“Another blunder! This may mean your life.”
We take you now, live, to a young boy’s subconscious mind. David Collins is having a nightmare, and everyone’s invited.
Of course, his subconscious doesn’t have to work very hard here. David’s whole life is a terrifying nightmare, so bad dreams for him are essentially just edited highlights.
The dream sequence is a perfect example of Better Living Through Chromakey. They started using “blue-screen” effects three weeks ago — and by “they” I kind of mean “anybody in the entire history of television” — so it’s amazing that they’ve already figured out what it’s good for.
So far, they’ve only used Chromakey to pretend that they’re filming outside, with varying degrees of success. Even under perfect conditions, 1960s Chromakey effects are always going to look slightly unsettling. With this sequence, the Dark Shadows team figures out how to use that to their advantage.
The scene starts with David tossing restlessly in his sleep. There’s a cross-fade to a shot of the sky, and then we’re back in David’s bedroom. Sort of.
There’s vaseline on the lens filter, obviously, because that’s how you make a dream sequence. David’s standing in front of the blue-screen, which starts out with an image of his room.
But the two images aren’t really aligned properly — he’s too low, as if he’s standing in a trench. It’s hard to say whether that’s an accident or if that was their intention, but it establishes a creepy, unreal atmosphere.
David spins around, staring wildly around the room. While his back is turned, the image of the bedroom fades away…
and it’s replaced by the Eagle Hill cemetery, with Barnabas in silhouette, framed against the gate of the Collins mausoleum.
David turns, and sees Barnabas walking toward him.
He freezes as he realizes that Barnabas is walking closer…
and David begins to scream.
Barnabas opens his mouth…
until all David can see are the vampire’s fangs.
Finally, he wakes up, sobbing and screaming.
That’s how they decided to use a minute and a half of network television.
There’s really no good way to follow that opening, so they don’t even try. For the next ten minutes, they just fill in with Vicki and Burke scenes, because they know nobody’s really paying attention anyway.
Finally, they cut to something we care about, i.e. the four-alarm wide-awake nightmare taking place at the Old House.
In yesterday’s episode, Sam and Sheriff Patterson put on a show at the Blue Whale, pretending that they accidentally let it slip that Maggie’s memory of her abduction has returned. This is actually just a trap, designed to trick the kidnapper into revealing himself.
So far, the trap is working pretty well. Barnabas is freaking the hell out.
Julia drops by, and Barnabas greets her with, “Doctor, you’ve blundered! It may mean the end of everything.”
A month ago, Julia hypnotized Maggie with her magic memory-erasing medallion, to forget about Barnabas and his vampire secrets. If Maggie’s memory is returning, then that means that Julia has failed, and he’ll be exposed.
Astonished, Julia says that’s not possible. She permanently destroyed all of Maggie’s memories of her time at the Old House.
But Barnabas insists that Maggie is remembering everything, and they have to do something about it right away.
They launch into another round of the same argument that Barnabas has had with Willie and Julia pretty much every day for the last few weeks. Barnabas wants to kill somebody that he thinks is a threat, and they try to talk him out of it.
In fact, this topic has become so familiar that it’s easy to lose touch with the fact that it’s absolutely bonkers. We’re watching people on a daytime soap opera earnestly discussing whether it’s a good idea to slaughter an innocent young woman, in order to cover up for the horrible torture that she endured at their hands.
But they’re not talking about whether killing Maggie is “good” in the sense of morality, justice, ethics or even good manners. They’re talking about whether it would be effective. This is a conversation about strategy.
We are way past the point where it’s possible for the humans in the room to suggest that killing is wrong, that Maggie is a nice person, and that there are people who love her and depend upon her. Barnabas has successfully dismissed all of that as “sentiment” and “squeamishness”.
By now, there are only two legitimate objections:
#1. This person doesn’t know or remember anything, so they’re not really a threat to you.
#2. You’ll get caught.
That’s it; those are the only terms of discussion. They don’t say that even if Maggie is a threat, and even if Barnabas wouldn’t get caught, then he still shouldn’t kill her, because ending a human life is not a thing that you should do. Nobody points out that Barnabas has no right to sustain his own ghoulish existence at the expense of other people’s lives, or that he has committed serious and terrible crimes, and he deserves to be caught and punished.
What has happened to this television show? How did it drift so far away from civilized human discourse? Gently, day by day, the focus has shifted to Barnabas’ storyline, and we’ve been invited to empathize and identify with him. We share his secrets; we see events from his point of view. And now we have a television show that’s increasingly popular among high school kids, which is saying that it’s okay to slaughter people if they’re going to tell someone that you’ve committed a crime.
We are bad people. This television show is evil. Come back on Monday, we’re probably going to kill the kid too.
Monday: What We Talk About When We Talk About Ghosts.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Just before Vicki and Burke rush into David’s room, the camera is positioned too far to the left, and you can see Burke standing and waiting for his cue.
Vicki tells Burke that “David’s never kept secrets from me before.” Except for when he tried to kill his father, obviously, and all the other times.
Barnabas and Julia step on each other’s lines during their argument:
Barnabas: You must make sure that she doesn’t remember.
Julia: She doesn’t. She never will.
(There’s a pause as Barnabas turns to check the teleprompter.)
Barnabas: I’ll give you one more chance, Doctor, to find out if she doesn’t. Go to her… now, tonight, and make sure that her memory is gone!
Julia: But it —
Barnabas: This time for good!
Julia: It is gone!
Barnabas: (simultaneously) Don’t argue with me! Go to her. Before it’s too late.
Monday: What We Talk About When We Talk About Ghosts.
Dark Shadows episode guide – 1967
— Danny Horn
9 thoughts on “Episode 320: This Means Your Life”
This was great special effects and I think the last time I watched that episode was in the late 1980’s when you reviewed the episode I remember those scenes.
DAMN SHAME we only have the kinescope of this left. It has always been my belief that most if not all of the “lost” masters were probably stolen. They are for the most part among the best or most pivotal: Barnabus’ first arrival at Collinwood; Angelique’s first appearance; etc. And, OH FCK, that nightmare sequence is fracking magnificent, the Barnabus approach to a fanged swallow of David IS truly terrifying – it can still give me a shudder. THANKS SO MUCH, Danny!
I think I need to start signing all of my emails with “Better Living Through Chromakey”!
Danny–this recap, like soooooooooo many others, is just flat-out fucking brilliant! There, I’ve said it. The screen caps with your outline–it truly makes watching an episode and then coming here a real joy. I hope that you know that, even years later from your inception of it, you still have adoring fans. This is such a solid effort on your part and I want you to know how very much I appreciate it, as I am sure everyone that finds their way here does as well.
There are moments of what I will call…………..sheer discomfiture going on with lines between Jonathan, Willie and Julia (not to mention poor Willie getting upstaged so badly he has to pivot and pop-in between Julia and Barnabas). I am not sure (and would love some clarification) just how many lines actors on soaps are supposed to memorize before coming to the studio to work, but there is a growing sense having been on this project now for over a 100 episodes that Frid (and others) would not be able to shoot without the teleprompter. I know that the leads particularly have a lot of dialogue to get through on a weekly basis but Frid in particular (who is the “classic” stage actor of all of them, well, along with Grayson Hall), just seems to really struggle with his cues, delivery, etc. I make my actors do rapid-fire “line bashes” when they are struggling with dialogue. It helps tighten cue-pick-up and solidifies rhythm. They seem to struggle with not having solid stage direction as well but maybe these concerns are just more apparent because they are putting out a daily product 5x a week/365 days a year.
The Chromakey dream sequence opening is just perfection for 1967. They sure as hell weren’t doing this on SEARCH FOR TOMORRROW.
Again, why the kinescope black and whites all coming together here in one week? Has there ever been any adequate explanation provided for it?
That didn’t sound David Henesy screaming in the nightmare sequence. It actually sounded more like a woman’s scream.
I thought so too!
It was a woman. It was stock recording of screaming (by a woman). I think this may be the same screaming when Maggie was having her nightmare about finding herself in a coffin.
“What has happened to this television show?” Not that much really. Barnabas is still Barnabas. My question is what has happened to Julia? Though she’s still on the Don’t Kill Anyone side, it seems like she may mainly object to killing Maggie because it might threaten her experiment. They soften this a bit when they bring up the idea that maybe her actions are due to love rather than ambition, that she wants to protect Barnabas. I find it hard to reconcile the Julia we see in the coming lead-up to 1795 with the Julia who was introduced as Maggie’s doctor. Is it because of the changes in the writers’ room? (Spoilers just in case anyone is new to the show.) The writers now set her on a path that leads to being an accomplice to murder, derailing what was originally a strong female character. They pretty much break Julia and have to send everyone off to another century so they can come back and reboot her character after the audience has had a chance to forget just how messed up this gets.
I guess it worked because I only ever thought of Dr. Julia Hoffman in a positive light when I saw it back in the 1960s. I may have missed much of this because of my school schedule or I may have just chosen to forget.
I didn’t know about the comings-and-goings of the writers back when I watched originally but now I see it could explain a lot.