Episode 1168: How I Long to Be Wrong

“Whatever they know, I’m afraid it’s a great deal more than we care to imagine.”

You know, people say that Dark Shadows storytelling is slow, but just look at Gerard and Lamar; it was only yesterday that they even thought of looking for secrets in Ben Stokes’ diary, and now here they are, all the way downstairs in someone else’s house, tearing into the architecture.

“It was during the witchcraft trial,” Ben wrote improbably, “that the Reverend Trask made his last trip to the Old House. He made the mistake of finding the secret in the basement.” Upon reading this, Lamar Trask remembered hearing something bumping behind a brick wall a few weeks ago, and less than one minute later, he and Gerard have broken and entered the Old House, stormed to the cellar, and banged on a brick wall with a hammer and chisel, and now — ta-dah! — they’ve uncorked it, the co-star of The Cask of Amontillado.

And here he is, the Reverend Trask in skeleton form, hanging on a hook behind a pile of bricks, just like he was when they unveiled him last time, in spring 1968. I don’t know how many times they’re planning to unimmure the same guy; at a certain point, you ought to just leave him upstairs in a glass case and charge admission.

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Episode 1167: The English Way of Death

“So the next step is that we must go to the basement!”

So with pop sensation Quentin Collins on trial for introducing plot points, and the show’s ratings sinking slowly in the west, I might as well introduce The War for Dark Shadows, a latter-days theme that’s going to run through the last few months of the blog. We’re approaching the dreaded April Third, 1971 — history’s first day without Dark Shadows — and naturally the show’s not just going to lie down and take it. Going gentle into that good night is not what you might call one of Dark Shadows’ core competencies.

After April Third, the show does in fact go on, hopping from one medium to another in a long line of spinoffs and remakes. The Paperback Library novels keep running until 1972, and the Gold Key comics stretch all the way to 1976. We’ve already discussed the Dark Shadows comic strip, the Night of Dark Shadows movie and the 1991 NBC remake, each of them disastrous in their own individual way, and there are more disasters to come, including a book series, a failed pilot, another comic book series, and yes, a certain medium-budget Hollywood spectacular.

But the thing is, the show is so complicated that none of the remakes and spinoffs can agree on what Dark Shadows actually is. For the comic strip, Dark Shadows is an adventure serial, the story of hardly-hungry vampire Barnabas Collins, who secretly battles a series of supernatural villains in order to protect his cousins, Elizabeth and Carolyn. Meanwhile, the 1991 show thinks that Dark Shadows is a super-sexy time-travel love epic, spending a lot of time setting up a quite vicious Barnabas with Victoria Winters, who’s the reincarnation of his lost love Josette.

Those two ideas have very little in common, aside from a few character names and the fact that they only lasted for a year. They’re not the same kind of story at all. But when you look at either one, you can recognize that they’re based on Dark Shadows as you understand it. So the concept of “Dark Shadows” must be big enough to encompass both of these kinds of stories, and probably more to come, and each interpretation is casting a vote for a particular way to read the show. The War for Dark Shadows is a decades-long struggle to figure out what kind of show Dark Shadows was, and what it means for us today.

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Episode 1166: The Proceedings

“Mr. Collins called them astral disturbances. They’re very difficult to describe in words.”

Yes, of course they’d repealed the Witchcraft Act by 1840; don’t be ridiculous. I know that Judge Lang said last week that the former royal colony of Massachusetts was still somehow bound by make-believe British law, and in accordance with the imaginary “Law 119”, dated 23 April 1696, a citizen can be charged with witchcraft if there are depositions from six citizens naming the perpetrator of said evil, but Judge Lang also thinks it’s a good idea to sew parts of dead people together. The man’s an ass.

The truth is, the English stopped prosecuting witches in 1717. The English Witchcraft Act of 1604 was repealed by Parliament in 1735, giving a clear signal that you can collect as many depositions as you like, but if you want to get rid of an unwanted governess then you just need to go ahead and fire her.

In an overdue burst of rationality, the Witchcraft Act of 1735 said that witches weren’t a problem in society; the problem was all the non-witch people who claimed to be witches in order to further their career development. According to this law,

“If any Person shall pretend to exercise or use any kind of Witchcraft, Sorcery, Inchantment, or Conjuration, or undertake to tell Fortunes, or pretend, from his or her Skill or Knowledge in any occult or crafty Science, to discover where or in what manner any Goods or Chattels, supposed to have been stolen or lost, may be found, every Person, so offending, shall, for every such Offence, suffer Imprisonment by the Space of one whole Year without Bail or Mainprize, and once in every Quarter of the said Year, in some Market Town of the proper County, upon the Market Day, there stand openly on the Pillory by the Space of One Hour.”

The 1735 law was then repealed by the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951, which made an exception for “anything done solely for the purpose of entertainment.” This was good news for Lara Parker, who pretended to exercise witchcraft quite a bit and otherwise would have wasted a lot of hours standing openly on the pillory.

Continue reading Episode 1166: The Proceedings

Episode 1165: In the Haze of History

“I demand that counsel define the term ‘occult practices’.”

We’re going back to court for another witchcraft trial on Dark Shadows today, and once again, people have missed the entire point of the Salem story. The witch trials that took place in Massachusetts in the late 17th century happened in the actual real world, where I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s no such thing as witches. Salem 1692 is a story about a justice system perverted by superstition and mob panic, where innocent people were jailed and executed based on the claims of a pack of hysterical middle schoolers.

But in modern Salem, they’ve discovered that it’s a lot more lucrative to pretend there were real witches in the late 17th, and build a tourist trade by promoting Halloween parades and haunted house tours. Yes, they have a Witch History Museum that tells the real story, but on the whole, it’s more fun to build events around spooky fictional witches instead of focusing on the thing that’s really scary, which is putting Christians in charge of a legal system.

So there are a whole bunch of TV shows and movies that depict real witches on the scene of the Salem witch trials — Charmed, Bewitched, Hocus Pocus, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, I Married a Witch, The Vampire Diaries, that WGN Salem series with sexy versions of John Alden and Mary Sibley. This is basically like making a TV show about the Holocaust in which the Jews kind of deserved it.

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Episode 1164: Almost Helping

“I don’t know what is happening inside you, but it is evil.”

“Witchcraft!” cries Barnabas. “Of course I’ll help Quentin, I’ll do anything I can.”

He seems utterly shocked by the idea that Quentin’s been accused of witchcraft, even though everyone’s been talking about it for weeks. I know the dude only works nights, but seriously, how are you this out of touch? What have you and Julia been doing all this time?

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Episode 1163: Love in the Afternoon

“I hope she’s not touched by what’s happening now.”

The Collins family files out of the mausoleum, marking the close of another funeral. Today they lay to rest Daniel Collins, who died in the tower room of finding out something surprising.

“What a dreadful day this has been,” groans Flora Collins, and she ought to know; her family has been experiencing one dreadful day after another for more than forty years. If anyone can recognize what a dreadful day looks like, it’s a Collins.

Suddenly, Carrie Stokes gasps, and every part of her face widens in alarm. “Someone’s been watching us!” she cries, and points at the scenery. “There!” I’m not sure why she’s getting so uptight, I believe people are still allowed to stand around in the woods if they want to.

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Episode 1162: The Tribulations

“Counselor, I do not need you to tell me the laws of this state that I am honor-bound to withhold!”

A death, a dream, a Trask yelling witchcraft — yep, just another episode of Dark Shadows.

Today, Trask finds Quentin kneeling over a dead body, just like he did in episode 1156, a little over a week ago. Then Gerard casts a spell that sends Daphne a sexy dream, just like episodes 1146, 1151 and 1158. And Desmond says that the evidence against Quentin is circumstantial, just like he did yesterday and the day before, and for all I know he’s going to say it again tomorrow, and every day for the rest of our lives.

Man, I wish something would happen today that we haven’t seen recently, and I’m sure I will never regret making that wish.

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Episode 1161: The Monster of Collinwood

“What of the witchcraft?”

Well, wills were made to be broken, and this one’s about as broken as you can get. Tower-dwelling invalid Daniel Collins, purportedly of sound mind and body, has slipped away from his lawyers and nurses, and scribbled himself a will that leaves everything to the black hat villain Gerard Stiles, who’s currently hosting the furious spirit of the legendary Judah Zachery, and if you can find a worse thing to do with your fortune then you’re welcome to it.

The situation is particularly dire because we know that it’s interfering with the proper course of Collins family history, which runs from Daniel to Gabriel, through some unknown mid-century child, and then on to Edward, Jamison, Elizabeth and points south. Finally, it ends up in 1970, when the family is scattered and the mansion destroyed by Gerard Stiles, aka the furious spirit of the legendary — oh, dear. He’s got us either way, hasn’t he?

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Episode 1160: Look Who’s Walking

“Murder is only the first step.”

So who wants to talk about the last 85 episodes of Dark Shadows? Well, I do for one, although I know it hasn’t looked that way lately. I’ve been averaging somewhere between zero and four posts a month since August, and August was forever ago.

I could tick off the usual excuses — amnesia, curse, sudden appearance of an ancient stone altar owned by people who wanted me to do something terribly urgent — but it doesn’t really matter; the important thing is that we’ve got seventeen more weeks of Dark Shadows to watch. Let’s do this.

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Episode 1159: This First Unhappy Experience

“He only remained a few nights and then vanished mysteriously with his manservant.”

It’s fall 1970, and the question on everyone’s mind is: what are we supposed to do with Quentin Collins? We’ve rebooted him, and jailed him, and sent him mysterious love notes, and still he remains as moody and Byronic as before, and as far as I know, nobody requested a Byronic Quentin. Moody and Byronic people are annoying and difficult to manage; even Byron was a pain in the ass.

It’s all the weddings, I think. Just this year, Quentin has been married to Angelique, Maggie and Samantha, a mixed assortment of nuts who keep hitching and unhitching themselves to him, dragging him down and saddling him with young sons that he hardly notices. He keeps struggling to separate himself from these crazy broads any way he knows how — strangle Angelique, chase Maggie out of the house, tell Samantha that he despises her — but then they keep living in the house with him for one reason or another, piling up in untidy heaps. What he needs is a good hard divorce, and one that sticks this time, and actually gets the wife all the way out of the house.

So it’s time for Quentin to get back to his woman chasing roots, and that’s why we’re spending the day reading another goddamn Paperback Library novel.

Continue reading Episode 1159: This First Unhappy Experience