“Judah must be dead, or you would still be in his power.”
“It’s over,” Julia breathes, sinking into an armchair. And it’s not, really, but give it five months or so; we’ll get there.
Because here we are, in November 1970, and the spell is wearing off. Dark Shadows is on the decline, as a dazed populace returns to their previous occupations — homework, housework, other soap operas, playing outside — whatever it was that they weren’t doing between the hours of 4:00 and 4:30 for the last several years. The show is currently serving up a warmed-over rehash of a mash-up involving Frankenstein, Turn of the Screw, Black Sunday, a bit of Jane Eyre and, let’s face it, several previous Dark Shadows storylines.
Julia’s been up all night stitching the legendary head of Judah Zachery, the well-preserved seventeenth-century warlock, back onto its legendary pantomime-horse body, goosing it with several stabs of lightning and then taking its temperature every few minutes, just to see if it leads to anything in the way of compelling contemporary drama. She’s also been writing a history of the Collins family, running a popular sanitorium for the enfeebled, and dressing up like a housekeeper from a parallel dimension, so obviously she’s exhausted; we all are.
You know, every once in a while, of a Friday, someone will ask me what I’m doing this weekend, and I say, I’m catching up on my Dark Shadows blog, and they’ll say, what the hell is Dark Shadows? And I’ll briefly explain, to the extent possible, that Dark Shadows was an incredibly popular afternoon soap opera about a time-traveling vampire which held the country agog for several years in the late 1960s, to which they reply that if I really didn’t have anything planned, I could have just said so, rather than making up ludicrous cover stories. It really is the case that almost nobody knows what Dark Shadows is, and if you try to tell them about it, they refuse to believe you.
And yet there was a moment when an actor playing a time-traveling vampire could show up at the Pinehaven Shopping Center in Charleston, South Carolina on a random Monday in May, and a riot would ensue. Besides the domination of afternoon viewing among the young and jobless, Dark Shadows produced books and soundtrack albums and comic books and bubble gum cards and Halloween costumes and vinyl models and board games, it inspired a Canadian knock-off drama and a nationwide Miss American Vampire competition, and it showed up at the White House on Halloween to help the daughter of the President of the United States frighten a hand-picked group of underprivileged children. You wouldn’t think that a culture would be able to put that sort of thing out of its mind, not without some kind of intervening apocalypse.
But the flame that burns twice as bright burns half as long, and here in November 1970, the show’s power is visibly waning, releasing its devotees back into circulation.
“Why did I help him?” Julia asks, reflecting on the last couple weeks. She’s been under the sway of a souvenir that Desmond brought back from Macau, a severed head in a glass case, with white streaks on a purple background and a heart-shaped swing tag. That head got into her head, convincing her that it was the most important thing in the world, and encouraging her to stay up all night and learn about the blockchain.
“Oh, it’s terrifying, Barnabas,” she wails, “the control he had over me!” That’s what they said about the tulips.
Tulips are pretty but hard to raise; they only bloom in April and May, and they live for about a week. They go into a dormant phase from June to September, and that’s when you can dig up the bulb and sell it to somebody else, if they want it.
Left to their own devices, tulips have large petals of a single color, but there’s a tulip-specific disease called the Tulip Breaking Virus that produces smaller, paler petals, with streaks of different colors. Tulips with the virus are more beautiful, but it stunts the bulbs, and with each generation, an infected bulb grows weaker until it loses the strength to flower at all. So the prettiest variety is also the rarest variety, which led to trouble in the Netherlands.
In the early 1600s, sick tulips were a luxury item, and virus-ridden bulbs became a status symbol among the Dutch. You could only sell them for four months in the summer, but during the rest of the year, you could sign a contract with a florist to buy tulip futures — a promise to buy a certain number of bulbs at a particular price, at the end of the season. Obviously, if the bulbs’ value increases after you’ve signed the contract to buy tulip futures, then you could resell them at a profit, once they’re in your hands. That could be a pretty lucrative scam while it lasts, and in 1634, people started figuring that out.
Speculators entered the market, scooping up some of the rare varieties and reselling them at high profits, and when people found out how exciting and valuable that rare variety was — because the person currently holding them wouldn’t shut up about it — then that encouraged more people to enter the market. People with rare bulbs would hold on to them, hoping the value would go up, which made them even rarer, and prices soared. Stories circulated about early adopters earning incredible fortunes from the sale of rare bulbs, and soon everyone was an investor.
There’s a psychoanalytic theory about what happens to people when there’s an investment craze like this, especially when it’s about something that has little intrinsic value, like a sick flower, or a cryptocurrency, or a legendary severed head. It begins with the representation of these otherwise worthless items as infantile “phantastic objects” which will magically transform your life, giving you power. The acquisition of these items produces euphoria, giving you a dopamine boost that makes you want to acquire even more of them.
At this point, somebody points out to you that maybe hoarding elephant beanbag toy variants isn’t the wisest long-term economic strategy, even in a glass case with a plastic snap-tite protector over its heart-shaped swing tag, but you’ve invested so much — financially and, more importantly, emotionally — in the fantasy of riches and power, these objections only make you more convinced that you’re onto a good thing.
And then something happens that breaks the spell — the florists are unable to deliver bulbs to the tulip traders and they default, or the laboratory catches on fire and the crypt explodes. You can’t sustain a dopamine high forever; something breaks through the psychic defenses, and you realize that you’ve put all your money into a breakable basket. In florist circles, this is called a bloom and bust cycle.
Once people realize that the phantastic object isn’t magical after all, there’s a panic, and they try to sell out as fast as they can. Once the panic starts, everybody tries to leave the market, the price plummets, and you’re left with a bunch of contracts for tulip futures that nobody wants to honor anymore.
After the crash, you feel ashamed of your own recklessness, as you realize that the boxes of beanbag toys in the garage won’t pay for your kids’ college tuition after all. This is the revulsion stage, and you want to be rid of the thing you overvalued as soon as possible. That’s when you go back to the burned-out crypt, to make sure the wizard head has been destroyed.
“It’s a shambles!” Barnabas gasps as he enters the underground crypt, although to be honest with you, it was pretty much a shambles to begin with. Julia left the lab to get some more supplies, and then Leticia left in order to get Julia, and then Gerard came in and did what he does best, namely start a fire and destroy the show.
The exact sequence of events is a little difficult to piece together — Julia says something about lightning and the ether supply exploding, although what she needed with ether is beyond me. Basically, people got tired of going to gift shops and looking for the Princess Diana bear, and this was the result.
Rummaging around in the wreckage, Barnabas comes across a human arm, sticking out from under a pile of rubble.
“Judah!” cries Julia.
Barnabas says, “Are you sure it’s him?” and of course she’s sure, she’d recognize that wrist anywhere.
She wonders what happened to the mask, and Barnabas shrugs. “Well, it’s probably under there now, and it’s just as well,” he says. That’s easy for him to say; he didn’t mortgage the house for it.
But nothing lasts forever, not even immortal creatures of the night. Dark Shadows was the hottest show in America for a while, but these crazes pass — especially if the target is teenagers, who are always looking for something new. After a few years, the phantastic object starts to seem old-fashioned, and what could be more old-fashioned than people standing around in an 1840 drawing room talking about antiques?
You can’t really chart the value of Dark Shadows in guilders, the way that you can with tulip bulbs, but 16 Magazine cover appearances is a pretty good proxy for the show’s value in the American teenage mind.
Jonathan Frid’s name first appeared on the cover of 16 in August 1968, and a month later, his picture was on the cover, crowding out the Monkees and Sajid Khan and Mark Lindsay from Paul Revere & the Raiders, and all the other forgotten teen idols of the mid-to-late 60s. Over the next six months, every issue had either Frid’s picture, or at least his name.
Starting in May 1969, once the 1897 storyline was in full swing, there was at least one Dark Shadows actor on the cover of 16 every month, and sometimes more. The peak was in January 1970, when the cover had a picture of David Selby, with a huge list of DS names: “Selby, Frid, Henesy, Briscoe, Stroka, Davis: Would you dare be alone with them?”
The hot streak lasted for thirteen issues, and then, in June 1970: no picture on the cover, just Henesy and Pennock listed among those present, and starting in July 1970, just the words “DS Gang”. That’s when the panic began, and everybody started selling their vampire soap opera futures.
And here, in November 1970, for the first time in more than two years, 16 Magazine doesn’t have Dark Shadows on the cover.
Barnabas and Julia go up the stairs, and once they’re on solid ground, she closes the secret entrance to the ruined crypt.
“So it is a tomb again!” Barnabas proclaims. “Judah Zachery’s tomb.” Which it already was. And so the craze ends and the world wakes up, ready to be possessed by something new.
Tomorrow: Nothing on Earth.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
Act 1 opens with Judah standing in the crypt and waiting for his cue, before he starts stalking.
When Gerard scrambles out of the crypt and then pauses, looking back at the hatch, you can see the top of the set.
At the start of act 2, as the camera pans up from the hatch, there are three bloopers in quick succession: Julia looks up for her cue before speaking, her line is spoken off-mic, and you can see the top of the set.
When they discover Judah’s body, Barnabas asks Julia, “Where were you, when you left him?”
After Julia closes the tomb, we can see a studio light, and the top of the set.
When Gerard looks around in the crypt, you can briefly see a script page being flipped on the right.
At the end of the episode, Gerard finds the Head separated from the body, but you can see the actor’s chest rise and fall as he breathes.
Behind the Scenes:
We only get a glimpse of it in act 3, but they’re using a redressing of Quentin’s 1897 room for Gerard’s bedroom in Rose Cottage.
Tomorrow: Nothing on Earth.
— Danny Horn