Saturday, September 25, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: September 24


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1106

By PATRICK McCRAY

Barnabas Collins decides that the only man who can help him avert the apocalypse is the last man he can trust: himself. Barnabas: Jonathan Frid. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Gerard thinks he has Julia by the short hairs when he dangles a newfangled earring in front of her as evidence that she comes from another time. Her explanation is credible enough to send Gerard away, leaving her time to conspire with Ben Stokes about recruiting Barnabas for the campaign. Ben finds Barnabas in the Old House, saying goodbye to Josette’s portrait… and dominance over his future. As he reasons with the Vampire, the present day version of Barnabas consults with Ben’s descendant.  Surrounded by an insane Carolyn and a suicidal Quentin, Barnabas is compelled to use the I Ching wands to take the battle to 1840. He immediately encounters the vision of Julia‘s grave. 

Dark Shadows is turning to its most forbidden topic: endings. The job of a soap is to perpetuate misery. It resolves one one source only after it slides in another. But this phase of the show is replete with endings, conclusions and assorted apotheoses. We’ve seen Collinwood destroyed, and that’s how the ending begins! How do you top that? That kind of question surges within 1113 with urgent power. It begins with fatalism and then asks, “Is that all you got?” This is the perverse optimism that you find only at funerals. Because when the universe falls apart, the only certainty is change.  

With Barnabas, we even see double! The show continues its audacious presentation of parallel storylines — two different centuries with overlapping casts and one character appearing in both. The most unique acting challenge for Jonathan Frid is playing two different versions of Barnabas, both of whom have their counterparts in the relative future. And Dark Shadows is the only show where the future is 130 years in both directions. This storyline has a bad rap for being confusing. I suppose if you struggle to do things like drop pennies and straighten unknotted rope, you’ll find this baffling. But if you can manage those arduous tasks, 1840 is a pleasure.

Barnabas Collins may be the long suffering and occasionally non-beating heart of Dark Shadows, but Julia Hoffman is its soul. (Drop me a line if you can really explain the difference. But it sounds good.)  Following her into 1840, it’s clear how far she has come. She began as a conniving, intellectually ruthless, arrogant invader. If Collinwood tortures its beloved sons and daughters, you can imagine when an outsider puts it in a bad mood. Julia pays her dues. Now, she is on the other end of that process.  

Her scene at the beginning of the episode is a well-earned tribute to smug. She deflects Gerard’s smarmy interrogation with a cool efficiency that borders on decadent relish. Julia knows that she could die at any point. She knows that she is far over her abundantly-coiffed head. Not only is she fearless, but she has learned to take pleasure in hoisting her enemies with extra petard. Supernatural bullies specialize in lording for bidden knowledge over the rest of us. As Julia frustrates their efforts, her sense of “take that“ is not only admirable, it’s infectious. Had Victoria Winters remained on the show, this is the main character we might have gotten. Although I doubt it. Julia‘s age, gumption, and guile are impossible to imagine with anyone else. We are seeing Dan Curtis‘s dream, after all. Just by way of the real world.

Meanwhile, Barnabas truly turns a corner as he finally takes down the painting of Josette. After all, she let go of him. And she has given him the permission to move on. That’s on her end; this is a matter of his own choice. It involves the sort of courage that people can only show when they too close a tragedy.  There is a grace period in the time immediately following a tragedy, before its burdens become a part of us. Oddly, decommissioning Josette is a job that could only be accomplished by the 1840 version of Barnabas… and the 1970 version of Barnabas. Anything in between had had just enough time to become obsessed with his loss, but not enough experience to contemplate life without it.

Barnabas is speaking for himself and the writers when he boasts, “the word safe has no meaning for me.“  

It’s an extraordinary point of freedom… everything is possible because nothing is possible. It’s the same kind of desperate bravery shown by the producers as they introduce a backwards echo of Pansy Faye, with the nobler ancestor, Leticia Faye. It’s a character whose existence has no practical sense, but has such a poetic ring of truth that pedantic cavils are undone before they can be spoken. Leticia is there because it’s the most interesting continuing character that Nancy Barrett crafted, and because Nancy Barrett intrinsically belongs at Collinwood as its neurotic and self-punishing ray of light.  And who has the time to wallow in trivia when they have a 50 year old soap opera to write about? One of the story’s primary themes is the decay of our aspirations over time.  The introduction of Leticia manages to accomplish this… backwards. Somehow, Letitia is an ancestor of Pansy. And somehow, and it may just be the semiotic impact of a more natural hair color, Leticia feels a little more humane and relatable. 

And she’s not the only double in the episode. Leticia is confident in her use of the supernatural. But Nancy Barrett also plays the vaguely psychic Carolyn in 1113. Her encounter with the paranormal has driven her quite mad, pitting the two characters against each other. Similarly, we have a scene in 1840 where Ben Stokes reasons with his former master to show courage and trust.  This transitions to a scene over a century later, in the same house, where Elliot Stokes shows a newly dawning sense of hesitation and Barnabas must rally him into action. 

Moments before, the 1970 Barnabas is introduced under a looming portrait of himself from haughtier and happier days. He is attached to his chair, Hamleting himself to the point that a skull may appear in his palm at any moment. 

Barnabas is either on the verge of implosion or explosion. He seethes with Stokes’ report on the funerals for Carrie, Daphne, Elizabeth, and the assassinated future of the Collins family, David. These are unthinkably bold and permanent strokes of storytelling, and they engage Barnabas as they engage us. He has spent his second and third lives doubting his place in the future, and it has suddenly passed him by.

It is in this moment that Barnabas truly appreciates the ability that makes him unique. He alone can use the curse of immortality to travel within his own lifespan in either direction. For the trip to 1897, this discovery was an accident. Now, it’s invocation is a mandate.  

Barnabas rallies to a rare moment of decisive and ferocious action at the thought. He can only be haunted by the past for so long. Within the space of just a few lines this gentlemen of the past again becomes the last best hope for the future. A year ago, this might have been executed with a sense of insouciant elan worthy of Alexander Dumas. Frid avoids letting any twinkle spark his eye. Too many people have died. Too many regrets filled the ledger.  Yes, he is answering the call to adventure, but it is with gravitas and respect.  And yet again, the series reinvents itself.  

Too often, he is written off as villain literally defanged after his first few months.  I will admit, he spends a frustrating amount of time doubting his next move.  But even when Barnabas is at his most mournfully indecisive, he is, to me, the Great Man. It’s in scenes like these, today, that we see why. In fact, those other moments of ethical denial and over-intellectualized paralysis are what make episodes like 1113 such a joy. 

And the universe surrounding him seems to be in agreement. Even Elliot argues with him about the risks of such a journey, Carolyn glides downstairs for a late afternoon cocktail and yet another nervous break down as Quentin tries to hang himself upstairs.  As if to prove Barnabas’ point. Once Barnabas tries a tentative trance, the first thing he sees is Julia Hoffman‘s tombstone from 1840. A call to adventure, indeed.

And you wanted to talk about risk, Professor Stokes? Let’s talk about risk.  Risk may be James T. Kirk‘s business. But for Barnabas Collins, it is his very life.  

And I can say the same for Dan Curtis.

This episode was broadcast Sept. 30, 1970.

Monday, September 20, 2021

Press Conference with the Vampire, 1968



Sometime during the fall of 1968, Jonathan Frid conducted a press conference with dozens college and high school newspaper writers. He did this from the comfort of ABC's headquarters in New York City, with only a handful of young journalists in the room with him. Most of the participants spoke to the actor via telephone, courtesy of ABC affiliate WSIX-TV in Nashville, Tenn.

I say "sometime" because it's a little unclear on when this event took place. During the late 1960s, the news media wasn't as entertainment-driven as it is today. Even small town newspapers didn't give much coverage to celebrities when they hit town, often burying them in the back pages of the publication .. when they covered them at all. And even today, syndicated stories tend to run whenever the hell features editors decide they'll run, which is almost always as a tool to fill an editorial hole on a page. Good editors don't kill locally generated stories to make room for syndicated material, which makes researching events like this 1968 press conference a little complicated.


News materials documenting this press conference were published on a scattering of dates during November and December that year, and were edited to exclude direct references to the date of the event (usually a sign that an editor is trying to mask stale content.) A story published in The Tennessean Sun suggests it took place shortly before Halloween, though. "Editors Interview Vampire - From A Safe Distance" was published on Oct. 27. It was the second virtual press conference staged by WSIX-TV, according to the story, but the writer doesn't mention who was involved with the first.

If you've ever read an interview with Jonathan Frid, you pretty much know how the Q&A session went. He spoke about Shakespeare ("My big ambition after doing my job on 'Dark Shadows' is to do 'Richard III' on television," he told the kids) and his adjustment to television acting (“I never thought I would like television,but now I love it. The only thing I don't like about the series is the pressure. The first six months I was uptight every day.”)

"It was really neat," said Mindy Sterman, a student at Hillwood High School. "I just never knew anything like this could be done."

So, yeah ... not a lot of new material here. This is the kind of event that makes for a better podcast than a 10" newspaper summary, but that kind of medium was still decades away. I wonder if any of these kids held on to their recordings of the event?

Below are photos from the press conference. The first shows Frid at ABC in New York City, the second shows writers at WSIX-TV in Nashville, Tenn.
























UPDATE: Jim Pierson of Dan Curtis Productions recently unearthed this crisp photo from the press conference in Nashville.


Saturday, September 11, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: September 14


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1106

By PATRICK McCRAY

When Julia and Willie open what might be the box for Barnabas’ RealDoll, they discover the RealTruth, which may be a RealPain in the neck! Roxanne: Donna Wandrey. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Julia and Willie discover Roxanne’s coffin. Barnabas’ love for her prevents them from killing her. Barnabas traps her in the Old House, pursued by Sebastian, who later opens her coffin and aims a gun inside.  

The show has seven months left. 

A wildly successful storyline in 1897 was followed up by three storylines that command unfavorable comparison. A movie has been released that depicts most of these characters getting killed. They are no longer “just” cultural giants with symbolic weight. They are simply characters. Not icons. No matter how much the public adores them, they are just storytelling pawns for the producers. The show is still successful. It could be argued, though, that it has released just enough grasp on its identity that we can suddenly contemplate the world without it. 

It’s too late in the series for this, and because of that, it’s all the more welcome. Here we are, in the midst of all of this Dark Shadow when... what should break out? Dark Shadows. It was a year ago that the show outgrew its habitat. Like almost any living thing, it had to. After incremental evolutions and explorations, the show found its apotheosis in 1897. And after exploring the wildest potentials of Cold War Gothic storytelling for four years and three different eras, few possibilities seemed left in the genre. 

Besides, they had become their own genre. After four years and a very successful summer of learning to break the rules, they were now in a position to make the rules. So, why not cure Barnabas? Is there anything really left? And if you're going to cure Barnabas, you might as well give Quentin a happy ending also. Even though he's only been around for a bit, it seems like he's earned it. Besides, have we really had a leading man who wasn’t also trying to kill Roger? Or kidnap Maggie? Or constantly avoid Willie's inquiries about why he has yet to make employee of the month when he is, in fact, the only employee?

So, for the prior year (more or less) the show has been basking in its own glow. Yes, let's have some Paul Stoddard. Heck, we can bring Paul Stoddard in and then turn around and kill him. Why not have a snake cult? It gives things a touch of super-spy panache. Heck, let's make a movie and send the rest of the cast into a parallel dimension. Let Thayer have that pencil-thin mustache he's always pining for. 

And it was confident. And it was ambitious. Ans just very vaguely on the launching pad of desperate. And it is now so confident and ambitious that we careen towards the apocalypse by default. Because what's left, really? If the show were a growing person, it has reached the dark and mordant introspection of early middle age. Gerard sits in the center of a postmodern, existential labyrinth, mocking the enlightenment and industrial revolution heroes with rumors of inevitable doom. It refuses to disclose its weapons, much less its terms of surrender. Why should it? It needs no weapons. There are no terms of surrender, because there will be no surrender. Only complete annihilation. 

Gloomy stuff. Compelling, but gloomy. Profound thinking usually goes there with enough self actualization. After all, death and cancellation come for us all, even the undead. The show was drawn from some of the finest works of literature. If literature eventually follows the bleak-but-contemporary highway of modernism, so must Dark Shadows. And we've been trained to accept it over the past year and define Dark Shadows by this woeful Weltanschauung

So there it is. Sulking around Rose Cottage with its Weltanschauung hanging out. And then along comes an all-star tribute to Dark Shadows by Dark Shadows. Almost as if the writers were nostalgic for their salad days, when the biggest concerns revolved around life’s simple pleasures, like a chained coffin containing one of your loved ones. You know, that special someone who may be up for a stake through the heart, or a lifetime of starving imprisonment with the symbol of a dispassionate God burning a hole through their chest, or maybe just a big, warm hug. It's that kind of episode. Beginning in a crypt with stake wielding vampire hunters, it remains faithful to the only sets that may matter — the Old House Drawing Room with Capn’ Matthew Morgan’s Rubbermaid Big Max Love Dungeon behind the bookcase, and another suitably gothic setting where Roxanne’s  coffin has been waiting for this moment,

And of course, being Dark Shadows, that moment ends up being intentionally unintentionally riotous. Roxanne has been a vampire since 1840. So, for 130 years? Which is far longer than Barnabas has been a vampire. Taking into account elapsed time and all, Barnabas has only been a vampire for two or three years. You would think that she would've figured out someplace more secure to sleep it off. Julia and Willie might know one end of a stake from another, but they are not exactly the team that you call in to test an impenetrable security system. I doubt they could cut line at the Stake ’n' Ale salad bar. 

It's hard to tell how many times Roxanne almost dies in this episode. Her coffin is opened constantly. And when it's not opened, there's somebody going in just stand by it and think about opening it. But the same thing happened to Barnabas when Petofi had him as a prisoner. Captors were constantly opening it up, taking the cross off, letting them stretch, putting the cross back on, closing the lid, and then repeating the process all over again. No wonder Barnabas had to sleep in a coffin. He was exhausted. That wasn't dictated by the rules of the supernatural. It was a political statement to his captors. 

If this is full of impossibly active characters who never quite appear. We've already talked about how exhausted Roxanne must be. But the really exhausted and insulted character Has to be Quentin. When Julia comes up with her big scheme to calm Barnabas by confronting him with absolute emotional chaos, she realizes that Willie Loomis isn't up for the job of catering and décor. So, completely off stage, she sends for Quentin to help move the coffin. I'm sure he's thrilled. At this point, Quentin has so little to do that he's reduced to schlepping wildly heavy crates offstage. We assume it’s by hand, because I don't think Quentin is the station wagon type in that moment.

It's a teachable moment; check with Julia before giving Liz the keys to the forklift for some big date.


But amidst all of the nostalgia and silliness and morbid merriment, the old-school nature of the episode also serves an important purpose for the plot to come. Even though this is a new world of gods and monsters, so unlike the one just a year prior, it is still inhabited by the heroes who were shaped by that earlier age. And where does it all eventually go? Barnabas loses Angelique after discovering the unalloyed nature of his love. So, everything from there-back to here is a setup for that moment. In a startling fit of maturity, Barnabas muses that he is truly is beyond Josette. 

Why? Josette was just the most proximate cure to the underlying problem: loneliness. If the show is “about” Barnabas, which, let’s not kid ourselves, it is, then his primary concern is the primary concern of the show. It's the most inconvenient of primary concerns. It's one that no one wants to hear about. Again, loneliness. I think this is what drives Barnabas. It rests balefully under the veneer of the pursuit of Josette. And it's tendrils stretch across the storylines. The show begins with Elizabeth, whose loneliness is self-imposed, sending for an orphan to tutor a motherless child who, for all we know, has been making his own braunschweiger sandwiches for breakfast since he was four. The entire program deals with the lonely hangover of the fellowship party that ended a decade or two before the show even began. 

Stake or seduce, Barnabas? The indecision he faces is emblematic of the entire program. Is Roxanne the ultimate companion, or is she the opportunity for ultimate redemption? Is she the only one who can truly understand the pain of his existence, is she just close enough to seem familiar, or does her ruthlessness demand elimination? Barnabas is paralyzed by these considerations. And it's an important opportunity to just pause for a moment.

It’s only the smallest grand decision of his life. 

This episode was broadcast Sept. 21, 1970.

Friday, August 13, 2021

The Jonathan Frid Story comes to home video Oct. 5


 
Dark Shadows and Beyond: The Jonathan Frid Story
, a feature-length documentary about the life of the late actor, is coming to home video Oct. 5 from MPI.

The film reveals the real man beneath the vampire's cloak, exploring Frid's personal and professional struggles, artistic triumphs and rise to fame. Among the family, friends and co-workers who offer fresh insights are veteran talk show host and Yale Drama School classmate Dick Cavett, actresses Marion Ross (Arsenic & Old Lace) and Christina Pickles (Seizure), American Shakespeare Festival associate Anthony Zerbe and Dark Shadows colleagues David Selby, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, Nancy Barrett, Marie Wallace and James Storm. The documentary also includes rare performance footage and previously unseen interviews and archival materials from Frid's private collection.

Special features include:

  • Dark Shadows PBS Special/Jonathan Frid Interview​
  • Jonathan Frid Reads The Legend of Sleepy Hollow​
  • A Dark Shadows Letter From Jonathan​
  • Jonathan Frid Dark Shadows Promo
  • Jonathan Frid Photo Gallery​
  • Dark Shadows Scenes: The Best of Barnabas

Dark Shadows and Beyond: The Jonathan Frid Story is available for pre-order from Amazon at https://amzn.to/3iJQHEc.

Tuesday, August 10, 2021

Joan Bennett's love life gets the true crime treatment

 

Vanity Fair, V.F. and Cadence13 are teaming up for Love Is a Crime, a 10-part podcast about the 1951 scandal that mostly ended the career of Joan Bennett. The cast of the serial, which launches Aug. 17, includes Zooey Deschanel as Bennett, Jon Hamm as husband Walter Wanger, Griffin Dunne as agent Jennings Lang, Mara Wilson as Joan’s older movie-star sister, Constance, and Adam Mortimer as Joan’s turbulent father, Richard.

Karina Longworth (You Must Remember This) and filmmaker Vanessa Hope -- the granddaughter of Bennett and Wanger -- will lead listeners through the story of how Bennett found herself embroiled in a love triangle than ended with her husband shooting her agent. Believing his wife was cheating on him with Lang, Wagner decided to solve the problem by shooting Lang in the balls. Lang took a bullet to the inner thigh and Wanger spent four months in jail.

You can read more about Love Is a Crime at Vanity Fair.

The Dark Shadows Daybook tops Amazon's sale chart


Less than 24 hours after going on sale, The Dark Shadows Daybook has topped the Amazon sales chart for "TV Guides & Reviews." As I write this, the print edition of the book sits at #1 on the chart, with the Kindle edition following behind at #3. The Golden Girls better watch their backs.





Monday, August 9, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook is now an actual book!


It feels a little strange writing an announcement for this book. First off, if you've been visiting this website with any kind of frequency, you already know about our feature The Dark Shadows Daybook. Patrick McCray has been writing it in various formats since 2016. He was named "Writer of the Year" by The Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards for the feature in 2017. "Dark Shadows does not have a more devoted critic," says Angelique herself, Lara Parker. We asked Kathryn Leigh Scott to take a look at an early proof of the book, which she calls "a stunning collection." The feature even has fans outside of Collinsport, with Fangoria EIC Phil Nobile, Jr. calling the book a "better, deeper, and more thoughtful analysis than anyone ever imagined this show would ever get." Diana Prince, the latest and greatest incarnation of "Darcy the Mail Girl" at The Last Drive-In with Joe Bob Briggs says "If you’re a fan of the venerable vampire soap, you simply MUST check out this book!"

So you see, this is a pretty big deal for us here at The Collinsport Historical Society. Our hometown boy has done good.  

The weird thing, though, is that Patrick and I have been living with this book for about 20 months already. The world was a very different place when we first started piecing together this collection. We've since been hit with a global pandemic, witnessed an attempted government coup, and have lost a tragic number of original Dark Shadows cast members. On a personal note, I'm minus a minor -- though not insignificant -- part of my body courtesy of a small case of cancer last Christmas. This announcement feels to me like the final reel of Death Race 2000.

"But what's in the book?" you ask? It contains dozens of installments of The Dark Shadows Daybook that have appeared here over the years, revised and edited to create a narrative analysis of the series. While not every episode of Dark Shadows is covered (if you've ever seen the series you know why THAT would be a bad idea) Patrick hits the high notes, from the first episode in 1966 to the show's bow in 1971. There are even a few bonus features in the book's back matter.

We also scored an introduction from my pal Dana Gould, whose credits could fill a book of their own. Because I want to give this blog post a bump in Google's analytics, I should at least mention his work as a writer/producer/actor on The Simpsons. But he's also a brilliant comic and appears in the best two horror anthologies of the last 30 years, Southbound and Tales of Halloween.

And me? I designed the book and provided a number of illustrations.

The print edition of The Dark Shadows Daybook is now available on Amazon at https://amzn.to/3CHQB7Y.  You can get the Kindle edition at https://amzn.to/3sgQPy9

And don't forget to leave us a review there!

- Wallace

Thursday, August 5, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: August 5



Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 817

By PATRICK McCRAY

With David’s life in the balance over two centuries, Quentin learns that he lacks the one thing Petofi is determined to master: Time. David Collins: David Henesy. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Petofi allows Quentin to visit Barnabas in his coffin, and learns that the road to 1969 might be more challenging than he thought. Beth breaks from tending to David, now astrally trapped in Jamison’s body, to serve Barnabas… until Petofi shows her a vision of her vampiric future. 

Somewhere in the wilderness… as seen on a backlot.

Please, Robert Bly, put away the drum and step away from the fire with that drink. Who can see it’s a pousse cafe in a Yeti mug, anyway? No one’s impressed. Sure, we all think it’s mead. Now please go away before Paul Elam hears us and wakes up. Yes, we’re going to talk about manliness, as is my wont, but not your kind. We shall have no deep feelings shared nor bonding acknowledged, thank you. Because that’s all a bit much. Manhood is the opposite of flatulence. He who smell’t it is most certainly incapable of having dealt it. 

Go back and read that in Count Petofi’s voice. Yes, you hear the music, too. 

Manhood. Whatever that means. This really is a core reason of why I love Dark Shadows. Wallace and I have been in the midst of assembling the Daybook Book in fits and starts, and I frequently inundate him with new title ideas. Today’s? “How to Love Dark Shadows.” More accurately, it might be, “Why I Love Dark Shadows.” Episode 817 is a good place to start. 

As Wallace once wrote, “Dark Shadows doesn’t tell a story. It accumulates one.” If there is any real story to the show, it’s ours… the viewers’. Dark Shadows is a tough show to watch. It’s an even tougher show to “get.” It takes time away from our lives. Yet it becomes a genuine companion, ever-changing. And we can’t help but be changed by it. 

So, what is it… this Dark Shadows? You know the answer. It’s okay, we’re amongst friends. 

Dark Shadows is Barnabas Collins. Thus, transitively speaking, he is what changes us. Knowing him. Watching the arc of his second life… maybe even his Sansara. Feeling the pressure to make decisions burst into full-on choice. This daily immersion slowly wears away the import of our world and replaces it with his. 

817 is so beautifully resonant because it lets us step back and look at Barnabas and Quentin as the pure friends we always wanted them to be. Every Gilgamesh needs an Enkidu. That was a lesson in manhood for me when I first saw it. These things, if they are to have value, must be unexamined. They can only be acknowledged through silence. Ergo, I must write an essay about it. What’s more, Dark Shadows lets us ponder the power of the soap opera format to build that friendship in real-time, from a place of intense distrust. Its success both sneaks up on us and seems like the most natural thing in the underworld. Quentin approaches Barnabas in the coffin, and the respect and affection they share is effortless. David Selby does most of the heavy lifting in the scene. It’s some of his best work because it’s so relaxed, attentive, focused, and authentically kind. In the midst of a ludicrous situation which sneezes squarely in the soup of “write what you know,” he is like the very real stone in a Zen sand garden. 


Later, when Quentin compares notes with Beth, also having returned from Petofi’s, their conversation about the supernatural is stunningly casual-yet-intense. They are beyond romance and beyond the bodice-ripping hullabaloo that encapsulates how we met them. They are, maybe, friends, but colleagues-in-wartime, first. My, how things have changed in four months. And who was the agent of those changes? Barnabas, by action and by example, goes from being a stranger in his own hometown to the Jackie Daytona that everyone needs-but-never-knew-it. Beth needs a concerned mentor with no ulterior motives. Quentin needs a (literally) Edwardian hand of structure with no judgement. Selby’s Quentin is increasingly aware that, no matter how much Barnabas divulges about the future, there is something darker that he’s not being told. A few months ago, Quentin would have seized on the existence of such a secret. Now, we get the sense that he’s somewhat relieved at being sheltered from it. It’s a world all too eager to talk about ugly truths, and as 1897 goes on, it does so with less comical hysteria and more wistful acceptance. This is an episode where a twelve year old boy asks a woman what it feels like to die. 

They’ve all been awakened from the sleep by Barnabas Collins. And so have we. Dark Shadows, for once, talks about what matters at the most primal level… how the ritual changes us. Its characters become us and we become the characters. Down to Beth watching herself become a vampire on a suspiciously television-like box in Petofi’s chambers. It’s the only show that matters. 

This episode was broadcast Aug. 12, 1969.

Thursday, July 29, 2021

In memoriam: Ron Popeil (1935-2021)


By Patrick McCray

We lost him a few hours ago, and in losing him, we lost one of the last, great American originals from the silent generation. Although the news will provide others with the fodder for lazy punchlines, American innovator Ron Popeil is worth far more. The medium of television in the era of Dark Shadows was more than just a chain of 23 minute episodes squeezed into a half hour. It was a ritual that streaming, physical media, and convenience have robbed us of. And thus, whether we hear the pitchmen from in front of the television or from behind the bathroom door, TV commercials are as much of the text experience as the intended programming.

He belongs to Collinwood as much as anyone else. And although he was neither actor nor character nor Dan Curtis Productions employee, he was nevertheless a presence in hundreds of episodes. And like the literal characters who inhabit the Dark Shadows universe, he was part sorcerer and part comforting friend. He trafficked in pure imagination and the art of the unexpected, but with a sincere flair that reminded you that he was uniquely postwar, all American, And every bit on your side. 

Ron Popeil was, above all, an innovator and, if either had the time to bother with the other, was Howard Rorke to Wendell Berry’s Ellsworth Toohey. The latter sold those of us with good manners and letters after our names on the myth that labor saving technology was lazy, suspect, and responsible for divorcing us from an authentic human existence. And that’s why very few parents ever hired Wendell Berry to appear at kids’ birthday parties.

A college dropout, Popeil joined his inventor-father in the family business responsible for the Veg-o-Magic and Chop-o-Matic kitchen utensils. There is only so much romance to mincing vegetables, and beyond chasing the almighty dollar by convincing the American public that they desperately needed something they had no idea existed, Popeil and son were also domestic innovators. Just those two inventions alone saved postwar Americans countless hours to spend on other things. As someone who is missing a healthy section of the pad of his thumb due to an expertly crafted kitchen knife, I can attest that they are far safer. 

They not only changed how Americans interacted with their domestic lives; the Popeils changed our relationship with technology and the very process of learning about it. Carrying on in his father‘s footsteps, Popeil was a tireless inventor who had the necessary creativity to look beyond good taste and provide the workin’ Joe and Jane with tools to elevate the ordinary. Or just bring a goofy grin to families that needed it. There was a sense of excitement and wonder that Popeil brought to to his inventions, turning the mundane into something almost countercultural. By preparing his demonstrations on videotape, Popeil was a key visionary in the field of retail communication. That’s the technical side of his second art: sales. But what truly made Popeil such a pop pioneer was the infectious excitement for his inventions… and his sincere affection for the consumers. Beyond his well-tuned mantras reassuring us that the gadgets “really, really work,” was the subtext that we deserved better. To listen to Ronco ads is to hear a voice suggesting that those who came before him in domestic engineering were content for us to settle for less. Why must the future start with billion  dollar space vehicles out of our reach? Why can’t it inhabit our homes, as well?

Yes, anyone who creates so many varied products will be an object lesson in Sturgeon’s Law. 90% of everything will be crap. A mechanical mug froster, spray-on-hair, and a machine to scramble eggs in the shell are bizarre must-haven’ts. But there is a giddy audacity to them that keeps them memorable. In reviewing Ronco products just now, I was struck by how much Popeil lived in the future. I saw many Ronco innovations that respectable manufacturers simply allowed him to beta test. Before they took half the risk for twice the price. 

Go to a Williams Sonoma or surf the Internet for high priced life tools, and Ron Popeil will be staring back at you, having gotten there first. Oxo has nothing on the man, and it owes him a moral fortune. Veg-o-Matic-like food choppers can now be had respectably in the most chic of boutiques. The same can be said for the “innovation“ of lumbar support in motor vehicles.  Air purifiers. Spill-proof commuter mugs. Teeth cleaning equipment modeled on dental  tools. His final claim to fame and fortune, the countertop rotisserie oven, may seem dubious in the era of air fryers and pressure cookers. That’s until you think of the comparatively exotic and healthy recipes suddenly in reach of the renters of tiny, joyless studio apartments or denizens of dorm rooms. Suddenly, life has a lot more possibilities, even if in three easy installments.

Of course he would accompany Dark Shadows. After all, what was that program but the reinvention of time-honored story elements from bold, new perspectives to delight modern audiences? Helpful then. Helpful now.  That’s a shared tradition of American vision that we can all get behind.  Both are symbiotic and endearing legacies as seen on tv.

Sunday, June 27, 2021

Jonathan Frid documentary coming in October


On the 55th anniversary of the premiere of Dark Shadows comes word that series star Jonathan Frid will be the subject of a feature-length documentary coming Oct. 5. The Canadian actor achieved worldwide fame as villain-turned-hero vampire Barnabas Collins on the late 1960s supernatural soap but, like his iconic character, his career lived on for decades in many different incarnations! 


Who was the man beneath the vampire’s cloak? Dark Shadows and Beyond: The Jonathan Frid Story reveals Frid’s joys, struggles, artistic triumphs and rise to fame through his personal letters read by actor Ian Buchanan (General Hospital, Twin Peaks) and the reminiscences of family, friends, and colleagues. 

Interviewees include talk show legend Dick Cavett; co-stars Marion Ross (Happy Days), Anthony Zerbe  (Omega Man, Harry O), Christina Pickles (St. Elsewhere, Friends), David Selby (Dark Shadows, Falcon Crest), Marie Wallace (Dark Shadows, Somerset) and the late John Karlen (Dark Shadows, Cagney & Lacy).  

Frid (who passed away in 2012 at age 87) appears in never-before-seen interviews and rare performance footage unseen since original broadcast. 

Dark Shadows and Beyond: The Jonathan Frid Story is produced and directed by Emmy-winning soap opera producer Mary O’Leary (The Young And The Restless, General Hospital, One Life To Live, Another World, Guiding Light) and will be available on Blu-ray, DVD and Digital Oct. 5 from MPI Media Group. 

For more information, visit Facebook.com/JonathanFridDoc

Wednesday, June 2, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 2

 

By PATRICK McCRAY


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 771


When Carl brings home his shocking true love, everyone at Collinwood needs to take a shot… probably of penicillin. Carl Collins: John Karlen. (Repeat; 30 min.)


As Barnabas and Beth plan to find the undead Dirk Wilkins to distract Edward, Carl interrupts with his vulgar, cockney fiancee, the alleged medium and music hall embarrassment, Pansy Faye. Her display of second sight ends with an accusation that one of the Collinses will be knit up in Dirk’s death. Later, Barnabas returns to the Old House where he finds her bitten and collapsed. 


Dark Shadows is about as self-contained as a pair of fishnets on the opening day of a Pritiken camp, and that makes it murder to introduce to prospective viewers. No, this one isn’t self-contained, but it comes very close, beginning with vampire-on-vampire suspense and ending in the murder of a character we meet just a few minutes before. It’s an hilarious little jewel that is inarguably pure comedy, as Jonathan Frid gets the easy job and big payoffs of doing astonished take after take. The heavy lifting is done by an especially histrionic John Karlen and then Kay Frye, as his Alfred Doolittle of a fiancee, the psychic medium, Pansy Faye. Barnabas is at the height of his swashbuckling best, with Beth at his side, as he plots to foil Edward by revealing Dirk as the local vampire (this week). With cosmic inevitability, the endeavor is halted mid-batpole by Carl, blithering of saltwater taffy and true love. It’s a great summation of a universe that encourages heroism and then mocks us with its ridiculousness. Think you’re going to help the community while your social equals look on in disgusted apathy? Don’t worry. The community you’re there to help will soon arrive to make the effort look pointless.  


Class envy is an ugly thing, and envy isn’t even the right word. Envy goes from the bottom-up. From the top-down? See: Collins, Judith. Pansy Faye is exactly the sort of figure designed, like a Xenomorph by a Predator, for her to hunt. You can almost hear the thermographic scan kick in when she catches sight of the crassly cacaphonic strumpet. The episode does a funny thing when they meet, because it allows you to see the conflict from both perspectives at once. Judith is a snobbish and intolerant prig, and it’s in response to a boorish sense of entitlement. The one that completely betrays the promise of humble, respectful good values that the working class claim when it wants to Be Offended into getting something. 


Unless a Vanderbilt were tuning in, no viewer then or now knows what it’s like to be a Collins just three generations away from Joshua. But Pansy Faye’s brash idiocy, with the jibbering Carl as ambassador, kind of inspires everyone to feel like a Collins, and it’s a subtle lesson in taste and etiquette for anyone willing to peek into the mirror. We’ve been spoiled by Vicki’s example to see female outsiders to Clan Collins as possessing a purity of spirit often lacked by the decadently corrupt residents. But that changes, too.


If you’ve seen the series before, you know that Pansy Faye’s spirit possesses Charity Trask, largely because it gave Nancy Barrett something interesting to do. That, and Dan Curtis was suffering under a curse that compelled him to make America listen to “I Wanna Dance with You” to an extent that almost -- almost -- makes us long for “London Bridge.” Under the Barrett administration, the United States of Pansy changes as drastically as it can without ushering in a new character. Was this planned? Was this a response to the writers honing the part for a familiar actress’ strengths? I have no idea, and the “why” is irrelevant. She warms and humanizes as a character, and we can credit death for that. Go down as Kay Frye, come up as Nancy Barrett. Gain a lot of nuance on the way. 


It’s not the only place this happens in the series. On Dark Shadows, death isn’t an end; it’s just a cue for transformation. The show takes the esoteric, gatekeeping mumbo-jumbo surrounding the Transformative Nature of Death and makes it literal enough that the rest of us unenlightened slobs might get some practical use out of it. Every culture kills its youth to one extent or another in the form of liminal rituals like hazings and walkabouts, where the prior identity is removed, a form of symbolic death is imposed, and an adult magically pops out the other end. This is a constant theme of Dark Shadows, starting with Liz Stoddard more-or-less killing her youthful, married identity and cocooning for a couple of decades before emerging in that smart red dress she wears to bail Carolyn outta the can. Vicki passes through death, kind of, in 1795. Adam is nothing without the death certificate he brings with him when he applies for fast food jobs. Quentin, of course. Only in Collinsport does Avis rent more coffins than cars. But the king, predictably, is Barnabas, who dies with a greater regularity than South Park’s Kenny. 


Each time he rises, which is arguably at the crack of dusk every night, he transforms. Sometimes wiser. Sometimes more impulsive. Inevitably, a tad on the hungry side. Even if we only count his transitions between humanity and parahumanity, that’s still six ping-pongs between the worlds. On a strictly symbolic level, he simply has that much learning to do. For Barnabas, the story of Dark Shadows isn’t Dracula; it’s Groundhog Day. We see that down to the various rituals of renovating the Old House and agreeing with Joan Bennett that, yeah, the resemblance to that portrait sure is weird, and now, I need the keys to the Old House because Lowe’s is delivering, like, a metric ton of backsplash tiles, and if I’m not there when they arrive, they’ll take them back and restock them, and I’ll have to send the gypsies to Logansport to straighten it out, and I think we know how that’ll go. 


On a show that constantly remakes itself in varied cycles, this is the most primal of all, and it often smells exactly like you might think. On Dark Shadows, transformation isn’t a mandate, but it is a fact. Sometimes, as with Pansy Faye, it’s the result of a terribly unfunny practical joke. Sometimes, it’s a punishment. Sometimes, it makes no sense at all. Often, I don’t even see the characters learn from it. They don’t need to. Not as long as we learn the lessons. Sometimes, that lesson is to value the changes, like we see with Pansy Faye. Sometimes, the lesson is to hold fast to what hasn’t changed. With Barnabas, it’s a matter of knowing the difference. 


This episode hit the airwaves on June 9, 1969.


Sunday, May 30, 2021

Podcast: Terror at Collinwood, Episode 3



Laura the Phoenix & Jason the Blackmailer!

Poet and writer Rachel Freitas joins Penny in episode three of Terror at Collinwood. They discuss the pre-Barnabas Phoenix storyline, examining the character of Laura Collins and her important role as Dark Shadows’ first supernatural antagonist. Next, they take a look at the Jason McGuire blackmail storyline and the challenges faced by Elizabeth Collins Stoddard.

Additional topics include Rachel’s writing and her introduction to Dark Shadows, DS’ influence on Port Charles, and a look at the unaired DS 2004 WB pilot. Join us for another eerie episode of the Dark Shadows podcast, Terror at Collinwood.


Thursday, May 27, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: May 27


By PATRICK McCRAY


Taped on this day in 1969: Episode 767


When Jamison dreams of the death of his own grandson, will his recollections teach Barnabas the ultimate truth of Quentin Collins? Quentin Collins: David Selby. (Repeat; 30 min.)


Jamison dreams that David’s morbid birthday party is conducted by relatives who are cruelly unmoved by the actual commemoration of his living death. Only the ghost of Quentin provides David with a sense of belonging as he contemplates the transition to the world of the departed. 


Even if he had not appeared in the first shots of the first episode… even if he had somehow appeared only, by a twist of time, as late as season 3 of Discovery… we all know that Star Trek is Leonard Nimoy. His character, Spock, is Star Trek, and his performance is of the measured, intellectual integrity and focused passion that can be recognized in any of his finest colleagues in the franchise. Star Trek, as we know it, is the water-breaking stone of Nimoy. Everything else? Ripples. Not insignificant. Even in the stone’s absence, the ripples spread ever wider as a growing/fading testament to its impact. 


This lionizing is not meant to imply anything wanting in his cast mates. They didn’t get that character. Their artistry and skill are as honed as Nimoy’s. Maybe more. But there can only be one Spock. 


Were Mr. Nimoy still alive and reading this, I’m sure he’d be mortified at the suspiciously bulbous compliment. Humiliating you is not on purpose, Theo. Go easy. I paint what I see. 


It is with no small consideration that I state that Dark Shadows finds its Nimoy in David Selby


That is a difficult truth to write. It’s also a savagely unfair analogy. As with Nimoy and Spock, no one else (except for Thayer David) played Quentin. So, I’m sorry.  Jonathan Frid did the heavy lifting. He blazed the trail, laid the groundwork, and participated in countless other cliches. But, the airwaves made safe for a feral other, David Selby and Quentin stride into the story with both startling drama and the noble glide of a gracious poet from the heart of West Virginia. The audience, writers, ensemble, and very Zeitgeist were prepared for this character. Quentin is the apotheosis of the horror hero on Dark Shadows, which is to say, all horror heroes. He is a flawed man who prizes expedience and operational fictions. Thus, the larger society has no need for him. But those qualities don’t represent the man within the beast-before-the-beast, and we know it. Yes, he is frightening as a ghost. And yet the examples of Burke, Barnabas, Adam, and even Nicholas Blair and Angelique, to various degrees, have taught us to just… wait… a few episodes. These so-called monsters are often kind people are made monstrous by the abuses of love. Usually, they love in too-great abundance, their hearts and deeper passions unable to color within the lines established by Polite Society. Their transformations into horrors are not necessarily representative of some inner impurity becoming manifest on the surface. Instead, the creatures they become are inflated versions of society’s opinion of them.


The Dark Shadows story, then, is Quentin’s story. It’s Barnabas’ story. A good man has debatable flaws that glare when looked at through the eyes of ruling class pedants. Especially when those passions lead him into arms and cultures of the serving class, or, worse, decidedly un-Anglo, Eastern European immigrants. Pressured by imposed guilt or the terror of starving to death, these men return to the family fold only to find that those alternative communities have something to say. Barnabas’ and Quentin’s affections don’t legitimize these cultures… they were already legitimate. But their affections are long-overdue acknowledgements. And not just momentary. Barnabas loved Angelique. Quentin loved Jenny. 


The alternative class curses both men in ways that place their inner differences into the spotlight. After all, those classes are defined by their differences. Now, the ruling class will be unable to hide their allegedly sinful natures. Barnabas can hide that he sapped Angelique’s hope and optimism. Let’s curse him as something famous as a parasite. Quentin barely hides his animalistic lusts? Again… you see where this is going. Make him, literally, a wolf.


Both conditions are temporary. Both men grow up while growing away from their roots. Barnabas falls in love with Angelique. Quentin loses a child he never knew and finds the strength to lead the family with his curious mix of guile and gallantry. And as a romantic, Quentin goes beyond the obscenity of marrying an immigrant to falling in love with a woman who never even existed except in a bohemian artist’s imagination.


Selby captures all of this while never delving into a weary lecture on class warfare. Frid is marvelous, yes, but Barnabas’ affected refinement and mid-Atlantic accent distance him from viewers as too European. Selby is ripely American. Part gentleman, part hell-bent-for-leather frontiersman. Casting a man of the south was a quiet masterstroke by Dan Curtis, for where else but in the American south do we find the fusion of these national identities? Selby represents the very best of southern culture. Joy. A charm that comes from authentic bonhomie. Quiet thoughtfulness. Most of all, cautious friendliness — hardly a Collins trait. There’s Faulkner’s lyricism and Williams’ poignance and Poe’s dreamy irony and Twain’s irascible honesty in Quentin… and in David Selby, himself. All bound by honest benevolence. Once he tells Beth she’s still beautiful, which she is-but-never-hears in a world of prim Judith’s steaming chamber pots and Edward’s careless cigar ash, he’s our guy. He’s the answer to Liz’s isolation, Roger’s repressed rage, Joshua’s hypocrisy, and so on. Naturally, he must suffer for it. 


This is art, after all. 


Both Barnabas and Quentin are good men who stand apart from their families without abandoning them. There is no more ringing evidence than the regard with which they are held by adoring children. Sarah, Jamison, and Nora have no social preconceptions to cloud their honest opinions, and they see and love the truth in these men like no other. 


In 767, Jamison naturally trusts Barnabas with his darkest nightmare. In it, the ghost of Quentin reaches out again to that other outstanding critic of Collins social artifice, David. Yes, they are destined to be ghosts to their families, but they will have each other. Brothers in truth and love, separated by centuries, dreams, and death, itself. In his performance with David Henesy, David Selby shows an effortless loyalty, sincerity, and love that is wholly devoid of the condescension normally reserved for speaking with children. Quentin may be a wolf without a pack, but he is their guardian, nevertheless. And what is a wolf but a liberated dog? And I refer to a dog not as a servant, pet, or a beast, but as humanity’s kindest, most loyal, and intuitive companion. Those who have witnessed the beguilingly alien wisdom of these often majestic compatriots know that the comparison is the highest compliment. It is a rare human who matches their unflagging virtue; they are too easily written off as mere animals.


Quentin is a wolf at heart. In the very best ways. As painted with tireless wit and sensitivity, Selby embodies those noble virtues with the knowing voice of an author and artist. It takes a surreal dream sequence, replete with mocking puppets and the Collinses at their most sadly, honestly calloused, to let Selby crystalize what makes him different. What makes him American. What makes him the friend, guide, and troubled companion that Dark Shadows was destined to impart and always was.


This episode hit the airwaves on June 3, 1969.


Saturday, May 15, 2021

Podcast: Terror at Collinwood, Episodes 1 and 2

Who better to host a Dark Shadows podcast than a horror host from New England? The Collinsport Historical Society podcast might be as dead as Billy Butcherson (which is to say it's pretty dead, but still shambling around in the archives of iTunes) but there's still lots left unsaid about everybody's favorite gothic soap opera.

Enter Penny Dreadful, the host of Penny Dreadful’s Shilling Shockers, which aired in 200 cities and towns throughout the six New England states. She was a contributor to the last phase of the CHS podcast, and lucky for us she's decided to branch out on her own. Penny has two episodes in the can already, which you can stream below or follow on Podbay at https://podbay.fm/p/terror-at-collinwood-a-dark-shadows-podcast.

Welcome to the first episode of 'Terror at Collinwood', a podcast dedicated to the 1966-1971 gothic television serial, 'Dark Shadows'. Join Penny as she touches upon some characteristics of the gothic TV classic, followed by memories of her introduction to the show and its fandom.

Terror at Collinwood, Episode 2:  Artist and writer Eric Marshall joins Penny for episode two of 'Terror at Collinwood'. In this episode, they examine the show's earliest Pre-Barnabas storylines and characters as they discuss Victoria Winters' search for her parentage, Burke Devlin's quest for revenge, and the death of Bill Malloy. They also take several side trips into other storylines & touch on topics such as whether or not a 'Dark Shadows' remake could actually work.

Wednesday, May 5, 2021

Rondo loves The Collinsport Historical Society


I'm not sure what Patrick McCray is doing as I write this, but he's likely recovering from an injury sustained while carrying this entire website on his back throughout 2020. Thoughts and prayers, man. You're gonna need 'em, because the health insurance provided by the CHS suuuuuuuucks.

The recipients of this year's Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards were announced yesterday and, despite our not having campaigned at all for it (and my efforts during the last year to let the CHS die from neglect) we somehow garnered a "runner up" nod from the Rondos. He's been incredibly modest about it, but it's difficult to see this honor as anything but a validation for Patrick and The Dark Shadows Daybook.

Speaking of which, production of the print edition of the Dark Shadows Daybook is progressing slowly but steadily. Expect an announcement about how you can grab a copy sometime during the next few weeks.

Thursday, April 29, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: April 29







By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this day in 1968: Episode 485

Barnabas knows that ultimate happiness is right around the corner because his best friends do all that they can to talk him out of it. Eric Lang: Addison Powell. (Repeat; 30 min.)


Lang relates the dream curse to Julia on the eve of The Experiment as she tries to talk him out of it. Meanwhile, Barnabas relates his instructions to Willie on the eve of The Experiment as he tries to talk him out of it. Across Collinsport, Angelique, tired of the moralizing, stabs a voodoo doll of Lang and then probably takes a long, well-deserved bubble bath. 


One of the great things about Ghostbusters is its use of science to address the supernatural. It would be convenient to say that this is something that started with the novel of Frankenstein, except that the process only hinted at in the book is as much alchemical as it was laboratory grade.  In exploring the dichotomy between the two methods of describing and controlling the universe, Dark Shadows generally comes down on the side of the supernatural, except when it doesn’t, and it doesn’t with surprising regularity. Science makes more appearances than you would think. Peter Guthrie is no witch doctor. Julia begins the show by literally seeing the supernatural through a microscope. The heroes of 1795 at least assert a preference for scientific thinking.  And if scientific thinking is not always the answer, it certainly has a seat at the séance table. Julia works with Angelique to combine bio chemistry and black magic to help Barnabas in 1897. The entire existence of parallel time is well-founded in vaguely articulated pseudoscientific mumbo-jumbo recited by Stokes with incredibly precise ambiguity. You know, science. Along with Cyrus Longworth and a side-trip to 1840, via a chronoporting staircase well-founded in time honored principles of total scientific illiteracy.  But, Dark Shadows is under no obligation to be scientifically literate. It doesn’t have to worry about Isaac Asimov clutching his pearly muttonchops as he watches it, kvetching that “It's no Space: 1999.”


For Dark Shadows, science may simply be magic in lab coats, but that’s not all. It’s the Resistance. It’s often the sole force that man has against the new world of ancient gods and monsters. Although it is carefully protected from resembling reality, it still exists to troll hoity-toity magic users and level the playing field for the rest of us. And of course it has to be mad science. Because regular science is too boring and largely exists to give everyone reasons why they can’t have any fun. 


Eric Lang is my kind of scientist. Just imagine him instead of Anthony Fauci. I’m sure somehow Covid would have been cured by now.  Admittedly, we would all have giraffe heads grafted on to us.  Which would have absolutely nothing to do with curing Covid. But I have every confidence that Eric Lang was also on the board of the Collinsport Community Playhouse and was itching to do a modified version of some Ionesco, a playwright he admired for his gritty, hard-hitting realism. After that controversial, all-nude production of Darling of the Day, he had to play it safe.  Every year for a fundraiser, they would do a haunted house. Which was actually the only month out of the year that Lang would simply take down the schmattas covering everything in his home and show off his work in all its glory.


All seriousness aside, the episode crackles with more pure fun than a Chick-fil-A hijacked by RuPaul and Steve Shives, open for biz and spiking the lemonade with bourbon on a Sunday near you.  It begins with Lang trying to logic his way through the dream curse, and knowing that we’ll be saying goodbye to Dark Shadows’ most passionate showman, Addison Powell, it’s a glorious monologue that hovers somewhere between sobriety and appropriate sensationalism. As these people share nightmares, it’s the closest the program comes to presenting the characters presenting their own individual horror TV series. It’s as if they, themselves, are producing a meta-Dark Shadows.


Lang tries to persuade Julia that there’s nothing inordinately dangerous to injecting the soul of Barnabas into the body of Adam, you know, now that all of the heads have been sawed-off, reattached, and Roger Davis still has his face. Hearing this, Julia has her doubts and says that she might prefer if Barnabas simply went back to being a vampire.  


Yeah, you heard me.


Julia eventually emerges as the voice of conscience and common sense for Barnabas. You know, over a year from now.  But today she has one black-stockinged leg in the bold future of 1897 and another one still in the lab, trying to chemically shrivel Barnabas into a future Don Post bestseller. Like in that episode of Next Generation where they kept aging Dr. Pulaski by taking off layer upon layer of Diana Muldaur’s make-up. 


I kid, I kid. Better than Crusher, sez me.


But I have to question the moral compass of anyone who would put the inevitability of a serial killing Lord of the Undead, capable of spreading a vampiric pathogen that could decimate the human race if well-shaded and unchecked, above a wacky experiment that will probably just end in nothing but a crackle, a burning scent, some shrugs, and then Lang, Julia, and Willie splitting the contents of Barnabas‘s wallet three ways at TGI Friday’s, which, knowing what a cheap SOB he was, will barely cover the cost of the seven layer dip and that Ultimate Megarita that is how Julia spells r-e-l-I-e-f on any day ending in ‘Y.’


Why, indeed?


Shifting to the Old House, it’s immediately clear the Barnabas is trying to solve his ongoing existential crisis, because there’s Willie, at his side, wringing his hands and doing everything possible to discourage him from seeking happiness. Moments like these make Margaret Hamilton‘s Cora, from those Maxwell House ads, look like a free wheeling Dennis Hopper. Willie must have nothing to do, because he just watched Julia in the previous scene and is basically repeating what she said to Lang. His namby-pamby nagging and cheek give Jonathan Frid one of his greatest and most genuine line readings. And it’s the kind of moment, going by in a flash, that makes the program absolute gold. Because all of the vampire and curse stuff is interesting, if you like that sort of thing, but it’s not nearly as much fun as watching this old married couple go at it for the upteenth time. Loomis flatly states, “I don’t like it.” 


Barnabas responds with a withering cattiness worthy of Count Petofi. He opines, “That IS a shame,” sighs, and desperately tries to secure his fortune by writing a questionable letter instructing the family to hand over all of his possessions and the Old House to a “cousin from England.” 
Yeah, like they’d ever do that.


But Willie continues his campaign of simpering instead of doing what he should, which is quickly finishing a paint-by-numbers portrait of Robert Rodan in Georgian drag to sneak onto the wall of the drawing room as if it were yet another portrait of an incestor that “had been there the whole time.“  You know, the minimum litmus test that Roger and Liz need to fork over priceless real estate to a fancy-lad stranger. Hey, if it worked for Georges Baker and Lazenby, why not here?


Just for a moment, I want you to picture that version of the show. Picture a Dark Shadows where the experiment worked, and Jonathan Frid has to loop in the dialogue for Robert Rodan as if he’d just emerged from Boris Balinkoff’s mind-transplant device. For the rest of the series.


It’s a pretty good show, come to think of it. Calling Robot Loomis!


But all this fear over the experiment, and a preference for Barnabas to be a vampire again, has a disturbing subtext. People in abusive relationships tend to gravitate back to further abusers because a familiar love is preferable to taking a chance on a happy future. Although it’s unexpected, that is a truth reflected here by both Willie and Julia. 


However, Barnabas is willing to literally change his mind, so that’s next in line. “Barnabas, the experiment’s still free,” Lang might have reminded him, before adding, “take a chance on me.”


Yes, I once directed Mamma Mia. Or as I called it, “A Cry for Help.“  And those lambs are still decidedly screaming, Clarisse.


Barnabas is so ready for the process that he even puts on a blue bathrobe for the experiment. Like Red Sonia in that armor that I’m sure is just as protective, I assume it’s for “freedom of movement“ but I still feel like the old boy is being exploited. 


Actually, after seeing him manfully clad in suits, capes, jabots, ascots, tights, and various kerchiefs for a year, The semiotic impact of that blue bathrobe conveys the incredibly human vulnerability of Barnabas in a way that is unparalleled across the series. Either that, or he’s waiting for a Jean Shepherd narration to start describing his long-standing battle with Lang’s idiosyncratic furnace as Julia once again unsuccessfully attempts to get Willie to eat meatloaf. 


Well, there are no Bumpus hounds to devour the Ham of Progress as Lang charges up the ozone of electric sex to begin the transfer. But don’t think the supernatural will go down without a fight. With cosmic inevitability, Willie goes to Collinwood to personally hand Angelique the precise piece of information she needs, the letter about “Adam Collins,“ at precisely the right time for her to get out her trusty Eric Lang Mego voodoo doll and throw what was a sober exploration of scientific inquiry into total chaos. 


And for a moment, an important moment, all of the wackiness stops.  We see Barnabas, our friend and hero, screaming in a degree of pain that is suddenly and uncomfortably real. We see him worry. We see him fret. But television usually stops short of showing a character, destined to live, experiencing a pointless and sadistic agony.  And Lang is experiencing it as well. Maybe we could say it’s tantamount to the pain of childbirth, which is what the scene is about, but this is not such pain.


This is sadism. And it is sadism from a witch. A creature of darkness. A creature of anti-science. Someone whose existence knows only the spectrum of literal hellfire or the blazing execution stake representative of human justice. How dare he be cured? More pointedly, how dare he be cured by someone other than she? In that attack, we get a full-spectrum view of the quintessential struggle for the human identity. No, really. Male versus female. Science versus religion. Reason versus emotion. Fear versus informed optimism. What is at stake? Literally, the human mind and, if it exists, soul. 


No answers, except that one side seeks to use nature to control nature. One side wishes to punish the attempt to steal what was her fire, exclusively. Science will, as we will learn, win the day, but not without sacrifices. Adam will live, as will Barnabas. And no matter how big Angelique’s Twinkie, for one day at least, Eric Lang, Barnabas Collins, and Julia Hoffman had the guts to cross the streams. 


This episode hit the airwaves on May 3, 1968.
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