Monday, July 22, 2019

Dark Shadows returns to the pages of Fangoria


If you're reading this, you love probably Dark Shadows. It takes a certain level of emotional commitment to follow a television series that went off the air almost 50 years ago, so "love" might not even be a strong enough word. Since its relaunch last fall, Fangoria has been exploring our intense, tangled relationships with media, showcasing such gorgeous weirdos as Roy Rose (who moved his family from Cleveland to Texas to restore the gas station from The Texas Chain Saw Massacre) and Kenny Caperton (who created a life-sized replica of the Myers House from John Carpenter's Halloween.) In the latest issue of Fangoria, comedian Dana Gould and I join their ranks.

Issue #4 of Fangoria hits the stands this Wednesday (July 24) and features a lengthy chat between Dana and myself about the enduring appeal of Dark Shadows in the magazine's "Lifers" feature. Look for copies of this issue in your local comic book store. If you don't have access to a comic store, the issue is also available from Amazon HERE. (Note: If you want the issue, you might want to act fast. Copies are already appearing on Ebay at an inflated price.)

Below is a sneak peak at the Dark Shadows feature. The idea was that if Dana had a portrait hanging in Collinwood, it ought to look like the work of Basil Gogos or James Bama, so I opted for a psychedlic/pop art color scheme. (You might want to take a second look at the signature on the portrait, though.)

If you've got interests other than Dark Shadows, the latest issue also includes a conversation between Jordan Peele and Ari Aster (the director responsible of last year's Hereditary and this year's Midsommar) interviews with Scary Stories to Tell in the Dark director André Øvredal and author Joe Hill, essays by Damien Echols and Alexandre Aja and more. How I got invited to this party is anyone's guess.

And don't let the cover price spook you. $20 might seem a little steep for a "magazine," but Fangoria's new format feels more like a book than a floppy. Squarebound and 100 pages in length, you're going to be reading this issue until the next one comes out in October. You can pick up a yearly subscription to the magazine (at a discount!) at

Thursday, July 18, 2019

Kolchak: The Night Stalker gets down and dirty

It's been a few minutes since we last updated the website. Personal obligations have temporarily taken most of us away from Collinsport for a spell, but we'll be firing on all cylinders again soon. In the meantime, enjoy some creative vandalsim concerning Gold Key comics and the misadventures of an intrepid reporter whose name you probably know. No, they aren't real ... but they ought to be.

Monday, July 15, 2019

Denise Nickerson talks Flipper, dentures and arithmetic, 1965

Denise Nickerson, perhaps best known for playing bratty Violet Beauregarde in 1971's Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory, died last week following a “major medical emergency.” She was 62.

When Nickerson joined the cast of Dark Shadows in 1968, the 11-year-old found herself in the not-uncommon position of having more acting credits to her name than some of her adult co-stars. It's possible Denise kept track of her early stage credits (a few are documented in the story below) but it might be impossible to track down all of her work prior to joining the cast of Dark Shadows. A cursory glance at some of the press she received before turning 10 include performances with Betsy Palmer in Peter Pan, Maurice Chevalier, and Gypsy with Gisèle MacKenzie.

Below is an interview with Nickerson published in 1965 by The Miami News about the less-than-glamorous life of a child model and actor. It also mentions her upcoming appearnace on Flipper in the episode "Bud Minds the Baby," which aired March 20. (Note: The episode was directed by none other than Ricou Browning, who had the title role in Creature from the Black Lagoon.) You can watch the episode at the bottom of this post.

False Teeth Come In Handy For Big Little-Time Star
By Agnes Edwards, reporter for The Miami News
Published Jan. 3, 1965

Denise Nickerson doesn't smile a lot just now, she explains, " 'cuz my three teeth are out."

This may be cute in some 7-year-olds but it's not if you're a bigtime entertainer-model like little Denise.

"I ate a Jelly bean on Easter," she pointed to a conspicuous void where a lower incisor  had been, "and this one came out."

Exposing an upper central area that was even more conspicuous, she added, "This one someone took out." Another lower tooth had been loosened through some peculiar happenstance, and was noticeably missing.

When she's on a photographic assignment where it matters, Denise pops a spring partial into her mouth — presto, a big smile with front tooth intact.

Her false replacement arrived in time for Christmas incidentally, along with a bike.

"Everything started when I was 2 1/2," offered the charmingly precocious daughter of Mr. and Mrs. Frederick H. Nickerson, Coral Gables, about her career.

She modeled for some utility ads followed by an educational film, and other advertising including a sun tan lotion, plus local fashion shows.

Simultaneously the brown-eyed, red-blonde lass took dancing lessons from Joe Michael, appearing in many of his local shows in jazz and tap specialties.

At Ruth Foreman's Studio M, Denise built up a repertoire that included "The Littlest Angel," "Gentlemen Prefer Blondes," "Eloise" and "Crazy Red" ("It's a funny name," she insists, "but that's what it was!") There too she won a year's study scholarship in acting.

Those who saw "Sound of Music" at Bary College recently will have recognized the most diminutive member of the cast, Gretel, impersonated by Denise Nickerson.

Her performance was carefully noted by Beverly McDermott, agent for Mercury Artists,who immediately corralled Denise for the little girl role of Tina in the televised "Flipper" series now on location in Miami and North Miami Beach.

She is a perfection-seeking student of voice instructor Ladislao Vaida of the University of Miami, and studies dance routines under Jack Stanly.

"My favorite number is 'Straw Hat And A Cane,'" confided Denise, which she often includes in her benefit performances at Veterans, Variety Children's Hospital and The Cerebral Palsy Center. Another popular song and dance act she does is as Rocky the Squirrel.

The report card of Gulliver Academy's star second grader is sprinkled generously with A's and A-pluses. "My best grade is in writing," admitted Denise, "but I like arithmetic better." Memorization is a snap.

Her goal is to become a movie star like Shirley Temple, and to go on stage in New York — "but not until after college, " she added. "When I grow up I'm going to Barry College — if it's still there."

When not biking or frisking with Dennis, her apricot poodle (who "is always getting into trouble" like the Menace variety) she drills her big sister, Patti, 20, in dance routines.

"Patti's pretty good," plauds Little Teacher. "Sometimes she wants to boss but that's all right."

Thursday, July 11, 2019

Denise Nickerson 1957-2019


Denise Nickerson (1957-2019) was a consummate professional, and a mature, lively actress. But those only hint at her primary contribution to Dark Shadows. Her primary contribution truly was that, over and over, even after acting was no longer a part of her career, she was us.

Born in 1957, Nickerson was nearly twelve when she joined the cast of the Dark Shadows, putting her squarely in the demographic of the show’s most passionate viewers and future ambassadors. Her first character, Amy Jennings, was a stranger to Collinwood — a miniature Victoria Winters — just like the viewers. Brave, clever, resourceful, and articulate, the character was nobody’s Mary Sue. It was an easy leap for young fans of that era to see themselves as Amy, and the strength of the character was a compliment to fans, writers, and specifically, Nickerson, herself. On Dark Shadows and in her other most famous project, Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Nickerson handled the fantastic with a sense of theatrical size and relatable humanity that sold both projects. Yes, her characters could have the narcissism expected of characters that age, but Nickerson gave them each a vivid sympathy that made them instantly likable and relatable. Her second DS character, Nora, provides Quentin with the impetus to clean up his act, making her Sarah to his Barnabas. Just as Quentin was an earthier character than his cousin, Nora was a similar evolution, and Nickerson took us there with truth and heart.

After a string of questionably rewarding roles and the knowledge that her parents squandered her earnings as a performer, Nickerson retired from show business to take a series of clerical and support jobs, marry twice, and become a mom. In that sense, she continued to mirror and represent the lives of so many of the hardworking, suburban fans who had identified with her as children. Nickerson had a number of medical challenges in her adult life, making her familiar with pain and survival. After suffering a stroke in 2018, she died one year later after falling into a coma.

Dark Shadows had no shortage of talent, much of which is contained primarily within the walls of Collinwood. Nickerson’s achievements go outside and into diverse branches of popular entertainment. We admire her not just for what she represented on the show, but for how she represented the show beyond.

Thursday, June 27, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 27

Episode 1, Taped on June 11 & 13, 1966

When Victoria Winters abandons life in New York for a small fishing village in Maine, she finds the beginning and the end of the world. Victoria Winters: Alexandra Moltke. (Repeat. 30 min.)

Quick, operating definitions… “story” is the overall tale, including backstory and exposition. “Plot” is the sequence of events seen by the audience in a given presentation.

Since most viewers begin the show around episode 212, with the release of Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas into 1967, the idea of “first episode of Dark Shadows” is more academic than it might seem. Technically, “1” is indeed the first. However, while it may be where the plot begins, the story of the series has been going on for at least 18 years, with the relevant modern action beginning with the murder of Paul Stoddard. But is even that the first major event? Not quite. The story of this series begins in 1946 with the birth of Victoria Winters, whose abandonment creates the first, true, chronologically-correct mystery to contemplate. But neither of those storylines amounts to a hill of bones for the majority of audiences, since the series has moved on by the time Barnabas appears. And yet, the have value, both literally and metaphorically.

Thanks to syndication and the salad bar nature of audience-selected watching, the series begins wherever we, as individuals, want it to. Many who began in the Leviathan era simply continued back at the “beginning,” whether with 1 or 212, and as far as they are concerned, it keeps going after 1245 with episode 1. This makes Dark Shadows unique among serialized television because it’s a Moebius strip. Begin where you want. Stop where you want. The plots always fit into a larger story, and one that I hope will never be fully told.

In this sense, 1245 and 1 exist both at opposite ends of the series and as neighbors. They are bookends, yes, and they occupy the same space. Watching them together draws the series into one of the few perspectives not usually thought of, and while the plot may not be contiguous, the theme is. Important to qualify that because, yes, technically, one takes place in a parallel universe. But when the difference is 131 years anyway, I’m not sure that’s germaine. Last week often feels like a parallel universe. Primary Time or Parallel, it’s still Dark Shadows, and looking at the two literally defines the parameters of what that means.

In episode 1, a highly isolated Liz squabbles with an unusually repressed Roger over the impending arrival of a new governess. Said governess, Victoria, arrives on an evening train amidst a flashback. In it (and another), we learn that the mature orphan was hired by Elizabeth, a woman she’s never met. With no key to her past and no real path to the future, Victoria sees this as her way both out of and in to her destiny. Brooding businessman, Burke Devlin, reluctantly ushers her into the inn where both he and waitress Maggie Evans are unsuccessful in dissuading the strangely, forlornly plucky Victoria into abandoning the new job. She arrives and is greeted by Liz as the credits roll.

In episode 1245, Bramwell and Catherine survive their night in the haunted lottery room, but not before Catherine stops the ghost of Brutus from choking Bramwell, which she does by refusing to join the specter in, yes, a bizarre act of unnatural love. Morgan awaits outside, and as dawn breaks, he shoots Bramwell and carries Catherine onto the roof. There, Kendrick tussles with Morgan until the madman falls to his death. A wounded Bramwell comforts Catherine. Across the estate, a revived Melanie is rejoined with Kendrick, and the two couples celebrate having survived the last curse (of many) at Collinwood.

The differences are obvious. Both take place in vastly different time periods, literally, and by 1245, the Bryl Cream, beehives, and black & white are distant memories. Both are intense, but one is a Pirandelloesque study in existential angst and the other is a truly Gothic ghost story where love defeats the anguish of the past. Episode 1 begins just past sunset, and episode 1245 arrives with the rise of the sun.

Still, this blend of storytelling chalk and cheese both involve the same message: Collinwood (and whatever it represents) has no future unless it opens its doors. Both Collinwoods (1841 PT and 1966) are dying. Both Collinwoods are cages to trap the sins of yesterday… and their witnesses. Both Collinwoods find the eventual path to the future by embracing newcomers. Both Catherine and Victoria are of Collinwood and apart from it, and both are outsiders whose brave examples reveal the home as a place for the living more than the dead. Each is haunted (in one form or another) by the ghosts of husbands (Brutus and Paul) whose marriages gave way to disaster. By opening their fortress of aristocracy to strangers, despite its secrets (or perhaps because of them), the Collinses save themselves after decades of standing apart. They illustrate and outmaneuver the definition of insanity by, at last, trying something different.

June 27 falls at the end of Pride Month and one day before the anniversary of the Stonewall uprising. Concomitantly, Dark Shadows is cited as a place where outsiders find a haven. Which it is, but not necessarily on the surface. When looked at character-by-character, most of the outsiders are seeking a “cure” to be “normal,” a disastrous assertion. This makes the show’s sense of inclusiveness seem inarguably problematic. And yet, it’s still a tribute to inclusiveness down to its storytelling DNA.

To the outside world, Collinwood, itself, is self-alienated from any kind of healthy, normal home. It is obsessed with guilt over crimes that were all ultimately explainable. Crimes with context. Crimes that, in some ways, were not crimes. Brutus was not justified in his wrath, and perhaps Liz was. In the light of Paul’s subsequent and cruel manipulation-by-silence, he is clearly worthy of disdain. Maybe not a fireplace poker’s worth, but disdain, nonetheless. If this were a true crime, Liz would not have been forgiven by the series.  But she is. Her journey begins here, by letting in someone new. And that fact that Vicki is never revealed as her daughter makes that governess an outsider as much as Catherine Harridge. Outsiders who change that small world by asking the right questions when they don’t understand and taking decisive action against tradition when they do and when others simply accept the status quo.

Yes, microcosmically, Dark Shadows may seem to be about outsiders pursuing cures so that they may be welcomed inside. Reconsidered from a larger vantage, Dark Shadows actually reverses this. It shows an establishment saving itself by opening its doors to those who thrive outside them.

Yes, the beginning and the end of the world -- that refuses to end.

This episode hit the airwaves June 27, 1966.

Welcome to the Beginning (and the End) of the World

A look back at the first week of Dark Shadows 


It’s hard not to love Victoria Winters, at least in the early days of DARK SHADOWS. Yeah, she’s not the sexiest character on the show, at least from an actor’s perspective. The writers maintained her fragile innocence by divvying the better dialogue and dramatic confrontations among the rest of the cast. This practice lasted long enough for actress Alexandra Moltke — and perhaps even the audience — to lose their patience with the character. After a while, Victoria stopped looking naïve and started looking kind of dim.

But that wasn’t the case when DARK SHADOWS launched on June 27, 1966. Winters was a blank slate by design and saw the world with a childlike, if reserved, sense of wonder. She was such a sweetheart that the writers discovered almost immediately that the easiest way to establish a villain on DARK SHADOWS is to have them act nasty to Victoria.

The “pilot” for DARK SHADOWS is one of the most complexly staged episodes of the entire series. Not coincidentally, it is also the only episode of the show's 1,225 episode run to be shot over multiple days. Beginning with the second episode, the unforgiving production demands of a "live on tape" series meant there would never be any second chances to get things right. But the first episode was given two (!) days for taping, both in the studio and around the locations in Connecticut and Rhode Island that served as the exteriors for various Collinsport landmarks. It's worth nothing that some details in the series had yet to be firmly nailed down when the cast first stepped in front of the cameras. Collinwood, for example, is referred to as "Collins House" throughout the first episode script. The name was changed so late in development that some of the promotional materials (not to mention the early tie-in novels my Marylin Ross) continued to use the "Collins House" moniker.

The number of scene changes in this short, 22-minute episode is staggering, especially when you consider the amount of exposition that had to be transported from script to screen in such a short amount of time. We see two locations for the “Foundling Home” in New York, a train car, a train station, the lobby and diner of the Collinsport hotel, Collinwood, the Blue Whale and a handful of pre-filmed location shots. We’re introduced in the opening shot to Moltke as heroine Victoria Winters, a woman with no clear past or future, her reflection looking back at the audience from the darkened window of a train as it speeds through the night. You’ll see Vicki’s reflection quite often in this episode, and it’s this “second” Victoria Winters that she’s come to Collinsport to find. It’s an idealized version of herself, one that has a material connection to the world through her absent family.

Winters hopes she’ll get these answers from her mysterious benefactor, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (fallen screen ingenue Joan Bennett), who has offered her the job of governess for her nephew. Victoria can’t imagine why a stranger from another state would offer her a job she hasn’t applied for, and rightfully assumes that the two mysteries in her life actually one mystery. Adding fuel to her suspicions: Stoddard’s home is a short drive from the place where Victoria was abandoned as a child.

The identity of Victoria’s parents is a plot point plot that has confounded DARK SHADOWS since the very beginning. Her background is never adequately explained in the original television series, and even became a dangling plot point in the Ross spin-off novels. When Victoria was added to the cast of the 1991 “revival” series and the 2012 movie, neither production seemed to know exactly what to do with the character, leaving their respective actresses to do most of the heavy lifting. While still considered an essential element of DARK SHADOWS, Victoria became a narrative loop of frustration for fans. In June, 1966, though, Victoria was still bae. But her mysterious past isn’t the only unanswered questions posed in the first episode.

Arriving on the same train as Victoria is Mitch Ryan as the show’s first anti-hero, Burke Devlin. Looking a little like the unholy offspring of Lloyd Bridges and Aaron Eckhart, Devlin has a dark mission in Collinsport that somehow involves the Collins family. Meanwhile, Elizabeth’s brother Roger (Louis Edmonds), really really doesn’t want Victoria in Collinwood. Introduced to the series while pouring his trademark glass of sherry, it’s strongly hinted that Roger’s motives for wanting Victoria to fuck off back to NYC have little to do with a singular love of privacy.

Along for the ride (and to provide ominous exposition) is Kathryn Leigh Scott as Maggie Evans, a brassy waitress that's distant from the vulnerable figure she'd later become. Scott, along with every other actress in the cast, had auditioned for the role of Victoria Winters, so there might have been some concern behind the scenes that she too closely resembled Moltke and confuse audiences. Luckily, the production quickly realized that was nonsense.

The first episode ends on an ominous note, as Victoria crosses the threshold into Collinwood, met by black widow Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. The final scene (hell, the entire episode) is Mythology 101 and one of the reasons why this series continues to resonate with fans all these years later. Collinwood isn’t meant to be a real place: It’s a symbol of the unconscious mind, a place of magic and monsters where Victoria has the chance to discover her “true self," whatever that might mean.

In the second episode we’re introduced to Elizabeth’s daughter Carolyn (Nancy Barrett), a character only hinted at in the series premiere. We meet Carolyn as she's party rocking at the Blue Whale, dancing with any guy in the bar who’s not her boyfriend. In her defense, Joe Haskell (Joel Crothers) is sitting only a few feet away from his girl and doesn’t have much interest in “dancing,” if you catch my drift. Joe is the series’ hero for the first few years, though the writers took sadistic glee at underlining his impotence at every turn. He’s powerless to protect Maggie from Barnabas Collins later in DARK SHADOWS, and here he picks a fistfight with some guys over Carolyn that Burke Devlin has to break up. DARK SHADOWS doesn’t have much use for heroes.

Speaking of introductions, we also get our first taste of the jukebox at the Blue Whale in the second episode, which boasts a few dozen tracks on its playlist but only seems to play the same three songs over and over. But that’s OK, because they’re pretty good tunes.

Carolyn isn’t the most likable person in the episode, finishing a distant last even behind Roger. After intentionally antagonizing the men at bar she goes home to whine to her mother about how she wants more from life than being rich and living in a mansion. I wouldn’t go so far to say she’s spoiled (because Collinwood isn’t the warmest, most nurturing place in the world) but she comes off as bratty.

It’s strongly hinted throughout the series that Victoria and Carolyn are sisters, and the two characters seem to be running parallel to each other at the start, though they’re moving in opposite directions. Carolyn needs to escape the shadow of her family to find out who she really is, while Victoria thinks she’ll find herself by getting closer to the Collins family.

Vicky’s answers won’t come easily, though. The more time Victoria spends at Collinwood in the first week, the more isolated she becomes. While strolling the grounds alone (wearing a trenchcoat and looking a little like Bjork cosplaying as Inspector Clouseau) she finally meets Roger, who lays on the charm as they chat at the edge of the (as yet unnamed) Widows Hill. He’s all “Please call me Roger!” until she makes the mistake of saying Burke Devlin’s name. After that, he gets grabby and runs away to parts unknown. Victoria returns to the mansion to find Elizabeth doing her best Robert Smith impersonation while playing piano in the dark.

(Aside: Elizabeth says the painting hanging over the fireplace in the drawing room is of her great-grandfather, Jeremiah — which is impossible, given that Barnabas Collins blew Jeremiah’s brains out before his uncle had chance to spawn. I’ll chalk this error up to Elizabeth’s own confusion. There was a great deal of intentional misinformation concerning the events of 1795, so it’s understandable if facts about that era of Collins history are a little murky.)

The established characters take some time to socialize in the third episode, but the script also adds a new one to the mix: Bill Malloy (Frank Schofield). The head of the Collins shipping fleet, Malloy has taken an interest in Devlin’s arrival, asking him to lay off his already troubled employers. His motives are uncertain (is “altruism” even a thing in Collinsport?) as is his knowledge about Devlin’s business in town.

Roger’s anxiety about Devlin’s arrival also prompts an opportunity for many of the characters to interact. In fact, most of the episode is conversational: Devlin talks to Joe, Roger talks to Maggie, Malloy talks to anybody who stands still for too long. It’s a busy, talky episode, and it’s a credit to the writers that the show has taken on an oppressive air of mystery without giving us the slightest clue as to what’s going on.

I’d be remiss if I didn’t mention the unintentionally hilarious opening. The episode begins with some film of Roger driving up to the Evans home, with a careful cut to the “live” recording of him pounding on a door and shouting “Open up you drunken bum!” The door doesn’t open, Roger walks away and we get the DARK SHADOWS opening credits. Had this been your first episode, you would have been thoroughly baffled about what you were watching. It was a little surreal, but I’d watch an entire episode of Edmonds angrily knocking on random doors in Collinsport.

Carolyn and Victoria meets for the first time in a scene that begins awkwardly before exploring some creepy subject matter: Carolyn has a bit of a crush on her uncle Roger, and seems put out that she’s got to settle for a common fisherman like Joe. Victoria politely entertains this icky display of TMI before the scene mercifully segues into a tour of Collinwood. But strange things are afoot! A door mysteriously swings open behind the two as they discuss a painting of 17th century ancestor Isaac Collins. Carolyn rightfully refrains from calling the Ghostbusters but seems concerned when Vicky finds one of her letters discarded carelessly on her bed. David Collins has yet to make an appearance, but fret not. This might be the third episode, but 24 hours have yet pass since Victoria’s arrival in town.

With episode four, though, we finally get to move the calendar forward a day. Vicki is roused from her bedroom by the sounds of mysterious crying, which lead her downstairs to the drawing room. Collinwood has ghosts, which is hardly a surprise. It also has a sexual predator stalking the corridors in the form of Roger. He’s interrupted by his sister at the start of the episode as he’s letting himself into Victoria’s bedroom shortly before midnight, and Liz’s attitude implies this is a long-standing problem for the family. Insisting he was “merely trying to talk to the girl,” he still manages to bring Victoria downstairs to grill her about her association with Burke.

Roger is convinced Burke wants to kill and/or destroy him and doesn’t believe his arrival on Victoria’s train is a coincidence. He later gets Vicki alone (where he can better intimidate her) and offers her a drink. She declines, saying the drink “burns,” to which Roger answers “Pain sometimes precedes pleasure, Miss Winters. Or are you too young to have discovered that yet?”

If the rapey vibe of this episode wasn’t gross enough, Vicky’s answer is equally distressing. Instead of getting angry, shocked or offended, the writers use the moment to declare her virginal bonafides: “I’d rather avoid the pain for as long as possible,” she tells Roger as though they were bros.

Carolyn, in one of her many visits to Victoria’s bedroom this night, casually mentions that Roger’s wife (and David’s mother) is not as dead as the new governess was lead to believe. Carolynquickly changes the subject, but the absent wife’s status will become much more important later in the series.

The episode comes to a close with the reveal of Victoria’s charge, David (David Henesy). He’s been mentioned throughout the week but has yet to make an appearance, and his debut doesn’t disappoint. After following the ghostly sobbing to the drawing room, Vicki sees that David has followed her downstairs. His first words to the new governess are “I hate you!” Welcome to the show you loveable little sociopath.

Episode four gave us our first definite signs ghostly activity at Collinwood. As the week closes, one of them gets a name. Sam Evans discloses to Victoria that the mansion is haunted by the spirit of Josette, a French woman brought to Collinsport to marry the builder of Collinwood. The details of this story change a little over the years, but the bullet points remain the same: Shit goes bad, Josette throws herself of Widow’s Hill (formally named in this episode) and ghostly shenanigans ensue for the next few centuries.

The early version of Sam Evans looks and sounds little like the character we’ll get to know over the next year. Mark Allen plays Evans for only seven episodes in the series and is an imposing presence on screen, certainly moreso than David Ford, who will soon replace him. Sam makes a short appearance on this episode, stopping by to ask Victoria to deliver a mysterious non-message to Roger before lumbering off to wherever he came from. I don’t much like this version of Sam, who comes across like a pretentious thug.

Even for Victorias Winters, enough is enough. Five episodes (and 24 story hours) into the series and our heroine is begins packing her bags for home. As she has breakfast with Carolyn, David finishes packing for her, carelessly tossing her clothes into her suitcase while muttering something about his mother. To add injury to insult he defaces her luggage by scratching her initials off the casing.

While trying to talk Victoria out of leaving, Carolyn learns the new governess was raised in a foundling home and is (presumably) an orphan. This nugget of information is delivered to Carolyn as she’s whining about being young and rich, and uses Victoria’s disclosure as an invitation to compete in a “Whose Life Sucks Hardest” rap battle. Carolyn reveals that her mother is a shut-in who hasn’t left home for 18 years, and that her father has been absent her entire life. It’s like a gothic paperback version of 8 MILE.

During this scene we also learn that Victoria received $50 a month from a mysterious benefactor until she turned 16, after which she was expected to get a job or something. Carolyn notes those payments started to arrive around the same time her father vanished, but the plot point doesn’t lead anywhere. Not just in this episode, but ever.

Victoria discovers what David’s done in her room and finds him waiting for her, hiding behind a curtain. He plays a quick game of “keep away” with the note left with Victoria as a baby when she was abandoned at the foundling home. David crumples the only connection she’s got to her real family and throws it to the ground (about a foot away from a piece of tape on the floor identifying the actor’s “mark.”) He then begins an elaborate bit of performance art to illustrate how crazy he really is: Ghosts have told him to get rid of Victoria. Granted, we know there are ghosts at Collinwood, but David’s galloping mental illness and the haunting of Collinwood aren’t mutually exclusive concepts. The combination of David’s mommy issues and his proclivity for rummaging in Victoria’s drawers means the new governess could find herself participating in a reenactment of the shower scene from PSYCHO.

Having been confronted with a maniac for a student, a sexual predator for a housemate, a chronically depressed employer and the promise for unwanted drama in the future, Victoria is uncertain of her future at Collinwood. “I’d be a fool to keep on staying here,” Victoria says about 30 seconds before she decides to keep on staying here.

Welcome to Collinwood, Victoria Winters.

Wednesday, June 26, 2019

The Dark Shadows Daybook: June 25


Taped on this date in 1970: Episode 1049

When a drunken Carolyn announces that she knows the deadliest secret at Collinwood, will she live to tell it? Carolyn Loomis: Nancy Barrett. (Repeat; 30 min.)

Carolyn, thinking she knows the secret of Angelique and Alexis, gleefully taunts everyone at Collinwood. Unfortunately, the killer lures her away and stabs her in retribution.

As a showrunner, Dan Curtis was too far ahead of his time. The Parallel Time sequence of the show is an experiment in and testament to that, as is the project he had running, yes, parallel, the film House of Dark Shadows. An episode like this allows him to test waters and flex muscles that we can see later in his career as a bloodthirsty and unsentimental filmmaker. He sets up the cliches of the soap opera and then shows his frustration by smashing them with an unceremonious sense of ritual. And if he didn’t, the writers, reading the room, did it for him.

Even though I’ve summarized the episode twice, let me take my own go at it, neither doing a TV Guide nor a vaguely quantitative recap. Carolyn, in a miasma of booze, bitchiness, and low self-esteem, plays informational keepaway without realizing the actual consequences that follow. As a result, she gets stabbed to death by the one character bitchier and low self-esteemier than she: Roger. Dark Shadows has had enough of that nonsense and starts playing for keeps, a practice that it will follow throughout the final sequence of the series. If you screw up (or even if you keep company with screw ups), you’ll die. In today’s world of ruthless “real” television series, killing off central characters is an event that’s no longer shocking. Dan Curtis inarguably invented it, so all you other guys, get back in line.

Nancy Barrett and Dan Curtis on the set of
House of Dark Shadows, 1970.
Across town, Curtis is preparing House of Dark Shadows. Although we rarely acknowledge it as such, it’s the second Parallel Time storyline that he would present, each one getting uglier and more nihilistic. Each one, more relentlessly transparent in the logic of what it plays out. In 1970 PT, we see a Carolyn who is also widowed, paranoid, and unstable. Just like in “real life.” In her dialogue with a heartbroken Liz, it’s not so much a glimpse into a parallel universe as it is into a future that Dark Shadows never quite reached. She’s both explosively abusive toward those with failed love and implosive as a reaction to the one she’s lost completely. Unlike the world of standard tv (of the era), there’s only so long that can go, and the show finally exploits that ugly truth.

Similarly, on the big screen, Curtis will take it a step further. I’m no expert on things that don’t exist, which is why I’m not a theologian, but I can guess that an emotionally shattered hemopathic man who profited from the dehumanizing slave trade, starved for two centuries, will probably dine without sentiment nor remorse when released on an unsuspecting world by an incompetent redneck. And someone will eventually take him out once he plays all of his cards by becoming the most prodigious and swiftest serial killer in the history of Maine. Because that’s Barnabas 2.0.

This is a reflection of Dan Curtis, himself. Uncle Barnabas the hero is a concession to tv. Barnabas the killer is probably more like the truth. When writers asked Dan where the tv version was, and he responded that he wasn’t doing it that way again, we get the most revealing statement about the creator possible. This is the producer who would send writers running from meetings throwing up. And Parallel Time -- this kind of blunt, pained, short-timer, unsentimental Parallel Time as we have in this episode -- is not necessarily so parallel. It’s unfortunately true. The secret to Dark Shadows is not that we’ve gone to Parallel Time, but that we’ve finally emerged from it.

This episode hit the airwaves July 2, 1970.

Tuesday, June 25, 2019

Pride Month: Our thoughts and feelings are valid


Growing up in a town of less than 2,000 people in rural Montana, I never encountered anyone I knew to be gay. It was never discussed and thus did not exist. Even before I realized I was gay, I was an outcast in school. I had nothing in common with most kids my age. My classmates loved football and snowboarding, while I sat in the corner reading Macbeth. I wanted the lead in the school play, not to be head cheerleader. I spent most of my adolescence shroud in black hoping my creepy exterior would repel my fellow classmates. I wasn’t out of the closet by any stretch, even to myself, but was still routinely called “faggot” and singled out for not conforming to the crowd. As Alice Collins mentioned in her column, the arts tend to be common ground for LGBT kids. We often find they are safe havens for us as we struggle to survive high school and beyond. We are allowed to explore our true selves through embodying others on stage or channeling our emotions through art and music. In addition to falling in love with theatre, in high school I also became enamored with the horror genre. Since then I’ve realized a passion for horror is common amongst much of the queer community. As a young girl I cried with Frankenstein’s creature as he was shunned by society while he so hopelessly tried to belong. I was in awe of Carrie White as she burned the school gym to the ground and wrought vengeance on her cruel classmates. Watching these films was deeply cathartic for me. I discovered Dark Shadows in my early twenties, just as I was coming to terms with my sexuality. I felt a connection to Barnabas Collins, the reluctant vampire who wanted so desperately to be human. These feelings of being ostracized run throughout much of the horror genre and strike a chord with me and the LBGT community at large.

As I delved deeper into the Dark Shadows fandom, I learned many of the actors who appeared on the show were queer. Unfortunately they lived in a more conservative and closeted time, when identifying as gay was still considered radical. It was also dangerous and could mean the end of an actor’s professional career. We will never know for sure how Jonathan Frid, Louis Edmonds, or Joel Crothers would have chosen to identify in today’s more accepting society, but what we do know is they too were misunderstood outcasts in a straight world. Although I’ve moved on from the conservative rural life and found love and acceptance identifying as a lesbian, I have also learned the heteronormative community I grew up in still exists in every sphere, including the internet. A small but vocal portion of the Dark Shadows fandom cling to their conservative ideologies that love may only exist between a man and a woman. If youbreathe a word suggesting the beloved Jonathan Frid may have been romantically involved with men they will be on you like blood on fangs. These fans time and again sing the refrain they “don’t care what adults do in the bedroom as long as they don’t have to hear about it.” Initially this makes many queer fans such as myself reluctant or even fearful to share their views online. Gratefully we have many spaces, including CHS, where queer fans can feel safe from bigotry.

In addition to the backlash fans receive for celebrating the queerness of the talent involved in creating Dark Shadows, queer fans are also criticized by our straight counterparts for daring to see ourselves reflected in “their” characters. Although queer representation is making leaps and bounds today historically, the LGBTQ community have little to no representation in the media we consume. To find ourselves represented we have to read between the lines. Recently I saw a comment accusing queer fans of “appropriating Dark Shadows to push their agenda.” For instance one of my favorite plot lines on Dark Shadows is 1970 Parallel Time. This timeline more or less mirrors the plot of the classic gothic novel Rebecca. The main reason I love this story is that it brings my two favorite characters together. Julia takes on the Mrs. Danvers role while Angelique serves as the mysterious deceased wife Rebecca. Danvers has become a lesbian icon in popular culture due to her homoerotic devotion to the dead mistress of Manderley. What makes the storyline on Dark Shadows even more fun than the novel is here Rebecca rises from the grave and the two women are allowed to plot and scheme against the master of the house’s new bride. The knowing and flirtatious glances Hoffman and Alexis exchange when she ‘“arrives from abroad” betray something deeper than the mere professional relationship between a mistress and her maid.  Will some of the Dark Shadows fandom take issue with my interpretation of their relationship as sexual? Absolutely. Does this make my interpretation any less valid? Not for a second.

Dark Shadows has attracted a large queer fanbase over the five decades since it first aired. I truly believe on an instinctual level the LGBT community recognizes art that has been touched by our kind. Is this what draws us to the early horror films of James Whale or to Dark Shadows? I like to think so. What I love most during pride month is our visibility amongst thefandom. It brings me great joy to be reminded we are many and outnumber the bigots we often encounter on Facebook and elsewhere. I am so grateful for the wonderful people I have met and the queer friends I’ve made through the Dark Shadows community. Let us always remember we are many and our thoughts and feelings are valid. I know the many queers who have contributed to Dark Shadows over the years are looking down on us today, proud of the legacy we have created together. Happy Pride! 
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