Wednesday, November 20, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: NOVEMBER 20


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 633/634

When Nicholas presents Maggie as his Satanic spouse and life force candidate, can Barnabas defeat him before his master race becomes a reality? Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Nicholas conducts a black rite that bonds Maggie to him. He takes her to become the life force for Eve. Barnabas, who is already horrified, is made even more so by Maggie’s lovestruck loyalty to Nicholas. As the experiment begins, Maggie’s pain becomes unbearable to watch. Knowing that this is his only chance to end Nicholas once and for all, Barnabas smashes the electrical equipment, killing Eve at last and sending a terrified and powerless Nicholas running. Barnabas gives pursuit with every intent to kill him, but Diabolos claims Nicholas first, as Barnabas laughs at the spectacle. Meanwhile, Maggie revives with Julia, but seems to be in a haze that is connected to her time as a prisoner in the Old House. Will she remember at last? Adam escapes and charges into Collinwood, furious that his mate is no more.

This is the One Where Barnabas Smiles. I mean, really, really smiles. I won’t say he goes all Whoopi Goldberg (in this episode), but he looks robustly happy when Nicholas explodes. I think it happens again in 1897 when he snookers Laura into a trap with the help of Angelique. Normally, Barnabas just looks deeply moved with sincere gratitude at those points when happiness might afflict others.

This is one of my all-time favorite Dark Shadows episodes because of how much progress it shows. Not only does the plot leap with true irreversibility, but the characters change irreversibly as well. Barnabas has two great moments of moral awakening on the show. One is at the beginning of the Adam storyline, while this one is at the end, in this episode. The arc begins when Barnabas is left alone with Jeff Clark, who is about to be mutilated to soften Adam’s appearance. He frees him, although he knows it will probably squash his chances with Vicki. His moral compass is recognized for the first time since Angelique began her campaign. Yes, he continues to help evil enterprises, but a bit like Julia at that point, it is under duress or to serve a larger end. It is in this episode that this stops. He has already selected to choose good over evil, personally. But here, he goes beyond selecting good actions for himself to preventing evil being visited upon others. All told, this is a helluva journey to go on in what, for Barnabas, is about a year (not counting suspended animation) or less from when Angelique cursed him.

The cast is having a disciplined blast in this one, and the writers give them plenty of TNT. Humbert Allen Astredo must have been well loved. His last episode begins with a satanic wedding ceremony and ends with him being consumed by hellfire. In between, he induces coronaries, gloats, wins, loses, and finds that his powers have been sapped. He does almost everything an actor can do in a four hour play yet pulls it off in 23 minutes. Meanwhile, Kathryn Leigh Scott plays both an icy, occult loyalist and a spell-struck Josette as the whammy leaves her. She looks like she’s having a ball as well, and she works in two kinds of menace. Her Kool-Aid drunken loyalty to Nicholas motivates Barnabas by making him equally jealous and mortified.

The man of the hour, however, is Jonathan Frid. Barnabas has spent months in hesitant apprehension. He wrung his hands so much, I’m amazed he graduated from the show with any fingerprints left. However, here he gets to indulge in inner conflict that turns into passionate action. Months of a story finally explodes into seconds of resolution, and Frid seems more refreshed and energetic than he has in months.

The production is wrapping up sweeps and approaching final exams and Christmas break, making it a perfect time to introduce a more family-oriented story (with Amy and Chris) and lay the grounds for the next big thing… Quentin Collins.

This episode was broadcast Nov. 27, 1968.

Monday, November 18, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: November 18


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 631

Nicholas pulls out all the stops, and stakes, when he revives a vampire to ensure the resurrection of a demonic undead vixen to secure a master race for the prince of darkness. Harry Johnson: Craig Slocum. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Nicholas revives Tom as an agent to assist in the revival of Eve. After unsuccessfully attacking Victoria, and after being investigated by his own brother, Chris Jennings, Tom is hunted down by Barnabas who incinerates him in the sunrise.

Dark Shadows 631 could not be any manlier if it were written by Robert Bly and featured a drumming circle of Bill Malloy, Sam Evans, and Istvan. I guess I could like the episode more if you threw in Count Petofi being instructed in Zumba by the curvaceous Chuck Morgan to a tune by Jerry Reed, but other than that, this episode has reached the scientific limit for entertainment. If we experienced any more, it would have the side effects that top scientists warned pilots they would experience if they broke the sound barrier. Especially while wearing that, thank you very much. It’s after Labor Day. Have some decorum, General Yeager. Have some decorum.

It’s a laundry list of delight. (And just to check, has anyone here ever listed their laundry? I haven’t. It’s all I can do to get it into a bag.) first of all, we have not one, but two Don Briscoes, with the revival of Tom being followed hot on the hindpaws of his brother, Chris. What would’ve happened to Chris if Tom had attacked him? Would Chris become all the more powerful? Would the werewolf part neutralize the vampire part? If someone got bit, would they only become a werewolf if they had been bitten during the full moon, or at any point in the lunar cycle? Or does he stop craving blood when he becomes a werewolf? I’m sure they’ve solved this in the Bloodlines portion of Second Life, but who plays that? With our luck, that’s where David Henesy has been all along.

The beginning is terrific, because Nicolas Blair goes to revive Tom Jennings, which he does by pulling the stake out of his heart. And he’s perfectly preserved! He’s just like some kind of human pen and pencil set. Except he’s not human and that’s neither a Ticonderoga in his chest, nor is he just glad to see us. Nicholas warned him that if he should defy him in any way, Tom would be sentenced to eternal damnation. And I guess it’ll really be eternal this time. Not semi-eternal or temporarily-eternal like it was the last time. The inclusion of Tom and Chris in the same episode feels like a kind of stunt, but I admire it, and it’s the sort of muscle flexing that feels like a warm up to the hijinks that would become routine in 1897.

An attack on Victoria leads to Barnabas finally telling her that yes, there are vampires. Now, it’s not like I’m an expert on the series who has gone for long stints writing about it every day. But you know, I would be amazed if Victoria had not gotten the memo of at least a rumor of vampires somewhere along the line. Maybe in 1795 or something? I’m pretty sure she had Barnabas‘s number when she came back. At least, you know, the “cousin.“ Anyway, it’s a new actress in the part so I assume that Barnabas is filling her in as one of the most meta-acts of the series. Speaking of new actresses, it’s time for my annual crush on Betsy Durkin to return. There, I said it. She’s got brains and intensity and, honestly, looks like she has the capacity to understand pretty darn quickly. I’m not comparing her with anyone. Except that she looks a lot like Julia Louis Dreyfus, which is a good thing. But I’m not comparing her with anyone on the show. Or who was on the show. Wink wink. Her brief tenure is a welcome sight for me. And maybe it’s just because of novelty. Even if you have a great homeroom teacher, nothing beats a permissive substitute.

 After Barnabas and Nicholas have words, it feels as if Blake Edwards took over as director. First of all, Nicholas Blair officially becomes the frustrated mirror for Barnabas. Digging up bodies. Assisted by an ineffectual redneck with a phallic name. You can almost see Nicholas thinking, “I knew I signed up for the wrong team. He gets Willie Loomis. The best I get? Harry Johnson. And a useless one, at that.”

Eventually you have, within the same 8 feet of woods, Nicholas and Harry, secretly followed by Barnabas, secretly followed by Tom Jennings. At some point, it stops being a Dark Shadows episode and becomes a Jack Davis poster for the mid-70’s Buck Henry film adaptation.

Not to say that pathos doesn’t enter the picture. Barnabas goes full on Peter Cushing van Helsing when he destroys Tom Jennings, mit crossed candlesticks at daybreak. And Tom has one of the most logical lines ever spoken on Dark Shadows. Barnabas stands there telling Tom how painful the sunrise is going to be, as if Tom is supposed to do something other than suffer within it, and Tom simply says, “then don’t do it to me!” And you know, he has an excellent point. But unfortunately, Barnabas is too much in the moment to ask something like, “Do you have an alternative to suggest?“

The entire line between the dead and the undead has always been heavily blurred, at best, but there was a poignant and painful irony as Tom died, screaming “Let me live! Let me live!”

 At that moment, I didn’t know if he were asking to simply be allowed to continue surviving as a vampire, brought back from a second death only to be tortured back to death again in the space of a few hours, or if he were asking to legitimately live, meaning to never have been a vampire in the first place. How many vampires would ask the same thing? Because we see them speaking and displaying feelings and passions, we are never given a deep chance to contemplate the metaphysical significance of un-death. As much as they are known for drinking blood to survive, there is and must be a profoundly wrong and ultimately alienated essence to being a vampire. People long to be vampires. The hours are great. The wardrobe works. Rent is minimal. But I wonder if the real reason we identify with them is because we all, to some extent, feel separated from this concept of “living” that seems to be shared like an inside joke by everyone else.   The vampire wears otherness like a badge of, if not honor, at least honesty.

Ultimately, Tom Jennings’ final plea is the plea of all of us. It is a quest for Barnabas that only begins with Dr. Lang’s cure.

This episode was broadcast Nov. 25, 1968.

Friday, November 15, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: November 15


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 367

After a seance thrusts Victoria backwards in time, she must contend with a representative of morality who tries to burn her clothing. Abigail Collins: Clarice Blackburn. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Victoria awakens to a suspicious Abigail, who wastes no time in proclaiming her to be possessed by Satan. The governess then visits an unfinished Collinwood, where she meets the dashing Jeremiah. Later, after the family debates taking her on as Sarah’s tutor, Victoria wins the job.

367 is an episode that holds a strange magic. Victoria is back in 1795, and, instead of just fainting and being carted off to her room, actually takes action exploring the world and carving a little place in it. She even challenges Abigail on the insanity of her religious fanaticism. In the space of 22 minutes, Victoria shows more gumption, drive, and nerve than she's probably displayed in the entire series and finally earns legitimate recognition as the heroine of the show. Since Barnabas will spend months as someone tantamount to a hapless victim, if not simply a hapless victim, Victoria becomes the lead we've been hoping to see for the past sixteen months.

The prior episode, which introduces Victoria to 1795, is even more magical, but it is so surreal and intoxicating that it feels like the dream for which Vicki mistakes it. In 367, we awaken from the dream, as does Victoria, and we find that it's still real. Bracingly so. From the start of 367, the show is off to the races. 366 finds Jonathan Frid trying a bit too hard to be the Blue Boy come to life, playing a wide-eyed innocence which is incompatible with his mordant, Canadian wit. An episode or two in, and Frid will be in his element. The only one in 367 who seems as ill-at-ease is Anthony George, and it never seems to take for him. Contrast this with Clarice Blackburn, who finally has a part worthy of her pointy and acerbic talent. She's like the bitter, hypocritical wives in the domestic WC Fields movies, and she will find a way to keep that shtick fresh until Barnabas does her in, months from now. Of course, Joan Bennett is finally playing to her strengths and reads like she walked right off the set of Man in the Iron Mask. In all of this, lends a touch of MGM grandeur to the proceedings. Most of all, Louis Edmonds is completely transformed as Joshua. It's the toughest role in the storyline to play. It requires him to be a stiff, unyielding representative of the double standard while still having a compassionate heart buried deep somewhere. His take on the job interview with Victoria lacks a script as funny as the one that will be perfected for the 1990 series, but the strange mixture of fairness and frugality in it makes for great TV.

Likewise, Lela Swift is composing shots and using lighting with a creativity and sense of art far beyond what we usually expect from her and hurriedly-assembled daytime soap operas. There's a unique thrill for Dark Shadows fans in seeing Collinwood still under construction, and the early morning sun with which it is lit gives an old set a brand-spanking-new aura. Back at the not-yet-Old House, in the scene where the family is considering whether or not to take on Victoria, Swift paints one meaningful screen picture after another. She lines up the characters from most skeptical to least, often balancing the screen picture with them. These are small touches, completely unnecessary for the practical job, but they have a sense of art that is clearly inspired by the unique nature of the episode. An incredibly complicated set of given circumstances is communicated with economy and panache.

1795, as a storyline, is as much about the mixed-blessing necessity of compromises as it is about anything. Barnabas compromises with Angelique. The entire family compromises with Abigail until it’s too late. But we also see Victoria compromise with Joshua and her own sense of honor as she lies her way into survival. A new skill for the usually honorable governess. She’s spent a year and a half as the measure of purity against which we judge the dirty hands of her fellow characters. Now, seeing life in a true survival mode, she’ll finally gain the skills and make the choices to ultimately understand. And figure out how to play the clavichord.

This episode was broadcast Nov. 21, 1967.

Wednesday, November 13, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: November 13


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 365

When Sarah begins appearing in David’s bedroom, Vicki travels back to 1795 to straighten her hash out. Vicki: Alexandra Moltke. (Repeat; 30 min.)

To address Sarah’s ubiquity, Barnabas reluctantly agrees to participate in a seance. Of course, a blackout results in Vicki changing places with the original governess, Phyllis Wick… from 1795. This is precisely where Vicki finds herself.

We are one episode away from 1795, which is when the future began.

Dark Shadows is taking a television show on vacation for the first time since Lucy. If Desi had jumped off the balcony of the Tropicana Club, Ethel had tried Harpo Marx for witchcraft, and Fred Mertz had posed around the set in Nathan Forbes’ first trousers (don’t claim you don’t know what I’m talking about), would I Love Lucy and the 1795 storyline be synonymous? My work is done.

It’s also a move more daring than the introduction of Barnabas, himself. We are sampling the core of Dark Shadows; everything else is watching Dan Curtis forge new alloys with the metal found in this mine. If this is the show’s first ultimate trip, 365 is like watching the main characters pack. Of course, none but one are going, and they are all going, in a certain sense. Curtis and his company are not just giving us a last glimpse before the trip, but he’s also getting ready for next spring and their return.

The return from 1795 is a reboot for the show.  Yes, it’s Dark Shadows, but it knows it’s Dark Shadows. It knows its bread and butter is Barnabas, and he’s evolved into a hero. Of course, villains make the best heroes because they have more choices in front of them, and thus, a greater capacity for action. At this point, the producers make a point of having him soft-pedal the evil in favor of seeing him reflect in 365 that this life is not one that he chose. Gee, Barnabas, what do you mean? And cue time travel. It almost makes me wonder if Sarah’s recent appearance were a cosmic preparation for the journey back. Not to prepare the characters so much as the audience. And why not a seance as the time machine? Dark Shadows never exactly ran on practicality. Here, more than anywhere, it runs on metaphor.

Here, we see a mix of who the characters have been and who they’ll become upon Vicki’s return.  Roger is fussy and particular, and yet he has a winning enthusiasm for the whimsy of a séance. Carolyn is merging debutante sophistication with a more sober kind of confidence that she gains after being chosen by Barnabas. She will need that increasing sense of backbone to deal with Adam. Barnabas and Julia are still at each other‘s throats, but the impression of stalemate has never been stronger. Fate has them both by the shorthairs, and they will eventually need each other there to survive. They are not friends. It will take threats like Angelique to forge that relationship, but the potential is finally there.

Sarah is again the catalyst for this major action. It’s appropriate that they exorcise her with this. Indeed, after 1795, I don’t recall her even being mentioned. It’s as if the pipe to the afterlife is clogged up, and all it takes is a seance-driven time trip to unplug it and let the kid through. Sarah is the quintessential Little Girl Lost, and that figure is the driving metaphor of the show until Willie opens the coffin. Liz, lost to guilt. Maggie, lost to an alcoholic father on the wrong side of the lobster boat dock. Carolyn, lost to being one of the only ones on the RIGHT side of the lobster boat dock. And Vicki, completing the Lilith Fair lineup that inaugurated the show, so lost she just doesn’t understand. It’s a central theme to the show and the ultimate ambassador to lonely women at home -- their prime demographic. Ultimately, it was a demographic that wanted a view (of Jonathan Frid) rather than a mirror. Why not burn it out completely by taking Vicki away in time as well as space?

The Collins family rarely met a problem that couldn’t be addressed via seance, and 365 runs with the notion so far and fast that it drops Vicki off in 1795… maybe just because. Perhaps she just wants a friend, and this is ultimately easier than constantly appearing as a ghost. We never see her again because she only has one charge left in the battery… just enough to get Vicki back to 1968. How does she know to do this? It could be that her first act as a ghost was to send Vicki back home after the 1795 trip. Sarah’s engineered time travel before… just kind of backwards.

Few, if any, shows discover themselves as this radically different than they were in their inception. But is it? For Dark Shadows, variety is the point. Where does Vicki go? Dark Shadows? From where has she come?


This episode was broadcast Nov. 17, 1967.

Tuesday, November 12, 2019

A tale of two Dark Shadows posters

One of the highlights of my year was being asked to design the poster for Dark Shadows: Behind the Screams, one of the events at the annual Sleepy Hollow International Film Festival. I wasn't abel to attend the event, which sucked ... but I'm deeply honored to have been asked to participate and hope to make the pilgrimage next year.

The poster you saw wasn't my first idea, though. At the time I'd been riffing on the great James Bama's 1966 promotional painting for Star Trek, which you can see here. I was having fun with that kind of macho-adventure collage, even applying it to Gregory Walcott's character in Plan 9 from Outer Space, promoting his buffoonish character to a level of heroism he doesn't really deserve. I mention all of this just to illustrate where my head was when the offer arrived from the kind people at Sleepy Hollow.

Here's how the first poster looked, seconds before I scrapped it.

There were two significant problems with this version. Sleepy Hollow's Dark Shadows: Behind the Screams featured a visual retrospective of the classic Dark Shadows television series, a Q&A with cast member Kathryn Leigh Scott, as well as a screening of 1970's House of Dark Shadows" Scott appears in both versions of the poster, but there remained a significant problem with the first draft. House of Dark Shadows was shot in Sleepy Hollow and nearby Tarrytown, which needed to feature predominantly in the marketing. I considered a version of this poster with the Lyndhurst Estate (the mansion that served as Collinwood in "House") in place of Seaview Terrace (Collinwood from the television series) but the overall concept of this poster was so inextricably tied to the second year of the series that it no longer made sense. Below is my second effort, and the poster that was ultimately used in the marketing. I'm very happy with how both of them turned out.

Prints of both posters are available from HereticTees Studios HERE.

Monday, November 11, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: November 11


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1149

Barnabas is none too pleased when he discovers that Roxanne has put Trask under her vampiric spell, but will she get the point before daybreak? Randall Drew: Gene Lindsey. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Roxanne attacks Lamar Trask, putting him in her thrall, but Barnabas and Randall rescue him before contemplating Roxanne’s destruction.

As Tom Jennings learned, there’s nothing like being a vampire who is hunted by another vampire to really ruin your day, even if your day is at night. That Barnabas is on the hunt to undo Roxanne is both therapeutic and painful, like a holodeck psychodrama. Symbiotically so. Roxanne is the result of his actions of the past and the present. The act of discovering and hunting her is an exorcism as much as anything. She actually is the Josette who rose as a vampire and is yet another failed love interest, doomed more by bad luck and being in the wrong place at the wrong time than by conscious action. Of course, the fact that she gets to give Trask a little taste of life on the other side of the cemetery wall is a bonus that saves Barnabas the trouble of doing so himself. And of course, the situation is made further therapeutic by the fact that he simply gets to set up her death and leave it to Randall so his hands stay relatively clean. She stands as a sad reminder of his toxicity more than as a foe, tying the inexplicable loss of Parallel Time’s happiness to the mess in which he’s again found himself. Still, as Barnabas engineers her death, we know that 1840 is headed into its final act.

Of course, it’s easy to speculate that, had Roxanne remained necrotically alive and victimizing Trask, she might have taken the eventual blame for all of the bizarre activity at Collinwood, thus saving everyone the trouble of the trial and perhaps even preventing Trask from assassinating Angelique. But no. She may be therapeutic, but she’s no Dr. Sidney, just a bitter reminder both of what Barnabas is trying to escape and what he’ll never have. We once again learn the lesson Dark Shadows frequently extols, namely that taking responsibility for your actions is a good idea only in the abstract. Sometimes, it magnifies the consequences even as it vaguely delays them. In the 60’s, life was easy; when in doubt, blame Willie Loomis. To revert to the class structure so dear to the Weltanschauung of Barnabas? That is Willie’s proper role in life and the proud station into which he was born. But it’s 1840. In his absence, I guess he could blame Laszlo, but that fez brands him as even more ineffectual than Aristide. 

Gene Lindsay is headed towards his final performance, and his appearance as Randall Drew is one of the shows most curious anomalies on a strange checklist. An important character with vital ties to other characters, leading man appeal, and the stalwart, Dan Curtis look. Giving him copious screen time and opportunities to take story changing action only to dump him after five episodes? Rather than seem like a waste, this seems almost like a luxurious creative indulgence. The show is so awash in ideas that they can afford to use an actor and pivotal character like that in even a small part. He feels like someone destined for bigger things, and his quick departure is a marvelous portent of how lethal this storyline can get.

1840 returns several times to Dark Shadows’ most familiar theme -- “Strangers at Collinwood,” but unlike other storylines, I think the strangers outnumber the residents. They all create a sense that Collinwood exists in a context of a larger world, and the benevolent, bland Randall Drew is the storyline’s best attempt to suggest that not every visitor to Collinwood is a vampire, alluring witch, or severed head in a box. There are normal people out there, too, and they serve as a pleasant reminder of the peaceful life for which our characters strive. It may be boring, but as fans of Star Trek: The Motion Picture will tell you, sometimes boring can be nice.

This episode was broadcast Nov. 20, 1970.

Friday, November 1, 2019

Collinwood Mansion can be yours for a paltry $3.5M

Back in 2012, KDKA in Pittsburgh aired a story about a mysterious weirdo (yay weirdos!) who built a life-sized relica of Collinwood from Dark Shadows. The interview with the property's owner was shot in silhouette as if he was testifying against the mob, which was a strange decision because it's likely everyone living in the area knew who this guy was.

And now, so do we.

Allegheny County real estate records identify T.J. and Wendy Lubinsky as owners of the estate. Pine Creek Journal goes on to explain that T.J. Lubinsky is "a former WQED on-air fundraising director who for many years has produced music fundraising programs, most famously featuring doo-wop acts, for PBS."

The building, constructed in 2007, is now for sale at $3.5 million. The castle and manor house are connected by an underground passageway, because of course they are. Given that the home is only 12 years old you probably have to provide your own ghosts and re-stock the closet skeletons.

The 2012 KDKA story is still available online, though the video was taken down long ago. Luckily I took a few screenshots, which show that the Lubinskys re-created Collinwood both inside and out.

Pine Creek Journal has a few other bits of interesting trivia about the property. My favorite? Wedged into the Dark Shadows theme is a replica of Bruce Wayne's private study from the 1960s Batman television series ... complete with sliding bookcase and Batpoles!

Read the story HERE.
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