Episode 525: The Blair Witch Project

“She believes she fell into the hands of a witch hunter, a fellow who roamed the countryside exorcising witches and hobgoblins.”

His name is Blair — Nicholas Blair — and he’s in Collinsport on His Dark Majesty’s Secret Service, to rescue a comrade who’s fallen into the hands of an enemy combatant.

The fallen agent — code name, Cassandra Collins — has been working undercover at Collinwood, as Roger’s innocent new bride. Her mission was compromised a week ago, when she was tied to a tree and exorcised by the spirit of Reverend Trask, an 18th-century witch hunter.

Nicholas is now staying at Collinwood, posing as Cassandra’s brother, and his mission — if he chooses to accept it — is to locate the tree where the witch was burned, and bring her back.

525 dark shadows nicholas collinwood

He begins the ritual of summoning by carrying Angelique’s portrait downstairs to the drawing room. The sorceress’ life force appears to be tied to this picture somehow, and at the moment it looks faded, representing her tenuous hold on the earthly plane.

When we last saw him, Nicholas had the portrait in his bedroom, and he was using it to communicate with Angelique. But he’s not getting a clear signal from upstairs, so he’s taking it down to the drawing room to see if he can get better reception on the ground floor.

525 dark shadows nicholas pose

He strikes a magical kung fu pose, and tries to tune her in. He’s full of little tricks like this, because otherwise how would you even know that he’s using magic?

The thing about magic spells in a story like this is that he can say and do anything he wants, and it would work. There aren’t any rules. He could spin around in a circle, cross his arms, twitch his nose and shout Avada Kedavra, and make her appear out of nowhere. That’s how it works on all the other TV shows.

The problem is that the audience won’t accept this, because it’s not interesting enough. We all want him to succeed, obviously, because we just found out about Nicholas a few episodes ago, and we haven’t seen him interact with Angelique yet. Their relationship is a huge mystery to us, and we’re eager to hear more about it. So we’re rooting for him to make this work, by the end of the episode if possible.

Still, we need to see Nicholas figure this out step by step. He needs to earn this.

525 dark shadows nicholas portrait

So, step one: magic hand gestures, check. Step two is portentous dialogue.

Nicholas:  Spirit of Angelique! You must hear me, and obey me. You must guide me through the forest — you must guide me to the tree where you were exorcised and burned. I must find your ashes, if I am to restore you to life. Remember the tree — the tree, in the forest — and guide me there.

Yeah, that’ll do.

525 dark shadows angelique portrait

Staring into the portrait’s eyes, we hear the sound of rushing wind, and then a woman screaming in terror and pain. As we saw a couple days ago, Nicholas has the power to communicate directly with the soundtrack, so this is a promising lead.

525 dark shadows nicholas vicki obstacle

But that’s too easy; he can’t just follow the sound effects library all the way to Angelique. He needs an obstacle to overcome, so that we can see him really working on this.

Enter Victoria Winters, storyline speed bump.

525 dark shadows nicholas vicki excuses

The portrait actually belongs to Vicki, and she’s surprised to find the sinister newcomer messing with her property. She bought the picture at an antique shop, just after her return from an uncertain and frightening four-month journey into the past. She’s vaguely aware that Cassandra is really the witch Angelique, and she’s suspicious about this stranger who says he’s Cassandra’s brother.

Vicki doesn’t have any magic powers of her own, aside from the usual halo of coincidence and happenstance that watches over all protagonists. But she’s earnest and sincere, and right now, that’s all she needs to thwart Nicholas.

525 dark shadows nicholas vicki game

As we’ll see a little later in the episode, Nicholas actually has the power to mesmerize Vicki and get her to do whatever he wants, so technically he could just put the whammy on her right now, and tell her to clear the room.

But it’s too early in the ritual for direct action like that. The opening ceremonies demand that he at least try to beat Vicki at her own game.

525 dark shadows nicholas snake oil

He puts on his best snake oil smile.

Nicholas:  Would you allow me to do you a favor?

Vicki:  A favor?

Nicholas:  Actually, you’d be doing me a favor, because I am very fond of this painting. I would like to have it restored — at my own expense, of course.

Vicki:  Why do you want to do that, Mr. Blair?

Nicholas:  Why, I told you. I’m very fond of this painting.

This is not a very convincing story. In fact, it’s the first stumble that we’ve seen Nicholas make. He just walked into the house ten minutes ago, and he can’t have established a special fondness for a random bit of decor. Besides, offering to restore someone’s portrait isn’t a thing that people do. This is strike one.

525 dark shadows nicholas vicki painting

Vicki says that she doesn’t want him to restore it, and he tries to play it off as if she’s being baffling and unreasonable.

Vicki:  I like it the way it is.

Nicholas:  But surely it was  much more beautiful before.

Vicki:  Yes, it was.

Nicholas:  Well, then I don’t understand your objection to having it —

Vicki:  I just like it the way it is. I don’t know the reason why, I just do, but it is my painting.

525 dark shadows nicholas murder

He turns away, and for a moment, you can see him running through a quick calculation in his head about whether it would be worthwhile to just murder this girl, and move on with the scene. Practically everyone who knows Vicki has had a moment like this at one time or another.

Sadly, that strategy is too risky at the moment, so he has to play the game her way. He hands over the portrait.

525 dark shadows nicholas vicki edit 1

And then something strange happens. Vicki walks towards the door —

525 dark shadows nicholas vicki edit 2

— and suddenly, the music cuts off, and she’s a few feet ahead, without taking a step.

They’ve done a tape edit here, which is unusual for Dark Shadows. Editing videotape was difficult and expensive in 1968, so they just performed the entire episode as one continuous take, leaving in space for the commercials. The music cues were all played in live during the taping, because they didn’t have the time or resources to add an extra track post-taping.

So any time they actually edit something out, it creates a jarring skip in the flow of the scene, cutting into the music and jumping ahead a few seconds. They try to avoid that when they can, and that’s why the show is known for the endearing bloopers that aired every day.

Something really bad must have happened just now, to make them actually slice a chunk of the master tape, and I believe that it’s another manifestation of Nicholas’ magic. It took a huge effort to control his frustration and rage, and this is the consequence. This one isn’t a blooper — it’s Nicholas being so furious that he has the power to disrupt space, time and the music cue.

525 dark shadows nicholas direct

As Vicki exits the room, Nicholas whirls around and faces directly into the camera. There’s a quick zoom cut on Vicki as she’s walking to her room, and a crash of thunder and lightning.

Then cut back to Nicholas, still glaring at the audience, challenging us to start something. He is calling upon all the forces at his command, including camera moves and thunder effects. He will shake this TV show to the ground if he has to.

525 dark shadows nicholas roger hand

Now that we’ve seen a show of force, Nicholas has eleven more minutes to be cunning and crafty. He’s still earning the audience’s trust, and we need to see him use his powers of deduction.

Roger enters the scene, worried about his wife’s disappearance, and Nicholas decides to go on a fishing trip. He puts a consoling hand on Roger’s shoulder, and offers his sympathy in this trying time. Also, what’s up with Vicki and that portrait? Do you even like that girl? I think she’s super weird.

525 dark shadows roger nicholas fire

Roger pours them some brandy, and Nicholas sits down in front of the fire. This location is pretty much outside the range of Roger’s vision, but it gives him a nice backdrop of flames. It’s called style.

Anyway, Roger, under the influence of television, lets it slip that Vicki claims that she traveled in time. Nicholas asked what she believes happened, and Roger mentions that Reverend Trask tied her to a tree and performed an exorcism over her. This is the final piece of information that clicks into place.

525 dark shadows nicholas fireplace

Nicholas figures that the spirit of Reverend Trask must have exorcised Cassandra at the same tree where he once tied up Vicki. This isn’t necessarily a logical conclusion — there are lots of trees, and there’s nothing special about this one — but Nicholas can see beyond the veil, and he’s aware that he’s in a small television studio on West 53rd Street. They don’t have space for two trees.

He indicates his all-seeing ability by calling a new camera trick into existence. We see his face superimposed over a shot of the crackling fire — and then he fades out, as a shot of Angelique’s portrait fades in. There’s a moment when you can see all three images, joined together.

They only have three cameras in the studio, and Nicholas is controlling all of them. He’s that powerful.

525 dark shadows nicholas vicki act

As we head into the fourth act, Nicholas brings his powers to bear on a sleeping Vicki. We see his face lit from below for maximum spookiness, as he casts a spell.

525 dark shadows nicholas wall

And here’s the final demonstration of his awe-inspiring abilities. He’s set up a small table with a lit candle, as he hypno-controls Vicki to get up and come downstairs.

But he’s not in the drawing room anymore. They’ve set up a special shot with the portrait of Barnabas just over his left shoulder. He’s actually standing in the foyer, next to the grandfather clock.

This is an impossible space, which doesn’t exist on the normal map of Collinwood. All of the blocking that we’ve seen over the last two years of Dark Shadows implies that Nicholas is currently standing in the hall that leads toward the study.

In fact, he may be standing smack in the middle of the fourth wall, speaking directly to the camera as he calls upon all the dark forces of daytime television production.

525 dark shadows nicholas vicki tree

So a sleepwalking Vicki leads him to the tree, obviously, because he’s the most amazing sorceror that we’ve ever seen on Dark Shadows. He has dominion over the lighting, the sound effects, the props, the blocking and all three cameras. He even has the power to edit out a couple seconds of Vicki exiting the drawing room.

There’s no stopping him. He’s going to reach out to Angelique, and pull her ash out of the fire. Just wait and see.

Tomorrow: Nothing But Vengeance.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Listen carefully at the beginning of the voiceover introduction. You can hear someone just finishing a whispered conversation with Alexandra Moltke as she begins to read the lines. The person she’s with starts to laugh quietly, and you can hear her stifle the impulse to laugh as she finishes the first line.

When Nicholas tells Roger he’ll stay downstairs and finish his brandy, there’s the sound of equipment falling over.

During Nicholas’ incantation in the woods, when he says, “I call upon all the powers of darkness to restore you to life,” the silhouette of a crew member’s head passes by in the lower right corner of the screen.

Tomorrow: Nothing But Vengeance.

525 dark shadows vicki nicholas power

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

24 thoughts on “Episode 525: The Blair Witch Project

  1. That cushioned bench around the Collinwood drawing room fireplace has always been there, and you notice it especially during the Phoenix storyline as Liz walks in on Laura as she’s in the midst of casting one of her spells while sitting by the fire.

    What’s different in that shot of Roger and Nicholas is that usually there’s a side table and lamp in between the two chairs, and they are often turned to face the sofa directly. Notice also how the coffee table is pushed right up and practically onto the sofa, so as to open up space along the carpet in the middle of the room. The shot was obviously choreographed to contain Roger at a certain angle with an unobstructed view of Nicholas across the room. The camera is actually where Liz’s desk would be in the early episodes, but there’s no sign of it here.

    What intrigues me more about that fireplace is the fact that they were even able to keep an actual fire going there to begin with. I mean, it’s a television studio. And not only that, but sometimes there were multiple sets during a day’s shoot where fires would be going in various fireplaces, especially during the Phoenix storyline. That smoke exhaust has to go somewhere, and if you’ve ever seen exterior shots of the studio at West 53rd, there didn’t seem to be any chimneys on the roof. Perhaps this is why they received so many warnings when local fire officials would show up for inspection.

    1. You are correct about the velvet fire rail, it has always been there, and seems historically accurate, for people to sit and warn themselves around the fireplace pre central heating and pre having large cushions in front of the fireplace, a lifestyle choice that began in the late 60″s. Also old houses with central heating are still notoriously cold. I always wondered, besides the fire hazards, wouldn’t the studios be awfully hot, with the lighting and the fire? Just wondering…..

      1. Oh, you guys are right, thank you! I revised the post and took those sentences out. This is a shame, because I got to use the tag “emergency furniture,” which is a hard thing for me to give up. I’ll have to find another use for that somewhere. I’m sure it’ll come up again at some point.

    2. I loved the ‘Phoenix’ storyline with the wonderful actress Diana Millay – the original Dark Shadows femme fatale. I jumped when I originally saw that facial expression – a true scene of pure evil that scared me more than anything else on the show, only matched when Old Man Barnabas vowed to Carolyn that he would never hurt his ‘OWN FLESH and BLOOD’ in Episode 350.

      1. The Phoenix storyline features some of the few moments in Dark Shadows that genuinely frightened me, particularly the seance sequence where Laura pops up, and most of all, the apparition in Liz’s room which leads to her catatonia – still freaks me out. DS may get more outrageous and more explicit from then on, but nothing has managed to disturb me more – I also think the black and white helped immensely to create a spooky mood. Once the show gets into colour it does become a bit more garish and campy.

  2. About those fireplaces … I recall hearing (possibly on one of the DVD interviews) that the studio actually had two working fireplaces. However if you look closely at the fires, the flames are coming from behind the logs, not actually burning the logs, so they probably rigged up gas jets to simulate burning wood. Check out the screen shot above of Nicholas and Roger. If you watch the fire scenes with Laura in the fishing shack, you can clearly see the gas lines in the foreground. Which might explain how they got away with it, since they are not burning wood, they don’t have to deal with smoke and creosote buildup in chimneys (speaking as someone who has a wood burning stove in their house) and it probably would not have been as hot as a real fire. I remember seeing some fires that looked real that were used to burn incriminating letters, blood stained clothes, etc. but not that often.

  3. Wow! Victoria Winters being baffling and unreasonable?
    This is a side of her we’ve never seen!
    Why, next you’ll tell us she’s an idiot who ruins everything.

    1. I noticed that too. You’d think everyone else at Collinwood would remark about it when he wasn’t around. He almost reminds me of a male Endora. But most of the time he reminds me of Mr. Mxyzptlk from Superman.

    1. Yeah, that’s what I thought, but it’s was 175 years ago so maybe it grew back. Deciduous trees do sprout new growth provided the roots aren’t dead, and that tree sure isn’t over 200 years old. Unless it’s a Joshua tree . . .

    2. Yes, that bugged me, too. But I suppose there was time for another to grow in its place; it’s not a very big tree. The roots would have survived, and suckers could have sprung from them.

  4. Also I’m pretty sure AM is pregnant. All her costumes are loose and we haven’t seen many costume changes for her.

  5. Watching this episode—I have the distinct impression that the actor who portrays Nicholas Blair (Humbert Astredo) had a hard time keeping a straight face. When delivering some of the “incantation” lines.

  6. Nice to spend time with Nicholas Blair after having to begin spending it with Roger Davis. The latter is the bad penny of “Dark Shadows.”

    About Roger, was he being a goldfish by claiming that Vicki’s uncertain and frightening journey into the past had been a figment of her imagination? Wasn’t he present, after all, when Phyllis Wick was seated around the table? Or had Ms. Wick already disappeared when Roger and the other character awoke from their seance-induced stupor?

  7. I thought it was very funny that Jeff Clark refused to believe Lieutenant Forbes was dead because that meant he couldn’t kill him. I mean, dead is dead, Jeff.

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