“I think the man I’m talking to is a ghost!”
Previously, on Dark Shadows: Dr. Woodard has discovered that Barnabas Collins is the kidnapper that everyone’s been looking for — and a member of the living dead. Armed with a journal which contains notes of Julia’s mad experiments, Woodard is planning to speak to the Sheriff, and expose the evil presence that threatens to destroy them all. But a bat appears at the window — and Dr. Woodard is horrified to see the vampire materialize in front of him.
And then… nothing, for three years. At least, that’s what it was like when I saw it.
You see, I discovered Dark Shadows in 1982, when they started showing reruns every day at 4:30 on WNBC in New York. I was in sixth grade, and not particularly on the lookout for a lifelong love affair with a vampire soap opera, but the ad in the newspaper showed a hand reaching out from an open casket to grab a guy by the throat, and what can I say? I was a weird kid.
They started with episode 210, obviously, because that’s when the show starts, and I was there every day — from Barnabas’ first visit to Collinwood through Maggie’s abduction, Barnabas and Julia’s alliance, Sarah’s friendship with David, and Willie getting shot in the back — all the way up to Dr. Woodard’s shocking confrontation with the vampire.
And then the show ended, with no particular fanfare, after episode 340. The ratings were disappointing for WNBC, so after six months, they pulled the show, and I was left to wonder what happened next. I’d read that the show lasted for five years, and included a trip back to the 18th century to see how Barnabas became a vampire, but it was 1982, and if they didn’t feel like showing it on television anymore, then I didn’t really have a lot of options.
Okay, three years later — it’s 1985, and I’m 14 years old. To be honest, at this point I actually was looking for a lifelong love affair with something or other, because I was hitting kind of a rough patch.
I’d started going to a new school, where I didn’t really like anybody enough to become friends. I’d figured out that I was gay, which gave me a strange and terrifying secret that I couldn’t tell anyone about, and my older brother was making my home life a bit challenging. He was suffering from depression and anxiety, and Prozac wasn’t invented until 1987, so he got most of the attention in the family, and I was kind of left to fend for myself.
I’m not complaining about my horrible childhood or anything, because I was very comfortable and well cared for, and everything turned out fine — but this was a period in my life when I was mostly alone. No friends, big secret, brother who has panic attacks at irregular intervals.
And that’s when I discovered that Dark Shadows was on TV again, just in time for today’s episode.
The show had been airing every day on New Jersey Network, a public TV station, since 1983, but I never watched NJN. It was a UHF station, which means it was on a separate dial on the TV set, and there was hardly ever anything good on those stations. I mean, except for my favorite show, obviously, which was running for two years before I even noticed it.
So this is one of those magic episodes for me. I have a really clear memory of watching it for the first time — a woman walking through the dark woods, hearing the growl of an approaching animal, and oh my god, that’s Elizabeth from Dark Shadows, this is actually Dark Shadows.
I can’t tell you how excited I was. I could finally find out what happened to Dr. Woodard!
Just by chance, my re-entry into Collinsport happened to be the beginning of a brand new storyline. The show’s been offloading old characters and tying up loose ends for the last month, practically starting over — and the status quo that they’re returning to is exactly the show that I remembered from sixth grade.
Elizabeth and Roger, Carolyn and David, Barnabas and Julia and Willie, Maggie and Joe and Vicki — it was still the mysterious, haunted dreamscape from middle school.
And the interlopers who’d been cluttering up the place while I was gone — Angelique, Nicholas, Adam, Eve, Jeff — had all been tucked away, just in the last couple weeks, so it was super easy to catch up. It’s like they knew I was coming, which for all I know maybe they did.
To get this new phase of the show rolling, they’ve just introduced Amy Jennings, an obvious pander to the young set. This audience segment has been getting more attention lately, what with the board games and trading cards and Halloween costumes, but young David has been essentially benched for most of the year. His governess, Vicki, has been otherwise occupied — traveling through time, falling inexplicably in love, being kidnapped and hypnotized by practically everybody — so David’s just been drifting along in the background, more or less storyline-free.
But here comes Amy, the little sister of the Jennings twins, Tom and Chris. Tom is a vampire who was recently cooked to a crisp by the sunlight, and Chris is a werewolf who’s been making a bloody mess of passing hotel clerks.
She’s been living in the Windcliff Sanitarium for months, but you can’t keep Amy J. tied down for long. She just looks at you, and smiles, and makes for the exit.
Like I said, I had some older brother problems of my own back then; I knew what it’s like to have a brother who periodically turns into a monster. So I was happy to follow Amy as she broke out of the asylum, ran for her life, and found herself a new place to stay.
I mean, get a load of this kid. Every responsible adult in her life is dead, she’s homeless, she just walked for miles in a thunderstorm through a dark forest alive with mythical beasts, and just look at her. Unbothered.
David: Doesn’t lightning and thunder scare you?
David: It does most girls.
Amy: It shouldn’t. It can’t hurt you.
She’s full of stuff like that. Girl is hardcore.
She’s only staying the night — tomorrow they’re going to send her back to the sanitarium — so she doesn’t waste any time. She sits down with David, and gets right to work.
Amy: Tell me all about this house. What’s it like to live here?
David: Oh, I guess it’s the same as any other place.
Amy: How could it be? It’s bigger than any house I’ve ever seen. It must have a hundred rooms!
Can you believe this girl? Yeah, we get it, you don’t have a place to live. I bet she planned this whole scenario, the scheming little baggage.
Amy is acting like the widest of wide-eyed innocents, but she is completely in control of this situation. She keeps saying things like, “I bet you’ve never even been to the West Wing.” and “I love exploring houses!” and “What’s in this room?” and before you know it, she’s invited herself along on a flashlight tour of the abandoned and almost certainly haunted wing of the house.
Once she’s maneuvered herself into the dusty storage room that she’s clearly been heading for this whole time, she reaches out a hand and grabs the instrument of summoning. It’s an antique telephone, the kind that you use if you want to talk to the dead.
I don’t know how Amy knew that telephone was here, or why she wants to harness its power, but she’s been making a beeline for that thing this whole episode. She walked all the way from Windcliff, just to get her hands on it.
You know what? I think she might be working for They, the dark and shadowy organization who forcibly removed Jeff from the series a couple of days ago. I haven’t figured out who They are yet, but this is just the kind of thing They’d arrange. This has They written all over it.
Observe the technique.
David: You want to make up a game? We could pretend that this room doesn’t have any of the junk in it. And that it’s the same as it was when the West Wing was still open.
Amy: And see the people who lived in it, too!
David: Well, I don’t know if my imagination’s that good.
Amy: Well… if we can’t see them, wouldn’t it be fun if we could talk to them?
David: How could we talk to them, if they weren’t here?
Amy: By telephone!
Amy: Let’s pretend, when we pick up that telephone, we’ll be able to talk to someone who lived in the past! Maybe in this very room!
David: But I don’t know who lived in this room.
Amy: You mean, you don’t want to play?
Honestly, it’s that easy. You could pretty much say anything, and boys will do whatever you want. Boys are stupid.
So she gets on the line, and makes a ghost-to-ghost call.
Amy: Hello? My name is Amy Jennings. What’s yours? That’s a nice name. Where do you live? Somewhere near this room? If David and I came looking for you, could we see you? Could you hold on for just a minute?
So that’s what we’re dealing with here — a girl who makes contact with the infinite, and then puts it on hold. Amy is a rock star.
She tells David that she’s talking to Quentin Collins. He says, “I’ve never heard of a Quentin Collins,” which is the very last time anybody in the United States ever said that sentence.
It’s They, I’m telling you. It usually is. Amy is an Agent of They.
So here we are, the two of us, young Amy Jennings and young Danny Horn — the young set. Two children, a little bit crazy, a little bit lost, both of us searching for a home called Collinwood.
Tomorrow: Bad Wolf.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In act 1, right after Amy says, “Are you Mrs. Stoddard?”, they cut to a different camera, and we can see the silhouette of somebody’s head quickly ducking out of the frame. Right after this, there’s a bit of banging and walking around in the studio.
Julia asks Liz, “Can’t you think — of anything about the animal that attacked you?”
When David and Amy settle down in front of the fireplace, you can see the base of a camera roll by behind them, at the top right of the screen.
Behind the Scenes:
Quentin’s name is partly inspired by Peter Quint, one of the sinister ghosts from Henry James’ 1898 novel The Turn of the Screw. We’ll probably talk some more about this novel at some point.
Tomorrow: Bad Wolf.
— Danny Horn