Episode 783: A Helping Hand

“We know nothing about this hand, what it can do or what it cannot do.”

Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: A gypsy and a vampire walk into a cave, carrying a box. The bartender says, do you need a hand? And the gypsy says, no thanks, we’ve already got one.

783 dark shadows magda barnabas cave

So you know how people say that there are only seven kinds of stories? Well, those people can go to hell. This story is about a time-traveling Dracula and a gypsy from the Universal Monsters production of West Side Story hiding in a cave and using the Monkey’s Paw to cure a sexy werewolf, so that a future werewolf won’t be trapped in a secret room, unable to change back to human form. I defy you to find a resemblance between that story and any other story that has ever been told, in any medium or genre.

I mean, yes, 12 Monkeys, obviously. But besides 12 Monkeys.

This is just one of those magic Dark Shadows moments where it’s so beautiful and silly and strange that you can’t believe your eyes.

Barnabas is on the run, with multiple vampire hunters on his trail, but what he’s really worried about is whether the magical severed hand in a box will actually cure Quentin of his werewolf curse. “The Hand of the legendary Count Petofi,” he breathes. He’s never actually heard about Count Petofi until maybe ten minutes ago, but apparently he’s drunk the Kool-Aid. “Oh, Magda,” he moans. “I’m afraid of it!”

We’ve never seen anything like this on television before, and definitely not in these rich colors. They appear to have upgraded the cameras at Studio 16, because the picture suddenly looks amazing.

Here, I’ll show you. This is the end of yesterday’s episode:

783 dark shadows cameras 1

And this is the reprise at the beginning of today’s:

783 dark shadows cameras 2

It’s tremendous, isn’t it? A huge improvement. I hadn’t really noticed how washed-out everything was. They’re overdoing it a bit on the saturation, but it’s new and beautiful and I like it a lot. I don’t know any backstage story about this; all I know is that the show looks better today.

One nice side effect of having a better picture is that they’re going to be able to do more with the lighting. They can do much darker scenes now, and still keep the characters visible, so we’re going to see summoning rituals by candlelight that look a lot more like candlelight.

783 dark shadows magda barnabas afraid

Anyway, here we are in our beautiful Pirates of the Caribbean cave, and Barnabas is having second thoughts about the thing that he never really had first thoughts about.

“I’m afraid of it!” he says. “I’m afraid it will change Quentin in some way that will affect Chris Jennings in the present! For, don’t forget, there is a man in another century, locked in a secret room in the mausoleum, a man who has changed into a werewolf, and cannot change back! Oh, it seems like such a chance!”

This is a difficult fear to talk somebody out of, because it doesn’t make sense and you don’t really know where to begin. Barnabas has been in the past for months now, stomping on butterflies and causing who knows what kind of havoc in the timestream. But he doesn’t trust this beast with five fingers, because it’s something that he absolutely can’t control.

So far, Barnabas has been able to use his vampire abilities, his alliances with foreign powers and his negotiation skills to maintain a fragile sense of authority over the storyline. He’s bitten people and strangled people to get his way, and he’s even managed to befriend Quentin, the guy he thought he was here to fight.

But now the secret is out — everybody knows he’s a vampire, and he has to leave the familiar comfort of the Old House and the mausoleum to find sanctuary in this little piece of Fraggle Rock that he’s found. Plus, none of the people on his team know how to cure Quentin’s werewolf curse.

783 dark shadows barnabas magda hand cave

And now he has to trust this doomsday device — a severed hand in a wooden box, which has been hiding in plain sight all over Collinwood for years.

“Legend says that it is evil and good,” Magda says. “It can be one or the other.”

“Exactly!” Barnabas cries. “How do we know it can be good for Quentin? And how do we know that simply because you stole it, it won’t turn against us?”

For once, Barnabas is thinking clearly about the possible outcomes. Weapons can be dangerous, if they fall into enemy hands — and what if the weapon is an enemy hand?

783 dark shadows petofi hand

So let’s talk for a second about The Monkey’s Paw, W.W. Jacobs’ 1902 short story that’s a partial inspiration for Count Petofi’s magical Hand.

The story concerns an elderly couple and their son Herbert, who are given a mummified monkey’s paw that an old friend found during his travels in India. The paw grants its owner three wishes, and the family is excited to try it out. But the friend says that he used it and regrets it, and urges them to throw it on the fire.

Obviously, they don’t throw it on the fire, because then there’s no story, so the father takes the paw and wishes for two hundred pounds. Nothing happens, so everybody shrugs and goes to bed — but the next day, the family is informed that their son died, mangled in the machinery in a workplace accident. The company is giving them two hundred pounds as compensation.

They’re a wreck, obviously; grieving and guilty and stunned by the thought that it might have been their wish that brought this judgment on their family. A week after the funeral, the mother snatches up the monkey’s paw and says, let’s wish our boy alive again! The father is horrified, but she insists, and that’s their second wish.

And a little while later, something comes scratching at their front door…

430 dark shadows shadow josette

Now, this story is actually nothing new to Dark Shadows viewers; they did a version of The Monkey’s Paw back in episode 430. Josette had just died, falling from the cliff at Widow’s Hill, and Barnabas used his vampire powers to call her back from the grave, and force her to appear before him at the Old House. It didn’t go very well.

This is a fairy tale, a dark Aladdin where the djinn in the lamp wants to teach you a sharp lesson about imposing your will on the universe. Nothing’s free, death is real, and you might want to read the fine print on that scratch-off lottery ticket.

783 dark shadows barnabas charity call

And Dark Shadows has never been more fairy tale than it is right now: Barnabas and Magda in a secret cave, asking their one-handed genie to grant them a practice swing.

They figure they ought to test the Hand’s power before they try it on Quentin tomorrow night, and Barnabas thinks of Charity Trask — the young girl he’s been feeding on, who may not recover from his latest blood draw. The Hand can cure Charity!

He talks about this like it’s this noble idea; in his mind, he’s saving the day, as if he wasn’t the one who endangered her in the first place. And this is really just another way that Barnabas is using Charity’s body for his own purposes. She’s a recipient, not a participant, and that’s an important difference. They’re using her as an expendable test site, dropping their bomb on a remote island they don’t really care about.

So Barnabas calls to Charity to join them in the cave, using a summoning call that broadly translates to Let’s give it to Mikey! He won’t eat it; he hates everything.

783 dark shadows evan charity stop

Ecstatic to receive his call, Charity tries to get up and follow — but Evan Hanley is watching over her, and refuses to let her leave.

And Barnabas is left standing there in the cave, going, Come on, come onnn! You’re embarrassing me in front of the Hand!

783 dark shadows charity hand

But the Hand has its own ideas about how to get things done, and it’s not opposed to flexing its muscles a little. It’s been a long time since anybody was foolish and desperate enough to open this mystery box; the Hand is probably thrilled to get a chance to stretch its legs, so to speak.

The first wish is granted — Charity is touched by the Hand, and her troubles melt away. She’s healthy again, and free of Barnabas’ influence. It’s a miracle, if your definition of miracle includes helping the living dead cover their tracks and escape punishment.

783 dark shadows barnabas magda hand up

And so, once again, our lunatic heroes learn all the wrong lessons. They’re convinced that the Hand can follow their commands, and do what they want it to do.

So this is our new toy, a gift-wrapped plot device that can do absolutely anything. It can disappear and reappear, it can fly, it can cure people, it has a mind of its own and at some point I bet it’s going to destroy us all. Watch out for that second wish; it’s a doozy.

Tomorrow: Things That People Say When They’ve Run Out of Sensible Things to Say.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

When Barnabas rushes to close the door after Nora sees him biting Charity, he casts a reflection in the mirror as he runs by.

After Nora leaves Charity’s bedside, you can hear her running through the studio to get to the other set.

Charity isn’t positioned quite right for the end of act 1 — the camera pulls in for the thrilling reveal of her bloody neck, but her hair and her collar are blocking most of the gore. They do a similar shot at the beginning of act 2, and they get a much better look at her neck.

Evan tells Charity, “Now, unless you help us, you have no power to resist him! But you can tell — you can help us by telling us where he is!”

When the hand appears over Charity’s face, there’s a bit of shadow that messes up the Chromakey effect around the ring; the blue of her pillow comes through.

Behind the Scenes:

That’s Timothy Gordon operating the Hand when it’s hovering over Charity’s face. Timothy’s a long-time Dark Shadows artiste who appears in 31 episodes between 1966 and 1969. His most memorable role is Zombie Jeremiah in 1795 and early 1968, and he’s also played Barnabas’ hand when it appeared in midair to terrorize Reverend Trask. The last time we saw him was in January, playing a Spectator at Vicki’s hanging. He’s going to play the Hand in tomorrow’s episode too, and in several more over the next few weeks.

The colorful Collinsport Afghan appears on Charity’s bed today; it was last seen on Tim’s bed a couple weeks ago.

Tomorrow: Things That People Say When They’ve Run Out of Sensible Things to Say.

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

25 thoughts on “Episode 783: A Helping Hand

  1. “They appear to have upgraded the cameras at Studio 16, because the picture suddenly looks amazing.”

    I’m glad you pointed this out, I never noticed the exact day everything looked better.

    It had only been about a year and a half since Dark Shadows left black and white, for color. A noticeable upgrade in the technology right about now would not surprise me. And the most noticeable upgrades would be the first ones. After that, more subtle refinements.

    It was 1967 when color TV broadcasts became universal, and the black & white era ended. Color TV had been around since the late fifties, but now it dominated. TV camera technology improved drastically around this time.

    In the late 1960’s, EVERYTHING was picking up steam like crazy: the arts, music, science, technology, politics, riots, everything, good and bad.
    People were taking-off for the moon. People were taking-off for just about everything. It finally ended with….have you ever seen Vanishing Point?

    I was a freshman TV production major in 1975. I remember our instructor telling us about how early b&w TV cameras had a hard time processing light bulbs, candles, white shirts, anything that was too bright. A candle might appear to have a black ring around it’s flame. That’s the camera not quite being able to deal with the image. That was fixed by the time they made color cameras.
    And I do seem to remember 1969 as an especially gorgeous year for television, with Ed Sullivan, Laugh-In, Carol Burnett and Dark Shadows, just to name a few.

    1. Hooray, I love it when people know facts. You can see some of the black & white problems with candles in the b/w Dark Shadows episodes. I think it became more of a problem once Barnabas moved into the Old House, and they started to have a lot more “candlelight” scenes.

      1. Unfortunately, I went to the wrong college, for the wrong reasons, but anyhow…
        The TV cameras were not state-of-the-art, which should have been color, in 1975. Our cameras were big, heavy, very sluggish, black & white monsters, probably predating what was used on Dark Shadows, by a few years. That’s why we had to learn about “old” cameras, that’s what we were using for our little projects.
        The Number One rule was “Don’t ever, ever, ever pan up to the overhead lights, because they can burn-out a camera”, and then you could be expelled.

      2. Well I absolutely LOVE that candle burned in look.

        And I love the clarity of a b/w picture on videotape.

        B/W Film and kinescope just look old, for the most part.

    1. The Golden Magazine for Boys and Girls has to be the most wonderful name for a magazine since the world began!

  2. Is this the episode where we find out Count Petofi was also a werewolf, and that he was the last known human to own a unicorn? For me, that little bit of trivia is the most insane thing the show has ever said.

  3. This is one of Nora’s last appearances I think? And whatever happened to her? Did Liz and Roger have first cousins? She would have been in her early 70s when Roger married her mother’s latest incarnation. Now there’s a backstory!

    1. I had it in mind that Nora could be used to complete the Universal Monsters set.
      Using her affinity with ancient Egypt, she would have gone on Howard Carter’s digs in the 20s.
      Then in 1971 she could return to Collinwood (played by Isabella Hoopes?) bringing a Curse of the Mummy with her.

  4. I am finding myself watching other daytime shows and having a running commentary in my head as if I am hearing Danny’s commentary!

  5. We actually did know that Count Petofi was a werewolf. Before she left to find her gypsy cohorts, Magda told the story of the old woman who cured a man of the curse. She said Count Petofi had gone back on his word about something or other and was cursed. That was the only instance Magda knew of where a werewolf curse was removed.

    1. Actually, I’m not sure she said the old woman cured Count Petofi, but she did say the old woman cursed him.

  6. Speaking of transformations-

    Has anybody noticed the character changes that are taking place around this time? For one, Magda had a very adversarial relationship with Barnabas until about a day or two ago when she suddenly started seeming warmer to him…they are almost on Julia/Barnabas ground now, working together to advance B.’s plans, chatting like old friends while wondering what “the hand” will do when they place it in action. When Magda first unveiled the hand to B., he was downright snarky about it. Now he is confiding his doubts about the direction things might take when the preternatural force is unleashed. And confident Magda has changed into a worried but hopeful Julia over the same issue.

    And what about Charity Trask? I though she was supposed to be quite the bitch around the School. Now Nora is utterly devoted to her as a substitute Mother figure. Charity rains down sympathy and concern on her small charge. Wasn’t she against Tim giving punished children anything to eat not long ago?

    And speaking of Nancy Barrett, when I first watched these shows she was just part of the background to me. I only had eyes for Angelique. But this time through, I’m increasingly impressed by her. She was quite good! And I don’t think I’ve seen better “vampire slave” acting even in Hammer films, than in this and the last episode. She really brought the erotic attachment to the vampire through; when Nora walked in, Charity effectively portrayed a woman suffering from coitus interruptus of a sensual kind.

    And, a different topic- how about that cave scene? It bordered on experimental theatre. Two characters mouthing lines about an existential dilemma in a dark and primal setting.

    1. I think Charity takes over some Rachel attributes.
      Have they also improved the audio? I don’t ever remember Nancy screaming so loudly before!

    2. I wondered about this, too, and thought I’d missed something regarding Charity and Nora’s relationship. Then I remembered that Nora hasn’t been on the show in weeks.

  7. I’m glad Barnabas discovered his vampire hypno-powers in this episode. I was really afraid he would kill Nora, or bite her, either of which would have been way too heavy for this point in the show. Too bad he didn’t know about those powers earlier, he could have cut down quite a bit on the death toll.

  8. I LOVE the new cameras with their brighter clearer colors! It’s almost like when you see one of your favorite old series on DVD/Blu-ray for the first time and realize how much over-the-air antenna picture and even cable was terrible, but back then we didn’t know any better.

    Charity looked so beautiful in this episode. When she was laying in bed she reminded me of Sleeping Beauty.

    Barnabas disappearing was one of the better chroma key effects. Petofi’s hand though…

    I totally expected Red, Gobo, and the gang to surprise Barnabas and Magda in the cave LOL

  9. Yeah, full marks to Nancy Barrett on this one — compare her with any of Barnabas’ previous victims, and she’s the only one who actually seems to play the whole Hammer heaving-and-throbbing subtext-that-might-as-well-be-text.

    And putting that wispy black cover over an almost-skin-toned nightgown shows that the costume folks clearly got it as well…

    While I’m handing out Oscars, there’s one for Humbert Allen Astredo as well — not only does he convincingly play both edges of a bad guy who’s on the side of good for once, he sells the hell out of the appearance of the Hand. Not only is he clearly convinced that something is actually happening in front of him (beyond a stagehand wobbling a stage hand), he even brings across a sense of recognition, and the sense of a junior Satanist who realises he’s suddenly out of his league…

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