Friday, December 18, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: Dec. 9


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1169


When Angelique declares her love for Barnabas and lifts his curse, Judah realizes that the former vampire’s human side is a dangerous place to be. Judah Zachery: James Storm. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas interrupts Gerard’s daytime quest for his coffin by appearing quite human, having been made so by a contrite Angelique. Meanwhile, as Angelique reveals her history as Miranda Duval, Gabriel is haunted by the ghost of his murdered father, and attempts to kill Gerard.

Everything has to grow up. 

It would have been just as school was letting out for the holidays. Kids were three years older than they were when they spent their first (significant) DS Christmas break in 1795. I know that the show wasn’t expressly aimed at them, but, well, it was, anyway. Sam Hall was the father of a twelve year-old boy, and thus, was not only aware of their evolving sensibilities, but of their schedules, as well. School was letting out. Although kids were hme all the time, they also had more things bidding for that time. The show would kick it up accordingly. 1795 existed to show the knotty nature of pursuing passion’s industry. It’s appropriately two-dimensional for kids first learning about the basics of new love, infidelity, and the occult. Three years later, the lessons of ep. 1169 are far more nuanced, dealing with last loves, true loves, and a love so enduring that it grows past romance and into actual respect, affection, and admiration. 

It’s my understanding that the ratings were not as problematic at this time as history later implied. Still, Dan was increasingly restless, they had a star who was desperate to play anything other than the show’s sensation, and, not being a genre writer, Sam Hall himself was growing exhausted and bereft of fresh ideas. It’s a natural time to start asking where this is all going. Dark Shadows was not a sustainable organism because of its very strength… the wild ideas that sparked the story and the vast number of episodes they had to enliven. While that may seem kind of sad, it makes it the Roy Batty of daytime TV, finding a life with shape and meaning because of its limited lifespan. Other soaps may have memorable storylines and characters, but are they a memorable story? It’s impossible. But as unwieldy as Dark Shadows seems to be, there is a story within it. Like the Garden of Earthly Delights, it may be a massively complicated and surreal mess, but there’s a frame, and if we step back far enough, it’s all there to be seen at once.

1168 makes us acutely aware of that. As a piece of dramatic structure, it suffers from the endemic curse of its medium: the most vital moments are in the first act. Why? Today’s first act is actually the resolution of yesterday’s climax. So often with Dark Shadows, the episode begins with yesterday’s crescendo, but unlike the countless other entries in the saga, it does more than pad the running time until setting up the next episode’s big beginning. Hall is cleaning house, taking chances, unwrapping surprises, and, seemingly, hanging out with dear friends he knows are going away.

So, if they are going away, what can he do for them? How can he thank them? You know, “them” being not only the characters, but the actors who were his inevitable collaborators. Let’s start with James Storm, who has the opportunity to delve ever deeper into the character of Judah Zachery. Zachery, at this point, is so close to victory that he doesn’t seem to care. Storm has enjoyed one of the show’s rarest delights as he subverts one deceitful character for another entirely different deceitful character, but never really taking the spotlight as he should. He’s competing for airtime with the program's most saturated and robustly charismatic male ensembles. Given that, he’s practically Elvis, and the field of near-metadrama is his ‘68 Comeback Special. How many layers? We have Sam Hall writing for James Storm playing Judah Zachery possessing Ivan Miller pretending to be Gerard Stiles. That’s not confusing. It unrolls at a stately pace. Rather, it’s generous. Storm is so nimble and meticulous in his performance, you’d think it would turn clockwork. No. His singular magic is to fuse that almost pointilist precision of thought and language with the Halloween-night joy of simply performing. And he’s in marvelous company, because Christopher Pennock is allowed dazzling range here as a Gabriel pushed to the edge. Planning, calculating, and swearing vengeance, he’s a murderer trying to shift the blame onto Gerard. And from a certain point of view, he’s correct. But like a twisted riff on Hamlet, he’s tortured by the ghost of the father he murdered, and this spectral patriarch may not be omniscient. He’s still there to take it out only on Gabriel, and you would think that, in death, he would see the puppet strings of both Gerard and Judah, at the very least spreading the blame. But Daniel seems myopic to this, and the frenzy of ghostly guilt and greed seems to galvanize Gabriel (hang on, let me catch my breath) into taking his first actions to preserve the Collins legacy. In Dark Shadows, you don’t even bother to hope that your ancestors will go to a better place. You just double it on the pass line and pray they didn’t see what you did. 

On the blueprints, the dullest and most thankless part on the show had to go to Grayson Hall, who’s not crazy, supernatural, newly human, possessed, nor haunted. Her edge comes from the fact that Sam had to sleep some time, and if he thought he was going to turn her into a wandering sounding board for exposition, he’d better sleep lightly. Having only guts, common sense, and enough experience to know that Blairs and Petofis come and Blairs and Petofis go, she’s one of us looking in. Judah doesn't stand a chance. 

In her attempts to reason with Barnabas, we see each appreciating and suffering the lack of what defines the other. Julia is memory. Fact. Common sense. Barnabas is a creature high on the fumes of pure relief and affection. Is it possible that Angelique is staging all of this for a royal screw worthy of Wile E. Coyote? Yeah. But… you know… it’s also possible that she’s sincere. We have no evidence. So, yeah, she did this out some newfound goodness in her heart. It’s possible. What? Stop lookin’ at me like that. It is. And as it turns out, I’m right. 

Lara Parker
plays the dishwater dull role of Proving She’s Earnest and then Giving History Lessons. That kind of goody-goody nonsense and trip-down-memory-lane-ing is deadly for actors. However, these are also profound turning points for the character. Someone who’s lived only lies -- down to her very name -- for centuries is changing the dance. That’s a powerful lesson, and Parker plays it with a fierceness that communicates the absolute necessity of compassion and honesty. She’s tried everything else. If 1840 is anything, it’s a woman’s attempt to protect the man she loves from the machinations of a deranged ex-boyfriend. From the implications she drops about Judah, it’s clear he was a love of her past. How different he was from Barnabas, and perhaps that’s the point.

And this positions our craggy, handwringing hero to have moments in the sun at last… again. We see him through the eyes of Julia and Angelique as everyone tries to reconcile that, yes, we have the capacity for change. Even the worst of us. Jonathan Frid, a man who, three years prior, was damnably uneasy playing youthful innocence, now portrays the same man with ease. It’s an innocence that’s organic. It comes from knowing how complicated humans will make the world, and what a relief it is when they drop the act. Innocence like Barnabas’ doesn’t come from a lack of experience. It comes from seeing how little can actually come from it. And relishing pulling the rug from beneath Gerard? As well as showing off his Mrs. Peel?  It’s been a long time coming. 

This is all in 24 minutes, and that just begins the goodbye. 

This episode was broadcast Dec. 17, 1970.

Thursday, November 12, 2020

Re-Imaginos: Songs nobody knew and stories left undone

By Wallace McBride

There will probably never be a definitive version of Imaginos. There was a time when I would have written off that inconsistency as a bug, but Re-Imaginos — the latest installment in the occasionally on-going saga  suggests that inconsistency might be an essential feature.

Imaginos  both the character and the song cycle  has been lurking in the fringes of pop culture for about 50 years now, brushing up against the likes of Metallica, Academy Award nominee Grayson Hall and Stephen King along the way. The vision of long-time Blue Oyster Cult manager Sandy Pearlman, Imaginos tells the story of an "actor in history" commissioned by alien powers to push mankind toward an apocalyptic confrontation with evil. Think of it as Zelig filtered through H.P. Lovecraft and Joseph Campbell.

"The Soft Doctrines of Immaginos" (as it was originally called) began during Pearlman's college years in the 1960s, and found its first toehold when the psychedelic rock band The Stalk Forest Group abruptly swerved into heavy metal territory in 1971 when it became Blue Oyster Cult. In need of darker themes, Pearlman's stock got an overnight bump in value as his lyrics about occult sciences, satanic bikers and end-of-the-world rock concerts found an immediate home in the band's repertoire.

While Blue Oyster Cult balked at the idea of devoting an entire album to a solitary idea, songs from Pearlman's Imaginos epic leaked into the band's catalog over the coming years. Their 1974 album Secret Treaties served as a backdoor pilot of sorts for the rejected concept album, featuring at least three songs devoted to the as-yet unnamed "Imaginos" character. The liner notes include the cryptic (and unexplained) footnote: 

"Rossignol's curious, albeit simply titled book, 'The Origins of a World War', spoke in terms of 'secret treaties', drawn up between the Ambassadors from Plutonia and Desdinova the foreign minister. These treaties founded a secret science from the stars. Astronomy. The career of evil."

"Aggression unchallenged is aggression unleashed," was the album's tagline ... which doubled as the secret logline for the entire Imaginos saga. You can hear Grayson Hall pitch Secret Treaties to the masses in the video below.

The band began to resist Pearlman's gravity in 1975, leading to fewer of his lyrics finding their way to Blue Oyster Cult albums. It's difficult to say how many of his later lyrics were related to Imaginos, but it's likely that some of his work (Extra-Terrestrial Intelligence, I'm looking at you) simply hasn't disclosed its familial relations yet. Pearlman busied himself in the latter half of the decade producing albums for The Clash and The Dictators, and it appeared Imaginos had met his end.

When drummer Albert Bouchard exited the band in 1981, he and Pearlman went to work on an album dedicated exclusively to the Imaginos concept. Pearlman and Bouchard were the central nervous system of BOC, and if anyone could make Imaginos finally happen it would be them, right? Turns out the answer was "sorta." Behind-the-scenes drama saw the album wrestled away from Bouchard, becoming a formal Blue Oyster Cult release in the summer of 1988. Much of his performance was erased, his vocals replaced by other band members and singers. The convoluted process even roped in such talent Robbie Krieger (The Doors), Joe Satriani and Marc Biedermann (Blind Illusion). During its lengthy gestation period the album endured so many overdubs and do-overs that it's almost impossible to trace everybody's contribution. Aldo Nova, for example, is one of the musicians credited as part of "The Guitar Orchestra of the State of Imaginos," but reportedly has no memory of playing on the album.

And it gets weirder. Because Pearlman lacked the time and money to include all of the songs intended for the planned double-album release, many tracks were deleted and the album condensed into a single 55-minute disc. The songs were then shuffled out of order to create a conventional track sequence. The bizarre assembly of non-linear songs was masked by the pretense of being a "random access myth." Chaos had always been central to the events surrounding Imaginos, so grafting chaos to the narrative was a good fit. 

It also had the unintended effect of making Imaginos a deeply interactive experience. Pearlman's already cryptic lyrics became a Gordian Knot of words. Fans worked to not only decipher the meanings of individual songs, but also to assemble the scattered tracks into a whole story. Meanwhile, casual fans rejected Imaginos as not being (or sounding) much like a BOC album, while more serious fans continue to nurse a variety of grudges over its piecemeal, contentious production. For some folks its neither fish nor fowl.

It didn't take long for 1988's Imaginos album to go out of print. Which is tragic, because Pearlman's self-proclaimed "solo album" is one of rock's legitimately occult experiences. Not because of the story's many nods to voodoo, Rosicrucianism, cosmicism and indigenous legends; but because the experience of exploring its songs  for those who are open to it   is almost numinous. There's probably even a book to be written on how Pearlman's original vision for Blue Oyster Cult predicted the advent of chaos magic a few years later. I had about 2,000 words written at the start of this piece about astral documents, memetics, the evolution of the Necronomicon from fictional plot device to player in numerorous American conspiracy theories, and how all of THAT related to Imaginos ... but I've probably bored you enough with metaphysics. Besides, we're here to talk about Re-Imaginos.

There have been at least three versions of Imaginos released over the years, all of which have conflicting track listings. The first version was the 1988 album, the second a leaked collection of Bouchard's earlier "demos" (actually low-quality recordings of his final tracks, including the deleted songs) and the release last week of Re-Imaginos, which sees Bouchard revisiting these songs in quieter, spookier arrangements he believes are better suited to the material. With Re-Imaginos, Bouchard gleefully tosses more mud into the waters, settling on a song sequence that thumbs its nose at previous attempts at constructing the Imaginos tale into a coherent narrative and breaking those songs down into four movements: Quandry, Sublime, Ghost and Dance. He goes a step further by including a new version of Workshop of the Telescopes, a song from the first BOC album in 1972 that, until recently, was not known to be part of the Imaginos storyline. 

Confused yet? Here's Stephen King to give you a concise explanation of the story, one that doesn't require any prior experience with the music. 

There's quite a bit more taking place on Re-Imaginos than a re-shuffling of the deck. This isn't just an unplugged version of the original recordings; Bouchard fully disassembled the original songs in order to breathe new life into them. Some of the arrangements seem at cross purposes to their original recordings. The Siege and Investiture of Baron von Frankenstein’s Castle at Weisseria was maximum strum and drang in the original interation. Guest vocalist Joey Cerisano delivered a performance that would shame Ronnie James Dio, while Satriani and Biederman clash electric guitars throughout. I can't imagine anyone could have predicted Bouchard would ever reimagine this song as a tango (or is it a rumba? Salsa?), replacing the lead guitars (mostly) with violin. And it works. Not just as an indepedent track, but also as a thematic lead-in to The Girl That Love Made Blind, a song both literally and figuratively about dancing ... and time travel, astrology and immortality, all tarted up as a gothic Christmas long song.

The Girl That Love Made Blind was one of the songs that didn't make the final cut on the 1988 album, which was a sin. It was one of the best songs written for that album, and it's one of the best on Re-Imaginos. But the real showstopper on the new album is Astronomy, which might be the definitive version of the song. If you were to conduct a poll about BOC's best tune ... well, (Don't Fear) the Reaper would absolutely win. But, if you were to sequester the fans who could name more than one song by the band and poll those people? I'd bet Astronomy would come out on top. It's proven to be an endlessly flexible song, adapting itself to metal, classical guitar, jam music and whatever that version on the 1988 Imaginos album was. (I LOVE that take, for the record.) The new version features a really interesting, weighty rhythm that that moves like a behemoth. The new arrangement also shows that Bouchard has been paying attention to how other artists (and his old band members) have interpreted Astronomy over the decades, picking and choosing elements to create a song that kind of sounds like all of them while sounding specifically like none of them. Astronomy is a song with a lot of history behind it and Bouchard wisely doesn't ignore that.

And then there's the album's title track. Bouchard comes so close to redeeming what was nobody's favorite song on the original album. (Putting it last on the 1988 version had the added benefit of never having to skip it.) It's not exactly a bad song ... it just never earns its keep. Being the title track for an album like this might make its rent disproportionately high, but nobody ever said life was fair. A title change might benefit this song to a degree, but the real problem is the lyrics, which don't have much to say until the closing act. I'd be interested in hearing what people think about this version of the song, but the original probably wasn't popular enough to provoke any strong feelings in fans one way or another. We're all probably going to be busy fighting among ourselves about Astronomy

Les Invisbles improves on the original in just about every way and creates a sense of urgency in its rhythm that was missing from the electronic drone of the original. Gil Blanco County, a song whose placement in the overall sceme of things still baffles me, is a wonderful mishmash 60's folk music, the faux classical guitar styles so beloved of '80s thrash, and surf guitar. None of those things ought to play well together, but they do. There's a subtle sadness to this version of Gil Blanco County that's reminiscent of early BOC, whose lyrics often demanded to know If U Are Ready 2 Rock, but whose melodies suggested you stay home and read Carlos Castaneda instead.

Magna of Illusion might be the only real failure here. The song served as the climax to the 1988 album, but the new take is s little ... shapeless? Structurally, Magna is one of Bouchard's most impressive songs, the prior arrangement gaining strength as it moved from verse to verse, ultimately leaving the listener stranded on a real fucker of an ending ("... and then World War I broke out!") It's easily the most operatic tune on the album, one shunning traditional choruses in favor of ratcheting up the tension as the song unfolds through guitars and spoken-word performances. But the spooky analog version of the song on Re-Imaginos is never given much room to breath, though. It rushes to the finish line and winds up feeling small. 

With Les Invisibles moved to the end of the album, Magna of Illusion doesn't carry the full burden of delivering the story's climax. We still get that downer ending, only this time via a doom-laden march threatening the arrival of whatever is pulling our anti-hero's strings.

Re-Imaginos feels almost miraculous. I still have trouble believing Bouchard was willing to return to this demon haunted project, and that it happened during this off-brand trashbag of a year. Even better, Bouchard didn't create some lazy collection of covers. I'f put the talent appearing on Re-Imaginos up against the 1988 release any day. But it is absolutely not the album I expected  or even wanted  and it feels more satisfying because of that. There's an intimacy to the production that feels like it can fit in your living room ... if you're in the mood for entertaining monsters.

Imaginos is dead. Long live Imaginos.

Tuesday, November 10, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: Nov. 10

Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 364


When the ghost of Sarah appears to Barnabas at last, will her spectral message haunt him long after she vanishes? Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Sarah’s haunting of Collinwood intensifies. She finally appears to Barnabas, excoriating him for his lethal lack of ethics, and then appearing at the estate proper to warn of the wrath of the dead. Julia confronts the family with her assertion that Sarah is real. Meanwhile, while the bodies in the plane were burned beyond recognition, Elizabeth seems convinced that Burke is among them, in the crashed plane in Brazil. Victoria is completely unwilling to let him go.

Dark Shadows is a program with far more halves than should be mathematically possible. Before and after Barnabas is the most notable that comes to mind. But there’s before and after Vicki. Before and after the introduction of time travel. Before and after color. This is intensely organic in a show about transformation and our relationship with the past. Intrinsically, each of our major characters are on the other end of extraordinary transitions… when we meet them. Future and past are always in an intense dance on the program. Inevitably, the present is threatened by impending justice or exposure for the choices of yesterday. 

This episode is an intense nexus of all of the above. The show begins with only two episodes before 1795. A wild ratings gamble -- there was a chance they might not come back --- so Team Curtis had an enormous challenge ahead. First of all, only on Dark Shadows would you have to set up a flashback. But with one character near-immortal and another robbed of the future they so profoundly desired, it feels organic. When the program returns from the past, it will be with a new purpose and main character. 1795 is the transition, and it will elementally change both future and past protagonists through the lens of death. One has been reborn, but as a moral toddler, literally deserving of a child’s censure. His growth is ahead, but who was he before he began life for the second -- or third -- time? Who is the man he needs to recapture? And if he is, as is hinted, a good man fallen, what change is still necessary so that his return is to more than square one?

The other will “die” in the gallows. Her past is a mystery, and now she finds herself back so far that her own origin is irrelevant. And maybe it always was. Vicki defines herself by giving. Burke was not really a match in that sense… other than his comfort with taking. The fact that Vicki witnesses history is ultimately irrelevant. It has very little impact on modern events. Given her knowledge, it could snip months of plot with just a few lines of dialogue. Vicki’s future-past purpose is to bring out the hero in her analogue, Peter Bradford, the one person willing to give of himself on the level at which Vicki excels. Both meet. Both give. Both die as a result. Both are reborn in the present. Both leave whatever identities they had, have, or will have to pursue happiness presumably away from the gods. Peter, away from the context of what could be. Victoria, away from the context of what was. Each was the prisoner of an intangible part of their lives, and together they find the Zen imperative to live in the present, even if the present is in the past. 

But we know Vicki and Barnabas. They’ve been exhaustively established. How do we prepare them and us to begin a journey that seems well underway? In two successive scenes, each deals with profound loss. The nurturing figure is defined by the loss of her romantic prospect… a dizzyingly virile man who affirmed her womanhood rather than proto-matronliness. Just before, the brooding bachelor is defined by loss of a child and, more importantly, her moral benediction. It’s one thing to disappoint an adult. It’s our daily job to discover the new lies, faults, betrayals, and inadequacies of those who surround us. 

Barnabas’ meeting with Sarah, link to his past and the ultimate in innocence, is humiliating many times over. He’s last in line. He’s shunned in front of Doctor Hoffman. He’s denied love. His moral failings are cited via a nursery rhyme, by the child to whom he taught them. Just when he thinks he can comfort himself with the reality of stuck with someone just as petty as he is, Julia rises above it. Learning, thankfully only by example, about the price of falling from your own moral standards. Not only does she rise above it, for her immediate instinct is to offer compassion without jealousy or agenda. The only hope for Barnabas is Sara‘s stern warning that he must learn to be good again. Which of course, means that he has the potential. Which of course, means that he has the future.  

Now, with an evolved Julia waiting for him on the other end of the flashback, he is ready to start the business of finding that future. And in the most important sense, Dark Shadows is ready to begin.

This episode was broadcast Nov. 16, 1967.

Monday, November 2, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: Oct. 26

Taped on this date in 1967: Episode 351


When Barnabas bites Carolyn, will they learn that true love is relative? Carolyn: Nancy Barrett. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Barnabas, having bitten Carolyn and regained his middle-aged youth, finds that his niece is a ready and willing assistant. He alludes to granting her eternal life in exchange for her loyalty, but we sense the beginning of her mixed feelings as he orders her to secure the love of Victoria Winters for him. As she goes to Collinwood to begin, Barnabas entertains Julia’s desire to stay on, even if he is refusing her injections. She may be a servant, he says. For now.

There are so many trigger warnings I feel like I need to put on this, you might as well stop reading now and find a Bill Keane anthology to sit out the next few paragraphs. Seriously.

Dark Shadows hovers above the semblance of realism because, if it touched the surface of it, it would enter into a realm of ugly taboo, and thus become unwatchable. Yes, all horror deals with some echelon of the taboo. That’s why it’s horror. But, you know, it’s safe taboo. It’s either a threat we know can’t really exist or a set of consequences so ludicrous that it’s just as safe. Yeah, sure, it’s a metaphor, but no one’s really worried about being stuffed in a wicker man. Similarly, if we look at the moments of Dark Shadows that are actually scary, and I’m thinking of the kids being replicated in the dollhouse much later on the show, they are always written off as nightmares. Even by me. And nightmares aren’t real. All we have to do is remind ourselves of that, and the spell is broken. 

There is another realm of horror that may not even be scary, but it reads as quite, quite real. “Standard” horror comes up and says, “Look, here’s a thing that could never happen, but what if it did?” Cue Count Floyd. Ohhh, scary! Yeah. Kind of removes the glamour when you tear off the shmata. The more rarified strata of horror can’t happen that often or sustain itself for very long. No one would watch after an episode or two. This episode slides into that nuanced world of “no.” It wraps itself up in immense and impish charm, jealously, and Cinderella wish-fulfillment, so we don’t notice nor object. We get distracted by the fact that Vicki is “the real focus,” and so we skim around what almost happens. And what almost happens is that Barnabas and Carolyn make a really functional couple.

Yeeesh. Just writing that makes me wanna take a bath.  

So, yes, incest. That’s bad enough. It’s just, you know, one of those things primally revolting. I have the luxury of writing about this with no proximate female relatives in my life. A luxury because I can speculate without it being, well, as creepy. Incest has to have some kind of dark appeal (hello, VC Andrews), and if it didn’t, such a wealth of the laws in Exodus would be about something, anything, else. 

Fortunately, stories involving incest almost inevitably involve force and negation of will. And this does, too. But sometimes there’s a ghost image of truth that seeps in through the frames, and there’s one here, very clearly. It brings out a dark pleasure in the characters and viewers. The dimension that makes the episode safe is the element of mind control under which Barnabas holds Carolyn. He’s a bloodhungry heavy, what can you expect? She’s under his spell, so file it the same way. But the impression I get is that Carolyn authentically wants this relationship. Yes, Barnabas has power. Maybe the power that doesn’t really matter. But at last, Carolyn has the power she’s always wanted at Collinwood: she has the secrets. She has The Big One right up front, and and is promised more to follow. Secrets are the primary currency in her era of growing up in the house. That, and a sexual fixation on natty and vaguely (?) effete father figures … urbane, available, safe, and now? Delivering, and delivering in a big way. It’s not that the mind control has clouded her judgment. It’s seems more as if it has erased the social agreements that have held back this dynastic union. There is something disturbingly right about this couple. It comes across in the spirit of dreamy and zen ease and comfort with which Jonathan Frid and Nancy Barrett slip into this forbidden inevitability. Barnabas already lurks in the folds of transgression. We just spend most of the show ignoring it. Here, he not only steps into the light, but does so proudly, and draws in Carolyn, who has just as little regret. She seems to be beyond even the need to “discover” that there was nothing to be afraid of.

Keep in mind, I’m describing. Not endorsing. The fact that I feel compelled to remind you of that is a testament to the danger in which the show is trading. 

From the first time she calls Roger “dreamy” and he calls her “kitten,” this element has effervesced around the series. But we never take it seriously. And Dark Shadows has two realms of characters: gods, destined to live unscathed by the Major Threats, and everyone else. Aristocrats and civilians. Carolyn was a beautiful piece of set dressing up to now. She was there to get upset about what was happening to everyone else, but that was it. She seemed safe. Bad things happen to brunettes in this universe, but not Carolyn. Those are the rules. 

But the rules just broke. And the manner of it, with Barnabas so unspeakably old when he attacks, just underlines the horrific disparity that satisfies both of them. In fact, it seems to be the blood of a relative that really, really hits the spot. Just as she’s sated afterwards, Barnabas is not only revived, but is practically smoking a cool, toasty cigarette of satisfaction. He’s at his most blissful as he passive-aggressively roasts Julia, who’s suddenly lost too much ground to even feel jealously. Because, frankly, she’s been a bully. She’s been an envious and mean-spirited bully. Just because she’s doing it to a monster who’s equally vindictive, it doesn’t matter. She’s chosen to slowly torment Barnabas, and now, at last, he has the temporary satisfaction of a true friend to help him strike right back. If only by implication. The class envy is rattling the lid at a full boil, too. It’s clear that it took and will take a beautiful, cool blonde aristocrat to really DO the job that Julia only apes. Not only that, a Collins. No, Julia, not even the taboo against incest will give you a fighting chance. You thought you could rewrite the rules of age, class, social expectation, and nature by insinuating yourself into this realm. 

The punishment of minimizing Julia isn’t an attack. It isn’t torture. It’s just the humiliation of suggesting that you are, at best, temporarily adequate. Oddly, it’s exactly the sort of feminine punishment that Carolyn might have suggested. So, who’s feeding off whom between Barnabas and Carolyn? 

It’s a slice of truths and observations so forbidden in their inevitability that the show cannot remain around to see what actually happens. It skips town to 1795 like a grindshow exhibitor the morning after the circus tent comes down. Dark Shadows has too much make-believe on the agenda to speak such truths with any regularity. But it would be dishonest to not make us stop and think, “What if?” Only for a moment. Anything more is too much, even at Collinwood. 

This episode was broadcast Oct. 30, 1967.

Monday, October 19, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: Oct. 12

Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 871 


As Angelique explains how she made Barnabas a new man, Charles Delaware-Tate reluctantly shows Count Petofi the proper way to ‘69. Count Petofi: David Selby. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Kitty Soames manifests the spirit of Josette to such an extent that she and Barnabas seem nearly reunited, and it feels so good, perhaps because Barnabas understood. But what? That, Angelique explains when she tells Quentin how she faked Barnabas’ staking by creating a duplicate of him while she cured the other of her own curse. Meanwhile, Petofi forces Charles Delaware-Tate to throw the I Ching wands, and the 49th hexagram at last appears, taking the artist into visions of 1969. Petofi now knows how to transport himself there, and he roars with triumphant anticipation of his destiny in the future.

871 makes me appreciate just how elaborate Dark Shadows actually is. It also makes me wish the rest of the show were more like 871. There is not one frame of subtlety to be found. Even if the line delivery is occasionally muted, the writing is not, and it makes me appreciate Sam Hall and Gordon Russell all the more. The episode’s writer, Violet Welles, was their amanuensis -- Barnabas taught me that word -- and by just inhaling the creative fumes coming off their conversations and creations, she may be the show’s best writer and secret weapon. 

And she doesn’t have time for nuance. Sometimes, god love ‘em, Sam and Gordon had the other characters in prior episodes suck the wind out of the series with talk-talk-talk. That’s what happens when you fill ten weeks of programming with ten hours of actual plot. Because, perhaps, she had fewer shots at being produced, Violet Welles is a writer who’s got a lot to accomplish, thank you. And if anyone opens their mouth around here, it had better be to advance the plot or FINALLY explain what in Sam Hall is going on over at the Old Mill at this time of night. 

This episode is almost all payoff. Sam and Gordon were wrapping up 1897, the show’s finest hours of entertainment and imagination, with a length of nearly 175 episodes. That’s almost the duration of the entire series before Barnabas was introduced. They (and the other writers) must have been led staggering out of their office to this “day off.”  I can see interns putting little capes on them like James Brown’s pit crew helping the equally spent legend off stage at the end of a concert. They were probably led to typewriters elsewhere to keep working on House of Dark Shadows’ latest draft. 

This isn’t the last episode of 1897, but it’s awfully close. Might as well be. Violet’s assignment must have been a bittersweet compliment. To get that far, and then hand it over to someone else? Was there envy? Pride for a colleague? Relief? All of those things are probably too interesting. It was probably just business. It’s very easy to gaze at art on a deeper level than the artist ever did. “Theatre,” I was told, “is art. Television is a piece of furniture.” 

That was a truism within the tv business, itself. For Sam, Gordon and company, it was more than likely another day at a good gig, one that fans liked far more than they did. And how can we not with 871? It begins by rooting us in the core mythos, and giving our hero what he’s wanted since we met him: Josette. Yes, okay, she’s supposed to marry Edward, but, well, Edward’s no Jeremiah. And, yes, she’s having flashforwards to being Kitty again. That’s pork chops and applesauce compared to barriers that Barnabas has faced before, including sending his soul backwards by nearly a century to be intentionally trapped in a sealed coffin. But even the few lines of happiness we see are an emotional banquet we’ve wanted for nearly five hundred episodes. Barnabas isn’t the only one who’s been waiting. 

The big news follows right after, which is the narrative of how Angelique both cured Barnabas of vampirism and arranged for him to be staked... without causing him actual harm. It’s a monologued montage that deserves a Lalo Schifrin score, and Lara Parker walks away with it. Unusual for Dark Shadows, it includes flashback pieces featuring the actors who are, themselves, in the narration. Normally, DS takes us behind the magician’s curtain very early on. We’re on Team Monster. In this case, we’ve been sitting in the audience with the rest of Collinsport. 

It’s a whackadoodle plan involving a Doppelganger created by doubling Barnabas in a mirror -- literally through the looking glass. It’s a nutzo piece of fantasy fluff, but it works because Lara Parker sells it with her trademark, passionate sincerity. That, and… when I hear New Age people who pitch the woo to me, their descriptions of what they do are always vague. When I ask them to break it down, they castigate me for expecting something like a scrying mirror to behave like a household appliance. Jeez. Sah-ree. Somehow, the dreamlike logic of Angelique’s plan makes as much, if not more, sense. It’s like something narrated by my subconscious as I slip into sleep, and has a sense of realism that is undeniably true because it makes a very specific type of credible nonsense. That, and it’s a technique they used on Laura Collins months earlier, giving it verisimilitude without letting us know it’s Chekhov’s Doppelganger. It’s a strangely cruel plan. I’m never confident about the peaceful passing of the staked double, and every time I watch The Prestige, The Great Danton’s cruel sacrifice reminds me of this. No wonder that Barnabas is relatively unphased by things like his upcoming trip to 1796. At this point, he’s been several types of dead… and that’s his least-troublesome set of experiences of late.

This is only in the first half of the episode, mind you. Petofi has had it with hanging around Collinwood. The Old Mill is clammy, it’s fun to be David Selby, and the future awaits. When he gets Delaware-Tate to throw the wands, he gets instant results as to which-way-to-1969. It’s amazing what a competent stooge can accomplish after suffering years bungling incompetents. (Just ask Barnabas after he put Carolyn on the staff.) In an episode where Barnabas experiences the most romantic fulfillment he’s had in three timelines and Angelique describes the most amazing occult caper in Dark Shadows history, leave it to David Selby to walk away with the ending. As Petofi, future bound and claiming that nothing will stop him, Selby brings a maniacally grand sense of emotional oomph that makes the Ring Cycle feel as important as the “Chicken Tonight” jingle. There are moments in drama so, let’s face it, shamelessly overwrought that they cannot be resisted, only embraced. Most mortal actors would have mugged their way through it with shamed insincerity, bellowing to Just Get It Over With. But Selby is a poet with a native sense of integrity and wonder. His loyalty to storytelling is too great and too real, and he nails the unadulterated joy of pure evil with a zestful energy I’ve rarely seen. In that moment, he is a living Marvel Comic book… reason, emotion, and passion completely bound together. 

And to the credit of both Selby and the originator of the role, we somehow don’t feel as if Thayer David is upstaged. On this particular stage, it is a spiritual collaboration of beautiful and perfect unity. These men were as opposite as the Trylon and Persiphere, and in Count Petofi, with the tight poetry of Violet Welles, there is suddenly no difference at all.

This episode was broadcast Oct. 27, 1969.

Sunday, October 11, 2020

Dark Shadows: A Halloween Reunion

Original cast members of Dark Shadows are planning an hour-long broadcast live on Hallowe'en, 6 p.m. PT/9 p.m. EST Saturday, Oct. 31.

Lara Parker, David Selby, Nancy Barrett, Marie Wallace, James Storm, Roger Davis, Sharon Smyth, Christopher Pennock and Kathryn Leigh Scott are confirmed for the one-hour broadcast moderated by Ansel Faraj and Jack Fields. You can watch the event live at Youtube channel of The Quarantine Theatre Company HERE. Be there!

Friday, October 9, 2020

Hey, you ... want a free Dark Shadows audio book?


Marylin Ross is experiencing a renaissance that almost defies belief. Hermes Press is publishing trade paperback-sized reprints of the author's Dark Shadows novels, while Paperback Classics/Oasis Audio has sequestered Kathryn Leigh Scott in the studio for the better part of the last two years, recording audiobook editions of the series. Oasis also has a number of non-Dark Shadows audiobook gothics from Ross, including such titles as Phantom Manor, Witches Cove and Phantom of the Swamp. There are also Kindle and Audible editions of the Dark Shadows series, as well as an audiobook edition of Dark Shadows: Return to Collinwood (read by Kathryn, Lara Parker, David Selby and Jim Pierson) due out next week. It's a great time to be a sad goth.

Oasis has graciously given me a stack of Marilyn Ross audios to give away. With 28 installments of the series already released (and another coming this week) I figured the obvious place to start is Barnabas Collins and the Mysterious Ghost ... number 13 in the series. 

Why this one? It was possibly my first introduction to Dark Shadows. I found a copy of this title, as well as a great many others, in a used bookstore in Penn, England, around 1980. I even wrote a book report on it! (You can see my art for the report to your right.) If you think a drawing of a fanged vampire lunging for a ghost with a dagger in his hand is a little inappropriate for schoolwork ... well, you haven't seen the piece I drew for the novelization of The Omen that same year. I was a delight to have in class.

I've made previous contests ... challenging. (Remember when I recreated a coloring contest from 1933 as part of a King Kong giveaway?) Let's keep this one easy, though. All you have to do to win CD of  Barnabas Collins and the Mysterious Ghost is to find this story on Facebook (hint hint: it's HERE) and share it. I'll select a winner from the "shares" attached to the post at random.

That's it! I'll announced the winner Monday, Oct. 12. Meanwhile, listen to the Bodice Tipplers podcast talk about the first Barnabas Collins story in the Marilyn Ross series. 

The Dark Shadows Daybook: Oct. 6

Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1124


Can Barnabas evade the son of the man he murdered before Judah Zachery claims another life? Lamar Trask: Jerry Lacy. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Armed with a letter disclosing the potential true identity of Barnabas Collins, Lamar visits Collinwood to force the brash Englishman’s hand. Meanwhile, at Rose Cottage, a man once possessed by the head of Judah Zachery confronts a haunted Desmond, dying in the process.

Maybe today isn’t the Dark Shadows Daybook. It might be the Trask House Daybook. Because I think we’ve stumbled into another series. 

What a marvelous episode that charges out of the gate, giving us, just in the opening narration, an absolute banquet of intrigue, occult weirdness, and reasons to keep watching. The episode absolutely delivers, with actors like John Karlen and Nancy Barrett still finding new colors in their performances and a script that has genuine intrigue and dread. If you've seen the rest of the series, parts of it may feel familiar. And? Bolero quickly familiarizes us with itself, and that’s the point. It’s a burgeoning experience that intentionally maintains a simplicity that reveals a mounting complexity and grandeur, each go-round surprising us with what it contained all along. Yes, Bolero. But with Donna Wandrey instead of Bo Derek, and that's a pretty good trade. After all, Donna Wandrey never said, “They’re washing me like a horse,” while expecting to be taken seriously in subsequent features. Only Thayer David could pull that off.  

Even though it’s at the start of the much maligned 1840 storyline, this is a solidly rambunctious way to introduce someone to the series. When it begins, Desmond is possessed by a haunted head, Quentin has drawn the Death card in a tarot deck, we find out that Kate Jackson is there to murder Quentin, and Barnabas is doing everything he can to win the current woman of his dreams away from, well, himself. He's always had to live down his nocturnal activities, but this is the most extreme case yet, as he tries to make up for the cad he was just a few days and yet hundreds of years ago. Kind of. Compounded. That's really before any dialogue starts. What a welcome to Collinwood! Considering what people have to wade through in the first episodes of the show just to get to the whole vampire part, this is like pressing the accelerator on a MacLaren. And then you kill off Abe Vigoda. Nothing against Abe, but if it worked for Coppola, it can work for Curtis. Abe, it’s just business. 

However, wedged in between that terrific opening and a climax where supernatural forces victimize Vigoda (and feel free to go back and read that phrase as many times as you want), we are actually stepping into a parallel universe. Well, kind of, and more interestingly than we ever did with parallel time. Because for just a moment, we step into the sister series of Dark Shadows. It’s the series that never got made, but the series that makes all the sense in the world. Its star? Jerry Lacy

Is he the villain? Yeah, if you’re a Collins. But that’s a particularly pretzeled moral bar. Take a step back. Get an objective view of the ethical landscape that mercifully vanishes at Widow’s Hill.  We take a degree of heroism for granted on the show because vampires are cool and we like Jonathan Frid. It’s easy to forget that these are pretty reprehensible people. Is there an alternative? Maybe for a blip in 1840: The House of Trask. For a period, they are the other white meat of prominent Collinsport families. Yes, they are working class, and yes they haven't been there as long, and no, they don't stay as long, but they nevertheless have a place. And you could very easily make a multi-generational supernatural tv series just based on that dynasty. 

One of the things that brings this into focus on this is the stunning performance of Jerry Lacy, an actor so good that we take him for granted. It can be a curse of good actors because they make it look so effortless. In 1124, Lacy could easily win a bet on who the dashing and dark romantic lead really is. He is just as intense, unpredictable, and determined as any vampire. And perhaps as commandingly seductive. When he is alone with the women in the episode, he summons up a surprisingly deep well of passionate intensity. Yes, judgmental, but not without a powerful sense of desire. As he draws Letitia Faye into using her psychic abilities for his own ends, he shows a new and powerful side to the Trask archetype. For once, nothing is forbidden to him by the cloth. Poor Barnabas only comes back into the drawing room to save his own keister, seconds from being outed. With Lacy in brief control of the drama, Jonathan Frid plays the weasel pedal to an extent that even outshines the best of John Karlen. As hard as he possibly can. It's a delight, and he continues when he gets back home. Like a cartoon character, Trask has let himself in there, also, and is so calm and collected, I am surprised he’s not smoking Barnabas’ pipe and correcting his crossword puzzle. 

Briefly, Trask the hero of a different show who has somehow wandered into a program where the victors of history have written him and his family as the bad guys. His father was a badass witch hunter, reportedly tortured and starved to death when he dared to pursue the servants, lovers, and associates of a vengeful and aristocratic vampire. He never knew the old man, but he certainly knows of his legend and suffered his absence. Fascinated with the strange dance of life and death, unable to afford medical school, Lamar Trask has clearly studied voraciously.  He’s well-versed in the law, of course. An historic trial cost his father his future. Even in 1840, the only way to learn about bodies and anatomy, short of becoming a music hall entertainer, was to become a mortician. Makes you think. Maybe he didn’t get into that line because he's creepy. He might have followed that pursuit for entirely logical reasons. The Collins family is a menace! Look at the Collinses that he has to deal with. There's Gabriel, who is not exactly the life of the party. Then you have Quentin and Desmond, who have the incredibly poor judgment to do things like build unguarded, unstable time portals, become best friends with Gerard Stiles, and consider the severed head of a nefarious occultist to be a great gift for mom. 

The whole town loses either way, there. If you think it’s the perfect gift, you’re a danger to the entire town. If Flora is so nutty that it IS the perfect gift, you’re a danger to the entire Western Hemisphere. As a warmup. Yeah, these are the normative characters. These are the people we are supposed to trust. Topping it, Trask has a letter from his father absolutely outing what went on shortly before his mysterious death, doing so with eerie specificity. And who shows up? The “identical son" of his father 's killer, wielding ungodly social power and wealth. A man who potentially. has the powers of hell at his fingertips. And he’s suddenly on a first-name basis with your former Lois Lane. 

Bolero again. But not just ascending. By this point, it’s inverting and twisting like trapeze artist determined to see how far their bravery and recklessness can take their art. In 1840, the show is still in midair, and maybe that’s where it remained. Of course, the eventual fact that Lamar is a ruthless and unethical bigot has to crash the party, taking Dark Shadows back to reality, which is not only where it belongs, but what it defines. 

This episode was broadcast Oct. 15, 1970.

Friday, October 2, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: Oct. 2


Professor Stokes stops at nothing to prove that Eve is French. But will she say oui? Eve: Marie Wallace. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Stokes warns Adam that Eve is up to no good, but to no avail. Just when he thinks he has the situation clarified, the body of Leona goes missing, as do Adam and Eve. But Stokes hints that he knows where they are.

Leave it to Universal to sell posters over movies. There are some great and Great films in their canon, but… are there? I’m speaking about the Monsters, here. There are marvelous elements in those movies, yes, but did you really think they combined them successfully when you first watched them? For me, only three truly grabbed me on my first viewings: The Black Cat; Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein; and The Bride of Frankenstein. But the Frankenfilms aren’t perfect. Let’s face it, other than breaking a green sweat making threats and being professionally misunderstood, the Creature has little to do. His wife, even less. As far as being the title character of the Greatest Horror Movie Ever Made, she flies pretty casual, showing up to the plot just in time for a nightcap. She doesn’t appear until the final minute or two of the movie, has no dialogue, bitterly dislikes our hero, and then gets blowed up real good. 

It’s a shaggy dog story, perhaps intentionally. As a gay man of the 1930’s, James Whale led a life necessarily fraught with as much frustration as fulfillment. I mean, look at his movies and don’t take too long coughing up a verdict. It’s no surprise that the creature waits for almost all of the film, only to find himself loathed by the girl he’s been waiting for, despite her being all that glitters. Or crackles, in this case. That kind of frustrated anticipation and crestfallen hope was probably intrinsic to Whale’s life. He sums it up with Bride and moves on.

It puts the Dark Shadows writers in a marvelous position. So far -- of the major ‘horror’ works -- they’ve tackled Dracula and Frankenstein, improving vastly on both. But here, there is nothing to improve… just explore. They pick up on Whale’s thesis of frustrated desire and push it to a place much, much darker than I think is obvious. Eve doesn’t just dislike Adam. As the vessel for the wickedest woman in history, she finds him to be a big green bouncy house for psychological sadism.  But I think that’s the safest move the show makes. Let’s remove the Marie Roget element. Here’s yer gender statement, pal. When a man is born, he’s a gibbering id, delighted by shiny things and buttons. He’s easily taken in by mustachioed sorcerers and Thayer David. Mistrustful of genteel Canadians. 

When a woman is born? You got, um, you got Eve. Hey, don’t take it out on me. Tell it to Sam Hall. Yes, these are all stereotypes, but for whom? It’s misogyny for a female audience, seeing not themselves but the kind of women they can’t stand. I wonder if this is the portrayal they would have created for a largely male audience? But it wasn’t, and the show, to be seen accurately, must be viewed through that lens.  Yet, for modern eyes, Eve’s confidence and sense of purpose are as admirable as they are questionable. It makes her the show’s least predictable character. The shame of it is that it takes a possession to create that kind of volition, but without it, she’d simply be a ginger haired Angelique.

And maybe the ultimate problem is that she’s an Angelique without a purpose. They try. They really try. The real shame of Eve is that, by shoehorning in the Marie Roget element, they rob the character of discovering her sense of purpose. But Roget is so ancient and so French she lacks a context in 1968 Collinsport, despite her obsession with characters played by Roger Davis. Barnabas, Stokes, and Julia, the venerable old bachelors on the show, try to break it to Adam without devolving into a drumming circle, but he’s determined to be led on an emotional snipe hunt anyway. Of course he’ll stand up for the honor of the character least worthy of it. It’s another reflection of cosmic truth that makes Dark Shadows the best documentary on TV. Equally truthful is Eve’s comically counterfeit lament that, as a woman, it’s her lot to suffer. You know, as she holds everyone in fear and suspense. The moment is played as broadly as it’s written, but there’s an ugly, satiric truth to it. Eve is the one character on the show so feminine, she’s practically a drag queen brought to life by the hand of Waylon Flowers. There’s no denying she’s a woman, but hardly helpless. 

Ultimately, she grabs the Adam story, notorious for going nowhere, and takes it everywhere at once. It’s an exhausting prospect, and a sneak preview of where the show would go -- for better and worse -- for the next two and a half years. Marie Wallace is the ideal person to inaugurate the trip. The visual depiction is so straightforward that it shouldn’t work. Black dress and hose. Same thing Thayer David wore to the set. But it’s her presence that is so unforgettable. Wallace relishes the joy of acting, and a successful Dark Shadows villain needn’t be saddled with a causal plan. Just the kind of joy for living that only actors and supervillains can appreciate. 

Diabolos bless them, one and all. 

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.
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