718 dark shadows slow doorknob

Episode 718: Other Than My Wife

“You are such a coward that the only way you can kill is with dolls!”

Ladies and gentlemen of the Dark Shadows audience, I would like to introduce to you a new member of our cast: slow doorknob.

Good ol’ slow doorknob actually made its first major appearance at the end of yesterday’s episode, because that’s where the career opportunities are, doorknob-wise. Let’s say you want to end an episode with an unexpected character at the door, but you don’t have the money to pay the actor just for the last two seconds. Who do you turn to when nobody turns up? A slow-turning doorknob, that’s who.

A twist to the left, a twist to the right, a couple rattles, a slow glide open, and then you cut to a cast member looking surprised, or horrified, or whatever actors are supposed to look like once you’ve stopped filming the fixtures. It’s kind of an IOU for the actual surprise, payable tomorrow.

Continue reading Episode 718: Other Than My Wife

717 dark shadows jenny from the block

Episode 717: Mommy Weirdest

“They’re dolls! Plain ordinary breakable dolls! She has dozens of them, and can’t tell the difference between them.”

Mad Jenny Collins is loose in the haunted corridors of ABC daytime television, eyeliner askew and ready for adventure. She’s been locked up in the tower room for god knows how long, and from the looks of her, it hasn’t been a soothing experience.

She keeps breaking out of her cell and setting fire to people’s bedrooms, which isn’t a productive use of her time, and at the moment she’s got hold of a pair of scissors that must be left over from the Jurassic era. You know how they tell you not to run with scissors? You shouldn’t even walk with these. That’s a pair of scissors where you close the door and turn the lights off and hope it goes away.

It’s not easy to explain just how insane this situation is, so let’s see how Charlotte Brontë described it, in Chapter 20 of Jane Eyre:

What crime was this that lived incarnate in this sequestered mansion, and could neither be expelled nor subdued by the owner? — what mystery, that broke out now in fire and now in blood, at the deadest hours of night? What creature was it, that, masked in an ordinary woman’s face and shape, uttered the voice, now of a mocking demon, and anon of a carrion-seeking bird of prey?

Well, I mean. You have to give it up to Charlotte B for that. I can’t speak for anybody else, but in my opinion I think she nailed it.

Continue reading Episode 717: Mommy Weirdest

716 dark shadows generation gap

Episode 716: The Generation Gap

“What is your blood type?”

It’s tricky sometimes, in this postmodern lit-crit racket of mine, to fully explain why one pop culture artifact was embraced by the populace at large while another was not.

Why was Star Trek cancelled for low ratings in its original run and then become a seminal science-fiction classic, while Voyage to the Bottom of the Sea was popular at the time and is now utterly forgotten? Why did the Pac-Man cartoon click, while Rubik the Amazing Cube was a step too far? Did you know that America’s Best Dance Crew is still on the air, currently in its eighth season? It’s difficult to fully account for the vagaries of public taste.

Except in the case of the 1969 ABC game show The Generation Gap, obviously, which failed because it was terrible, and that’s all there is to it.

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715 extra violet welles gunplay

Extra: An Interview with Violet Welles

“There were infinite possibilities in infinite combinations.”

Monday’s episode was the first credited to Violet Welles, one of the best writers on Dark Shadows, and one of the most mysterious. She was a theatrical press agent, working on a varied slate of Broadway and Off-Broadway shows. She also wrote for several television shows, but almost always as a ghost-writer; Dark Shadows is her only credited work as a writer, and she had to be talked into becoming a full-time writer on the show.

There are several websites that list Violet’s credits as a press rep — Playbill Vault, Internet Broadway Database and the Internet Off-Broadway Database — but almost nothing is known about her television work.

Happily, there’s a fan resource to the rescue: The World of Dark Shadows, the flagship DS fanzine which ran from 1975 to 2001. Issue #59/60, published in June 1991, ran a four-page interview with Violet Welles, giving us a rare glimpse into the day-to-day experience of the Dark Shadows writing team. The interview is fantastic, and I’m going to post it here in its entirety. It was conducted by Meghan Powell-Nivling, who I have not contacted for permission, so I hope nobody minds. Here’s Violet.

Continue reading Extra: An Interview with Violet Welles

715 dark shadows hidden staircase

Episode 715: The Secret of the Mysterious Clue

“I see a night of terror! I see strange screams, muffled sounds!”

Rachel Drummond, plucky girl detective, climbs the stairs to the Collinwood tower room. According to legend, no one has set foot in this room for a hundred years, but something’s happening up there — something sinister.

As she climbs, Rachel reviews the case. She came to this big spooky mansion as the governess for Edward Collins’ two young children — but nobody is willing to say what happened to their mother. “My wife is not dead,” Edward said. “She is away. She is going to stay away.”

But Rachel’s seen a light in the abandoned tower room, which is impossible. She’s seen the maid bring a new doll into the house, but the children say they never received it. And every time she asks a question, everyone tells her that some things are better left unanswered.

They can’t put off Rachel that easily. There’s a mystery hidden in this house — something sad, and dangerous — and she’s going to get to the bottom of it. The idea that this is none of her fucking business does not seem to have occurred to her.

Continue reading Episode 715: The Secret of the Mysterious Clue

714 dark shadows edward quentin judith inherit

Episode 714: Inherit the Win

“This is my house, and I decide what is legal from now on.”

Let’s begin with the Trojan War. I know, I’m always nattering on about the Trojan War, but bear with me for a second.

It all started with the wedding of Peleus and Thetis. Peleus was a hero in Greek mythology, but not one of the good ones; he’s mostly known for killing his half-brother and his stepmom in hunting accidents. Thetis was a shape-changing sea nymph, and Peleus got her to marry him after he snuck up on her and tied her up while she was sleeping. They were a terrible couple and shouldn’t be marrying anybody, really, but you know the ancient Greeks, anything for a party.

Anyway, they had the wedding on Mount Pelion, which is amazing, because usually it’s booked, like, two years in advance, and all of the deities were invited, except for Eris, the goddess of Chaos and Discord.

Irritated by the snub, Eris showed up anyway, probably in a Lady Gaga meat dress, and she tossed a golden apple into the middle of the room, inscribed with the word “Kallisti”, which means “to the fairest”. Pretty soon, the goddesses Hera, Athena and Aphrodite were all squabbling over who the apple belonged to.

Now, think about that for a moment. Aphrodite was so beautiful that she was literally The Goddess of Beauty, and Hera and Athena still thought they had a shot. That right there tells you pretty much everything you need to know about Greek weddings.

The three goddesses asked Zeus to decide between them, but Zeus mumbled something about a very important phone call that he suddenly needed to make, and he pointed them at Paris, the prince of Troy.

The girls all tried to get on Paris’ good side. Hera offered political power, Athena promised skill in battle, and Aphrodite said she could give him the love of the most beautiful woman on Earth. Paris awarded the golden apple to Aphrodite and ran off with the beautiful woman, who happened to be Helen, the queen of Sparta. This started the Trojan War, and a ten-year siege that ended with the destruction of both the Achaeans and the Trojans.

So who triumphs in this tale? Only Eris, the goddess of Chaos and Discord, who orchestrated the destruction of empires, just to hear the funny sound it made as it all shattered to the ground. Then Eris invented television, and you know the rest.

Continue reading Episode 714: Inherit the Win

713 dark shadows magda barnabas agenda

Episode 713: The Staff Meeting

“Perhaps I have an innate fondness for gypsies who’ve fallen by hard times.”

Frankly, it’s dawn; it was dawn four scenes ago. But Barnabas saunters downstairs to the basement, where Magda is tapping her foot and shooting meaningful glances at her wristwatch. Then he takes the time to give her a full briefing before he gets into his coffin, because apparently today is casual day in the crypt.

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712 dark shadows angelique lecture

Episode 712: The Neverending Story

“Tell me what you meant by what you said to me.”

Hey, guess who’s out on parole? It’s Angelique, freshly sprung from the flames of the netherworld, conducting an impromptu lecture tour in other people’s houses.

Barnabas and the gypsies are out at the moment, doing god knows what, so Angelique just lets herself in via Chromakey so she can stand there in the drawing room and express herself.

“It’s been a long time, Barnabas,” she says to Barnabas, who isn’t there. “Long enough to have put me out of your mind. Oh, but you’re still in my thoughts.”

“And so are you,” she spits, turning to address the portrait of Josette, which is hanging placidly over the fireplace, minding its own business. “You, with your innocent eyes, that were always so startled when they looked on evil. Well, here it is again! Look at me again!”

Holding herself erect, she declares, “I am Angelique — and I HATE you!”

So it’s a good thing Barnabas isn’t around, because honestly, imagine coming home and finding this in your front parlor. Seriously, you came all the way over to my house to yell at the decor?

Continue reading Episode 712: The Neverending Story

711 dark shadows angelique fire demon

Episode 711: Let’s Twist Again

“We’re all on the same side, aren’t we? My side.”

I address myself and those here with me to the powers of darkness, he said.

I call upon the flame to summon you, he said.

I call upon the raven and the viper and all the dark creatures of nature to draw you like a rising mist from out of the darkness of the earth, he said.

And he said it over an active hellmouth that spews out vengeance-vowing fire demons on the regular. What could possibly go wrong?

Continue reading Episode 711: Let’s Twist Again

710 dark shadows edith quentin will

Episode 710: Been Caught Stealing

“Now you’re dead, and you’re going to stay dead.”

Pursued relentlessly by the muffled-tympani sound of a beating heart, black sheep and future poltergeist Quentin Collins races downstairs to the study, to check on his dead grandmother.

This is the first running of the Telltale Heart Grand Prix, and as Quentin applies the brakes and shudders to a stop, he finds Edith sitting up in her casket at the finish line, grinning at him like being dead is the most fun she’s had in years.

So there we are; it’s happened. The haunter has become the haunted.

Continue reading Episode 710: Been Caught Stealing