“You will live, as I live — as one of the damned!”
Fall 1968 is a rough time for the Dark Shadows writers, because they’re stuck with a convoluted storyline that just won’t unconvolute. So they’ve embarked on the Great 1968 Wrap-Up, where they shed all of the characters, actors and plotlines that are surplus to requirements, which is practically all of them.
In this time of turbulent change, we turn to the old traditions for comfort. I mean the really old traditions, like dressing up in animal skins and making blood offerings to Asmodeus.
The theme of this week is the cycle of destruction and renewal, as we close this story down and start over. We’re going to see a lot of rituals, and murders, and women getting knocked cold by violent attackers. You know, the usual soap opera thing.
So the stakes are high this week, and the only question that matters is who’s going to make it out alive.
For example: Nicholas Blair, the purportedly conniving mastermind, who’s trapped in a storyline death spiral that he’s powerless to prevent.
Nobody trusts him anymore, and his allies have turned on him. What was once a powerful figure has turned into a laughable failure.
So he figures, what the hell. Let’s just hypnotize Maggie, and get this over with.
And just to drive the point home, there’s a really good new story coming around the corner. Chris, our brand-new mystery monster man, has come to Windcliff Sanitarium to visit his little sister.
In the waiting room, Chris looks at a newspaper, and sees that there’ll be a full moon tonight. He gets upset, because he’s not good at keeping track of things, and he clutches a passing table for support.
“Not again,” he mutters. “Please, not again!” This is such heavy foreshadowing that it might as well be fiveshadowing.
And here comes Amy, a new addition who’s clearly a shout-out to the young set. The middle schoolers are a recent addition to the Dark Shadows demographic, and they’re the target audience for the new Dark Shadows board game, and the View-Master reels.
So far, the show’s cast has only had one core child character — haunted twelve-year-old David Collins — and he hasn’t had much to do on the show since his little ghost friend Sarah disappeared, more than a year ago. That situation is about to change in a big way.
Now, we’ve seen this actor before — he’s Don Briscoe, who played sexy vampire boy Tom Jennings back in the summer, and that’s basically the only thing from the second half of this year that the producers really feel happy with.
So they brought Don back as Tom’s twin brother, Chris, and they build up a family for him by giving him a little sister, who Tom has been taking care of since their parents died.
Tom was killed and vampirized a few months ago, and since then Amy’s been stuck in a mental hospital, dealing with her trauma. This is the first time Chris has come to see her, because he’s a troubled bad boy who moves around a lot, and also he was just invented a week ago.
He’s brought her a present — a box of paints — but she just stares at him with a blank expression. Amy is not having it.
She moves across the room for some moody fishacting.
Amy: Why didn’t you come before?
Chris: I couldn’t, sweetheart. I wanted to… but I just couldn’t.
Amy: Nobody came.
Chris: I know. I stayed away too long. Amy…
Amy: You did what you had to do. You brought me the present. You can go now.
So that’s what kids are like, in 1968. Amy is hardcore.
And the lovely thing is that Chris is devastated to see his little sister like this. It’s an incredibly well-thought out move, giving the bad boy a kid to care about. If Amy’s here for the young set, then Chris is here for the housewives and teenagers, and they need to see how sensitive and misunderstood he is.
So Chris promises to stay in Collinsport, and Amy tumbles into his arms, sobbing, “Please don’t leave me!” He embraces her fondly, but looks off into the distance, conflicted.
This is basically the perfect three-minute troubled heartthrob scene. It’s almost like they remembered how to make a television show again, and not a moment too soon.
Meanwhile, things are heating up over at Nicholas’ place, where we are going to end this damn storyline, one way or another. He’s hypno-proposed to Maggie so effectively that her outfit has magically changed into a wedding gown, complete with a veil and bouquet. There’s a way better storyline percolating across town, and there’s no time to waste.
So let’s get back to Chris, who’s just realized that there’s a full moon tonight, and he needs to take steps. He asks the clerk at the Collinsport Inn if there’s an isolated room he can move to, far away from the other guests.
The clerk brings him up to a shabby room in the attic, which Chris says is perfect. Then he outlines his plans for the evening.
Chris: Can you do me a favor?
Clerk: What’s that?
Chris: Lock me in here. And another thing — if you should happen to hear anything during the night, just noises, or —
Chris: Uh, I sometimes move around and act out what I’m writing, kind of gets me into it. Don’t pay any attention to anything you hear.
The clerk is puzzled, but he lives in Collinsport, so this probably isn’t the strangest thing he’s heard lately. Dude wants to be locked into his room? Sure, why not.
I’m kind of rushing through the episode, because all this malarkey sets up one of the most extraordinary sequences that we’ve ever seen on Dark Shadows — a third-act cross-cut between two utterly ridiculous events.
First up: Nicholas drugs Maggie’s champagne, knocking her out. This is the second time this week that a female character has been rendered unconscious, and there will be lots more examples, because obviously women are very sleepy.
As the full moon rises, it’s back to the Collinsport Inn, where the hotel clerk treats Chris’ request for privacy with the same contempt that all hotel employees display towards their guests’ explicit instructions.
So he’s getting all concerned, just because his guest is screaming, “Oh, no, not now!” and knocking over the furniture. I guess some people take customer satisfaction seriously and some people don’t, and that’s all there is to it.
The clerk enters the room, which is a bit of a mess, although it was kind of a dump to begin with, so whatever.
Then we get what I believe is our first Monster Point of View shot as the snarling beast advances. This means that the clerk walked straight past an angry, violent monster without noticing it. Again, typical hotel employee behavior, so you can hardly blame him for it.
And then ABC Daytime just goes ahead and broadcasts a Black Mass, sealing Nicholas and Maggie’s union by offering up her soul for eternal damnation.
“The ceremony will begin,” Nicholas intones, holding up a goblet, “and you will be my bride throughout time.”
And then we go straight back to the Inn, where the hotel clerk is splattered with fresh, dripping blood. (There’s also some mysterious blue streaks on his face, see the Footnote section below for an explanation.)
The corpse is dragged across the floor by his ferocious, unseen attacker, and then it’s back to the wedding.
The thing that I love most about this scene is that it feels like they were saying, you know, it’s a little weird to show a Black Mass to an audience that we’re currently marketing to middle schoolers. Maybe we should find something else to cut to, so that it doesn’t seem so weird. And then their answer was werewolf kill.
Now, sometimes when there’s a soap opera wedding, one of the soap magazines will print the wedding vows, so fans can relive the romance and magic of this moment.
Nicholas: Maggie Evans… I anoint thee with the blood of the owl, the raven and the bat. You will dwell with me forever in the land of the dead. You will live, as I live — as one of the damned! Your spirit has united with mine!
He kisses the bride.
Nicholas: LET THE LEGIONS OF THE DAMNED SALUTE YOU!
And you know what? They do. It’s just that kind of show today.
Tomorrow: All Our Dead Have Turned Into Skeletons.
The mysterious blue streaks on Mr. Wells’ bloodstained face have excited some comment over the years, and the explanation is quite simple: Mr. Wells is one of the Deep Ones, ocean-dwelling monsters from H.P. Lovecraft’s 1931 novella The Shadow Over Innsmouth.
The Deep Ones are humanoid, with rubbery blue-gray skin, which Wells has clearly disguised with makeup on his face, neck and hands. The violent werewolf assault has rubbed off some of the disguise, exposing a few small patches of his real skin.
Therefore, “Mr. Wells” must be an advance operative of the Leviathans, working under deep cover, and tasked with keeping his glassy, bulging, unblinking eyes on the people of Collinsport.
The agent’s murder probably set the Leviathans’ plans back a bit, which is why they don’t show up for another year. This also explains why the Leviathans are so afraid of werewolves.
You see? Perfectly straightforward. All you had to do was ask.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the teaser, after Nicholas casts his hypnotic spell on Maggie, there’s a lot of shuffling around in the studio.
The clock in the Collinsport inn says that it’s 12:45, but the scene takes place not long before dusk.
There are a couple of ugly tape edits today. In act 1, the scene of Chris talking to the Windcliff nurse begins very abruptly, as if the beginning of the scene has been edited out. At the end of act 2, there’s an obvious edit after the Inn clerk leaves Chris alone in his room.
Maggie says that she’s nervous about the upcoming wedding, and Nicholas leads her to the couch. “I have an antidote…” he announces, and after a long beat, finishes the sentence: “for that.” Maggie chuckles a little during the pause.
As Nicholas raises the goblet and begins the Black Mass, there’s a clank from the studio.
Behind the Scenes:
Amy is played by Denise NIckerson, who was eleven when she joined the show. She’ll be around through mid-1970, playing several characters in different time periods. Denise’s first acting job — at age two — was a commercial for a Florida home heating company. Her parents were relentless about pushing her to perform, and she was appearing at fashion shows and in regional theater by age four. She spent several years in a touring company for Peter Pan, and after that, her parents sent her to live with her older sister in New York City and try out for more stage roles.
Denise’s first television appearance was in a March 1965 episode of the dolphin-focused adventure series Flipper. Then she appeared on NBC soap The Doctors, as she continued her stage career. She’ll still be working in theater during her run on Dark Shadows. If you recognize her, it’s probably from her role as Violet Beauregarde in the 1971 film Willy Wonka & the Chocolate Factory.
Today’s episode also features an appearance by Conrad Bain as the hotel clerk. Conrad was in the first episode of Dark Shadows as Mr. Wells, who greeted Burke on his arrival at the Collinsport Inn. He returned for a couple more episodes in 1966, and now they’ve brought him back two years later, for one last episode.
Conrad recalled his time on the show in the book Barnabas & Company: The Cast of the TV Classic Dark Shadows:
“It’s amazing that they refer to me being on the show at all,” he said in 2002. “I did three episodes, then when they wanted me again, I was not available, and then that sort of petered out. Then one day, a year or two later, I got a phone call, and a young woman’s voice said, ‘Mr. Bain, this is Dark Shadows.‘ I said, ‘Yes?’ She said, ‘Were you ever eaten by the werewolf?’ I said, ‘No, I don’t think so. I would remember that.’ She said, ‘Oh, we’ve got to get you back then.’ So I had to go back to get eaten by the werewolf. And that terminated that.”
Bain later became a well-known actor on popular sitcoms, with a six-year run on Maude, from 1972 to 1978, and then a co-starring role on Diff’rent Strokes as Philip Drummond from 1978 to 1986.
One more cast member to mention — the nurse at Windcliff is played by the winner of a Miss Polish America pageant, in one of the show’s many strange promotional gimmicks. Her name is Bobbi Ann Woronko, and she’s terrible, which explains the abrupt tape edit at the beginning of her scene. She ends up only saying two lines in the broadcast episode, and then she exits.
But Bobbi Ann is very proud of the role, and she has a website where she sells Nurse Pritchett T-shirts. Seriously, go check it out. It’s amazing.
Finally, a few props notes: The Ralston-Purina lamp is on the front desk at the Collinsport Inn; the extremely portable lamp was last seen a couple weeks ago in Roger’s room.
In the first Windcliff scene, there are two Raggedy Ann dolls sitting on the mantelpiece in the Windcliff waiting room. One of them is the doll we saw in Sarah’s room last December, during the 1795 storyline. Raggedy Ann dolls were originally produced in 1915, so this one is clearly a complex space-time event. Just to underline their reality-warping powers, the dolls are inexplicably replaced with flowerpots during the commercial break.
There’s also a print of Van Gogh’s Still Life: Vase with Fifteen Sunflowers on the wall.
The fish tank is the same one we saw in Julia’s office at Windcliff back in July 1967, and it looks like it hasn’t been cleaned since. The prop goldfish are probably new.
Tomorrow: All Our Dead Have Turned Into Skeletons.
— Danny Horn