“Strange… It never occurred to me that being human would make me become the man I was.”
Man, talk about a senior moment. For the last three months, Julia’s been working on a revolutionary new medical treatment to cure Barnabas, and make him human again. It turns out he should have asked her to be more specific.
And, oh — just look at that. Who saw this one coming? The housewives of 1967 must have been knocked sideways.
Obviously, this is above and beyond the makeup department’s pay grade; they hired special effects makeup artist Dick Smith to design special appliances for Barnabas’ face. Smith is actually a legend in his field, and he’s especially well-known for his “old man” makeup — he aged Dustin Hoffman for the 1970 film Little Big Man, Marlon Brando in 1973’s The Godfather, and F. Murray Abraham for Amadeus in 1985.
So you have to hand it to Dan Curtis, the utterly bonkers executive producer of Dark Shadows. I want to say something like “Nobody else was doing this on daytime television,” but that’s not strong enough. Seriously, literally, it would never have occurred to any sane person to spend this much money and time on special effects makeup for two episodes of a daytime soap opera that were supposed to air once and then be forgotten.
Sometimes I think that when they invented the idea of “phoning it in,” Dan wasn’t paying attention, and he never quite grasped the concept.
Anyway — the elderly. Right? Dude’s been human for, like, ten seconds, and all he can do is complain.
Barnabas: You did this to me! YOU!
Barnabas: You turned me into something so grotesque that anyone who looks at me would fear me and loathe me!
It’s a timeless image, really — an old man yelling about the quality of his medical care. Any minute now, he’s going to make a sign that says “Keep Your Government Hands Off My Medicare”.
But I guess he does have a legitimate grievance.
Barnabas: Why did it happen?
Julia: I warned you against taking the massive dosage. If you’d let me progress at my own rate of speed, with proper controls…
Barnabas: The same thing would have happened!
Julia: Not necessarily.
So this is clearly an off day for her. We expect more than a “not necessarily” from Dr. Julia Hoffman. Get it together.
Luckily, Barnabas is on point today. Julia says that she can counteract this, if he’ll give her time. That’s his cue to walk over to the candles, strike a pose, cock a droopy eye at the teleprompter, and make with the fancy dialogue.
Barnabas: Time… I have no time! The years have already pressed in upon me, and every passing moment brings me that one step closer to the moment of my death.
Now, technically, that’s true for everybody, but you get the idea.
Barnabas: Strange… It never occurred to me that being human would make me become the man I was… a man who would have been long dead by now.
You know, this actually sounds like Universal Monsters dialogue. You could imagine Boris Karloff tearing into these lines, or one of the Chaneys.
And then they do this amazing little bit of sleight-of-hand.
Barnabas: I must save myself.
Julia: What do you mean?
Barnabas: You know the answer to that!
Julia: You mean… revert?
It’s fantastic. Julia does a little gasp before she says “revert,” like this is a well-known procedure that doesn’t need to be explained. What do you mean, “revert”? Is there an expiration date on whatever the hell this is supposed to be? Bless their hearts, they’re improvising new vampire rules on the spot.
And then they have another one of those breakneck shifts in tone. Barnabas tells Julia to go back to Collinwood, and tell Vicki that he can’t see her tonight. But Vicki happens to be just walking up to the door, and she hears his voice.
So Julia stalls Vicki at the door, while Barnabas moves a chair around.
Then he slumps in the chair, so Vicki won’t see him, and he says that he’s not feeling well. He tells her not to come too close — he might be contagious, and he doesn’t want to expose her.
So all of a sudden this is a farce sequence, with outrageous coincidences and fast-talking schemers. There’s an episode of Fawlty Towers which uses the exact same plot point.
As far as the tone is concerned, all bets are off. The audience gets no direction about how we’re supposed to feel about this. Is it sad? Funny? Tragic? A well-deserved comeuppance for the monster? Nobody ever bothered to make narrative rules for a situation like this. I think we always figured it wouldn’t come up.
When Vicki leaves, the scene takes another hairpin turn.
Barnabas: You gave me hope, Doctor — hope that I could live as a man among other men. I’ll never forgive you for this.
Julia: Vicki can still be yours.
Barnabas: What do you mean?
She’s got him now.
Julia: Well… you say that you must revert to what you were, in order to survive. Perhaps you’re right.
Barnabas: What do you mean?
Julia: Use Vicki as the instrument of your reverting.
Julia: Why not? Then she’d be under your power. That’s what you want, isn’t it?
Barnabas: I won’t have her that way. She must come to me willingly.
Julia: And if that never happens?
It’s unbelievable, just a really great scene. This is Julia the way I like her — smart, manipulative, and flat-out crazy. She’s being the Serpent again, offering Barnabas what he really wants.
Barnabas: You only say that so she will not come to me willingly. You don’t want her to be my Josette.
Julia: Not true, I’m thinking of you. You have a need. Use her to fulfill that need!
Barnabas: I couldn’t… not to her!
Julia: You say that, but you know you’re tempted… Very tempted.
And that’s gorgeous. This is what Dark Shadows is meant to be — just a careening roller-coaster of crazy.
Unfortunately, they can’t sustain it; the second half of the episode is filled up with recap scenes. The laziest one is Carolyn talking to Joe at the Blue Whale about her meeting with Sarah’s ghost yesterday. Even with a powerful opening, this is still a Ron Sproat script, and he loves his Blue Whale recaps.
But never mind all that. There’s so much sparkle in the Barnabas/Julia scenes that it’s not worth getting all judgemental about the recap. After all, every passing moment brings us one step closer, and so on.
Tomorrow: Grumpy Old Man.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When Barnabas turns his chair around to hide from Vicki, the shot needs a camera angle that they don’t normally use. This seems to confuse some of the crew, as you can see below.
First, we’ve got the boom mic picking up Vicki and Julia’s dialogue at the front door, which is visible at the top of the frame during their entire conversation.
Cutting to the door, there’s a super clear boom shadow on the wall…
And when they approach the drawing room, we’re still seeing the boom mic, plus a camera on the left side. Both the mic and the camera hover in and out of the frame for the rest of the scene.
And that camera clearly isn’t where it’s supposed to be. They cut to it at the end of the scene, to show Julia ushering Vicki out of the house, and the shot begins with an unfocused look at Vicki’s left shoulder.
Here’s a tricky one: Julia’s lab coat is pale blue, because she first started wearing it when the show was in black-and-white, and a pale color shows up as white in a black-and-white picture. They haven’t changed it since they switched to color. So what we’re seeing here is a blooper — Vicki doesn’t know that Julia is a doctor, and Julia’s wearing her lab coat — but you don’t really notice it, because it’s pale blue anyway.
Finally, to be nitpicky: The copyright date in the end credits says 1966.
Behind the Scenes:
A couple little notes about props today. We see the Petofi box again, in the hall outside Vicki’s room. If you don’t know what that means, it’ll make sense in approximately two years.
Also: At the end of the show, Carolyn and Vicki see a squeaky bat outside the window. This isn’t the cool marionette “bat by Bil Baird” that menaced David; it’s the substitute bat signal shadow that they first used when Barnabas appeared in Woodard’s office a couple weeks ago.
Tomorrow: Grumpy Old Man.
— Danny Horn