“Blood… oozing through the wall! Where’s it coming from? What does it mean?”
This is the beginning of an important week for Dark Shadows, as we lead up to one of the all-time great storyline twists in soap opera history. In fact, the upcoming story is so bizarre that they aired a special promotional announcement to warn the audience that it was coming.
In the 25-second bumper, Vicki is filmed against a stark black background, looking off into the distance with her typical dazed expression. They play one of those rising-tension music cues, made of strings, kettle drums and reverb.
An announcer says, “This Friday, you and Victoria Winters begin a strange and terrifying journey into the past, back to the year 1795, to discover the origins of this man,” — Barnabas, posing against the darkness — “and the secret of the chained coffin.” The scene fades on a shot of his hand resting on the coffin.
They don’t actually say, “Oh, by the way, it’s Dark Shadows,” or the time slot or anything. They don’t have to. What else could this possibly be?
So I would imagine, on this week in November 1967, that a lot of people who were vaguely aware of Dark Shadows decided to tune in for the first time, just to find out what this is all about. I think it would be interesting to look at today’s episode from the perspective of that first-time viewer, coming to Dark Shadows with fresh eyes.
But it turns out that’s completely impossible, so I have to call for backup.
Because today is the Julia episode.
Yes, you know which one I mean. Dr. Julia Hoffman appears in 344 episodes, but if you say “the Julia episode” to a Dark Shadows fan, they know exactly what you mean.
Now, I’m a Dark Shadows fan, obviously, and I love Julia, and I love Grayson Hall, and therefore my relationship to this episode is extremely complex. This is the episode that I absolutely cannot view objectively. I need an unbiased observer to ride along with me.
I’ve asked my friend Trevor to come over, and watch this episode with me. He’s never seen the show before, but he went to the Tim Burton movie with me, and he was vaguely puzzled by it.
The movie and the show are very different, so I figure he’s got the same general background information about Dark Shadows that a viewer would have at this point. There’s a mansion, there’s a family, a vampire rises from the past, there’s a doctor who wants to cure him, chaos ensues. In November 1967, you’d pick that up just from hearing people talk about the show.
So that’s all Trevor knows about the show, and this storyline. The only thing I’ve told him is that this is an unusual episode, and I want to know what he thinks.
Let’s get started. It was a dark and stormy night…
Trevor: Am I right in thinking that there’s always a thunderstorm on this show?
Danny: You’re not wrong.
Trevor: So we’re in a crypt, and that’s a ghost. Is that Chloë Grace Moretz’s character?
Danny: No, that was Carolyn; this is Sarah.
Sarah tells Julia, “I know what you did to Doctor Woodard!” This means precisely nothing to Trevor.
Trevor: She’s a doctor — did she mess up, and cause Sarah’s death? Sarah’s angry about something. Julia’s a therapist, right?
Danny: She’s several things. That’s one of the things that she is.
Sarah disappears, and now it looks like Julia’s locked in the mausoleum; she calls for help, but nobody comes.
She tells herself, “Eventually somebody has to come along,” and she pulls out a cigarette. Trevor chuckles.
Trevor: Okay, that’s one way of coping. That’s not a thing you see on TV now.
Danny: Yeah, sometimes people just take smoke breaks in the middle of the show.
Trevor: So is this whole episode in real time, like the parking garage episode on Seinfeld? She’s just going to be trapped for the whole episode?
Trevor: How many cigarettes does she have?
Then they start playing haunted house effects records at Julia — first a sobbing woman, and then a screechy witch laugh. Julia tries to tell herself it’s the wind, not very successfully.
Trevor: Has she been drinking, or taking pills? Is this a hallucination? I don’t know enough about this character to know if this is normal for her. Maybe she’s just having a bad day. This seems to be really stressing her out.
Screaming for Sarah, Julia touches the wall — and her hand is covered in blood.
Trevor: Okay, so she definitely caused Sarah’s death. She’s got blood on her hands.
But then the next shot confounds that theory. Julia says, “Blood… oozing through the wall! Where’s it coming from? What does it mean?”
Trevor: Now I’m confused. It says Sarah died in the 18th century. Is that Sarah’s blood? Did she die on the other side of that wall?
Danny: What do you think about the style so far?
Trevor: I don’t know. It’s a different era, a different way of making television. I’m not familiar with 60s TV; I don’t know how this compares. Was it all like this?
Danny: I don’t think that anything was ever like this.
By the end of the act, Julia finds her way out of the mausoleum, and she comes back to Collinwood, where Carolyn tells her that everyone else is out for the night.
Danny: That’s Chloë Grace Moretz.
Trevor: Is she a ghost?
Danny: No, she’s alive.
Then Julia notices her hand.
Julia: The blood…
Julia: I had blood on my hand, but… there’s not a trace of it left.
Carolyn: Oh. Maybe the rain washed it away.
Carolyn: Well… good night.
Trevor: She seems to be taking all this in stride.
Danny: Yeah, just another night at Collinwood.
Trevor: I don’t know the crazy bar that they’re used to. Maybe that’s just Julia being Julia — every night she comes in with a different body fluid on her hands.
Trevor: Julia asking her if she has to go out — that’s like a conversation between a dog and its owner. “Don’t leave!” “Don’t worry, someone will be home later.” “There’s no such thing as later!”
Left home alone, Julia tells herself, “Try to find something else to concentrate on, a book, or…”
Trevor: It seems like the rest of the cast was busy today? And she was free?
She tries to settle down to a game of solitaire, but she keeps reacting to every sound.
Trevor: So, earlier I thought she was on pills… Now I think she needs some.
Danny: Yeah, she’s not getting very far with the solitaire.
Trevor: I do like the production design — the furniture all goes really well together. It’s all potentially creepy. I could see how supernatural things could happen here.
Julia keeps giving updates in thinks.
Julia (thinks): Why is it suddenly so cold? Cold — penetrating — the same as it was in the mausoleum!
Trevor: I really don’t understand what the problem is. Blood coming from the walls, that’s tough to deal with. This could be solved with a sweater.
Trevor: I like the close-ups with her hands; it’s like she’s been told to keep those hands in view at all times. TVs were smaller back then. Maybe this was the only way to keep track of where everything is.
Trevor: All these doors opening and closing — that’s got to be a symbol for something.
Danny: Like what?
Trevor: Opportunities? It does explain why she’s cold all the time. Maybe it’s a metaphor for weather stripping.
Julia returns to the cards for the fifth time in this scene.
Trevor: Oh, come on. She’s the world’s slowest solitaire player. She needs to commit to an activity.
Danny: You just lost the will to live, didn’t you?
Trevor: I think so.
Danny: I just watched it happen. Time of death: twelve and a half minutes into the episode.
Trevor: Does she win? I kind of want to see the end of this game now.
Julia gets up and does some mobile thinks.
Julia (thinks): Is Barnabas trying to drive me out of my mind, or –? It couldn’t be! It couldn’t be you, Dave! You haven’t returned from the dead to haunt me, have you? Have you?
Trevor: There’s the hands again. So is Dave her husband? Or was he another patient? I’d say husband, because she appears to be living with a different family. Does she have a family of her own? I still don’t know who Sarah is. It’s not like they don’t have time to explain.
Chased out of the drawing room by a vision of Dave’s ghost, Julia heads up to her bedroom.
Trevor: Hey, a new set. Are there any windows? You might want to check those.
Sure enough, she finds that the door is stuck, and she can’t get out.
Trevor: She has a really troubled history with doors. She’s a woman at war with architecture.
Trevor: Now the phone doesn’t work. Play some solitaire!
Danny: Yes, now you’re getting it. That’s the correct response to Dark Shadows; it’s an interactive experience.
Trevor: Was everybody else on vacation today? Maybe someone in the cast was getting married, and everyone was invited but her. This is the weirdest telephone acting I’ve ever seen.
Julia ends up on the floor, sobbing and clutching at the furniture.
Trevor: Now the acting is starting to get in the way. I don’t know who this actress is, but she has not been remembered through time. Didn’t you say that you like her?
Danny: Yeah. This isn’t usually what she does.
Trevor: I like the music, and I like the sets. It looks like a good show could take place there.
Danny: But not today.
Trevor: Not really. I’m still trying to figure out the relationship with Dave, and Samantha. Maybe Barnabas killed Samantha, and Julia tried to save her, and she feels bad for not being a better doctor.
By this point, Sarah has become “Samantha” in Trevor’s mind. I don’t bother to correct him; it’s not like it makes a difference.
The episode ends with a puffing, scratching sound outside the door. Julia looks at the door, and the image starts to bend and stretch.
Trevor: Okay, now I think she really is tripping; she’s been tripping the whole time.
We finish up with one last crazy Julia scream.
Trevor: That was it? That was a whole episode?
Danny: Yeah. What did you think?
Trevor: That was very strange. I probably wouldn’t watch another episode.
Danny: Where would you have given up?
Trevor: Somewhere around the solitaire. I would have thought, okay, something’s troubling her, I get it, it’s fine. But then it just keeps troubling her. They didn’t explain anything.
Danny: Any thoughts about Julia?
Trevor: If that was a person in real life, I don’t know if I’d hang out with them. I’d probably smack them.
Danny: Or at least get them to finish a game of solitaire.
Trevor: Yeah. I wouldn’t make a point to be home tomorrow to find out what’s on the other side of that door. I mean, I am curious. What is on the other side of the door? Do we ever find out?
Danny: We can watch the next episode, if you want.
Trevor: No, I think I’m okay.
Tomorrow: The Day After.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
This isn’t really a blooper, more an inconsistency: When did Julia get a phone in her room?
Tomorrow: The Day After.
— Danny Horn