Episode 305: Paranormal Activity

“Is it necessary to continue to threaten me? I know the status of our relationship.”

Today’s episode opens with a shot of David walking through the woods, with a sunny meadow behind him. This is the show’s first use of chromakey, a new special effects technique that they’ll come to rely on for all sorts of supernatural malarkey. This shot only lasts about ten seconds, but it’s an incredibly important moment in the development of the show. Also, it looks awful.

Chromakey is very familiar to modern viewers; it’s also called “bluescreen” or “greenscreen”. You film the actors in front of a colored screen, and then you replace that color with the input from a different camera. It’s used for TV weather maps, and for the news correspondents on The Daily Show reporting “live” from unlikely locations.

If the lighting is set up properly, and if the actor isn’t accidentally wearing something blue, then you can create the not-very-compelling illusion that the actor is standing in front of something. And if the lighting isn’t set up properly, then it looks like this.

305 dark shadows david chromakey

Oh, just look at it. It’s dreadful. They appear to be lighting it from the front, casting shadows onto the blue screen and messing up the color, so there’s jagged blue lines around all the foliage.

The best-known use of early chromakey technology is Doctor Who, back in the Third Doctor’s era. The BBC called the process Colour Separation Overlay (or CSO), and the Doctor Who producers thought it was made of magic. They used it for caves and alien worlds, and for a long series of completely unconvincing giant monsters.

All you need to do to mess up an old-school Doctor Who fan’s day is to walk up to them and say “CSO”, and then just sit back and watch the fun. The ensuing conversation will include at least one of the following phrases — Invasion of the Dinosaurs, Giant Robot, Loch Ness Monster — and a selection of curse words.

But the interesting thing is that Doctor Who started using CSO in 1970, and they were only making 25 episodes a year. Dark Shadows was using chromakey three years earlier, in the summer of 1967, and they made five episodes every week. They were using cutting-edge technology on the fly, shooting live-to-tape with no editing and no retakes.

That kind of lunatic, mad-scientist ambition will typically create either a huge success, a disastrous failure, or — as in the case of Dark Shadows — both, often at the same time.

305 dark shadows david sarah log

David meets up with Sarah, his friend who just happens to be the ghost of Barnabas’ little sister. After all this time, David still doesn’t realize that Sarah is a ghost, which is pretty strange, considering how ghost-aware he usually is.

A few months ago, David ran into a brainwashed Maggie at the Old House, and he thought she was the ghost of Josette Collins. Now he’s friends with an actual ghost, and it doesn’t seem to occur to him that there’s something weird about her.

Now, one of those mistakes would make sense — he lives in a fictional world that includes ghosts, so he’s not crazy for believing in them. But making that mistake twice, in the space of a few months, is basically grinding up his character for the sake of plot mechanics.

305 dark shadows david smile

David used to be a stubborn, sullen boy, resentful of his cold father, and grieving over the mysterious disappearance of his mother. But all of these ghost encounters are turning him into kind of a happy-go-lucky, dreamy kid.

For example, he tells Sarah that he was down by the ocean this morning.

David:  If I’d known where you lived, I could call for you, and you could come too.

Sarah:  I’d like to tell you, David, but I can’t.

David:  Why not?

Sarah:  Because it’s very hard to explain.

And then they just start chatting about how much fun secrets are.

David:  I sure would like to know why you’re so mysterious.

Sarah:  Because I have to be.

David:  If you have to be, you have to be.

See what I mean? Weird kid.

305 dark shadows david sarah secrets

David says it’s time to go home for supper, but Sarah offers to show him a secret place to play. It’s on Eagle Hill, where the cemetery is.

Now, they’ve established that the Eagle Hill cemetery is located five miles north of Collinsport, so it’s not really a place that two kids can walk to and still get home by dinnertime, but Sarah says she knows a shortcut.

305 dark shadows barnabas willie sick

At the Old House, Barnabas is out of his coffin already, but he’s not his usual perky undead self. He droops into a chair, and asks Willie when Julia is coming back.

Julia’s been experimenting on a cure for Barnabas’ vampirism, giving him injections to change the cellular structure of his blood. She seems optimistic, but now he’s feeling weak.

305 dark shadows barnabas weak

And, man, he really does look terrible. The Dark Shadows makeup department is not fooling around. Even for a dead guy, he looks bad.

So now he’s questioning the value of Dr. Hoffman’s experiments. He’s got a plan to destroy Burke and seduce Vicki, and he can’t do that if he’s dragging himself around like this. This is not the romantic look that he’s going for.

305 dark shadows julia barnabas friend

But here comes Julia, with a big smile on her face like she’s visiting her best friend in the world, rather than an insane ghoul who considers murdering her on an hourly basis.

He tells her that he’s feeling weak, and she’s delighted. “I see,” she smiles. “Then it’s taking effect!”

But he’s not having it. He rises with difficulty and looms over her, telling her that they’d better be making progress. She goes downstairs to prepare some tests.

305 dark shadows willie barnabas shirt

Barnabas tells Willie that he’s not sure that he can trust Julia and her strange theories.

“I don’t understand these injections,” he croaks. “They could be harmful. If for one moment you suspect that what she’s doing could be something like that — you must destroy her. Do you understand?”

And look, Willie has a haircut today, and a nice new shirt. He looks great. He shouldn’t have to put up with nonsense like this.

305 dark shadows sarah david mausoleum

Okay, back to the kids. Sarah’s five-mile shortcut takes David to the cemetery, and the Collins family crypt. Taken literally, this is impossible, but you have to look at it metaphorically, as a spiritual journey. Or maybe they just don’t care about geography on this show. It’s either that or the metaphor thing.

David is mildly freaked out that his friend has brought him to the creepiest possible place, but he tries to stay positive.

David:  Well, gee, Sarah, it’s interesting and all that, but what can you do here? I mean, what kind of games do you play?

Sarah:  Oh, sometimes I just come here to sit and think. Sometimes I come here to cry.

David:  I don’t want you to cry, Sarah.

Sarah:  Oh, I won’t cry… not now, because you’re my friend. I’m proving to be a good friend by bringing you here.

David:  That’s right. I know lots of kids that wouldn’t share a secret like this.

This is late August, by the way. Dark Shadows has turned into a surprise hit over the summer, and by now there’s a huge audience of schoolkids who have spent their vacations playing vampire and victim.

Imagine what would happen today if an afternoon television show showed a middle-school kid getting lured into a creepy cemetery in the middle of the night, and presenting it as an exciting secret place to play. The world was different back then.

305 dark shadows david sarah color

And it’s about to get even more different, because Sarah instructs David to pull on the ring in the lion’s mouth and open the secret door.

By the way, doesn’t the mausoleum set look fantastic in color? It’s the first time we’ve seen it. The stone walls are a deep greenish-gray, and with the lighting, it almost looks like an underwater cavern.

There are some people who say that Dark Shadows was better and more atmospheric when it was in black and white. Those people are wrong, and they should be ashamed of themselves.

305 dark shadows david sarah coffin

The door slides open, and Sarah leads David into the secret chamber.

David says, “Hey! There’s a coffin,” which is a very Dark Shadows-y thing to say. This is the only show on television where people come across unexpected coffins.

The episode ends with Sarah insisting that David open the coffin and look inside. And he does, because why the hell not. I love this show.

Monday: Out of Order.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

When Sarah enters her first scene in the woods, her long dress catches on a branch.

David and Sarah sit on a big rubber log. You can see it buckle under their weight, especially when Sarah sits down.

David bobbles a line with Sarah:

David:  It’s dinner time. Don’t you ever have to go home to dinner?

Sarah:  No, I don’t.

David:  Well, you’re sure lucky. Don’t you ever have to… can you stay out as long as you want, or… ?

Monday: Out of Order.

305 dark shadows david sarah tree

Dark Shadows episode guide – 1967

— Danny Horn

16 thoughts on “Episode 305: Paranormal Activity

  1. Wearing the badge of shame here — I’m one of those folks who liked the black and white more. I do agree they did a nice job with the Collins mausoleum (and really, with many of the sets).

    When I was growing up in the ’60s and ’70s, we weren’t on the brink of starvation by any means, but I guess you could say my family had little money for the extras or the newest versions of things. I don’t think we had a color TV until 1974 or so.

    And when I watched reruns of DS in the late ’70s, I watched it on our old black and white, because I didn’t realize it was ever shown on color. In fact, I didn’t own a color TV of my own until 1986. I guess I’m someone who dwelled “in the past.” I liked “the past,” and I guess I liked “the past” in black and white.

    The first time I saw color DS was in the 1990s, during my third flirtation with the show.

  2. On another subject: Funny what we have patience for and don’t. I dutifully went through the Basement Storyline and readily accepted its premise and rollout.

    But I’m getting very itchy for Burke to get on with the Barnabas investigation. In fact, the “What Happened to Maggie?” episodes are getting tiresome. (Unless Maggie is in the scene. Then I’m OK with it). But I’m really starting to dread seeing Sam, Burke, Joe or Victoria on the screen.

  3. It was bad enough when Willie had to help bury his pal Jason after Barnabas murdered him; now, Barnabas just ups and tells the poor guy that he’ll have to murder Julia!

    I always got the feeling with Sarah that she was trying to get David to ‘join’ her, give her a forever friend.

    I thought the coffin from the secret room was in the basement of the Old House now. (Sorry, this may have mentioned before…)

    1. Barnabas searching for anything to discredit Julia, anything to try to make her the bad guy, but the problem is he is failing and Willie is about tired of his lame ass trying to make trouble for Julia.

  4. I like the old David better. He would have sensed Sarah’s ghostliness right away. Maybe he’s getting close to early puberty and his ghosty sense is thrown off by his libido.

    I too can’t figure out what’s the deal with the 2 coffins. Although it kind of makes sense that Barnabas would have made Willie make him one for the old house rather than drag the other one cross town. Plus, Barnabas probably has bad memories from the one in the family tomb since he was locked up there against his will. My question is where’s Maggie’s coffin. Probably waiting for the next contestant in Barnabas’ beauty contest.

  5. I did like the b/w creepiness, even if the flames of fireplaces and candles burned the videotape. But you’re right about the color of the mausoleum looking fantastic!

  6. Ghost shortcuts are like folds in time and space. Just like Maggie and Sarah can walk a hundred miles in short order, David and Sarah can travel the 5 miles to the cemetery in a jiffy.

  7. What is the deal with Julia constantly tipping her head back? Most of the time she is not looking up at a taller person. It looks unnatural and ridiculous. Her stiff, helmet-like hair and exaggerated makeup don’t work for me either. I do like her faux-concern expressions though.

    1. I noticed that Julia tips her head back like that when she is throwing Barnabas or anyone some dynamic truth, begging them to come back with something better…lol.

  8. As for b/w vs. color, I’m mixed. I truly enjoy the b/w and think it was atmospheric. I watched it as one of those young kids who got hooked that summer and saw the original change to color. (We had a color TV very early, as one of my sibs worked for Motorola and they were allowed to bring them home for trials. Dad had to get one.)

    With the episode color change the show just did in recent episodes, I’m now appreciating the make-up people and how pretty some of the women are on the show. (I enjoy that a star like Joan Bennett was a main character and am going back to watch it from the beginning on Amazon Prime.) I really like reliving the styes and vibrant colors of the dresses from the 60’s.

    I recalled Frid’s make-up, post color, as far more terrifying than I do now. The result of an adult mind viewing DS again on “Decades,” with the memories of a 10-12 year old. (I also distractedly caught and taped many episodes during Syfy’s run of the series many years ago, so I’ve been around the DS block a few times.) Thanks for your blog. It’s a lot of fun to see your take on the episodes. Very witty.

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