Sunday, December 24, 2023

A Night Before… you know.

 'Twas the night before Christmas, when through the Old House, no one living was stirring, not even Willie, that louse; The Secret door by the chimney hung open — who cares?Not even Buzz Hackett would return to call them all squares;

The mortals slept fitless in their Collinwood beds;

While dark dreams of chromakey danced in their heads;

It was a melancholy evening. Her absence to blame. Without Angelique’s laughter, the season was tame.

When out by the tower there arose such a din. Had a tipsy Dr. Hoffman finally pulled in?

Up towards the window I jumped like a cat,

And out through the window I flew as a bat;

The moon glittered like diamonds on the rocks on the shore,

As Widows Hills’s invite I chose to ignore.

When what to my sonar-sharp ears did appear,

But a roaring jalopy with some villains so dear,

Oh Roger from the wheel away he did shirk, for he crashed into Collinwood but couldn’t blame Burke.

More rapid than zombies, his retinue  disembarked,

And he fumed and shouted to recall where they parked:

"Now, Adam! Now, Bruno! Now Kitten you Vixen!

I blame our crash on the new speed limit, because I still voted for Nixon!

To the drawing room bar! Grab a good frosted glass!

Alert Mrs. Johnson, that pain in the ass!

Get Quentin in here, and let him quake in his shoes,

Drinking coffee, I doubt it, because I’ve been marking the booze;”

So up the grand staircase his carousers they flew

With a bag full of body parts, and 

And good Eric Lang too—

And then, from a foley, I heard someone dismount,

It was a roaring magician who said he was a count!

As I glided in loops, and was turning around,

I saw Andreas Petofi with some Daybooks Unbound.

He was dressed all in velvet, from his head to his toes,

Nothing off the rack from Brewsters. He had style and it shows;

A bundle of books he had flung on his back,

And he looked like a swinger from Sinatra‘s Rat Pack.

His eyes behind glasses—how they glittered and gleamed! And Aristide beside him plotted and schemed!

His words were excited and jolly and merry, quite the opposite of the drivel from that bore, Wendell Berry!

His assistant was hoping for a good puppet show,

But Angelique was absent, and that filled him with woe;

The stump of his wrist ached for her magic touch, without it his digits were hardly worth much.

But his broad face still grinned

At her memory dear, and he approached a house without her with a distinct lack of fear;

He knew it was Christmas, and would go with no hitch. If there’s a return you can count on, it’s that of a witch. 

And I laughed when I saw him, I knew he was right.

Her spirit was out there on this glorious night. 

He called not for line, but drew a star in the floor,

And commenced a dark working to bring her to our door.

And laying his hand on the apex he ranted,

And bellowed and raved and magically chanted;

He uttered dark incantations first heard cross the pond,

And then laughed when he presented me a most bewitching lost blonde.

And I heard him exclaim as he left like a streak—

“You can’t call it Christmas without the fair Angelique!”

— Patrick McCray

Tuesday, October 17, 2023

Lara Parker: In Memoriam

God, we were lucky.

Dan Curtis had the Dream. Art Wallace made it one given form. The cast made it real. Jonathan Frid made it wholly unique. Lara Parker made it true. 

Every unbelievable thing, she made true. 

Poised? Yes. Precise? Yes. All are traits of the Vassar debutante aristocracy. All of those things. And Savage. Certainly, savagely intelligent. Political fashion had yet to drive a wedge between the beauty pageant and the college boards, and so before the 21st century dictated otherwise, some extraordinary women really did do it all.

Would you want to be the one to tell Lara Parker she couldn’t? Or shouldn’t? Be my guest. Tell me how that works out for you. I’m gonna be in the concrete bunker murmuring something about “I am Shiva, destroyer of worlds.”

“Destroyer of Worlds.” Yes. Lara Parker. Destruction and creation are aftermaths of each other. She destroyed worlds that had it coming. Or was that Angelique? Like Nimoy’s Spock, just don’t even bother to separate actor from role. No, she’s not Angelique. And yet Angelique is nothing without her. 

“Destroyer of Worlds.” She would’ve found that the most embarrassing praise possible. Humiliating beyond words. I’m sorry. Honestly. Not done with that intent. I’m just trying to tell the truth.  The only minutely positive thing to come from her passing is that we can finally and openly complement her to a proper extent, one which my experience tells me she would have found embarrassing. Well, art is embarrassing. Sometimes, our only defense against sorrow is to remind ourselves of joy. Indulgently. And Angelique was all about indulgence.

Let’s unite Lara Parker and Angelique for just a few minutes. Just as an exercise. We all do it, anyway. Now, I’m giving you permission. Because I said so.

“Goddess of Destruction.” The good kind. And why not? 

Destroyer of expectations. Of orthodoxy. Of preconceptions. Of assumptions. Of what a witch was supposed to be. Of what love was supposed to be.  And what a debutante was supposed to be. What a philosopher was supposed to be. What an author was supposed to be. What a celebrity was supposed to be. 

Destroyer of a show with too many humans. It was a show that needed angry gods to give it humanity. And Barnabas is just one side of that equation. When Angelique entered Collinwood back around this time in the fall of ‘95, it had to be obvious that the program that had everything finally had the one final thing.. that no one was aware… that everyone had found to be missing. But never knew it. If you follow me.  

To see her in action with those lines in those situations is to see something for the first time. To name drop within the family for a moment, one of Sy Tomashoff’s protégés once told me about Mozart’s most endearing quality; his music always has the freshness of hearing it for the first time, every time.  Yes. Like that. But blonde and choking a toy soldier. Adorably! Yes, doing that. Or melting at the sight of Barnabas, the way we all knew he deserved. Someone who loved him as beautifully and inexplicably as he loved Josette. 

And in the years after, she destroyed our sad little worlds, bereft of our friends — our real friends, in Collinsport — by bringing them to life again. In a bizarre act of unnatural love for a series that had given her and us so much. Has anyone ever given back that much? When Angelique’s Descent hit the bookstores, didn’t you think you were in the middle of the craziest dream? My God, how lucky. And then to do it three more times? Has anyone, since April of 1971, sacrificed more hours and given us more creativity, authenticity, integrity, and art, genuine, lush, literary art, in the name of Dark Shadows? No. Have you read those books? Of course, the answer is yes. You know what I’m talking about. Those are books with a depth and a freedom that this strange dream should not have yielded.  Those books are undeniable truth that there is something of deep worth and resonance within this story. They are written with an eloquence and inspired élan that forever dispel the illusion that Dark Shadows is just some campy, nostalgic fad. 

I have lamented that Dark Shadows has yet to find its Nicholas Meyer, (although a preemptive box of cigars is on its way to the marvelous Mark B. Perry).  But I was wrong. Just as Meyer proved with the Star Trek mythos, Lara Parker did with the mythos of Dark Shadows. 

A film recording is just a thin recollection of a moment of flickering, ephemeral art captured at the moment of its birth and vaporization. It’s not the experience of acting. It’s an echo of the experience of acting trapped in two dimensions. 

But writing is a physical thing. It lives in a book. In defined symbols. On a shelf. In your hands. Exactly the way it was intended. The words are what the author saw when they appeared from keystrokes and pen strokes. It is the art that is always the same in the decades-later reading as it was when it was created.  Lara Parker gave us Dark Shadows as much as anyone, and then she gave it to us again. In a way that will never die. And in that way, she will never die.

It’s all so unlikely. A guy puts golf on TV, and since golf is played during the day, he winds up running some daytime programming. And one Mrs. O’Leary’s cow later, fate Rube Goldbergs us to this point now. Together. If you’re reading this, I am lucky. Someone else out there gets it. What a strange, microthin streak of fortune brought us together. Lara Parker is gone. I hate those words bitterly. And that is a pain as deep and embarrassing as I ever want to feel. And, I suspect, as you ever want to feel. But think of how lucky we are to have such a reason to feel it. 

And that we are together.


Monday, February 6, 2023

"Unbound" a reminder of the possibilities of "Dark Shadows"

Imagine that you’re a college student in the late 1980s who vaguely recollected reading about a soap opera with a vampire in it. Your local mom-and-pop video store has reissues of that soap opera – on VHS! – Available for rental, $1.99 or 3 for $5. Of *course* you’re going to spend your hard-earned money on renting and watching ...

Because that college student was me, and that video store was my entry into Collinsport and Barnabas Collins, two DS Celebrations, and the writing of fan fiction. (Which is, thankfully, buried somewhere in the bowels of the internet) Flash forward a few years later, and I meet another second-generation Dark Shadows fan. One who shared my not-quite-that-serious love of the show and who was, remarkably, close to my age.  I was the Grayson Hall to his Thayer David...or was I the John Karlen to his David Selby? But several decades later, that friend wrote a collection of essays later published as THE DARK SHADOWS DAYBOOK.

Yes, I am talking about Patrick McCray, and he’s released the inevitable sequel, THE DARK SHADOWS DAYBOOK UNBOUND. But to call UNBOUND a sequel is misleading because it’s so much more than that.

Let me use an analogy: the first DARK SHADOWS DAYBOOK was a kind of “greatest hits” compilation. Put together some great essays about Dark Shadows highlights, throw in a few assorted “should-have-been-hits,” and you have a decent collection. Well worth your time, and your intellect, but a necessary reminder that Dark Shadows matters.

However, the new DARK SHADOWS DAYBOOK UNBOUND is like one of the multi-disc boxed sets you would get in the 90s. (You even get the equivalent of “liner notes” in the form of an excellent introduction by writer/producer Mark B. Perry, working to reincarnate Dark Shadows for the 21st century). After he kicks off the book, Patrick provides a collection of great essays highlighting some of the more intricate emotional beats of the show…

But he also takes time to provide context for those cast members who have left: reminisces about Christopher Pennock, Diana Millay, and Geoffrey Scott are sprinkled amongst the discussion of the work of other cast members like Jonathan Frid, John Karlen, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, David Selby, and Louis Edmonds. It’s a set up for the final set of essays at the end of the book. 

After discussing Episode 1198, DARK SHADOWS DAYBOOK UNBOUND starts its endgame with a moving tribute to Ben Cross, followed by several essays about the 1991 revival. (Yes, he works the same magic for the revival). But it’s the one two-three punch that follows which cements the emotional core of the book. A moving tribute to Mitch Ryan leads to a loving discussion of the 2021 DARK SHADOWS CHRISTMAS CAROL…

And UNBOUND’S endgame is the epilogue to the made-for-television docudrama about Dark Shadows which will never happen. It’s a series of vignettes which focus on the cast, producers, and writers after the show ends, and which solidifies the themes of UNBOUND. 

DARK SHADOWS DAYBOOK UNBOUND is a well-needed reminder that Dark Shadows is more than just “that show that everyone ran home to see” or “that show that I learned about via VHS” or “that soap opera with vampires, ghosts and werewolves.” Integrating gothic and horror concepts within the limits of the soap opera genre, DARK SHADOWS became a singular exploration around themes of remorse, redemption, and character growth. In DAYBOOK UNBOUND, Patrick McCray provides a great reminder that the show not only had an impact on viewers, but also the producers, writers, and cast. 

DARK SHADOWS DAYBOOK UNBOUND is a great reminder of why DARK SHADOWS matters. 

It’s available for purchase on Amazon. Buy it and read it and you’ll be motivated to head back to Tubi, Amazon, or your video collection to revisit the show. 

I know I will.

— Gordon Dymowski 

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