Wednesday, September 16, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: Sept. 15


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1109

Can Barnabas and Quentin stop Gerard Stiles from raising an army of the dead to destroy Collinwood? Zombie: Chuck Morgan. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Julia and Barnabas rescue Quentin from being buried alive as Gerard prepares David and Hallie for their own ritual murder. After Quentin is driven mad by his attempt to thwart the evil specter, Barnabas is assailed by the living dead and Julia finds herself alone on an enchanted staircase, bound for 1840. 

Full disclosure: I’ve written about this one before, but in a long chain of most important Dark Shadows episodes, this thrusts itself to the head of the line and tells the others to just… back… off. And given what goes on in 1109, I wouldn’t want to throw down with it. As episodes go, I’m not going on the record to say it’s that well-written. It has a sweaty desperation to it on every level, and you could tell that the writers were pushing to create an event where one may not really exist. This sequence of the show is important, yes, but I’m not sure if it’s actually important or if I’m responding to a sense of obligation to find it so.

I’m not the sharpest knife in the drawer. Completely innumerate. I don’t understand most movies. I can’t tell you how many times I’ve seen The Living Daylights, and I haven’t a clue what’s going on. I think the Taliban are the heroes in it. No, I’m not kidding. If my brow were any lower, it would be lovingly described by the ghost of Jaques Cousteau. So, the only reason I usually claim to like good things is to keep the tasteful from brandishing rolled up copies of Cahiers du Cinéma and taking my lunch money. (I’d rather be watching Smokey and the Bandit, Part 3.) Is that what’s happening in 1109? I could couch it in claims that its impenetrability is all part of Gerard’s existential plan to drive them mad. I’ve done that before. But is that honest or does it just sound good?

Still, I love it. Maybe that’s enough. Yes, it does have mysteries that never pay off. You know, like Gerard’s plan. There’s a whole thing about Quentin being forced to relive the death of his twin Uncle’s son and then re-die being buried alive like he was in… wait. Did any of that happen in 1840? I don’t think so. I don’t remember it. I guess the heroes changed the timeline. Sure. why not? It doesn’t really bother me that much, to be honest. The cast (especially combat-paid David Selby, who probably needed to take a nap for a month after this) really, really pulls it off. If you want what passes for spectacle on a budget that never exceeded the average daytime soap, your front row seat is waiting. 

I enjoy its baffling quality. It feels like a Robert Altman movie. I’m getting little slices of life connected to unexplained, offstage action with a significance that’s never fully revealed. So, where’s Paul Dooley? The obsession with reincarnation and twins runs throughout the episode. It’s deeply theatrical that way, as if the actors can’t quite shake parts they’ve never really played. Is Daphne a ghost or not? Is she on Gerard’s team or not? I don’t know. But I don’t understand most people, and watching Daphne ping-pong between agendas and loyalties is what I experience every day. 

One of the creepiest elements is Gerard’s obsession with the kids' clothing. I guess he went to Brewsters in between episodes and got them some fancy new duds, because he’s wildly insistent that children of the 1970’s, possessed by children from the 1840’s, have new clothes. You’d think he’d want them dressed in antique ensembles to relive the night he’ll never kill them, but these are right off the rack. It’s a sick moment on several levels beyond the mustard-yellow shirt he forces David Henesy to don. It’s only now that I’ve begun to wonder if he’s forcing them into the clothes they’ll have on at the visitation. After he kills them. It’s a level of thanophilic mockery to rival that of the most brutal serial killer. The other darkly kinky aspect to this is that David and Hallie will be undressing in the same room, aroused as they face certain death. The show pulls a muscle to deny that these kids are deep in the mournful summer heat of puberty, but then it does things like this. It’s sex and death and taboo that passes us by because zombies are on the march, so run home at 4:30 to catch it, kiddos. 

Yeah, we’re playing for keeps, and it makes me wonder what kids made of it. It was probably deeply cathartic to watch adults, who were talking about things they only pretended to understand, get hoisted by their own green flag. Finally. One tv show actually gets what it’s like to be a child. Or me. This episode is The Empire Strikes Back of Dark Shadows, with our heroes in constant retreat. 

But it has the undeniable grip of great drama, with our honestly beloved heroes pushed to brinks of terror beyond their reckoning. To hell with Willie emerging from a coma and spilling the beans to Dana Elcar, Barnabas. What you faced in 1967 was Tinker Toys compared to being grappled by zombies. Chuck Morgan threw off the fabric that was thrown over his head and chased you like you had the last two-for-one Malibu Chicken Sizzler coupons on earth. There’s a dark satisfaction to seeing our heroes really put to the test. The crashing kathunk of Quentin’s initial smugness of 1897 is not when he learns his unknown son is dead. That Hamleting around is a trip to Epcot compared to Gerard’s simple, maddening grip. Gerard is the era and ilk of ghost that Quentin would have feared as a child, and he cannot be outrun. Just as the teens are infantilized, so is Quentin… before being slammed back into adulthood to stagger away from another boy he couldn’t save. This is his fate. To be the loveless, misunderstood, lone wolf Collins. He’s destined to live for the sole purpose of officiating at funerals for children he never saved. The only ones naively wise enough to have loved him. 

Catharsis, yes. And a baseline to return from. We’ve always known that our heroes could get the best of Nicholas Blair and Petofi because guys like those don’t really play for keeps. They’re having too much fun. But Gerard is Lex Luthor. The real one. The one who doesn’t get his kicks from planning the deaths of innocent people, but causing them. And Barnabas is not innocent. Nor is Julia. Nor is Quentin. Nor even David, if you go back far enough. Remember when they were bad guys, and we hoped they’d get what was coming to them? Be careful what you wish for. Because Gerard is the hero that, once upon a time, we were hoping would put ‘em in their place. All motion is relative, Mr. Brady. All motion is relative. 

It’s an evil statement. It’s a statement that the universe doesn’t care about all the swell stuff you’ve done for hundreds of episodes. Because it has a moral agenda to fill. And that, alone, is a force for our heroes fight. For all of us. Because who they’ve become matters. The good that they’ve done matters. Now, in 1840, they’ll finally have a chance to prove it. Except for Quentin. Quentin the Second. He’ll just have to wait for a new timeline to pull in at the Collinsport Depot and take him to the beginning and the end of a better world. He deserves it. As do the rest. Thanks to the destruction of everything, they just might get it.

And I like 1109 a lot. A lot. But I like documentaries. 

This episode was broadcast Sept. 24, 1970.

Wednesday, September 9, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: Sept. 9


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 842

Count Petofi and Angelique face the one force no occult power can overcome. But what could it be? Julia Hoffman: Grayson Hall. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Julia realizes that her force of will can not only propel her through time, but makes her immune to the machinations of Count Petofi. Surviving a point-blank shot, she responds by recruiting Angelique to best the Count. Later, Charles Delaware-Tate fully understands the extent of his powers by creating life from art. 

The Dark Shadows that I want, the Dark Shadows I remember, and the Dark Shadows I get are three distinctly different shows. I want an Edward Albee version of Doc Savage with vampires, and no one is sensible enough to make that. The Dark Shadows I remember is an endlessly engaging, unfinished symphony of surprise as Barnabas wanders toward episodes that I was told were too expensive to show. The Dark Shadows I get is a sustained note of comforting monotony spiked with fleeting moments of delight and wonder. They are moments where I shout to no one that, “There it is!  There’s the imagination and delight and risk!” 

When Dark Shadows is good, I mean very good, it crisscrosses the best of American character drama with tales of profound, speculative fantasy. It can be the equal of great theater and exceeds the brainiest science fiction. I say things like that, but when it comes to proving it, I’m often bereft. I usually have to tell people that, you know, there are 1225 episodes, and if you just watch it, that will appear, like some kind of theatrical magic eye poster. And I could never do those; it’s perverse to ask it of others. Which, of course, I love doing. 

Still, the pleasure of writing the Daybook is to become Khan in the Mutara sector, bolting from his chair and announcing, “There she is!  There she is!” And 842 needs to hop up on a pedestal and pose for that moment, because, well, there she is. It may be all of that or it may be all of that only in the context of the other 1224 installments. I’m not sure that anything in Dark Shadows is what I’d like it to be. Is anything a self-contained example of itself? You simply have to judge for yourself after watching it, and if you do that, by the end, even the most die-hard critic of the show has at least seen it. Does it amount to anything? Not my problem. 

It’s not a payoff episode in terms of resolving storylines, but it nevertheless answers questions the show has begged, which is a horror no-no, and depicts characters actually talking about their relationships, aspirations, and surprises. A secret to acting is that a performer can build a career on making decisions, discoveries, and disclosures. Taking a note from that, 842 propels itself with a marvelously satisfying sequence of all three. 

It may never top its beginning, as Julia suffers a fatal bullet wound from a diabolical trap... set by Petofi to force Barnabas to be her unwitting murderer. Such inventive sadism. In a Republic serial, it would all have been resolved with some kind of cheat that in no way matched the set-up. But Gordon Russell is too crafty for that. Why cheat when you can explore the existential extent of your own whackadoodle time travel conceit? That’s what they do, and in doing so the show uses its exhausting length to investigate all of those bizarre implications no other medium could afford. Time travel through an I Ching trance is patently silly (unlike the dignity of a flux capacitor or vaporising equalizer) until you really explore it to such an extent that it somehow legitimizes itself. Julia is there, but only through the force of will that symbolizes the spirit with which these characters soldier on through 950 hours of contrived terror and unlikely romance. These characters keep trudging on because they have to. You know, like we do in life. And Julia, more human than any of them, summons a friendship that dwarfs love and simply goes there. In doing so, she is a woman beyond time and may be the most powerful character in the Dark Shadows universe. Moving among cursed titans of cosmic powers and immortality, she is more immortal than any of them, immune even to the powers of the great Petofi. Now, she is a god, and instead of being driven mad with power, she represents all of us base creatures of limited time and matter by doing her frickin’ job. Finally, one of us is thrust into the fray and she spends her time finally talking sense to these giants. Getting them on the same team. Pointing out that there are stakes beyond what they want in the impulsive right now. And she gets Angelique -- Angelique -- on the side of truth, justice, and the Collinsport way. 

That’s how you thrash curses and send sorcerers running. That’s how you mix it up with monsters. Faulkner declined to accept the end of man, and when I see Julia Hoffman straighten her spine and go to work, I understand why.

That’s why Dark Shadows matters. 

This episode was broadcast Sept. 16, 1969.

Friday, August 28, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 28


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 835

When Julia receives a desperate plea for help from Barnabas, written seventy-two years before, can she still save him in the nick of time? Edward Collins: Louis Edmonds. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Edward, unable to kill Barnabas because he is a fellow Collins, locks him in a cell to await sunrise. Barnabas writes a letter to Julia and places it in a secret compartment, which is conveniently triggered and revealed by Amy in 1969. Julia and Stokes determine that she should go back in time to save Barnabas, but they need Amy to communicate with the spirits of Quentin and Beth for guidance.

On every level, this is one of the most conceptually revolutionary, nay, badass episodes of DARK SHADOWS ever conceived. Gordon Russell again delivers, and not just for the DARK SHADOWS franchise. 835 contains what may be his cleverest plot twist, and it’s one that was borrowed by Nicholas Meyer in TIME AFTER TIME (with the same furniture, no less) and STAR TREK IV: THE ONE WITH THE WHALES, as well as Robert Zemeckis and Bob Gale in BACK TO THE FUTURE II. Barnabas leaves a letter for Julia in 1897 that’s (of course) received at the most crucial moment possible in 1969. If it weren’t for the earnestness of the actors, the whole thing would fall apart into a coincidence that would make even Dickens wince, but Grayson Hall and Thayer David do what they invariably do -- pull it off. It continues the one, wacky consistency of time travel in DARK SHADOWS, too; it’s all somehow concurrent. The possibility of Julia going back before Barnabas encountered Edward is never mentioned. And they don’t mention it to such a conspicuous extent that it’s easy to buy that it’s not possible. We, as viewers, also aid the storytelling. We want to see Barnabas saved. We want to see what happens when Julia mixes it up in the 1890’s. It’s a storytelling move too generous to limit by causality and common sense. If I wanted that, I’d watch the news. Come to think of it, there’s more of it on DARK SHADOWS.

Aside from killing her own evil twin in Parallel Time and faking her way through the 1840’s, where she knew no one, this is Julia Hoffman at her most stone cold. Even Stokes is a little weirded out by the concept of time travel with no receptacle. But Julia sees no other way. Is it love? Is it a sense of mission? The answer is both ‘yes’ and ‘who cares?’ It’s Julia Hoffman’s time stream, and we just swim in it, baby. And in a manner that would make Qui Gon Jinn proud, all it takes is jeopardizing a psychically sensitive child’s life to gather the intelligence she needs. It’s about time Amy earned her keep. Go into Collinwood and talk to an evil specter with a penchant for casting death spells on children, already, and stop with the noise. Roger’s new Muscle & Fitness arrived in the mail, and he hates being disturbed on that day of the month. And make it snappy. I have two shows in Vegas, or should I say, in 1897 tonight.

Julia once again almost spills the truth to Stokes about Barnabas, but he’s too good a man to be entrusted with that news. She twists in the wind once again, and given the perceptiveness of the professor, her hornswaggling is all the more impressive. What would have happened if Stokes had found out? Would his sense of morality have been meta enough to appreciate the big picture that Barnabas was a victim of ‘coicumstance’? It’s hard to say, but Julia is the one character man enough to beat him again with a successful bluff… and she’s still all woman.

Not that Louis Edmonds and Jonathan Frid don’t share about their most butch moment on the series together in this one, because they do. In a Victorian way. Barnabas talking Edward out of plugging him with a silver bullet is masterful reasoning. So few relatives, even in his own time, take being a Collins seriously. Barnabas finds the one other within earshot, and it works… enough. It works. With the exception of maybe Liz and Joshua, he was lucky enough to be held at gunpoint by the one member of the family for whom ‘not harming a Collins’ has merit. Because, dammit, Barnabas is the same way. A moment like that would have been tough to pull off in the 1960’s. Leave it to DARK SHADOWS to create its own spinoff within itself, where a move like that is the only one possible. Sometimes, as Julia shows and Edward discovers, we have no other choice. But the age of EDWARD COLLINS: VAMPIRE HUNTER is only beginning.

This episode was broadcast Sept. 5, 1969.

Tuesday, August 18, 2020

Ben Cross: In Memoriam

He was the last of his kind, truly. A regal actor for fantasy roles that required a star to speak clearly, command the room, and, you know, shave and bathe. They were parts that called for a man of both truth and imagination. A master of theatrical size and total sincerity. He was Captain Nemo. He was Ambassador Sarek. He was Barnabas Collins.

While he was never the first to essay those roles, he had the insightful integrity of a man who made each totally original.

For some, he was their Captain Nemo and their Ambassador Sarek. And although the productions in which he essayed the roles are not definitive versions, Ben Cross delivered performances that were as indelible as those who originated the parts.

For many of us, he was our Barnabas Collins. Not that we weren’t deeply familiar with Jonathan Frid, but the 1991 series spared no expense to give us all of the corners cut in the 1960’s. It was a reward for loyalty. Although it was not the original, it was the creator of the show standing atop the towering successes of the Wouk miniseries, determined to make every element the finest he could. Star Trek returned with Patrick Stewart as the lead. Well, Dan Curtis saw Gene Roddenberry’s Patrick Stewart and raised him a Ben Cross, matured beyond Chariots of Fire. Capable of bringing equal Classical artistry to television fantasy’s other great saga.

And he was every bit Stewart’s equal. He was ours because for many of us, Dark Shadows left the air before we were born. But, as with Next Generation, we had the excitement of following the production through its initial announcement to the first photo of the next Barnabas Collins.

Cross’ performance matched that first, soulful photo. Intelligent and ferocious, he lacked Jonathan Frid’s endearing neurosis, but that allowed him the chance to explore the role of Barnabas Collins with his own judgment. Both men are martyrs to loss and betrayal, but while Frid was determined to rebuild, Cross was bent on revenge. It’s a less subtle performance in that sense, but wholly appropriate for the beginning of an arc that would only last for a tad over three months. His game was all too brief. His performance matched it, burning hot and fast. But it was never without delightful humor and humanity.

This is what he brought to Dark Shadows. His Barnabas had a texture, energy, and life all its own, and as such was Richard Burton to Frid’s Laurence Olivier. They gave two vastly different interpretations of the great man, and thus, neither encroached on the other. Instead, they are colleagues, and they both gave us the finest performances in the role that we could want.

The same for his Nemo. The same for his Sarek.

At 72, the loss is stunningly premature. It is exceeded only by our fortune that, if batons were to be passed, his was the hand to grasp them.

- Patrick McCray

Tuesday, August 11, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 11


Taped on this day in 1967: Episode 305

When Sarah takes David on a tour of her home, will there be room for one more in the mausoleum? Sarah: Sharon Smyth. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas kvetches about the weakening side-effect of Julia’s injections, although she seems delighted. Meanwhile, Sarah shows David a hidden coffin.

Curses are blessings on Dark Shadows, and that’s not always limited within the series itself; it’s also true for how the show was made. Truth time: the soap format slides easily into something that, without love and context, is unwatchably slow and dull. But it is not without its advantages, also. Usually, the command to stretch it out is a mandate for repetition. But in certain cases, the writers found fascinating eddies of implication to explore, and 305 is an example of why people kept watching -- it asks the questions we all all have. In this case, about the afterlife and the practicalities of the paranormal.

The episode is vaguely split between Barnabas & Julia and David & Sarah. Both involve a human dealing with the vagaries of supernatural lifeforms, unwittingly or not. Barnabas is developing impatience with Julia’s conversion process. He’s tired of the perpetual hangover intrinsic to being human, and I think he’s beginning to suspect that Julia either has no idea what she’s doing or is purposefully dragging it out. Barnabas has had remarkably good health for nearly two centuries, so we can understand his disappointment. He’s reacting as if she’s spiking his sherry with saltpeter, and for all we know, she might. Julia’s savoring his lack of vitality, crossing weird lines between doctor, mother, and lover, promising that “she’ll take care of Burke Devlin” her own way, and conjuring images of Rosa Klebb’s clumsy attempt at lesbian seduction in From Russia with Love. It takes a very special lesbian to win Burke Devlin.

Meanwhile, outside, David and Sarah discuss her knack for letting David in on secrets, and she tantilizes him with the promise of a whopper. This leads to a marvelously acted dialogue where Smythe mixes a very simple honesty with a beautifully textured ambiguity, struggling to explain the where she lives in the afterlife. Sarah never claimed to be alive; she just uses the metaphors of living. Here, it’s clear that Sarah knows what she is, and as straight as she can be, how she lives. She’s not being coy. David is simply not hearing her. I have no idea if the young actress considered the strange weight of the netherworld of her implication, but I would love to know. Quite simply, Sharon Smyth kicks ass. For a child actress understandably entranced by the teleprompter, Smythe shows remarkable sophistication in this episode, and the result may be one of Sarah’s best, most empowered performances in the series. Dark Shadows, in this era, excels at hinting. Everything is offstage. Huge casts of characters we’ve yet to meet. To hear it about the afterlife only heightens our curiosity.

Dark Shadows excels not just at horror, but showing us the inner workings and practicalities of the horrific from new perspectives. The David/Sarah relationship is one of the most poignant on the program. Each is as lonely and lost as the adults on the show. (In that regard, Carolyn, Joe, and Maggie are the sore thumbs on the hand because they seem the least lonely, until they aren’t.) Sarah’s overall game may be to curb Barnabas’ opportunities for evil. Or, drawn from death’s domain by her brother’s resurrection, it may simply be to have a friend the way that Barnabas wants a lover. Vicki will recognize physical resemblances when she goes to the past. Does Sarah see the same thing? By making Sarah the most realistic ghost in horror, the show raises all of the right questions, and ones we never knew we had.

This episode hit the airwaves on Aug. 25, 1967.

Monday, August 10, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 10


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1079

When the power of a gorgeous ghost compels him, will Quentin complete an exorcism before the spirits change David’s wardrobe? Quentin: David Selby. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Daphne leads Quentin to a graveyard to see familiar tombstones. He vows to help, but it’s clear she has mixed intentions. He later tries to exorcise the house, but Daphne’s influence strops him. Meanwhile, Hallie goes from slave to the ghosts to the realization that she’s their prisoner as she and David attempt a seance.

I’m not sure what’s going on in this episode or storyline, but I can’t stop watching it. If anything is my takeaway on Dark Shadows, it’s that. Beginning with Vicki’s parentage, it’s a program about withholding information. 1079 elevates the unspoken to its rarest expression. That kind of ambiguity draws the audience into the storytelling process, and the rigor of it in this is equally demanding and rewarding. Some of the power of Gerard’s plan, if we can even call it a plan, is its allusiveness. The ultimate goal is the destruction of Collinwood, but fewer knives have been as serrated, and the horror of Gerard (since we know where it’s going) lies in the unnecessary damage he causes to those he’s marked for death or madness, anyway.

When the episode isn’t reveling in repressed sexuality, it’s venturing a little too boldly into deeper taboo on a rubber raft of counterfeit ambiguity. It begins with a visual metaphor so bold there might be no meta left at all. We find Quentin in the graveyard as Daphne points out her own tombstone. Quentin must have some sort of partial memory of being a ghost or being dead, or a sense of it, because even though the timeline has changed, he was once a zombie, after all. And he certainly understands being from another time. Given that, a dead woman from the 1800’s is someone Quentin can't resist. Is she silently imploring his help, or is he simply assuming that? Considering that, as they begin their embrace, she's holding a knife at his back without his knowledge, it sums up far, far too many relationships.

As the episode goes on, Selby gets to show an amazing range of sincerity and furtiveness as he attempts to exorcise the home, and probably its temptations, eventually sabotaging those same efforts and lying about it. Not only is he lying about it, he's enjoying the process. As he lies to Julia about the extent of Daphne's control at the end of the episode, he has a naughty, hostile smile that is worthy of Jack Torrance. And it's an example of a very human, very subtle moment that exists completely in the face. It really has no formal name, but David Selby has a disturbing degree of control of it nonetheless.

David and Hallie dominate the rest of the episode, forced into playrooms and roleplay with dialogue that you have to strain to hear as single entendre. This is difficult subtext to confront because of the singularly awkward age of the performers. Both were around fifteen, neither adults nor children. In an effort not to sexualize them (ewww), the show goes too far in the other direction as it vaguely infantilizes them. The net result feels even more perverse than if they’d let them be fifteen. The exact reason for insisting that David dress up and submit to the whim of a beautiful ghost (who is nearly his age peer) is unclear and disturbing because of that murkiness. The substitute costumes only further this. The selected outfits are of both the early 70’s and the 1840’s. They are the costumes of a very formal child or a very fanciful adult. Which is it? Which does Gerard want them to be? All of it, as long as it’s in paralyzing quantities. Gerard wants the adult David to know exactly what’s being done to him while the child David knows he’s powerless to stop it.

This episode hit the airwaves on Aug. 13, 1970.

Tuesday, July 28, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 28


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1071

Quentin has his doubts when Barnabas lures him to a closet with the assurance that there’s a playroom inside. Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.) 

Barnabas and Julia arrive from the future -- and the opposite end of the house -- to a delighted Quentin, Liz, and their new guest, Carrie Stokes, the professor’s niece. Carrie remains suspicious of the two, perhaps because there’s only so much bacon at bruch, and until recently, she had it all to herself since David read Maggie’s Casteneda book and went vegetarian. Barnabas and Julia set about trying to identify Daphne and Gerard. When Barnabas tries to show Quentin the playroom, he simply fubles around in the linen closet and shrugs. 

If there is one Dark Shadows episode that lurks in my memory as the model for all of the very best, it’s this one. It’s genuine speculative action. There’s mystery, suspense, a supernatural threat, lies, kindness, warmth, kinship, and an optimistic sense of adventure. Collinwood is treated as it should be; it’s a home that’s held with affection. This bastion is a fortress to be protected, not feared. And it’s first and last son, Barnabas, has such a sense of can-do problem-solving, he should be dressed as Athos and demanding that they stop the machinations of Richelieu and M’Lady at once, lest France fall to the Pope once and for all. I get that image from the way Barnabas bounds into the drawing room with Julia, to proudly announce they’ve arrived back from both Parallel Time and the Future. It’s the kind of delivery you’d see Errol Flynn give to Basil Rathbone… as balloons fell from the ceiling. 

And honestly, after arriving back from such exotic destinations, how else is a man to enter? They’ve even captured Kathy Cody trying to break into the ensemble, and she’s locked in Paul Stoddard’s trunk. What is Eliot doing trying to pawn her off at Collinwood, anyway? This man hosted Adam, for god’s sake. What is Carrie Stokes doing to the upholstery that he dumps her with Liz? She’s just warming up for an intensely uncomfortable evening visit to Quentin’s bedroom. Seriously, they remark about the strange feelings she’s been having. It’s the scene where Quentin barely restrains himself from sprinting out of the room and calling his lawyer.

Other than that, Collinwood has found a strange equilibrium. Carolyn’s in mourning, which has basically sedated her. Liz is in a decent mood, largely because she’s had David Selby all to her herself. Quentin has ditched the turtleneck for a suit, and seems blandly at peace, comfortable to stand around and look handsome. David and Carrie are busy ignoring the fact that they are almost out of puberty’s oven. It’s best we don’t know what they’ve found snooping in Quentin’s sock drawer, but I doubt it’s I Ching wands and a mummified hand. Life is good. It’s that weird calm that soap operas slip into between storylines. It’s important to see the house at such ease. Gordon Russell creates an excellent Pax Collinsus from which it’s all going to hell. These are the moments that will make us nostalgic in the times to come.

For a man charged with preventing a localized apocalypse, Barnabas is in an excellent mood. As well he should be. From his heroic high in 1897, he plunges in the Leviathan storyline, only having to work it off in Parallel Time and 1995. There’s an interesting detail to 1995, because it presupposes the absence of Barnabas and Julia. Why are they absent? Presumably because they are in Parallel Time. What were they doing in Parallel Time? At that hour? In those outfits? Barnabas, cursed with vampirism, was hoping he’d be different there. And why was he cursed with vampirism? Yet another deal for Josette with another sinister force. Had he recognized his power and thought more expansively, Barnabas might have used the situation rather than being used by it. He wasn’t in a position to do that, then. He is, now. And he has an ethical mandate to do it -- arguably, had he been at Collinwood, he might have prevented Gerard’s ascent.

At least, that’s what he thinks. Collinwood’s full of time travelers. They all have ample evidence that their actions can and will change the future. Barnabas has a road map to it. It’s incorrect. Doom will result. But now, Barnabas is ready. 

This episode hit the airwaves on Aug. 3, 1970.

Thursday, July 16, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: July 16


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 1064

As Barnabas struggles in 1995 to assemble the clues of doomsday, Julia is preoccupied by a dashing ghost! Mrs. Johnson: Clarice Blackburn. (Repeat; 30 minutes.)

Julia reels from the psychic influence of Gerard as efforts to interrogate Carolyn about the disaster prove fruitless. The sheriff warns Barnabas and Julia to leave town, and if there were anyone else left alive, they’d smell torches and pitchforks, all the while wondering what would make pitchforks smell like that.

1995 is a fascinating mess. It’s a storyline that I want to shake by the lapels and ask it to be more. I mean, think of it… 1995! I’ve often bemoaned the lack of ray guns and mylar jumpsuits, and I’ve just as (at least once) often championed it for actually getting the era right, down to the 1970’s retro that Carolyn sports. It’s a vacation for most of the actors. Even though the majority of the original cast were absent for much of 1970 PT, they were missing from the show because they were shooting House of Dark Shadows. So, yes, they had a vacation coming. The upcoming Ragnarok storyline between 1995 and 1840 is a spare, modernist landscape where Roger is wholly missing and Liz might as well be. The post-apocalyptic wasteland of 1995 is a real slap on the backside from the OB/GYN to get us breathing in the real world.

And it is a ‘real world’ in the most poetic sense. How long has Collinsport comparatively ignored the PTSD-inducing madness regularly unleashed by the town’s namesake? Not since Victoria first arrived on the train bound for the beginning and the end of the world has the town been so realistically wigged out by the Collinses. This a Lovecraftian afterbirth of a village. In the past, the reliable, economic bounty of the cannery kept the locals quietly grumbling thank-you-may-I-have-another, but with the family either dead or insane, I can’t imagine there’s much left of Collinsport. The house may be in ruin, but so’s the local economy. Things are so bad, they have to order out to get a sheriff from the south. Because we all know that Dana Elcar would have had the whole mess cleaned up, and would have bested the conspicuously Rubenseque Chuck Morgan in any number of contests involving wrestling oil, lobster bibs, or both. Yes, of course, nude.

There’s not a lot of story to tell in such ruin, and it shocks on myriad levels. Barnabas and Julia spend a lot of time wandering back and forth between Collinwood and Collinsport, looking for clues and finding few. Gerard shows up and starts staring at people, giving them the creeps, but that’s about it. In fact, I don’t know if I’ve ever watched a 1995 episode with my full attention, and yet it satisfies the inauguration of my favorite storyline, the mindbendingly fatalistic fall of Collinwood. None of it is fun, and all of it is finally truthful. Haunted houses are not sustainable real estate prospects and the idea that the Collinses could have lived in one for more than a month is an assertion that needs the pantsing the show gives it, here. The other shoe of reality has fallen hard, and I think it’s for golfing.

So, what are they spending their time doing? Talking. Grayson Hall has the unenviable task of the infectious nihilism that Gerard inspires. This is a Dark Shadows of the post-Manson era, when the deaths of soldiers in a senseless war were only an hour or so away on this station. America still had illusions of being a moral empire when Vicki arrived from New York. Not so much now, and this is a reflection. There’s not much to do, hunkered down like a dog under a bed after a thunderstorm, other than muse that the lawn was so much prettier before the tempest. And that’s what they do. Julia struggles with a very new form of invasion, here. Prior victimizers imposed evil on her. Her fear of Gerard feels different. This is a force that shows her the evil she has within her, and that’s a nauseatingly Zen attack. All Gerard need do is hold up a mirror and let Julia do the rest. Barnabas seems vaguely invulnerable to it because, as he speculates, he’s not human. All he is are evil impulses that he’s learned to dress up in the suit of goodness. Gerard seems to wisely keep his distance because of it.

The episode shines with Clarice Blackburn’s surprisingly warm misremembering of Collinwood before the fall. Is she inaccurate in her memory of that sunny, happy place? It’s true for her, even if it’s a lie she’s memorized so often that it eclipses the past. In a sense, she’s like a viewer of Dark Shadows who’s romanticized what she would like to have been the warmth in the Collins home that was all too fleeting. 1995, and episode 1064 in particular, is a chance to see another fan who’s let the wishes of memory color the reality of what was. It’s a creeping preview of a storyline that would be all too ready to show us that the center cannot hold forever, if it ever did.

This episode hit the airwaves on July 23, 1970.

Monday, July 6, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 6


Taped on this day in 1967: Episode 281

When a seance brings Josette to the present in Vicki’s body, to whom will Barnabas propose? Roger Collins: Louis Edmonds. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Vicki, possessed by Josette, narrates her last moments on earth until Barnabas stops her. Later, Barnabas hears Vicki speak of her love of the past, and presents her with the music box.

“What is the value of suffering if it isn’t to be enjoyed?”
-- Roger Collins, guru--

Roger Collins walks away with this one, but who is Roger? I’m not sure he ever is quite as, I don’t know, Roger as he is in this one. It’s as if a real guy were raised by Quentin’s nephew in an intensely haunted house, dodging murder raps, fire-demon ex-wives, vehicular patricide, and a hard-drinking, nymphomaniacal niece who never quite “got the memo.” The writers heard about this real guy and based a character on him. And for one episode, he got to write all of his own dialogue. Every aphorism is a gem. He’s giddy over the costume party, and equally oblivious to the terror and suffering endured by the employee forced to go there. In other words, he’s a great guy and I wish the writers had featured THAT Roger Collins more. Or that Roger Moore Collins. One or the other. But like that great thespian of the English screen might have done, Louis Edmonds dominates the episode. This is despite his minimal screen time. Roger has a marvelously fresh sense of aristocratic defiance in the drawing room scene, and the rarity of seeing a Collins enjoy himself is too much to ignore. Edmonds knows he has a killer scene, designed to make him look like a million bucks. He’s a team player, Louis. Yeah, he could out act a number of his fellow performers, but he shows Louisiana good manners by not doing so. However, in this case, the thoroughbred simply needs to gallop at full speed.

Roger aside, we’re cementing the mechanics of the seance, here. I suspect the staff is well aware that 1795 finery, seances, and Vicki in peril are their next servings of bread and butter. Although that’s months away, the long-game strategy of Team Shadows allows them to get the audience so used to it all that, when it happens, it’s so natural that I’m amazed anyone time travels without a seance. The costumes feel right on the actors because they’ve been training us. Like we were all rats in Dan Curtis’ insane maze. My god, we’ve got to get back to the ship. Don’t you understand? It’s a zoo! With a cookbook! What, which episode is this? Shit, “Hocus, Pocus, and Frisbee”? You gotta be kidding me. I need a better agent.

Back to reality, the show is also straining, barely successfully, with shoehorning Vicki in as Josette. But it can’t do it too well. Because, you know, she’s not. But with Maggie in the nuthouse and Barnabas looking for reasons not to linger in Dr. Hoffman’s bedroom when she puts on that Sergio Mendes album, opens up a Whitman Sampler, and starts daubing Campari behind her ears, someone has to be Josette. I guess it could have been Dana Elcar, but I think he’s off the show by now. Vicki is awkwardly attracted to the past, and the seance features a performance that is suggestive of something else. As Moltke rhythmically pants, moans, and says “Faster!” a lot, I expect the camera to pan over to Rob Reiner’s mom telling Willie, “I have what she’s having.”

One of the many original elements to Barnabas Collins is the terror he suffers. He may take far more than he dishes out. Not only is he a deeply tragic man out of time, he’s also haunted by two ghosts. But one appears to everyone OTHER than Barnabas, and she’s the one who’d give him solace. He’s in love with the other one, but she spends all of her time possessing people and trying to out him. In 281, he’s confronted by both. What’s Josette’s game? Perhaps Josette is the force that drags Vicki through time. Perhaps it’s the only way she can warn her about Barnabas. Unless she’s not trying to warn anyone about Barnabas. If I were Josette, I’d be warning people about Angelique. And if Barnabas would just let her finish a simple possession, maybe she would!

This episode hit the airwaves on July 24, 1967.

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, 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!/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."

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."

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."

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

(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.
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