“And after you see what happens, you will never be the same again!”
It’s the day after Christmas, and now on the show, a werewolf is tearing the hell out of Joe.
A couple days ago, as a special yuletide treat for the housewives, the teenagers and the young set, Dark Shadows presented the most exciting action sequence cliffhanger they’d ever attempted.
Producer Dan Curtis, in his infinite lunacy, is determined to get as many people watching the show over the Christmas break as he possibly can. The kids are home from school and everybody’s relaxing after the holidays, so the show serves up a thrilling slice of mayhem, guaranteed to replace any stray sugarplums that might be dancing in anyone’s head.
So at the end of the last episode, they arranged for Joe to be alone at Maggie’s cottage. There’s a menacing growl from outside, and then suddenly the window disintegrates with a shattering crash, and the werewolf leaps into the room, flying over the railing, animated by nothing but a bottomless hunger for death and destruction.
Joe tries to dodge behind the sofa, but the wolf is upon him. Everything in the room is suddenly a weapon or an obstacle; they knock over tables, and send a glass lamp smashing to the ground.
And then the snarling beast has Joe by the throat, sinking its jaws into his flesh as he screams and struggles.
This is Alex Stevens, by the way, playing the werewolf. I don’t think I’ve introduced him properly before, and he deserves some attention, because he’s phenomenal.
Alex appeared for the first time as Chris Jennings’ wild side a few weeks ago, and he’s listed in the credits as “Stunt Coordinator”. Dark Shadows is actually his first screen credit as a stunt man, and it’s certainly attention-grabbing.
He’ll go on to appear in dozens of movies, including The French Connection, Super Fly, Eyes of Laura Mars, Superman, Splash, 3 Men and a Baby, and Goodfellas, as well as a memorable part on an early Sesame Street segment as the baker who sings “Eight — chocolate — cakes!” and then falls down the stairs. At the moment, of course, he’s reducing a cast member to his component particles.
The Christmas Eve cliffhanger ends there, with the wolf grabbing Joe and savaging him around the throat area. We pick up the action from here, and the fight just keeps on going.
The wolf throws Joe over the couch, and then tumbles after him, knocking over some more furniture on the way.
Joe — who is not billed as a Stunt Coordinator, so he’s awesome for doing all this — tries to scramble away, and when the creature charges, Joe kicks it in the gut and makes a break for the door.
With the wolf closing in, Joe picks up a stool…
And WHAM! He smashes the beast in the face, and the world is a mess of splinters and wolf parts.
So this is the kind of fun you can have, once you realize that a werewolf could perk up your soap opera considerably.
This is one of those moments when I feel like I have to remind everyone that in 1968, daytime television didn’t have a lot of action sequences. Dark Shadows is currently competing in its timeslot opposite The Match Game, The Art Linkletter Show, and homework.
They’re already crushing the competition, and they really don’t have to try this hard. At this point, they’re just showing off.
Joe ends up sprawled out on the carpet, with his handsome cousin straddling his chest. This is another reason why I like the werewolf, by the way; it lets the boys get all physical.
Desperate, Joe reaches out for anything he can use as a weapon…
And then we get a nice, clear close-up on a pair of scissors, carefully placed just within reach.
Joe grabs the scissors and stabs the monster in the chest, chasing it away.
This is a fantastic lesson for the young set at Christmas time. Now they know what scissors are for.
So here lies Joe Haskell, still alive but only by a technicality. The boy is tore up from the floor up.
Maggie calls, wondering what’s taking him so long with the luggage, and he just falls over backwards and does everything short of actually expiring.
Now, in yesterday’s episode, Joe and Maggie officially broke up, agreeing that there wasn’t going to be any reconciliation following their mutual supernatural-assisted indiscretions. On any other soap, a longstanding couple splitting up would be a big moment, with close-ups and a tear in the eye, and maybe even a song and/or montage.
Dark Shadows took care of the breakup in a minute and a half, and then it was interrupted by a phone call. The show has evolved beyond the need for human emotions, and now exists entirely for crazy spectacle.
That’s why a werewolf is the perfect addition to the Dark Shadows menagerie. Let’s say two characters are talking about their feelings, when all of a sudden a werewolf jumps through the window. The werewolf automatically trumps everything. There is honestly nothing else like it.
Obviously, I have huge respect for the vampires on the show. But if I had to choose, Twilight Saga-style, between Team Vampire and Team Werewolf, it is no contest at all. Werewolf always wins.
So, for the record, here’s a quick list of what’s so great about werewolves.
#1, obviously: visual spectacle. #2: it’s unique, there’s nothing else in soap operas that’s even remotely like this. #3: imminent threat to any character you like; all they need to do is superimpose a pentagram on somebody’s face, and there you have it, instant plot point.
Let’s see, what else. #4: lots of countdowns and deadlines, as everyone tries to get things under control before the full moon rises. #5: comes with built-in mysterious backstory, i.e., how did he get this way? #6: you can do a serial killer storyline, and still like the guy.
Now, werewolves are not actually my favorite monster. My number-one favorite is zombies, because there’s never such a thing as one zombie.
For example, you could be sitting in a public place — let’s say a restaurant — and if a vampire walks in, it’s not necessarily a life-threatening moment. Vampires can pass for human, so a single vampire walking in could just be looking for a friend.
But a zombie is slow, and obvious. If a zombie walks into the restaurant, then there’s a street full of people outside that door who failed to take care of the situation. One zombie walking in the door means it’s already too late. One zombie means the world is broken.
But a werewolf is a close second, drama-wise, because it’s a force of pure mindless destruction that still remembers how to open and close doors.
It’s the opposite of a Ron Sproat episode; you can’t just stand there and talk. You can’t reason with a werewolf, or open up negotiations. A werewolf is an automatic emergency.
Metaphorically, vampires and werewolves are pretty much the same — they’re both symbols of the hidden lust and rage that lies beneath the surface of civilized man. But werewolves are cooler and more dangerous, and they’re fun to look at. I just really like werewolves is all.
Anyway, back at Collinwood, Maggie and Julia are hanging out in the foyer, pretending that they’re on a normal TV show.
Maggie has just accepted the position of Collins family governess, and she asks Julia if she thinks she’ll be able to handle David. Julia reassures her, saying, “Don’t you worry about it, Maggie. My only question is, will you like being a governess?”
So that’s cute, standing there and acting like that’s a question that anybody cares about. This is not that kind of show anymore.
To prove it, here comes Barnabas, leading the wounded Joe into the house and shouting for Julia. Apparently, Joe is so severely injured that Barnabas had no choice but to get him up on his feet, load him into a car, drive up the hill to Collinwood, extricate him from the car, and drag him into the drawing room, where he can get the skilled medical attention that he needs.
I guess ambulances and hospitals just don’t exist anymore. I wonder what happened to them all.
Meanwhile, the werewolf staggers back to his room at the Collinsport Inn. I don’t know how he manages to get in and out like this without alarming the staff or the guests; either he’s amazingly stealthy or he’s already murdered them all.
Things that happen off-screen on Dark Shadows don’t really matter anyway. The sets are air-tight little bubbles of drama; the space between one set and the next is just a hazy void that nobody cares about.
So the savage, bloodthirsty animal uses his shoulder to push the door shut, in such a casual way that you don’t really think about how bewilderingly silly that is.
And then he turns around, and executes a perfect fall backwards onto the floor, because Alex Stevens is the greatest actor on the show. They should have had a stunt coordinator a long time ago, it’s fantastic.
After a brief word from our sponsor, we come back to Joe, all bandaged up and dirty, with his shirt open and everything. It’s like I keep saying, werewolves make everything better.
In fact, if you’ll allow me a moment of off-the-cuff lit-crit theorizing, I bet I could come up with some jargon like thematic narrative destabilization or something, where I could claim that the shock of a brutal action sequence on daytime television breaks the rules of the genre, which allows them to cross other boundaries without anyone really noticing.
We’ve been getting occasional flashes of manflesh for the last couple of months, always tied to some serious injury. Tom showed off his neck area when he was bitten by Angelique, and then we got a peek at Adam’s chest following another vampire attack. We got our first extended neck-down exposure when Joe was stabbed in the stomach, and Julia had to cut his turtleneck in half so she could bandage him up.
He buttons himself up pretty quick this time, but it’s still a reminder of thrilling possibilities. Delving into the supernatural has given Dark Shadows the license to show more action, and that opens the door to violence, and sexuality, and who knows what else.
Okay, back to the inn. The werewolf has turned back into Chris, who gets up with a splitting headache and some mysterious tears in the menswear. Remembering the pentagram on Joe’s face, Chris tries to call him, while he uncorks some super emotional thinks.
Chris (thinks): What’ll I say if he answers? At least I’ll know he’s — all right. Alive! Why don’t you say that? Why won’t you admit that’s what you really want to know? If he’s alive!
Then he notices the hole that Joe ripped in his shirt. Disgusted with himself, he tears at the shirt, and
Oh my god, you guys, it’s thematic narrative destabilization! I totally called this.
Oh, look at that. It really is Christmas.
Okay, at this point I need to come up with something else to say, to justify some more screenshots, joke or something here
same thing here [ insert sentences, think of something ]
something something [ narrative lit-crit jargon, joke ] something
Okay, so now Joe’s here. After the attack, he was left holding a piece of ripped cloth, which he tore off the werewolf’s shirt during the scissor attack. Recognizing the fabric, he goes to Chris’ room, and he finds the torn shirt.
Joe asks Chris to explain what’s going on, and when Chris doesn’t fess up, Joe grabs him by the arms. And I’m starting to wonder if this is another moment of thematic destabilization whatever, because these guys have had their hands all over each other for two episodes in a row. That’s the awesome thing about made-up lit-crit jargon; it does whatever you want it to.
So is this really happening, or am I just hallucinating now? Because this is really close to being the best episode of anything, ever. Maybe it’s just me.
Okay, more stuff. Joe has a gun now. I’ve kind of stopped processing this as a story by this point. It’s just boys and shouting and head wounds and wardrobe malfunctions.
Chris is a werewolf again, and Joe shoots him, but you can’t stop a werewolf with a handgun. Nothing can stop a werewolf, not guns or fire or common sense or anything. The werewolf is what it is.
So the werewolf keeps on coming, and that’s how you make a half-hour of amazing television. It’s a cultural watershed, really, setting a new bar for quality and audience engagement.
And that’s why television suddenly became perfect, from January 1969 on. This explains everything.
Tomorrow: Accidentally Yours.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Joe left the phone at Maggie’s cottage off the hook. As the scene shifts from Collinwood to the cottage, there’s an off-the-hook telephone sound effect — but it starts too early, and makes it seem like Maggie can hear the noise all the way over at Collinwood.
In the next scene, Maggie looks outside, and then closes the front door — but they don’t close all the way, and the door swings open behind Maggie as she turns to pace across the foyer.
At the end of the episode, Chris pleads with Joe to get the gun from his dresser drawer. When Joe opens the drawer, Chris yells, “Put it out — take it out!”
Tomorrow: Accidentally Yours.
— Danny Horn