Time Travel, part 9: Frequent Flyers

“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.

dark shadows t9 funeral

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.

1991 dark shadows sarah writing

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.

dark shadows t9 barnabas willie diary

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!

dark shadows t9 trask witch hunter

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.

dark shadows 1991 jeremiah zombie

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.

dark shadows 1991 barnabas widow's hill

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…”

dark shadows 1991 barnabas wha

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.

dark shadows 1991 trask vicki jail

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.

dark shadows 1991 barnabas angelique accuse

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.

dark shadows 1991 barnabas funeral

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.

dark shadows 1991 josette vampire

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.

dark shadows 1991 marionette 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.

dark shadows 1991 barnabas bat

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.

dark shadows 1991 angelique pteranodon

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.

dark shadows 1991 angelique candles

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

16 thoughts on “Time Travel, part 9: Frequent Flyers

  1. What I found most interesting about his post is that Sam Hall and Dan Curtis were going through old scripts from the original show. That means they must still be in existence somewhere. What I wish for is that someday these original scripts will be photo scanned and posted online. It would be revealing to read how dialogue that was improvised during taping was suppose to actually read, particularly the notorious “Fridpeak”. But I suppose that’s as much of a long shot as getting the dress rehearsals collected on DVD.

    1. In that Dark Shadows Companion piece, Matthew Hall says that the scripts came from “the UCLA collection,” which it never occurred to me to look up until you just mentioned it.

      The UCLA Library has a huge archive of records from Dan Curtis Productions in the Performing Arts Special Collections. You can get a PDF of the listings here: http://www.oac.cdlib.org/findaid/ark:/13030/kt1q2nc59j/

      It looks like it includes “heavily annotated” scripts for every episode, as well as lots of set designs and stage blueprints! Holy cow. I need to take a trip down to LA and look at some of this. PotN: I don’t know where you live, but you need to visit LA too.

      Years ago, doing some research for Muppet Wiki, I visited the University of Maryland to see the Children’s Television Workshop archives. It was super easy — you walk in, tell them you want to see Box #117 or whatever, and then they get it for you, and you can photocopy things and generally geek out.

      Unfortunately, they don’t have the one thing I’d really love, which is a first draft script of House of Dark Shadows. 🙂 But there’s lots of other fun things to look at…

      1. Ah, set designs and stage blueprints — the Holy Grail of Dark Shadows behind the scenes info! Bless you for the heads-up!

        Alas, I’m in Boston and have never been out West. University archives are a rare and special thing. Some 25 years ago I trekked out to Boston College to look at several original first draft manuscripts of Samuel Beckett, and it was quite fun to see some of the handwritten notes in the margins, like ideas or lines that never made it into a final draft.

        I’m sure if I visited this UCLA archive I would get lost in it and spend entire days there. Scripts for every episode? I would never be able to take a long enough vacation to take it all in at once. Which is why it would be lovely if they would make a digital archive and post it online.

        Well if you do visit this archive, I’m sure it will add material for your posts, particularly for when things get less interesting as the series winds down.

        I wonder if the script archive can confirm something I suspect about the set design for the antique shop: Take a look at the windows of the far wall; it seems that wall was taken from the most frequently redressed set ever on the show, the one that was originally Roger’s office at the cannery, but then became professor Stokes’ apartment, etc. And the front door of the shop is in the same place as the door for those other sets. Then there’s the room upstairs, the Chosen Room. Something about it suggests that it was taken from some room in Nicholas Blair’s house by the sea (Adam’s room? the room Vicki was kept in?), but only in part. That fireplace and window to the right look familiar, and I believe the Oriental rug also came from Nicholas Blair’s house. And given Blair’s role in the Leviathan story, it would make sense. Just as with camera work and editing, they’re getting more creative and clever with their set redressing. And if those scripts are available for viewing, perhaps this type of info can be obtained.

  2. It’s easy to see why some cast members would take vacations when they could. In the Dark Shadows universe there were only three holidays in a year (Thanksgiving, Christmas, and New Year’s Day), which must have been doubly hard on the writers given that not every actor was on every show.

    On this day in 1966, July 4, also a Monday, episode 6 was being broadcast while episode 16 was being taped.

  3. Courage, Danny.
    It could be worse.
    You could have promised to review a Marilyn Ross novel at every pre-emption.

  4. The screen cap of Z-Jay there doesn’t look like Adrian Paul. Is it just that he’s dirt-covered (instead of sweat-covered), or did they do a switch like the original series did? Maybe I just need to see him with his shirt off. Or is ‘zombie studmuffin’ just too much to ask for?

    1. Yeah, that’s Adrian Paul. It was hard to get a decent screencap because it’s 1991 Dark Shadows, which means everything is dark and smoky and tilted and all the way up Ben Cross’ nasal passages.

      1. Yeah, I meant to ask about all the nostril emphasis, but I looked at some YouTube stuff and that is really the most common angle they used. And that Barnabas ‘shouty-face’ combined with NasoCam is just icky.

        Pity about Adrian Paul; their best hottie, and they make him look like THAT. (I mean, okay, DS made Don Briscoe into a werewolf sometimes, but at least he cleaned up nice afterward.) I suppose we should be glad they didn’t give Z-Jay a pop-eye.

        May be some more clues why DS91 tanked.

      2. I wonder if they used that angle on Ben Cross so much to make him appear even taller?

        Anyway, “Executive Madman” is my new favorite phrase. The next time I’m in charge of something, I think I’ll style myself “Executive Madwoman.”

        1. Yeah, they made a clear choice to always show Barnabas from below, to make him look more impressive. For close-ups, that means looking straight up his nose. This was especially true in the first four episodes, which Dan directed. I think they’ve backed off from that a bit, or maybe I’ve just gotten used to it.

  5. On June 22 the Saturn Awards were held. One of the special awards was the Dan Curtis Legacy Award. It’s not an annual thing, just something they give out now and again. As far as I can tell it’s been awarded twice, the first time to Bryan Fuller and this year to Eric Kripke. I can’t find the criteria for awarding the thing, just the note from this year’s award. Dan Curtis was one of television’s most successful producers having produced such classic series as Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker tele-movie, Trilogy of Terror, and the mini-series The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. Flappy bats seem to be optional.

    In any case, Dan has won a place in the hearts of SciFi , Fantasy and Horror bigwigs everywhere. Not bad for a guy who flew by the seat of his pants on Dark Shadows.

  6. As a kid watching the ’91 revival, I always thought they set it up to reveal in season two that Angelique and Laura were the same person. It makes sense, right? Just like they made Vicki/Josette the doppelgangers.

    91 really did just RACE through plot points, didn’t they? Jeremiah’s storyline, especially, was painfully condensed. I think it goes back to how Vicki wasn’t a strong enough POV character in the front half. Having her and Barnabas arrive at the same time meant she didn’t have enough skin in the game. She just wasn’t connected enough to the canvas.

    1. Yeah, the original Barnabas storyline through end of 1795 ran from April ’67 to April ’68. Even allowing for a prime time show’s pacing, that would still equal an hour’s worth of content per week — so 52 episodes, or around two full season. Instead, Curtis chooses to pack that all in 12 episodes (one double length). There’s no way that works.

      DS was also about more than just big plot points. We remember subtle moments: Barnabas telling the story of Josette’s death, Barnabas and Burke’s duel exchange, Barnabas and Julia’s many delightful, chemistry laden discussions… Take away all that and you have something very superficial with superfluos sex scenes.

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