Tuesday, June 23, 2020

See House, Night of Dark Shadows on Movies! in July

Whoops! That's what I get for not checking the rest of the Movies! schedule. As it happens, both House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows are airing on Movies! in July.  Here's the revised schedule. The times are EST.

July 3
1:30 p.m., House of Dark Shadows
3:45 p.m. Night of Dark Shadows

July 12
12 p.m., House of Dark Shadows
2:15 p.m. Night of Dark Shadows
July 14
4:40 p.m. 1776
8 p.m., House of Dark Shadows

July 15
8 p.m. Night of Dark Shadows
July 20
8:35 a.m., House of Dark Shadows
10:50 a.m. Night of Dark Shadows

Original, erroneous story follows ...

Night of Dark Shadows, everybody's second favorite Dark Shadows movie, is set to air four times next month on Movies! TV Network. Why July? Who knows! It's usually a month reserved for films as far flung as 1776 to Rocky IV, and Night of Dark Shadows screams a lot of things but "O'er the land of the free and the home of the brave" isn't one of them.

Speaking of 1776, exactly when does NoDS take place? The movie poster claims the flashback scenes happen 200 years ago, meaning 1771. Other summaries state 150 years ago, landing us on 1821. But the screenplay says Angelique died in 1810 ... which is a dud year in American history. The big news of 1810 was that the United States annexed West Florida shortly after it declared independence from Spain. In fact, it would be another decade before Maine, the location of all things Dark Shadows, would even become a state. That's one to grow on.

I've included 1776 in the schedule because I consider it to be an honorary Dark Shadows movie, thanks to the shows many cast members appearing in the film.

If you want to watch Night of Dark Shadows on Movies!, here's when it airs:

For more details, visit https://moviestvnetwork.com/movies/1765, and make sure to follow Will McKinley on Twitter. He's the guy who tipped me to this.

Tuesday, June 16, 2020

Hermes Press reissuing first Dark Shadows collection

How about some good news?

Hermes Press is bringing the first volume of its Dark Shadows series back into print. Back in 2010 the company began collecting the entire Gold Key comic book series into hardback, a collection that eventually spanned five hardcover books, a "best of" collection and a reprint of Gold Key's 1970 Dark Shadows Story Digest one-shot. All of these books have remained available in recent years, except for the first volume of the Gold Key comics collection. At the moment it's selling for $143 on Amazon, which is the cheapest it's been for years. No, really.

Hermes Press announced this morning that it's re-issuing the volume. While no release date is attached, the book is available for preorder for $49.99 at the company's website HERE. Go get it!

Sunday, June 14, 2020

Pride Month 2020: Things should be better

Earlier this week, the Trump administration rolled back an Obama-era policy that protected LGBTQ+ patients from discrimination. In case the decision wasn't already cruel enough, the move came on the  fourth anniversary of the massacre of a nightclub shooting in Orlando, Florida, that killed 49 people. I suspect Trump had no idea of the significance of the date until he later saw it discussed on Fox News. But the people within his administrtion pulling his strings absolutely do know the significance, but that doesn't make the situation any less outrageous.

The pandemic has left me unplugged from my normal routines. It has also cancelled Pride Month activities across the world, and this is a community that understands better than any other about the consequences of a pandemic. By 1989 there were an estimated 100,000 AIDS cases in the United States. The World Health Organization estimated there were as many as 400,000 cases worldwide.

At least four actors appearing on Dark Shadows died from AIDS related illnesses.

A 2019 post on The CHS Facebook page has become a place for heated discussion this week, leading me to believe this is a problem people want to discuss. We're all a feeling isolated this summer. I've had more time than ever before to plan a formal dislogue ... but I've also felt disinclined to express myself on anything but the most selfish of topics. Silence seems prudent when anger and anxiety are fighting for the wheel. As a straight, white man my sullenness is an expensive luxury.

Worse, it makes me an accomplice.

If you want to help, please consider donating to The Trevor Project, a non-profit organization  focused on suicide prevention efforts among lesbian, gay, bisexual, transgender, queer and questioning youth. You can find them online at https://give.thetrevorproject.org/give/63307/#!/donation/checkout

Meanwhile, here's what The CHS did last year for Pride Month. It's all as relevant now as it was a year ago. I've included an abstract, the author's name and a link to their entire piece.

Our thoughts and feelings are valid
Brooke Perrin: "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." http://www.collinsporthistoricalsociety.com/2019/06/pride-month.html

Queer Shadows
Alice Collins: "Dark Shadows helped me get through a lot of my questioning and early coming out years (Unfortunate truth: You never stop coming out, you come out to each new person you meet.) It’s been my solace, my safe place to be scared because the outside world is even scarier." http://www.collinsporthistoricalsociety.com/2019/06/pride-month-queer-shadows.html

Witches and Role Models
Laramie Dean: "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." http://www.collinsporthistoricalsociety.com/2019/06/pride-month-witches-and-role-models.html

Saturday, June 6, 2020

Happy Father's Day from Unlovely Frankenstein

Frankenstein wasn't much of a father. He was great at generating new and innovative ideas, but his follow through left much to be desired.  There's a reason the movies about him tend to air on television in October instead of June.

That just makes Father's Day doubly important for the folks over at Unlovely Frankenstein, which is offering a 25% discount in recognition of the holiday. If you've been paying attention you already know I am Unlovely Frankenstein ... as well as Cousin Barnabas, Wallace McBride, Simon McCorkindale, Lester Dented and a few other identities that I've forgotten over the years. I'm a man of perpetual identity crisis mystery.

If you've been following the website over the years, you already know the kooky krap I'm into. If not, a glance at the image on the top of the post will give you a taste of the prints and stickers available at my Etsy shop. You can take 25% off by using the code THANKSDAD or by folliwng this link: https://www.etsy.com/shop/UnlovelyFrankenstein?coupon=THANKSDAD.

Go nuts! And tell 'em Cousin Barnabas sent you! He's me!

Wednesday, May 27, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 25


Taped on this day in 1967: Episode 248

When Barnabas woos Maggie with a tour of Collinsport’s cozier hideaways, will Willie provide a rude awakening? Maggie Evans: Kathryn Leigh Scott. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas punishes Maggie with an overday stay in a coffin. When she returns to the Old House, her true personality seems to permanently reemerge.

We’ve been teased for long enough. Maggie Evans knows that she’s Maggie Evans, but how are we supposed to feel?

If the original viewers of the show were cheering her on, the character of Barnabas would have had no future. If those familiar with the show say they are cheering her on, they aren’t that familiar with it after all.

This is the crux of the show’s most morally challenging storyline, but it’s not morally challenging for the characters. The compass there is clear. The challenge is for you, the viewer. Do you side with the character you know is destined to save the future, motivated by love and desperation, despite knowing that he is wrong? Or do you side with the brave, tortured woman you know will be free in time? It’s an ugly choice. If I were you, I wouldn’t even dignify the question. The show is relentless in confronting us with it, anyway, even though we may equivocate with, “neither” or, “both” or, “Are you crazy?”

It’s borrowing a page from Vertigo, and in that, too, we tacitly approve of extreme behavior by men toward women because we know there is a larger purpose. The difference is that Judy is not only responsible for Scotty’s pain, but (through complicity) the murder of Madeline. And Jimmy Stewart is not an undead hemovore (in that movie, anyway). With Barnabas, it’s more complicated. Maybe. Both men are driven by love. Both men are forcibly improving class status. And both men suspect that the true object of their affections lurks within. You realize that it’s a dark Cinderella, right?

There are different and theoretically forbidden dimensions to this entire topic for both men and women. Yeah, it’s clear why it’s abhorrent. Now, let’s talk about why it’s appealing, anyway. Not okay, but strangely appealing.

For women, let’s talk about the appeal first from what’s not going on. There’s no rape, and I can’t emphasize the power of that. Despite everything that’s going on, sexual violation isn’t one of them. In fact, there’s not even the hint. This is a driven and insistent and personal desire that involves who Maggie/Josette truly is rather than what she can do. Sex is fungible. Josette is not. With that off the table, the idea of this crime is one of the most flattering in the arena of the totally reprehensible. An all-powerful uber-patriarch comes to life and has only one focus: to love. Unlike Laura, there is no sacrifice involved. Yes, yes, Maggie will become one of the living dead, but in a very attractive, powerful, immortal way and, well, you gotta die sometime.

The prime demographic here (at this point in the run) is women home at four in the afternoon every weekday. I don’t need a Betty Friedan on my shoulder to both dislocate it and tell me that there’s a good chance this viewer might feel marginalized and unfulfilled. As much as Maggie screams for pop-pop-pop, she kind of has to. The story would be over if she didn’t. No one wants their identity replaced, but from the objective view of the audience, there are worse trades given the Byronic pining of her “host.” Josette sounds pretty great, and Maggie is a character destined for exactly the fate of many viewers… the beleaguered housewife of a working-class barfly who comes home every night stinking of dead shellfish and Kools. Go to bed with Joe Haskell and wake up with Curly Joe DeRita.

It’s quite the briar patch over at the Old House, and other than forgetting the forgettable minutiae of her former life, there doesn’t seem to be a lot of privation here. Yes, lack of air conditioning, but it’s Maine, you know?

For male viewers? I’m not sure there were many back then. But it’s clear that, while Barnabas’ desperate methods are cruel, his motives are not. Jonathan Frid projected a pain, melancholy, and lingering, unresolved desire better than any other actor in the medium. We have been there. I’m not going to say “incel,” because of the terrible baggage that perfectly decent descriptor (coined as a self-reference by a woman, I am led to believe) immediately gave itself, but… he didn’t explicitly ask for this. If a grown man is sitting around watching Dark Shadows, I can tell you that either his dance card is empty or he certainly knows what an empty one looks like. And while no rational human would contemplate kidnapping and brainwashing, Barnabas is s’darn earnest that we know that his motives are pure and motivated by a sense of profound loss, one that even the mighty, 1795 storyline strains itself to justify.

The fact that Barnabas loses her repeatedly in this, concluding in the shattering realization that he has caused the (supposed) death of another innocent person, is the ultimate comeuppance. His crime? The desire to not be alone. Yes, a phallocentric quest for power, but power over what was lost. Power to undo a crime of jealousy. And not Barnabas’.

If it sounds like I’m defending the undefendable, I am. But so is the show, because this man transforms into its hero, and we all kept watching. The reasons run deep.

This episode hit the airwaves on June 7, 1967.

Tuesday, May 26, 2020

It's World Dracula Day!

1897 is an important year 'round these parts. Not only was it the setting for Dark Shadows' popular and creative peak, it was the year Bram Stoker's Dracula first reached readers. It wasn't the first vampire novel, but it has stood the test of time and proven itself the most important of its kind. Every vampire story since has had to define itself against Stoker's novel ... no matter the author's intentions.

Dracula was released on this day in 1897, which has since been recognized as World Dracula Day. Even though I know there are objectively better books out there (such as Mary Shelley's Frankenstein) it's been my favorite for as long as I can remember. As a character, Dracula has proven to be endlessly malleable, warping into various identities over the last 120+ years. Dracula has become the Jerry Cornelius of bloodsuckers since falling into public domain, taking on various names and faces as he's spread virally across media. Dracula has fought Billy the Kid, crossed wits with The X-Men, and adopted pseudonyms like Johnny AlucardVladislav the PokerJerry Dandrige and yes ... Barnabas Collins. There will be Dracula stories long after we're all gone.

To celebrate, all of the vampire-related listings at Unlovely Frankenstein are on sale today for 25% off. Featured are my prints inspired by Vampira, the 1931 Dracula feature and its 1936 sequel Dracula's Daughter, Fright Night, House of Dark Shadows and more. You can find the sales listings at https://www.etsy.com/shop/UnlovelyFrankenstein?section_id=1

(Note: Episode 761 of Dark Shadows aired on this date in 1969. Set during durng the 1897 arc, the episode had Barnabas Collins engaging in some decidedly un-Dracula-like adventures, particularly the rescue of Nora and Jamison from a fire.)

Saturday, May 23, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 23


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 765

As Barnabas pumps Beth for information, will Magda pump Quentin full of silver bullets? She’s locked, loaded, and ready to say “I’m sorry” six times in a row. Alex Stevens: Quentin Collins. (Repeat; 30 min.)

With a wolf on the prowl, Barnabas knows that Beth holds the key to its secret. Barnabas bites her, and she informs him that the wolf is Quentin and that Quentin has a legacy he doesn’t even know about: two children. Magda, rife with remorse, hunts the wolf, as the wolf stalks the estate. Finally, Magda shoots the wolf, but fatally?

It would be inaccurate and hyperbolic of me to say this episode is “pure action,” so I will. For Dark Shadows, this is pure action. And if Dark Shadows action has a name (other than Thayer David), it’s Alex Stevens. We owe him a lot. He performs several spectacular falls in this one, on par with his astoundingly Marvel Comics explosion through the Evans Cottage window earlier in the series. His greatest stunt may have involved padding on the floor, but I didn’t see it, and the sudden reality of it is stunning. On the attack, the werewolf leaps over the railing on the second story landing in the foyer, lands, and keeps going. If you own an ankle, you realize what an impressive stunt this is, simply in its blunt relatability. It’s a straightforward moment, and it may be the most magical sight on the show.

Because special effects are clearly unreal, even at their most realistic, they are inherently devoid of wonder. The great Ray Harryhausen may be a magnificent artist and technician, but magician, he ain’t. Even when his work defined ‘state of the art,’ the herky-jerky movement and weirdness of scale immediately told you to start using euphemisms like “heightened” later on lest you be harassed by his devotees.

Magic is different. Magic shows the impossible as possible and leaves as the only conclusion: this happened. At that point, apologies to the makeup crew, Stevens could have gotten away with no appliances at all. Just a t-shirt that said, “werewolf,” and we’d be sold. It’s a moment of sudden wonder, and suddenly, from the floor up, Collinwood stops being symbolic of anything and becomes a real place.

It taped today, but it played on Friday, May 30, and I think that’s a symbolic day. It’s a good day to bring in a werewolf at his most exciting. And I hope the choice was strategic. This was, for many, the last day of school for three glorious months. In the past few days, Jonathan Frid and David Selby had recorded their contributions to the album, Original Music From Dark Shadows, which would become a massive hit in that year of massive hits. Viewmaster reels were steady sellers. It was the year of the Barnabas Collins Dark Shadows Board Game. And this one, action-packed, exposition packed installment slammed the locker door on school for the best part of the best year of the best show that millions of kids had ever seen. It was the last day they had to run home from anywhere to see it, and the writers ensured that the marathon mattered. It certainly feels as if there is more screentime for Stevens than on any other episode of the program.

Dark Shadows may have very well been at its zenith. Ratings and demographics were measured differently then, and so I can’t state anything definitively about who was watching. My instinct tells me that, given the items for sale and the significance of the day, this may be one of the most-enjoyed episodes of the entire series. It was certainly the most meaningful for a nation of kids. I don’t need anthropological data to back me up on that.

A great episode? Certainly. Mature? Thank goodness, no. You have bats. Beth, with a vampire’s dream of an endless neck, bitten and controlled. Barnabas learns of Quentin’s curse, the children, and finally, what he’s doing in 1897 at all. The last part is the vegetables of the episode, but at least there’s cheese sauce. The enlightenment of Barnabas Collins has been coming for months and months, and you know the writers are planning something big when they finally plug in the light bulb over his head. Now, equipped with as much of the truth as anyone knows, the adventure of 1897 should be concluding. Barnabas should be climbing into his coffin for the voyage home.

Of course, a certain Count is about to hear that a certain body part is waiting for him in Collinsport. And if stuntman Alex Stevens is magic, the Count is sorcery. 

This episode hit the airwaves on May 30, 1969.

Wednesday, May 20, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 19


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode761

When Edward gains proof of the evil of the supernatural, will he become Collinsport’s last, best hope for victory? Edward Collins: Louis Edmonds. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas rescues the children by teleporting in, which causes the flames to die out. Edward, now having realized that Laura was a creature of the supernatural, vows to protect Collinwood from the occult. He’d better hurry, because Quentin and Evan have a Satan to summon!

With Laura dead, and that part of the series’ auto-remake out of the way, Mission: 1897 really flies off into new territory. Quentin’s transformation has begun. (So has Magda’s.) It’s a sobering transformation, so at least they keep him good and sauced, which is always entertaining. But equally entertaining and surprisingly mature is the evolution that goes largely unnoticed: Edward, played with comic exaggeration and human texture by the reliably underestimated Louis Edmonds. And he evolves in more ways than one. He’s one of my favorite characters in the series, the very picture of a Victorian straight-man. But let’s not limit him to that. In just this episode alone, he heals and matures in surprising ways and galvanizes into something beautifully ludicrous and completely understandable...

Edward Collins -- Monster Hunter.

It’s the evolution of Joshua, who lived for denial, and a rebuke toward Roger, who lived for willful ignorance. In between, with all of the insanity endured for a hundred years, you’d think that one Collins would grow a little backbone, believe what’s clearly going on, and grab the stake & hammer. In Edward, they do. And for a post-Dickensian cartoon, Edward is a surprisingly modern man. He’s a single father, now for reals, and his warmth toward his children is wholly authentic and heartwarming. Quentin, it seems, never robbed him of a wife because he never really had one. With that new perspective, of course, he must mend the family. Now that Judith has the wealth and Trask is amassing the power, all of the external sources of Edward’s anticipated identity vanished in months. What’s left but to be a genuine mensh? His relationships are all he has, and he’s no longer the forbidding iceberg. He’s Roger and Liz’s grandpa-in-waiting.

More than that, all of the forces he once saw as corrupting to that sense of John Harvey Kellogg propriety are, well, not that important. He’s now the Lovecraft hero who decides to strike back. That journey will take him to Barnabas. I think he has it in for Barnabas because Barnabas shames him by implication. He’s the guy who didn’t settle down. But he’s disciplined, unlike Quentin, concerned for others, unlike Carl, and warm, unlike Edward. He even macks on the KLS character with appropriately hygienic restraint. Barnabas is living the Edwardian bachelor dream, then proceeds to go full-on superhero. Did Edward save his kids? No, Barnabas did. Edward will have to kill Barnabas to become him. The fact that he’s a vampire is the berries in the sloe gin. This is secretly the story of Edward Collins becoming the best of the 20th century as Quentin retreats from being the worst of it.

And there’s the mustache, too.

This episode hit the airwaves on May 26, 1969

Tuesday, May 12, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 12


Taped on this day in 1967: Episode 236

When Barnabas has the chance to deprogram Josette from thinking herself to be a Twentieth Century diner waitress, will he be thwarted by Joe’s plan to keep her in rags? Maggie: Kathryn Leigh Scott. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Showing amazing and inevitable power, Barnabas kidnaps Maggie from her hospital room after she is on the brink of death. Joe, Sam, and Burke investigate at the Old House, but Maggie stays hidden. Afterward, Barnabas begins his hypnotic conversion of Maggie to Josette.

This is why we love Dark Shadows. This is also an exquisite example of a note that no one could sustain. It’s a poignant, black gem of fear. Not of the would-be victim’s fear of injury. No, it’s the would-be villain’s fear of loss. The question is, “Did this change horror and the genre’s moral compass forever?”

In its structure, it does the job of both horror and romance, which is to slide us out of the real world and into a realm of new rules but no rulebook. From hospital to cemetery to the Old House drawing room to the aspirational honesty in Josette’s bedroom, we progress from a medical bed of science and truth to a sumptuous memory palace of a bed-chamber where the truth is whatever we want more than anything… without hearing the dissent of reality that might break the spell.

Why does Dark Shadows work? This is why. It reorients the horror audience to openly value what they only secretly admired: the quest of monsters to become gods, retaining their resplendent anti-humanity while enjoying the richest fruits of emotional fulfillment. We don’t root for Maggie to escape as much as we hope that Barnabas succeeds. Maggie’s life is far blander than even our own, and what would we not give to be the prized gem of someone with the keys to Tiffany’s? It’s high time Maggie hung up the apron and donned the finery of a most elegant age. Why not be adored?

And what keeps Barnabas from being a kidnapping stalker? Or simply being a kidnapping stalker? There’s a lot, and those things are what cements the uniqueness of the show and explains its success. By introducing Laura and Barnabas and the ghost of Josette, the show establishes that mortality is not just a one-way, seventy-five year trip in Collinsport. It’s completely possible for something in the present to not just look like a thing from the past, but to be that thing from the past. Every time that Barnabas looks at himself in the sketch based on the mirror, he sees this.

So, could Maggie be some form of Josette? Given her exactish resemblance to the ghost of said, I would say yes. The show backs me up on this.

Once you have seen the 1795 flashback, you’re robbing yourself if you choose to ignore it when viewing these early episodes. It may not have been part of the production up to that point, but it does become a part of the overall story, and to subsequently avoid it is like chipping the chocolate off Raisinets. 

Barnabas may be right for other reasons. Whether or not we know about the persistent Collins physical DNA. Or Parallel Time. Or the nearly half-dozen methods the show establishes for time travel. Once we look back on this over the shoulders of Jeff Clark, the most amazing method is simply the act of loving enough and in the right way. And it is poetically correct.

Much has been said about Jonathan Frid’s performance… the courtliness, the lack of open eros, the performer’s own fear that bled into the scenes. Let us match or exceed those claims with praise for his professionalism. It is the supreme mandate to the actor to be truthful, moment to moment. Part of that is to forbid anticipating endings and telegraphing the message. Villains and heroes only exist through the eyes of audience members. A villain has often laudable goals… to the villain. Barnabas is on a search-and-rescue to take someone from the real world and convince her that she’s a princess. And not as a practical joke.

That’s what Frid is playing, sincerely, moment by moment. He just accompanies that with a ruthlessness that matches the stakes of his pursuit. He comes from an era when people burned cats in gunnysacks for amusement and saw nothing unusual in the practice. Putting Maggie in a gunnysack as a dress? That’s nothing.

As Barnabas announces his old world plan to Maggie, the new world Joe’s bewilderment, Sam’s desperation, and Burke’s hardheadedness loses a lot of luster. He offers something positive other than more-of-the-same with a hearty side of pregnancy-based body dysmorphia crowned with an unhealthy dollop of irreversible aging.

This was a decadently noir romance before Hot Topic and Torrid brought the concept into elegant respectability. Dan Curtis and Ron Sproat went to the heart of what their key demographic wanted, and they did so ten-to-forty years before Joss Whedon, Anne Rice, Stephanie Meyers, and other people whose names I’m glad to have forgotten. It’s not enough to be desired. You must be desired by the antithesis of the guy who should worship you, and yet he doesn’t. If Barnabas were any more antithetical to the Schlitz-swilling husbands of 1967 middle America, he’d be a woman. And in his own way, he comes awfully close.

Which may be the ultimate secret. Perhaps the first wave of fans did not want woman, but they wanted a man, for once, to treat them as they would treat the object of their affections. Barnabas dotes, but he does so in ways that provide him with no immediate, sensory gratification. He is giving her what she ostensibly values, not to advertise what he values on her. Millions of women have asked for that for centuries. One vampire listened.
This episode hit the airwaves on May 22, 1967

Wednesday, May 6, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 6


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1013

When a transporter accident finds Barnabas in Angelique’s bedroom, will it cause Daniel’s voice to drop two octaves? Daniel Collins: David Henesy. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas and Quentin chat about Parallel Time, and while loitering in the room alone, Barnabas is discovered by Daniel. Meanwhile, an ugly and inaccurate portrait of Maggie arrives from Italy, initiating Quentin’s knife-wielding psychotic break.

Solve a mystery. Get out of town. Become a flaming sword of art criticism. So many choices for a tourist. Barnabas Collins is a busy man in Parallel Time. As is the show, having near-slumbered in a pleasant irrelevance for weeks now with David Selby charged with making Quentin as evil as possible, Lara Parker exploring why playing anyone other than Angelique is boring, and Chris Pennock eviscerating a philosophically Byzantine meditation on good and evil from under profoundly bad hair.

Dark Shadows continues a comeback so powerful that it shakes up the view of the show as it’s recently been and accidentally sets a bar for imaginative entertainment that the upcoming movie will be hard-pressed to match. You can almost hear Joe Caldwell telling Sam Hall and Gordon Russell to hold his martini and stand back. He wrote half of the PT storyline, and now that he has the casting keys to the car, I hope it’s insured. It strikes me as a show he tended as well as he could while everyone was away, because he’s been planning exactly where he wants to go.

It’s a rich, teasingly absurd, and breakneck episode that begins with Quentin and Barnabas wasting no time talking about what they saw in Primary Time. Quentin suspects that Barnabas has crossed over, and his reason for concern is hilariously valid. Primary Time referred to him as ‘cursed,’ and that’s enough to count Quentin out. I’m glad that modern-day Parallel Time takes curses seriously. Maybe they watch Dark Shadows over there. Maybe that’s how Quentin knows that curses are bad luck. Hey, what a minute. If they make Dark Shadows in Primary Time and watch it in Parallel Time, does that make us… Parallel Time, too? I wonder who I am over there. Whatever he is, his hair is bigger.

It leads into a lovely scene where detente has been called and the two men, Jonathan Frid and David Selby, get to do something they’ve done very little of in a long time: act together. They more-or-less sit and chat. We see two generations of acting styles in a peculiar dance across the drawing room, and it might as well be across the Atlantic as well. Selby’s more relaxed, yet Frid seems like he’s working less and maybe having a tad more fun. He finally gets to openly admit that he finds Angelique attractive without it becoming the talk of the Collinsport High cafeteria.

Of course, all Barnabas wants to do is leave. So much so that he uses his rare power of teleportation to skip the front door and beam directly into the room. If he can do that, I wish he would just hide out in a closet there and wait for the changeover. But he would have to find an excuse. The only logical one would be transvestism, which would mean long hours trying on Angelique’s outfits. If he liked it, what then? And is he only a transvestite for her PT wardrobe? And then what’s he do when Daniel comes in? Am I the only one who notices that David Henesy’s voice has changed? The whole subject should make us all uncomfortable. Not because transvestism is wrong. But because they are not his clothes, and in no universe does Brewsters carry a merry widow in a 44 long. Daniel is going to inherit those clothes one day, and they don’t need to be all stretched out by Barnabas.

Back to teleportation, please. I mean, if you don’t mind. Stop accusing Barnabas of these things. He’s a Canadian for god’s sake.

So, he teleports very rarely. Is it when he’s just fed? Or is it because he’s in a mirror universe, and he’s a little showier because that’s what you do on vacation? Or did his powers sort of bottle up when he was in the coffin all those weeks? (And let me ask you this, in a mirror universe, should people only see his reflection? That’s creepy, and god forbid a vampire be that.) He has to let them out. Because, in the Barnabas superpower department, he’s really a showboat in this one, using all sorts of abilities that would have come in handy if only he hadn’t borrowed Sam Hall’s Neil Sedaka records and refused to give them back. That’s the real reason the writers were so stingy with the guy.

Players of RPG’s should especially sympathize with Barnabas since he’s like a character who has to roll dice to see if he can use an ability. But he rolls a natural 20 with hypnotizing Daniel, and you have almost see Barnabas snap his fingers of his left hand into the flattened palm of his right and muse, “Still got it, baby. Still got it.”

The real villain of this episode is the props department. Who doesn’t get a great portrait on the show? Barnabas gets two. Quentin gets two. Angelique gets two or three (if you count the movie). So, yes, it’s Maggie’s turn. The portrait that Quentin had commissioned in Italy is, um… it’s to portraiture what the Tower of Pisa is to perpendicularity. KLS deserves better, and I don’t think it’s out of order to send letters to MPI demanding a digital fix. On a show with very good props, this is embarrassingly bad. It’s not even symbolic of a prop. No wonder Quentin takes a knife to it.

It’s both the low and high point in an episode of high points, and it is one of the rare points that the forgivable theatricality of the show begins to buckle.

When Kramer gets a better portrait than Maggie Evans Collins, it’s time to sit down with the art department, tell them that you’re sorry for being away so long shooting the movie, and that you promise to take them with you next time.

Do the right thing.

This episode hit the airwaves on May 13, 1970.

Tuesday, May 5, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 4


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1012

Barnabas Collins turns Parallel Time upside down when he masquerades as the fiery fruit of his own loins… Latin Love style! Parallel Ghost of Joshua Collins: Louis Edmonds. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas turns the tables on Will and enslaves him. After meeting the PT Quentin with the Latin American version of his “English Branch” story, he visits Collinwood to help investigate the portal room to his own time band. There, he and Quentin see Dr. Julia Hoffman.

This show crackles with more energy than it has had since Vicki returned from 1795. House of Dark Shadows finally finished, the cast reunites with a satisfying symmetry that makes us realize exactly what we’ve been missing. Not only that but at long last, we learn the real secret of Barnabas Collins.

Captains Log: Barnabas is back in every sense. Vampire. Heroic protagonist. Confident and cruel towards those who earned it. He begins by savoring the power he has over his former captor, Will Loomis. The vampire’s new target could easily wind up in the coffin, himself, and would last for considerably less time. It’s the first time we’ve seen him with such bravado since before the Leviathan sequence. Perhaps he just takes to travel. He’s happier to use his powers when away “from home,” because this is all a rental, anyway. Not that he’s reckless. He runs crosswise to Lee’s Law of “with great power comes great responsibility.”  Barnabas is the embodiment of the Collins Corrolary, “With great power comes great skepticism.” Most people view a certain gentility as fey cowardice. Perhaps it’s just plain ol’ wisdom. The more extreme the action taken, the more information you’re obligated to have before taking it.

Run through the series once or twice, and the story seems to be “about” forgiveness. But let’s wind that backward one step. What are we forgiving? Taking action before all of the facts are in. Not looking before we leap off Widow’s Hill. Did Barnabas countenance that he might actually be in love with Angelique before teasing her with a tryst? Did Barnabas, an admittedly bad shot, consider that he might not kill Angelique when he fired his flintlock at her? How she might retaliate? What about trying to propel himself into parallel time with only a passing knowledge of that brave, newish world? Or there’s the whole kidnapping of Maggie thing. That one left a mark.

Not that it’s always a weakness. His willingness to take risks while terrified is also his great strength. I Ching trances. Smashing the equipment in the lab and sending Nicholas back Hell. Willing himself through time to 1796 despite Julia’s nagging. These are things he has to do, but he’s learning to know when those times are. Whether he’s rife with the exercise of 1790’s, aristocratic privilege, or the savage capacity for the vampire to capture, control, and consume, the Barnabas we know is rarely as powerless as he seems. He’s often caught between regretting drastic actions while fretting the mundane.

What’s changed? Nothing except for weeks of encapsulated captivity at the hands of Will Loomis. For the second time in his life, he’s thrust back into a necrotic womb. When he emerges in 1967, it’s with the madness that comes from facing the inescapable darkness alone. In Parallel Time, he’s not alone. He has Will’s incessant inquiries to give him purpose… and a reason to plan revenge. And he has the nature of Will’s questions. For the first time, he has the involuntary and blood-starved peace and quiet to examine the life he’s led. Will gives him no choice. He also gives Barnabas a sounding board that roots him in the real world whereas before, his coffin-time sent his mind funhousing inward. If anything, this is the final climb outward. Upon his escape from Will’s capture, his transformation is complete. Will asks if he thought of transforming Josette, and it’s as if that one question focuses the world for Barnabas Collins for the last time.

Barnabas secures Loomis in a cage of intimidation, shakes Quentin’s hand, stares down Parallel Angelique, and teams up with the head of the household to solve the mystery of the portal room, all within fifteen minutes. No wonder the show felt so jarringly fast from this point until it would leave the airwaves; it finally had a main character who could not only act but who knew when to do so.

Jonathan Frid’s return is desperately welcomed. Not just because we miss him, but because the ensemble feels right, at long last. Quentin does so little in the primary time present. Seeing him alongside Frid, flanked by Lara Parker and Grayson Hall, with Will Loomis just a set away, is what Dark Shadows is all about. The arguable failure of House of Dark Shadows becomes clear, here. Parker and Selby are phantom limbs we sense with a subconscious panic when they are missing. Without them, Barnabas must be his own foil and his film’s own villain. It was written precisely so that someone could mind the store while the rest filmed the movie. In that time, something was missing in the alchemy of both Shadows, whether on tv or in widescreen. It was the chemistry of the show -- not what was there when it started, but what they found from that point of departure.

They are reunited with a new Barnabas for the first time all over again. The show, at long last, will never be what it was. Revisiting established plot elements is not just an interesting option; it’s the only option. It’s the test. And it’s one that Barnabas Collins may actually finally pass.

This episode hit the airwaves on May 12, 1970.

Saturday, May 2, 2020

The Last Drive-In of Dark Shadows

I'll never get over hearing my name on television, even though I'm not sure I've ever heard my real name on television. That's the problem with working behind multiple pseudonyms and cutouts ... the Wizard of Oz gets all the press while Professor Marvel has to deal with the psychological fallout. I've had more personalities than a Batman villain, one of which was drummer in my band  (I was also a singer/guitarist in the group under a second pseudonym) who went on to win a state press award for "critical writing" about classic rock. I later killed this character off in an unsurprising motel fire. For those of you who want to argue that this guy was never real, I've got a plaque from the state press association that proves otherwise. RIP Lester Dented, fake drummer extraordinaire.

Last night two of my other identities got a shout out on The Last Drive-In With Joe Bob Briggs. Cousin Barnabas (which is both my Twitter handle and my Google ID for this website) and The Collinsport Historical Society received the Silver Bolo Award at the tail end of the live stream of 1988's Heathers. The award is "a weekly recognition of horror creators across the innerwebs" and it was immensely flattering. I have Diana “Darcy the Mail Girl” Prince, a fellow South Carolinian whose son happens to be a fan of all things Collinwood, to thank for this award.

And here's where that personality crisis finds its way back to the stage. While this website is my vision, it can't be argued by anyone that I've done it alone. I've benched myself for much of the last year, letting Patrick McCray keep the lights on while I take a sabbatical from Collinsport. (I've been pecking away at a story about Dark Shadows' migration from Amazon Prime to iMDB TV but have been stymied by a lack of online data related to both streaming services.) There are a LOT of other people who pitch in, but I'll refrain from naming names out of terror that someone will be forgotten. This website stands as a testimony to their passion for Dark Shadows, so feel free to poke around in our archives. They've done a lot of great work and would enjoy hearing from you.

JB & D
For those of you here primarily  for the Dark Shadows news, make sure you check out on The Last Drive-In With Joe Bob Briggs on Shudder. I've become an apostle for the channel during the last year or so, singing its praises every chance I get. The channel is the best argument I've seen for the value of a curated streaming service. And even without its generally excellent content, The Last Drive-In is worth the price of a subscription, alone. I've got a kindergartner in the house, so it's sometimes a challenge to watch horror movies without damaging him for life. There have been months where I've been able to watch nothing except The Last Drive-In ... and I still feel like I got my money's worth. Cousin Barnabas says check it out!

- Wallace McBride
(probably my real name)

Tuesday, April 28, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 27


Taped on this day in 1967: Episode 222

With nothing to lose but his inhibitions, Barnabas explores the wild world of male modeling to win Maggie’s heart. Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas, eager to have Maggie in his home, asks Sam Evans to paint his portrait. Probably also so he knows what he looks like. Sam agrees, and the two men start working late at night.

Barnabas awakens to find himself in a new world of gods and coincidences, although I suspect he’s wishing that Maggie’s dad were a contractor, given the state of the Old House wallpaper. The coincidence leads to one of Dark Shadows’ classic moments and raises questions about practicalities, as well.

Critics of the show would be hard-pressed to cite this with the usual cavils of chintz and camp. It’s spare and elegant, with Jonathan Frid delivering a performance that’s somewhere between little-boy-lost and utterly sinister. His chemistry extends to the entire cast, and the result is an unusually tight episode. It has an ending we all see coming, but is still redolent with mystery and implication. Sam insists on finishing a final detail on Barnabas’ portrait as the sun begins to rise. As he finishes, Barnabas has escaped, impossibly.

That’s the moment, and we enjoy it three ways. Even a new viewer is Barnabas’ secret confidant, knowing what Collinsport doesn’t. But we don’t know everything, including what he’s up to or how far this will go. And at the same time, we’re seeing Sam’s model vanish from his point of view, and can enjoy the eerie mystery, and wonder if either artist or model will return the next night.

As schemes go, this whole painting business is yet another moment that makes Dark Shadows the most poker-faced sitcom on TV. Like a love-struck 14-year-old, Barnabas comes up with every scheme possible to “just accidentally” keep running into Maggie as if he’s getting advice from Ralph Mouth and Potsie. This is right on the heels of the moment where he just-so-happens to leave his cane at the diner (so he has another excuse to see Maggie). In this case, he schemes to have Maggie’s dad paint his portrait under ludicrous circumstances so that he can again be in her company. You call it creepy. I call it adorable. It’s beyond a meet-cute. It’s Barnabas’ wacky concession that it’s a new world. What were his prior courting opportunities? He’s exhausted himself looking for a good cotillion or public hanging, and with those surefire heart-melters gone, he has no choice but to resort to schemes. I think such Puckish madness is the only reason WIllie puts up with him. Well, that and the threat of constant beatings. The comical highlight of the episode may be when Barnabas and Sam are awkwardly negotiating on a price, and Barnabas offers to pony up a grand. That’s well north of $6000 in 2020 money. But when was the last time Barnabas commissioned a portrait of himself? The last thing he paid an artist was probably three casks of rum and the promise to keep Ben Stokes off the lawn. Come to think of it, Sam probably would have gone for that, too, and never mind that he’s never heard of Ben Stokes. Barnabas is not exactly in his element here. Locked in a coffin since the Washington administration. Resorting to feeding off Willie. Living a renovation nightmare. Can’t find a good jabot at Brewster’s. And then there’s your ex-fiance. I mean, right there. So, how cool can he be? If he tried to play it smooth, he’d wind up looking like Sinatra in the love beads when he Did His Thing with the Fifth Dimension. And no one wants that.

Except for me.

In the best scene of the episode, the irony train roars through the Collinwood foyer at full blast. Maggie comes by to report to Vicki that Barnabas might as well be converting the Old House into an artist’s colony with impassioned and demonstrative treatises on naturism inevitably to follow after the fifth round of claret cups. Before they can call Sheriff Patterson to join in, Vicki introduces Maggie to the portrait, and Maggie is the one person who doesn’t bother with noting Barnabas’ resemblance, probably because she’s seen the last few episodes. Instead, she notes the eyes, and both women admit that it’s a relief to finally have someone pleasant around Collinwood. Liz? Roger? Are you listening? I’m not here to tell Mrs. Johnson that she’d get bigger tips if she’d smile more, although I have no doubt Burke said that once or twice after his fifth Tanqueray & Tang, but, you know, it might make breakfast a tad less funereal.

In seriousness, it’s a marvelously true and beautiful moment. They can sense it in him. Even though the audience is supposed to chuckle at the irony, Yes, we are supposed to think that Barnabas’ innate and radiant kindness is camouflage hiding the Beast. No. So great is his genuine spirit that even Angelique’s curse is eclipsed by it. This is only evident when you know the full story of Barnabas Collins, but it’s about fifty-three years too late for spoilers.

The show inevitably feels foreign when revisited after exploring its full expanse. Quiet. Focused. Affectionate toward its well-drawn characters. It is exactly the tone we need to root us in, and I mean it, the reality of these people. This moody tone poem in black, white, and creamy gray is the real world from which we depart. Knowing that it’s there is what allows us to stay invested into the wildest of futures, pasts, and parallels.

This episode hit the airwaves on May 3, 1967.

Friday, April 24, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 24


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1001

What’s better than Lara Parker? Two Lara Parkers! Dark Shadows is seeing double in this very special episode where Angelique inaugurates her new life by beginning a spree of murder, malice, magic, and mirth! Chris Collins: Don Briscoe. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Angelique rises from the grave, draining Alexis of her life energy, exchanging clothes with her, and consigning her to the coffin to take her place at Collinwood. Cyrus begins changing spontaneously into Yaeger as Quentin moves to destroy what he things is Angelique’s body.

Dark Shadows passes its 1000th episode, and with no more milestones left, it slides into entropy, a perspective only possible when seeing the series as a whole. To put the division of the story into perspective, it has 224 episodes left. That’s only a few more than carried the story between Vicki’s arrival in Collinsport and the unleashing of Barnabas. 200 after that moment? We’ll find ourselves in the thick of the great man’s origin in 1795. The end of the next 200 brings Barnabas to the height of his struggle to reclaim his core goodness through both working for and fighting against Nicholas and Eve, seeing how easily his second self, Adam, falls from innocence to malevolence. The eventual triumph makes a proper midpoint for the series and over the next two hundred, our first hero -- Vicki -- leaves, and Barnabas enjoys the full height of his power before having iy taken away. The journey to episode 1000 will lead to his complete immobilization in Parallel Time while the series builds the necessity for him to stop running. In the final arc of the series, he realizes (like Dorothy Gale) that he lost nothing; a good man forced into the service of evil doesn’t become evil. In the right circumstances, he finally stops seeing himself as the man who was defeated by his own past and recognizes that the future is eternally unwritten.

You know, then it’s all 1841PT. And we all know how THAT is? Amiright? Amiright? And howabout that airline food? What’s up with that? Here’s a joke Jim Pierson told me over a curling match: an Irishman, Istvan, and a Leviathan walk into the Blue Whale….

… and the bartender says, “Aristede can stay, but only if the Caretaker gets to watch!”

1001 is all about unholy twins -- Angelique and Yaeger -- taking replacing the rightful hosts. The horror here is Dark Shadows at its most meta, because what else is Parallel Time but an unwelcomed substitute that seems interesting on the surface, but leaves us, like Barnabas, a chained prisoner who’s beginning to fear that this sinister duplicate might never leave? On some level, the writers had to be aware of that, even if it were never spoken aloud.

And before that sounds like a catty strike at the show, think about how that tight audience identification helps the overall story. Dark Shadows begins as the saga of someone seeking a home. But it never quite takes, does it? Barnabas refashions his house over and over again, only to lose it over and over again. In the case of Parallel Time, he thinks he’s found a better home, only to realize that he should have valued what he had in the first place, even if it smells like Teen Jeb. Perhaps we should have, also. But once he realizes that, it’s too late. When he returns to Collinwood, it is already a smoldering hulk he failed to save… before he even gets the chance.

Dark Shadows is rampant with twins, doubles, and alternate sides. Of course, any drama is (actor vs. part), and none more than those in which we follow performers taking on parts so numerous that we stop identifying roles and simply note the actor beneath as the real character we follow. But PT is literally the show’s twin, born while the crew is creating yet another twin for the big screen. As we see Angelique take over for Alexa, and John “Lounge Hulk” Yeager burst out of Cyrus of his own volition, the show feels like it is finally being honest. Twins are intrinsically nightmares. If they are worse than us, we dread their potential havoc and implication. If they are better than we are, we dread them even more. We’ve been fighting to maintain our optimism while the show grinds away, and just when it’s wise to give up, the evil twins at least get it over with and assume the places of the good. PT thus earns its place, if not as a second home, then as a proving ground for Barnabas to see who he really is.

Lara Parker’s doubled performance, timed exquisitely, allows her to demonstrate range like few other moments granted to any actor on the show. She’s at her most maniacally fierce, so much so that we glimpse a strange rage boiling under the skin of a Memphis debutante who’s escaped the south but not quite the 1960’s. It’s a performance that, sure, what the hell, it’s acting… but it’s acting with a realism more easily interpreted as real. Parker, here, represents what makes the show so vital, and what makes her so vital to the show. It is that fusion of impossible beauty, impossible knowledge, and impossible rage that fascinates us, frightens us, repels us, and makes it impossible to turn away.

One veteran not to survive this moment is Don Briscoe. It’s his last, haggard, exhausted episode. Briscoe remains a paragon of gentle magnetism and relatability. He’s what we’d like to see in ourselves, and somehow that guy snuck onto the set. His presence, even as a villain, was immediately reassuring that we, inexplicably but clearly, had a friend at Collinwood. He was holding a place for us at the table, not as impossibly macho as Burke nor as neurotic as Willie, Briscoe was the truest audience surrogate on the show. It’s a colder show -- and world -- without him.

This episode hit the airwaves on April 27, 1970.

Wednesday, April 22, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 22


Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 480

Heads up! Julia wigs out when she finds out Lang’s big plan, but will Jeff Clark continue to stick his neck out? Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Lang persuades Barnabas to recruit Julia’s hypnotic aid to relieve Jeff Clark of his near beheading. When Julia learns the truth, she vows to help the experiment but decides to call the cops on Lang, instead.

Mention the Adam storyline to fans, and -- because Adam is a big, shambling lug unconnected to the overall Collins family -- you’ll see an expression that is worn typically only by xenophobic toddlers dragged to cheese expos. Since Adam is missing a head, it may be the wrong time to talk about him as a sex symbol. However, it’s the perfect time to figure out why the Adam storyline is there, both in the saga’s timeline and to explain why it’s there at all in the overall series. Back in the days of VHS or strip syndication reruns, these questions were as useless as an AA meeting in the drawing room. You were lucky to see any of the show. Whatever fell into your lap from the gods of money, tv timing, and Suncoast was a randomly distributed bauble. Now, with the entire show in free streaming on Tubi, it’s only proper to see the show as One Big Red Marble that you consider all at once.

So, what I’m getting at is that the Adam storyline is the most important one to the series.

Like Adam, himself, it is a mechanical kind of importance. It is the fulcrum on which Barnabas’ journey gains its most important leverage… and it does similar things for Julia. I bring it up because we are seeing the choices in an episode like 480 that galvanizes that change. It is the change that will be celebrated in 1897, then challenged relentlessly until 1840 provides the opportunity for them to reclaim their moral identity for the final time. Right now, they’re just finding out that they have a moral identity to later reclaim.

Barnabas’ exploitation of Julia’s love gets Lang to put his gun away, which is always a calming sight in a lab full of overpowered electronics and wildly volatile chemicals. He merely wants one more decapitation… one more life so that her subscription to Scientific American wasn’t wasted. It’s an odd choice by Barnabas in the light of the man he will be for much of the series, but practically Dalai Lamatic compared to the creature Angelique made him. He would probably even help Lang give the head donor some novocaine so the decapitation would be something they’d never even notice. It seems like he almost has her convinced. Barnabas is doing this for both survival and love, so she should apply the same measure. But Barnabas Collins is no Vicki Winters in the siren department, and Julia’s love suddenly falters when the price is sawing a man’s head off… although if she chose carefully, it would somewhat reduce the catering bill at the wedding. So, both Barnabas and Julia are aware of the moral stakes at play, and even though Julia is passing the test and Barnabas is failing, he is aware that he’s failing as he moves from the world of the beast to the world of man.

Lang is crucial to the spectrum because he is a fusion of the best and worst of Barnabas and Julia. He’s a monstrous sociopath and a man of science. Both can see the worst of themselves in him, and both can see the strange optimism and sense of purpose that will be their greatest motivational ally.

Everyone is a swinger, here. Lara Parker sells total sincerity and total nonsense -- with a dash of seething jealousy -- as she thanks Julia for being her only friend at Collinwood. Unbeknownst to Julia, they have everything in common. Both came to the area to do specific jobs the Collinses couldn’t or wouldn’t do. Both have esoteric powers to bend minds and bodies. Both arrived there under false pretenses. Both are in love with Barnabas. Two women enter, only one will leave on her feet. Julia may not have Barnabas when she leaves 1840, but she does have Julia.

Jonathan Frid’s nervousness is once again his ally. Just as he flubs a few lines, so does Barnabas because that’s what people do at gunpoint. Grayson Hall has the unenviable task of having to Scream a Whole Lot, and this episode is the special delight of people who like to say she’s a bad actor. No, she’s a great actor. She’s a pro who was told to Scream a Whole Lot, and that’s exactly what she did. Roger Davis deserves special kudos for epitomizing the stakes of the episode. First roofied by Lang and then tied up in a bedroom, he arises from a slumber of uncomfortable subtext to explain to Julia what’s happening. The dialogue deals a lot with stealing his head, and Davis does what actors are supposed to do. He justifies its authenticity. Tough words to pull off? Whether it were Shakespeare at his wordiest or poorly translated Strindberg, he had flirted with both and more as a stage actor and a teacher. If he can make much of that sound true, he can sell a man’s reasonable concern with decapitation.

A last note in terms of when this falls. The show had not yet given up on the idea of Barnabas’ soul entering a new body with a new face. Considering that this was in and around the first anniversary of the debut of Barnabas Collins, it would not surprise me if this were also in and around the time for contract renegotiations. Could this have been a subtle message from Dan Curtis (the Sultan of Subtlety) that Dark Shadows may have needed Barnabas Collins, but Barnabas Collins doesn’t necessarily need Jonathan Frid?

Of course, this is a wild theory, but I know that it would be on my mind were I there.

This episode hit the airwaves on April 26, 1968.

Saturday, April 18, 2020

In Dark Shadows, your reflection always tells the truth

This week marks 52 years since the first appearance of Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows. To celebrate the occasion, The Collinsport Historical Society is spending the week looking back at the "introductions" of the character in various media.


Barnabas Collins made his first appearance in any medium on April 6, 1967.

Even if you watched this episode, though, there’s a pretty good chance you missed him. During the closing scenes of the episode, Willie Loomis (played by James Hall in his second-to-last appearance on DARK SHADOWS) tries to assault Carolyn Stoddard, who pulls a gun on him and issues a stern warning ...

“If you don't leave me alone, I'll blow your head off,” she says. Fade to credits.

It was here that most people in 1967 — and probably many viewers since — probably stopped watching the episode. Those who stuck around, though, saw a significant piece of art had been added to Collinwood’s foyer.

In a bit of retroactive continuity, we later learn the portrait of Barnabas Collins has been hanging in full view for many, many years. After regenerating into John Karlen in episode 206, Willie takes an active interest in the portrait, eventually meeting Barnabas Collins face to face on April 10 during a bit of grave robbing. It’s not until the following episode that we get to see Barnabas for ourselves, when he makes his iconic arrival at Collinwood.

All of this makes it difficult to pinpoint the “first appearance” of Barnabas Collins on Dark Shadows. Complicating matters is that the character's first physical appearance is in Episode 210 when Barnabas’ hand emerges from the coffin to choke Willie Loomis. On that episode, he was played by set extra Timothy Gordon. Meanwhile, the character’s “first appearance” is almost always credited to Jonathan Frid’s debut, which is fair … but that doesn’t make the milestone any easier to read. By the time we formally meet the character, we already know a lot about him.

Barnabas’ piecemeal introduction is in keeping with the dominant theme of Dark Shadows during much of its run, which is underscored in the final reveal of Jonathan Frid: In Dark Shadows, your reflection always tells the truth.

Duality was a series theme from the very first episode, which implemented a shocking amount of symbolism in its photography. As a daily series, it was never designed to withstand the scrutiny of re-runs, let alone the far-flung fantasy concept of "home video." The series was as disposable as a newspaper, something to be enjoyed for a few minutes and then forgotten. The writers and directors of Dark ShadowsS did not get that memo, though, and set about creating afternoon entertainment that was more psychologically complex than it had any right to be.

The first episode established this dynamic immediately. Victoria Winters is riding on a train through the night, her reflection in the glass beside her. We discover that she’s a “foundling,” anonymously abandoned to the state as an infant. She’s traveling to Collinsport, Maine, to take a job — and to learn the truth about her own mysterious past.

In other words, she’s looking for the real Victoria Winters — represented throughout this episode by her own reflection. We see Victoria reflected back in the window of the train carriage, the mirror in the restaurant of the Collinsport Inn, and in a mirror (in a flashback!) at her bedroom at the foundling home.

Most telling is the reveal in the episode’s final scene. When she arrives at her destination, the doors of Collinwood open to show Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard standing in the entrance, looking very much like Victoria’s reflection. (For me, this is all the evidence I’ve ever needed that Liz was Victoria’s mother.)

We get the same kind of imagery in the introduction of Barnabas Collins, though it’s less direct. Again, the “real” Barnabas is the character we see in the portrait — the ancestor who lived at Collinwood more than a century earlier. While it’s only a fraction of the truth, it’s much more reliable than the tales told by Barnabas, himself.

We see this over and over throughout the run the series, always to different effect. The portrait of Quentin Collins — a magical creation that spared him from harm — represents the real person, the Quentin that suffers the consequences of his own bad decisions. But this duality has a downside: Quentin will live forever, but he might as well not exist at all. Neither the world nor Quentin Collins had much effect on each other in the 20th century.They just drift through the years, body and soul detached.

Interestingly, Barnabas returned to the “portrait” well twice during the show’s first year. As a ruse to lure Sam Evans away from his daughter, Barnabas arranges to sit for the artist to have a new portrait done. The painting is meant to do something beyond keeping Sam occupied; it’s designed to transform Barnabas’ lie into something approximating the truth. The portrait would lend credibility to his tale of being “The Cousin from England,” enshrining his new likeness with those of the other Collins family ancestors at Collinwood. It makes his backstory legitimate.

It must have been handy for the writers to have characters like Sam Evans and Charles Delaware Tate in the cast. It made the symbolic use of portraits easy to justify without having to do logistical cartwheels to introduce each new prop. One of the first portrait devices used on Dark Shadows was an illustration by artist/alcohol enthusiast Sam Evans many years before the start of the series.  During a visit to his home, Victoria finds a portrait of a woman named Betty Hanscomb among his older works. Despite the obvious similarity (the portrait was unsurprisingly based on a photo of actress Alexandra Moltke) he claims he doesn’t see much of a resemblance. We eventually learn Hanscomb and her family are dead, and the plot point — like so many that involved Victoria — was left to dangle.

Another of Sam’s portraits would also reveal an ugly truth about Laura Collins. While under the influence of supernatural compulsions, Sam painted a portrait of Laura that shows her to be the demon that she truly is. By the time Barnabas Collins shows up — just a few weeks after the first incarnation of Laura Collins is dispatched — the writers had polished the old “Portrait as Id” trope to a high sheen. They’d go on to use it to different effect with Josette Du Pres, Angelique Bouchard, and several characters in the Night of Dark Shadows feature film.

Before the end of the series, Dark Shadows even introduced a character who was literally a portrait come to life. Amanda Harris, played by Donna McKechnie, was another of the magical creations of Charles Delaware Tate, who made a pact with Hungarian sorcerer Andreas Petofi for a boost to his "Talent" attribute. Once again, it was the portrait that was "real." Much like Victoria, Harris was unaware of her own origins. And what little she knew was fiction. Her romantic entanglement with Quentin Collins — a man whose soul was also linked to a magical portrait — was one of Dark Shadows' most appropriate relationships. Naturally, it was doomed to fail.

Monday, April 13, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 13


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 996

What has black hair, a bushy mustache, and swings a mean sword cane? Parallel Time, meet your new best friend. John Yaeger: Chris Pennock. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Cyrus transforms into the giddy, roughhousing swinger, John Yaeger, who immediately goes to the Eagle to romance Buffie. In the process, he deals with his romantic rival, Steve, with extreme prejudice. When he offers to pay for the damage with one of Longworth’s checks, Buffie drops a dime on him to Quentin. Yaeger is well aware of the betrayal, however.

April 13 is a significant day for me because it’s not only the day they taped episode 210, where the iconic hand of Barnabas Collins shot up to grab the 20th century by the throat, it was also one year before I was born. But by that time, 1971, Dark Shadows had been off the air for eleven days.

I was eleven when I saw Dark Shadows for the first time. That was in January of 1982. It was very much of a different world from 1967 or 1970, betrayed by hairstyles and hemlines, and yet, as adults are cursed to do, I will tell you what you may know better than I; eleven years is nothing.  The show had only been off the air for eleven years. Eleven years ago from tonight, Barack Obama was president. We had iPhones. Marvel movies were coming out… one, anyway. Daniel Craig was still James Bond. It doesn’t seem that long ago. And 996 features a performance and an interpretation of a classic character that are both shockingly modern. Ahead of 1970. Of 1982. And maybe of 2020.

April 13. I can think of few better ways to spend this day than with Chris Pennock. With episode 996, we do. And how.

It’s the first time we see John Yaeger flex his muscles in the fullest sense. From the get-go, although the makeup is more Goulet than ghoul, this is no ordinary performance. How much was Joe Caldwell? How much was Chris Pennock? Inseparable?

Dark Shadows has a rich history of improving the classics, thank you very much, as they reinterpreted venerable texts for a postmodern era. The original authors -- Shelley, Stoker, Wilde, James, Stevenson, etc -- certainly had the edges and luxuries of poetic language and originality. But with the edge of originality also comes the myopia of having to do this now-now-now, with no time to let decades and culture mull over the ideas in context. Essentially, those original authors were beta testing their ideas. The James Whales, Jimmy Sangsters, and Dan Curtises (Curti?) were perfecting them for wide release to the public.

Good. Evil. So clear for Victorians and Edwardians whose sun never sat, whose racial superiority was axiomatic, and who didn’t have the troubled teendom that was the 20th century yet under their belts. The Jekyll and Hyde concept is now, post-Freud & Company, just… weird. Richard Matheson fired the first shot with The Enemy Within, wherein both the “good” and “evil” sides had as much to recommend them as to condemn. Pennock and Caldwell take this even further, giving Dark Shadows its most philosophical (and dramatically ebullient) moment, sadly stuck in a storyline that is, you know, babysitting the audience because we got a movie to make, people. Look alive!

Maybe that was a good thing. Maybe they couldn’t have gotten away with this if Uncle Dan were at home. (Or if Drug Culture had not yet been totally villainized, and someone tell Cary Grant to give us his source.) When we meet John Yaeger, he might not be what we think of as conventionally attractive, but he’s also not the semi-simian grotesque that March, Cagney, and the other guys became. The early Hydes were childlike. Yaeger is a cocky young man in full. You know when women tell you (well, tell me) not to be too nice, what they’re really saying is not to be too reliant on their validation. John Yaeger is an army of self-validation. No self-doubt. It’s not that the opinions of others don’t matter, but they don’t seem to matter more to him than his own.

Okay, yes, he beats Steve mercilessly, but Steve is no prize and his grabby way with the biscuit hooks, re: Elizabeth Eis, would not exactly fly in under the flag of #MeToo Uber Alles. This is redneck-on-redneck action, and I say let the boys duke it out, which is actually my way of saying that Yaeger was not unprovoked. When he comes to life, it is with as much joy as malice. He is the continuum of human reaction, and say what you will, he’s honest. As I’ve noted before, it’s hard to tell what Yaeger would be like if things went his way. I imagine a pretty fun guy. Similarly, if he sensed true loyalty, he’d probably be the kind of dogged advocate everyone wants in a friend.

The problem with Yaeger is not that he’s too much of anything. The problem is that everyone else is too little. If everyone took a dose of Longworth No.5, he’d be on a level playing field. I’m not so sure he’d go nuts at that point because, well, as Robert Heinlein imagined, (in some cases) an armed society is a polite society. Until then, while there are few actions of his that we can reasonably commend, we can still get a giggle or more from the spirit. As for the execution? Again, perhaps this is only a performance that you can get away with when the boss is in Tarrytown. If there’s anyone whose emphatic sense of conflict relations might meet its match with John Yaeger, it’s Dan Curtis. Am I the only one who sees this?

This episode hit the airwaves on April 20, 1970.

Friday, April 3, 2020

Sam Hall's "Dark Shadows" postmortem, 1971

One of the great things about used books are the occasional prizes you find stashed between their pages.

Above is a copy of the famous essay written by Sam Hall  head writer for DARK SHADOWS during its final years — and published six months after the show aired its final episode. I found photocopies of this article in the pages of a DARK SHADOWS fanzine purchased off Ebay a few years ago, which was terrific luck. In the essay, Hall outlines where the series might have gone had it not been cancelled. Granted, there were other writers on the show to contend with (as well as producer Dan Curtis and the demands of its cast) but it makes for interesting reading.

Below is a transcript of the article.

From left, Grayson Hall, Sam Hall and Jonathan Frid.

In Case You're Curious ...
Here's What Really Happened to Barnabas & Co.
By Sam Hall
TV Guide,October 9, 1971

When Dark Shadows recently went off the air, the audience was left with all of the troubled characters  and many questions as to their fate. We had certain long-range plans for most of them  but what the characters would do with the rest of their lives can only be fantasy. However, after three years of living with them, I feel I know moments of their future.

Elizabeth Collins Stoddard remained the matriarch of Collinwood. After the sudden death of her brother Roger, she was determined to hold the Collins' family empire together until Roger's son David was old enough to take over and she did with the help of an elegant, very bright man from Boston to help her and with him she finally found some personal happiness.

Roger Collins, just before this death, discovered the secret that his cousin Barnabas was a vampire, but he told no one, and vowed to end Barnabas's unhappy existence. Armed with a stake and a hammer, he discovered Barnabas's coffin during the daytime, but Angelique appeared and killed Roger. She forced Willie Loomis to carry Roger's body to the woods, where it was found. Death was attributed to a heart attack.

Shortly after the funeral, Mrs. Johnson was cleaning out Roger's room. She swore later that a cold hand had touched her. At first everyone felt she was simply hysterical. But one night, Carolyn saw Roger's ghost standing in the great hall. The ghost pointed a spectral finger at the portrait of Barnabas Collins. When Carolyn implored the spirit to speak, it disappeared.

Carolyn, with the aid of T. Eliot Stokes and Julia Hoffman, attempted a seance to find out why Roger's spirit could not rest. But the seance was unsuccessful. It is known that on certain stormy nights Roger's ghost can be seen coming down the stairs, staring at the portrait of the man who caused his death.

Carolyn Stoddard found herself more and more interested in the world of the occult. She knew that with the death of her husband Jeb Hawkes one part of her life was finished and she was determined to understand the unknown forces which had taken him from her. She began studying with T. Eliot Stokes and then went to a large university which had a department of psychic research. While there she discovered that she herself was the reincarnation of Leticia Faye, a woman who had lived at Collinwood during the 19th century.

Working with various mediums she became a psychic-research investigator. She published many books on the supernatural and established a foundation to examine the existing evidence of the world beyond. She continued to regard Collinwood as her home and established a mother-daughter relationship with Amy Jennings which contributed greatly to the stability of that confused and very scared young child.

Years later Carolyn re-met Adam who had loved her so deeply. He had become a successful and sophisticated man, and he wanted to marry her. But she knew she could not go back in time. They parted warm friends.

As time went on Quentin Collins found living at Collinwood more and more difficult. He was unable to forget his love for Daphne, though both she and Gerard were finally at peace. And he was afraid to love again  afraid that his own secret would be discovered. For, as long as Charles Delaware Tate's portrait existed, Quentin would not age. And he well knew that if he destroyed the picture, he would suffer the awful curse of the werewolf.

Finally, he left the town of Collinsport to roam the world  Athens, Alexandria, India ... always hunting some solution for his existence. And with each country, he became more and more withdrawn. He became more aware that he could never become close to another human being.

Often he was tempted to return to Collinwood, destroy the portrait and kill himself before the full moon could cause him to change into the wolf man. But some slight hope stopped him from doing that. For, at the beginning of his travels, he had heard rumors that there existed a man  a man with a wooden hand and miraculous powers. A man who had transcended time  a Count Petofi. And so Quentin kept on, looking for the Count, knowing that if he could find him again perhaps the Count could take pity on him and help him find peace at last.

Maggie Evans, who left Collinwood with Phillip [sic] returned a year later a divorced woman. She moved into her father's cottage and began working at Wyndcliff, the private sanitarium. There she remet her former fiancee, Joe Haskell. With her help, Joe managed to regain his sanity. He left the sanitarium with no memory of Angelique and the circumstances which had caused him to lose his mind. Joe and Maggie married. He returned to the Collins' fishing fleet. They lived happily in Collinsport.

But Chris Jennings and Sabrina Stuart did not have Maggie and Joe's luck. For they found they could not run from the curse that afflicted him. Though they had a few days of happiness when they left Collinsport they were both aware that time was their enemy. For soon the moon would be full and Chris would become the werewolf again. They constructed a cell to lock him in. But when he became the wolf man, he broke out of it and killed Sabrina. Her brother found her body that same night. The following morning, Chris returned to their home. When he discovered what he had done, he committed suicide.

Barnabas was deeply affected by Chris's death. He and Julia Hoffman had tried desperately to help Chris. Barnabas identified with him very much. He began to feel that it was only a matter of time until he too would become a victim of his curse. When he learned from Angelique that Roger had discovered his secret, his depression deepened. Again, Barnabas felt that he had brought new tragedy to those he loved at Collinwood. He knew that his vampirism would be discovered.

Julia and Willie Loomis decided they must get Barnabas to leave Collinsport. They were both willing to sacrifice their lives and travel with him. He finally agreed to go, but just before they were to start, Barnabas became very ill. Julia was astonished. She knew that Barnabas could not, because of his vampirism, have human ailments. Yet the mysterious fever so ravaged him that Julia feared for his very existence.

She suddenly realized that there could be only one explanation for Barnabas's illness. Adam. She remembered the mysterious link which began to exist when Barnabas helped bring Adam to life. At the time Adam disappeared from Collinwood, they knew that if he died, Barnabas would, too. Julia knew she must find Adam, wherever he was. Adam must have the same fever. He had to be cured if Barnabas were to be saved.

Enlisting the aid of T. Eliot Stokes, she did find Adam  in the Far East. She managed to cure him, but in the course of the treatment, she contracted the illness herself. She was near death when Barnabas  well now  came to her. He realized how he loved her, and promised her that if she lived, they would marry.

They were married in Singapore. Barnabas felt they must never return to Collinsport. Angelique must not find them  for she would never allow Julia to live. So they stayed on. Julia began working with an Asian doctor and experimented with a new treatment which she was positive would take away the curse of Barnabas's vampirism. They began the treatments. They were successful. Barnabas Collins at last could walk in the light of day  walk with the woman he loved, but walk with an ever present fear  a fear that Angelique would find them, and destroy the only happiness he had had in his life.

No audience will see these stories playing out. But for those for whom the characters were real, these are merely signposts pointing the direction the characters might have gone.
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