“I created it — and your life force will make it live!”
Laugh at ME, will they! The FOOLS!
That’s basically how it starts.
They scoff at me; they dare to think me mad! Because I have vision, a will of my own, because I do not swear allegiance to their committees and their trifling sentimental concerns! Well, they can say what they like now — but I will SHOW them!
And from there, it’s pretty much just like regular apartment-hunting. You want high ceilings, and room to spread out, and you’re definitely going to need a lot of electrical outlets. In-unit laundry is probably a nice-to-have.
So, here’s where we are: Dr. Lang has come up with a way to treat Barnabas’ vampirism, using blood transfusions, scotch tape and hope. But Barnabas keeps getting cravings, and he needs to understand what Dr. Lang means when he talks about a permanent cure.
Lang brings Barnabas to his private laboratory, and it’s a honey — a huge, two-bed open-plan space with machines and beakers and mirrors and all the trimmings. There’s a skeleton hanging in the corner, in case you need that, and probably a cyclotron, and a mini-fridge, and obviously there’s some high-voltage spark gaps zapping away, even when nobody’s in the room. The lights are always on, over at Lang’s place.
So it’s a fantastic set, which is a good thing, because I have a feeling we’re going to be spending a lot of time here over the next few weeks.
This might be a redressed set from somewhere else, although I don’t know what else it could have been. There’s a little half-staircase leading to the door for some reason, and a huge arched window at the back of the set that’s covered with a curtain. And then there’s another door on the other side, which is completely blocked by knobs and switches and levers and what all.
But it works really well, because it looks like exactly what it should be — the upstairs parlor of a weird old house, which Lang has filled with all of the crazy junk that he’s assembled over the years. This is exactly how you’d build your mad science lab — you just keep throwing stuff in it until it blows up, or the villagers come by with torches and pitchforks, and then you find another abandoned mill and you start all over again.
Now, if you compare this lab to the apparatus that Julia set up in the Old House basement six months ago, there’s just no contest. Yes, Julia had beakers and dry ice and spark gaps and a bubbling cauldron of blood, but it just didn’t feel like home, you know?
I mean, the placement of the main workstation pretty much says it all. Julia’s apparatus was set up right in our view, like she’s using it as a shield between her work and the audience. Lang’s setup is much more open and welcoming; it invites us in. Julia’s apparatus is just a machine; Lang’s laboratory is a place.
So it’s no surprise that Barnabas is kind of overwhelmed by the whole experience.
Barnabas: Incredible. Show me, what is to happen?
Lang: You will lie here. And the life force will be drained from you, into my still unfinished work.
Barnabas has his cape on, by the way. He hasn’t worn it for a couple weeks; he’s been going business casual since he was cured. It feels like now he’s dressed up for the occasion, which is adorable; you wouldn’t want to talk about your life force being drained into things if you’re in your gym clothes.
And, oh! Right. Lang has one of these.
It’s a monster! His very own stitched-together dead guy, made by hand from people that he and Jeff have dug up in the cemetery.
Barnabas: What is it, doctor?
Lang: “It”? Yes, I suppose that must be the proper designation, for now at least. Until it lives, and has a name.
Barnabas: Until it lives!
Barnabas: What about the head?
Lang: That will come last.
Barnabas: Last! Where did this body come from?
Lang: I created it — and your life force will make it live!
Yup, we’ve got another incoming narrative collision, and it couldn’t have come at a better time. We’ve been doing this mash-up of Jane Eyre and Dracula for a year now, with a slice of The Crucible and a dash of The Cask of Amontillado, but it’s time to take this to the next level. We need another monster, somebody for Barnabas to hang out with.
And if you’ve already got a Dracula, then the obvious next step is the other classic 1931 Universal Studios film, Frankenstein.
Putting Dracula and Frankenstein together is a really interesting idea, because — apart from Abbott and Costello Meet Frankenstein, of course, and Monster Mash, and The Munsters, and Mad Monster Party, and the General Mills Count Chocula and Franken-berry cereals, and Groovie Goolies and Monster Squad and Drak Pack and pretty much every Halloween decoration — it’s never been done before.
Well, okay, maybe we’ve seen it once or twice, but have they ever done it as a soap opera, where they’re trying to put the vampire’s life force inside the patchwork monster in an insane alchemical stunt to reach spiritual enlightenment and redemption through changing the very nature of the material self? And then they talk about their feelings? I bet they haven’t.
It sounds like when Lang was in mad science school, he also took a couple electives in mad lawyer, because he’s got a whole argument prepared.
Barnabas: What about my present body and mind, what will happen to them?
Lang: They would be dead, forever dead.
Barnabas: And I would be free of Angelique’s curse forever.
Lang: Yes, forever.
Barnabas: How can you be sure of that?
Lang: Because you’d no longer be Barnabas! And Angelique’s curse was on Barnabas!
He says this as if he’s been going over the contract on Angelique’s curse, and he’s found a loophole.
But this is the key to the strange alchemy at work here, the twist that actually makes this weird summer-stock Frankenstein absolutely unique.
The original title for Mary Shelley’s novel was Frankenstein; or, the Modern Prometheus, a reference to the legendary Titan who stole the secret of fire from the gods, and gave it to humanity. The mad scientist has “tampered in God’s domain”, asserting his personal dominion over the fundamental mysteries of creation.
But in the Dark Shadows version, they’re not rebuking God — they’re tricking Angelique, a representative of the Devil. Barnabas is seeking refuge from her evil curse, renewing his spirit by giving up his old body, and leaving behind the weight of his guilt and his sin.
Of course, you could also look at it as a mass murderer escaping punishment by hiding inside the stolen skin of a whole new set of victims, which probably makes it more of a draw, ethically. It’s really just darkness piled on top of more darkness.
But this is Dark Shadows, so the mind-boggling insanity is delivered with such passion and enthusiasm that you can’t help but get caught up in it.
Lang: Barnabas — I know this secret I possess. I know how to use it! I am almost certain of success!
Barnabas: Well, all right, then — assuming that you would succeed, what would happen to my present memory, my recognition and feelings?
Lang: I’m afraid I can’t answer that.
Barnabas: Why not?
Lang: I can’t answer that, or know what will happen, until your life force is infused into that body.
Okay, you’re right. What the hell, let’s fire this up and see what happens.
From the audience’s point of view, there’s no question about what we want in this situation. It doesn’t matter if this is ethical, or even comprehensible. It doesn’t matter that “life force” is essentially a meaningless term that they made up to explain acupuncture. It doesn’t even matter that Lang is leaving this rotting-flesh arts and crafts project lying on a table at room temperature for days on end, with no refrigeration.
The only thing that matters is that going through with this experiment sounds like fun. The whole point of Dark Shadows is to surprise the audience, and show you something that you never thought you’d see on television. This qualifies.
And then, just when you think it can’t get any crazier, they start talking about the face.
Lang: I still have some minor things to do before he’ll be ready.
Barnabas: I think you also have a major thing to do, Doctor — the face.
Lang: Ah, yes. Well, I thought it would be your decision about the face.
At the beginning of the scene, Barnabas mentioned “the head”, but now they’ve started saying “the face”, and they’re going to keep on saying it all week long.
Lang: Well, if the answer is yes, I think you should decide what the face looks like. After all… it will be your face.
By the end of the episode, Barnabas asks if the face can look like Jeff Clark’s face, and Dr. Lang says that he can do better than that — it can actually be Jeff Clark’s face. And now we live in a world where two grown-ups are standing over a pile of discarded man-flesh and all they can do is talk about the face, the face, the face.
Tomorrow: We’ve Warned You.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the teaser, as Barnabas and Dr. Lang approach the empty bed in the lab, the boom mic swings into the frame. Amusingly, it appears just at the moment that Lang assures Barnabas that only one other person is aware that this room exists.
When Dr. Lang tells Barnabas, “Well, that’s a chance that exists in any scientific endeavor,” someone in the studio coughs.
Whenever you put Barnabas and Lang in the same scene, you’re going to see them trip over their lines pretty often.
Lang: You will be reborn!
Lang: By infusing my live creature with your life force, I will make you alive again!
At one point, Barnabas just completely forgets what he’s supposed to do.
Lang: You will be reborn as a fully intelligent, mature man!
Barnabas: (stares off into space, looking for the teleprompter)
Lang: Barnabas… what are you doing?
Barnabas: … I don’t know, Doctor. (He finally finds the teleprompter, and he moves to where he was supposed to be standing two lines ago.) I don’t know what to tell you.
Also, Barnabas tells Julia, “That might not be as preferable… as leading the life I am now,” which I don’t think means anything.
But everybody has a hard time figuring out what they’re supposed to say today.
Vicki: You’re not making very much sense.
Julia: Most of what I have to say isn’t.
Behind the Scenes:
The scene with grave-robbers Dr. Lang and Jeff watching a gravedigger finish his work is a direct lift from the first scene of the 1931 Frankenstein.
The Gravedigger is played by our old friend Peter Murphy, who’s made occasional minor character and stand-in appearances for the last six months. His first role was the recast Caretaker in October 1967, and he also played Barnabas’ aged hands a couple weeks later. He played Dr. Thornton in November, and the Gaoler in February ’68. This is his last appearance on the show.
Tomorrow: We’ve Warned You.
— Danny Horn