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.
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