“I promise you, Julia, we’ve only seen the beginning of this.”
“Julia, I’m puzzled,” Barnabas says. “Terribly puzzled. I’ve just come from Collinsport.”
Julia asks, “What happened?”
“Nothing has happened, that’s what’s wrong.”
Julia says, “I don’t understand,” and then Barnabas says “Third base!” because it’s just that kind of day.
It turns out that Barnabas is upset because he hasn’t heard about any vampire attacks lately. He’s apparently part of the slim minority that never really feel comfortable unless there’s a vampire attack going on nearby.
He knows that someone bit Tom Jennings, but there haven’t been any attacks since then, so where could that other vampire be? Julia suggests that maybe the danger has ended, but Barnabas is determined to sulk. He says, “I still sense something’s wrong!” which is a hard position to argue someone out of.
The real problem is that today’s episode was written by Ron Sproat, the member of the Dark Shadows writing team who’s most comfortable letting the characters just spin their wheels for a while.
There’s actually a big plot development ready to unfold just downstairs — Julia has set up a basement laboratory, where she and Jeff are going to bring a Frankenstein lady to life, as soon as they’re finished dicking around with the wiring. This could happen anytime between now and two years from now, but the smart money says it’s not going to be in an episode with Sproat’s name on it.
If you’re joining us late and you’re not familiar with R. Sproat’s particular approach to the dramatic arts, then here’s a perfect example of the Sproat technique. It begins, as always, with a knock at the door.
Julia answers the door, and she finds Vicki, which is never a good sign. Vicki says, “Hello, Julia,” and asks if Barnabas is there, which he is, so Julia says come in, and Vicki comes in.
Barnabas says “Hello, Vicki,” and Vicki says, “Hello, Barnabas,” and then everyone takes their places so we can actually get the goddamn scene started.
Let’s see if we can wrap our collective heads around the following conversation.
Vicki: Professor Stokes just phoned. He’s on his way up here, and he wanted to see you. It’s very important.
Vicki: Yes, he wanted me to come down and make sure that you would be here. He was afraid he might miss you.
Barnabas: I can’t understand what he’d want to see me about.
Vicki: Well, he says it’s very important.
Barnabas: Well, thank you for delivering the message, Vicki.
Vicki: That’s all right.
So let me get this straight. Stokes is on his way, but first he called Vicki and asked her to walk over to Barnabas’ house, to make sure that he’s there.
There’s only two possible states — either Barnabas is there, or he isn’t — and Stokes is already on his way, so it’s not clear why Vicki needs to be involved.
It’s kind of like Sproat’s version of the Schrödinger’s cat experiment, where Barnabas is both alive and dead, until the observer opens the box and the quantum wave function collapses. But it turns out that when the box opens, Barnabas is still both alive and dead, and then he strangles the observer, and we’re back where we started.
Does that make any sense at all? This is what happens to me when I try to pay attention to Ron Sproat episodes.
Anyway, Vicki says that she wants to talk to Julia, so Barnabas excuses himself and goes downstairs.
Vicki is worried about Jeff, who’s been acting fairly peculiar, because he’s secretly involved in the mad science experiment that’s happening in the basement.
In fact, Jeff is down there right now, and Barnabas meets him on the stairs.
Barnabas: I wouldn’t go up there if I were you. Vicki’s up there.
Barnabas: Yes. Now, you wouldn’t want her to know that you were in this house, would you?
Jeff: No. What’s she doing here?
Barnabas: She came to deliver a message.
Jeff: I’m surprised you’re not up there.
Barnabas: Well, actually, she wanted to see Julia, alone.
Jeff: About what?
Barnabas: I don’t know. I didn’t ask.
So, to recap: Vicki came over to tell Barnabas that Stokes is coming over, and then she wanted to talk to Julia about Jeff, so Barnabas went downstairs to tell Jeff not to go upstairs, because Vicki’s up there, talking to Julia.
Vicki finally clears out, and Stokes comes over, so Jeff comes upstairs, and now Stokes, Barnabas and Jeff all stand around and talk about Vicki.
Vicki is presumably home by this point, talking to someone about Stokes and Barnabas and Julia and Jeff, and I suppose Julia is downstairs, talking to herself about Vicki and Jeff and Barnabas and Stokes and Vicki. And everybody talks about everybody, until the storyline finally dies of old age.
This is a great episode if you’re a fan of dramatic clarification, a writing technique where the character repeats what he just said, with greater emphasis. So Barnabas is worried, terribly worried, and Adam left a note, a most disturbing note, and Vicki is in great danger — greater danger than ever before.
Jeff says that he doesn’t understand, so Stokes says, “Let me explain it to you,” and then moves to center stage.
“While Adam was hidden,” he says, “something unfortunate happened. Something most unfortunate.”
So they just rattle on, endlessly, telling each other stories about things that we already knew and weren’t that interested in the first time.
And the frustrating thing — the really frustrating thing — is that there’s a dead monster lady downstairs, ready to be infused with life force. This is a plot twist just waiting to happen, a Christmas gift to any writer willing to unwrap it. Everybody keeps talking about how important it is that they finish the experiment as soon as possible, but here they are, running out the clock, just doing the verbal equivalent of opening and closing doors.
There’s the storyline, lying on the table, both alive and dead at the same time. Can somebody just open the damn box already?
Tomorrow: Temporary Sanity.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
As Jeff starts to read Julia’s notebook, someone in the studio coughs.
Jeff tells Julia, “I know that, uh, you found the life force to bring Art — uh, Adam — to life.”
When Barnabas blocks Jeff from going upstairs, there’s a loud squeak from the studio.
Behind the Scenes:
In the credits, Ramse Mostoller is now credited as “costume design: Mostoller”. I don’t really understand the significance of this, but there you are.
Tomorrow: Temporary Sanity.
— Danny Horn
25 thoughts on “Episode 579: Sproatinger’s Cat”
Ever wonder if someone unwittingly stumbled upon the blog one day exactly how long it would take them to read every single post since the beginning of the blog? Well, the answer is about 3½ weeks.
So, after racing to get caught up before I join the fun, let me answer the standard membership form question that Danny (Hi, Danny!) seems to require of the newbies: when did I start watching Dark Shadows?
I’m another one of those who started watching the original show back before I’d even officially started school (Dark Shadows was my pre-K training!). One day, a neighbor told me that since I liked monsters I should check out this crazy show that was on TV during the day, so I tuned in that afternoon and caught the tail-end of episode #430. What I saw was a fancy-dress guy beckoning to some woman in a wedding dress and veil and telling her how they could finally be together, yada, yada, yada. Not too impressed with the romance, I was about to turn away when the girl lifted her veil to reveal a severe case of Droopy-Eyed Smashface. Needless to say, but I’ll say it anyway, I was immediately hooked.
Of course, given that I was only in 2nd grade by the time the original show first went off the air, I only have imprecise memories of many of the episodes I saw way back then. However, I eagerly caught up on it years later when episodes started re-airing first on NBC in NY and then on various PBS stations (thanks New Jersey Network!).
Later, I became a regular subscriber to those monthly video tape releases (shouldn’t I be a stockholder in MPI by now?) and this eventually allowed me to watch the entire run on VHS (which I later upgraded to DVD).
So, hi, everyone and glad to be along for the ride!
OK, back to the Sproat-nap…
Hooray! I’m glad you’re here, and thanks for sharing your story. I don’t think I’ve mentioned this before, but I’m also a New Jersey Network viewer. My first exposure was the six months that aired on NBC, and then I started watching on NJN from the mid-68 episodes through 1897, Leviathan and the first half of Parallel Time. Special days.
Greatly enjoying these!
I’m a very late generation of fan but very avid.
I discovered the show during a hideous 6 month nightmare of a migraine that hit me in my final year of highschool in 2012. I’ve always been a classic monster buff but never had seen Dark shadows. I started to keep seeing it pop up in my monster magazines and so off I went to see what it was.
I found one or two episodes online and was hooked, So I found a second hand spindle of mpi DVDs, and spent my first paycheck on them.(well worth it!)and it was my companion through that crappy year.
Now I’m off at college with only a fraction of my box set for company, and slowly driving my roommates mad with it, it’s nice to find a daily fix of all the insanity and brilliance that is my favorite show, plus all the fantastic commentary!
Keep up the good work!
Has Willie been around lately? I thought he was supposed to be helping with the experiment since he had to go to the trouble of procuring the body. I love how they can keep these bodies from decomposing while not frozen or even refrigerated.
I think at this point Willie is busy trying to prevent Maggie from being used as the life force in the experiment? Otherwise, I don’t remember him taking that much of an active role other than the initial grave robbing.
Wow, a fan from the ’60s original run, a fan from the 21st century, and me, a fan from the late ’80s. I love this show.
Oh, and I think Sproat forgot that in drama, we don’t have to see the dull parts. Unless it creates tension, you don’t have to hear a busy signal when you call someone. And you can find someone at home when you want to speak to them.
“I love how they can keep these bodies from decomposing while not frozen or even refrigerated.”
Fortunately, it’s in a state of “Soap Stasis” – that magical property by which normal rules of the physical world are suspended until it becomes pertinent to the storyline.
And, since Sproat spent the episode talking about stuff that’s already happened, let me follow his lead by bringing up a subject that’s been touched on in previous comments – namely, the curiosity about what the 2004 unsold DS pilot was like.
I’ve actually seen it. I caught it when it was screened at a Dark Shadows convention in Los Angeles sometime in early 2006 (it may have screened at later ones as well, but I’m not sure).
My thoughts? Basically, yeeesh. Easy to see why it didn’t sell. To start, it relies heavily on the House of Dark Shadows playbook.
But if you ever complained that the original sometimes moved too slowly, you should watch this thing to see the perils of what happens when you move way too fast.
All this came in the pilot:
They start with Victoria Winters showing up at Collinwood and meeting the family. Then Willie (played by Matt Czuchry, Logan from Gilmore Girls) unleashes Barnabas, Barnabas quickly meets the family and moves right into the Old House (really ludicrous – “Hi, I’m your long-lost relative from England – mind if I move into that house on your property, like, say… tonight?”). Barnabas then visits Victoria in the night, attacks local girls much to the black sheriff and Asian coroner Dr. Hoffman’s puzzlement. Then little David unwittingly revives the spirit of Angelique, although rather than a spirit drifting around we get Angelique as a rotted corpse. She actually stands in the middle of the roadway so she can smash right through the windshield of Victoria’s car. Face-to-face with our witch/corpse, Victoria screams—and Angelique screams back—and Vicki screams louder—and so does Angelique! (Seriously, it’s an honest-to-God actual Scream-Off, delivered in one of the most jaw-droppingly awful scenes I think I’ve ever seen).
Oh, did I mention all this happened in 42 minutes?
Still want to see it. DS belongs on long form TV.
That sounds amazing. I need to find a copy at some point.
That’s why I love the early pre-Barnabas episodes. They really take time to establish characters and explain storylines. I know most people think these episodes are slow paced but I enjoy and savor every last detail. Why does everything have to be done in such a hurry?
Are you by any chance a member of the Classic Horror Film Boards site? I know the name “monster kid” doesn’t automatically mean that, but that expression comes up an awful lot on that particular site.
I think I saw this pilot. It was on A&E channels. I believe it was only 4 episodes or on for only 4 weeks. I can see the guy who played Barnabas but dont know his name. It was weird.
Another recent fan here. I live in Australia, and was originally introduced to the series at a friend’s house in the early 90s–she had the complete set on video and she showed the Maggie’s kidnapping plot to a group of us over a couple of sessions. Unfortunately I didn’t have enough money at the time to follow the show up–I would not only have had to buy the videos for myself, but a new video player and TV so I could watch them in the US format.
Then in 2012, I went to see the Burton movie–and I remember thinking as I walked out the cinema that I had enjoyed the 1960s series more! That’s when a little lightbulb went off over my head–the series was probably now all available in DVD, and I had a multi-region player…
And that, dear reader, was that…!
What I never understood is how Julia managed to have that set up in the basement when the Old House apparently has no electricity. They must have depended on lightning from Collinsport’s frequent storms.
They mention at one point that Julia’s set up a generator, but it does make you wonder why they don’t just go ahead and use electricity in the Old House. I guess candles are pretty.
Cause Barnabas is a weirdo?
A few years back right after the Katrina hurricane hit my area in Gulfport, MS, I bought a couple of generators. One was small and the other a little bigger. Both used gasoline to run. Both were extremely loud, and I could hear them easily throughout my two-story, four-bedroom house. My house has a wood frame with bricks on only some parts of it. It doesn’t have as much stonework as The Old House. However much of the sound from the generators did enter the house through the windows. I don’t know how the generators at The Old House weren’t heard throughout every scene set on the first floor, because generators are very loud. Just think about the loudness level of a lawnmower. When someone is cutting the grass outside, can you hear them? In case I’ve been too subtle, I’ll restate that. GENERATORS ARE EXTREMELY LOUD!!!
Yes, I can hear my neighbors’ generators go on when we lose power (way more often than you would expect even without hurricanes). They’re quite unpleasantly noisy.
Wish I could find out more about Ramse Mostoller, other than she did costuming for several other soaps in the 60s and 70s, as well as DC’s Darkness at Blaisedon, The Electric Company, and the classic 1964 Christmas film Santa Claus Conquers The Martians (thank you IMDd!) I’m guessing that she started using her last name because it sounded chic and glamorous, like Chanel or Versace.
Yes, I’d like to know more about her too. She did such amazing work on Dark Shadows, and I know very little about her.
Her husband Joe Mostoller did the costuming for THE DOCTORS. Up to this point, she was billed as Ramse Mostoller on her show, he was billed as as Joe Mostoller n his. They both switched to “Mostoller” at this time, indicating that they were a single firm.
This episode is an experiment in hypno-helio-static-stasis.
Confession time…I started watching just before Dr Woodward got his injection and what stuck with me was the blood flowing down the wall in the mausoleum in 1967 Aug/Sept as a 12 year old. Summertime watching was difficult sometimes as we vacationed around the country….Canada, Nova Scotia, upstate Maine camping, 2 weeks in hospital, typical summertime stuff.. First thing camping was to see if the rec hall had a tv and hope we would be back in time from daytripping to watch and switch the channel. I eventually got my older cousin and younger cousin hooked by playing back the previous day’s audio on reel to reel and we still talk about “when we are” watching now and then. I envy my cousins, they have the coffin DVD set.
I am a new subscriber to this blog, but never introduced myself or have any of my backstory for my love of DS. My nap time was during DS, so I would sneak out, behind the sofa and watch as much as I could. I never saw any pre-Barnabas episodes, as I was born in 1964. We got a color TV in 1969, the year I started kindergarten, so I wasn’t able watch much of it. One of my oldest, dearest friends, a year or so older than I, did the same thing…snuck out from her nap and watched from behind the sofa. We have talked about it over the years. Never thought about it being on VHS or DVD, or even online, duh! Found it a few weeks ago and watch it every day. That’s how I found this blog, so glad I did! My friend that I mentioned lives out in the country and can’t get internet, so I sent her the link to this so she can at least read about all the episodes we missed, and all the added info and hilarity you write! Commentators, also are a hoot! Thanks, Danny…and to all of you for adding to the experience of my DS viewing! Greetings from the beautiful Ozarks Mountains!