“I feel as if something is trying to get inside of me!”
And another thing…
It’s my own fault, I recognize that. I was the one who wanted to write about Dark Shadows in the first place, and I was the one who decided that on pre-emption days, I would watch an episode of the 1991 revival. I did not open the mysterious box; I did not read the forbidden book; I did not receive instructions in my dreams. This is on me.
But here I am, in November 1969, when the show was pre-empted twice in the same week — for the Apollo 12 splashdown on Monday, and then for Thanksgiving on Thursday. So now I have to write about two 1991 episodes, which is straining endurance.
But I don’t want to be a downer, not on Thanksgiving, so let’s do this; here’s the other 1991 posts if you need to catch up. We’re currently in the middle of the 1790 storyline, which makes up the back half of the revival’s first and only season. In the original show, everybody in the present day was frozen between two ticks of the clock while girl governess Victoria Winters spent a few months in the late 18th century, but in the revival, they’re keeping both time periods active, and insisting that Vicki’s strange and terrifying journey into the past has direct repercussions on the present day.
The operating theory is that this show can fix some of the perceived failures of the original storyline, because they can actually plan ahead; they’re not desperately throwing things together at the last minute. They can cherrypick the characters and exciting plot points that they want to use, and arrange them in a more dramatically consistent way. The revival will fix all of the plot inconsistencies and scattershot character arcs, telling the story as it would have been told if the writers had more time, and better editing.
But the show is still run by executive madman Dan Curtis, who was responsible for the seat-of-the-pants haphazardness in the first place, and there’s a great example in today’s show of how the backstage crazy is still showing up on screen.
To start with: Dan invited Sam Hall to write for the revival. Sam was the best writer from the original show, and Sam and Dan had the kind of bond that you see in war veterans — they’d been in the trenches together, making the show under battle conditions. In 1990, Sam was retiring after a long career of writing soap operas, but he agreed to work on Dark Shadows. Dan also hired Sam’s son Matthew, a novel writer who had just published a supernatural thriller called Nightmare Logic.
Sam and Matthew worked with Dan in the early stages of the project, going through the old scripts to find plot points they could use in the new show. Here’s Matthew describing their work, from The Dark Shadows Companion:
Much time was spent by my father and me trying to update the Phoenix story so that it could be used in the current Dark Shadows, but Dan finally decided to drop the Phoenix plot. Part of the problem was that, as my father pointed out, the Phoenix was virtually a test run of all the ideas that would subsequently reach fruition in the character of Angelique.
Sam is only credited for episode 4, which was heavily rewritten by Dan and another producer. Here’s how Sam saw it, from a 2009 interview:
“I finally said to [Dan], while we were working on the second version of Dark Shadows, that I wouldn’t work with him anymore. We were great friends in a weird way. I said, ‘You won’t let your writers have any dignity now.’ It’s true. He would have one writer in one room and another writer in the next room, both unaware of each other and each writing the same scripts.”
So that explains why episode 4 was such a complete mess — introducing both Laura and Angelique as fire witches in the same episode, and then forgetting all about Laura after that. Dan was piecing together different versions of the script, in the same haphazard and inconsistent manner as before.
Now, the reason why I’m bringing all of this up again is that Matthew Hall wrote today’s episode, and it’s got a scene that calls back to an element from his dad’s script. Back in episode 4, Barnabas found a diary kept by his little sister Sarah, who died at age 10 in the 1790s. Sarah used the diary to communicate with Barnabas at the end of the episode, ghost-writing a message about how he shouldn’t mess around with Vicki.
The diary was completely dropped after that — Sam was gone, and nobody else picked up on the idea. But today, all of a sudden, it’s back in our lives again.
“There has been a new entry in the diary, Willie,” says Barnabas, as the viewing public wonders what he’s talking about.
He hands the book to Willie, who reads, “Daniel and I cried so hard today, when the terrible mean Reverend Trask came and took our Miss Winters to jail!” Horrified, Willie asks, “Who is this guy, Reverend Trask? Did you know him?”
And Barnabas sneers, “Oh, yes, Willie. He was a fanatic! A witch hunter!”
“Oh my God!” gasps Willie, although obviously he should be saying, Hooray! A witch hunter! That must have come in super handy, what with the witch tormenting the family and all!
But, no — that’s a weird inconsistency from the original story that we’ve decided that we are perfectly fine with.
I’ve always found it odd that everyone treats Aunt Abigail like she’s a lunatic for accusing somebody of being a witch, even though there actually is a witch on the premises. Abigail’s diagnosis of the situation is absolutely correct, except she happens to suspect Vicki of witchcraft, instead of Angelique.
Abigail’s mistake arises because Vicki doesn’t have a credible explanation for why she showed up at the house wearing 1990s clothes, and calling everybody the wrong name. If Vicki wasn’t there, Abigail probably would have sniffed out the real witch; she’s just distracted by the time-traveling supernatural governess.
So she’s right about witches, and a witch hunter is exactly what they need, and that’s why Abigail and Trask are the heroes of 1790.
Except they’re not, because nobody else in the family believes that witches are real, right up until the moment in today’s episode when they all definitely do.
Angelique pretty much makes sure of this, by raising Jeremiah from his grave as a zombie, and sending him stomping through Collinwood to carry Josette away.
This is not a stealth operation, like it was in the original show — a dark figure appearing at the window, and then sneaking up on a sleeping Josette. In this version of the story, the zombie just walks into the house while everybody’s awake, and Josette shrieks her head off. We see everybody come running to see what all the racket is about, but somehow the zombie has already sped away into the woods.
The men of the house catch up with the ghoul at the cliffs on Widow’s Hill, where the voice of Angelique is instructing Jeremiah to hurl Josette into the sea.
“Listen to me, brother!” Barnabas cries. “Release her! Whatever evil has brought you back — you must resist!”
The monster gives this some thought. “Evil…” it croaks, and then: “Angelique…”
Barnabas repeats, “Angelique?” so now everybody knows that there’s a witch involved, and Barnabas knows that the witch is Angelique. So obviously the thing to do is call up the witch hunter, and ask him to make a house call. One exorcism ought to clear this whole problem up.
But, no. The show’s point of view — based mainly on eyebrows — is that Reverend Trask is a villainous charlatan.
That’s because Trask was a villain in the original show, and he hounded and persecuted Vicki, and the revival needs to stay faithful to the original source material.
Except that they totally don’t. In the original story, Angelique keeps up the pretense for weeks, slowly ensnaring her prey. She casts a spell that makes Sarah sick, and promises Barnabas that she can make his sister well, if he proposes marriage. They actually get married, and move in together; it’s a big chunk of the story.
But they don’t have time for that in the revival, so Barnabas finds Angelique’s Josette-shaped voodoo doll, and he goes and yells at Angelique, and she attacks him with a knife, and he fights back and stabs her, and then she dies.
So now everybody knows that Angelique was the witch, and everybody knows that Barnabas killed her, and buried her in the woods. It turns out that nobody ever turned Barnabas into a vampire after all, and obviously Vicki’s going to be freed, and that’s a happy ending for pretty much everyone.
Except killing the witch has zero consequences, because her spirit sticks around and she’s just as powerful as she ever was, maybe even more so. She just appears in the hallway pretending to be Josette, and when Barnabas approaches her, she turns into a hissing vampire and rips his neck open and kills him.
And in another departure from convention, she doesn’t say that everyone who loves him will die, even though that curse is supposed to be the setup for basically everything else that happens in the rest of the storyline. She just hisses and feeds and hisses some more, and then she turns into a flappy bat.
Which I have to say is actually pretty great. Vampire Josette turns into a little marionette bat with a super angry face, who flaps and flaps and then flies away.
And finally, at long last, they make one scene that is actually Dark Shadows. In this beautiful moment, they reach for something that’s just beyond their grasp, and they make contact with the spirit of ’66. Flappy bat is the best.
They shouldn’t make any more Dark Shadowses, really, because fundamentally it’s a story that can only be told once. The 1991 revival is the first of three failed reboots so far, and the next one will fail too, and the one after that. You can’t actually put lightning back in a bottle, and trying makes you look foolish and just annoys the bottle.
But if you have to, for some reason — if there is no other choice available but to reboot Dark Shadows — then flappy bat is essential.
And then they bring on Angelique the pteranodon, hovering and chuckling, in all her prehistoric triumph.
I have single-handedly decided that that means I can be excused, so three cheers for pteranodons. It’s a Thanksgiving miracle! So I don’t have to do another 1991 episode until the Christmas Day pre-emption, a whole month away. So have a happy holiday season, and back to the Leviathans we go, hurrah!
Tomorrow: The Night of the Big Lie.
Next pre-emption special:
Time Travel, part 10: This Is Why We Can’t Have Nice Things.
— Danny Horn