820 dark shadows johnny magda confront

Episode 820: The Hand Shakedown

“This is a little more grisly than your usual request.”

There was a storm kicking up that night, one of those dry storms you get this time of year that are heavy on sound effects and light on moisture. The boss had a plan, or at least he said he did.

The gypsies were in town, he said. Black-robed, silent, faceless gypsies with curved scimitars and impenetrable cloaks, who could melt into the shadows and then appear over your shoulder, ready to chop something off and keep it as a souvenir. Some kind of unstoppable Persian ninja gypsy with a prop-closet sword, who needs an extra hand in a big hurry.

The boss said he saw them in somebody else’s dream, which figured. It’s just the kind of thing an android vengeance gypsy would do, show up in some hallucination next door just to let you know they’re en route. Everything’s got to be a legend with gypsies; they’re theater people with a bad case of mythology. But the boss had a plan.

Come on, he said. Let’s go out back and see what we can dig up.

Continue reading Episode 820: The Hand Shakedown

819 dark shadows jimi hendrix woodstock

Episode 819: War and Peace

“Instead of showing your own death, it may be showing you mine.”

And then something about Woodstock, I guess, although honestly I don’t have a lot of energy for it right now. There’s so much happening in the summer of 1969 — the moon landing, and the Manson Family, and the Haunted Mansion, and the MGM deal, and here it is August and I haven’t even talked about the green gum cards yet.

And then this weekend, there’s this super critical three-day Aquarian Exposition of Peace and Music, which is obviously integral to the entire 1960s, and I just don’t feel like doing the research. So maybe I’ll be like the other one hundred percent of kids in August ’69, who stayed home and watched Dark Shadows.

Continue reading Episode 819: War and Peace

818 house of dark shadows hods

Episode 818: The Green Light

“When I saw myself rising from the dead — with those fangs!”

There are eight turning points in the story of Dark Shadows — moments when the focus and direction of the show changed forever. Four of them are character introductions, and four are backstage events. Here they are, in order of appearance:

  • the introduction of Barnabas,
  • Julia’s offer to cure Barnabas,
  • writer Sam Hall joins the show,
  • the introduction of Angelique,
  • Jonathan Frid’s ten-city publicity tour,
  • writer Ron Sproat leaves the show,
  • the introduction of Quentin,
  • and MGM greenlights House of Dark Shadows.

Here we are in mid-August 1969, and we’ve reached that final turning point — the moment when a grown-up movie studio agreed to distribute a feature film about a daytime soap opera, using the same cast and crew, while the TV show is still in production. Everything that happens over the next year and a half of the show will be affected by that deeply peculiar decision.

The story that people tell about House of Dark Shadows is that creator Dan Curtis, like all artistic visionaries, was deeply misunderstood. He had a burning ambition to turn his vampire soap opera into a feature film, and nobody at the studios would believe in his dream. Finally, Dan found a kindred spirit in James Aubrey, the president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who recognized the value of a Dark Shadows movie and eagerly gave it the green light.

Once the film was greenlighted, the only headache to figure out was how to get the cast off the show for six weeks, while they filmed the movie. Dan and the writers came up with a way to focus on the actors who weren’t part of the movie cast, until the shooting was over. That way, the movie wouldn’t have a negative impact on the show, and when shooting wrapped, everything went back to normal. On release, the movie was such a success that it saved MGM from closing down.

That story is almost entirely false. This is actually the story of the destruction of Dark Shadows. It’s also the story of the destruction of MGM. And like all Dark Shadows stories, the line between hero and villain is not necessarily clear.

Continue reading Episode 818: The Green Light

time travel 7 barnabas mopey

Time Travel, part 7: Here We Go Again

“You know of such things as zippers and machine wash, and you do not even know the year?”

Vampire playboy Barnabas Collins has been out of his box for six weeks now, and to be perfectly honest with you, he has not used his time productively.

Twenty years ago, Barnabas was bound up in chains and sent into cold storage, because ABC Daytime couldn’t think of anything else to do with him. In 1991, he was released for good behavior, and given a sweet prime-time slot on NBC. Yes, I know it’s on Friday nights, but think of all the starving vampires in Africa who don’t even get a show on Fridays.

The way that I understand it, this new iteration of Barnabas is supposed to be a charismatic bloodsucking charm machine, fascinating and sexy and passionate. What we’ve got is more in the area of mopey and spiteful, a self-involved bully who’s unable to form emotional connections with other people. He’s murdered at least four people so far, including a member of the Collins family, and last week he turned another Collins girl into his blood slave, and made her commit crimes that absolutely would have resulted in a prison sentence, if she’d turned out to be any good at it.

Barnabas’ big redeeming feature is supposed to be that he’s pining for girl governess Victoria Winters, who reminds him of his long-lost love Josette. But apart from a couple candlelight dinner dates, he’s hardly even talked to her, and instead he’s been using up all his romance time on blood-fueled makeout sessions with his own descendants.

Fortunately, Dark Shadows comes equipped with a built-in escape hatch, constructed in 1967 because the original series couldn’t figure out what to do with Barnabas either. It’s a custom bespoke time portal, carrying Vicki back to the late 18th century, on a sightseeing tour of the Collins family history.

So Vicki goes tumbling down the ruby slipper hole, to take another shot at rebooting the reboot. Look out below!

Continue reading Time Travel, part 7: Here We Go Again

817 dark shadows jamison petofi couch

Episode 817: A Night in Casablanca

“If he dies, the whole future of the Collins family will not be existing!”

Well, it’s another August afternoon, and everybody on Dark Shadows is down in the basement, wasting a perfectly nice day. I can remember a time on this show when people would take a walk in the woods on sunny days, and have genial chats with little girls who they didn’t realize were ghosts. It was awful; I hated those walks. Turns out all the cool stuff was happening in the basement. Take that, mothers of America!

Continue reading Episode 817: A Night in Casablanca

816 dark shadows petofi theatrical

Episode 816: Midsummer

“You said we could be together forever, now that I’m dead like you.”

“Barnabas Collins and I have been at war for quite a long while,” says Count Petofi, tapping on the chained coffin that he’s keeping in his basement lair. “This is one more battle in that war.” And then he turns, and stares directly into the camera. “But it is the last one, and it will go on until he gives me what I want.”

We cut to a different camera, with Petofi and his henchman Aristede in a two-shot. Aristede says that it won’t be easy to convince Barnabas to forget the mission that brought him back in time to 1897, but Petofi says he can do it. Aristede asks how, and Petofi turns, and stares directly into the camera.

“Military strategy, my boy!” he announces. “I shall do what one does to win any crucial battle… Increase the pressure!” The camera moves from his clenched fist to another close-up.

Aristede asks how Petofi’s going to increase the pressure, and the mad Count takes a few steps downstage. “So far, only those whom Barnabas Collins cares for in this time have suffered,” he says, and stares directly into the camera. “Now, I shall attack from another side!”

This is all taking place in a tiny basement, by the way. Petofi has turned away from the person that he’s talking to for the fourth time in the last sixty seconds, and he’s not looking out a window or anything. According to the logic of this set, he’s announcing his fiendish plans to a brick wall, which is approximately two inches in front of him. We’ve seen backacting before on Dark Shadows, but this really is the frozen limit.

Continue reading Episode 816: Midsummer

815 dark shadows petofi barnabas tv

Episode 815: The Time Television

“Count Petofi, do you think this is some sort of a carriage ride?”

Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a mad god, an assassin and an eccentric millionaire walk into a basement. The mad god says, “Look into that cupboard, Mr. Collins! What do you see?” And the eccentric millionaire says, “I see the inside of the cupboard.”

All right, it’s not that funny, but you have to admit you haven’t heard it before. It’s kind of hard to believe that we’re hearing it now.

Continue reading Episode 815: The Time Television

814 dark shadows petofi hand

Episode 814: Another Thing Coming

“Only I know that… and the gypsies. Those deadly gypsies!”

In his secret lair in the basement of an old mill, Count Andreas Petofi waits for his magical Hand to be returned to him. The mad god’s spirit is currently inhabiting the body of young Jamison Collins, while his mortal form lies unconscious, biding its time. Soon, the boy will bring the Hand, just as he’s planned, and Petofi will rise.

But time may be running out, for Petofi and Jamison. The boy is weak, confused, lying helpless in the clutches of the Count’s frenemies. Barnabas and Quentin have the Hand now, and they don’t know what to do. Must they offer the Hand to Petofi, to save Jamison’s life?

So obviously, that’s super exciting. We have a lair now. Dark Shadows has an actual lair!

Continue reading Episode 814: Another Thing Coming

813 dark shadows haunted mansion

Episode 813: Happy Haunts

“It suddenly occurred to me that you might be telling the truth.”

Meanwhile, in the other spooky old haunted house of the American imagination, 999 restless spirits were settling into their new digs on the opposite coast.

This is the week that Disneyland opened the Haunted Mansion, a long-awaited E-ticket attraction that invites theme park guests to tour a post-mortem retirement home for the corporeally liberated. This is the old house, abandoned by the family after the dark and terrible tragedies of the distant past, now left available for whatever ghouls care to move in and set up housekeeping. I wonder if Quentin knows about this one?

To be honest, the Haunted Mansion has nothing to do with Dark Shadows, but I love Disneyland, and there’s no way I’m going to ignore the other spook sensation of ’69.

Continue reading Episode 813: Happy Haunts