“Evil! That’s what’s here. I can feel it in the air. Evil. EVIL!”
Good morning, everybody! We start today’s episode with a recap of Willie opening the mystery box, and then we cut to the next morning, with Liz and Jason talking in the drawing room. Make sure you enjoy the daylight, because the sun’s going to set again in about eight minutes.
It turns out Willie didn’t come back last night from his secret grave-robbing escapade. Liz wants him out of the house, but his things are still up in his room. Jason needs to find Willie, give him the money, and get him out of town. Jason says, “I’ve looked for him! Every place conceivable.” Liz snaps, “Well, I suggest you look for him in some inconceivable places. Knowing Willie, that’s probably where he’ll be.”
Unfortunately, she trips over the word “probably”, which is a shame, because it’s the best line of the day. Liz is played by Joan Bennett, who was a famous film star in the 1940s. She was known for film noir roles, playing tough broads opposite Edward G. Robinson. She also played Spencer Tracy’s wife in Father of the Bride, where she was billed above Elizabeth Taylor. It was a big deal when Dark Shadows premiered with a movie star in the cast. She’s usually a lot better than she is today.
Liz suspects that Jason knows where Willie is. He gives his word, and she scoffs. He reminds her, “I haven’t said a word to anyone about our agreement.” She barks, “You were paid very well for your services, and our ‘agreement’ was that you were never to return to Collin. Wood.” Ah, well. Everybody has an off day once in a while.
Then we get a scene with Mrs. Johnson, who’s lovely. She’s the most realistic character on the show. Liz and Jason are playing kind of a high-camp melodrama, and Mrs. Johnson couldn’t care less. She doesn’t get involved in mysteries and secrets; she’s mainly a talk-to character, who can deliver information from one person to another.
And that’s what she’s doing here, telling Jason about Willie’s interest in the portrait of Barnabas Collins — especially the jewels that Barnabas is wearing. Willie asked a lot of questions about the legend of Naomi Collins, who was given precious jewels by a pirate, which she wore to her grave. This is news to me, and it would probably be news to Naomi, but Jason is intrigued.
Mrs. Johnson says that Naomi’s buried in the old cemetery on Eagle Hill, five miles north. You’re going to want to keep an eye on that cemetery, because it’s going to drift closer and closer to Collinwood, until it’s practically in the backyard.
So we cut to the Eagle Hill cemetery, and hey, it’s night already. We’re back in the mausoleum, and — oh, God. The caretaker.
Okay, then. Folks, this creaky old man is the caretaker of the Eagle Hill cemetery. He only appears in a few episodes, but damn if he doesn’t make the most of it.
He sees the door of the mausoleum swinging open, so he shuffles up the stairs, croaking “Who’s there?” He goes inside. “Where are you?” He looks around. “I know someone is here.” He takes a few steps. “Evil! That’s what’s here. I can feel it in the air. Evil. Evil!”
And oh, how I wish this wasn’t happening. One of my goals for this blog is to encourage people who haven’t watched Dark Shadows to give it a chance, and to appreciate what’s awesome and fun about it — the eccentric actors, the crazy plot twists, the general lunatic energy of it all.
And right away, day two, along comes the god-damned caretaker. I’d forgotten all about him.
We’ve just unleashed an ancient and primal terror on a wealthy soap opera family. Mayhem will ensue. But first, let’s watch a day player shuffle around, spreading thirty seconds of dialogue over a five-minute scene.
Jason arrives at the graveyard and strikes up an endless conversation with the caretaker. The key talking points are that the living must leave, and never come here again, no one may ever come here again. Also: Evil, evil, disturbing the dead and so on.
Jason wants to look in the mausoleum where Naomi Collins is buried. The caretaker moans, “Evil — evil hovers there! Can’t you feel it?” Jason says, “No, I can’t say that I do,” and goes inside.
Jason, bless his heart, is trying heroically to save the scene. He walks in and looks around as if he’s considering renting the place.
He says, “You have nothing to worry about in here, everything seems to be perfectly normal. A little damp, perhaps, but that can’t be helped.”
The caretaker groans, “Can’t you… can’t you feel anything in the air?” Jason grimaces: “I can’t even feel the air.”
See? Adorable. Look at him just standing there, acting away.
We’re going to head back to Collinwood now, and we won’t see the caretaker again for a few months, thank goodness. Still, if you’d like to hear more from him, he’s got a Twitter feed, @EagleHCaretaker, and he’ll keep you up to date on whether people should leave the dead in peace or not. (They probably should.)
Okay, back to Collinwood. There’s a knock at the door, and Mrs. Johnson opens it to find a stranger, who asks for Mrs. Stoddard. We can’t see the guy’s face yet, but Mrs. J looks stunned.
The stranger asks, politely, “This is Collinwood, isn’t it? And the mistress here is Mrs. Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, is she not?” Mrs. Johnson says yes. “Then perhaps you’d do me the courtesy to inform Mrs. Stoddard that her cousin is calling, and wishes to pay his respects.”
Flustered, she invites him in and takes his hat. He explains that he’s a cousin from England, and she heads upstairs to tell Elizabeth that he’s here.
The camera turns, and we see the man standing in front of the 18th century family portrait — and it’s the same man. “Oh, madam, if you would, you may tell her it’s… Barnabas Collins.”
BOOM! And that’s how you end an episode.
Tomorrow: The Collins Blood.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
There are a couple fun ones in this episode. One’s nitpicky but amusing — the hand that reaches up from the coffin to grab Willie’s neck wears the black onyx ring on the left hand. Barnabas wears the ring on his right hand, as you can see in the portrait.
In the foyer, Mrs. Johnson tells Jason, “You know what I think fascinated him the most about that portrait? It’s a pity to say it, but it’s the truth. The jewels. That ring, and the pin, and that other thing he’s got on there.”
When Jason and the caretaker enter the mausoleum, Jason points to the wrong grave markers as he reads the names aloud. In yesterday’s episode, we saw that the plaque above the left coffin says Sarah Collins, the middle coffin is Naomi Collins, and the right coffin is Joshua Collins. And now Jason walks in, points at the plaque on the left and says that it’s Joshua’s. The plaques are very clearly marked with huge block letters, and he’s looking directly at it from two inches away. Gentlemen, what more can we do for you?
Behind the Scenes:
When Dark Shadows debuted in June 1966, it aired at 4:00pm on ABC. At the time, there were four other soap operas on the ABC schedule: Confidential for Women, A Time for Us, General Hospital and The Nurses. (Confidential for Women only aired for four months, and it’s so obscure that it doesn’t have a Wikipedia page yet.)
Confidential for Women was cancelled in July 1966, and A Time for Us in December; both were replaced by game shows.
On April 3, 1967 — just a week before Barnabas’ introduction — ABC cancelled The Nurses, and moved Dark Shadows to the 3:30 timeslot.
On the new schedule, there were only two soap operas on ABC. At the time, CBS had six soap operas on the schedule, with a seventh coming in June 1967; NBC had four soaps.
So at this point, Dark Shadows is airing at 3:30 in the afternoon, between General Hospital and The Dating Game. Dark Shadows’ competition is the CBS mystery soap opera The Edge of Night, and the NBC celebrity charades game show You Don’t Say!
Dark Shadows will stay in this timeslot until July 1968 (episode 536), when the show returns to the 4:00pm slot.
Tomorrow: The Collins Blood.
— Danny Horn