“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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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.
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?
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.
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.
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?
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.
— Danny Horn