Episode 1157: The Last Sheriff

“I only know that someone has been filling your mind with evil distortions.”

Well, to begin with, he wears a ring with a spooky symbol on it. It’s got a circle with an X through it, and it’s hot off the finger of a witch doctor from the dark jungles of Brazil. So either Quentin is a fan of The X-Men or he’s a Satan-worshipping serial killer, and I haven’t seen a lot of comic books lying around, have you?

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Episode 1154/1155: The Fall of Man

“I don’t want the Devil’s hands on me!”

“There is more to Gerard Stiles than meets the eye!” Desmond declares, so Randall runs off to search Gerard’s room for something incriminating. But what does meeting the eye have to do with anything? There’s more to a lot of things, you can’t just ransack other people’s personal property because of a perceived insufficiency in eye-meeting.

But it turns out Randall is one of those doomed investigators who pop up in Collinsport at irregular intervals, not for very long. Sometimes they’re policemen, or doctors, or psychics — someone with a little bit of soap opera authority, which makes them fun to mess with. This one’s a lawyer. It’s usually okay to dispose of lawyers, because you can always get another one. Anyway, there are three lawyers on the show at the moment, and you only need two, even with a witch trial approaching. Vicki’s witch trial only used one lawyer, and look how well that turned out.

So Randall goes on a fishing expedition in Gerard’s bedroom, hoping to find a voodoo doll or Watergate tapes. What he finds is the bejeweled golden mask of the notorious drag sorceror Ms. Judah Zachery, which came from who-knows-where and is relevant to no known plot points. It just sits there, and glitters. Randall stares at it, mouth agape, and learns nothing.

Honestly, it’s impossible for somebody to investigate on this show right now, because every character with a speaking part is guilty of some kind of tort or malfeasance, so all the investigator can do is just ping-pong back and forth between them, assembling meaningless clues and suspecting everyone, until one of the malefactors finally decides that enough is enough, and brings down the banhammer.

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Night of Dark Shadows: The Haunted Horse

“Kill Doubloon!”

Happy Turkey Day! It’s time for another pre-emption, as we reach Thanksgiving 1970 and ABC decides to spend the day looking at basketball. It’s traditional on pre-emption days to do a little time travel, and watch a future version of Dark Shadows. This time, we’re only jumping about eight months ahead; we’re going to watch the 1971 feature film Night of Dark Shadows, executive producer Dan Curtis’ next attempt to catch lightning in a bottle.

Last year, Dan signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to make a Dark Shadows movie, and he came up with House of Dark Shadows, a fearlessly unrestrained retelling of the original Barnabas storyline. The movie did well at the box office, considering how cheap it was to make, and MGM asked for a sequel. Unfortunately, almost every character in House of Dark Shadows met a grisly end in one way or another, so bang goes the Dark Shadows Cinematic Universe before it’s even started.

For the sequel, Dan had the good manners to wait until the TV show was over before hauling half the cast to Tarrytown, New York and dousing them with a hose. The final taping day on Dark Shadows was March 24th, 1971, and shooting began for Night of Dark Shadows on March 29th. Dan had nine hundred thousand dollars, six weeks, and a cast and crew that was mostly from the TV show. He’d planned to resurrect Barnabas for the second movie, but Jonathan Frid was sick of playing vampires, and asked for a million dollars. So Dan took the show’s second male lead, David Selby, and set him up with two leading ladies — Lara Parker, Dark Shadows’ veteran vixen, and Kate Jackson, an ingenue who’d joined the show about ten months earlier and was obviously destined for stardom.

Night of Dark Shadows was vaguely based on the show’s Parallel Time storyline, which was vaguely based on Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, plus some inspiration from The Haunted Palace, a 1963 Roger Corman film that was supposed to be based on an Edgar Allen Poe poem, but was actually based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”, which when you get right down to it isn’t really very much like Night of Dark Shadows at all.

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Episode 1153: How to Explain the Doll

“Then how do you explain the doll?”

“We were in a little village in Brazil,” says Gerard Stiles, “up the river.” He’s looking back on an experience he had with his friend, Quentin Collins, on an unspecified business trip in South America. “One of the crew members got very ill, suddenly. Quentin had heard of a witch doctor who could perform miracles — or so Quentin said.”

God-fearing buttinsky Lamar Trask recoils. “You let him take a Christian soul to a pagan?”

“It wasn’t my decision!” Gerard swears. “When the witch doctor was doing his incantation, Quentin mentioned the ring that he was wearing. When the ceremony was over, I could see plainly that Quentin wanted that ring very much, but was afraid to ask for it. So I bought it for him.” End of anecdote.

Several questions spring to mind. First: did the crew member get better? Why wasn’t Gerard afraid of the witch doctor? And — most baffling of all — what the hell were you doing in Brazil?

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Episode 1152: The Truth of You

“I have never harmed anyone simply for the sake of harming them.”

And what do Barnabas and Julia have to do with all this warlock malarkey? Practically nothing, I’m sorry to say. Barnabas might be vaguely aware that Quentin has something on his mind, but it’s certainly not keeping him up all day. The simmering tensions between Quentin, Gerard, Daphne and Desmond, which we might call Plot A, have entirely escaped our gentleman vampire, who’s been focusing his attention on Plot B, a cul-de-sac sidequest involving Roxanne, Julia and Angelique.

I’ve had to speak sharply to the main characters in the past about this unfortunate tendency of theirs to drift off into side issues. Two months ago, Barnabas and Julia traveled to the 19th century hoping to avert the Collinwood-closing catastrophe of summer 1970, and practically the only thing that they understand about those future events is that they involve shady gun-runner Gerard Stiles in a prominent role. But Gerard has been permitted to run roughshod over the entire show for weeks and weeks, getting possessed by warlocks and working his wiles on Daphne, entirely unchallenged by the two characters that the audience has presumably tuned in to see.

We last saw Barnabas on Thursday, when he brought a day player named Randall to a nearby crypt, handed him a hammer and stake, and gave him instructions on how to kill the lady vampire heading in that direction. Then Barnabas sprinted off towards his own coffin, leaving this pop-eyed nonentity to handle the protagonist duties. And where is Barnabas now?

Well, that’s what local undertaker and part-time detective Lamar Trask wants to know, observing to Julia that Barnabas is still missing. “No, he is not missing,” Julia sniffs. “He was grief-stricken about Roxanne, and he is in seclusion for several days.”

“I hardly think the circumstances warrant going into seclusion,” Trask scowls, and I agree. What we need right now is for Barnabas to shake that B-plot off his shoes, and get himself involved in the main story.

But seclusion is where he’s going to stay, I’m afraid, because Jonathan Frid is taking a two-week vacation. Barnabas won’t be back until episode 1159, when he’ll walk into Collinwood and act like he just stepped out for a breath of air. You’d never accept that kind of behavior from a main character in any other medium, but this is daytime soap opera, a genre composed of 15% creative storytelling and 85% logistics.

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Episode 1151: Wherever You Will Be

“I can’t bear thinking that when we’re together, we draw her from her grave!”

The table-rappers are at it again. “We must touch hands,” says Quentin Collins to his latest lover, “and we must maintain contact throughout. Understand?” She understands; I think we all do. It’s another romantic, moon-stricken night, where we touch hands by candlelight, look deeply into one another’s eyes, and beseech people.

“We beseech the spirit of Joanna Mills to appear to us,” he calls, “or to communicate through one of us, so that we may resolve all of the problems that have afflicted all of our lives!”

Now, let’s take a moment to appreciate just how many problems he’s expecting to resolve between now and the opening titles. This isn’t a spot-fix for a specific issue; the man wants to resolve all of the problems for all of their lives — and this is a soap opera household, with industrial-grade problems. This could take all night.

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Episode 1150: The Strange Goings-On

“Nothing seems more important to me at the moment than the strange goings-on in this house.”

And so the afternoons wear on, Monday through Friday, and day by day, everyone’s getting a little bit older and a little bit wiser. That’s the usual arrangement, of course, and it generally works out okay, but it’s something of a problem for a television show like Dark Shadows, whose market share is determined by the audience’s appetite for the deeply unwise.

There’s been a steady drumbeat of cultural warning signs over the last year, signaling that the space that Dark Shadows occupies in the American consciousness is destined to be rezoned. There was that push for non-toxic children’s television, which resulted in the fall 1969 debuts of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and Sesame Street. There was the disaster at the Altamont free music festival in December ’69, when everyone discovered, to the surprise of an entire generation, that an enormous crowd of drug-addled young people is not innately loving and peaceful. There was the embarrassing string of House of Dark Shadows ads over the summer promising a “bizarre act of unnatural love,” and the shift in public opinion around April 1970 that made people start to classify Dark Shadows viewers as perverts, dabblers and scag freaks.

And then there’s another case study to consider, as we tumble towards 1971: the fall of Aurora’s Monster Scenes.

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Episode 1149: Wicked

“I do hope he’s not becoming emotionally involved with anyone at Collinwood.”

Here it is, the climax of this epic tragedy: the love story of Barnabas Collins and the late Roxanne Drew. He’s followed her through three layers of paradox to arrive at this choice slice of cliffhanging: the zenith of all his mistakes, piled up on top of each other and ready to topple.

“You will never rest, Barnabas,” the witch spat back then, as she clutched the buckshot wound that he gave her as a wedding present. “And you will never be able to love anyone — for whoever loves you will die!”

And they have, one after another. Kill your darlings, they say, and he has — Josette and Rachel and Kitty and Vicki and Angelique and now, finally, Roxanne, the latest in every sense. He has what he always thought that he wanted — a daughter of Dracula, clad in a filmy shroud, ready to join with him for eternity in a casket built for two.

But it’s all gone wrong, somehow. It turns out a vampire vixen isn’t as sexy as everyone had hoped — instead, she’s a green-skinned witch of the west, hollow eyed and sallow cheeked, and she doesn’t seem to like him. The two predators square off in this shabby lighthouse, lightning flashing from their dark eyes, as the tension stretches to the breaking point.

And then Roxanne opens a door, and walks away.

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