Episode 938: The Dunwich Cuckoo

“As I was going through the portrait, I thought I knew what it meant.”

Barnabas looks grave. But he’s in a graveyard, so that’s appropriate.

“What did happen on that night?” Julia asks.

Barnabas says, “It was the most tragic night I have ever experienced,” and coming from him, that means a lot. This is a guy with a lot of candidates for most tragic night.

661 dark shadows julia barnabas cemetery

Or, at least, that was the opening to my post the last time I wrote about a Dark Shadows clip show, over a year ago. I remember it well…

A clip show is an installment primarily made from reconstituted episode parts, with a little bit of new material around it to explain to the audience why we’re watching disconnected scenes from earlier episodes. TV shows mostly do clip shows because they’ve run out of money, and the producers need to squeeze the budget for one more episode.

Clip shows are easy to write, easy to film and easy on the budget. And in the days before DVDs and streaming, they gave the audience a chance to revisit the good old days, before the show was so desperate for money and ideas that they had to make clip shows.

Okay, fine, I’m not actually going to spend all day quoting from previous posts — although I thought about it, and I’d be well within my rights — because today’s clip show has a special twist ending, and we need to discuss it.


But first, the twist beginning. Eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins has spent the last couple months being sort-of brainwashed by the Leviathans, one of those pop-up religions that you come across where a bunch of people start wearing hoods and making weird hand gestures, and before you know it, they’re sacrificing the innocent to please some blood-red god of the apocalypse. In this case, they’re trying to rehydrate each grain of sand wedged between ancient sacred stones, which I don’t really get but they seem super adamant about it.

I don’t really need to give you any more recap than that right now, because that’s what this episode is about — telling, retelling and un-telling the story of the last two and a half months of Dark Shadows.

Barnabas’ pal Julia Hoffman has been trying to figure out what’s wrong with him for a while now, and she’s finally learned enough that he might as well explain the whole thing. So he sits her down in front of the fireplace and holds her with his glittering eye, and begins his tale in absolutely the wrong place.


“Well, it began in my final night in the past,” he says, which is a sentence that you can say on Dark Shadows. And then we fade from the fireside, to a scene of Barnabas at the burned-out studio of Charles Delaware Tate back in the late nineteenth century, which was a couple months ago.

Then he says, “I’ve already told you about the fire in Charles Tate’s studio,” which has fuck-all to do with the Leviathans, and he knows it. What the hell is going on?

But there are several interesting things happening at once here, production-wise. As previously-Barnabas looks around, now-Barnabas provides some narration.

“Petofi had been pursued there the night before,” he says, “by someone demon of his own creation.”

So that little nugget of Fridspeak means that Frid is actually performing the voice-over live, rather than a pre-recorded version like they did in the last clip show, episode 661. That means they’re a lot more confident about what they’re doing, technically.


Episode 661 was clearly put together by people who were operating equipment they weren’t overly familiar with. The clips looked awful, the editing was choppy, and they were so nervous about the whole thing that they forgot to include the opening titles at the beginning of the show. Then they remembered at the last minute, so halfway through the closing credits, they stopped, ran the opening titles, and then finished the closing credits.

But in this episode, not only are they doing a cross-fade with live voiceover, but they do an edit in the middle of the flashback. Barnabas walking around in the wreckage is from the teaser of episode 884, which ends with a hand grabbing Barnabas’ shoulder. After the opening titles, Barnabas whirled around and found that the hand on his shoulder was Tate’s.

In this flashback clip, they do that as one continuous gesture. Barnabas walks outside, the hand falls on the shoulder, Barnabas turns, and Tate starts talking. And visually, it’s flawless. The only clue that there’s a jump is a slight change in the music cue, and even with that, they fade out the first cue so that it’s hardly noticeable unless you’re looking for it, like for example if you’re writing a blog post about it.

So call me a dreamer, but I think they’ve actually figured out how to do editing. My usual explanation for why things go wrong is that in the late 60s, videotape editing was difficult and expensive, but now it’s the early 70s — the very early 70s, as in January 1970 — and they appear to have cracked the code.

The clips look a lot better, too. Here’s the comparison that I used back in 661, between the 1795 episode they were flashing back to:

661 dark shadows nathan comparison

And the clip from episode 661:

661 dark shadows nathan generation

… which looks awful.

Here’s the original for today’s clip, from episode 884:


And here’s the clip as we see it today:


Which is not great, put right next to each other, but at least this is second-generation rather than fourth. I probably wouldn’t have even thought about doing a screenshot comparison this time, if I wasn’t thinking about the last clip show’s obvious drop in broadcast quality.

So that’s a long way of saying: they’re getting better at this. There’s absolutely no reason why we should be looking at a clip of Barnabas and Charles Tate, but at least they’re doing it competently.


In the clip, Tate is getting a recap of the Petofi situation. “As far as I can tell,” Barnabas says, “he and Garth Blackwood were in this fire when it started. But I’ve also evidence that they’ve died in this fire. But I also found these glasses, outside the studio.” So now we’re getting Fridspeak from every direction, and I don’t even know what we’re doing here. Why is this happening?

They spend three and a half minutes on this, taking up the entire first act. Barnabas talks to Tate about Quentin’s portrait, and then we come back to the present day, and Julia fills Barnabas in on the whole portrait subplot from the last month or so. She tells him that she found Tate, who was killed by a werewolf, and she finally got the portrait from Angelique, who by the way she’s still alive and married to a magazine publisher, and none of this has anything to do with anything.


“But I don’t want to talk about that,” says Julia, once again entirely aligned with the audience’s interests. “I want to hear more about your story.”

So Barnabas delivers another three-minute illustrated monologue, this time about Lady Hampshire waiting for Barnabas in Josette’s room, and then putting on a wedding dress and being sucked through Josette’s portrait into the past. This is getting warmer, but it’s still not really what we signed up for today.


So that brings us to the beginning of act 3.

“All I could do, Julia, was to hold onto Kitty,” he says, “and to follow wherever fate would lead us.”

We see a little clip of Barnabas reaching out for Kitty’s hand, and then fading away.

“As I was going through the portrait, I thought I knew what it meant. Then I realized that I was being taken back to an even earlier time.”

And then — wait, what? What did Barnabas think it meant? If I was going through a portrait, I wouldn’t have any preconceptions about it, in particular. That would be a whole new experience for me.


But it’s too late to ask questions; we are barreling backward in time, to witness the grand finale. Skipping lightly over the stop-Josette-from-killing-herself fiasco, Barnabas heads for a clip from episode 886, where he runs across a strange stone altar in the woods, and realizes that he’s lost, in his own backyard.


And then it’s back to the present, for more Dark Shadows dialogue.

Barnabas:  That was the first time that I saw Oberon.

Julia:  Who is Oberon?

Barnabas:  Have you ever heard of the Leviathan people?

Julia:  No.

Barnabas:  Well, that’s who they were.

Then he proceeds to the spin room, where he comes up with a new interpretation of how this all went.

“In a moment, there was a second hooded figure,” he says. “They closed in on me, and subdued me. They were unbelievably strong.”

This is not the case. What actually happened was that the two hooded figures stood there and made hand gestures at him, and then he was somehow compelled to go and kneel in front of the altar. It actually seemed like he was — well, not a willing participant per se, but like he was giving in.

This is a small detail, but it signals something important — that this story is doing what Dark Shadows characters do, pretty much 24/7. They are rewriting history.


“When I awoke some hours later,” Barnabas says, “I found myself alone with Oberon, and he told me what had happened.”

And then we see another clip, this time from episode — huh. From episode 938, actually.

Barnabas:  What is it you want?

Oberon:  You have mastered the ability to transcend time. Through you, the Leviathans shall live again!

Barnabas:  The Leviathans?

Oberon:  That is our name. Our race has been threatened by extinction, but it has been written in our book that there shall be a resurgence of our kind! We shall be blessed with a new leader, who will marry one of your kind, and bring forth a new breed!

Barnabas:  I don’t know what you’re saying.

Yeah, nobody does. They are totally off-script at this point.


So that’s the snake in the mailbox for this episode, the weird surprise that explains everything else that’s happened today.

This isn’t a clip from a previous episode at all. This is a new scene. They brought Oberon back to the studio to remake Barnabas’ conversion scene, and explain to the audience why it’s not really Barnabas’ fault.

In the real sequence from 886, Barnabas woke up on the altar as the leader of the Leviathan cult, a man that Oberon and Haza called “master”. He knew the poems and the hand gestures, the prophecies and the revelations. He didn’t mention Josette, or try to get away. He was apparently, upsettingly, joining this weird cabal of outer space snake handlers. That is the truth. We have it on tape.

In this new version, Barnabas is an unwilling captive, desperate to get away.

Barnabas:  I must go to Josette.

Oberon:  No, Barnabas Collins! You shall not see Josette again, until you have served us. You must take our seed with you, plant it, and nurture it in another time.

Barnabas:  I must go to Josette…

Oberon:  Do as we command, and you shall see Josette again. Disobey, and not only will Josette die, you shall spend all of eternity as a creature of the darkness!

Nobody threatened Barnabas in 886. These threats were invented for episode 915, the “emergency episode” that they recorded and dropped into the storyline as quickly as they could, to signal that they knew people didn’t understand why Barnabas had suddenly turned evil.

Now they’ve taken that retcon and actually gone back in time and re-recorded the beginning of the story, in order to pretend that this is the way it happened all along. That is the purpose of this clip show.


That’s why they showed us the irrelevant Charles Tate scene in act 1, and the semi-relevant Kitty Hampshire scene in act 2. That was a set-up, designed to trick the audience into following along.

The audience is much better at remembering visuals than exact dialogue; that’s why practically every famous film quote isn’t what the character actually said. So they showed us visuals that we remember — the burned studio, the portrait, the altar — in order to give Oberon new dialogue to explain that no, this storyline does make sense, it made sense all along, you just weren’t listening, end of discussion.

This Oberon scene is a cuckoo’s egg, laying in the nest along with the real clips that we remember. They have harnessed the powerful magic of Fridspeak, to shuffle and recombine words that nobody said, into a sentence that doesn’t mean anything.

“As I was going through the portrait, I thought I knew what it meant,” he says, and then he looks at the audience, and we believe him.

Tomorrow: My Father’s Killer.

Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

Julia tells Barnabas, “You were wrong about the original patron — painting of Quentin.”

When Barnabas tells the story of following Kitty through the portrait, he says, “I was being taken back to an even earlier time — the year 1797. It was the day Josette was to die on Widow’s Hill.” When Vicki went back in time, it was late 1795 through early 1796. It’s not clear why they’ve decided to call it 1797 now, except to troll the audience.

Barnabas explains to Julia, “We needed someone to watch over the box. The Todds opened it. They never were able to do anything, but only what was against their will.”

Barnabas tells Julia, “All of their activity had been in pursuit of this goal — to recreate the Leviathan race, through a ceremony marriage between Jeb and Carolyn.”

Barnabas walks to the mantelpiece, and says, “Jeb is… He doesn’t understand any kind of rules at all.”

Barnabas claims that Jeb can bring people that he’s killed back to life, but a month ago, in episode 918, David read in the book that the Leviathans can’t kill anybody, because their spirits would return to war against the Leviathans. Although technically, he said that “the people of Leviathan” can’t kill people, so maybe that doesn’t apply to whatever Jeb is.

Behind the Scenes:

Roger Davis and Kathryn Leigh Scott are both credited for this episode, as Charles Tate and Lady Hampshire respectively, but they only appeared in the film clips.

This is the last of Peter Lombard’s four appearances as Oberon. After this, Lombard was a stage manager and understudy on several Broadway productions, including 1776, Players, and Promises, Promises. He also appeared in a 1982 movie called Tempest, and a small role in Woody Allen’s 1987 film Radio Days. Blog contributor Alan Gallant also spotted that Lombard was in a 1970 ad for True Cigarettes.

The hand of Sheriff Davenport rising from the grave is performed by George DiCenzo, an Associate Producer on DS; this is the first of four fill-in appearances that DiCenzo makes. He also had an uncredited part as a Deputy in House of Dark Shadows, and it was apparently that experience that made him realize that actors don’t work as hard as Associate Producers. After Dark Shadows, he became a successful character actor. We’ll see him again as a stand-in for Judah Zachery.

Tomorrow: My Father’s Killer.

660 dark shadows peter gravestone

Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

38 thoughts on “Episode 938: The Dunwich Cuckoo

  1. I’ve mentioned it before, but George DiCenzo has a great scene in the comedy-drama The Ninth Configuration, which isn’t a Gothic horror movie, but has a real Gothic horror movie feel to it, partly from being set in a castle.

  2. Since Davenport was killed ‘just the other night’, does it seem a little odd that they already have a tombstone carved for him? Perhaps that’s just one of the perks of the job, along with the dental & optical benefits, and using the squad car for personal errands. But you’d think they’d have put a good epitaph on it, like


    Incidentally, to clear up the confusion, the sheriff’s full name is on the stone; it’s just spaced and punctuated incorrectly, it should read

           DAVE  N.  PORT

    He just got tired of correcting people all the time, and his name tags all came printed the wrong way, too. It was the same with sheriff Pat T. Erson.

    (This whole ‘instant tombstone’ thing on DS was always kind of an issue for me…my understanding is that traditionally, headstones are placed a year after the burial. Of course, if DS did that, we wouldn’t know WHO was clawing themselves up out of the grave, would we?)

      1. Right next to the really nice “Jenny Collins: We Never Hid Her In Various Rooms” one.

  3. “I never said that. That didn’t happen. I was always against the Leviathans. Call Sean Hannity. He’ll tell you.”

  4. The previous references to 1796 were from Sam Hall episodes, and this one is a Gordon Russell episode — though in a much later Sam Hall episode it will also be a 1797 reference. It could just be one of those things where they didn’t quite remember exact dates and so on. For instance, if you’ve ever seen a video clip of Robert Costello at a 1984 fan convention recalling the series, he gets almost everything mixed up, if not outright incorrect, and in later years Sam Hall couldn’t even recall how the movie script for Curse of Dark Shadows went.

    There are always lots of things to take in, and even after viewing the series several times over on DVD there are details that slip one’s mind so that one has to go look something up, which of course was not a luxury enjoyed by the writers at that time.

    Love how in the flashback in today’s episode the first thing we see of Roger Davis is his hand grabbing a fellow cast member. Davis was certainly a student of the David Ford grabberwocky school of method acting.

  5. I think they simply misremembered the first time travel story as taking place exactly 100 years before the second one: 1897, 1797.

    1. Maybe it’s just that Jonathan Frid was really shit at remembering numbers – even more shit than remembering words. Later, when he has to talk about events in 1990, he keeps adding a year to the date, all in the same scene, I believe. And doesn’t he even say 1899 instead of 1897, or something? It’s all starting to blur; I will have to wait until the blog reaches that part of the show. Anyway, with Jonathan Frid, just because he says it, doesn’t mean that’s what was written.

      1. That’s what I thought Frid’s mention of 1797 was at first, too — at one point, in an earlier episode, he even said 1799 if I recall. It’s like when Quentin was haunting Collinwood and Julia and Barnabas are in the Old House drawing room and Barnabas is trying to find out about Quentin and he mentions something about 1897, and Julia gets the year wrong and at one point says 1879 instead.

        But, in a later episode down the road, it is definitely 1797 that is written into the opening narrative.

        But that’s nothing compared to how they rewrote it from 1830, as it was in the first year, to 1795 after Barnabas arrives.

          1. The time is out of joint – O cursed spite,
            That ever I was born to set it right!

            It’s all right; Dark Shadows goes by the “Julia-n” Calendar.

            (Here all week, folks! Remember to tip your waitress,
            you can leave, but she has to stay for the ten o’clock show!) 😀

        1. I think perhaps the problem about the years might lie with their own publicity. They would always say Barnabas was 172 years old. I think they just keep subtracting 172 from what ever year it was to help them remember when the Barnabas origin story was. 1967 minus 172 is 1795. Writing a script about it in a 1969 episode they would minus 172 years and you get 1797. I think that’s why the years kept going up.

  6. Oh, Roger Davis: I miss your shouty grabbiness. Just a quick ‘hand rubbing on the head’, and this would have been a flawless performance.
    Very unusual ‘fire damage’, which blackened a lot of otherwise untouched wood. I especially liked the wall next to the doorway, where it seemed all the outside wall had been consumed, leaving only the laths of the lath-and-plaster wall. And, of course, the burned painting that Tate displays…the fire destroyed all the furniture, yet left the canvas framing intact.

    That was a full rewrite of the Leviathans, too! Guess we were meant to think this was a scene they hadn’t shown us last time. And BARNABAS IS NOT TO BLAME! HEAR THAT, EVERYONE? NOT…TO…BLAME!!!

    On the plus side, I did like the moodiness of the J&B setup scenes for the clips; it looked like they were illuminated by the fire, gave a great ‘feel’ to it.

    1. I wonder if those lath things are just flats? They throw them around everywhere for the destruction of Collinwood too, I think.

      1. That’s what they reminded me of as well.

        It must have been the easiest set to build, the destroyed Tate studio — just take the flats out of the truck when it arrives from the warehouse and prop up a basic skeleton frame of the cottage, then brake for lunch.

        Well, who knows, maybe it took a lot longer. Sy Tomashoff has a story of the crew working until midnight on a Friday for the Collinwood 1995 drawing room set, which had to be ready for the Monday taping; but the crew got tired and went home before it was even finished, so evidently even a shambles took a lot of time and effort to construct.

        1. Possibly not so much about time as resources…and time spent assembling a set is one thing, and time spent building parts for it in the shop is another. Assembling from bits already available was no doubt always preferable.

        2. Yeah, it’s probably one of those things where the broken version is actually way harder to build than the correct version. That happened at Disneyland when they built Toontown — the builders kept wanting to straighten lines and make the buildings actually stand up, and the designers had to say, no, this is a cartoon town, it’s supposed to look like it’s curved and falling over.

      1. The look on Julia’s face in the last pic of her and Barnabas she is looking at him like “what the hell is he talking about”?…lol.

  7. Electronic editing (verses cut and splicing videotape) was the standard by this point. It’s not that the editors didn’t know how to edit before this, it’s that it was just very, very, very difficult to edit videotape before the 70s. Both “Sesame Street” and “Rowan and Martin’s Laugh In” were heavily edited productions. The latter’s first season was edited with the splicing method, and I read that it was a very tedious process. I became an editor in ’77 and it was fairly easy in that you could quickly check your edits to make sure they looked okay. Nowadays, I can edit at home and pull off stunts that would have hours to do back in the 70s.

  8. And if you think the editing is better at this point in the show, just wait until you examine some of episodes in 1840 when the characters were discovering parallel time. I hated this point in the show, but as an editor, I have to say it was really very well done.

    1. Yeah, this is something that I like about Dark Shadows — they were always pushing the boundaries of what they could do technically, so you can actually watch them get better at this in real time. It’s a little window into history, where they’re taking noticeable steps towards television as we know it.

      1. Regarding the earlier flashback episode (#661) and the reason that the technical quality of the flashback scenes was not as good as those in #938…

        I think the reason is that on #661 they had to duplicate the original episode tape and use the duplicate for the actual splicing, since they couldn’t do that with the original. Each time you make a duplication of videotape it loses quality. The standard 2″ quad tapes that DS and other videotaped shows used in the 60s and early 70s were a little more forgiving; the 3/4″ and1/2″ videotapes (especially VHS) were not. Once you got to the third generation, if began to really look grainy.

  9. What’s funny about this episode is that it confirmed exactly what I thought was going on when I first watched episode 886: Barnabas was being controlled by the Leviathans. Maybe not through coercion, but through mind-control.

  10. When Barnabas said he thought he knew what going through the portrait meant, I thought it was that he was going to the spirit world with Josette and they would be reunited in death…or oils?

    While I don’t doubt the retcon angle of all this, it did feel like he was revealing new information that we hadn’t seen before as opposed to a complete rewrite. After all, they clearly wanted viewers to wonder just what exactly was going on with Barbabas and his little friends so, in that respect, it worked.

    How do you think the original story was going to go? At some point Barnabas would have to be “good” again, right? Details aside, it always seemed he was being controlled from the start to me; either that or he simply got distracted on the way to fulfilling, you know, his greatest wish in his life (and death) and I never bought that…love the blog and all the comments! As a newbie of course there’s some spoilage but your insights and Danny’s writing more than makes up for that…obviously still behind you all but I am gaining!

  11. i thought it was so cute how right away Barnabas invited Julia to his house for a recap, The Way we Were. Beautiful framing, lighting and sound .A gift to the audience.

  12. Wow, I’ve seen some ret-cons in my time, but this one comes mighty close to taking the proverbial cake. I hope this does not mean yet more Josette; I’m kind of all Josette-ed out.

  13. “what Dark Shadows characters do, pretty much 24/7. They are rewriting history.” And what we do here, of course, with our speculations about ways the show could have been improved and our mini-fanfic patches to continuity problems. The show is so raw, the creative process so close to the surface, that it invites us to these pastimes.

    Always great to see yet another cast member in common with 1776. David Ford, Daniel Keyes, Virginia Vestoff, Emory Bass, Peter Lombard…

  14. The scenes in the Old House are quite atmospheric.
    So I guess Adam’s dead? “If they both live, etc.” is implanted in my brain. Or did Lang’s experiment just end the vampirism caused by Angelique and now the Leviathans are reinfecting him? Or are we in another parallel time where Adam never existed? I think Julia later goes back to her original serum to cure Barnabas and I don’t think they mention Lang’s initial cure or Adam as alternatives when the serum begins to fail. Or did the writers just conveniently forget the whole thing?

  15. This is one of my favorite episodes despite the fact that virtually nothing happens in it. Just Barnabas and Julia standing around filling each other in by firelight at the Old House during a thunderstorm, with flashbacks. Also, I love how the two of them recapping the events leading up to this moment makes the plot sound even more bonkers than it seems while you’re watching it play out over the course of several episodes.

Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in:

WordPress.com Logo

You are commenting using your WordPress.com account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )

Connecting to %s