Episode 961: Protagonizing

“I want you to get good and mad — mad enough to rip a man to shreds!”

“My, my, Mr. Jennings,” Bruno says, splitting his face with a lunatic’s grin. “How you’ve changed!” He’s sneering at the snarling werewolf that’s currently chained to the wall of this desolate crypt, and he’s staying just outside the creature’s reach, like Foghorn Leghorn standing at the dog’s leash limit.

“Does the tone of my voice anger you?” Bruno jeers. “Good! I want you to get good and mad — mad enough to rip a man to shreds!”

This is not typically a problem for werewolf handlers, because the entire point of werewolves is to be a metaphor for unchecked fury and explosive violence. You don’t need to rile up a werewolf. They come pre-riled.

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But who am I, to lecture the suicide squad on how to be villains? They play by their own twisted rules, and today is one of those all-singing, all-dancing, all-villain spectaculars that Dark Shadows usually puts together as we approach the end of a storyline. There are six characters in today’s episode, and they’re all villains — a vampire, a werewolf, a zombie, a Leviathan creature and two henchpeople. To make things more complicated, both henchpeople are supposed to be working for the Leviathan, but one of them is secretly working undercover for the vampire, and the other has gone completely mad and just wants to hit werewolves.

This is what happens when your television show finally dispenses with the pretense that the audience cares a snap about human beings. Now we can get down to business.

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Here’s Jeb Hawkes, the storyline’s Big Bad who’s been getting big worse, and not in a good way. He may look like a human being who’s raided the turtleneck closet, but he’s really a mean green mother from outer space, a ten-foot-two physiological nightmare contraption that masquerades in human form so as to further his nefarious plans for extinguishing everything. He’s currently pacing around his living room, looking unhappy.

We’re approaching the end of this bumpy ride of a storyline, so the writers have made sure that the final boss has some vulnerabilities for the rebel alliance to exploit. Unfortunately, they’ve gone a bit overboard vulnerability-wise, and now Jeb has too many, including but not limited to: werewolves, spirits of people he’s killed, a micromanaging supervisor, an allergy to being hit over the head with antiques, and the fact that he’s not even sure he feels like destroying the world anyway.

Now he’s dragging his tentacles around the living room for the second day in a row, fretting. “Look, that thing is out there in the woods, looking for me,” he moans to what is basically his mom, “and Bruno has to find him tonight and KILL him!” This is not a turn-on for the villain enthusiasts in the audience.

I mean, I appreciate the idea of the evil mastermind skulking in his underground lair, directing his team of skilled operatives as they fan out across the landscape and do his dirty work, but that isn’t what’s going on here. Jeb is just hiding, with the windows closed and the shade down, waiting for his associate to come home and blow the all-clear, so he’ll know it’s safe to poke his head outside again. I understand the plot-contrivance reasons for this, but I don’t like it. The optics are bad.

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Meanwhile, Bruno’s still toying with the wolf man, sticking the silver handle of his whip into the animal’s face and hollering, “Ah, does the shiny metal bother you? Look at it! Go ahead and LOOK at it! HA ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! HA ha ha ha ha ha ha ha! Ha ha HA HA!” Dude is clear out of his mind.

The rationale for all of this improvisational animal abuse is that Bruno has turned on his boss, and he’s planning to lure Jeb into the crypt. You remember the “rip a man to shreds” plan? The wolf is the ripper, and Jeb is the designated rippee. This kind of villain-on-villain betrayal is common in late-stage adventure stories, so that the heroes get a chance to sneak up during the infighting. There aren’t actually any heroes in this story, but the writers are setting up turncoats anyway, just in case a protagonist happens by.

Disturbed, the reanimated corpse of Sheriff Davenport tries to intervene. “He’s mad enough!” the zombie cautions. “He may break loose!”

Bruno has no patience for interruptions. “Get outside and wait by the door, I’ll handle this alone!” The apprehensive zombie hesitates, and Bruno shouts, “GO ON!” Davenport gives the werewolf a look, and exits.

Man, you know that you’re right out at the far edge of civilized human behavior when even your zombie is uneasy. Bruno has reached the outer limit of crazy.

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Then it’s time to visit another villain’s lair, the haunted house that serves as HQ for Barnabas Collins and his bad ideas.

Today’s episode was written by Gordon Russell, the member of Dark Shadows’ three-person writing team who’s strong on clockwork plot mechanics, and weak on scene construction. Gordon likes to show all the introductory stages, where a character knocks on the door, and another character says “Come in,” as opposed to just cutting straight to the good part of the conversation, and letting the audience infer who knocked on what door on their own.

This is a particularly annoying example, because Barnabas has been calling to his vampire blood-slave Megan for the last four scenes inclusive, so it feels like it’s taking forever. We see Barnabas summoning at the window, then crossing to the door and opening it, and then taking a position on the front step while Megan gradually paces into the house. Barnabas says, “Come in, Megan,” and she comes in, not saying a word until they’re both all the way inside the drawing room and facing each other, with their tray tables in the upright and locked position.

Then the first thing that Megan says is “I got here as fast as I could,” which makes me want to hit somebody.

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Anyway, Megan’s here because Barnabas has gotten word that Chris Jennings has been missing for twenty-four hours, and he’s hoping she knows what’s up. Chris is the werewolf, and there’s a full moon in the sky, so ordinarily the characters would just walk outside into the woods, alone and vulnerable, and listen for the spine-chilling howls. But as we know, the werewolf is currently being tormented in Bruno’s rec room, so Barnabas is hoping for some gossip from the rival hideout.

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On the whole, Dark Shadows directors take a laissez-faire approach to the performers’ hypnoacting choices; the actors are usually left to make their own determination about how to play blood-slave. Megan’s personal approach these days is sultry stoner; she kind of drifts around and looks sleepy, murmuring “I want to be with you,” and daring Barnabas to drink her fluids.

But Barnabas is all business tonight; he wants the wolf and nothing but. He tells her to go back to the Carriage House and see if she can find out where Bruno is, but she says she won’t go until he feasts on her neck, which wastes more time but at least we don’t have to watch her say goodbye and walk out the door.

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Okay, back to the crypt, where Bruno’s been whipping the werewolf as hard and as long as he can. He’s all sweaty and panting, and this is actually kind of a kinky sequence, now that I think about it. It doesn’t do a whole lot for me personally, but I imagine this is somebody’s favorite scene, so that’s nice.

But Bruno’s battered the werewolf unconscious, which is entirely counter-productive. He wants the werewolf to fight another monster, but he’s beaten it into intensive care before Jeb even shows up. Bruno tells the zombie, “He’ll be pretty mad when he wakes up,” which is true, but there’s got to be an easier way to accomplish this.

Then Bruno plays a prank on poor dead Davenport, asking the zombie to loosen the werewolf’s chains while Bruno casually strolls to the exit, and locks the door from the outside. The wolf wakes up and reduces Davenport to fragments, while Bruno stands on the porch, beaming like he’s just done something extraordinary. I don’t know why he does this; destroying the zombie is fun, but not mission-critical. Bruno needs to focus.

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He heads back to the Carriage House, where he tells Jeb that he’s looked absolutely everywhere, and the werewolf wasn’t there. This elicits a new round of unattractive groaning from the future emperor of Earth.

“Oh, man,” he whines, “if we don’t find him tonight, we’re gonna wait another whole month!” Jeb has not actually been personally engaged in the search process.

But then Jeb realizes that he hasn’t heard the howling all night, so the wolf must be detained somewhere, and he might as well walk to Collinwood for some urgent hanging out with his girlfriend. He says call me if anything happens, and Bruno says sure, and Jeb leaves. Then the camera stays on Bruno, as he walks to the drinks table, pours himself an adult beverage, walks back to the fireplace, sits down, and drains the glass. What the hell is going on?

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Eventually, Megan comes back in, and it turns out this is another scene. She asks if Bruno’s found the werewolf, and he says that he hasn’t, and then she passes out from loss of blood. That makes two unconscious characters in the last five minutes.

Settling her into a handy chair, Bruno discovers that Megan has holes in her neck, which he realizes he can use to distract Jeb if he doesn’t get pureed by the werewolf, because once every character is double-crossing every other character, there’s no place to go except to initiate a triple-cross.

Bruno walks to the side table, grabs something from the drawer, and returns to stage front, where he plays with bullets for a while. This takes another 50 seconds of screen time, plus there are two separate thinks monologues.

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Once Megan regains consciousness and lies to Bruno about why she fainted, she heads back to the Old House, and they do a whole new door-answering scene. I know, it’s ridiculous that I’m complaining about the pacing in an episode that includes two werewolf attacks and a vampire bite, but for some reason, the walkaround stuff is getting on my nerves today.

Barnabas asks Megan if she found out anything, and she says no, but Bruno almost found out about her, and she had to lie to get him off the track. Then she reports that Bruno said he hasn’t found the werewolf.

“He could be lying!” Barnabas declares, and she says, “Why should he lie?” and Barnabas says, “I don’t know!” and Megan says, “Third base!” And that leaves us exactly where we were, four scenes ago.

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Anyway, Bruno finally brings Jeb to the crypt, gives him a gun loaded with not-actually silver bullets, and sends him inside to finish off the werewolf.

Jeb enters the crypt, and Bruno closes and locks the door behind him, and seriously, why am I still obsessing over the doors, when Jeb is climactically fighting a werewolf?

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I guess the problem is that Jeb and Barnabas are supposed to be the main characters in this story, and here we are at a potential turning point, and neither of them have made any choices. Bruno’s the one who devised and executed this plan, while Jeb and Barnabas have mostly been hanging around at home, waiting for people to come over and discuss the nature of truth.

In fact, this episode has made a particular point of making sure that Barnabas is not involved, which is a cue that we’re not actually going to see Jeb ripped open by this intentionally-weakened werewolf. Also, it’s Monday; you’re only allowed to kill background zombies on Monday.

Tomorrow: The Second Law of Thermodynamics.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

At the end of act 1, they set up a special sequence of shots so that it looks like we’re seeing Bruno whipping the wolf from the monster’s point of view. Bruno is actually at a right angle to the werewolf, and they cut back and forth between Bruno whipping and the animal’s reaction. It works okay on the second and third swing, but on the first swing, they cut to the wolf too soon, and Bruno’s head is in the way, clearly facing another direction.

After Zombie Davenport tries the locked door, he turns to walk back down the steps, and you can see the top of the set.

When Davenport reaches for the whip, you can see that there’s a weird gap between the stone column and the wall.

When Bruno tells Megan, “You know how concerned Jeb is about you,” there’s a cough from the studio.

There are some clumsy tape edits in act 3 — first, cutting from the Carriage House to the Old House, and then from the Old House to the crypt.

Bruno tells Jeb, “I thought you should have the honor of killing your principal ani-enemy.” Then: “I’m not about to do anything without consulting you first. Remember? I lead — or you lead, rather, and I follow?”

When Bruno opens the crypt door, you can clearly see that the doorframe isn’t attached to a wall on the left side. The rest of the set is visible through what should be a wall.


Behind the Scenes:

There’s another attempt to recite the poem from the 1941 Universal Monsters film The Wolf Man. The original poem is:

Even a man who is pure in heart and says his prayers by night, may become a wolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the autumn moon is bright.

Megan’s version, in today’s episode:

“Even a man who is pure at heart and says his prayers at night, can become a werewolf when the wolfbane blooms, and the moon is full and bright.”

Jeb made a similar mess of it a few weeks ago. But it makes sense that they don’t want to say “autumn moon” in February.

Also, this is Ed Riley’s last appearance on the show, and I for one will miss him terribly. While he’s been on Dark Shadows, Riley has also been performing in a Broadway revival of The Front Page as a reporter, and an understudy for Hildy. The show wrapped a few weeks after this episode was taped. In 1974, he appeared on Broadway again, in a revival of Gypsy. I don’t know what he did after that.

Tomorrow: The Second Law of Thermodynamics.

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Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

23 thoughts on “Episode 961: Protagonizing

  1. First, Foghorn Leghorn has long been a personal hero of mine (and really, the premise of the shorts mostly is just testing of limits and mutual harassment, rather than a Tom and Jerry type thing). So this made me happy.

    Also, Bruno teasing the werewolf with metal is Fritz thinking it’s good clean fun to wave fire in front of the Frankenstein monster (but Fritz spoke less).

  2. There are a few contenders, but this episode gets my vote for having the most batshit insane scenes on Dark Shadows, Hell, maybe on TV ever!

    1. Yeah cause when the Zombie is the only one talkin’ sense, the cheese has definitely done slid off everybody else’s cracker.

      1. Michael Stroka is amazing in this episode; I probably should have said that somewhere. His crazy-man eye-rolling performance in the crypt scenes is incredible — might be the first time that a human character has actually upstaged a werewolf.

        1. Bruno and Jenny in a Crazy Eye Contest. She’s got a diagnosed mental illness, but he’s got really white sclera and natural lashes. Damned if I can figure the odds.

        2. Well, be fair; the werewolf is chained to the wall (and I’ll guess was told not to get too aggressive, as he might pull the set down), and Bruno has a whip, which (aside from Indiana Jones) tends to bring out the cray-cray in folks…

  3. At the 1995 Dark Shadows Fest, as I headed into the hotel’s men’s rest room, Chris Pennock came running out of the rest room like a bat out of hell. Five seconds later, Michael Stroka came running out equally speedily. It was a surreal moment and my first thought was: “is there a werewolf chained to the wall in that rest room and did it just break loose?”

    I ventured bravely inside anyway and saw no trace of a lycanthrope nor a zombie Sheriff.

      1. was there a marijuana smell in there?

        Ha! Well, I didn’t notice anyway, but considering how much the two were giggling when they appeared on-stage later, it could be the explanation for their behavior.

  4. and the other has gone completely mad and just wants to hit werewolves.

    It’s just one of those days, you know? One of those days where you just go completely mad and want to hit werewolves? You know? Time for some General Hoods International Coffee.

    Unfortunately, they’ve gone a bit overboard vulnerability-wise, and now Jeb has too many, including but not limited to: werewolves, spirits of people he’s killed, a micromanaging supervisor, an allergy to being hit over the head with antiques, and the fact that he’s not even sure he feels like destroying the world anyway.

    Makes me think of Sybil Fawlty’s mother:

    “My mother, on the other hand, is a little bit of a trial, really. You know, it’s alright when they have the life force but Mother – well, she’s got more of the death force, really. She’s a worrier. She has these, well, morbid fears, they are, really. Vans is one. Rats. Doorknobs. Birds. Heights. Open spaces. Confined spaces. It’s very difficult getting the space right for her, really, you know. Footballs. Bicycles. Cows. And she’s always on about men following her, I don’t know what she thinks they’re going to do to her. Vomit on her, Basil says.”.

    Then the first thing that Megan says is “I got here as fast as I could,” which makes me want to hit somebody.

    It’s better if you imagine her in Groucho glasses.

    Okay, back to the crypt, where Bruno’s been whipping the werewolf as hard and as long as he can.

    So that’s what the kids are… oh, never mind.

  5. One thing that always intrigues me about this episode is: How exactly does one kill a zombie? Because the Proceedings on the International Coalition of Zombie Survival has never really been in full agreement.

    In George Romero’s Night of the Living Dead it was a bullet to the brain, right between the eyes — apparently it’s essential the zombie be lobotomized. But the Hammer film from two years earlier, Plague of the Zombies destroyed them by fire. Then there’s the “sequel” to the Romero film, 1985’s Return of the Living Dead: When a cadaver comes to life in a morgue, the workers there attempt to chop it into pieces, but each piece remains alive and, quite literally, kicking. Finally, they cremate all the individual pieces and that seems to do the trick, so, again, the original Hammer film seemed to have had the right idea.

    Having the zombie ripped to pieces by a werewolf, though, wouldn’t each part still be alive? It always reminds me of that Amicus Films anthology from 1972, Tales from the Crypt. In the story Wish You Were Here, the wife of a businessman killed in a car crash is granted three wishes by a mysterious Chinese figurine, one of which is to have her husband return to life. But when his body is delivered home by the undertakers and he returns to life, upon returning to consciousness he finds himself in excruciating pain because of the embalming fluids that are now flowing through his veins burning him from head to toe like acid. In a fit of desperation she attempts to put him out of his misery by chopping him to pieces, but each piece remains alive and in unbearable pain because, with the third and last wish she had been granted, she had wished him alive forever — just as Jeb wished for Sheriff Davenport to emerge from his grave, so it would seem that only Jeb could grant Davenport’s return to death and the eternal peace of the grave, and not the claws of an angry werewolf.

    But one thing: Why should Jeb fear the spirit of Paul Stoddard, and not the wrath of Sheriff Davenport, who Jeb also killed? Couldn’t he have just summoned Paul Stoddard back as a zombie servant, just as he did with Sheriff Davenport? Or is it that Paul Stoddard has a “soul” and Sheriff Davenport never did?

    Oh, never mind, since even the writers themselves evidently never gave these matters this much thought. The really interesting thing about this and the previous episode is… look at the size of that enormous hearth in Jeb’s living room at the Carriage House! My god, it’s as tall as Chris Pennock. A fireplace that huge, for such a small room, when even Elizabeth is taller than the hearth of the one in the Collinwood drawing room. With his green turtleneck, when Jeb stands in front of that hearth in the Carriage House he looks like David Collins in front of the Collinwood drawing room fireplace. No wonder Jeb grows tired of the thought of returning to his room to be in “that other form”; he’s got the biggest hearth on the estate, and he just wants to stay in that living room of his to remain in his present form and bask in his new, unspoken status of Hearth Master of Collinwood.

    1. I guess the answer is that a werewolf can kill anything, except Grayson Hall and Michael Stroka. (Nothing can kill Grayson Hall.)

      I think the “we can’t kill people because we’ll be haunted by their ghost” rule was specifically invented so that they had a reason not to kill Julia; see previous sentence.

    2. I will hazard the guess that the original Carriage House contained a much larger room, as cart sheds were originally outbuildings, like garages. The one at Collinwood would likely have had servants’ quarters as well, and even stables. I’m imagining a stormy October night, a driver, the liverymen and the equerry warming themselves at a roaring blaze with a few tankards, telling of the latest eerie doings in Collinsport…

  6. I tried to do some digging on Ed Riley, and even my research skills only turned up a couple of things. His Playbill bio for GYPSY (which is tiny) only mentions FRONT PAGE and being off Broadway in the musical LITTLE MARY SUNSHINE, which was 1959.

    I did confirm a death date, though (IMDb has none, Dark Shadows wiki has 1980 but added by an unregistered user). The film journal FILMS IN REVIEW, which does an annual necrology, lists Ed Riley, “stage-TV actor,” as passing away on December 25, 1982 (same day as old-time Ziegfeld Follies star Jack Pearl) at age 49. BEST PLAYS, another annual publication, has the same date and age, but no career specifics.

    We can only hope that no strange sect later resurrected him for a road company of MUSIC MAN.

      1. Thank you for that. In fact one could easily switch from Iowa to Maine and make it a DS musical.

        “Oh, there’s nothing halfway about the Barnabas way to kill you, if he kills you, which he may not do at all.”

  7. “I’m not about to do anything without consulting you first. Remember? I lead — or you lead, rather, and I follow?”

    One of my all-time favorite bloopers. I LOVED this period of DS back in the day–I was never one of the Leviathan haters. It was different and fun, and Chris was back as the werewolf. Pure heaven.

    1. “I lead — or you lead, rather, and I follow?”

      This is a great moment.
      Who slipped up, Michael Stroka, or Bruno? It was probably Michael, but it would be the perfect time and place for Bruno to make a huge Freudian slip, considering that Bruno, the only Leviathan who has shown any intelligence or focus, wants to lead, plans to lead, and here he is, right in the middle of his big betrayal, almost letting the cat out of the bag, almost telling Jeb what he’s actually up to.
      Misread lines usually don’t add anything, but in this case, it adds a lot. Too bad it was completely glossed over.

  8. And so we finally put Z-Dave to rest.
    He was getting a bit recalcitrant, anyhow, asking those questions, questioning the answers – seemed awfully self-aware for a zombie. As I don’t know any of the undead (at least, I don’t think I do) I’m not sure what the rules are, intelligence-wise. All I have ever seen in movies is that zombies shamble about, occasionally moaning, don’t ask questions, and follow orders. Oh, and don’t feel pain (or if they do, they keep quiet about it). Perhaps as time passes, they get smarter? Few more weeks, they could have had him back as sheriff.

    And shouldn’t there be some puree de Davenport spread about in the mausoleum? Maybe the werewolf chased him into another chamber, but it looked like all the mayhem was underway right there by the casket…you would think that there would be at least a torn, bloody sleeve or something? Or did all the zombie bits slither away, since zombies don’t get destroyed unless they’re carbonized?

    Also (and I know how picky this is) this tomb is supposed to be at Eagle Hill, in the amazing geographically ambiguous, migratory cemetery. The one that hasn’t been used in years. Yet there are braziers burning in the mausoleum, in fact, burning steadily. What fuels them? Did the Stockbridges have gas laid in for their vault?

    Say, what became of Angelique? SHE should have been around for the mayhem. Ain’t no crazy like the Angelique crazy, ’cause the Angelique crazy don’t stop!

    Anyhow, it’s good to see Barnabas back bein’ bitey. Quite like old times.

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