Episode 963: The Golden Key

“Must you read meanings into everything I say?”

“Why do I feel this sense of doom tonight?” Barnabas Collins asks, in thinks. “Why can’t I shake it off?” I don’t know why he’s asking us; it’s the first we’ve even heard of it.

Barnabas is pacing the living room, following a house call from Dr. Julia Hoffman, his private physician. Julia came over to give him a good, stiff belt of anti-vampire sauce, both shaken and stirred, and injected directly where he needs it the most. This off-label concoction is supposed to unleash a stream of metaphysical scrubbing bubbles on his immortal soul, wiping it clean of sin and sickness. For some reason, it doesn’t seem to be working.

Suddenly, he stumbles. “What is happening to me?” he squawks. “Why do I feel this way?” He lunges for a passing armchair.

“No!” he says. “NO!”

And then: “I must have BLOOD! I’ve never felt this NEED for blood so strongly before!”

Now, I’ve seen this entire episode and the ones that follow, and as far as I can tell, there is absolutely no explanation for why Barnabas gets this irresistible craving for the red stuff. Possibly, it’s a reaction to Julia’s injection — there’s a hint that Julia doesn’t realize that Barnabas has been drinking blood lately, so maybe it’s not the right dose or whatever — but there’s not a lot to go on. He just feels the need, that’s all, and once he drains his victim dry, then he’ll settle back down, like it never happened.

That’s because we’re not watching a regular episode of Dark Shadows today. Episode 963 is actually an issue of the Gold Key Dark Shadows comic book, which they decided to air on television this afternoon for reasons that surpass all understanding.

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We’ve talked about the Dark Shadows comic book before — it’s that weird four-color contemporary carnival of chaos that tells the Dark Shadows stories that no one else would dare, for good reason. In previous installments, we’ve seen a gang of curious college friends diving to danger as the shrieking spirit of Angelique lurks in a treasure chest under the sea; we’ve seen the Collinsport fire marshal charging around town, accusing Barnabas of being either a murderer or possibly that murderer’s victim, based on the clues that he’s divined from a scorched carpet; we’ve seen Barnabas battling a 200-year-old foe on a remote, deserted island that’s in easy walking distance of Collinwood; and we’ve seen a ferocious werewolf having a fistfight with a pack of angry dogs.

In short, we have seen, in the pages of Gold Key comics, some of the Dark Shadowiest things possible — reckless plot points, squeezed from the pen of the medium’s least discriminating creators and dashed across the page in a terrible hurry, because after this they have to get cracking on the next issue of Land of the Giants.

And for the Dark Shadows-minded teenagers of the early 1970s, the comic book is a tactile touchstone, because the television show only exists for thirty minutes a day, and then it’s gone, never to return. If you’ve got an issue of the comic, you can carry it around all day and read it anytime you like, as long as nobody comes along and asks why you’re not mowing the lawn or doing something useful with your life.

Plus, the comic book ran for seven years, from 1969 to 1976, and the TV show only ran for five, which means the comic book won. So technically, the comic is the core of the Dark Shadows canon, and the television show is just a series of suggestions, because that is how literature works.

I will now demonstrate, using the dominant comic-book vibe of today’s episode.

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To start with, Barnabas has been a vampire for several weeks now, and Julia appears to believe that in all that time, he hasn’t bitten anybody. They’re talking about their ongoing, futile war against the Leviathans, those fiendish double-dealers who want to wreck the world, and turn it into a haven for some ancient tribe of sea monkeys that have burst their bowls and turned on their keepers. You know, the Leviathans. Those guys.

Anyway, Julia says she wishes that they had some way to infiltrate the rival gang, and Barnabas happens to mention that Megan’s offered to help them.

“Megan and I have had a long talk,” he says, casually, as Julia turns to stone. “What else have you had, Barnabas?” she asks, dropping the question onto the carpet with a bone-shaking thud.

“What is your question, Julia?” he counters. “Must you read meanings into everything I say?”

Now, Julia has known Barnabas for a long time, and if he’s been poaching platelets, then surely she can smell it on his breath. She’s his doctor, trying to cure his vampirism; she literally examines him every night. How does she think he’s getting his vitamins and minerals, if it’s not from some random damsel?

They have this little eyebrow-raising tussle, with Barnabas saying no big deal, I just happened to bump into Megan, and she’s on our side now, and Julia just stands there giving him looks, and preparing the needle that she’s about to jab into his arm. Obviously, Julia knows that he’s been snacking on the side.

But then he says that during this course of treatment, he hasn’t felt his need for blood diminish at all, and she says, “Barnabas — you haven’t given in yet, have you? Have you?” which I thought we’d just covered thirty seconds ago.

So that might as well be straight from the funny papers, because the comics have a terrible time trying to figure out whether Barnabas really needs blood to survive or if it’s just an occasional indulgence. All they know is, the readers expect a certain number of vampire bites per issue, and they can fill in the rest with running and scowling and unlocking doors and dialogue like “must you read meanings into everything I say”.

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Meanwhile: Megan. She hasn’t been the same since her encounter with Barnabas, and she wasn’t very good at being the same in the first place. So now she just drifts, slumping bonelessly from one chair to another, wondering when she’s going to get herself summoned.

Now she’s shivering in the Collinwood drawing room, not drinking sherry. Something is clearly the matter. She moans, “It’s just my nerves, that’s all. The shock, over Philip — I haven’t been sleeping very well. I’m so worried, that’s all.” This makes two “that’s all” statements in the space of ten seconds. Vampire victims always keep a fistful of “that’s all” on hand, just in case anybody asks them a question.

This is another common Gold Key sequence, scenes where people don’t understand what’s happened to other people. Awkward human behavior is their strong area; it’s basically all they know.

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So, as I said, Barnabas feels the need to feed, and Megan finds an opportune moment to drop by.

“You can’t imagine how much it means to me that you need me,” she says, reporting to work at the Old House.

Barnabas is just as conflicted as usual. “Go away, Megan,” he begs. “Don’t come any closer! Don’t!” She does.

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When Julia gets back to Collinwood, Elizabeth’s looking for Megan, who ducked out without saying goodbye. Liz complains about Megan’s impenetrable illness, and Julia realizes what’s happened, all in a flash. Without a word, she bolts for the front door, and speeds away.

Everybody runs in the comic book, too; the characters are constantly zipping back and forth across the page, diving through doors and jumping to conclusions. Things move fast in Gold Key Collinsport, because if you let the reader relax for even a second, they’ll start thinking about the story.

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And then it’s time for some new postulates about vampires. Barnabas has sucked Megan all the way dry, and Julia arrives just in time to not find a pulse.

“I didn’t want her to come back!” Barnabas yelps. He’s having feelings. “She knew — she knew there was something wrong with me!” And Julia looks at him, and thinks, dude, everybody knows there’s something wrong with you. We just work around it.

Barnabas cries, “Do you think I did this by choice?” and Julia says, “No, Barnabas. I know you did not.”

She says it just like that, too — “I know you did not” — like she’s reading it off a card that she keeps in her pocket to remind her of things to say when your disaster of a best friend does something unspeakable.

Both ABC Barnabas and Gold Key Barnabas understand the proper deployment of crocodile tears, which are released immediately after it’s too late to change your behavior. And now the conversation is all about you.

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“Perhaps I would have died, and this would all be over,” Barnabas sighs, still having feelings.

Julia gulps. “It is over now, for her.”

“No it isn’t,” Barnabas cries. “You’ve forgotten what will happen to her!”

Naturally, as everyone knows, a person who’s just suffered a fatal vampire bite will be up on her feet again eventually, at which point you have an extra vampire. This will happen either after the funeral, or as soon as you leave the room, or sometime in between. Sometimes it doesn’t happen at all, they just die and stay dead and nobody gives it another thought.

But this time, Barnabas and Julia have decided that she will rise, so they go down to the basement to find a stake and a hammer, leaving Megan to loll in a chair and think things over. This is a mistake. You can’t leave Megan on her own like that, even posthumously. She needs adult supervision.

When everybody comes back from the armory, Megan’s corpse is gone, flying off into the night to find a victim of her own. Just think, that nice Philip from the antique shop is in jail, and all of these people are still at large.

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Meanwhile, Jeb Hawkes is in the cemetery, persuading even more dead people to get up and wreak havoc. Jeb just got a perfectly good zombie a month ago, and he forgot about it and left it outside, where it was torn apart by an angry werewolf. And as soon as he doesn’t have one, all of a sudden that’s the thing that he needs more of than ever.

But everybody knows that it’s more fun to draw a bunch of zombies than it is to draw a convincing background for your comic book panel. Backgrounds are hard, because you have to think about placement and perspective and what some dumb location even looks like, when all you want to do is draw zombies. So Jeb casts a spell, and fills the world with monsters.

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And here they are, a harmonizing quartet of the living dead, sent into the house to sneak up on Julia and carry her away, which is not really a four-zombie job, but they have a strong union.

I can’t find a panel from the comic book to fit this scene; I won’t even try. This is four ghouls in their best get-buried clothes, let loose in the mansion to shamble around and play hide and seek games. There’s nothing more jarring than this.

You know, I saw this coming in the last episode, when Jeb and Bruno just stood around in the foyer and talked about murdering people. Collinwood isn’t a working mansion anymore; it’s just another background to fill up with monsters.

The portal has been breached; now anything can walk inside, whenever it feels like. The show has officially out-comicbooked the comic book.

Tomorrow: Julia Fixes Everything.


Footnotes:

The illustrations in this post come from four issues of the Dark Shadows comic: “Wings of Fear” (issue #7), “The Vampire Trap” (#8), “Souls in Bondage” (#10) and “Quentin the Vampire” (#20). “The Vampire Trap” is the one we talked about a couple weeks ago, for episode 952.

If you want to check out some of the comics — and you should, they’re fun — you can get the first 21 issues for your tablet, phone or computer at ComiXology.


Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:

In the teaser, you can see the rod holding the boom mic, when Jeb asks the graves, “Will you follow me, if you have the chance?” At the end of the ritual, when Jeb shouts, “Make them my servants!” you can see the rod again, and a studio light. You can also see a couple lights when John Hart gets up.

When Thomas Findley is in his grave, there’s no coffin or anything; he’s just lying there under a layer of dirt. To keep the dirt out of his eyes and nose, there’s a white plastic bag covering his face, held on with tape. I know this because he clearly tears the bag off his face as he’s sitting up.

Jeb calls the fourth zombie “Emory Page”; the gravestone says Emory Pace.

Jeb chuckles as Emory rises, because he’s struggling to get to his feet, pointing his ass at the camera.

Jeb tells the boys, “Five new souls are going to join you, in your underground. Four men, and one woman! Barnabas Collins, Quentin Collins, Roger Collins, Willie Loomis — and one woman, Julia Hoffman!” That makes two women, by my count.

Barnabas tells Julia, “Ever since Nicholas Blair came back, he’s — they’ve done nothing! Why?”

Halfway through act 2, we cut from the Old House to Emory, standing outside Collinwood’s front doors, and then to Liz and Jeb in the foyer. Jeb starts his scene too early, so you can hear him say, “You’re stupid!” while we’re still looking at Emory. Then we cut to the foyer, and Jeb tells Liz, “You’re stupid!” again.


Behind the Scenes:

Thomas Findley is played by James Shannon, a regular DS fill-in actor who I kind of have a crush on. I’ve written about his role as a deputy in episode 556 and an assistant jailer in episode 623. We last saw him over a year ago, as the Hangman at Vicki’s second hanging in January 1969.

John Hart is played by Cliff Cudney. He’s in three episodes as a zombie, and then he’ll also show up in July, as Victor Flagler.

Amos Ross is Paul Geier, who only appears in two episodes. This is his first screen credit. After this, he’ll play small roles in the Paul Newman/Tom Cruise movie The Color of Money, and in a Mel Gibson movie, Ransom. He’s also been in a bunch of  Law & Order episodes, but who hasn’t? Oh, and Geier also appears in a 1973 X-rated film called The Sexualist: A Voyage to the World of Forbidden Love. Now you know.

Emory Pace is played by Chuck Morgan, who appears in two episodes as this zombie, and then comes back in September to destroy Collinwood as a pirate zombie.

Tomorrow: Julia Fixes Everything.

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Dark Shadows episode guide

— Danny Horn

26 thoughts on “Episode 963: The Golden Key

  1. Vampirism on Dark Shadows is depicted as a psychological issue or a socially unacceptable compulsion that Mike Pence would cure with a set-up similar to Julia’s 1967 Mad Science Lab.

    The 1991 series played up the overtly sexual angle without the subtext, but the original series, especially when it comes to Barnabas, treats vampirism as a sort of narcotic addiction. I used to think it was weird how Windcliff psychiatrist Julia Hoffman wound up treating rare blood diseases. It’s like Frasier suddenly becoming House. But in a way, Barnabas’s issues are consistent with Julia’s core competencies. She’s getting him back on the wagon. The stress of the Leviathan storyline caused a relapse and he’s even gotten Megan hooked, too.

    He’ll later leave for rehab, returning with a more manageable condition. I think he’s a “functional” vampire after that point. Still sleeping through the day but no longer hitting the blood that hard.

  2. I was always curious about the circumstances of the demises of these recently buried Collinsport citizens, They all died relatively young, and three died in 1970 (at the same time?? ) and the 4th was 1969. Were they friends who just happened to have adjoining burial plots at the Collinsport cemetery? Seafaring buddies who died crashing their boat on those treacherous rocks? And maybe they were more than just friends. I don’t think they went to the Blue Whale. Maybe there was a gay bar like the Happy Seaman, or something like that. In the first year of the show the Blue Whale was pretty swinging (although they played the same generic go-go music on the jukebox). But things got pretty quiet later. Whenever anyone would go into the tavern there was hardly any customers) Maybe the Happy Seaman attracted them away. Remember this was not long after Stonewall and maybe more of the sailors were coming out.

    1. A gay bar in Collinsport? You might be interested to know that one early script of Dark Shadows had it that the Blue Whale was originally to be known as The Rainbow Bar. It doesn’t get any more camp than that.

        1. The Gold Key comic lasted 7 years? The Big Finish audio series is the Mac Daddy of them all. Ten years and running strong!

    2. Maybe the union that the Collins fishermen belong to has a burial society, and if you don’t have a family plot you can be buried in one the society buys.

      Nobody ever said fanwanking was easy, and sometimes it’s less satisfying than others.

  3. Cliff Cudney is mainly a stuntman who sometimes acted, usually in stunt related parts (cops, thugs, bouncers), and once as “Man in Porno Shop” in the movie “New York Cop” (which he stunt coordinated, so I guess that was an added perk). One of his credits? He was one of the stunt drivers involved in Kermit’s traffic collision in “The Muppets Take Manhattan.”

  4. Barnabas’ vampirism could be adapting to Julia’s injections (kind of like how viruses adapt to anti-bodies in real life) making the shots increase his bloodlust instead of killing it.

    Finally, Megan becomes a vamipre! She was only interesting after turning.

    1. I thought Julia’s treatments weren’t working b/c he was drinking blood on the side. It’s kinda like someone taking medicine for a heroine addiction but still shooting up the real stuff.

  5. After seeing “The Night Stalker” TV Movie, I just assumed Barnabas had a refrigerator full of stolen blood from hospitals and such, like Vampire in that movie had.

    That’s what kept him going, but occasionally he needed or wanted some fresh, warm blood straight from the tap.

    1. Remember, when Barnabas first came on the scene he was also sucking the blood of local livestock. Obviously it’s not as “satisfying” as human blood. And sucking from a live human also has the benefit of exerting control over the victim.

    2. I loved in Forever Knight, how Nick always explained his refrigerator full of blood as cow’s blood that he used for art projects.

    3. Mike, what was so creepy/sick was that the vampire in Night Stalker also used the stolen blood for transfusions for one of the ladies he’d attacked and was holding hostage. Then he’d bite her and enjoy recycled plasma.

    4. Yeah, but refrigerators run on electricity, which Barnabas does not have – unless he still has the generator in the basement. Or does he have Willie bring in ice for an icebox?

  6. I just saw that dreamy deputy episode recently. sigh

    I’ve tried to stage a show with fewer than four chorus boys, and it just can’t be done. The choreography just doesn’t work, and everything gets all lopsided.

  7. I tried, really did, to just relax & let the terror sweep over me, but even the horrific spectacle of the undead climbing from their graves could not keep out those nagging questions.
    Why are four seemingly random men buried together?
    Why do all the plots look freshly dug, even the one from 1969?
    How come Jeb needs four zombies?
    Did these guys have some connections to the Leviathans? (Maybe Jeb made their car crash, and one guy died right away but the others died later?)
    Why, in a seaport town, along a rocky and stormy coastline, we have never seen or had mentioned any lighthouse; nor, despite the frequency of foggy evenings, has a foghorn ever sounded?
    Doesn’t killing those people on Jeb’s ‘enemies list’, even if accomplished by the zombies, still count as being killed by the Leviathans?
    Why, despite their orders, do the zombies fail to kill anyone?

    Do I overthink all this too much?

    1. For foghorn sounds, I can point you to episode 147, the scene where Burke Devlin meets up with Laura Collins down on the docks and you can hear a foghorn sounding. You’d also hear lots of harbor traffic from the Blue Whale in those days, back when they were consciously integrating the impression of a real-life Collinsport beyond the confines of the studio sets. At some point, though, they seem to have opted for just the music and visual effects instead. Once you’ve got a werewolf growling outside the Blue Whale preparing to smash through the window as a lone waitress is closing up, who needs a foghorn?

      1. Well, I suppose. Anyway, it wasn’t really fog, just a smoke generator…guess the Collinsport city fathers were trying to get revenue to buy that vampire detection system (“Say So-long To Sanguisuges With ‘VampAlert’!”) and werewolf repellent (WolfAway, with 100% organic lycoctonum). Foghorns were pretty low on the list.

    2. No, just the right amount, John! 🙂

      When Jeb was shouting the names of those four men like some grumpy substitute teacher conducting roll call, and he has to bellow twice “Amos Ross!” as if Amos was napping with his head on the desk …

      … Yeah; that little bit of perfect idiocy incited a rare, intense peal of laughter from me, to the point that my friend, who was playing on his phone in my living room, peeked his head into my room to glance in confusion between my face, the 📺 screen, and my face again. (I could only shake my head and continue giggling. But gawd, I so hate Jeb).

      Zombie-Amos: I would have been at least as recalcitrant in responding to that bastard, preferring to remain in that shallow grave any night.

      Btw, I always watch these with subtitles and just adore how before that particular track in the music score (used in that cemetery scene and countless other ‘dark magic’ scenes) is always introduced, via the subtitles, as “eerie percussive music.”

  8. And to think Dr. Lang managed to cure Barnabas in less than 24 hours with his special cocktail of injections. Does Julia still have his notebooks, or did they disappear along with all recollection of Adam?

    1. Remember though that Dr Lang’s cure was only temporary. In addition, Julia’s injections could be based on Dr Lang’s formulas. BTW, Adam hasn’t been totally forgotten. They’ll mention him in an upcoming storyline.They told what happened to Adam in a TV Guide article, written by Sam Hall, not long after DS was cancelled. This “official” essay was accompanied with a little disclaimer by saying this is what MAY have happened to the DS characters in modern day. When they released DS on home video years later MPI tacked on a epilogue to the final episode in which Roger Davis narrated this article accompanied with a montage of character photos.

      1. I appreciated Sam Hall writing the article in TV Guide that you’re referring to, but in true DS writer fashion, there were all kinds of inconsistencies and plot holes. But at least he acknowledged that viewers were short changed when the show ended in 1841 PT.

  9. Danny, which episode was it when Jeb and Megan were making out? I kept thinking you would’ve pointed that scene out. Was looking forward to it, actually.

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