Thursday, February 18, 2021

Get Dark Shadows book signed by David Selby!

Welcome to the Marilyn Rossaissance! Who would have guessed that a 1960s hack writer of gothic pulps would ever see such a revival in the 21st century? All 32 of his/her Dark Shadows novels are now available as audiobooks from Oasis (and read by Kathryn Leigh Scott), which is staggering enough. But the company is also producing audio editions of Ross's other gothic stories, such as Memory of Evil, Dark Legend and Shadows Over Briarcliff.

Not to be outdone, Hermes Press is publishing trade paperback reprints of the Dark Shadows line. Now available for pre-order are books 15 and 16 in the series, Barnabas Collins and the Gypsy Witch and Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy's Curse. The latter of which is also available in a special edition limited to 200 copies that includes a signed plate by actor David Selby.

Hermes Press previously offered editions of Dark Shadows the Complete Newspaper Strips signed by actress Lara Parker, and Victoria Winters signed by Alexandra Moltke.

You can get started by clicking the links above, or by visiting the Dark Shadows collection at Hermes Press here:

Wednesday, February 17, 2021

The Dark Shadows Daybook: Feb. 17


Taped on this date in 1969: Episode 696


When Quentin claims Collinwood as his posthumous digs, why does Maggie need to be mind controlled for the closing? Quentin: David Selby. (Repeat; 30 minutes.)

David has vanished from the old house, with only the phone he used to contact Quentin as the clue. Amy, at Collinwood, is again under Quentin‘s control, and lures Maggie there. Barnabas is fearless in pursuit where he finds Maggie again possessed by spirits from a past she never lived.

Unless you’re expecting a vampire, which is a pretty logical desire, this is what you’re probably looking for if you’re tuning in to Dark Shadows for the first time. But you didn’t get this episode. Let me guess, you wound up watching an episode about Jason McGuire, lyrically alluding with criminal intent, instead? You liked him well enough, and he made a good villain, but wasn’t there supposed to be a monster or Cousin Itt in this one? Maybe a were-bat? Musical number? Can David at least get a pet snake? No? How about some dascounds? They’re kinda creepy. 

Maybe it was an episode about Liz Stoddard. I bet she spent twenty minutes talking about how she was slowly going to die. And you’re sitting there, thinking, “If this is what the show is like, I may beat you to the grave, even if I die of natural causes at a ripe old age.” God forbid, it was a Worthington Hall episode. Is it the one where Charity is having second thoughts or the one where Tim Shaw is quietly resentful? 

It pays to love such episodes. In the words of Emerson, “If a man’s measure of happiness is one of the many Adam episodes, then he is likely to die a blissful man.” Seriously, finding peace with filler builds patience and character. 696, on the other hand, is pure entertainment. As I’m often fond of saying around these parts, it’s a great episode to begin screening the series for someone.

From the get go it grabs your attention like few episodes, and we know by implication (and by having seen a show, any show, and thus innately understanding the rules of television fiction) who are the heroes and what the problem is. Maggie is screaming for Barnabas that David is missing. And the fact that a weird, antique phone has shown up as a curious calling card in the boy's bedroom is all of the evidence they need. Who is Barnabas? Who cares? He’s the hero. Obviously. Who is Maggie? Again, who cares? She is invested in the well-being of someone else. There’s only one place where the answer might reside. Collinwood. And in a bizarre inversion of the way the series begins, Collinwood is the haunted house and The Old House is the bastion of safety. 

Upon watching this, I have no doubt that Herb and Marilyn Shapiro of Tampa, FL, to whom Collinsport realtors showed the ramshackle Old House in 1965, are in a furious argument right now because dammit, Herb, if she told you once, she told you one million times, it’s better to have the worst house in a good neighborhood. And you passed it up, saying “well, it’s no Collinwood. Let’s look into some manufactured housing.“

And then Barnabas comes along, renovates it, and doesn’t even have the decency to flip it. No, he’s just going to live there and hold cosplay events. And given that he’s intermittently a vampire, it’s probably going to be for a century or two.

Then, the rest of the episode is spent with Barnabas exploring Collinwood with Willie Loomis, and beyond being the title of his future series on the learning channel, that also gives this odd couple the chance to explore exactly what you want to see someone explore on a show called dark shadows: A haunted house. When the lights don’t come on, Willie has misgivings, but Barnabas further establishes that he is the protagonist by claiming that they don’t need lights. At that point, he whips out a flashlight with a beam so incredibly focused that it creates that crisply defined white circle on a dark wall usually reserved for the animated opening credits of an inspector Clouseau movie. There is a divine perfection to that moment, because it is not a response to cliché. It is the real deal from which all the later clichés will spring. Barnabas then reassures Willie that they are safe because he doesn’t sense the presence of spirits.

Maybe Barnabas noticed that Roger cleaned out the bar before they evacuated because Quentin’s spirit is in full control of Collinwood and his power may be spreading towards the Old House. Of course, he hasn’t managed to put the cable bill into his name. That’s fine, but what’s with all the pay-per-view wrestling specials? 

All kidding aside, this is a rare moment when we see a villain in unchallenged control rather than just stirring the cauldron and implying a whole bunch. I suppose Quentin kind of has what he wants, but no matter how many times I see this stretch of the series, his obsession with killing David because he is heartbroken over Jamison is just… Weird. It’s hard to remember because it may not make a lot of sense. And why does it take him so long? I suppose because he has to be released from the room first or something, but why should some wood paneling stop him when he can conjure music out of the air, appear and vanished will, enslave another ghost, cause poison to materialize, and use the phone? No, he doesn’t make an army of zombies rise as will Gerard, but then again, he doesn’t have to. 

I have long theorized that this is not the ghost of Quentin. That Quentin never died. Instead, it’s another mask of Judah Zachary and the so-called skeleton belongs to anyone. But what if the ghost of Quentin were waiting for someone to come along? Someone with some kind of edge with time travel. Someone who could help change the timeline. 

Perhaps the ghost initially tried some sort of spectral working from beyond the grave and accidentally sent Victoria Winters back to 1795. Josette and Sara may not be crazy about the past, but they are at least at some kind of peace over it. They are focused almost entirely on influencing the present. Quentin only seems to want to influence the present. Perhaps he knows that the right person can change the timeline and save him from this particular fate.  Instead of giving advice and guidance to the living, he is hoping that one of the living can give advice and guidance to his 1897 self.

Heightening Quentin‘s power and heightening the mystery surrounding it are essential tent poles for Sam Hall to plant and raise as we are headed into the show’s longest flashback. It’s going to be nearly a year of wild adventure, and although nothing on the show perhaps compared to the indomitable evil and rousing adventure of the past body of episodes, nothing could prepare audiences for how he would deliver on the promise of installments like this.

This episode was broadcast Feb. 24, 1969.

Friday, February 12, 2021

Christopher Pennock 1944-2021


Christopher Pennock was, in the most Marvel of manners, an Ultimate Being. He was impossible in every sense ... impossibly talented, neurotic, loving, tempestuous, honest, intelligent, and necessarily profane. We lost him today. He had been suffering for some time. Depending on his mood, Pennock might have joked that he had been suffering for his entire life ... when he wasn’t busy living it to a degree that would have shamed a marching band.

The “next hottie” to find himself on the program after Jonathan Frid and David Selby, Pennock was no himbo. He kept himself honest with constant doubt. He was worried that his rough beginning as Jeb Hawkes made for a poor introduction to the ensemble. In truth, he handled the awkward hipster snake god with a sincerity that encapsulated the idea of a dark messiah who was more delinquent than demon. It was the first of many parts that allowed him to contribute irony as well as integrity. Beyond being a solid, east coast, red meat performer worthy of his Actor’s Studio affiliation, Pennock was an author, artist, and spiritual explorer who clearly saw the ludicrousness of what he was doing and committed to it full force... perhaps somewhat because of it. He found the total joy of John Yaeger’s compass for evil. He loved Gabriel’s sour wit, and loved the character’s tearful pique as he revealed his true motives to the father he murdered. To the detriment of his career, Pennock’s taste for the idiosyncratic made him impossible to injection mold as Leading Man #7. But as the show entered its post-1897 malaise, Pennock brightened every scene he was in with a unique blend of commitment and knowing humor toward himself. He was only newly brought it, detached from the legacy of the show’s early mythos, and he was here to make the most of it.

At its essence, theatre is about the struggle to make necessary changes after learning uncomfortable truths. Ladies and gentlemen, Chris Pennock. Growing up resisting the repression of the east coast’s bluest WASP blood, he was a much needed anarchist against rigid conformity. From interviews, it’s also clear that his anarchy was in the pursuit of something better. He was frank with all of us. When the conch shell of The @ButtockPennock blew the clarion raspberry, we heard of life’s triumphs and tragedies with relentless candor on social media. Often in secret code. I think my first interaction with him was over a stated intention to end it all. He had a forlorn dignity about it, and I couldn’t bring myself to argue with him. What could you do?

Later, I was lucky enough to participate in a dinner/interview with him where he eagerly talked for hours about the end of the world, severe depression, his post-coital encounter with a well-meaning transvestite, and then finished it off with a staring contest (for an audio podcast) that he let me win. It was great night. I was never more nervous nor more at ease.

It’s hard to imagine a festival without his Falstaffian presence.

I’m not sure he’s really gone from the mortal world... in the same sense that I’m not sure he was ever fully mired by it. He had the unmistakable crackle of bodhisattva as much as man, and the uncompromising humor and affection that surrounded him at his best proves my point. In his passionate extremes, he achieved a wild and pained balance. If matters became too dour, an ironic observation would rip forth with a master’s timing. And he was just as capable of deeply human kindness and insight. He genuinely existed with one foot on earth and one foot someplace else entirely. Both places are the better because of it.

Om mani padme hum, you big galoot.

You mattered.

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