather on the nose; and anyway, I want to write about Angelique.  Because she’s my favorite.

Here’s why.

Sometimes queer people feel powerless.

A lot of the time, queer people feel powerless.

And Angelique had powers.  And sass.  And amazing hairstyles and a plethora of outfits, a killer wardrobe (literally) that made her blue-gray-green eyes just pop.

So I wanted to be her.  Not be like her.  I wanted to be her.

(I still do.)

Even though I was aware of the original series, Dark Shadows became more accessible to me, as I suspect it did to many people raised in the 80s and 90s, because of the 1991 so-called revival, the NBC nighttime version that Dan Curtis swore up and down he’d use to “get it right this time.”  I watched and rewatched every episode, taped them, recorded their audiotracks by holding a tape recorder up to the speaker of our television so I could listen to them on car trips and before bed.  I loved the Old Barnabas episodes (which, to this day, I remain extremely disturbed by, but for different #metoo related reasons), but it was the 1790 flashback that captured me whole.  Because of Angelique.

Because of the witch.

The one with the powers.

She bewitched Jeremiah and Josette; she stood on the rooftop and swore obeisance to unseen, shrieking primal powers if they would help her kill Jeremiah Collins, then she brought him back from the dead like it was nothing!  She twisted Ben Loomis’ arm via spooky straw doll so he’d do her bidding; “I like when a man treats me with respect,” she chortled.

With respect.

I was twelve at the time, and to say that the queerness of me was something that my classmates and the other residents of the teeny tiny farming community to which I’d been consigned had a hard time dealing with is a ridiculous understatement.  I teach high school students; I know that everyone has felt the cruel lash of adolescence.  But for GLBTQ kids, especially those from rural places, and especially especially for those who are unable to “pass” (as cousins from England?), being a teenager is a special kind of hell.

Well, Angelique was acquainted with hell.  And, honestly, it usually seemed like more of an inconvenience, something she was able to bounce back from.

And then, after the passing of the revival, and as I was able to access the show via the SciFi Channel, the more I became invested in the original series and Lara Parker’s portrayal of the passionate and vengeful sorceress from Martinique, and the more I came to identify with and, yes, to envy Angelique.

She was powerful.

She had no patience.

She did not have time for your crap, and she’d show you, either by choking you into submission or turning you into a cat or killing every person you’d ever met.

As I think back on those times, the hours in the locker room hoping that the other boys wouldn’t notice me, or, if they did, they wouldn’t call me names or piss on me this time, they now seem impossibly remote.  Quaint, almost.  “Hey, Laramie, if you were on a bus full of homos, would you get off?”  Dark Shadows was an escape, as it has been for so many for so many years.  The SciFi Channel was showing the Leviathan episodes around that time, and as I watched I realized how much I wanted more Angelique, more Angelique, more Angelique!  I loved her fancy outfits, her miniskirts and her leopard print coat, I loved her hair styles, the ringlets and the long falls, but I especially loved how she reclaimed her powers after husband number tres tried to set her on fire.

“I am what I was,” she intoned, “and what I shall always be.  I call upon the Powers of Darkness to help me once again …”

I get goosebumps thinking about it now.

Angelique was losing her humanity, or thought she was, in order to restore her powers.  An even trade.  But I knew what Barnabas and Quentin refused to acknowledge:  she was human, even with her powers, she did suffer, she had all kinds of feelings, and yes, she did horrible things, but I could get behind that because I could imagine doing horrible things to those who crossed me, and I didn’t have patience either (I still don’t); I could easily imagine strangling a doll until those assholes at my school treated me with, yes, some respect.  Angelique was just as human as the other monsters on Dark Shadows, which is something that the 1991 series and the Tim Burton remake failed to understand.  Lara Parker has written at some length about how she played Angelique as the heroine, who suffered and cried, until Jonathan Frid told her that she was “the heavy” and to “think vicious” at which point she really began to relish the role.  But it was this dichotomy that gave the character depth, that prevented her from being just another one note jealous psychopath, a la Alex from Fatal Attraction (although, don’t get me wrong; Angelique is plenty jealous, and plenty psychopathic, even at the best of times, but she’s hardly one note).  And it was this depth that attracted me to her.

Angelique could take whatever the world threw at her, and she’d throw it back thrice as hard.

She was a witch, and she was powerful.

After I came out of the closet and claimed my queer identity, which sounds super mythic and epic, and you’d be absolutely right to think that it was, I continued to hold Angelique up as a role model.  Not the obsessing over some dude who done her wrong part (though I’ve done that myself, plenty of times), but the part where she demands respect.  Angelique isn’t going to throw herself off a cliff; she isn’t going to descend, gibbering, into madness once the mask of humanity is stripped away and the monster she thought she knew shows itself for what it truly is; Angelique is a monster too, and she’s strong.

Angelique is strong.

I admire that.

“I am what I was, and what I shall always be.”

She can’t pretend to be human because she isn’t.

She can’t pretend to be anything other than what she is because, ultimately, she’s too strong and too smart for that.

Angelique is smart.

I admire that too.

“I call upon the powers of darkness to help me once again …”

Angelique is a witch.

Angelique is powerful.

And she made me feel powerful too.

Now, when they come for me with torches, I know what to do.

I know what to do.

Friday, June 14, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 13


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 780

Can Barnabas stop Carl from bringing about the end of Collinwood before Trask brings about the end of Barnabas? Quentin: David Selby. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Carl alerts Trask to the threat of Barnabas.  The vampire, now allied with a Quentin who knows and accepts his secret, removes the evidence of his coffin before going on to kill Carl to save the future. Trask confronts Barnabas, and the two men await the telling dawn.

Sam Hall. Such an ear for dramatic dialogue. Properly theatrical yet always true. His plots are modulated with a pace as organic as the human heartbeat. Characters, distinct. Payoffs, rich. Yet always unpredictable. As much as I admire the exquisite writing of Gordon Russell, Sam Hall is the undisputed Master of Collinwood, and his best scripts expand beyond the needs of writing Dark Shadows and take on a storytelling voice that has the resonance of art. Immediate, yes. Written briskly and under incredible demands to produce, produce, produce. Rather than excuse his work, these facts make it all the more remarkable.  In episode 780, his skill for economy melds seamlessly with the language of the characters, the substance of their climactic exchanges, and the propulsive risk inherent in the story. Put simply, he is a poet who gets out of his own way.

The “star’ of the episode is the brutal and brisk execution of Carl Collins. Carl’s fears and desires are understandable, and considering the threat of learning that a strange relative is a ravenous, undead engine of murder, not necessarily unwarrented. We let Carl’s prior extremity and histrionics too easily overtake the fact that at last, his panic is justified. In killing Carl, Barnabas trades the life of one Collins for many. If Barnabas goes, so do Quentin and David and who knows who else. It’s time. It’s time for this story to step outside the pleasant slow burn of the soap opera model, own up to its own stakes, and make things happen. Quentin accepts Barnabas for who he is, Carl is an understandable casualty of realpolitiks, and Trask faces down Barnabas with a bold fidelity to his faith.

It’s a four-man powerhouse of storytelling. Each character evolves and takes chances that define and redefine themselves. Barnabas reclaims the feral sense of strategy that established him on his release in 1967, but with values in line with something larger than addressing his immediate pain and loss. He even dares Trask to saddle him with Carl’s murder. A rousing gesture, but an irrelevant one because Trask, justified in his hunt, has him dead to rights, despite the paucity of eyewitness evidence. When Barnabas shrinks from his cross, there is no more proof that matters. Those fine points of who-didn’t-see-what are all words, words, words under the reality of the Damoclean sunrise.

Quentin does his part as well, and this episode is a microcosmic portrait of both his overall journey and what makes him the series’ second protagonist -- yet he never loses his essential gift for guile. He goes from melancholic repose with his companion music to smugly condescending to Trask’s self-serving sense of justice. From there, he sets aside fear to see Barnabas for the man within the monster, and even collaborates to cover Carl’s death with a fittingly unsentimental show of theatrical relish, not just enacting the con, but reveling in it.

Jonathan Frid, David Selby, Jerry Lacy, and John Karlen (in his final turn as Carl, his most unusual character) all seem to know that this is an episode of substance and almost rambunctious, driven meaning for the characters. Like the writing that enflames the installment, there is a confidence in their acting. Each man, undistracted, performs with the honest solidity of performers who know their characters and take them to inevitable destinations. That sense of inevitability is not an end, Carl excluded, but a beginning. Each man has a mandate to reveal his ultimate essence, and what results is like a series of Rorschach blots that unfold with the recognizable universality of a tarot deck.

Three years after filming began, 770 was captured on that soundstage. Dark Shadows has gone from a take of ambiguity and anxiety in a darkly domestic expanse to a tight chamber piece where each player defines himself with finality and yet, above all, possibility. Always possibility.

Except for Carl.

This episode hit the airwaves June 20, 1969.

Monday, June 10, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 10


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 779

When Quentin learns Barnabas’ secret, the results could be deadly… but for which Collins? Carl Collins: John Karlen. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Barnabas mourns for Rachel, and thus, another Josette, when Angelique warns him to turn away from his mission in 1897. Quentin, after hearing of the powers of Petofi’s hand, learns of Barnabas’ secret hibernation chamber from Carl, and then promptly locks the snitch within. Magda begs Angelique for help, but Angelique says that Barnabas must learn for himself. What lesson? I suppose that he can’t rely on her to consistently mess up his life. She does this by refusing help that could end it. Carl escapes before the vampire rises, vowing that tonight would be the last night of Barnabas Collins.

In a long, long list of Episodes with Everything, 779 barges in like Ethel Merman as the Widow Loman and demands that attention be paid. As a viewer, I am the most eager of Borgnines.

It begins with triumph, as Barnabas reassures Magda that the Dirk Danger is gone and then visits the cemetery to reflect. Because he’s that kind of hero. A Josette is once again dead, and Barnabas’ trip to Rachel Drummond’s grave to take cosmic responsibility for her death now has the regularity of Otis checking himself into the Mayberry jail. Angelique visits, and what follows is another beautifully tense and romantic two-hander between Jonathan Frid and Lara Parker. He insists he stay in 1897, and she reassures him that the worst is yet to come. She shows a strange devotion. He not only represses the urge to set her on fire again, maybe having gotten it out of his system on his last trip to 1795, but he is deaf to her warning. What’s tantalizing, especially having seen the series before, is contemplating what she has seen. What does she know? Is this the Final Angelique in a timeline where Barnabas never (so far) went to 1840? It raises more questions that it answers. The easiest resolution is that she’s just lying. But why would she do that? Maybe she knows that reincarnation is on its fastest cycle and that Kitty Hampshire is already on a steamer and headed for town. Because it’s an eventual ticket back to 1795, again, more inevitable heartbreak, and a breakfast with Oberon and Haza.

More than likely, she’s speaking of the coming of Count Petofi. With the shoutout to the older part of the series out of the way, thanks to Laura and Dirk’s deaths, the show is wasting no time moving along to the main event, which is the Count. Count Petofi and the Leviathans are unique threats on the series, making the Collinses more bystanders than related targets, and this feels like an initiative for the show’s future storytelling that never came through. Nevertheless, Magda’s mention of Petofi’s hand and King Johnny Romano instantly expands the world of Dark Shadows beyond Collinsport, and still it’s woefully inadequate to prepare us for what is to come. And that would ruin the surprise. But honestly, little can adequately brace (or spoil) audiences for the rollicking banquet Dan Curtis would grill up over the the next dozen-plus weeks of 1969, which had to be the greatest three months to be a kid in the history of ditching summer reading for something actually interesting. Take that, Herman Hesse, and the Demian you rode in on. Sam Hall and Gordon Russell -- you know, writers with a gift for interesting storytelling -- led the charge with the Count and the King (and probably Basie and Presley, too) to make the Dark Shadows universe feel global while keeping it all in the familiar climes of Collinsport. In a metaphysical sense, the exchange that Magda and Angelique have, where the witch belittles the soothsayer’s amateur abilities, likewise solidifies the show as one where soapy cattiness over who-flirted-with-whom has been replaced by one-upping over the occult.

Finally, Quentin chooses between brothers. And he chooses properly. Sometimes, you go with the vampire for the block and the win. True or false, Paul… there is a cutting irony to Carl nearly dying by what can be read as the ultimate practical joke, borrowing his own gun to lock him in the vampire’s bedroom that he was tattling about moments before?

It all depends on where Barnabas bites first, Peter.

That notwithstanding, it’s a defining moment for Quentin and, considering where Barnabas was two years before, the series as well. 

This episode hit the airwaves June 19, 1969.
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