Friday, February 14, 2020

Freak people out with these DARK SHADOWS Valentine cards

The idea here was to mash-up those old Frankenstein Valentine Stickers using images from Dark Shadows. Because of the show's love for classic horror tropes, the captions used on the Valentine's Day stickers didn't need any re-writing. The end result, though, is making my skin crawl a little. That's a sign that something went very right or very wrong. You can decide for yourself which direction it took.

I don't know if the disturbing product is a result of the source material, an accidental lack of chemistry between the original stickers and Dark Shadows, or my own fragile state of mind.

If you're interested in freaking people out, I've shared high-resolution versions of these cards on the Blood Drive Tumblr feed. These are print ready, but I take no responsibility for any restraining orders that might result from deploying them IRL.

LINK

Monday, February 10, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 10


By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 960

How is Chris Jennings the key to Bruno’s plan for world domination? Ask the talkative zombie! Bruno: Michael Stroka. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Jeb is increasingly smitten with the notion of human life. Bruno takes this as a cue to plan his eventual plan to replace Jeb as the Leviathan leader. All he needs to do is chain up Chris Jennings, trick Jeb into getting locked into a room with him, and then wait for the full moon.

High School Confidential captures two Zeitgeists at once, and I’m not sure if they disagree, agree, fuse, or simply enjoy a cool, smooth cigarette and agree never to talk about it. Russ Tamblyn has that effect. He’s either hipper than the room (Babylon 5), only thinks he’s hipper than the room (The Haunting), or doesn’t even dig the limiting scene of calling it a room, man, because all that’s about is walls and not a framework for windows, dig (Twin Peaks)?

Did you notice how forced and awkward that was coming from me? I could never get it off the ground. Not one bit. And there’s only one thing more painful than a square guy in a world o’ cool, and that’s a square guy in a world o’ cool who thinks he’s passing. It’s one of the reasons why Spider-Man 3 is so painful. Peter is projecting an image of cool that doesn’t work because he has no idea what he’s doing.

Welcome to the Spider-Man 3 of Dark Shadows — Leviathan Prime. Aka, the Russ Tamblyn of the series. To me, being the Russ Tamblyn of anything would beat a GBE after my name, every time.

I hate to say that I love this uncomfortable foray into “modern” culture by Dark Shadows, but it’s marvelously illustrative of how impossible it became for establishment media to keep up with any kind of youth-oriented culture or fashion. One of the fascinating elements of the series is its display of that cultural numbness. When it began, just thirty-one months earlier, youth culture was driven by adult culture. JFK might have been six feet under, but Camelot still drove fashion. Sinatra was turning fifty, but he was still in the prime of his comeback. James Bond was a colossus, and the man kept snappy and wore a suit. Thirty-one months earlier, Burke and Joe defined angry (kinda) “youth” on the show. Of course, the arrival of middle-aged Barnabas skewed the show’s chronological compass even further away from youth culture, kicking those long-hair, rockabilly, yeah-yeah types to the back seat and letting the Canadian drive.

Quentin’s arrival shakes it up a bit, but you’re only going to get so much hipness from a West Virginia boy with a Ph.D. Don’t get me wrong; David Selby goes far beyond human conceptions of cool, but that’s the point. I’m not sure that mattered as much as it did even a year before. Maybe it didn’t matter at all for youth appeal. But someone thought it did, because we get Jeb and Bruno, and what results is a show by middle-aged writers in youth drag. Now, we don’t get Charles Napier cracking his knuckles and jumping for joy because he has a new lease on life for William Malloy, but we get Jeb, Bruno, hair higher than Joan Bennett’s, and a lot of people calling each other “man,” man. Meanwhile, the now-zombified Sheriff Davenport staggers away with the episode, far more interesting and talkative as a zombie than he was before, proving that nothing’s cooler than being room temperature in Collinsport.

That’s my takeaway from this episode, a platonic orgy of male unbonding. With no Barnabas and no Quentin, there’s not a lot for Jeb to push against except for Bruno. Bruno shows a plucky knack for class mobility when he proposes to himself that he, Bruno, a human, would nevertheless be the ideal next leader for a race of timeless immortals so vast and ancient they have flecks of god on their dental floss. We can’t deny that Jeb wants to be boss as much as have the freedom of one, but with Bruno on one side and Barnabas on the other, he’s learning that management means having all of the responsibility and none of the power. All he can do is threaten the frustrated management figure opposing him, one Roger Collins.

Now that Roger is back from Louis Edmonds’ vacation, Edmonds represents the silent generation with a ferocity they rarely allow him. It’s foreshadowing the establishment backlash to come, and given what a bullying lout Jeb can be, the establishment is sorely needed. And that’s another dimension of showing hipsters by way of the unhip.Cool was redefining itself so quickly that even Roger Corman’s youth epics expired seconds after the projectionist cracked open the cans. The angry establishment doesn’t need to worry about any of that because it defines itself by its defiance of cool.

The timing is predictably atrocious. Just when DS tries to find a sexy antihero in the guise of a shaggy haired cult leader, Charles Manson became a walking wake-up call that the sixties were over before they were over.

The message? Wear a tie. Trim your muttonchops. And call Russ Tamblyn in situations like this.

This episode hit the airwaves Feb. 27, 1970.

Monday, February 3, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: February 3



By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 953

Love is in the air for Jeb, but with Nicholas in the house, a dead man may be the only one grinning! Nicholas Blair: Humbert Allen Astredo. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Nicholas returns to reign in Jeb for his desire to stray from his Leviathan destiny. As he and Bruno increase the pressure on the Leviathan messiah, Carolyn has dreams suggesting Jeb’s connection to Paul’s death. Digging up his body, Paul is seen to be dead, but grinning madly.

The cosmology of the Dark Shadows universe just mopped itself up, and it’s about time. It’s shameful for a franchise like that to walk around with its Leviathan Transformation Chamber looking like Willie’s bedroom. And there’s only one man who can tidy up a cosmology with lemon-fresh continuity, making it both the candy mint and the breath mint of television horror.

If continuity has a name, it must be Humbert.

You were expecting someone else?

Quickly into Jeb’s tenure, it’s clear where this is going. Barnabas is again fully weaponized and strapped into the DB5 of Purpose, which is what happens when you mess with the ghost of his girl and put him on a liquid diet. Quentin’s in the ring. And Roger’s coming home, so God help the forces of evil when he puts down his 30-year-old fine, indifferently blended, to clear the property. Jeb can be sent packing any moment.

With an overdose of bon-bois.

Most important, Jeb has quickly learned to hate his monstrous form and longs for humanity, following the fine DS tradition of assimilation-by-infatuation. It’s happened before and will happen again. Nicholas may have been assigned to the job specifically because he has experience with chucking his ignoble responsibilities in the name of loving a gal from Collinsport. He knows full well that it leads to only one place: cleaning Diablos’ litterbox for all eternity.

This is the first storyline I can recall where the villain is just as eager to end it as the heroes. It's a sophisticated move on the part of the show and brings up a wonderful ambiguity to the proceedings. Other villains have followed internal instincts toward wickedness, having to temper those with higher-order thoughts that suggest other choices. In the case of Jeb, his heart is genuinely in the right place. It's his lawful evil alignment that forces him to go down a dark road. And is his alignment really that bad? Or is it just his job? Jeb, like many of the Christopher Pennock characters, is a wonderful study in the corruption of untempered innocence. With Jeb, who is just an overgrown kid, we see that we are both the noble savage and completely given to immature impulses, all at once. Like Adam. The show seems to cleanse its palate with a revisitation on youth and the balance between unspoiled benevolence and myopic selfishness.

Power corrupts on Dark Shadows, but those born with it are often born with hearts that are equally loving. Look at Angelique, for instance. It’s the same ambiguity. Life is much tougher for someone like Barnabas. He’s the saddest of the show’s dark clowns because he was a good man before he gained his powers. He knows exactly what horrible parts of himself they unleash. Quentin goes one step further. His final, dark ability is the show’s most fantastic, and his foreknowledge leads him to be at his most conservative when he can afford to be his least.

In other words, Jeb and the show need a guiding hand, and that guiding hand wears a natty, gray glove.

For seasoned viewers, this is a much-needed delight. We’ve been gone from 1897 for almost two months. We’ve been spoiled by Count Petofi; the angst of Paul’s return, the demonic domestic displeasures of the Todds, and the machinations of their marble-mouthed tots sit with the unwelcome determination of a hangover from the high livin’ of the last flashback. With the return of Nicholas Blair, we are treated to an unapologetic villain with a goal, allowing us to pull for Jeb and feel heartbreak, rather than fear when he strays.

He’s a curbed villain, however. He’s no longer the freewheeling contractor for the devil… he’s a number of rungs down. Or up. Depends on how you look at Satanic promotions. Either way, he’s clearly working his way back up from the mailroom. His presence also puts the purposefully vague Leviathans into a much-needed context. Like the HP Lovecraft works that inspired them, the Leviathans began as creatures akin to the Phoenix, existing beyond western, Judeo-Christian mythos and morality. As scary as that kind of unknowable neutrality can be, you know, pick a side, why don’t you? And they do. The entire scheme gets cleared up with Nicholas’ entrance, and the Leviathans now exist in the context of Diabolos, a subsidiary of Comcast Xfinity.

Evil has a vast variety of internal struggles within 593. Megan, Bruno, Jeb, and Nicholas all have varying agendas. Carolyn is the only standout, and this presages the show’s later descent into the Gerard storyline, where evil will isolate good almost completely out of the picture. Carolyn will be one of the last, good people standing, long after the show has abandoned the sense of family unit it would wear in the height of the Barnabas and Adam storylines. For now, the show still hums with much-needed mirth and silliness within the darkness. If it’s not Nicholas switching doors, it’s exhuming the buried slide of a grinning Dennis Patrick. Either way, we’re grinning as well.

This episode hit the airwaves Feb. 18, 1970.

18th Annual Rondo Award Noms – Vote for Dark Shadows!



The nominees for the 18th annual Rondo Hatton Classic Horror Awards have been announced, and you'll find the residents of Collinsport well represented among them this year.

The Collinsport Historical Society has been nominated for Best Website for the eighth year running. Meanwhile, a piece about the enduring appeal of Dark Shadows I wrote with Dana Gould for issue #4 of Fangoria has been nominated for Best Article.

As usual, winners will be determined by votes from the public. And that means you. Readers are asked to select winners from this year's nominees and e-mail your selections to David Colton at taraco@aol.com. You can copy and paste the ballot and include an X next to your choices, or just type your ballot choices directly into the e-mail. (Note: You're allowed to vote for two candidates in the Best Article category.)

Rod Labbe's interview with Kathryn Leigh Scott from Scary Monsters #111 has been nominated for Best Interview.

You can see the entire ballot at https://rondoaward.com/rondoaward.com/blog/

All voting is by e-mail only. One vote is allowed per person. Every e-mail must include your name to be counted. All votes are kept confidential. No e-mail addresses or personal information will be shared. Votes must be received by Sunday night at midnight, March 29, 2020.

Being nominated for the Rondos is a huge honor – it means The Collinsport Historical Society's work is among the ranks of the best writers and artists working in horror fandom today. Eventually they'll figure out I was mistakenly invited to this party, but not before I eat my weight in hot wings and make everyone regret the concept of an "open bar." Carpe diem!

When it comes to the Rondos we've been very fortunate. We took home the Best Website honor back in 2012 during the most recent epidemic of Dark Shadows Fever. In 2018 Patrick McCray was named Best Writer for his Dark Shadows Daybook feature.

Friday, January 31, 2020

You can now watch Dark Shadows for free ... legally!


If you're subscribing to Amazon Prime just to watch Dark Shadows, I've got great news: you can tell Jeff Bezos to eff off! (Try it! It's fun!) For the last few years Amazon has been the best option to view all 1,225 episodes of everybody's favorite gothic soap, but a second player has entered the game ... Tubi TV.

Tubi is a free, ad-supported service, with unskippable ads shown during commercial breaks during programming.  You know, just like the good old days. The streaming service also has the anthologies Dark Shadows: The Vampire Curse and Dark Shadows: The Haunting of Collinwood.

Tubi is accessible through a browser on MacOS and Windows, as well as Android and iOS apps; Apple TV; Amazon Fire TV (including the Amazon Fire Stick and Amazon Fire Stick 4K); Roku OS, Roku devices; and both PlayStation 4 and Xbox One. If you're capable of streaming television, chances are you can now watch Dark Shadows for free!

Get started here: https://tubitv.com/search/dark%20shadows




Friday, January 24, 2020

The Dark Shadows Daybook: January 23



By PATRICK McCRAY

Taped on this date in 1968: Episode 416

In the wake of Sara‘s death, Barnabas Collins has one more life to eliminate: his own. Joshua: Louis Edmonds. (Repeat; 30 minutes)

Desperate for an answer to his daughters death, Joshua confronts Victoria, who admits to being from the future. Her statement falls on deaf ears. Barnabas, aware of the engine of suffering he has become, instructs Ben to destroy him.

I don’t think it’s any big secret that the Dark Shadows scripts didn’t really demand much of Louis Edmonds. You can’t say that he’s a lazy actor by any means. He has a bag of tricks that the writers clearly enjoy, because they largely restrict his choices to those. But there are times when it’s clear that they sit back and remember why he was hired. This is one of those times.

It’s an episode that defines the hope of death while immersed in the torment it creates for the living. The beauty of a show like Dark Shadows is that it’s luxurious and expansive running time allows it to focus on rituals like death with a length and depth that only real life can match. Not only is Sarah dead, but we feel as if we have spent several days morning for her.  And while Naomi slips into drinking and open acceptance, Joshua, stripped of control, seeks the very thing he has lost. At this point, the only control left is blame. It’s a painfully pathetic attempt. He attacks Vicki. Vicki comes out of the closet as a time traveler. And for just a flash you know that he believes her. It makes as much sense as anything, if not more. But believing her means blaming someone else. And his mind simply cannot brook another mystery.

Watching Edmonds in this episode is a bit like watching Zeus at his full wrath. From what I understand, Edmonds was a happy and ebullient man. Don’t trust it. The merriest among us, and I’m sure this won’t come as a shock, are the most rife with secret pain.  I don’t need a tell-all to reveal that. The power and truth and pain and fury that he displays in this episode is too controlled and too authentic to be reflective of the imagination. I don’t know what dark, inner horror Edmonds saw when he looked at the words of the script, but he summons something bordering on the alchemical. Far from histrionic, this is simply real. It’s even subtle and modulated, somewhere between a man performing an exorcism and winning a bet over whether or not he can act.

He can. He can act anyone off that soundstage.

There’s a lot in 1795 that just kind of sits there. It can be interminable. And at the same time, it contains the show at its rawest. This episode is its most painful study in survivors remorse. Barnabas, in death, finds himself more alive than ever. Reduced to the means of evil to survive, he discovers a depth of responsible morality that would shame a saint; the only thing that stops him from using his curse to hornswoggle the local yokels into assuming that he is also the occult source of their ills is his mother. Barnabas has lived out the fantasy of seeing his own funeral, and sees it for the nightmare it is. His mother is suffering it all over again, trapped in the unnatural fever dream of burying her second child in weeks. Were Barnabas to reveal himself and take the fall, it would force her to live that fate for a third time. 

As Louis Edmonds explores the peaks of the landscape of sorrow, Jonathan Frid and Thayer David plunge down to the blistering mantle of remorse. How many times must Barnabas hear that Ben is his friend before he believes it? And how many times does Ben need to hear his master beg for just one, single yes before he can let go?

As much as Barnabas is a hero for trying to eliminate himself from Collinsport’s suffering, the plight of Ben Stokes is even more profound.  He is incapable of seeing anything but the friend within. Every day brings a new truth and a new terror for him. But in the face of the questionable motives of so many others in 1795, his is pure. In many ways, he is one of the two greatest loves Barnabas Collins will ever know and never accept. And he could very well go to his grave knowing no other. 

In fact, I guarantee it.

This episode hit the airwaves Jan. 29, 1968.

Pdocast flashback: An interview with John Karlen



We lost John Karlen this week. As someone who runs a website that's supposed to be fun and engaging, it always feels a little ghoulish to use these kinds of losses to give my website traffic a bump. At the same time, I've got content that people want to see, so it's foolish -- maybe even selfish -- to keep it under lock and key. In this case it's a 2013 interview with Karlen counducted by Marie Maginity for The Collinsport Historical Society podcast. This is one of many episodes that were tossed into the vaults following the podcast's integration with Spotify. This episode hasn't been available to the public for a while now.

The episode is a little rough around the edges ... Karlen was recuperating in a hospital at the time, which didn't help is already cantankerous mood. But it's one of our most popular episodes, and features Karlen talking about his childhood, acting career and his experience as henchman/hero Willie Loomis on Dark Shadows.

You can listen to the interview streaming below, or download it as an MP3 by clicking HERE.

Thursday, January 23, 2020

In Memoriam: John Karlen (1933-2020)



Anyone familiar with show business, Dark Shadows, or the laws of physics knew this was coming. It had been coming for a long time. But it took so long, and John Karlen was so perpetually in medical trouble, it became shamefully unreal. Just painful details. It’s like he was refusing to go anywhere that didn't have good, hot, Polish food at the ready. From the outside, the situation became beyond fatalistic. He just became eternal, like one of the characters that he played.

I think this is a tougher death in the family to contend with because of that. We were always waiting for the other shoe to fall, and the other shoe was always falling, and yet nothing had hit our heads. It’s that strange and unique relationship and non-relationship that we have with celebrities who feel closer than family, and yet most of us have never met.

He was the greatest example of the Tao on Dark Shadows. Unspeakably brave and yet impossibly cowardly, to an extent that would shame the most cautious old biddy or fussiest mama's boy in the south. He was beyond an everyman. As Willie Loomis, he brought us the best and worst in all of us, and always with the most inconvenient timing. There comes a point that the hipster John Karlen fades away behind fabulous sunglasses, and all that is left is Willie Loomis. Maybe that’s because all that’s left of any of us is, ultimately, Willie Loomis.

On a show about death, he was the antithesis — fighting for life, fighting for a fair chance, fighting to be heard. Most of all, fighting himself and his own base impulses. Barnabas had no sidekicks with whom we would really want to identify. Instead, he had us, whether we liked it or not.

But beyond the character of Willie Loomis, there was a gladiatorial spirit in Karlen that represented the ultimate zest for living, cranky and tempestuous and impatient at the end, because that man still had a lot of living to do. As to his passing, there are details. And it is in the spirit of true irresponsible journalism that I write this in absolute dread of looking at them. The man died. Time and fate and reality are taking him from us. And I think that's bad enough for tonight.

The details are out there to be found. And if you want to gaze upon them, I understand why. Having written a number of obituaries for the Collinsport Historical Society, this one is different. I don’t want the details of his death. As someone who faces celebrity deaths with a fair degree of resigned, Buddhist inevitability, in this case, Buddha can take a powder. More than I imagined, I find myself just wanting him back. And I want him back as he was and as we were 30 or 40 years ago. He was the man who gave us Barnabas Collins, whether he liked it or not. And he was Quentin’s pal, proceeding to the chopping block like he was striding down Las Vegas Blvd. alongside Frank Sinatra. And he was also the guy who wasted no time shooting Fib and pining for Pansy Faye in a voice that truly made us want to punch Carl in the mouth, but with love. Always. And then there’s the chicken with Adam. And that tie that all good reformed hoods wore, because Willie Loomis was every neighborhood thug from Bridgeport that Dan Curtis could save through art. And he did.

Ultimately, Dark Shadows is about aristocracy. Of course, the Collins family. But beyond that, the actors. The stars are our aristocrats. But was he?  Perhaps he was beyond. He had a rude, strange, and crusty nobility. Ultimately, Falstaff to Frid’s Hamlet and Scott’s Miranda. But unlike the gracious luminaries, he was A Guy. He was OUR guy.

When one of the stars passes away, you can see the actors tighten up and close ranks, as well they should. And as well they will for John Karlen, because he was a guy... because he was their guy in a way we can never understand. Let us praise the bumbler he brought us, who, like us, had no business at Collinwood, and who had the misfortune of putting his throat in the way of the hand thrusting up from the coffin. We would’ve done the same thing. Yes, for the stars, he is their own. But he was also one of us. He is ours. This one is going to leave a mark. And we will wear it proudly. There are biographical articles. Read them. He deserves it.

Long live Willie Loomis, and you’ll forgive me if I just can’t write the words that should precede that sentiment. Long live the spirit of the man who brought Loomis and company into our lives.

Right now, he is the finest man whoever breathed.

- Patrick McCray

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