“There must have been something about this bracelet that kept the animal from killing me.”
Okay, let’s get right into it, because pretty much everything happens today, and I don’t have time to mess around. This is one of those episodes your mother would have warned you about, if she was dead.
That’s a new thing that mothers can do, by the way. If your mother is under a magic spell that puts her into a paralyzing deathlike coma, then she also gets the ability to know where you are, foresee danger in your future, and communicate telepathic warnings using pre-recorded sound carts. Seriously, they just invented that. It’s working out great so far.
So this is going to be one of those stream-of-consciousness episode guide dream diary entries, where I’m just kind of breathlessly narrating what’s unfolding on screen. The theme, as always, is Dark Shadows: breaking new ground in the field of naturalistic drama.
Here’s Carolyn Stoddard, who’s currently the bone in a supernatural two-dog fight. Her beast of a boyfriend has been following her around the estate the whole evening, and her mostly-dead mother has been sending her psychic messages, warning her that she’s in terrible danger.
Unfortunately, Elizabeth’s public service announcements haven’t been particularly clear about what kind of danger she’s supposed to be looking out for, not even a general hint like “stay indoors”. As far as Carolyn knows, the danger could be anything from a bad cold to a drone strike.
Carolyn’s on a daily soap opera, so naturally her response is to locate the nearest character and talk things over. She has a discussion with Julia, while holding a framed photo of her mother at a peculiar angle.
Cut to another camera, and it turns out Carolyn is holding her mother’s picture so that Elizabeth and Julia have a completely natural two-shot. There’s no rationale behind this bit of cinematography; it just is what it is. There will be more deeply peculiar touches like this in today’s episode. Like, a lot more.
The conversation is about Carolyn’s unshakeable conviction that her mother isn’t really dead. Julia says that she examined Elizabeth, and she was definitely dead at the time, which means that either Julia is bad at being a doctor, or Elizabeth is bad at being dead.
But Carolyn Stoddard doesn’t take no for an answer, and she’s determined to get to the bottom of this thing once and for all. So she goes outside to walk through the spooky dark forest to Elizabeth’s tomb and have it out with the dearly departed, without taking a flashlight or a gun or a portable force shield or anything. She doesn’t even have a hat on, and it’s January.
Obviously, this little one-way field trip to the boneyard is exactly the opposite of what Elizabeth was hoping to achieve with her cryptic threat level announcements from the other side.
You know, you really do need to be more specific with your telepathic prophecies. I feel like we’ve discussed this before. Honestly, nobody listens.
And just as Carolyn gets out of range, the werewolf LITERALLY DROPS FROM THE SKY onto the front porch. He really does — it’s a vertical drop from the top of the screen, landing on his feet, and then it’s on with the stalking.
The werewolf is full of tricks like that today, because Dark Shadows has a stunt coordinator and damn it, they’re going to use him. After a while, I may be doing the entire entry in all caps. Finally, a television show that tells the truth about the danger of low-flying werewolves.
Then we get your standard girl-being-stalked “who’s there” reaction from Carolyn, while the soundtrack goes mad in the background. It’s all brass and strings and timpani and the walking-on-leaves sound effect.
Then she gets to Liz’s tomb, and the werewolf JUMPS OVER THE WALL AND DROPS RIGHT NEXT TO HER, snarling and running and all in caps because THE WEREWOLF IS AWESOME.
I know I keep saying that, but it’s the only possible reaction. Every show should have leaping werewolves; I can’t think of a single program that this wouldn’t improve. It would perk up Grey’s Anatomy something fierce.
So Carolyn rushes into the mausoleum and locks the door behind her, with the beast reaching through the ironwork to grab her. And she’s shrieking now, an extended high-pitched squeal guaranteed to let the next-door neighbors know that you’re not currently attending to your science fair project.
This is how TV programs used to do viral marketing in the days before social media, by just being so loud that the entire neighborhood could hear it.
And there’s the wolf, and the drums, and more snarling dog sounds, loud enough to wake the dead. So guess what happens next.
Yes, it’s time for the late Elizabeth Collins Stoddard to step in and, well, lie there and fret at the moment, but she’s working on it.
“Carolyn!” Liz cries, using her inside voice. “She’s in danger! I’ve got to help her!” Admittedly, she hasn’t helped much so far, but she’s trying to catch up.
So then — oh, how I love the werewolf — he actually goes and PICKS UP A ROCK and starts smashing at the door handle. He’s using tools now, a whole new stage of vulpine evolution, unfolding before our eyes.
Then we take you live to Liz’s cold, dead fingers, a couple inches away from the button that will save her daughter somehow. Before she died, Liz declared that she wanted a button in her coffin so she could call for help if she woke up. Everybody thought she was crazy at the time, but who’s crazy now? Besides the show, I mean.
“The bells!” she thinks, furiously. “If only I could manage to make them ring! If only I could manage to press the button!” It’s terribly exciting. Honestly, this episode has everything but sense.
And then Carolyn and Vicki sit quietly by the fire, listening to the thunderstorm.
“The lightning seems to be much more powerful than it’s ever been,” Vicki says. “When I was driving home, the flashes of it lighted up the countryside in a way that made it all seem so strange. Everything familiar was so unreal.”
Except not really, because that was the kind of thing that happened on this show two years ago. Now we have vicious drooling monsters busting in and jumping over coffins to get at Carolyn’s tender girl flesh. They don’t really classify what lightning makes it all seem like anymore. They have other concerns.
So the werewolf grabs Carolyn, and gives her a vicious slash across the face with his claws. It’s a brutal moment; he’s basically ripping her face open. Kids must have been absolutely screaming by now. The whole neighborhood’s in an uproar.
And finally, Elizabeth, in a selfless act of pure heroism, decides not to be dead anymore. Her fingers move and she presses the button, setting off a whole new array of bells and whistles.
Startled, the wolf backs up a step, and Carolyn cringes against the stone wall AND THERE IS BLOOD ON HER FACE.
Then cut to Barnabas and Julia in the Collinwood drawing room, pricking up their ears like woodland animals hearing that Snow White is in danger.
This slows down the werewolf by about half a second, and then he lunges for Carolyn again. He really has his heart set on killing her; he wants it more than anything. It’s not clear if he’s planning to eat her or what, but he’s got something in mind.
And then — Carolyn puts her hands up to her face, and the werewolf spots her silver bracelet, and he backs off. Saved by the accessories!
And the bells are still going, and the timpani rumbles in the background, and Carolyn looks at the insane carnival that her life has become, and she re-evaluates about two-thirds of the decisions that she’s ever made, and she screams like fingers dragged across a chalkboard made out of nightmares.
And then Barnabas and Julia rush in, and here’s Dracula Meets the Wolf Man: The Home Game. Barnabas lifts up his silver-headed cane, and just whales the ever-loving tar out of the creature, and there’s more shrieking and growling and kettle drums and warning bells. It is absolute pandemonium.
It’s a thrilling action sequence that could only happen on Dark Shadows — only here, only now, in January 1969 at four o’clock in the afternoon. For a limited time only: the secret of television, just standing there, screaming at the top of its lungs.
That breathless hush that you hear is a nation of housewives and teenagers and children and mental patients, as nobody touches that dial, all at once.
Tomorrow: The Shambles.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
When the werewolf leaps on Carolyn, he knocks against Tom Jennings’ gravestone, which wobbles.
The bells actually start just a moment before Liz presses the button.
After Barnabas chases the wolf away, Carolyn gulps, “It is gone?” instead of “Is it gone?”
They open up Liz’s coffin, and Julia examines the body, actually sticking her head all the way inside the casket. Elizabeth has been “dead” for three weeks; you’d think a doctor would notice that the body hasn’t deteriorated at all. On the other hand, it’s been a rough night.
Barnabas shuts the door to Liz’s tomb, and it swings back open again.
After Julia takes Liz upstairs, there’s a stretch of 2 minutes and 50 seconds with no music cues at all. Some of this time is silent action — Barnabas getting the gun, putting on his cape, Julia walking downstairs — that would usually be accompanied by music. You can hear several bangs and clatters from the studio during this lengthy stretch of silence.
When Carolyn goes upstairs to see Liz, the boom mic is visible at the top of the screen.
Tomorrow: The Shambles.
— Danny Horn