“Sometimes I was frightened of Barnabas, and sometimes I wasn’t.”
So, yeah. It’s been a weird couple weeks on Dark Shadows, and it was already a pretty weird show to begin with. We had some fun vampire time for a while, but that seems to have passed, and now we’re back in detention with the Bride of Frankenstein story.
Adam, our resident Frankenstein, wants Barnabas and Julia to create a female creature for his bride. They’ve got the body assembled, but now they need a woman to provide the life force to get the new girl up on her feet. This part of the process has been exactly as much fun as you’d expect.
The most perplexing thing this week has been this odd little plot cul-de-sac with girl-next-door Maggie Evans. Barnabas decided that Maggie would be the life force, but Willie’s got a crush on her, and he’s determined to protect her. So Willie’s kidnapped Maggie, as you do, and now they’re hiding together in the secret room in the Collins mausoleum.
This has jogged Maggie’s suppressed memories of being abducted and brainwashed by Barnabas last year, back when he was an evil Dracula. He’s cured now, and trying to put those days behind him, but if Maggie remembers what actually happened, then she’ll expose him, and he’ll be destroyed. So they’ve been doing some flashbacks to the 1967 story, showing us what Maggie remembers about her ordeal.
The puzzling thing about this sequence is that it doesn’t seem to be affecting the mad science story in any meaningful way. By the time Adam found out that Barnabas wanted to use Maggie, she was already gone. And it doesn’t even matter, because he wants to use Carolyn for the life force anyway, so it seems like the Maggie thread was just a pointless side trip.
But we’ve got it backwards. The “Maggie in the mausoleum” story isn’t here to support the Adam story. It’s the other way around — they’ve added a litle bend in the Adam story, so that they can do the flashbacks. Maggie’s flashbacks are the whole point of this week.
You can tell that the flashbacks are super important, because the show is actually investing quite a bit of money and effort in these scenes.
These aren’t the kind of lazy flashbacks that you get on a normal show with modern technology; they’re not taking a chunk from a previous show and splicing it into today’s episode. The period that they’re flashing back to was taped in black and white, months before the show switched to color.
So they’re actually restaging these scenes, using old costumes and props to pretend that this is what it looked like back then.
And it’s actually even more difficult than that, because they’re pre-taping some of these flashback scenes, which is something that they almost never have the time and energy to do.
If you’re joining us late, here’s a quick note about videotape technology in 1968: it was terrible. Back then, editing videotape involved X Acto knives, scotch tape, and a sound editing booth that the grown-ups at ABC were using for other purposes. The Dark Shadows team just couldn’t afford to make edits on a daytime TV budget.
Instead, they recorded Dark Shadows “live-to-tape,” all in one continuous take, including blank space for the commercial breaks. That’s why you see all those line flubs and boom mic shadows — the producers just didn’t have the time or the resources to stop taping, fix the problem and then edit out the gap.
So when they pre-taped flashback scenes for three episodes this week, it was a huge hassle. The first time they tried it, in last Thursday’s episode, they ran into technical problems that ate up all the rehearsal time. In the end, they just filmed the dress rehearsal, and that’s what the audience saw that day.
Now you’d imagine, after that kind of mess, they’d dial it back, and maybe even ditch the flashbacks altogether.
Nope. They’re actually doubling down.
Yesterday, there was another flashback to Maggie’s time in Barnabas’ house, as he tried to brainwash her into becoming his dead fiancee, Josette. This flashback was actually more like a dream sequence, with strange lighting and Willie acting uncharacteristically sinister.
Today, there are two flashbacks, one of them pre-taped and the other performed live, with costume changes in between.
The first flashback is the live one. This is a more faithful representation of the Willie/Maggie relationship during the abduction. He feels sorry for her, but he thinks that the only way for them both to survive is to go along with Barnabas’ insane demands as well as they can.
So Willie gives her the wedding dress, and calls her Josette — and when she starts to break out of the vampire trance, he uses the music box to get her back under the influence.
This flashback isn’t actually reproducing a specific scene from last year; it’s more a pastiche of the kind of thing that happened during that storyline.
But the final flashback in today’s episode is the greatest-hits show-stopper — the big mausoleum punishment scene. The visual gag at the end of this sequence is one of those unforgettable TV moments, so this flashback is very faithful to the spirit of the original.
As the scene opens, Barnabas is furious because Maggie tried to escape from his home-school brainwashing seminar, so he’s brought her to the mausoleum to teach her a sharp lesson.
Maggie tries to convince him that she’s sincere about the brainwashing, and she answers to the name Josette. Barnabas is pleased, and says that he’s reconsidering the punishment he has planned for her.
But when his back is turned for a moment, Maggie makes a break for the exit.
Spoiler alert: It doesn’t work out.
Grabbing his squealing prey, the monster pushes her up against the stone wall, bares his fangs and feasts on her blood.
She collapses, and Barnabas carries his victim into the mausoleum’s secret chamber. He lays her in the open casket…
… and then he closes the lid, as she screams for mercy.
So, here’s the important question — why did they go to all the trouble of restaging those scenes?
This was a lot of extra work — rewriting the scenes and pre-recording them, doing costume and makeup changes — when they could have had Maggie just stand there and say, “I remember what Barnabas did! He bit me on the neck, and then he locked me in a coffin!”
Also, this whole sequence has precisely zero to do with the actual current storyline. We already memory-wiped this girl. This is old business. Why even bother?
And here’s the answer: the Dark Shadows trading cards. We looked at these a few weeks ago — they came out around this time, in fall 1968. The photos for the set are mostly portraits — posed photos of the actors in costume, smiling or grimacing at the camera as needed.
But there’s eight cards in the set that depict a sequence from an actual episode. Anybody want to guess which episode it’s from?
The problem really started in May, with Jonathan Frid’s crazy week-long publicity tour, when he visited ten cities in his vampire drag, sparking mass panic and Beatlemania-style mob scenes.
And now there’s the trading cards, and the board game, and the romance novels, and the Halloween costume, and it’s all based on Barnabas Collins being a vampire.
It’s been a good year for Dark Shadows — they’ve gone from the brink of cancellation to a massive breakout hit. All of a sudden, people are paying a lot of attention to this weird little cow-town spook show.
And if you ask absolutely anybody what Dark Shadows is about, they will all say the same thing. It doesn’t matter if they’re a devoted fan, or if they’ve never seen an episode before.
Everybody in America knows that Dark Shadows is the story of the terrifying and conflicted vampire, Barnabas Collins.
Which is great, and very exciting for everyone, and there’s just one teeny little problem: Barnabas isn’t a vampire anymore. He got cured, like, four months ago.
In fact, the cure happened just one week after Frid’s big publicity tour. If anyone was inspired by the promotion to tune in and see Barnabas bite people on the neck, it’s been nothing but disappointment, all summer long.
So exec producer Dan Curtis and the writing team have been spinning their wheels a bit for the last couple months, trying to figure out different ways to give the audience what they want to see.
They spawned a a couple new vampires — first the witch-vixen Angelique, and then sexy Tom Jennings, the Dark Shadows equivalent of Jim Morrison. Tom only lasted a couple weeks, but Angelique’s still got her fangs in all the cute boys in town.
But, still — Barnabas is the guy on the board game box. If Barnabas isn’t the vampire, then it’s just not the same.
The frustrating thing for the producers and writers is that they introduced a brand new monster on the same day that they cured Barnabas — Adam, the enormous Frankenstein man. They thought they were doing the smart thing, getting one monster offstage as they brought the next one on.
But the Adam story has bogged down, and is currently going almost entirely nowhere. The guy’s been stuck in the attic for months, and honestly, he just didn’t catch on with the audience the way that Barnabas did. Nobody is clamoring to dress up as Adam for Halloween.
So, in lieu of an actual storyline, they’re throwing the audience a bone this week — a series of flashbacks that give people a glimpse of the vampire that they’re longing to see. That’s why they’ve got Maggie setting up make-believe clips from old episodes.
Over the next few weeks, Dan is going to find a way to get Barnabas involved in some vampire action again — and he’s also thumbing through his Big Book of Famous Monsters, cooking up a replacement for Adam who might have more audience appeal.
Come to think of it, it’s a shame that they killed Tom Jennings so quickly. He was really cute, and he got a lot of fan mail. If only Dan could find a way to bring Tom back, and have him be the new monster…
Well, don’t worry; I’m sure it’ll all work out. Dan’s on the case. Things may look bleak right now, but the rescue party is on the way. And oh, what a party it will be.
Tomorrow: In the Fewest Words Possible.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the act 1 flashback, as Maggie enters the room and approaches Willie, you can see the shadow of a camera moving around on the left.
At the end of the act 1 flashback, Maggie leaves the room, and the camera lingers on Willie and the music box for about twenty seconds. This gives Maggie time to hustle over to the mausoleum set, and throw on her nightgown over the dress she was wearing in the flashback. When they cut to Maggie in the mausoleum, you can see the yellow collar of her dress poking through under the nightgown.
In act 2, when Carolyn hears Nicholas knocking on the front door at Collinwood, the music stops, and there’s no music for about a minute and a half.
When Barnabas carries Maggie into the secret room, the door doesn’t quite shut behind him.
Behind the Scenes:
There’s a big change to the show’s structure that starts today — it changes from four acts to three. It stays this way for about two years — up through episode 1050, in July 1970. I’m going to talk about this in the next couple entries, but this episode is actually when the change happens.
Maggie’s first flashback is kind of a pastiche of her abduction experience, so it’s not based on a specific episode. The closest match is probably episode 239, which aired in May 1967. The second flashback is a remake of a sequence in episode 248, from June.
Tomorrow: In the Fewest Words Possible.
— Danny Horn