Friday, December 27, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: December 27


Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 397

It’s wedding bells for Barnabas and Angelique, but will Barnabas’ dead uncle catch the garter? Reverend Bland: Paul Giles. (Repeat; min.)

Barnabas is predictably mordant in accepting the fact that his bride is missing on the wedding day. He explains this to the reverend while rationalizing away the various haunted events from Jeremiah that interfere with the pre-nuptial wait. Meanwhile, Angelique is nearly buried alive by the ghost of Jeremiah, before the presence of Ben Stokes grants a reprieve. At the wedding, more cursed events take place, and despite the wine turning to blood, they marry. The wedding night is disrupted by Josette’s music box and the sight of a mocking Jeremiah.

Predictably, the social event of the year is also one of the most hilarious as the Dark Shadows writers have their wedding cake and smear it over the faces of proper expectations at the same time. They’ve always excelled at mixing horror with the ridiculous and the sublime, depicting situations that are monstrous for the characters, frightening for most audiences, and blackly satirical for the cast and savvier viewers. Best of all, the characters in 397 are vastly aware of this — especially Barnabas and Ben. And with Paul Giles’ doddering Reverend Bland, it’s infinitely clear that Sam Hall does, as well. Grayson Hall is clearly a woman of deep wit, and a script like this could only have come from the guy she chose to keep up with her. Considering that, it’s not so much admirable that the show allowed itself these sardonic side quests, it’s more amazing that it reserved them for, you know, weddings.

In the midst of it all is Angelique getting a taste of her own gris gris with the twisted genie of Jeremiah refusing to go back into the bottle. (With this monkey’s paw, I thee wed….) Of course, it leads her to pledge to do only good, which is what one often does after nearly being buried alive. And, of course, all it takes is Barnabas clutching Josette’s music box like Darren McGavin with the Leg Lamp to lead her away from the pledge and back into fiery jealousy.

This is all after Jonathan Frid’s bone dry Canadian wit gets a thorough workout alongside Reverend Bland, who struggles to find anything good to say, including wildly inaccurate statements about the admirable loyalty shown between the Collinses. Barnabas keeps his straightest face ever, explaining away breezes coming from closed windows, etc, like a Benny Hill character on a date with a flatulently deflating love doll hidden in the closet. Jeremiah does his best to ruin the wedding, and it’s proper vengeance for a ghost who’s been through what he has. If anyone shares the hero spot of the episode, it’s the villain, which is par for the Collinsport course.

This is a wedding I used to forget about when I would see the entire show over the course of years. However, it’s perhaps one of the three or four most pivotal moments of the mythos. Setting up a payoff that no one knew would come in the 1840 storyline, it’s a wedding of two people who love each other despite every reason not to, and Lara Parker and Jonathan Frid pull off the ambiguity with humanity that transcends common sense. In other words, a wedding. And it’s not so horrible that it nukes their relationship in the long run. If anything, it strengthens it. It’s one of those shared disasters which bonds people rather than atomize them. And it’s exactly the disaster that (and you knew this was coming) would be my focus if I were King of Big Finish. They’ve taken the stories in another direction, and I can’t complain. However, an episode of after dinner tales… imagine it. Because these are the stories the grandkids finally hear when they come back from college and can have that cognac after the meal, pulling it off like they’ve always done so. Maggie and Quentin get misty eyed talking about their nude wedding at Club Med, laughing at the fact that the only attendees were Roger Collins (who insisted) and Willie Loomis (who was inexplicably there at the time). Then, of course, the kids ask about Barnabas and Angelique’s wedding. And they laugh. Protest. Roll their eyes. And tell the story. And it ends sentimentally. Which it should. Because it was all worth it.

And there are moments of warmth in the episode that ring with inevitability. Naomi, never the snob, accessorizing Angelique’s wedding dress. Ben Stokes, the first and last man standing now the best man, as well. Because, as Barnabas says, he is. In every sense in 1795, he truly is.

I’m 48 and unmarried. Episode 397 is a checklist of the good and bad that will need to happen before I am. Well, maybe not all of it. But you get the idea.

This episode hit the airwaves Jan. 2, 1968.

Thursday, December 19, 2019

The CHS Holiday Gift Guide is finally here!

I'm here to make your holiday season spooky. 

If you’re shopping for a special someone or just want to treat yourself to something twisted, gothic and maybe even a little disturbing for Christmas, I've got you covered. We're enduring one of our perioidic dry spells when it comes to Dark Shadows, but that doesn't mean we've got to fast. Below is a list of all sorts of spooky gifts, ranging from magazines, print and audio books, and even a little original artwork by yours truely.

Just about anybody can give a Christmas gift at Christmas. But who among you has the courage to give a Christmas gift in February? How about March? If you're an iconoclast who walks to a beat of their own drummer, you can get that special someone one of the new editions of the Dark Shadows novels by Marilyn Ross scheduled for release early next year. Both are available for pre-order at Amazon HERE. Dare to be different!

While we're on the subject: It's hard to believe that the first audiobook adaption of the Marilyn Ross paperbacks by Marilyn Ross was released just six months ago. Since then 11 more have hit the market, all of them read by original cast member Kathryn Leigh Scott. Number 13 in the series, Barnabas Collins and the Mysterious Ghost, is scheduled for release Jan. 13. At this rate the entire 32-book series will be available by the end of 2020.

Here's a list of the audio books available now on Amazon:

#1 Dark Shadows
#2 Victoria Winters
#3 Strangers at Collins House
#4 The Mystery of Collinwood
#5 The Curse of Collinwood
#6 Barnabas Collins
#7 The Secret of Barnabas Collins
#8 The Demon of Barnabas Collins
#9 The Foe of Barnabas Collins
#10 The Phantom and Barnabas Collins
#11 Barnabas Collins Versus the Warlock
#12 The Peril of Barnabas Collins

Big Finish has been producing original Dark Shadows audiodramas since (checks notes) ... 2006?! The most recent, a third volume of the bonkers Tony & Cassandra Mysteries series, was released in October. If you're looking for something a little more traditional, though, I'd suggest Dark Shadows: Blood & Fire, a 50th anniversary special that dives deep into the mythology of The Phoenix, the television show's first supernatural villain. The double CD set will absolutely NOT arrive in time for Christmas, but a digital download is immediately available with the purchase. (Or you can just get someone the digital version and bypass the physical edition entirely.) You can find Blood & Fire at Big Finish HERE.

Patrick McCray has been writing The Dark Shadows Daybook feature for this website since 2016. While recently talking about the possibility of publishing some kind of print edition of the Daybook, the two of us crunched the numbers: in three years he's written 237,925 words for the Daybook. That's 586 pages of text at 11 pt. type ... without any kind of formatting. It's the equivalent of a novel, for which he's been paid a whopping zero dollars.

What does this have to do with anything? Lots and lots of people have become accustomed to getting written content for free. News, research, critical analysis, movie reviews ... the value of many forms of communication has plummted during the last decade. It's almost impossible to get anyone to leave their "free" Facebook bubble. Example: When I've suggested that folks subscribe to the new incarnation of Fangoria it's been met with complaints about the cost. "$80 for four issues? Good LAWD!" someone will reply, most likely a person that wouldn't subscribe even if the price was $20 a year. If this observation pisses you off, guess what? You might be that person!

If you're still reading this, I can't recommend Fangoria enough. It always feels like Christmas whenever a new issue arrives in my mailbox. Publishing in the 21st century treats its content with a scattershot sort of desperation -- trying to be everything to everyone in every medium -- but Fangoria holds its content sacred. You won't find the stories printed in its pages anywhere online. It's a pure experience.

You can pick up a subscription to Fangoria for a loved one at

Here's the official logline for the band Wolfmen of Mars: "Making music that combines the electronic analog sounds of the 70s-80s and mixing them with heavy grooves. A soundtrack for late night driving or space travel." What that summary leaves out is that the Wolfmen are very, very cool. I've been a fan for a while now and the lack of Dark Shadows merch currently available gives me the chance to finally brag about them here. You can find most of their catalog online at Bandcamp, and the rest of it on Amazon and Burning Witch Records.

Damn, I love Shudder. There are a lot of streaming services available but this is the only one that feels legitimately curated. Too many streaming channels just feel like a bunch of stuff that's just available, the product on the unstoppable ebb and flow of mass media releases. Shudder actually puts thought into their catalog, going so far as to invite people like Kirk Hammett of Metallica and Barbara Crampton as guest curators. You can get a week of Shudder for free, after which it's just $5.99 a month. Get started here:

Hey, look! It's me! (At least it's my work, anyway.) Earlier this year I had the honor of designing the poster for a special Dark Shadows event for the Sleepy Hollow International Film Festival. I've got two versions of the poster available: one version with typography and one that's just the art. You can get 11x17 prints of them both at I'll even sign them for you, if you like. (Warning: My handwriting is shockingly awful.)

Monday, December 9, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: December 9


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 646

When Collinwood’s newest and oldest guest reveals himself, will there still be room for Roger? Quentin: David Selby. (Repeat; 30 min.)

David and Amy encounter the ghosts of Quentin and Beth, who telepathically instruct them to bury Quentin’s bones and then set up a tripwire for Roger on the stairs, which works. Perhaps lethally.

It may be the most awaited day in Dark Shadows history. The build up had been going on for several weeks. Today, we meet Quentin Collins. And few men just kind of stand there and look sharp with the same kind of benevolent and sybaritic menace as David Selby.

As smartalec as that sounds, it’s also true. That’s all the man needs to do to establish his presence. And stand, he does.

It was clear that something was coming. It was clear that he was named Quentin. And it was clear that it was the next big direction for the story because, let’s face it, Don Briscoe is too nice of a guy. Unlike the arrival of Barnabas, Quentin was coming into a series where anything could happen. That did a lot of the work for David Selby, but it also raised expectations meteorically. Quentin’s first appearance is a masterpiece of performance focus, lighting, makeup, and costume design. The accompaniment of Beth, lit beautifully because she barely had to move, is even more powerful because it puts this mystery man into a context. He has followers. He has a team. Unlike the accident that was Barnabas, he exists as the result of a campaign. And every time David visits, he grows more powerful, thus reinforcing every warning that kids ever got about goin’ too near the white van driven by the guy with muttonchops.

The show has it both ways on several accounts. The more Quentin moves, the more he reveals potentials and limitations. So he plays it as motionlessly as possible. It’s an old stage trick. When blocking a play, the less a character moves, the more powerful they are. All of Selby’s work is with the eyes, and the muttonchops direct and intensify them magnificently. The production also satisfies twin agendas by allowing Quentin to remain a silent cypher and still communicate, by speaking through David. When David tries on the Victorian clothes, he speaks as if he were Quentin, but the line between Quentin and Beth and David and Amy is wildly questionable. Is it Quentin or David or David-through-Quentin or David-empowered-by-Quentin who says that he was bound to get revenge for how both of them had been treated?

It’s a fantastically allusive line of dialogue. Maybe Quentin is speaking about himself and Beth, and how they were treated by ancestors… perhaps he doesn’t know they are dead. Or perhaps Roger and Elizabeth enact some bizarre legacy of which David is ignorant. Maybe David and Quentin see themselves as marginalized members of the family, brothers-under-the-shroud, and are striking out. Maybe David is speaking for himself and Amy. maybe it’s all of the above, and that’s why they were chosen. David did not discover Quentin. Quentin simply waited for the right one.

Because the right ones were watching every day. And god help their parents if they didn’t have a release like Dark Shadows.

It’s a cliché among fans of a certain age that they “ran home from school to watch dark shadows.“ It’s a very true cliché however. 646 really twists that cliche by very authentically representing and addressing those fans. They are finally the heroes, investigating the unknown and taking charge of discovering what others had been too lackadaisical to discover. And they are also the villains, being moved by an entirely new figure who didn’t just deal with them as curious happenstances, but as the target of their interests.  It’s easy to forget the sense of constant pain and unfairness that sits with an aware child, and I don’t think it’s going very far to say that dark shadows fans are, if anything, aware. Both David and Amy are only children, growing up with adults who treated them — almost — as equals, because how else are they to address them? But they are inconvenient, unwise adults, and children like David and Amy are aware of this, also. Before, the show focused this kind of interest entirely on how dangerous and random a kid like this could be. David trying to kill his father is absolutely nothing new. But now, we see this from Davis’s point of view, also. If an adult is encouraging him to kill, there must suddenly, finally be a rational reason.

Yes? No. But David’s rage at Roger has been assuaged for some time. Or has it? It doesn’t take much for Quentin to inspire more of it. Roger complains about David to Liz throughout the episode, and that’s a chicken-and-egg passive aggression that a kid is going to notice. When Roger wonders if he made a mistake letting that child into the house, Liz asks if he means Amy. She wouldn’t ask if “David” were not a likely answer as well. The storyline has a very political message between parent and child, because the tension between Roger and David has improved, yes, but maybe not healed. Roger has yet to contemplate losing him, and David has yet to see whether Roger cares. Quentin was rejected by Jamison, who believed that he didn’t care, either. If he sees David as Jamison and Roger as the nearest adult in the lad’s life, somewhere between himself and Edward, then perhaps this is to prove to the Jamison spirit that an adult can care. Even Roger.

Ghosts have strange logic. But it’s clear there is a logic. How will it involve Barnabas? Or will Barnabas go away? The questions in the era were heady as the show revs up for 1969, its greatest year and when the downfall -- very quietly -- began.

This episode hit the airwaves Dec. 16, 1968.

Friday, December 6, 2019

Monster Serial is dead. Long live Unlovely Frankenstein!

Monster Serial, a leading international provider of digital art and critical writing about cinéma d'horreur, today announced the its rebrand to Unlovely Frankenstein. The comprehensive rebrand elevates the focus of recent efforts to shift away from publishing, and includes a new logo, positioning, and website.

Sounds official, doesn't it? I cribbed much of that text from a press release about a corporate  rebranding initiative. Somebody actually thinks people talk like that. But there's a method to my madness, so bear with me a moment. This is going someplace.

The moving parts that make up Unlovely Frankenstein have been sliding into place during the last four weeks and, for the most part, the transition has been a smooth one. The Etsy store now has its own dedicated domain -- -- and the branding of the Tumblr account now reflects the name change. (Unlovely Frankenstein even has it's own Spotify playlist!) Monster Serial hasn't been a vital part of this website for several years. Our last book was published in 2016, but I've continued to use Facebook and Tumblr pages for the brand to discuss horror movies and share the artwork I create that's unrelated to Dark Shadows.

But it's time to make that change formal. Monster Serial and The Collinsport Historical Society have had little to do with each other for a while now, so I'm taking out a hacksaw and separating these conjoined monsters. Because the recent focus of Monster Serial has been primarily on artwork instead of critical writing and publishing, a name change is necessary. I settled on Unlovely Frankenstein for a variety of reasons. The new name is in keeping with the tongue-in-cheek vibe of our established web presence so that our online followers know we aren't playing some elaborate shell game with them. The content will not be changing; if anything, the rebranding is going to revitalize our social media accounts. The new name is also unique and it should make finding the accounts relatively easy.

But why the monicker "Unlovely Frankenstein"? You can thank Jonathan Frid for that, at least indirectly. When being compared to classic horror actors, Frid was more often compared to Boris Karloff than Bela Lugosi. I've always wondered what Frid would have done with the part of Frankenstein's monster, the eloquent, violent philosopher as depicted in the Mary Shelley novel.

The rest of the name came from a rude comment made about Frid in a 1969 profile in the Canadian magazine McLean's, which referred to him as an "unlovely Canadian bachelor." I've always thought it was a weird thing to say about somebody, and I'm not sure I've ever heard the word elsewhere. It's somehow elegant and vulgar at the same time, the kind of word used by people who get punched in the face a lot. It seemed a perfect fit for my (sometimes obnoxious) artwork.

So there you have it. The Collinsport Historical Society isn't going anywhere, and this divorce will only help to increase our focus on Dark Shadows. In order to get all of our social media accounts in order, though, a formal announcement had to be drafted. If you're a Dark Shadows fanatic this might be the first time you're hearing about Unlovely Frankenstein. If so, head on over to our shop and look around! You can find us here:

Wednesday, December 4, 2019

Dorothy Fontana (1939-2019)

She wrote a show about labels not mattering. And sometimes, labels matter, anyway. Hers did.

Symbolic of authority. Trustworthiness. The Final Word. But also complexity, choice, due process, and something essential to the apotheosis of the Enlightenment:


People called her Dorothy, but her voice was not that of a little girl lost and longing for Kansas. No, the voice belonged to DC, with all of the best that implies. Yes, yes, adopted because of industry sexism that said women had no place writing for television. (Unless you’re Violet Welles.) But it worked.

She wrote westerns. Medical programs. Martial arts stories. Period dramas and, of course, soaps. And even though she started off not being much on science fiction, her imagination, work ethic, and authorial prowess made her, arguably, the most valuable player on Gene Roddenberry’s team for the first two seasons of Star Trek (including the second episode), the inception of The Next Generation (co-writing or writing the first three hours of the show), and beyond to DS9 and Star Trek’s grumpy, beatnik neighbor, Babylon 5. (The latter of which is no more related to the Trek family as Ronan Farrow is to the Sinatras.) As consistently and doggedly as St. Gene Coon, she worked in the shadow of Roddenberry and others, actually delivering the final frontier and creating much of the core mythos. Not all of her episodes are standouts; some are timeclocking examples of filling airtime because RCA’s new color tv’s aren’t going to sell themselves. But they all are solid storytelling, solidly delivered, and help to give Star Trek the weekly substance to keep going. And that’s selling her short, so let’s not. As the author of “Journey to Babel,” she gave us the best parts of Spock and Sarek and the Vulcan culture not yet given to us by Gene Coon. Was responsible for popularizing the cloaking device. Helped to rescue “City on the Edge of Forever.” Fontana had an innate sense of dramatic stakes, pace, and gravitas while humanizing the characters with a uniquely sensitive and witty ear for dialogue. Many of Spock and Sarek’s exchanges in “Journey to Babel” cut terribly close.

Her best work for me is “This Side of Paradise.” Like “The Naked Time,” it uses the forced removal of inhibitions as a shortcut to learn about the characters. The nature of Kirk’s loss as he stands alone and helpless on the Enterprise, packed to reluctantly join the Spock and the crew, who’ve abandoned duty for happiness, is one of the show’s most quietly resonant images. Having established the Kirk/Spock dynamic, she twists it in the episode until we see that Kirk is the joyless adherent to order while Spock is the passionate and sybaritic half of the duo. Always have been. In the end, Kirk confronts his limited capacity for authentic joy while Spock must return to pretending he has none. There is too much truth here. It’s an episode of sweet joy, sad loss, and a solid meditation on the futility of drugs and easy escapes. If the characters are important to you, it’s mandatory viewing and poignant to a degree that eluded most TV shows of the era… and our own.

It’s also indicative of the kind of pop cultural nuttiness that Fontana would accidentally create… more than once. The episode became the basis for the Leonard Nimoy-written-and-sung song, “Once I Smiled,” which seems to be based on the episode. In it, you hear Nimoy say “monkey pup.” Thanks, Dorothy!

She was also at the center of a weird Catwoman crossover regarding Star Trek. In two separate episodes, she insinuates Catwomen into Kirk’s life. Julie Newmar appears in “Friday’s Child,” and Lee Meriwether appears in “That Which Survives.” Coincidence? We’re one Eartha Kitt away from a David Icke lecture. So, you tell me. Maybe it somehow connected to space hippies.   

In the “The Way to Eden,” she proved that she was totally not Herbert. You’re Herbert. She’s not Herbert. But you, you’re totally Herbert. In it, we got Charles Napier as the, yes, space hippie Adam who’s gonna crack his knuckles and jump for joy, because he got a clean bill of health from Dr. McCoy. This is writing. And I mean that. Sometimes you’re profound. Sometimes you’re paying the bills. Sometimes, in between, at the crossroads of deadlines and staying relevant, you make space hippies. She was a working writer, and there’s no apology for that. It’s what made her a spiritual kin to the writers of Star Trek’s “cousin show,” Dark Shadows, which explored many of the same themes of otherness and tolerance in the TV fantasy boom of the late Sixties.

She would have been right at home with the crossover between the shows. Kathryn Leigh Scott did it with TNG’s finest episode (yes, I said it), “Who Watches the Watchers.” Mitch Ryan did it with BMX armor on in “The Icarus Factor.” Art Wallace went so far as to sneak off to do a backdoor pilot in “Assignment: Earth.” And it goes both ways. Rob Bowman, a seasoned TNG director, slipped over to Greystone to direct two episodes of the 1991 Dark Shadows. That was before he helped to ruin the 2004 pilot of the WB Dark Shadows by abandoning it to direct Elektra.

You know who didn’t ruin the 2004 pilot to the WB Dark Shadows? You know who didn’t direct Elektra? Yep. Dorothy Fontana.

She was more than just that. Voice of reason. Consummate professional and storyteller, it would be easy to speculate that Star Trek would have perished (several times and far too soon) without her ability to dream on demand. Given Star Trek’s influence on the arts, humanities, and sciences, we owe her.

Dorothy is at rest. Long live DC.

- Patrick McCray
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