Friday, February 21, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 21




By PATRICK McCRAY

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: http://www.collinsporthistoricalsociety.com/2017/02/the-dark-shadows-daybook-february-21.html)

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.

LINK

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 10


By PATRICK McCRAY

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



By PATRICK McCRAY

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.

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 taraco@aol.com. 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 https://rondoaward.com/rondoaward.com/blog/

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.
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