Wednesday, July 31, 2019

"Builder Creates Haunted House," 1966

Builder Creates Haunted House
Dec. 18, 1966

Sy Tomashoff's house is dark and brooding. Pale light filters through the stained glass windows, casting eerie shadows on the foyer balcony. At the foot of the stairs, a baroque grandfather's clock guards the entrance to the drawing room, where ranged family portraits are fitfully lit by flames from the massive fireplace. Somber velvet flutter funerally, moved by sudden gusts from the latticed windows.

This is a house filled with srxx»ks ami mystery, and Sy Tomashoff has designed it exclusively for TV's "Dark Shadows," the daytime suspense drama that is seen weekdays (4-4:30 p.m.)

Tomashoff's interior sets for Collinwood, the huge stone mansion where ghosts walk and evil lurks behind the balustrades, are probably the most detailed scemc works in daytime television. Months before the show went on the air, be was exploring antique shops, art galleries and even junk yards to create his 19th century manse.

"The prototype for Collinwood is a great, Gothic-styled estate in Newport, R.I.," said Tomashoff. "The object was to carry over that kind of mood and architecture in our studio sets. especially in the permanent ones of the foyer and drawing room."

Each of these two rooms are 18 feet high, and because they are built three-dimensionally, they create a massive look in a very limited space. Light and shadow play on the mantlepiece, the candelabra and the face of Joan Bennett, who stars as the mistress of this macabre house, set in a tiny fishing village in Maine.

"According to the story line, the house was built in the 19th century, so we had to find and create material typical of the era," explained Tomashoff. "In addition to the paintings, which are authentically of the period, we made stained glass windows by painting transparent color on plastic. Balustardes and newel posts were built and walls were antiqued and glazed to lend a stony effect. Much of the wallpaper was imported from England."

Sy Tomashoff is a small, jovial-looking man who might never be suspected of creating a set in which a ghost of a drowned man appears draped in seaweed. Nor would one expect to find him rummaging through a junkyard, rounding up eight identical sets of door knobs.

It's a parody, wrapped in a mystery, inside an enigma

It's possible some of you saw the "TapedLive" image and didn't get the reference. (I got into one argument with a reader on Facebook about whether or not "TapedLive" was spelled correctly.) It's also likely some of you got the reference, but didn't know there was more to it than a parody of a 1987 punk album. So here's a primer: Evilive was an impossibly short (13 minutes!) live album released by the Misfits in 1987.  (The album was actually an expanded version of an EP released by the band five years earlier.) The second release featured cover art, most likely created by the band's frontman Glenn Danzig, that was a riff on the 1957 Roger Corman movie The Undead.

I love the Misfits. I love Dark Shadows. I ... um, respect Roger Corman. So this felt like a natural fit. You can see a reverse evolution of the concept below. If you like it, head on over to my Redbubble store and browse my other works. Warning: There be monsters on the other side! LINK.

Monday, July 29, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 29


Taped on this date in 1978: Episode 556

When Nicholas Blair announces his plan to unleash an army of satanic supermen, will Barnabas be blackmailed into the oddest job of all? Angelique: Lara Parker. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Nicholas announces his plan to rule the world. To execute it, he must have Julia Hoffman create a race just like Adam. But she is controlled by Barnabas, and so he must be controlled by his concern for Victoria, which gets manipulated by the theft of her engagement ring.

It’s that time of year again, when we commemorate the accidental destruction of the Collinwood set, which occurred when a cleaning went awry. Due to that, it's a special time for the show, where the action moves either to the Old House or the house by the sea, and just as the viewers are on summer vacation, it feels a bit like the show is, also. Humbert Allen Astredo and Lara Parker sport lovely tans and even Jonathan Frid is playing Barnabas’ nervousness with an easygoing air. It’s almost Dark Shadows: Live at the Sands. However, it has a sense of discipline and focus that keeps the episode true to the show. The episode also features Lara Parker’s first appearance as a vampire, and she makes a delightful one. She was always more than capable of playing a seductress. Now, she has to. Girl’s gotta eat. And the fact that she must resort to seduction rather than use it as an occasionally amusing option is an irony that eclipses the obvious one.

The cultural influences running around in 556 are as abundant as the number of moving pieces in Nicholas’ plan. But, coming out just a year after You Only Live Twice, the Bond influence, shown through Nicholas, is true CinemaScope. It’s a plan only a madman could brew up -- and not because it involves a proposed satanic army of reanimated corpse descendents. That’s already in the Collinsport city budget. That’s covered. No, it begins to fray at the edges when it relies on a scientist who doesn’t know what she’s really doing. Who’s controlled by an ex-vampire who wants nothing to do with any of it. See, he’ll control the doctor, who’ll control the production of the atom age army of supermen. But the ex-vampire will be controlled by Vicki, who’ll be controlled by the first reanimated patchwork corpse man. Angelique will control them all… kind of. But she’s a resentful vampire who steered clear of the Vicki: 1795 storyline, so how reliable is that?

556 presents the show’s most Rube Goldberg scheme, crying out for the oompapa brand of Danny Elfman music. Prior to this, I’d questioned Nicholas’ morals, but never his sanity. Now? I fully expect him to be selling pants for fish before the week is out. The lynchpin of the whole thing is having Angelique stop trying to bite the hunky new sheriff’s deputy long enough to put on a costume and terrify Vicki as a flesh and blood ghost of herself. At that point, she strongarms Vicki into giving up her engagement ring from Jeff Clark or Peter Bradford. (Candy mint, breath mint, pick one, pick both. Gotta catch’em all.) You see, Nicholas needs to give Adam the ring. And when he does, I’d say it’s darned romantic looking. So then Adam takes the ring to Barnabas to convince him that Nicholas means business. Or something like that. I had a nosebleed and passed out somewhere in the middle of describing that.

The world had been clamoring for a James Bond/Brady Bunch/Munsters crossover. Be careful what you wish for. In this case, they pull off the strangeness beautifully. Every single moment is controlled with astonishing discipline. At any point, any of this could’ve descended into camp. Instead, it skims millimeters above the surface, never so much as getting a droplet. It’s easy to say that Dark Shadows is renowned for pulling off this kind of stunt, but in this episode, they top even themselves.

What’s most important is that Nicholas Blair will return.

This episode hit the airwaves Aug. 12, 1968.

Friday, July 26, 2019

Dark Shadows returns to Sleepy Hollow ...

This year is the 200th anniversary of Washington Irving’s classic American ghost story, “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow." In October, the Sleepy Hollow Film Festival will be celebrating the story's artistic legacy ... and they'll be doing it in a big, big way.

SHIFF has so many activities planed for the weekend of Oct. 10-13 that I'm not even going to attempt to summarize them all here. (You can sort through the details at the festival's official website, It's worth noting that Dana Gould is bringing his live Plan 9 from Outer Space show (and Bob Goldthwait!) to the festival, but there will also be a showcase for Dark Shadows that weekend. Both House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows were shot in Tarrytown, New York, and the nearby Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and the Dark Shadows Festival frequently set up shop in Tarrytown over the years.

To celebrate Collinsport's connection to the Washington Irving tale, Jim Pierson, longtime curator of the franchise and producer of the documentary Master of Dark Shadows (and other guests to be announced) dig deep into the private archives of Dan Curtis Productions to present a never-before-seen look behind the House and Night.

Stay tuned for more details about SHFF's A Salute to Dark Shadows event.

Thursday, July 25, 2019

Creative Vandalism: Suspiria ephemera

Joan Bennett made only two theatrical films in the 1970s. Both of them -- 1970s House of Dark Shadows and 1977's Suspiria -- were horror movies, a genre she had previously avoided like the plague. Both moves have been remade in recent years (Tim Burton's 2012 Dark Shadows and Luca Guadagnino's 2018 Suspiria) to delightfully devisive results. And both remakes improbably featured Chloë Grace Moretz, a bit of trivia that will likely give rise to a tumor if you dwell too long upon it.

Above is a screenshot of a Facebook comment about my Inappropriate Gold Key movie adaptions post from earlier in the week. I created cover art from some 1970s comicbook adaptions of movies you absolutely don't want your kids to see, which prompted the response about Harry Potter. It kind of blew my mind and inspired me to create a movie poster for Guadagnino's Suspiria that targeted the Hogwarts crowd.

For something that was rattled off in about half an hour, I was mostly happy with it. But it also made me realize something: I've created a LOT of Suspria-related weirdness over the years. Nobody's really taken much notice in them, but they make me happy. So here's a collection (and it's not even everything!) of the Suspria ephemera that's sprung from my diseased imagination.

Wednesday, July 24, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 24


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1070

Can Barnabas forgive Julia’s seduction by a malevolent phantom before a sheriff from the future exacts vengeance? Professor Stokes: Thayer David. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas awakens to the sheriff trying to kill him. Surviving that, he meets with Julia and despite her intermittent control by Gerard, reassures her of his loyalty. Stokes soon perishes from spectral attacks after a seance, and Barnabas and Julia flee through a Time Staircase that takes them back to 1970, where a very loud young blonde girl demands to know who they are.

Blood, thunder, and all good things (unless you’re Professor Stokes) arrive in episode 1070, both wrapping up 1995 and using it as a launchpad for the series’ darkest and most daring storyline. Make no mistake, it’s also drenched in enough sexual subtext and, well, text, to send all of Little Rock diving under pews.

This is a period of intense episodes, where our characters are pushed to their limits, divulging nervous truths and betraying themselves and others the way they always feared was inevitable. They are our heroes and under circumstances of total, existential doom. It remains a challenging storyline to watch because it removes the one constant of the series: Collinwood will always be home. Well, no it won’t. In other news, friends and family members of viewers were being shot at in Vietnam, and the joy of the moon landings was losing altitude. Dark Shadows was as much a product of the Zeitgeist as it was a producer of it. When Barnabas declares his fealty to Julia, he means it, but there is also a halfheartedness and desperation lingering under the words that betrays their lack of steel.

Rather than waft around the edges of the plot and slowly insinuate his evil, as did his predecessors in villainy on the show, Gerard wages a full-on assault as his calling card. And after the Leviathan lethargy and a Parallel Time villainess who wasn’t necessarily there, he’s a welcomed change -- direct and unambiguous. The heroes will have enough ambiguity of their own production in facing him. Julia shows us that in a display of vulnerability that sums up Gerard’s power with exactitude. She’s betrayed Barnabas for Gerard and… I think she kind of liked it. There’s a fear that she’ll do it again, and the fear under the surface that I sense is that she will want to do it again.

And if this isn’t reeking of sexual guilt, I don’t know what is. Barnabas even greets Julia after her seizure by Gerard by remarking that Julia has “been with him.” Okay, it’s as good a verb as any, but coming from Jonathan Frid, it has a sense of Victorian reproach that combines disturbingly with Grayson Hall’s tightly strung guilt. Her sickened fear at her own potential for harming Barnabas is a disturbing admission of weakness from the doctor. Thanks to James Storm’s oily intensity, it’s easy to see why Julia is drawn in and just as easy to see why she seems to feel so dirty about it. Gerard seems to inspire his victims to not only engineer their own destructions, but to want to do so. He is unique in villains in that sense. Gerard is a master in the judo of encouraged self-harm. He is the voice that makes you so curious about jumping off that balcony that it seems almost inevitable. Humans are masters of self-destruction. All Gerard does is get out of the way. And cheer them on.

Thayer David will have more episodes as Eliot Stokes, but knowing that doesn’t remove the shock of his endlessly sudden death. 1080 also introduces the Time Staircase, a bizarre invention of the writers that is quintessentially Victorian in its vague unlikeliness. However, with trips to other time periods becoming more common than a quick stop at the Blue Whale, it’s tremendously economical. More than that, it’s fun. Leave it to Dark Shadows to make a dark, shameful, existential apocalypse a FUN, dark, shameful, existential apocalypse.

This episode hit the airwaves July 31, 1970.

Tuesday, July 23, 2019

Inappropriate Gold Key movie adaptions

First off, House of Dark Shadows is not a movie for kids. There were probably a lot of legal reasons Gold Key never folded a comic book adaption of the film into their ongoing Dark Shadows series, but face it ... that movie was one faked suicide away from getting slammed with an R rating.

But hey! I don't recognize the authority of the Motion Picture Association of America or the Comics Code, so I can do whatever I want. So I mocked up a cover of what Gold Key's adaption for House of Dark Shadows might have looked like. From there, the idea evolved into increasingly darker directions ... my instinct was to arrange these covers in order of inappropriateness, but that was more difficult than it looks. So here they are. Click on them to see larger images.

Monday, July 22, 2019

Dark Shadows returns to the pages of Fangoria


If you're reading this, you love probably Dark Shadows. It takes a certain level of emotional commitment to follow a television series that went off the air almost 50 years ago, so "love" might not even be a strong enough word. Since its relaunch last fall, Fangoria has been exploring our intense, tangled relationships with media, showcasing such gorgeous weirdos as Roy Rose (who moved his family from Cleveland to Texas to restore the gas station from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) and Kenny Caperton (who created a life-sized replica of the Myers House from John Carpenter's Halloween.) In the latest issue of Fangoria, comedian Dana Gould and I join their ranks.

Issue #4 of Fangoria hits the stands this Wednesday (July 24) and features a lengthy chat between Dana and myself about the enduring appeal of Dark Shadows in the magazine's "Lifers" feature. Look for copies of this issue in your local comic book store. If you don't have access to a comic store, the issue is also available from Amazon HERE. (Note: If you want the issue, you might want to act fast. Copies are already appearing on Ebay at an inflated price.)

Below is a sneak peak at the Dark Shadows feature. The idea was that if Dana had a portrait hanging in Collinwood, it ought to look like the work of Basil Gogos or James Bama, so I opted for a psychedlic/pop art color scheme. (You might want to take a second look at the signature on the portrait, though.)

If you've got interests other than Dark Shadows, the latest issue also includes a conversation between Jordan Peele and Ari Aster (the director responsible of last year's Hereditary and this year's Midsommar) interviews with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark director André Øvredal and author Joe Hill, essays by Damien Echols and Alexandre Aja and more. How I got invited to this party is anyone's guess.

And don't let the cover price spook you. $20 might seem a little steep for a "magazine," but Fangoria's new format feels more like a book than a floppy. Squarebound and 100 pages in length, you're going to be reading this issue until the next one comes out in October. You can pick up a yearly subscription to the magazine (at a discount!) at

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Kolchak: The Night Stalker gets down and dirty

It's been a few minutes since we last updated the website. Personal obligations have temporarily taken most of us away from Collinsport for a spell, but we'll be firing on all cylinders again soon. In the meantime, enjoy some creative vandalsim concerning Gold Key comics and the misadventures of an intrepid reporter whose name you probably know. No, they aren't real ... but they ought to be.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Denise Nickerson talks Flipper, dentures and arithmetic, 1965

Denise Nickerson, perhaps best known for playing bratty Violet Beauregarde in 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, died last week following a “major medical emergency.” She was 62.

When Nickerson joined the cast of Dark Shadows in 1968, the 11-year-old found herself in the not-uncommon position of having more acting credits to her name than some of her adult co-stars. It's possible Denise kept track of her early stage credits (a few are documented in the story below) but it might be impossible to track down all of her work prior to joining the cast of Dark Shadows. A cursory glance at some of the press she received before turning 10 include performances with Betsy Palmer in Peter Pan, Maurice Chevalier, and Gypsy with Gisèle MacKenzie.

Below is an interview with Nickerson published in 1965 by The Miami News about the less-than-glamorous life of a child model and actor. It also mentions her upcoming appearnace on Flipper in the episode "Bud Minds the Baby," which aired March 20. (Note: The episode was directed by none other than Ricou Browning, who had the title role in Creature from the Black Lagoon.) You can watch the episode at the bottom of this post.

False Teeth Come In Handy For Big Little-Time Star
By Agnes Edwards, reporter for The Miami News
Published Jan. 3, 1965

Denise Nickerson doesn't smile a lot just now, she explains, " 'cuz my three teeth are out."

This may be cute in some 7-year-olds but it's not if you're a bigtime entertainer-model like little Denise.

"I ate a Jelly bean on Easter," she pointed to a conspicuous void where a lower incisor  had been, "and this one came out."

Exposing an upper central area that was even more conspicuous, she added, "This one someone took out." Another lower tooth had been loosened through some peculiar happenstance, and was noticeably missing.

When she's on a photographic assignment where it matters, Denise pops a spring partial into her mouth — presto, a big smile with front tooth intact.

Her false replacement arrived in time for Christmas incidentally, along with a bike.

"Everything started when I was 2 1/2," offered the charmingly precocious daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick H. Nickerson, Coral Gables, about her career.

She modeled for some utility ads followed by an educational film, and other advertising including a sun tan lotion, plus local fashion shows.

Simultaneously the brown-eyed, red-blonde lass took dancing lessons from Joe Michael, appearing in many of his local shows in jazz and tap specialties.

At Ruth Foreman's Studio M, Denise built up a repertoire that included "The Littlest Angel," "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," "Eloise" and "Crazy Red" ("It's a funny name," she insists, "but that's what it was!") There too she won a year's study scholarship in acting.

Those who saw "Sound of Music" at Bary College recently will have recognized the most diminutive member of the cast, Gretel, impersonated by Denise Nickerson.

Her performance was carefully noted by Beverly McDermott, agent for Mercury Artists,who immediately corralled Denise for the little girl role of Tina in the televised "Flipper" series now on location in Miami and North Miami Beach.

She is a perfection-seeking student of voice instructor Ladislao Vaida of the University of Miami, and studies dance routines under Jack Stanly.

"My favorite number is 'Straw Hat And A Cane,'" confided Denise, which she often includes in her benefit performances at Veterans, Variety Children's Hospital and The Cerebral Palsy Center. Another popular song and dance act she does is as Rocky the Squirrel.

The report card of Gulliver Academy's star second grader is sprinkled generously with A's and A-pluses. "My best grade is in writing," admitted Denise, "but I like arithmetic better." Memorization is a snap.

Her goal is to become a movie star like Shirley Temple, and to go on stage in New York — "but not until after college, " she added. "When I grow up I'm going to Barry College — if it's still there."

When not biking or frisking with Dennis, her apricot poodle (who "is always getting into trouble" like the Menace variety) she drills her big sister, Patti, 20, in dance routines.

"Patti's pretty good," plauds Little Teacher. "Sometimes she wants to boss but that's all right."

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Denise Nickerson 1957-2019


Denise Nickerson (1957-2019) was a consummate professional, and a mature, lively actress. But those only hint at her primary contribution to Dark Shadows. Her primary contribution truly was that, over and over, even after acting was no longer a part of her career, she was us.

Born in 1957, Nickerson was nearly twelve when she joined the cast of the Dark Shadows, putting her squarely in the demographic of the show’s most passionate viewers and future ambassadors. Her first character, Amy Jennings, was a stranger to Collinwood — a miniature Victoria Winters — just like the viewers. Brave, clever, resourceful, and articulate, the character was nobody’s Mary Sue. It was an easy leap for young fans of that era to see themselves as Amy, and the strength of the character was a compliment to fans, writers, and specifically, Nickerson, herself. On Dark Shadows and in her other most famous project, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Nickerson handled the fantastic with a sense of theatrical size and relatable humanity that sold both projects. Yes, her characters could have the narcissism expected of characters that age, but Nickerson gave them each a vivid sympathy that made them instantly likable and relatable. Her second DS character, Nora, provides Quentin with the impetus to clean up his act, making her Sarah to his Barnabas. Just as Quentin was an earthier character than his cousin, Nora was a similar evolution, and Nickerson took us there with truth and heart.

After a string of questionably rewarding roles and the knowledge that her parents squandered her earnings as a performer, Nickerson retired from show business to take a series of clerical and support jobs, marry twice, and become a mom. In that sense, she continued to mirror and represent the lives of so many of the hardworking, suburban fans who had identified with her as children. Nickerson had a number of medical challenges in her adult life, making her familiar with pain and survival. After suffering a stroke in 2018, she died one year later after falling into a coma.

Dark Shadows had no shortage of talent, much of which is contained primarily within the walls of Collinwood. Nickerson’s achievements go outside and into diverse branches of popular entertainment. We admire her not just for what she represented on the show, but for how she represented the show beyond.