Episode 224: The Late Shift

“Willie and I have an understanding.”

Yesterday, we left David at the Old House, hearing snarling dogs and banging on the front doors. There’s not as much turning of the doorknob as you might expect, just banging and yelling.

Then the dognoise suddenly stops and everything is fine, which says a lot about how seriously they’re treating cliffhangers in this period of the show.

224 dark shadows i see david barnabas

Barnabas comes in, but he’s doing kindly-uncle Barnabas rather than cow-draining Barnabas, so basically we’re just watching a kid visiting with a relative. Less rock, more talk.

David:  What did you do with the portrait of Josette?

Barnabas:  It was put away.

David:  Where?

Barnabas:  Into another room.

David:  I see.

And that’s the level of conversation we’re dealing with. It’s a good thing that Jason shows up in a minute because this scene could put people in the hospital.

224 dark shadows longpause liz jason

Back at Collinwood, Liz tells Jason that Willie’s working at the Old House. Then they do another one of their blackmail comedy skits, with some funny lines for Jason.

“So, I’m finally going to have a Swiss bank account,” he purrs. “I’ve wanted one for so long. I wonder what the number will be? I do hope it’ll be a lucky one.”

Then Jason walks away, and Liz stands and glares out the window for 12 seconds. It doesn’t sound long when you say it like that, but on television, 12 seconds is an eternity. You can clearly see the difference here in what they used to consider the expected pace of a television scene. These days, you’d never have a 12-second pause where nobody moves, unless you were absolutely convinced that every single person in the audience was a stroke victim.

224 dark shadows housekeeping jason willie

There’s more comedy when Jason visits the Old House. Willie answers the door, and Jason smirks, “Well, now. Is the lady of the house in?”

Jason pushes his way through the door, and demands to know what’s going on.

JasonSo, this is where you work, hmm? Tell me, Willie, just exactly what is it you do here?

Willie:  Well, uh… a little bit of everything. I fix the place up. Carpentry, plumbing.

Jason:  And a little light housekeeping?

Obviously, that sounds super gay, and I’m not the only person who thinks so — they actually got a memo from ABC about it. It’s printed in one of my Dark Shadows books — dated April 19, 1967, and signed by Bernardine McKenna from Broadcast Standards and Practices:

“Please ensure that Jason’s wisecracks about ‘light housekeeping’ and ‘the lady of the house,’ as addressed to Willie are delivered so that there is no insinuation that Jason suspects a sexual relationship between Willie and Barnabas.”

Which is awesome. (Here’s another example of McKenna’s notes, for Rocky and Bullwinkle episodes.)

224 dark shadows startled barnabas jason willie

Things stay pretty late-night when Barnabas comes home and finds Jason roughing up the help.

Barnabas says, “Willie, I think it’s time for you to do that job that you have to do,” and Willie slinks out, which doesn’t sound suspicious at all. And then there’s more dialogue like this:

Jason:  I think I should warn you about Willie. The kind of man he is?

Barnabas:  I know what kind he is.

And then it goes on like that, approximately forever. I’m speeding through most of the episode today, because I want to get to the dream sequence, which is amazing.

224 dark shadows dream maggie

We see Maggie in her bedroom, saying goodbye to her father, Sam. He’s got “the late shift,” painting Barnabas’ portrait at the Old House.

Maggie brushes her hair and goes to bed, and then we get the typical wavy “dream sequence” camera work.

224 dark shadows dream sequence maggie

In the dream, Maggie’s in a misty forest graveyard space, which kind of looks like the set for a spooky musical number on a variety show. It’s fantastic, all dry ice and vaseline on the lens filter.

224 dark shadows maggie finds a coffin

She picks her way through the cemetery, and finds a coffin. The coffin lid opens, and Maggie screams in terror…

224 dark shadows coffin dream maggie

… because she’s lying in the coffin!

224 dark shadows dream skull maggie

Back to Maggie screaming, and her face has turned into a skull!

224 dark shadows wake up maggie

Maggie wakes up with a blood-curdling shriek that goes on and on. A big musical sting, and that’s the end of the episode.

WHO DOES THIS? It’s amazing! The best episode ending all week.

Monday: Fangs for Nothing.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

As Barnabas leaves the Old House to walk to Collinwood with David, the door doesn’t quite close behind him.

Behind the Scenes:

In the late 60s, editing videotape was expensive and difficult, so they shot each episode “live to tape” — as one unbroken take, including pauses for the commercial breaks.

They usually structure an episode so that they fill a little time when an actor has to walk across the studio, from one set to another. For example, in yesterday’s episode, Liz had to go from Collinwood to the Old House set. After her exit, Vicki and David kept talking to each other for a minute, and then they did a long pan across the Old House set to give Liz time to get into position. That’s why you get those long “atmospheric” pauses sometimes.

So shooting a dream sequence can get a little challenging. Traditionally, on television and in movies, you see a shot of the character sleeping, there’s some wavy lines, and then you see that character in the dream. On Dark Shadows, they had to figure out how to get the character from the bedroom over to the dream set, and then back to the bed.

In Maggie’s dream today, they use a few different tricks, including a stand-in, a pre-filmed insert and a still photograph. The stand-in was Dorrie Kavanaugh, who was in six Dark Shadows episodes, most notably as Phyllis Wick in November. Kavanaugh later played Cathy on One Life to Live, and Martha on Ryan’s Hope.

224 dark shadows fun gap stand-in

So, here’s what they do. Leading up to the dream, we see Maggie tossing and turning in bed. She rolls over on her side, and then there’s a cut to Kavanaugh, who lays with her back to the camera. One of these has to be a pre-filmed insert, because both shots are clearly filmed in Maggie’s bedroom set.

The camera goes wavy, and we cut to Maggie, entering the dream set. She opens the coffin, and begins to scream — but she’s not really screaming, just miming to a sound effect. The camera cuts to a still photo of Maggie lying in the coffin, and lingers there for a moment while Maggie and the stand-in get to their positions.

Cut to Kavanaugh, who’s now standing somewhere nearby against a black background, holding up the skull to her face. Then back to Maggie waking up in her bedroom, now actually screaming.

The interesting thing about this (for me) is that the most remarkable shot in the episode — Maggie as the skull, screaming in darkness — is entirely a result of the technical limitations. They needed eight seconds for Maggie to get back to the bedroom set, so they had a stand-in holding up the skull.

If they’d had the money and equipment that night-time TV had, they would have shot it like every other scene, with Maggie playing all the parts and doing her own screams. But the creative workarounds that they used — the stand-in, the sound effect, and the skull — give the sequence a weird, uncanny vibe that you wouldn’t see anywhere else on television.

Monday: Fangs for Nothing.

224 dark shadows dream coffin opens maggie

Dark Shadows episode guide – 1967

— Danny Horn

6 thoughts on “Episode 224: The Late Shift

    1. Oh, I should have said. That’s from a fan-produced episode guide from 1988 — “Dark Shadows: The Introduction of Barnabas.” It was published by Jim Pierson and sold through the Dark Shadows Festival mailings.

  1. Thanks, Danny, for the compelling breakdown of the episode, particularly of the last act with what turns out to be one of the series’ most harrowing moments to date. Knowing the behind-the-scenes aspects with the tech restrictions and how quickly Maggie had to move around to get into place makes it even more compelling. Those screams at the curtain are absolutely bloodcurdling to be sure.

    Even the opening “who let the dogs out” howling with aspiring thespian David come off creepy and unsettling. The whole episode really shifts things more into the macabre than ever. It’s still camp macabre, but finally is starting to ring with the air of melodramatic legitimacy.

    The scene earlier in the episode between Jason and Barnabas becomes this odd pseudo-gay tug-of-war over Willie Loomis and which one is really able to make him do their bidding is…….beyond strange. Jason’s all like, “Yeah, I can get the boy to do anything,” and Barnabas is like, “Oh, yeah? I can get him all tricked up in cemetery garb and move coffins around………….he’s my boy, now, bitch!”

    And Barnabas asking Liz to make the decision as to whether Willie should stay on at the Old House as Barnabas’ handy (hench) man, well, poor Liz, she’s just all kinds of Play-Doh in the Player’s hands, isn’t she?

  2. Considering that the candles haven’t even been lit yet, there’s an awful lot of light in that opening scene with Barnabas and David.

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