Saturday, March 28, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 28


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 725

A lugubrious luau breaks out at Collinwood! When Quentin’s a zombie, Jamison is Quentin, and Trask is back, will Barnabas say aloha? Gregory Trask: Jerry Lacy. (Repeat; 30 min.)

As Quentin continues to both inhabit Jamison’s body and writhe around in a graveyard, Gregory Trask arrives to recruit Jamison. He sets about conducting an excruciating exorcism as Barnabas looks on, helpless to stop the craven clergyman.

Enter Gregory Trask.

This is where the 1897 storyline kind of runs off the rails... now and then. Like the 1795 storyline, 1897 contains more filler upon actual viewings than in memory. Yes, Trask's a great villain, and there are volumes to say about Clan Trask, but that's counterbalanced by long patches of episodes that take up so much time, it makes me wonder if the character had dirt on Dan Curtis.

But I'm obligated to like the Trasks in their steadfastness as Collins antagonists. I'm about a decade behind on my Big Finish listening, but have they done much with the Trask family per se? That's the parallel story to the Collins chronicles. It's interesting to ponder the DS story from their perspective. A Lovecraftian hotbed of aristocratic menace!

"Yeah, Greg, you gotta go see what's happening at that house they walled up your gramps in. You know, where your dad disappeared. Well, okay, the OTHER house on the estate. You know, they have a vampire up there. And a witch. That's fine, but around kids? Quentin's back. Carl's still dating showgirls. They're hiring all of your ex-employees. Oh, and Quentin's now in the kid's body. No, not like that. Well, after he had the boy almost desecrate the corpse of Gabriel's old widow, all bets were off. Where's Quentin? He's a zombie. Maybe it has to do with all the gypsies they're harboring. Yeah, it's a real normal house up there. You know, your dad built a mortuary out of nothing and did pro bono work as an attorney. Your granddad came to this godforsaken town when the Collins family was keeping occultists on the payroll. Maybe it was to help the syphilitic sailor they thought was a dandy marriage prospect. He was married, but did that matter to them? No. Hell, they were marrying off their sons to island girls that the uncle would sleep with on his own. Now Greg, you're an educator and a pastor. They have two kids up there, looked after by some trampy maid. Kids, Greg. Yeah, they're half gypsy, but let's let that go. Their mom? They locked her up in a tower because that's how they treat the sick. She's running around with a knife, and do they call the cops? Of course not. I say it's self-defense. You have to help that poor woman. Help the kids, too."

Inaccurate, but the truth usually is.

Meanwhile, back in reality, Barnabas is having a hell of a night. Judith, the voice of reason, has Jamison locked up in the drawing room and screaming. She thinks nothing odd about him being alone in the room with a grown man who keeps sticking his head out and saying, "Not yet. Give me just a few more minutes," before ducking back in for more terrified cries of fear and pain.

Fortunately, Barnabas comes from an age of advanced and sophisticated corporal child rearing. If any character in literature is capable of dealing with the middle ground between modern common sense and old school, birch branch pedagogy, it's the man who did wonders with Willie Loomis by way of his instructive cane.

This is what makes Quentin look civilized.

It's the fourth anniversary of the Daybook, written as my third week in corona captivity begins. I got into all of this eight years ago due to nearly two months of self-imposed isolation as I watched all of Dark Shadows in just a few weeks. If anything, this all feels strangely familiar. My only advice, since you insisted, is to keep Dark Shadows on at all times. I mean it. They are the much-needed set of extra voices, rooms, and locations desperately required right now.

They are home. And their home is ours. Be well.

This episode hit the airwaves on April 4, 1969.

Tuesday, March 24, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 23


Taped on this day in 1971: Episode 1244

Series Finale. Part One: When Catherine is tricked into joining Bramwell in the haunted room, what will stop Morgan Collins? Catherine Collins: Lara Parker. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Catherine finds herself in the secret room, where Bramwell prevents her suicide by sharing the willpower to defy the possessing ghost of Brutus. When Morgan realizes they may still live, he loads his flintlock, determined to see that they don’t.

The second-to-last Dark Shadows episode. In some ways, it's a more powerful notion than the last. Because with this, there is still an opportunity for something else. One more twist, turn, revelation, development, etc. Viewers knew where it fell in the broadcast order. Watching it was not a process of seeing things for the last time, desperately scribbling mental notes in the diary we keep with us always, Cecily.

There is a rare privilege in second-to-last that way, and it courses through the episode. It has risk and bravado. It is not a resolution of declining actions. It is not the echo of Gordon Russell's typewriter gone cold. It is a 24 minute-long bang of an exclamation point hammering onto a page at 500 frames a second. Nothing is over until Sam Frickin' "God" Hall says it's over, and there is still a future to this.

From a maybe-spooky house filled with the failure of love to a violently haunted room endured by the truth of it, Dark Shadows tears down the freeway of storytelling, inverting Art Wallace's vision, and by exploring its antithesis, fulfills it. No more questions. No more things to not understand, Vicki. Morgan Collins is the ugliness of Liz's homicidal rage and Roger's sociopathic indifference stripped of the necessary glamor of having to star in tomorrow's episode. Ultimately, Liz and Roger are not forgivable. We've only been bullied into forgiving them by winning performances and unlikely changes of heart. Morgan Collins, as we learn, was not driven mad by Brutus nor given any other excused absence from morality. He's a terrible human, and as Dark Shadows slips from the airwaves, it's not going to vanish while giving a moral sanction to that cretin.

Let me qualify this, and follow me to the end of the paragraph. I don't give two hoots about women's issues. Absolutely none. I have plenty of issues of my own before I even contemplate another gender… if gender even exists and I get a headache this big contemplating it. But I am still a human, and I don’t like to see people ruin their lives for unchallenged reasons. So believe me when I say that even I am on fire in the best sense over the intoxicating politics in this episode. Much of the strength of this episode is as a reinforcement for female audience members, trapped at home at four o’-something in the afternoon, to say, "Absolutely not.”

It’s about damned time.

It’s practically drawing a map to escape the socially acceptable Morgans who have trapped them into powerless lives of reproductive obligation and ham cookin’. To me, Bramwell and Catherine are equally powerful allies in fighting the Room 1408 of Collinwood. The whole maghilla set into motion by Brutus' entitled ownership of Amanda is picked up by Morgan and then undone by Catherine and Bramwell. It may take the fear and pressure of a haunted room for them to insist on the other living, but they do so.

Breaking it down -- Bramwell, holding the fuzzy end of the economic lollipop, is not the apparently attractive suitor. But he's the right one. Catherine, subject to the pressures of the age, makes a sadly understandable choice, but she reverses it passionately. And Bramwell is there for her.

It has to be Jonathan Frid and Lara Parker. The argument about whether or not the series is about them is ended with this episode. Don’t look at the jury. They’re at the Blue Whale, job well done. Upon whom does the end of the DS saga rely? Yeah, the most important characters at the end, making the pivotal choices... and the character names don’t really matter.

The end of the Barnabas/Angelique story wasn't in 1840. It's here. Yes, okay, it kind of ended in 1840, but this is the test, in a spiritual sense. Follow me. Invert everything to see if you get the same results. Make Bramwell the poor one. Make Catherine the one who follows propriety. It's even Bramwell's fellow Collins who is the villain. But unlike Jeremiah, a victim of a love spell, Morgan is an agent of action, conducting himself with a perverse sense of deliberate clarity. By reversing the roles, we see if the lessons leading up to the 1840 resolution will stick in the most metaphysical sense.

They do.

That's why 1841PT is the proper end to the series. That's how it fits in. If the strength of love is strong enough, it will hold true. No matter the social expectations. No matter the century. No matter how parallel the band of time. No matter the names of the characters.

Never said it was easy.

Liz lacked it. Roger lacked it. Barnabas and Angelique earned it. Bramwell and Catherine made sure it was here to stay.

Gordon Russell ends his final script with proper disrespect for traditional expectations of marriage and social class. Not just for female audience members, but for the kids still watching, as well. Uncles Sam and Gordon could only provide a safe place for a half-hour a day. For many, there was a far more twisted vision of home unspooling the other twenty-three-point-five. Not for all of them, no. But the message was there for the right ones. And the rest got a damned good story.

And that's an issue even I can get behind.

This episode hit the airwaves on April 1, 1971.

Thursday, March 19, 2020

Let's watch Dark Shadows together!

I'm not going to waste your time recapping the COVID-19 as if it was some television show you're joining "in progress." Things are changing so quickly that whatever I had to say might be obsolete by the time you read this, anyway, so let's just cut to the chase:

Let's watch Dark Shadows together.

Like, really together. The streaming availability of Dark Shadows right now is unprecedented. Not only is the entire series available with an Amazon Prime subscription, the whole megillah is also streaming for free on Tubi TV. A big chunk of it (the first seven DVD collections) are also streaming on Hulu, which ought to get you through the first week of our proposal. (If you're watching these episodes on DVD, the list below will get you from Collection 1 to about halfway through Collection 3.)

Here's the plan: Beginning every half hour on Saturday at noon, Eastern Standard Time, we're going to watch an episode of Dark Shadows ... beginning with episode 210. From there, it will be a block of 24 episodes ending at midnight. Join other fans on Twitter to talk about these episodes live, using the hashtag #DarkShadows. Here's a schedule of episodes for the first four days. You can follow me online at @CousinBarnabas and Patrick McCray at @TheRealMcCray. (This whole thing was his idea!) And don't forget the hashtag ... that's how other Dark Shadows fans will find you. The schedule below will allow you to drop in and out of the event as you please.

Tuesday, March 17, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 18


Taped on this day in 1970: Episode 985

Maggie thinks she’s seeing double when Angelique’s twin sister arrives… but is she? Maggie Collins: Kathryn Leigh Scott. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Maggie is stunned to find someone she assumes to be Angelique in her home. She is told that it’s Angelique’s sister, Alexis, but no one at Collinwood seems to shake the feeling that the former mistress has returned. Maggie and Quentin row over the new guest, and Maggie leaves.

Best moment of acting on the show, apologies to everyone else. And by the show, I mean all 1225 episodes. Kathryn Leigh Scott and David Selby end the episode with a fiery argument about whether or not Angelique has returned or if it's really just her twin sister, Alexis.

There are moments in acting where everything but the actual moment of total communication completely vanishes. There's no planning. Seemingly no script. The actor is as completely absorbed in the given circumstances and connection with their scene partner as is the most transfixed audience member. You might have heard of the concept of "in the moment." Sounds pretentious? It isn't. It is a moment like this.

Scott is a highly intelligent person. Vastly culturally literate and perceptive about the nuances of human behavior. In her choices, she is also a hell of a chess player. She owns every moment when she is on screen. She is not one for accidents. The final scene in this episode combines that kind of creative ownership with total creative freedom that the rigors of the show’s precision usually deny the performers. It's normally about saying lines and hitting marks with an accuracy demanded by being live on tape with minimal preparation. It doesn't allow for that almost supernatural spontaneity. This moment does. It's not just about raised voices and Selby's bombast. This is about actually BEING.

It's often a mystery... how these moments come about. Olivier wept after certain performances because he had no idea how he achieved them. When Scott departs Collinwood, you hear a voice never before experienced on the series. There is an edge that is totally fresh, totally new, and totally about communicating with Selby at that moment. And she means it.

It goes by in a flash, but it's worth really appreciating.

Overall, Parallel Time is one of the show's least effective storylines because of its failure to live up to the concept. Where do the universes deviate? Where don't they? The writers hide behind, "This isn't science fiction," too much with this. Nowhere is this truer than the moment when Cyrus quotes Shakespeare. Why not attribute it to Marlowe, guys? Have a little fun with the PT concept. It's possible to have those Easter Eggs as flavoring without being a slave to science fiction. It's a general rule that if you play to the dumbest guy in the room, you'll have the dumbest show in town. Given that, if you play to the most average guy in the room, well, you get my point.

This episode focuses on the abstracts of good and evil more dedicatedly than most on the show. Of course, any Jekyll & Hyde story is apt to. I'm getting ahead of myself, but I'm not sure that Yaeger is as much evil as liberated from the yoke of consequences. Why need he be? He's a tourist in Longworth's body. He exhibits too much joy... Longworth, too little. I can see scenarios where he has a great weekend in New York, as long as no one gets in his way.

If there's a monster in the episode, and in all of PT, it's not Angelique. Nor Stokes. Nor Yaeger. Nor any of the ostensible suspects. On a primal level, it's Quentin, that most violent of good guy husbands. The only thing that strains my credulity in the episode is that he doesn't slap Maggie into next week.

Not that he should.

But with a temper that volcanic and self-assured, in an age where That's The Way Things Were, I feel like PT Quentin is cutting short of where he really seems to want to go. He's an unreasoning, privileged, overly confident bully with an anger management problem that is more readily found in kaiju. And THAT, my friends, is a monster. Because that monster is real. The most astonishing OTHER element in the episode is that Maggie actually leaves him.

That is the fantasy element of the series because too few victims of domestic abuse find Maggie's strength. Dark Shadows wasn't an engine of social change. But in this one instance, I can only hope that someone out there was inspired by her example. And what am I saying? Day ain't over yet. Perhaps someone is being inspired right now.

No Quentin is worth it.

This episode hit the airwaves April 3, 1970.

Wednesday, March 11, 2020

18th Annual Rondo Award Noms – Vote for Dark Shadows!

The nominees for the 18th annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards have been announced, and you'll find the residents of Collinsport well represented among them this year.

The Collinsport Historical Society has been nominated for Best Website for the eighth year running. Meanwhile, a piece about the enduring appeal of Dark Shadows I wrote with Dana Gould for issue #4 of Fangoria has been nominated for Best Article.

As usual, winners will be determined by votes from the public. And that means you. Readers are asked to select winners from this year's nominees and e-mail your selections to David Colton at You can copy and paste the ballot and include an X next to your choices, or just type your ballot choices directly into the e-mail. (Note: You're allowed to vote for two candidates in the Best Article category.)

Rod Labbe's interview with Kathryn Leigh Scott from Scary Monsters #111 has been nominated for Best Interview.

You can see the entire ballot at

All voting is by e-mail only. One vote is allowed per person. Every e-mail must include your name to be counted. All votes are kept confidential. No e-mail addresses or personal information will be shared. Votes must be received by Sunday night at midnight, March 29, 2020.

Being nominated for the Rondos is a huge honor – it means The Collinsport Historical Society's work is among the ranks of the best writers and artists working in horror fandom today. Eventually they'll figure out I was mistakenly invited to this party, but not before I eat my weight in hot wings and make everyone regret the concept of an "open bar." Carpe diem!

When it comes to the Rondos we've been very fortunate. We took home the Best Website honor back in 2012 during the most recent epidemic of Dark Shadows Fever. In 2018 Patrick McCray was named Best Writer for his Dark Shadows Daybook feature.

Tuesday, March 10, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: March 10


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 711

What’s beautiful, brilliant, blonde, and set on Satanic revenge? Quentin Collins, meet your new girlfriend. Angelique: Lara Parker. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Quentin and Evan accidentally summon Angelique. After determining that she is in Collinsport, she finds that Barnabas is back in the arms of an avatar of Josette. She rolls up her sleeves and gets to work on brutal revenge for both of them.

We are ten episodes into 1897, and if you were not familiar with the series, you would swear I was making it up. Nothing that has come before can really prepare us for what just happened. It represents more than an arc of television. It represents a philosophy.

And it may be fan service, objections to which I do not understand, nor have I ever. From where I am standing, which is narrow and damp and smells like Wilford Brimley, fan service is just stuff someone doesn’t like in a thing they usually do. In ample supply, usually, and daring to please someone, thus triggering the following thought, “Somewhere, someone is having a good time, and I’ll put a stop to THAT!”

Dark Shadows has just run through ten days of the best fan service in horror. Which is saying something. Okay, what’s on the scoreboard? Barnabas: vampire. Time travel. Gypsies. A dead matriarch and her ghost. A child induced to rob a coffin. A Satanist attorney with a pointy beard. A tall blonde. John Karlen, shrieking with laughter and blasting away good taste with a “fib” flag. Swords wielded. Quentin speaks. Kids induced into devil ceremonies. Oh yeah, Josette is back, as is the music box, with Barnabas picking up like the past hundred years and 1960’s fever dream never happened. Louis Edmonds, a little more Louis Edmonds. Joan Bennett, even more imperious because she lacks the means to be. It’s more of everything you like and a healthy dollop of stuff you’re horrified you were being denied. I’m certain that someone out there can’t stand it, but let us revel at the philosophy that gave us this.

Specifically, that art can exist to delight us, even as it challenges. This is Dark Shadows gone mad with generosity, not always pushing the envelope, but stuffing it full of the things we love. If it is about mystery, that’s secondary. The main mission is to thank audiences for tuning in. And today, the mosaic became complete. Because Dark Shadows was missing only one thing to become the ultimate echo chamber of itself. Today, it got it.

There is a perfection to Angelique wandering into the frame that assures us that the writers are rock confident of what they have, and they disguise no qualms about sharing it. Quentin is as immediately smitten with her as is the audience. They are not wasting any time with her jumping through hoops of pretense in a black wig. She’s here. She’s choking Evan Hanley like a Sith badass, and she sizes Quentin up with more potential energy than Pavarotti on the high dive. Her mission is to Get Barnabas, and all it takes is once glance, like an erotically charged Gladys Kravitz, through a window to find that she’s arrived just in time to straighten out the unheavenly hash of that no good, two-timing, hemopathic husband of hers, running around with the reincarnated spirit of his dead fiance again, mere hours after he’s out of the coffin. She cannot let him out of her sight for a mere century, and he’s back at it again. The louse.

She really holds a grudge, but do you blame her? You can’t make an omelette without breaking eggs, and at the rate she went in 1795, she broke enough eggs to run an IHOP. She didn’t just pop out of her hammock one day in Martinique and decide that she was tired of kicking around the Islands, so she might as well disguise herself as a domestic, do back-breaking labor for a year or two, then kill almost everyone in a small, Maine coastal village. You know, if she could have accomplished her ends without all that bloodshed, I suspect she would have done so.

The poor demoness is not back for fifteen minutes before she sees that all of that work was for naught. Barnabas is back in the arms of that woman, but it hasn’t gone far enough that a good doll-stranglin’ won’t help. It’s kind of hard not to cheer her on... quietly.

There’s a payoff, too. I’m not sure that we can sense it’s coming, but it would be gratuitous, well, fan service,  to bring her back without a justification.

1897 is about transformation. A European society becoming an American one. One century becoming anothert. Quentin, not just becoming a werewolf, but becoming a man of the saddest maturity. Barnabas, finally mastering the game he was dealt into a century earlier. And Angelique?

This is her great maturing as well, going from declaring Barnabas a mutual enemy with Quentin to saving his life, turning him human, and aiding his fight with Laura. Not cleanly. Not without ambiguity. But with a firmness that will carry her well into 1970 and backwards to 1840. Unless it’s the other way around.

Quentin only meets her once before dubbing her a beautiful, blackhearted child of the angels. A contradictory description more apt than any other. With her landing, the show finally and truly gives itself permission to become Dark Shadows. Whether it’s Liz transforming from murderous to mother or Vicki finally understanding, Dark Shadows is about transformation more than anything else. After all, what is a shadow of the transformation of light to darkness and back again?  At this very moment, the show, itself, transforms.

69 years before the first episode even began.

This episode hit the airwaves March 17, 1969.

Monday, February 24, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 24


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 701

In 1897, unwitting gypsies react to the return of Quentin Collins by unleashing a living death from beyond the grave. Quentin: David Selby. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Quentin arrives back at Collinwood, despite having sewn domestic chaos there with his exit. His dying grandmother welcomes him cautiously, but warns that his brother Edward will inherit the secret of the Collins family. Meanwhile, desperate gypsies raid Barnabas’ casket in search of jewels, but find Barnabas, inhabited by his soul from 1969, more than ready to greet them.

Some transitions feel right.

Julia encountering Ben Stokes in hideous age makeup in 1840? Not right.

Vicki encountering a wide-eyed Barnabas on the Old House lawn in 1795? Right.

1897? Right beyond right. Like a smoking jacket delivered by a Greek god and tailored by St. George W. Trippon, himself.

It’s a transition that’s warm and fond of the actors and its audience and the show that is to come. It lets us know that although David’s life hangs in the balance, that’s 75 years or so in the future, so swing, baby. Unlike the DS of old, which often trickled onto screens with the urgency of frozen sap, this moves so quickly that it unleashes Barnabas by episode’s end. Up to a certain point, Dark Shadows asked anxious audience members, “What’s the rush?”

DS1897 has too much story to tell for that. It’s a soap with a confidence to do more than string us along between Ronco ads. It slides with refreshing effortlessness for one timeline to another. And it helps that we’ve already been introduced to Magda, Quentin, and Beth.

When Barnabas departs 1969, he is flanked by Julia and Stokes: friends. They are the last faces we see from 1969, and Magda and Szandor — Grayson Hall and Thayer David — are the first we find in 1897. Barnabas’ Necropod 1 will land among friends. Instantly, we know them to be on our side. Sleazy. Opportunistic. But warm, affectionate, and canny. Smarter than Willie. Less cruel than Jason McGuire… yet every bit his match. And refreshingly non-anglo. Yes, a mess of vices, but as “ethnic-others,”, they are courageous and aware individuals. They are destined to be wise allies and formidable enemies. This is important in the Curse Slinger department. If remorse doesn’t follow, the audience learns nothing, the show lacks poignance, and storylines end when the villains meet justice or death. We have no way of knowing that Magda will deliver Quentin’s destiny, but it will make nuanced sense when she does.

Quentin’s entrance, sans painting, begins as a nearly shot-for-shot remake of Barnabas’ first trip to Collinwood ‘67. That introduction told us to expect mystery. Now, this introduction tells us to expect our new co-protagonist. He wastes no time in speaking, telling Beth (proto-reunited) that she is still beautiful. It’s a line of swagger, charm, sincerity, and utter bunk. In other words, Quentin. Without his voice, we only knew part of the picture.  He was a ghost doing a dedicated impression of Edward, stern and severe. We know that edge. We know that potential. The brothers share it, even if we don’t know one of them. Now, we see the justifiably-held charm with which it is bound. Has any character been so bold on Dark Shadows? Nathan Forbes? Your ship is casting off.

There is a new scoundrel in town. One we know will have powers vast and true.

And we see exactly why matriarch Edith lets him back; he’s fun — a presence we’ve never seen among the Collins clan. Think back. I mean, Jeremiah, a little. Carolyn, if you’re named Buzz, but that’s it. This immediately sets him apart. If he’s unhappy, we know he’ll deal with it with wit, irony, and edge. He is the modernist answer to the Romantic’s assertion of Barnabas.

We already know that he’ll find no equal at Collinwood, and by introducing that edge, Dark Shadows grows up. Took ‘em going back 75 years, but it’s high time. And to remind us that some things never change in a universe that seems to thrive on instability? Barnabas enters in the traditional way, with a mouth-breathing hayseed looking for his family jewels. Szandor should be as lucky as Willie. But with Thayer David in the role, we see a connection between Willie and Ben, if only in spirit.

Barnabas will soon learn that you have to go places you’d never expect to finally make it home.

This episode hit the airwaves March 3, 1969.

RIP Robert Cobert, Frank Jay Gruber

Robert Cobert films his cameo  in "War And Remembrance," 1985.
We're mourning two of our own today. News came over the transom this morning that Robert Cobert and Frank Jay Gruber passed away last week. My reflex was to publish seperate obituaries for each man today, but that felt somehow inappropriate. Cobert has been the topic of many conversations at this website over the years, but Gruber was a frequent contributor to our dialogues. I'm feeling his loss much more urgently and refuse to ghettoize his death as something other.

But there's a structure to this narrative and it begins with Robert Cobert. I awoke this morning to a message and photos from Jim Pierson, the marketing director and producer at Dan Curtis Productions, about Cobert's death. "He lived as long and joyful of a life as anyone I've ever known," Pierson said

Dark Shadows was obsessed with world building, and those worlds were mostly created by Cobert and the late scenic designer Sy Tomashoff. Tomashoff was responsible for building the body; as the show's composer, Cobert gave Dark Shadows its soul. And because of the way in which he worked, Cobert had an invisible influence over everything we saw. The rigorous production schedule meant the music had to be written independently of the show's taping. Much of what you saw on Dark Shadows was paced to meet Cobert's music. (I've heard that it was the first score for a daytime drama that used a symphonic orchestra, but couldn't find anything this morning to verify that.) By the time the series wrapped in 1971, Cobert had composed more than 600 tracks spanning almost 8 hours of music. Some are short "stings" last just seconds; others run several minutes.

Cobert with David Selby and Jonathan Frid.
By pure conicidence (or perhaps just due to the creative persistance of both men) Cobert and actor Jonthan Frid first came together in a 1961 television adaption of The Picture of Dorian Gray. You'll have to be paying attention to notice, though: Cobert is not credited for his work, and Frid's walk-through is so brief that you'll likely miss him.

Cobert continued his relationship with Curtis over the years, working on both House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler, Dracula, Trilogy of Terror, and the epic mini-series The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. Not to be outdone by his own work on Dark Shadows, those two mini-series represent the longest ever scores written for a movie. Cobert received the Lifetime Achievement Award during the 41st Annual Saturn Awards in 2015.

Cobert died Feb. 19 of pneumonia at the age of 95.

Just as I sat down to write this piece, CHS contributor Nancy Kersey sent me a message informing me that Frank had died Feb. 23. He was 54 and had been battling Stage IV pancreatic cancer since last July. Frank had been with The Collinsport Historical Society from almost the beginning and was always there when I needed him for something, no matter how silly. This is a man who volunteered to pick me up at Newark Liberty International Airport, a place I'd politely describe as Blade Runner-esque. He was a good guy and I've missed him since he had to withdraw from social media a few months ago to tend to more important matters.

Below is a photo we took together at the airport af the 50th anniversary Dark Shadows Festival. I hate having my photo taken and had just declined a photo with Will McKinley for that reason. (Almost four years later and I still feel guilty about that.) But here we are together in 2016, just a few days after we first got to meet in person, and the last time I'd ever see him. I'm the one with the glasses.

Frank kicked in enough work to the CHS over the years that he's got his own hyperlink. I'd encourage you to spend a few mintues today reading some of his old pieces. You can find his obituary online here. Memorial contributions can be made in Frank’s name to the Memorial Sloan Kettering Cancer Center

- Wallace McBride

Friday, February 21, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 21


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 700

Led only by the mysterious forces of Chinese black magic, can Barnabas Collins save the life of David through a terrifying voyage beyond the limits of inner space? Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

After finding Quentin’s bedchambers and his I Ching wands, Barnabas soon discovers that Maggie’s rescue attempt for David has left the boys in Quentin’s sadistically induced coma. The wands send Barnabas into a trance in which he passes a door that reveals his coffin.

When shows get successful enough, they get their own spinoffs. Only Dark Shadows became its own. Or is it a reboot? 1897 manages to take the best of everything that had come before, repackage it, and make it feel even fresher than ever. Did you like 1795? Cool, let’s make it 1897, capitalizing on the western craze. (It’s essentially The Wild Wild Northeast.) Like Vicki time traveling? Wait until we make it Barnabas. And did you like Barnabas? Put a drink in his hand and swap quips for reproaches, and you’ll love Quentin!

You could write a month’s worth of articles on the parallels. And I might.

I’m not sure Dan Curtis knew how long the show would be “gone,” but it had to be less time than they ended up spending away. But we’re not there yet. We’re in 1969. Whether or not Curtis knew that he would be gone for most of the year, he knew this was something special. It’s one thing to know that you’re saying goodbye. It’s another thing to have “goodbye“ sprung upon you. In this case, the characters are abandoned in a manner both methodical and brisk.

It propels us into action by tightly focusing the action on Barnabas’ powerlessness. He can’t stop Maggie from going to Collinwood. He can’t stop David’s coma. Fortunately, he and Stokes waste no time once they finally discover Quentin’s chambers. The entire storyline leading up to 1897 is about building momentum through David and Amy. By having people other than the primary characters make those discoveries first, it allows expositions to be layered upon expositions without making us wonder why nothing is being done. There’s only so much David can do outside of constant patricide attempts. But here, they find the room. Here, Quentin exhibits his cruelty in the most poignant manner, plunging David into a coma just as he reaches Maggie’s arms. So much for trusting adults. Or ghosts. It almost makes me wonder if the ghost is only apparently out for revenge. What if he actually needs Barnabas’ help to save him, and he keeps upping the ante until our hero has no choice?

When you go back and look at the episode it has a spare underpopulated sense of the apocalyptic and the modern. It’s not just a Collinwood that has been abandoned. The abandonment covers the entire show, it seems. This is not a universe that feels as if it has a cannery or a Blue Whale. Maggie is now the Victoria Winters, and although she bravely goes to search for David completely on her own, she is not up to the task. Which is another way of saying that the show is not up to the task of letting its problems be solved by its (replacement) first protagonist. It’s time to call in the biggest big gun possible and send him on a journey through time. It’s also a process that deliberately detaches us from 1969. There is a stark, empty quality to the assignment of characters here. Maggie, David, Barnabas, Stokes. The show has been reduced to the point until there’s almost nothing to which we are bidding farewell.

Several years before, David Bowman flew his pod into the monolith. It was a lonely point of departure. Something had driven his computer insane. Practically the equivalent of a ghost. The only way he could communicate with that force was by encountering it on its own level. With Frank Poole dead and HAL silenced, Dave had no idea what he was going to confront. Only that he was going truly into the unknown. What was that unknown?

His own sepulcher.

Yet one in which he was reborn. 

I can’t say precisely that the authors were influenced by 2001: A Space Odyssey, but perhaps they were.

Certainly, Dark Shadows is about to take its audience on the ultimate trip.

This episode hit the airwaves Feb. 28, 1969.

(Editor's note: The Dark Shadows Daybook feature has been a long and winding road, one that has made it necessary at times to backtrack and cover old ground. Patrick first wrote about this episode in 2017. If you want an example of how the Daybook has evolved over the years, look no further than here:

Friday, February 14, 2020

Freak people out with these DARK SHADOWS Valentine cards

The idea here was to mash-up those old Frankenstein Valentine Stickers using images from Dark Shadows. Because of the show's love for classic horror tropes, the captions used on the Valentine's Day stickers didn't need any re-writing. The end result, though, is making my skin crawl a little. That's a sign that something went very right or very wrong. You can decide for yourself which direction it took.

I don't know if the disturbing product is a result of the source material, an accidental lack of chemistry between the original stickers and Dark Shadows, or my own fragile state of mind.

If you're interested in freaking people out, I've shared high-resolution versions of these cards on the Blood Drive Tumblr feed. These are print ready, but I take no responsibility for any restraining orders that might result from deploying them IRL.


Monday, February 10, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 10


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 960

How is Chris Jennings the key to Bruno’s plan for world domination? Ask the talkative zombie! Bruno: Michael Stroka. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Jeb is increasingly smitten with the notion of human life. Bruno takes this as a cue to plan his eventual plan to replace Jeb as the Leviathan leader. All he needs to do is chain up Chris Jennings, trick Jeb into getting locked into a room with him, and then wait for the full moon.

High School Confidential captures two Zeitgeists at once, and I’m not sure if they disagree, agree, fuse, or simply enjoy a cool, smooth cigarette and agree never to talk about it. Russ Tamblyn has that effect. He’s either hipper than the room (Babylon 5), only thinks he’s hipper than the room (The Haunting), or doesn’t even dig the limiting scene of calling it a room, man, because all that’s about is walls and not a framework for windows, dig (Twin Peaks)?

Did you notice how forced and awkward that was coming from me? I could never get it off the ground. Not one bit. And there’s only one thing more painful than a square guy in a world o’ cool, and that’s a square guy in a world o’ cool who thinks he’s passing. It’s one of the reasons why Spider-Man 3 is so painful. Peter is projecting an image of cool that doesn’t work because he has no idea what he’s doing.

Welcome to the Spider-Man 3 of Dark Shadows — Leviathan Prime. Aka, the Russ Tamblyn of the series. To me, being the Russ Tamblyn of anything would beat a GBE after my name, every time.

I hate to say that I love this uncomfortable foray into “modern” culture by Dark Shadows, but it’s marvelously illustrative of how impossible it became for establishment media to keep up with any kind of youth-oriented culture or fashion. One of the fascinating elements of the series is its display of that cultural numbness. When it began, just thirty-one months earlier, youth culture was driven by adult culture. JFK might have been six feet under, but Camelot still drove fashion. Sinatra was turning fifty, but he was still in the prime of his comeback. James Bond was a colossus, and the man kept snappy and wore a suit. Thirty-one months earlier, Burke and Joe defined angry (kinda) “youth” on the show. Of course, the arrival of middle-aged Barnabas skewed the show’s chronological compass even further away from youth culture, kicking those long-hair, rockabilly, yeah-yeah types to the back seat and letting the Canadian drive.

Quentin’s arrival shakes it up a bit, but you’re only going to get so much hipness from a West Virginia boy with a Ph.D. Don’t get me wrong; David Selby goes far beyond human conceptions of cool, but that’s the point. I’m not sure that mattered as much as it did even a year before. Maybe it didn’t matter at all for youth appeal. But someone thought it did, because we get Jeb and Bruno, and what results is a show by middle-aged writers in youth drag. Now, we don’t get Charles Napier cracking his knuckles and jumping for joy because he has a new lease on life for William Malloy, but we get Jeb, Bruno, hair higher than Joan Bennett’s, and a lot of people calling each other “man,” man. Meanwhile, the now-zombified Sheriff Davenport staggers away with the episode, far more interesting and talkative as a zombie than he was before, proving that nothing’s cooler than being room temperature in Collinsport.

That’s my takeaway from this episode, a platonic orgy of male unbonding. With no Barnabas and no Quentin, there’s not a lot for Jeb to push against except for Bruno. Bruno shows a plucky knack for class mobility when he proposes to himself that he, Bruno, a human, would nevertheless be the ideal next leader for a race of timeless immortals so vast and ancient they have flecks of god on their dental floss. We can’t deny that Jeb wants to be boss as much as have the freedom of one, but with Bruno on one side and Barnabas on the other, he’s learning that management means having all of the responsibility and none of the power. All he can do is threaten the frustrated management figure opposing him, one Roger Collins.

Now that Roger is back from Louis Edmonds’ vacation, Edmonds represents the silent generation with a ferocity they rarely allow him. It’s foreshadowing the establishment backlash to come, and given what a bullying lout Jeb can be, the establishment is sorely needed. And that’s another dimension of showing hipsters by way of the unhip.Cool was redefining itself so quickly that even Roger Corman’s youth epics expired seconds after the projectionist cracked open the cans. The angry establishment doesn’t need to worry about any of that because it defines itself by its defiance of cool.

The timing is predictably atrocious. Just when DS tries to find a sexy antihero in the guise of a shaggy haired cult leader, Charles Manson became a walking wake-up call that the sixties were over before they were over.

The message? Wear a tie. Trim your muttonchops. And call Russ Tamblyn in situations like this.

This episode hit the airwaves Feb. 27, 1970.

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 3


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 953

Love is in the air for Jeb, but with Nicholas in the house, a dead man may be the only one grinning! Nicholas Blair: Humbert Allen Astredo. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Nicholas returns to reign in Jeb for his desire to stray from his Leviathan destiny. As he and Bruno increase the pressure on the Leviathan messiah, Carolyn has dreams suggesting Jeb’s connection to Paul’s death. Digging up his body, Paul is seen to be dead, but grinning madly.

The cosmology of the Dark Shadows universe just mopped itself up, and it’s about time. It’s shameful for a franchise like that to walk around with its Leviathan Transformation Chamber looking like Willie’s bedroom. And there’s only one man who can tidy up a cosmology with lemon-fresh continuity, making it both the candy mint and the breath mint of television horror.

If continuity has a name, it must be Humbert.

You were expecting someone else?

Quickly into Jeb’s tenure, it’s clear where this is going. Barnabas is again fully weaponized and strapped into the DB5 of Purpose, which is what happens when you mess with the ghost of his girl and put him on a liquid diet. Quentin’s in the ring. And Roger’s coming home, so God help the forces of evil when he puts down his 30-year-old fine, indifferently blended, to clear the property. Jeb can be sent packing any moment.

With an overdose of bon-bois.

Most important, Jeb has quickly learned to hate his monstrous form and longs for humanity, following the fine DS tradition of assimilation-by-infatuation. It’s happened before and will happen again. Nicholas may have been assigned to the job specifically because he has experience with chucking his ignoble responsibilities in the name of loving a gal from Collinsport. He knows full well that it leads to only one place: cleaning Diablos’ litterbox for all eternity.

This is the first storyline I can recall where the villain is just as eager to end it as the heroes. It's a sophisticated move on the part of the show and brings up a wonderful ambiguity to the proceedings. Other villains have followed internal instincts toward wickedness, having to temper those with higher-order thoughts that suggest other choices. In the case of Jeb, his heart is genuinely in the right place. It's his lawful evil alignment that forces him to go down a dark road. And is his alignment really that bad? Or is it just his job? Jeb, like many of the Christopher Pennock characters, is a wonderful study in the corruption of untempered innocence. With Jeb, who is just an overgrown kid, we see that we are both the noble savage and completely given to immature impulses, all at once. Like Adam. The show seems to cleanse its palate with a revisitation on youth and the balance between unspoiled benevolence and myopic selfishness.

Power corrupts on Dark Shadows, but those born with it are often born with hearts that are equally loving. Look at Angelique, for instance. It’s the same ambiguity. Life is much tougher for someone like Barnabas. He’s the saddest of the show’s dark clowns because he was a good man before he gained his powers. He knows exactly what horrible parts of himself they unleash. Quentin goes one step further. His final, dark ability is the show’s most fantastic, and his foreknowledge leads him to be at his most conservative when he can afford to be his least.

In other words, Jeb and the show need a guiding hand, and that guiding hand wears a natty, gray glove.

For seasoned viewers, this is a much-needed delight. We’ve been gone from 1897 for almost two months. We’ve been spoiled by Count Petofi; the angst of Paul’s return, the demonic domestic displeasures of the Todds, and the machinations of their marble-mouthed tots sit with the unwelcome determination of a hangover from the high livin’ of the last flashback. With the return of Nicholas Blair, we are treated to an unapologetic villain with a goal, allowing us to pull for Jeb and feel heartbreak, rather than fear when he strays.

He’s a curbed villain, however. He’s no longer the freewheeling contractor for the devil… he’s a number of rungs down. Or up. Depends on how you look at Satanic promotions. Either way, he’s clearly working his way back up from the mailroom. His presence also puts the purposefully vague Leviathans into a much-needed context. Like the HP Lovecraft works that inspired them, the Leviathans began as creatures akin to the Phoenix, existing beyond western, Judeo-Christian mythos and morality. As scary as that kind of unknowable neutrality can be, you know, pick a side, why don’t you? And they do. The entire scheme gets cleared up with Nicholas’ entrance, and the Leviathans now exist in the context of Diabolos, a subsidiary of Comcast Xfinity.

Evil has a vast variety of internal struggles within 593. Megan, Bruno, Jeb, and Nicholas all have varying agendas. Carolyn is the only standout, and this presages the show’s later descent into the Gerard storyline, where evil will isolate good almost completely out of the picture. Carolyn will be one of the last, good people standing, long after the show has abandoned the sense of family unit it would wear in the height of the Barnabas and Adam storylines. For now, the show still hums with much-needed mirth and silliness within the darkness. If it’s not Nicholas switching doors, it’s exhuming the buried slide of a grinning Dennis Patrick. Either way, we’re grinning as well.

This episode hit the airwaves Feb. 18, 1970.

Friday, January 31, 2020

You can now watch Dark Shadows for free ... legally!

If you're subscribing to Amazon Prime just to watch Dark Shadows, I've got great news: you can tell Jeff Bezos to eff off! (Try it! It's fun!) For the last few years Amazon has been the best option to view all 1,225 episodes of everybody's favorite gothic soap, but a second player has entered the game ... Tubi TV.

Tubi is a free, ad-supported service, with unskippable ads shown during commercial breaks during programming.  You know, just like the good old days. The streaming service also has the anthologies Dark Shadows: The Vampire Curse and Dark Shadows: The Haunting of Collinwood.

Tubi is accessible through a browser on MacOS and Windows, as well as Android and iOS apps; Apple TV; Amazon Fire TV (including the Amazon Fire Stick and Amazon Fire Stick 4K); Roku OS, Roku devices; and both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. If you're capable of streaming television, chances are you can now watch Dark Shadows for free!

Get started here:

Friday, January 24, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: January 23


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 416

In the wake of Sara‘s death, Barnabas Collins has one more life to eliminate: his own. Joshua: Louis Edmonds. (Repeat; 30 minutes)

Desperate for an answer to his daughters death, Joshua confronts Victoria, who admits to being from the future. Her statement falls on deaf ears. Barnabas, aware of the engine of suffering he has become, instructs Ben to destroy him.

I don’t think it’s any big secret that the Dark Shadows scripts didn’t really demand much of Louis Edmonds. You can’t say that he’s a lazy actor by any means. He has a bag of tricks that the writers clearly enjoy, because they largely restrict his choices to those. But there are times when it’s clear that they sit back and remember why he was hired. This is one of those times.

It’s an episode that defines the hope of death while immersed in the torment it creates for the living. The beauty of a show like Dark Shadows is that it’s luxurious and expansive running time allows it to focus on rituals like death with a length and depth that only real life can match. Not only is Sarah dead, but we feel as if we have spent several days morning for her.  And while Naomi slips into drinking and open acceptance, Joshua, stripped of control, seeks the very thing he has lost. At this point, the only control left is blame. It’s a painfully pathetic attempt. He attacks Vicki. Vicki comes out of the closet as a time traveler. And for just a flash you know that he believes her. It makes as much sense as anything, if not more. But believing her means blaming someone else. And his mind simply cannot brook another mystery.

Watching Edmonds in this episode is a bit like watching Zeus at his full wrath. From what I understand, Edmonds was a happy and ebullient man. Don’t trust it. The merriest among us, and I’m sure this won’t come as a shock, are the most rife with secret pain.  I don’t need a tell-all to reveal that. The power and truth and pain and fury that he displays in this episode is too controlled and too authentic to be reflective of the imagination. I don’t know what dark, inner horror Edmonds saw when he looked at the words of the script, but he summons something bordering on the alchemical. Far from histrionic, this is simply real. It’s even subtle and modulated, somewhere between a man performing an exorcism and winning a bet over whether or not he can act.

He can. He can act anyone off that soundstage.

There’s a lot in 1795 that just kind of sits there. It can be interminable. And at the same time, it contains the show at its rawest. This episode is its most painful study in survivors remorse. Barnabas, in death, finds himself more alive than ever. Reduced to the means of evil to survive, he discovers a depth of responsible morality that would shame a saint; the only thing that stops him from using his curse to hornswoggle the local yokels into assuming that he is also the occult source of their ills is his mother. Barnabas has lived out the fantasy of seeing his own funeral, and sees it for the nightmare it is. His mother is suffering it all over again, trapped in the unnatural fever dream of burying her second child in weeks. Were Barnabas to reveal himself and take the fall, it would force her to live that fate for a third time. 

As Louis Edmonds explores the peaks of the landscape of sorrow, Jonathan Frid and Thayer David plunge down to the blistering mantle of remorse. How many times must Barnabas hear that Ben is his friend before he believes it? And how many times does Ben need to hear his master beg for just one, single yes before he can let go?

As much as Barnabas is a hero for trying to eliminate himself from Collinsport’s suffering, the plight of Ben Stokes is even more profound.  He is incapable of seeing anything but the friend within. Every day brings a new truth and a new terror for him. But in the face of the questionable motives of so many others in 1795, his is pure. In many ways, he is one of the two greatest loves Barnabas Collins will ever know and never accept. And he could very well go to his grave knowing no other. 

In fact, I guarantee it.

This episode hit the airwaves Jan. 29, 1968.

Pdocast flashback: An interview with John Karlen

We lost John Karlen this week. As someone who runs a website that's supposed to be fun and engaging, it always feels a little ghoulish to use these kinds of losses to give my website traffic a bump. At the same time, I've got content that people want to see, so it's foolish -- maybe even selfish -- to keep it under lock and key. In this case it's a 2013 interview with Karlen counducted by Marie Maginity for The Collinsport Historical Society podcast. This is one of many episodes that were tossed into the vaults following the podcast's integration with Spotify. This episode hasn't been available to the public for a while now.

The episode is a little rough around the edges ... Karlen was recuperating in a hospital at the time, which didn't help is already cantankerous mood. But it's one of our most popular episodes, and features Karlen talking about his childhood, acting career and his experience as henchman/hero Willie Loomis on Dark Shadows.

You can listen to the interview streaming below, or download it as an MP3 by clicking HERE.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

In Memoriam: John Karlen (1933-2020)

Anyone familiar with show business, Dark Shadows, or the laws of physics knew this was coming. It had been coming for a long time. But it took so long, and John Karlen was so perpetually in medical trouble, it became shamefully unreal. Just painful details. It’s like he was refusing to go anywhere that didn't have good, hot, Polish food at the ready. From the outside, the situation became beyond fatalistic. He just became eternal, like one of the characters that he played.

I think this is a tougher death in the family to contend with because of that. We were always waiting for the other shoe to fall, and the other shoe was always falling, and yet nothing had hit our heads. It’s that strange and unique relationship and non-relationship that we have with celebrities who feel closer than family, and yet most of us have never met.

He was the greatest example of the Tao on Dark Shadows. Unspeakably brave and yet impossibly cowardly, to an extent that would shame the most cautious old biddy or fussiest mama's boy in the south. He was beyond an everyman. As Willie Loomis, he brought us the best and worst in all of us, and always with the most inconvenient timing. There comes a point that the hipster John Karlen fades away behind fabulous sunglasses, and all that is left is Willie Loomis. Maybe that’s because all that’s left of any of us is, ultimately, Willie Loomis.

On a show about death, he was the antithesis — fighting for life, fighting for a fair chance, fighting to be heard. Most of all, fighting himself and his own base impulses. Barnabas had no sidekicks with whom we would really want to identify. Instead, he had us, whether we liked it or not.

But beyond the character of Willie Loomis, there was a gladiatorial spirit in Karlen that represented the ultimate zest for living, cranky and tempestuous and impatient at the end, because that man still had a lot of living to do. As to his passing, there are details. And it is in the spirit of true irresponsible journalism that I write this in absolute dread of looking at them. The man died. Time and fate and reality are taking him from us. And I think that's bad enough for tonight.

The details are out there to be found. And if you want to gaze upon them, I understand why. Having written a number of obituaries for the Collinsport Historical Society, this one is different. I don’t want the details of his death. As someone who faces celebrity deaths with a fair degree of resigned, Buddhist inevitability, in this case, Buddha can take a powder. More than I imagined, I find myself just wanting him back. And I want him back as he was and as we were 30 or 40 years ago. He was the man who gave us Barnabas Collins, whether he liked it or not. And he was Quentin’s pal, proceeding to the chopping block like he was striding down Las Vegas Blvd. alongside Frank Sinatra. And he was also the guy who wasted no time shooting Fib and pining for Pansy Faye in a voice that truly made us want to punch Carl in the mouth, but with love. Always. And then there’s the chicken with Adam. And that tie that all good reformed hoods wore, because Willie Loomis was every neighborhood thug from Bridgeport that Dan Curtis could save through art. And he did.

Ultimately, Dark Shadows is about aristocracy. Of course, the Collins family. But beyond that, the actors. The stars are our aristocrats. But was he?  Perhaps he was beyond. He had a rude, strange, and crusty nobility. Ultimately, Falstaff to Frid’s Hamlet and Scott’s Miranda. But unlike the gracious luminaries, he was A Guy. He was OUR guy.

When one of the stars passes away, you can see the actors tighten up and close ranks, as well they should. And as well they will for John Karlen, because he was a guy... because he was their guy in a way we can never understand. Let us praise the bumbler he brought us, who, like us, had no business at Collinwood, and who had the misfortune of putting his throat in the way of the hand thrusting up from the coffin. We would’ve done the same thing. Yes, for the stars, he is their own. But he was also one of us. He is ours. This one is going to leave a mark. And we will wear it proudly. There are biographical articles. Read them. He deserves it.

Long live Willie Loomis, and you’ll forgive me if I just can’t write the words that should precede that sentiment. Long live the spirit of the man who brought Loomis and company into our lives.

Right now, he is the finest man whoever breathed.

- Patrick McCray

Wednesday, January 22, 2020

A little something for you perverts

Once part of The Collinsport Historical Society Podcast, Bodice Tipplers is alive and well and ...  doing much better than the CHS Podcast, truth be told. I might have more to say about THAT debacle at a later date (short version: it was all my fault) but the Bodice Tipplers have continued to truck along. They're cranking out two episodes a month, give or take, and have added a few bonues for subscribers to their Patreon. (And oh my god did I screw up the CHS Patreon with aplomb. 2019 was not my favorite year.) You can listen to a sample of their Patreon bonus Aural Sex, which features exclusive clips of other podcasters reading the dirty parts from romance novels.

You can find the Bodice Tipplers Patreon at

Tuesday, January 21, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: January 21


Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 677

Chris survives his night in the house of the dead, but will he survive Julia’s offer to help his “condition”? Chris Jennings: Don Briscoe. (Repeat; 30 min.)

After returning from a night secure within the mausoleum, Chris arrives home to find Julia expressing her doubts about helping him. After bribing away a spying David with soda, Chris later ingests poison laced into his drink by an invisible hand.

Is this the most compassionate episode of Dark Shadows ever? Hell, even the homicidal ghost is acting out of love. Everyone is compassionate except for David, the little psychopath, and if he weren’t, it would ruin the episode with Cosmic Inconsistency. He inserts a much-needed moment of ghoulish voyeurism into the proceedings, and it’s darn right that Chris denies him a second soda as a consequence. Now, off with you, Davey. It’s not so bad. Don Briscoe called you “man,” and that’s about the highest honor I can think of… after hearing David Selby ask, “You wanna touch these? No. Higher. No, not those, either. The ones in the box. Yeah, glued them on every day for six months. Weird, huh? Reminds me of the fake muttonchops on Dark Shadows.”

The only semi-holdout in the episode’s kindness klub is Julia, again, keeping the universe in order. When was the last time Chris Jennings bought her a Rob Roy and a steak sandwich at the Blue Whale? Or even let her bum a Gauloises? Exactly. Next time, maybe you’ll think about that when you come to her with out-of-network complaints about lycanthropy. She thinks it’s all in your head and intimates as much to Barnabas before he reminds her that Dan Curtis is paying the light bill.

I’m not sure what Chris Jennings did to earn Julia’s casual sadism. Maybe she just assumes that he’ll reject her, too, and wants to get a head start. Julia and Barnabas parallel each other on the clock of morality, here, both equally humane, but on different sides. Barnabas, emerging more and more from his shell of evil and Julia seemingly retreating into hers. Very purposefully. They are classic reflectors in this sense. Each is a walking yin-yang, and each has either a bit more malice or benevolence, depending. Why are they such? Quantity of suffering and alienation. You would think that Julia would have more sympathy, but her suffering is not all it’s cracked up to be. Yes, yes, an unmarried woman in 1969 in a male-dominated profession, nearing fifty. However, that field is medicine, she’s still has the prestige to head Windcliff, her salary is such that she can take years off at a time, and she’s in the most advantaged demographic in the country. Most of all, she’s human. Barnabas, on the other hand, is only recently human. He’s sitting on nearly two hundred years of interred imprisonment and starvation, has been dragged centuries away from anything familiar, has taken at least a score of lives, and knows the ambiguity of trying to kill the people he’d normally join in a hunt against something like himself. So, yes, he perhaps knows a little bit more about compassion in this regard.

In a year, would Julia be as parsimonious with her affections? I don’t think so, and it’s this Julia that we remember. Or SHOULD remember. It’s the right of the wrong to live forever in 1967, but I’m a man of modern times, and aspire for the future awaiting me in 1970. There, Julia is a woman who’s traveled through time three times, killed her evil twin in a parallel universe, escaped zombies, survived multiple possessions, and did it all while growing her hair back out. That tends to mellow a person out.

But when it comes to being a mensch, no one fulfills the requirements like Don Briscoe. Dark Shadows has a number of civilians interact with the Collins family, but none project the package of likability, intelligence, and steadfastness like Chris Jennings. This matters. Barnabas has reclaimed his humanity in every sense. Normally, stories would have him test that mettle by helping someone of dubious intent… who would no doubt betray him. While it’s true that this happens far, far too frequently in real life, in art, it is empathy-shaming. Yes, yes, it builds conflict and an organic sense of drama, even if it allows the spiritually stingy a moment of self-congratulation. But Dark Shadows is a virtuoso at playing a long game it doesn’t even know is whirling around it. Barnabas must foster his newfound humanity by helping someone worthy of it. This justifies the act. By doing so, the series will forever give him the One Example of a Good Man that will challenge him when he wants to turn his back on a ne’er-do-well.

That’s the problem with cynics. They never met the One Example.

This episode hit the airwaves Jan. 28, 1968.

Tuesday, January 14, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: January 14


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1195

When Gerard claims a bride in a bizarre act of unnatural hypnosis, will Barnabas catch the garter? Judah Zachery: James Storm. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Gerard puts enough whammy on Daphne to marry him, and Quentin’s arrival comes too late. He is soon arrested again, and although Barnabas dedicates himself to ending the man he now knows to be Judah Zachery, he may not be able to. Angelique thinks it is hopeless. Her detached attitude about it is indicative of the Witch Privilege that Barnabas cites as the reason he cannot love her. Hearing this, she is determined to reform. Her voodoo attack on Gerard is cut short by the surprise arrival of her intended victim.

With this, we begin the final cycle of “this is it.” Not that it wants to make a big deal out of it. If it were any more modest and self-effacing, the episode would be mistaken for a Lutheran.

One of the things that makes 1840 so incredibly challenging for viewers is the fact that most other endings know that they’re endings. Most endings bellow the fact at you long before the climax and resolution… and, if the production caps off an epic story of British fantasy, it will still be ending hours later. But this doesn’t. It just happens. I hate to look at Dark Shadows as anything other than one, big interconnected story. The fact that it was not constructed with Straczynskian forethought is irrelevant to the finished product… except in certain idiosyncrasies of storytelling. Things ramble endlessly only to end abruptly. You know, like real life.

When a viewer abandons preconceived notions of structure and finally realizes that storytelling does not begin and end with the unholy conformist trinity of Syd Field, Robert McKee, and Joseph Campbell, endings like this one are stunningly truthful. Almost too much so. Real life doesn’t with cues for heartfelt conversations that sum up relationships. Real life has never provided me with my own montage so that I can get into shape, just like it’s never given me a clip reel of highlights so that I’ll know the show is over.

I wonder how the show would have treated these episodes if they’d really, honestly known that this was it. They are not devoid of summative sentiment. But they are summing up a storyline, not a series. Given that, they do so extremely well. If you look at the major “vacations” taken by the storyline, only 1795 is as self-consciously satisfying. Parallel time just mercifully ends, and does 1995 even count? 1897's ending is sort of the opposite of the rest of that story line. It's dour and melancholy and overstays it welcome. So that leaves 1840, and upon re-examination, I think it's the most satisfying ending that any storyline has on the program. Including the incredibly painful death that is just a few episodes away.

The most pivotal moments in the episode work in tandem, one after the other. Barnabas confronts Gerard and refers to him as Judah, which has to be a huge blow to Judah’s ego… and a great show of bravado for Barnabas, considering that Judah Zachery is the boogeyman for Barnabas’ generation; his offstage manipulations have slowly poisoned the family for hundreds of years, and we can thank him for what Barnabas finds when emerging in 1967. Of course, Zachery’s powers are potentially far more vulgar, and Barnabas’ risk in taunting him is all the more shocking when you consider that he very much knows the risk he’s taking.

In a Structured Ending, this would be the puffed-up moment where the hero gets a cosmic spanking for the sin of immodesty. But the up in question is not puffed enough for that. Nothing here is. Barnabas has just come off of telling Angelique the real reasons why he cannot love her. Yes, stop the presses. Important. Show. Moment.

And it kinda happens. That’s about the most you can say.

Yes, yes. It’s enough to make her risk everything to stop the wholesale slaughter she predicts. In that sense, Barnabas is a real value in the rhetoric department. Very casual about the whole thing. Reasonable to a predictably Canadian extent. So reasonable, I fear that he’ll transform into a Unitarian or Merkin Muffley on the Grey Phone with Dimitri.

He basically says, “Yeah, I mean, Angelique, you know… It’s just… You’ve got witch ways, you. You know? Witch, witchy, witch… you know… um, witchy ways. You’ll never stop using them. And that means you are not human. You know how it is. I mean, it’s not your fault, so don’t beat yourself up too much. But, you know. This is how… um, yeah. So, I’m going to make a cheese sandwich. Maybe change the litter box. Do you need anything?”

I’m not really exaggerating. And it’s perfect in its awkward straightforwardness. Even with all of the time travel and psychic premonitions on the show, they still don’t have DVDs, so they have no idea what’s coming. I’m sure if Barnabas knew this was one of the last times he’d be able to give The Speech, he would have really made it a humdinger.

For a viewer, it’s actually satisfying… enough. It passes a reality test that most shows are too teary eyed to par out of at this point. Jonathan Frid and Lara Parker could spellbind just by reading the iTunes terms and conditions aloud at this point. And Jerry Lacy, James Storm, and the Chairman of the Chops, himself, Mr. David Selby? They glide through the episode with an easy confidence the OED would brand Rat-Packian while hitting the notes of gravitas with utter respect for their significance. Storm is especially disciplined, transforming into the series’ Blofeld with a mid-Atlantic blend of Stanislavskian truth and Classical panache. Is this the evil that launched well over a thousand episodes?

Do not underestimate James Storm.

This episode hit the airwaves Jan. 22, 1971.

Monday, January 13, 2020

Podcast: Morbius the Living Vampire!

Have you seen the trailer for this year's Morbius yet? It's ... fine!? I'm too excited about the prospects of getting a movie adaption of "the living vampire" to nitpick at this point. And the release of the trailer feels like a good excuse to dig one of our podcasts out of the vault.

In the second episode of The Collinsport Historical Society Podcast, recorded way back in 2013, features an interview with comics legend Roy Thomas about creating Michael Morbius, Marvel's first vampire, in 1971. Also in this episode: Patrick McCray speaks with comics creator Joe Keatinge, who was writing a new Morbius series at the time.

What does this have to do with Dark Shadows? I'm glad you asked! Morbius was at the crossroads of several historic changes in comics. Not only was his introduction the first issue of The Amazing Spider-Man not written by Stan Lee, but he was also the first vampire character at Marvel following changes to Comics Code Authority's prohibition for supernatural characters. In our interview, Thomas speaks about the events that led to Morbius sparring with the web slinger in 1971, his script for the Marvel Comics Dark Shadows parody "Darn Shadows," and how the Marvel office was not allowed to disturb him when a television show featuring a certain cane-carrying vampire was on.

You can listen to the episode below.

Tuesday, January 7, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: January 7


Taped on this date in 1971: Episode 1190

When Quentin escapes from jail, will he and Daphne tie the knot before Gabriel ties her down forever? Daphne: Kate Jackson. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Gabriel’s attempt to kidnap Daphne is ineffectual, and the lass escapes. Meanwhile, Joanna stumbles upon Gabriel and Melanie in PT as she searches for Daphne. Nonetheless, Gabriel seizes Daphne from the shadows.

Of course, the 1840 storyline is contrived. Of course. It’s not the character study of 1795 nor the lusty, sprawling bacchanal of pure imagination of 1897. True to its industrial revolution-era setting, it’s a piece of clockwork, cleverly designed to include the apotheosis of Barnabas Collins among dozens of other storylines. The network of interlocking agendas becomes deeply impressive, three steps back, and yet I cannot accuse it of seeming contrived. It simply feels like the owner of the hand of destiny is showing his receipt and telling us all where we can get one. Quentin is out of the way for Trask and Gerard, leading to a witch trial where Barnabas takes up rhetorical arms against a sea of troubles, and by opposing, winds up with Angelique shot.

Which has its own clockwork beauty of dark and ironic inevitability.

Elements of 1190 are so emotionally mature that I wonder if the show is still Dark Shadows. Joanna Mills quickly concludes that Quentin just is not that into her, and she frees him. Good for you. In this case, she defies the jealous lover stereotype, and for all of her blandness, gets the Victoria Winters Award for intrepid house snooping, while Daphne is doing the same thing in hidden corridors that seem designed to store old paintings on the walls. Staying steady among the rampant Dutch angles (“Boff!” “Pow!” “Insinuate!”), Joanna even has a moment to stop by the ultimate secret passage, the Parallel Time room, where Christopher Pennock and Nancy Barrett star in the costume version of The Lost Weekend. The portrait of an alcoholic is convincing, and it will need to be. 1841PT is easily understandable as the show’s downfall when you consider that it gave them, realistically, nothing connected to the prior four years of world building. Yes, running dry on ideas, we’ve heard it. Running even drier on Frid-as-Barnabas? Clearly. It’s simply a shame that no one thought to extend a tendril of continuity between the universes again. Needn’t even be a big gun.

When the PT cutaway happened today, I found challenge in mustering extreme enthusiasm, even though the final result (1841PYT) is a gem of a storyline. The highlight of the episode, reliably, is Christopher Pennock, the James Cagney of the DS ensemble. Here, he plays two Gabriels, and neither gent is a prize… but in totally different ways, implosive vs. explosive. The difference is arrestingly subtle, down to movement (no, not the legs) and tempo-rhythm. This is the case where relentless training really pays off.

Meanwhile, away from the wistfully sad portrait of a charming alcoholic’s mastery of rationalization, the other Gabriel seems to appear in this episode as sponsored by Ronan Farrow’s most paranoid suspicions. Pantingly lustful, even a priapic Rev. Wilbur Glenworthy would try spiking Gabriel’s Ovaltine with saltpeter. And yet, there is such a goofy quality to Gabriel’s authentic melodrama — straight out of Love Rides the Rails, complete mit tied-up damsel — that any sense of transgressive violation just seems like… it ain’t gonna happen. He eventually rejects Daphne’s come-on in a disappointing burst of common sense. He makes up for it, however, by showing off his counterfeit good-guy badge while commiserating with Joanna. It’s an orgy of irrelevance. At this point, they’re both short timers for totally different reasons. But so are we all in the world of Dark Shadows. However, the show is a möbius strip, and the twist is coming up — some time after 1841PT and before the next episode, #1, in Main Time, so far behind us that it’s the next stop on the horizon.

This episode hit the airwaves Jan. 15, 1971.

Saturday, January 4, 2020

Mark Gatiss stars in vampire prequel story, Dracula’s Guests

Greetings from the distant past! I'm writing this from the year 2020, 10:15 a.m. Jan. 3 EST. I fear nobody will ever read this letter, given the shitstorm the world is rapidly becoming. #WorldWarIII was actually trending on Twitter this morning, perhaps becoming the first international conflict begun on a social media platform. Donald Trump is so awful he makes me want to believe there is a god, because the thought of that amoral cretin spending eternity in a hellscape designed by Hieronymus Bosch warms the cockles of my cold little heart. Seriously, fuck that guy right in the ear.

I'm having to write this in advance because the announcement was embargoed until 4 p.m. GMT on Jan. 4. There hasn't been a lot of news lately on the Big Finish front about Dark Shadows, but here's something to tide you over until the series fires up later this year: Dracula's Guests, a prequel starring Mark Gatiss as the count. Here's the press release:
Hot on the heels of his spectacular BBC Studios/Netflix production, Mark Gatiss returns to the world of Bram Stoker’s vampire in a full cast audio production from Big Finish.

A prequel to the events of the original novel, Dracula’s Guests is adapted by Jonathan Barnes and forms the opening chapter in a trilogy of terrifying Dracula audio adventures.

Dracula's Guests will be released in February 2020 and is available now at the special pre-order price of $26.15 as a three-disc collector’s edition CD or  $16.99 as a download.

Transylvania, 1888. Sitting in his castle like a spider in its web, Count Dracula is setting his plans in motion. Soon he will travel to England, there to cut a bloody swathe through polite society and pit himself against a dedicated crew of vampire-slayers. Yet before then there is much to be done. A certain artist must be brought to him and a certain portrait painted. An old tale must be told, drawn from the darkest recesses of Transylvanian history. And in faraway London an honest police detective must be corrupted and set to work in the service of the Count. The vampire king is making preparations. And his survival will be assured – no matter the cost.

Dracula’s Guests stars Mark Gatiss as Count Dracula, David Bamber (Jeremiah Hart), Ian Hallard (RM Renfield) and Hannah Arterton (Sabine).

Actor Mark Gatiss said: “As a life-long horror fan, vampires – and Dracula in particular – were always my favourite of them all. Stoker very mysteriously never bothered to write a sequel, but I thought it would be quite an interesting thing to come back to. He's always coming back, isn't he? It's the point of Dracula.”

Writer Jonathan Barnes agreed: “There are so many loose strands, so many unfinished elements, so many things that are left unexplained in the original book, it seems almost to encourage us as writers to explore the world further. From that we've built up quite an elaborate story.”

Producer and director Scott Handcock added: “It was a thrill to bring Dracula back to life with our adaptation of the original novel in 2016, and an even bigger thrill when Mark Gatiss approached me a few months later asking whether we might be able to tell further tales of the Count. We’ve got some familiar faces returning, plus some fantastic new characters too, and of course, right at the heart, the ominous presence of Dracula himself, once more conjured into existence by Mark!”

Dracula's Guests will be released in February 2020 and is available now at the special pre-order price of £19.99 as a three-disc collector’s edition CD or £16.99 as a download.

Save money with the Dracula trilogy bundle (including the adaptation of the novel Dracula, and the sequel release due in September 2020, Dracula’s War) for just £53 as a collector’s edition CD box set or £45 as a download. 
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