“Less talk, more crowbar!”
Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A man walks into a crypt, looking for buried treasure. He crowbars his way into a mystery box, and what does he find? A pain in the neck.
Today is Christmas Day 1970, happy holidays by the way, and the show is taking the day off. On pre-emption days, the blog is visited by the Ghost of Dark Shadows Yet to Come, often to our great and lasting regret. During previous pre-emptions, we watched the 1970 movie House of Dark Shadows, the 1971 movie Night of Dark Shadows, and the 12 episodes of the 1991 NBC revival. The short version is that they weren’t very good, because trying to catch lightning in a bottle is difficult, especially when you’ve already used that bottle a couple of times. Lightning’s funny that way.
Today, we’re taking a look at the next chapter of that story: the 2004 pilot for a new prime-time Dark Shadows, prepared for and rejected by the WB, which used to be a television network.
You see, Dan Curtis — Dark Shadows’ creator and executive producer — never gave up on Dark Shadows, except while he was making it, when he definitely did. Having tasted the thrill of unexpected success in 1968 and 1969 as the show’s popularity reached its peak, he decided to make a movie version, using the same cast, crew and writers, while the television show was still on the air. That left the show coasting for months on ABC-TV with the B-squad characters, and when Dan finally came back to the series, all he really wanted to do was make another movie, and that’s why the show came to a gradual, disappointing end.
In 1991, Dan decided to try again, making a 12-part prime-time series for NBC that used a lot of ideas from House of Dark Shadows, and it didn’t work out, for lightning/bottle reasons. And then he just kept on trying to remake the remake for the next 12 years, finally managing to convince the WB to spend five million dollars on a pilot that nobody liked.
I asked you to stop me if you’ve heard this before, but frankly, it’s no use trying. The only way that Dan could stop retelling the story of Dark Shadows was to die, and even then, I bet he’s up in Heaven, pitching Saint Peter on another series. I’m kidding, of course; executive producers don’t go to Heaven.
Now, you may be wondering, how do you spend twelve years trying to get people to let you make more Dark Shadows? This is how. In the 2012 book Dark Shadows: Return to Collinwood, Jim Pierson listed Dan’s many attempts to get Barnabas back on the screen.
1993: A proposed feature film that was essentially a remake of House of Dark Shadows, which Miramax briefly expressed interest in.
1997: A daytime show for the Fox network, who were considering expanding into daytime soaps and then decided not to.
1998: Warren Littlefield at NBC invited Dan to make a series of occasional TV-movies. Dan said that the series wouldn’t work without being a serialized show, and instead prepared an outline for the first season of a new prime-time show. NBC passed.
2000: A Broadway musical, with music by Robert Cobert and lyrics by Rupert Holmes, who wrote The Mystery of Edwin Drood.
2001: A prime-time weekly series for Fox, produced by Aaron Spelling. Fox passed.
2001: A Spanish-language daytime show, using the original show’s scripts. Yeah, I’m amazed by that one too.
2001: A prime-time weekly series for TNT.
2001: An animated series for adults, to be aired on HBO.
2002: Another shot at a feature film.
And through it all, Dan never wavered in his belief that the correct way to make Dark Shadows is to do it just like he did in 1970 and 1991, but with new actors, which never worked.
Dan wanted to recapture that thrill of 1968, when he was full of new ideas and lunatic plot contrivances, and storyline twists just appeared in his mind without even trying. Some of them worked and some of them didn’t, and he just kept going — dodging, weaving, pivoting on a dime — with his gaze always locked on what the audience was responding to. Dark Shadows in 1968 was a television jazz combo played in tune with its time, in an unrepeatable act of joyous collective improvisation.
You don’t get that thrill by playing a cover version of the same song, thirty-five years later. Here’s what you get instead.
A CGI train winds through the woods on a moonlit night, en route to romance and danger. The camera follows the train as it curves through the night, and then swoops in to focus on a single, lighted window…
where we find our haunted heroine, lit sporadically by unspecified flashes of ghost light. It’s raining, apparently, not that you could tell from the first shot, and this is the character we’re stuck with.
“My name is Victoria Winters,” she says in voice-over narration. “It’s October 31st. The date didn’t even register when the train tickets arrived.” This assertion is provided at no extra charge.
Her musings are interrupted by two children, one making a not very convincing skeleton, and the other dolled up in red devil drag. “Trick or treat! Trick or treat! Trick or treat!” they shout merrily as they race through the train car, not stopping long enough for anyone to give them candy, which nobody would have anyway, because trick or treating on a train is not something that happens in nature.
“Hundreds of years ago, we put on costumes to scare away evil spirits,” thinks Vicki, although personally I did no such thing. “Between our twenty-four-hour science channels and the invention of Prozac, you’d think we’d be past all that by now. But maybe we’ll always be afraid of the dark.” Medical note: SSRIs are not typically prescribed to cure Halloween. Talk to your doctor if Halloween persists.
She opens a file. “I’ve been hired to tutor a troubled boy,” she continues. “But I keep feeling like that’s only the beginning of my journey. I’m hoping that somehow, out of the darkness, I’ll finally find the answers to the mysteries of my own past.” There is no further information about the mysteries of her own past, here or at any other point in the show.
Now, to understand why this pilot exists, we’ve got to talk about the glittering and temporary “quality television” powerhouse that was the WB at the turn of the century.
Breaking onto the scene in 1995, the WB was Warner Bros’ attempt to become the nation’s 5th most important broadcast network, following FOX’s successful early-90s advance. For my younger readers, “broadcast television” was basically like if Netflix, Hulu and Amazon Prime were in control of your watchlist, and at any given time of the day, you could only watch what they decided you wanted, and those were your only choices. I know that sounds like a terrifying dystopia. It was.
The WB launched with a set of unloved sitcoms, and struggled to make an impact until 1997, when the teen vampire comedy/action/drama Buffy the Vampire Slayer turned into a surprise cult hit.
Inspired, the WB pivoted to focus on the teen audience, with a slate of popular comedy-dramas: Dawson’s Creek, Felicity and Charmed in 1998, Roswell, Angel and Popular in 1999, Gilmore Girls in 2000 and Smallville in 2001. Each show had its quirks, but they all catered to different shadings of the same general demographics: mostly teenage to young adult women and gay nerds, who liked wry, self-aware soap opera storytelling with a light patina of science-fiction/fantasy/magical realism. They all had snappy, joke-filled dialogue, and focused heavily on young love involving stunningly beautiful but dorky-approachable high school and college age protagonists, and if you liked one of these shows, then you’d probably like most of them, and even for the ones you didn’t like, you probably watched them sometimes anyway.
For anyone who wasn’t in that demographic at that time, it’s impossible to explain what it was like to have a whole network devoted to populating your romantic fantasy life, and doing it so well. Twenty years later, my daydreams still regularly feature David Boreanaz from Buffy, Scott Foley from Felicity, Tom Welling from Smallville and Brian Krause from Charmed, all of them casting spells and glamours and alien love-rays in my direction, and if they weren’t your top four, then you had so many other gorgeous, tormented and love-struck people to choose from.
It didn’t last, of course; nothing truly beautiful ever does. The formula wore out its welcome eventually, and genre misfires like 2002’s Birds of Prey and 2003’s Tarzan tarnished the brand. They launched the successful One Tree Hill in 2003, but it didn’t have any vampires, superheroes or aliens, and they were at risk of losing the nerdy segment of their base. By 2004, they were anxious to locate their next Smallville.
Along came John Wells, well-known at the time as the showrunner and head writer of ER, Third Watch and the later seasons of The West Wing. He talked to Dan, they discussed making a show, and Wells had enough television cred to convince the WB to splash out on a pilot. The WB gave the show the green light in January 2004, and now they need a completed pilot in time for the announcement of fall series pickups in May.
Now, Dan wants to make a serious, fogbound epic drama, because everyone’s been calling Dark Shadows campy and silly for decades, and he’s overcompensating. The WB wants a fun, romantic action-adventure soap opera in their house style, with a sense of humor, love triangles and modern TV dialogue. Dan and the WB are not pointing in the same direction, and neither of them gets what they want.
Okay, back to the train. Vicki looks up, and sees that one of the trick or treaters is pounding on the door, yelling for help. Vicki stands up, and finds that all of the other passengers are gone, and the lights are flickering on and off with that raspy sparking sound that directors use when they’re trying to convey that electricity is haunted.
Help me! the kid pants. The door’s stuck! Please! I can’t open it! It’s stuck! I’m stuck in between the trains! Please help! Help me! Help me! Help me! I can’t open the door! Open the door! Please! I’m trapped! You’ve got to let me in! Help me get back in! I’m scared! Please! Help me! Help me! The kid needs to learn how to be part of the solution.
So Vicki slowly paces toward the door, and tries to open it, and then
RAAAH! the kid is suddenly an evil prosthetics demon, who growls at Vicki
and then she wakes up, and it was a dream.
She sees a spooky passenger staring at her, and chuckles, “Sorry. Really bad dream.”
The dude continues to stare fixedly at her, and slowly recites, “Don’t worry. They can’t hurt you.”
She stares at him like she’s never seen a minor character before, and then a train passes going the other way, and she flinches and screams, and I thought she said we already invented Prozac.
So that, to me, is an area of concern. They hired Doug Jones, who’s played the prosthetics demon in pretty much everything, and had him crouch behind a door with a bunch of makeup applications on his face, and then they said, go RAAAH! and he did, because they think that Dark Shadows is horror, and even more problematically, they think that horror is literally having something jump up and say “boo”.
There is an argument to be made that Dark Shadows is not horror, and that argument is correct, because it’s not. The show uses some Universal Monsters horror tropes, but it’s not actually scary. “Horror” involves a sense of reality, where you identify with the person on the screen, and you believe in the danger they’re in. Saw is horror, because you’re experiencing powerlessness and random cruelty from the point of view of the victim. That rarely happens on Dark Shadows, which is more conceptual than physical; anyway, most of the time you’re seeing things from the villain’s point of view.
Dark Shadows is soap opera cliffhanger melodrama suspense, which doesn’t run on fear. It runs on anticipation and surprise, and not the “boo” kind of surprise; it’s more the “I can’t believe they’re doing something this weird on television” surprise. The werewolves on Dark Shadows don’t unexpectedly leap out from behind a door and kill you; they jump through a plate glass window and then paw at the air for a while, giving the victim time to say This is impossible! and What are you? and then Barnabas rushes in with a silver-headed cane and chases the monster away, and the victim says It was wearing clothes like a man! and then you’ve got a whole other conversation. That’s how Dark Shadows works. Most of the time, you’re not scared of the monster; you’re scared for the monster. Jumping up and going RAAH! is beside the point.
Vicki gets off the train, and the world is thick with atmosphere; it’s dark and raining, she can’t get a phone signal, there’s thunder and the squeak of an old chain swinging in the wind, and as the TV-movie spooky piano music starts up, she narrows her eyes and then there’s a shot of this
which I don’t think is anything in particular.
It’s really red out tonight for some reason; they kind of pretend that it’s the red light on the train trestle but the reality is that the next thirty-seven minutes of your life are going to be a lot more red than usual.
We’re about three minutes into the show and so far they aren’t telling us much about who this girl is, where she came from and why we should care about her; we just know that the camera’s pointed in her direction most of the time. They decided not to say that she grew up in an orphanage and has some kind of mysterious connection to Collinsport; they’re just going to say that she has bad phone reception, and if that doesn’t make your pulse pound then that’s on you.
The pilot was written by Mark Verheiden, who wrote some comic books and was the co-executive producer on Smallville, one of the WB’s hits. He didn’t really know the show, but he watched some 1967 episodes, both movies and the 1991 series, thereby missing all of the parts of Dark Shadows that people like.
As I said in “Nevertheless, They Persisted“, my wrap-up of the 1991 episodes, creative people don’t like slavishly following someone else’s choices. Verheiden thought of the original show as a springboard to tell new stories, which is not what Dan was looking for.
Speaking after the fact in the horror magazine Fangoria, Verheiden said, “As people who have worked with Dan know, he can be very intense, and he is justifiably possessive when it comes to Dark Shadows. He has lived with it for forty years and has very, very strong opinions about what he wants and what he doesn’t want.”
In their first meeting, Verheiden pitched some radical suggestions, including telling the story from a grownup David’s point of view, returning to Collinwood after some time away: “Maybe he’s married, maybe he has a kid who’s like the creepy little David we knew before. Then Barnabas enters their lives and you’re off to the races again.” It didn’t land.
“Suffice to say, Dan felt we should hew closer to the original,” he explained. “My goal was to create a world that felt like Dark Shadows, but also felt contemporary. My mandate to myself was to make it fresh. I felt we were competing with all the stuff that has come out since Dark Shadows debuted: seven years of Buffy, Van Helsing, etcetera — all these huge-budgeted vampire projects. We had to compete with that as well as find a serious paradigm that could work for an ongoing weekly series.”
Dan was not convinced. “Now, having come to know Dan slightly in the development process,” Verheiden continued, “I discovered that his first response to almost anything is ‘I hate it’. But the interesting thing is that while he does tend to start at a negative place, he’s willing to listen. Anyway, I guess that initial meeting went well enough, because after that we all decided to move forward.”
So Verheiden made more suggestions, and Dan said that he hated them all, and after a number of these pointless story conferences, Verheiden wrote his first draft, which was basically the 1991 show. And then that went straight into production, without any notes or a second draft. Peter Roth, the head of the WB, called Verheiden and said it was the best script he’d read all year. So here we are, doing 1991 again, with a slightly more sentient Vicki.
She walks through the pounding rain to a public phone, as the streetlights zap on and off irregularly with a worrying sizzle. She digs through her purse for change when
the light snazzles back on, terrifying Vicki into scattering her coins around the tri-county area. There’s no explanation for why the light fixtures are being such assholes; it’s just that the world hates Vicki and she is not hearing that message.
Scrambling to pick up a quarter, Vicki heads back to the phone under a blood-red sky when
there’s a tension sting and a friendly voice behind her says, “Miss Winters?”
She shrieks, whirls around, grabs the guy who approached her, knocks him back against a fence and screams, “Tell me you’re with the Collins estate!”
That is a psychotic reaction to a not very taxing situation, which might make you wonder how this could have been the best script of the year. In fact, this is a stripped-down version of the scripted scene, and they stripped the wrong parts.
As written, Vicki hears footsteps as she approaches the phone and asks, “Is someone there?” She hears laughter, then drops the coins, and then realizes that there’s someone standing silently behind her. She grabs the supposed stalker, pushes him up against the phones and says, “Who are you?” He says, “Willie Loomis,” and she realizes that she’s being crazy and eases up. Then she sighs, “Please tell me you’re from the Collins estate.”
That scene, as scripted, indicates that Vicki is jumpy and over-defensive, but at least gives her a reason to think that there might be some scary in the area. As it’s performed in the show, she’s responding to an ordinary personal greeting by going directly to DEFCON 3.
So this is probably an opportune time to introduce P.J. Hogan, the responsible party.
They originally hired Rob Bowman as the director; he’d directed a couple of episodes of the 1991 show, and then a bunch of X-Files. Bowman did the location scouting and most of the casting, and then he suddenly dropped out of the project. He’d been hired to direct Elektra, the failed 2005 sequel to the failed 2003 Daredevil movie. This was a few years before Iron Man and the ascension of the Marvel Cinematic Universe, but doing a comic book movie was still a pretty big deal, and Bowman could see where this Dark Shadows thing was headed, so he ankled over to Elektra, which also didn’t work out.
Left without a director a month before principal photography, Dan decided that he would direct the pilot himself, but the WB objected. Dan had already directed this story twice, in 1970 and 1991, and the network wanted someone with a fresher approach. Return to Collinwood says that there was “lengthy, heated discussion between Curtis, Wells and the WB”, which resulted in Dan pulling away from the project.
The WB settled on film director P.J. Hogan, who made the well-received 1994 film Muriel’s Wedding and the 1997 Julia Roberts hit My Best Friend’s Wedding, as well as the 2003 live-action Peter Pan, which got good reviews but failed at the box office.
It’s not clear to me why Hogan was the WB’s choice. With just a few weeks before shooting started, I would have imagined they’d want someone safe, with experience in directing for television — especially someone who’d directed for the WB, and understood the network’s style. It also would have been nice to have someone who’d ever heard of Dark Shadows.
In an interview for Dark Shadows Journal, makeup department head Todd McIntosh said, “In my first meeting with him he had no idea about the Dark Shadows history. He would say to me, ‘Now this Willie, he’s a vampire right?’ And I’d say, ‘No, he’s Barnabas’ thrall, and he’s human,’ and he’d say, ‘Well, Angelique, she’s a vampire?’ ‘No, she’s a witch.’ And on and on. He was simply unprepared.”
By all accounts, Hogan was more interested in setting up the overwrought lighting then he was in working with actors or getting scenes in the can, and the production fell behind. They had to keep making last-minute cuts in the script to keep the schedule, like cutting the first half of this Vicki/Willie meet-cute. That’s why the “finished” pilot presented to the WB execs was a rough edit, with a temporary music track and mostly-completed visual effects. Also, it’s terrible.
So I believe that we left things on, “Tell me you’re with the Collins estate!”
“It’s Collinwood,” says Willie, and — still shouting, and clutching his lapels — Vicki hollers, “What?”
“Oh, up here, they give all the really big spreads their own names, y’know? It’s like, uh, Xanadu, Taj Mahal, IHOP?” And then he giggles and adjusts his glasses, to indicate that that was a joke. She continues to glare at him, like he’s a creature that she’s never seen before.
“I’m Willie Loomis,” he explains. “And, uh… you’re wet.”
The casting was fraught, as well. Pierson says that “meetings with the WB revealed certain casting expectations that were not in line with what Curtis and the other producers envisioned.” In other words, the WB execs wanted hot people in every role, as per. The arguments about who should play Barnabas were apparently epic, so they had to build the first set of vampire prosthetics without him, and they didn’t cast Julia or Sheriff Patterson until after shooting had already started.
Marley Shelton is playing Vicki; she’d been in a bunch of TV shows in the 90s, and in 2001, she starred in the films Sugar & Spice and Bubble Boy, which I’m not familiar with.
Willie’s being played by Matt Czuchry, a handsome young actor who was definitely a WB choice. He had a supporting role in the WB show Young Americans and one episode of 7th Heaven, and right after he finishes playing Willie, he’s going straight to Gilmore Girls, where he’ll be a romantic lead for the next three seasons. He’s currently wearing glasses, sporting a mousy goatee, and speaking in a squeaky soprano, to disguise how cute he is.
Willie sings along with the radio, makes another goofy joke, and actually gets Vicki to smile at him, which in my opinion makes him likeable, although I’m aware that other Dark Shadows fans hold different views. For example, the Collinsport Historical Society wrote that “Matt Czuchry as Willie Loomis seems about as terrible a casting as you can make.” I disagree, but I can see where they’re coming from.
Willie was a comic relief character in the 1991 show, too, and it took several episodes for Jim Fyfe to settle into the role before I came to the conclusion that he was one of the best things on the show. Matt Czuchry is doing the same here, giving a goofy, hyperactive performance that only works if you think that he’s adorable, which I do. The WB and I share very similar opinions about cute boys.
The brief shot of the Old House flashes by super-fast, and you don’t realize what you’re looking at until it’s gone; next time maybe try establishing your main settings when you’re not driving through a pointless rainstorm. And then we get to Collinwood, which looks appropriately grand and spooky, with a set of wrought-iron gates that they’re apparently very proud of.
This is the Greystone estate in Beverly Hills, which they also used in the 1991 show. Some of it is CGI-enhanced, but I’m not sure which parts.
“At last, at last!” sings Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, rushing to greet the car. Vicki says, “Hi, I’m Victoria,” and Liz trills, “I know exactly who you are! Come in, come in, come in!”
Conducting Vicki out of the car and into her extremely red front entrance portal, Elizabeth sighs, “You’re so wet. Oh, I’m Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. We were getting so worried about you!”
This is Blair Brown, who starred in the 1980 psychedelic horror film Altered States, and was known for her leading role in the late-80s TV comedy-drama The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd. These days, people know her from Fringe and Orange Is the New Black.
She’s playing Elizabeth in a higher key than the more sedate versions from the original and 1991 shows, and very quickly establishes some warmth before Vicki starts meeting the other inmates.
Things are still pretty red in the foyer, as Vicki looks around at whatever features she can make out through the murk.
“Welcome to Collinwood!” Liz announces.
Vicki looks around. “Wow, it’s beautiful!” she gushes. “But you probably get that a lot.”
“We do, and it is,” Liz agrees, contented.
“And like most beautiful things,” says a tired male voice from the balcony, “it’s a bitch to maintain.”
This is Martin Donovan playing Roger, who appeared in a bunch of Hal Hartley films and was mostly known for dark comedies like Trust, Surviving Desire and The Opposite of Sex. He’s playing Roger with a tired seen-it drawl, and a glass of brandy. The brandy does most of the work in this scene.
“Roger Collins,” Vicki identifies. “I saw your picture in last month’s Forbes.”
“I’m impressed,” he says grandly, shaking her hand. “With you, not the article.” She kind of simpers at him.
“Excuse me!” Willie pushes his way through the group, carrying Vicki’s bags. This gives Roger an opportunity to sneer at the servants, and Collinsport, and things in general. He’s a committed sneerer.
There’s a brief mention of “Miss Loomis”, aka Sophia, who’s Willie’s sister and a servant in the house. She’s played by Jenna Dewan, who at the time had been in basically nothing, but is now well-known for marrying Channing Tatum and being sexy. Her breakthrough role was in 2006, with the movie Step Up, and since then she’s appeared in American Horror Story, Witches of East End and Supergirl, and she hosted World of Dance for two seasons.
She’s almost not in this show at all — they cut her one real scene with Willie, where he suggested that Sophia and Roger were having an affair, and she acted annoyed. We didn’t miss much.
Roger tells Sophia to show Vicki to her room, but Vicki isn’t done being plucky yet.
“If David’s still awake,” she perks, “I’d love to meet him. The sooner he learns to trust me, the better.” She hasn’t taken her coat off yet; this is shaping up to be a pretty moist meeting. Just past her shoulder, we observe young Jenna Dewan, making an acting choice.
Liz is utterly delighted by the suggestion, Roger less so.
“I applaud your enthusiasm,” he says, “but it’s late, and I just opened a very good brandy. We’ll discuss my son’s lesson plan over breakfast?”
Vicki receives this reasonable reply by indicating a horrified contempt that would be appropriate for witnessing a minor sexual assault. She holds this expression for five long seconds. Apparently the Forbes article has worn off.
The next scene is in Willie’s apartment in the gatehouse, where we’re introduced to Kelly, who’s played by Alexis Thorpe, a soap actress who’d appeared on The Young and the Restless and Days of Our Lives.
According to the script, she’s supposed to be wearing a “Miskatonic U. belly shirt”, which is a Lovecraft reference, except that she’s not, not that you could tell if she was, because everything is so fucking red.
So here’s the universe’s six-word capsule review of the pilot: Why is everything so fucking red?
We’ve seen a lot of this blood-red lighting in the previous scenes, but this is the first one where it’s so overwhelming that it’s actively fighting against what’s happening in the scene. This is a comedy seduction heist setup, where Kelly’s going to get Willie all horned up and then recruit him for a grave robbing expedition. It’s got a dark undertone, obviously, because of the grave robbing, but still, that doesn’t warrant this level of metaphorical hellfire.
The red lighting doesn’t make the scene look more sophisticated, or more cinematic, or more scary. It just makes it hard to see the characters’ faces, for no reason other than an irrational commitment to a half-baked stylistic choice.
For Hogan, the style is inspired by Dario Argento’s 1977 horror film Suspiria, in which an American ballet student named Suzy discovers that her German dance academy is run by a sinister and barely-secret coven of evil witches, who violently murder everybody that she encounters, and attack her with maggots and bats and knives.
Despite the near-constant warnings to go back where she came from that she receives from everyone she meets, Suzy sticks around and continues to investigate the string of not-very-mysterious deaths until she unmasks the directress of the school, who tries to murder her using the reanimated corpse of Suzy’s friend. Suzy murders the directress instead, and the school is consumed in flames as our heroine watches and laughs. It is not a subtle film.
Suspiria is considered a classic of horror, which is why P.J. Hogan — who had never directed a horror film, and was under the mistaken impression that Dark Shadows was supposed to be horror — decided to copy this style, and light everything in this rosy glow.
It’s pretty obvious to everyone with eyeballs that this extreme style should only be used by lunatic Italian directors who are making a movie in which almost every character is brutally murdered on-screen using knives, German shepherds and razor wire. It is designed to indicate that the characters are living in an inescapable radioactive hellscape. It is not appropriate for a sexy WB makeout scene.
In Fangoria, Verheiden said that he had mixed feelings about the color scheme. “I can only speak for myself,” he said, “but while on the one hand it was exciting to have such a stylized look, it was also nerve-wracking, because the Argento style can be emotionally distancing. It’s so extreme that you may not invest in the characters. That said, it was distinctive, and with network television you really want something on the air that, when you’re clicking channels, makes you go ‘whoa!'” Woe indeed.
So here we are in Willie Loomis’ first sex scene in 37 years, with a super hot Willie and his gorgeous girlfriend, which we cannot actually see or enjoy. The director is basically telling the audience to go to hell, where we already are.
Anyway, the grave robbing. While they’re entangled, Willie asks Kelly about the stack of paper scattered all over the bed that we can’t see, and she says that “it’s from Stokes”, which doesn’t tell us much. Willie asks if that’s “the freak with the beret”, and she says “bowtie”, and that is what we’re allowed to know about Stokes.
“But he has some pretty wild theories about the Collins family,” she says as she sits up, launching Willie off of the bed and onto the floor, sexytime over.
She poses on the edge of the bed. “If Professor Stokes is right,” she breathes, “the Collins family stashed away a fortune in gold just after the Revolutionary War, their own early-American hedge fund.”
Willie mutters that they probably spent it, but Kelly smiles. “Maybe not. A couple of months ago, Stokes asked me to index the oldest Collins correspondence, and I found some coded entries.”
Willie makes a face and mimics Kelly’s excited babbling with his unflattering goatee, because we’re still trying to pretend he’s not gorgeous.
“Pretty simple 1 equals A stuff,” she continues. She’s talking about the codes. “But Stokes could have missed it. Don’t you get it? If I’m right, the gold is hidden on the grounds, in the family mausoleum.” He gets it.
“And you want to go, tonight,” he says. She smiles, in a way that makes it clear that you would do pretty much anything this girl wanted you to do, up to and including defiling a grave. Fair enough.
And then we go back to Vicki, fast asleep in her chamber at the prestigious German dance academy.
She wakes to a peculiar musique concréte mash-up of portentous sound effects, including running water, a kettle drum strike, a dog howl, a chiming clock, a ghostly female intake of breath and some spooky violin scales. It’s basically a mixture of every possible horror sound except for that metal-swoosh that you hear every time somebody in a movie picks up a knife, and the only one of those sounds that’s actually justified by the scene is the running water.
Warily, she gets out of bed and opens her bathroom door, revealing what appears to be an overflowing king-size punchbowl of blood, punctuated on the soundtrack with several spasms from an unhappy brass section. She gingerly approaches the tub and draws back the shower curtain, leading to the following unsettling series of images.
So that, I have to say, is pretty effective at getting their point across. A young boy lying under the surface of the water and then popping up to shriek I HOPE YOU DIE! and lighting out for the territories is a compelling way to express the current relationship status between tutor and tutee. It is not a pleasant sequence, but it gets the job done, if you ignore the terrible lighting. And now we have our second likeable character.
We get a very speedy run-through of David’s bedroom, which is always a matter of interest, but this time there don’t appear to be any robots, kites, sailboats or posters for psychedelic rock concerts. The only real scenic attractions are a big red toy sportscar, and a bedside lamp with a figure of an elephant wearing pants and a bowtie.
Meanwhile, there’s some kind of a power struggle going on, where Vicki is trying to impress upon her young charge that terrifying pranks are not going to be a regular feature of their working relationship.
It’s a pretty good scene, and expresses Vicki’s courage and commitment to her pointless job, but seriously, all I can see is that elephant lamp. This is a super rich kid with a temper and a weird sense of humor; that elephant wouldn’t last five minutes. This set should be crawling with robots. Sometimes I think that people just don’t understand television.
Next up, we’ve got Willie and Kelly tiptoeing through the cemetery; we’re currently ten minutes into a thirty-nine minute experience, and we’ve got to get that vampire unboxed.
Kelly: Abandon all hope, ye who enter here.
Willie: What’s that, Aerosmith?
Kelly: Dante. It’s the inscription on the entrance to Hell.
And then they look at the mausoleum. If this was the best script that Peter Roth read all year, then 2004 must have been spectacularly grim. Just think, Joss Whedon used to run this place.
Once they’re in, Willie starts squeaking and moaning nervously. “Downstairs, why does it always have to be downstairs?” he groans, and then emits a series of strangled chuckles to indicate that he’s frightened. These start out as acceptable and go downhill. This is literally a thing that Shaggy does on Scooby-Doo.
But, I have to give respect for this:
Willie: Knock, knock.
Kelly: Who’s there?
Willie: Hopefully, no one.
Okay, it’s stupid, it’s Shaggy-quality, but it is the only legitimately funny joke in the entire pilot, and it needs to be acknowledged.
Then they start examining the decor, and do a little routine about “the lion watches the dove”, which is a reference to the poem that Willie uses to find Barnabas in House of Dark Shadows and 1991. It doesn’t make a lot of sense without saying the poem first, but at this point, that is not an issue that I need to engage with.
And then we’re in! Willie says, “Are you sure we should be doing this?” and Kelly snaps, “Less talk, more crowbar!” and ladies and gentlemen, we are cracking open the mystery box.
The gold isn’t there, of course; it’s just a sad dead guy, played by Doug Jones because they hired Alec Newman too late to make the prosthetics for him.
Here’s Todd McIntosh, with another complaint: “I told the director and D.P. that using amber light on prosthetics made them go gray and look like cardboard. I told them this because I anticipated torchlight in the tomb sequence and I wanted them to be prepared — however, this backfired. They lit the prosthetics with so much light that you saw them too clearly and lost the shock value.” So that’s the explanation for that.
A lot happens at this point. Disappointed not to find the gold, Kelly tells Willie to go search the walls, while she checks the coffin for more clues. She’s got a lion/dove related cut on her hand that they didn’t really establish very well, and now we see some blood dripping from her cut…
onto the face of the well-lit corpse.
Willie finds a panel on the wall, and Kelly moves closer to see what’s he found, while the creature opens its eyes and takes a breath.
Willie grabs for his crowbar, and a gnarled hand grasps his wrist, and then there’s a nice moment of Willie looking up and catching the monster’s eyes.
And then, just to add that touch of the ridiculous that every important Dark Shadows sequence needs: Kelly opens the wall panel, and a shower of gold coins spill out all over the floor, like it’s a Las Vegas slot machine. They’ve apparently bust into Uncle Scrooge’s money bin; it is not clear how the Collinses managed to get the door closed on a fountain of loose gold in the first place.
Anyway, the creature holds Willie by the neck and shoves him down on the treasure-strewn floor…
while holding Kelly up at the ceiling with his other hand.
Willie struggles helplessly, we get a nice clear shot of the fangs…
So I’m going to go ahead and say that this sequence is pretty effective. They decided to go beyond the traditional Barnabas-grabs-Willie’s-throat, which I recognize and applaud.
Having both Willie and Kelly in the crypt means that they can cajole and reassure each other, having some human moments just before it all goes wrong, and Willie helplessly witnessing Kelly’s destruction gives more texture to the scene. In addition, there’s a clear purpose for each shot, the music works as intended, the monster work is skillful, and the makeup/CGI treatment on Kelly’s face as she’s drained of blood is surprising and well-executed. The Scrooge McDuck shower of gold is silly, and Willie being framed by the coins hits you over the head with symbolism, but I like silly theatrical moments and it works for me.
Barnabas waking up is the one sequence that they really had to nail, and I’m glad to say, I think they nailed it. Don’t get used to it; things get worse immediately.
Because now we get Vicki’s introduction to Carolyn, who’s lurking alone in a dark hallway in a huge mansion in the middle of the night, just in case an insomniac governess happens by. Carolyn is sitting there in the dark on an occasional couch, apparently waiting for just this occasion.
After they shake hands and trade names, Vicki sits down and breaks the ice with, “So how do you deal with two hundred rooms?”
Carolyn sighs. “First, you close about a hundred and sixty of ’em. Then you do what you can to make the other forty feel somethin’ like a home.” It’s not a very good line, but at least she doesn’t deliver it well.
This is Jessica Chastain, by the way, just sitting here on the casting couch and waiting for a better role. This would have been her television debut, if it was broadcast on television.
She spent the next few years doing guest spots on ER and Veronica Mars, and then debuted on film in Jolene in 2008. Her big breakthrough was 2011 with The Help, and then 2012’s Zero Dark Thirty, and that’s when the Academy Awards nominations and Golden Globes started rolling in. Don’t worry about Jessica Chastain. She’ll be fine.
We’re more than 45 seconds into a Vicki scene and she hasn’t had a chance to be judgmental yet, so Carolyn says, “So, how much did they tell you about David?” and she hits the last word with a huge eyeroll and two devil horns.
There’s a shot of Vicki looking uncomfortable, as Carolyn adds “and his imaginary friend, Sarah” in post-production.
Then she leans in close and flashes this particular crazyface grin, cooing, “I hope I’m not scaring you.” That hope is not fulfilled.
Back to Vicki, as Carolyn continues, “One time, David drained all the blood from a squirrel.”
And then she breaks into a lunatic giggle. I’ll say this for Carolyn, she’s easy to talk to.
Vicki frowns, and says, “He’s a little boy, not the bogeyman.” Which is true, but he still drained the blood out of a squirrel, and you can’t little boy your way out of that one.
In the script, this played out way differently. For one thing, the scene happened much earlier in the show. Before they started chopping things out of the script with gardening shears, the order of scenes went like this:
Great Hall: Vicki meets Liz and Roger; Sophia shows Vicki to her room.
Kitchen: Scene with Willie and Sophia. (Cut from the episode.)
Vicki’s bedroom: Carolyn introduces herself to Vicki, and they have a not-insane version of this conversation. (Moved to later in the episode.)
Willie’s apartment: Kelly recruits Willie for grave robbing.
Joe’s boat: Carolyn fools around with Joe. (Moved to later in the episode.)
Cemetery/mausoleum: Willie and Kelly unbox Barnabas. End of Act One.
Vicki’s room/bathroom/David’s room: David plays his bathtub prank on Vicki.
Blue Whale: Carolyn stops by, and has a scene with Sam and Maggie. (Cut from the episode.)
Outside: Carolyn is attacked by the vampire.
So they moved the drowning David scene to the spot between Willie’s sex scene and the cemetery, which is fine, and then they moved all the Carolyn scenes to Act Two, running three in a row, which doesn’t work.
As scripted, the Vicki/Carolyn intro scene didn’t start with Carolyn lurking in the hallway in the middle of the night. She went to Vicki’s bedroom and introduced herself, like a person. The scripted scene was way more chatty, and less of a steep decline into madness.
Truth is, if you’re prone to cabin fever,
you’ve come to exactly
the wrong place.
I’ve never been big on crowds.
Anyway, fewer distractions just means
I can spend more time with David.
How much did they tell you about him?
Only that he’s troubled, and runs through tutors
like most kids run through socks.
At least they were honest.
I read his psych evaluation on the trip up.
According to his shrink, he’s hyperactive,
suffers from A.D.D….
Trust me, David’s problems go deeper
than some Portland doctor’s psychobabble.
(stops, realizing she may have said too much)
… and I hope I’m not scaring you.
That’s it — no mention of David’s imaginary friend, no devil horns and a total absence of squirrels, full or empty. I don’t know how that perfectly nice scene got warped into this nightmare encounter. I guess they wanted to amp up the eerieness, at the expense of Carolyn’s sanity.
Carolyn says she’s going downtown, and as she walks away, Vicki gets a nice long close-up so that she can roll her eyes and heave an exaggerated sigh. The friend has not been made.
And then we’re on a boat! With no warning, the scene suddenly shifts to the waterfront, and we hear happy makeout sounds as we move inside and see:
Oh, it’s Carolyn again somehow. She’s suddenly downtown on a boat, in a bed, with her clothes off, kissing a hunky dude all over the side of his face.
You wouldn’t know this from watching the scene, but this is a character on the show whose name is Joe Haskell, and he’s a fisherman who apparently sleeps on his boat. They’ve cut about fifty percent out of this scene, including all of the information about who the hell this is supposed to be.
The part is played by Jason Shaw, who had recurring roles on Third Watch and Charmed, but he was mostly a model, as if you couldn’t tell. He worked with Versace, Tommy Hilfiger and Karl Lagerfeld, and if you do an image search for “jason shaw model”, you will see a wide selection of his work. I recommend that you do this.
So this is another WB casting special, obviously, which is easy on the optics but kind of detracts from the “wrong side of the tracks” romance that they would have been going for, if they’d kept the half of the dialogue that referred to him being from the wrong side of the tracks. This is the rich girl playing with an honest townie’s heart, except the impoverished townie is manifestly red-carpet arm candy, and the rich girl is a mental patient.
He’s also on a first-name basis with the richest people in town, at one point reassuring Carolyn, “Elizabeth is tougher than you think,” so if anyone was hoping for a little class-war conflict from this direction then you are out of luck.
Carolyn ends the scene by saying “I’d better get back,” and then she leaves. She just got here.
In the script, there’s another scene at this point, with Carolyn stopping by the Blue Whale and talking to Sam and Maggie, the point of which was to inform you that there are characters on this show called Sam and Maggie. As far as I know, this was cut before filming, probably because they had a hard enough time casting all the people that they actually used.
There are twelve regular characters introduced in this thirty-nine minutes of television, not counting the recently-departed Kelly, and the script also had parts for Maggie, Sam and Sarah. Dan wanted to introduce Stokes, too, until Verheiden made him take all the extra people out.
And then there’s the Jessica Chastain’s Wonderful World of Color sequence, which is baffling and terrible on such an advanced level that I’m not sure I can really do it justice. Carolyn leaves the boat, I guess, and is now walking to her car, which is in an area that does not appear to be near the water at all.
The building is in a blue area and the car is in a red area, and now Carolyn is walking through a green area. There’s no symbolic meaning to the different colors that I can figure. They appear to be randomly scattered through the scene, and if you’re in a green place then everything is green, and if you’re in a red place then everything is red, like it’s Quadling Country from The Wizard of Oz.
Carolyn was green when she looked behind her, but now we’re on the other side of her, and she’s red now. That is currently how television works. It’s unclear why she stops and turns around, but she does. The one notable feature is that there’s some toilet paper wound around a few of the trees, because as Vicki mentioned at the top of the show, this takes place on Halloween.
That’s relevant, apparently, because Carolyn turns back around and says, “Looks like Halloween’s over.” I don’t know why she says this.
Then there are a bunch of different film clips showing different angles of the same general incident, edited together one after the other, as someone would if they were trying to portray some kind of audiovisual narrative.
We see Green Carolyn continuing to move toward the car, as a leaf falls from one of the trees.
Then we see Red Carolyn looking down.
And then a shot of a leaf, settling on the ground.
And then Red Carolyn as seen from below, framed in an awkward Chromakey shot over another shot of a tree.
Then a shot of Carolyn looking up.
And then another shot from much higher up, which appears to be another shot of Carolyn, but probably isn’t because where’s the car.
Now we’re looking up again at Carolyn against the trees, with a mysterious black shape in the frame.
And then back and forth for a couple more shots of Carolyn looking up, and the mysterious black shape.
Carolyn shakes her head and moves out of frame, and then the mysterious black shape moves across the screen.
Now, the naive observer might imagine that these consecutive shots have been arranged to tell some kind of story, but obviously that can’t be the case.
Because the story would be that Carolyn is walking to her car, sees a leaf fall to the ground, and then looks up suspiciously to see if something is up in the branches that made the leaf fall.
Except they just made a point of reminding us that it’s Halloween, and a leaf falling from a tree would not be a stimulus that would lead a person to stop and look up at mysterious black shapes in the branches. It’s autumn. Leaves fall. Open the door and get into your car.
But then there’s a huge electric guitar noise as arms appear to reach down all the way from the high branches to grab Carolyn and she shrieks as her body is hoisted upwards
and then we see her screaming face as lights and shadows pass by as if she’s being lifted up through tree branches
and then a blurry shot of a monster face
and then the car again, with a little shower of leaves, I guess, as they sprinkle down from the boughs above.
Which I guess is meant to convey that there’s a mysterious black shape high up in the trees that can stretch its arms like Plastic Man all the way down to the ground, and grab a woman with both hands — at this point I guess it’s hanging by its feet? — and somehow it can pull her body up, wrapping its legs around a limb for leverage as the bungee-cord stretch of its magical elastic arms hoists her all the way up into the sky.
I am sitting here trying to picture the logistics of that encounter, and I just can’t get my head around it at all. This may involve several monsters, working as a team.
And then a hard object — I guess her purse? — falls onto the car with a thump, and the car alarm goes off, because of comedy. And it is all just depressing and inept.
In the script, there’s one more piece of this sequence that they didn’t film:
INT. GRIFFIN’S GARAGE – NIGHT
A repair bay, crowded with tools. Looking up from the floor, there’s a glass SKYLIGHT with a view of the tree overhead. In EERIE SLOW-MOTION,
CAROLYN’S UNCONSCIOUS BODY
falls out of the darkness, CRASHING THROUGH THE SKYLIGHT to the floor below. OFF CAROLYN’S BLOODIED BODY, sprawled on the floor amidst glistening shards of glass…
which it’s good that they didn’t include, because where would this garage possibly be, that it’s directly under the tree that already has a car parked directly under it? How much area is this tree responsible for? And since when do garages have glass skylights?
And then there’s supposed to be another scene here, which they didn’t film because they ran out of time setting up all the different colored lights in that Carolyn sequence.
This would have shown the vampire returning to the mausoleum, now in somewhat better shape because he just drank three people and an undetermined number of cows. Willie is on the ground, semi-conscious, and he moans as he watches the vampire scoop up some of the treasure. Then the first rays of the sun stream through from the upper floor, and the vampire slams the door shut, locking himself in with Willie.
They designed a whole other set of prosthetics to fit Alec Newman, and this would represent some kind of interim stage before he looks fully human again. They had Newman all made up and ready to go for both of the last two days of filming, but they never got around to shooting this scene.
I’ve seen several people talk about what a big shame it is that this scene wasn’t included, but honestly, it seems like a lot of fuss for a scene that only has Willie moaning and saying “No, please… no.” That is not the word that I want to hear this version of Willie say.
The next morning, Vicki joins Elizabeth at the breakfast table, and she’s all business. “I could use some more background on David,” she says, and observes that there’s nothing in his medical file about what happened to the boy’s mother. Visibly uncomfortable, Liz says that David’s mother was institutionalized a few years ago, and they’re not sure what David remembers.
Vicki pauses to think of an appropriately sympathetic thing to say, and lands on, “Did you really think not talking about it would make it go away?” This is literally the tenth sentence that she has ever said to her employer.
Then Sophia breaks in with the news that Carolyn is in the hospital, sparing everyone, including Vicki, from the burden of another conversation with Vicki.
So Ed Griffin opened his garage/observatory this morning, and discovered that a mostly-dead heiress had been dropped off for repairs. Now Carolyn is unconscious on a gurney, and they’re doing a lot of urgent doctor-related things to her and around her, as is typical of televised medical care. The family crashes through a double door, and then the medical team crashes through a double door right back, and Carolyn is hurried away to somewhere else. They say that she was injured in a fall, which is true but buries the lead a bit.
By the way, I’ve seen a couple people online being aggressively agitated over the fact that Elizabeth leaves the house and goes to the hospital. Please do not post about this in the comments; it’s madness. They’re not using the “recluse Elizabeth” subplot in this pilot, and they are entirely within their rights in this matter. Don’t act disappointed with this non-error, when there are so many other valid reasons to be disappointed with this show.
And here’s some more characters! The guy on the right is the latest in a long line of Sheriff Pattersons; I believe this one is number 7. He does what every Sheriff on Dark Shadows does, particularly the Pattersons, which is to ask some questions, look puzzled and not provide much in the way of story progression.
He’s played by Michael D. Roberts, who played “Rooster” on Baretta in the late 70s. He was also in the regular cast of Manimal, a 1983 action show about a guy who could turn into animals to fight crime; Roberts played the guy who didn’t turn into animals. He had a second-banana role in the 1984 science-fiction film The Ice Pirates, and then a whole bunch of television guest spots, including MacGyver, Friends, Beverly Hills 90210 and Seinfeld. You’ve probably seen him before.
On the left, we have the new Dr. Julia Hoffman, mythopoetic trickster-figure and the best character in fiction. It took them a while to cast Julia, because the WB wanted a pretty young woman for the role, and Dan probably wanted to cast Barbara Steele again. They settled on Kelly Hu, a former fashion model and beauty queen who had a regular role in the late 90s on soap opera Sunset Beach and crime drama Nash Bridges. At this point, she’d recently appeared as Lady Deathstrike in X2: X-Men United.
Julia doesn’t get a lot of attention in the pilot, just two short scenes; obviously, the plan was to connect her to Barnabas in a future episode. She basically plays it like a TV drama doctor who’s found something unusual, rather than the deeply eccentric New York theater actor who originated the role.
In the scene, she tells Patterson and Roger that there are bite marks on Carolyn’s throat, and there’s an odd deviation from the script that needs some examination. Here’s the scene as scripted:
I had animal control out all night
looking for tracks, but so far
they’ve found squat.
I’m not surprised.
I got the results back on the swabs
I took from Carolyn’s wound.
(knows this is crazy)
The saliva tests out human.
Meaning what? We’re looking for
some kind of “vampire”?
It’s not as crazy as it sounds.
Blood obsessions are fairly common
in the medical literature.
You’re suggesting someone drank
Look, I’m open to alternatives.
But when Carolyn came in, she’d
lost over 50% of her blood volume,
and you said yourself there wasn’t
much spatter at the scene.
It’s a hell of a theory.
Maybe. But those bite marks are
anything but theoretical.
And here’s how it turned out in the pilot:
Patterson: I’ve had animal control out all night looking for tracks. So far they haven’t found diddly-squat.
Roger: Tracks? Fall? What the hell is going on, Julia?
Julia: It gets stranger. I got the results back from the swabs I took from Carolyn’s wound. The saliva tests out human.
(Roger, Joe and Patterson stare at her.)
Roger: You’re joking.
Julia: It’s not as crazy as it sounds. Blood obsessions are fairly common in the medical literature.
Patterson: Blood obsessions? (chuckles, then stops when he catches Roger’s eye) That’s a hell of a theory, doc.
Julia: Look, I am open to alternatives. But when Carolyn came in here, she had lost over fifty percent of her total blood volume. And those bite marks on her neck are anything but theoretical.
(Julia walks away. The three guys look puzzled.)
So they took out all of Patterson’s references to vampires and drinking blood, and Julia’s mention of blood spatter, but kept all of her other lines basically intact.
The effect of this is that it’s not quite clear what she’s reacting to. She says the saliva “tests out human”, whatever that means, and then jumps to how common “blood obsessions” are, whatever that means. Neither Patterson or Julia mention that they didn’t find much blood at the scene, so Julia saying “she lost over 50% of her total blood volume” doesn’t really connect to anything; it just sounds like she bled a lot.
Also, can somebody actually lose more than fifty percent of their total blood volume, and still qualify as alive? If that’s true, then it seems like we’re all carrying around a lot of extra blood in our bodies for no reason. Who needs all this blood volume? Sounds to me like blood has been getting a free ride for a long time, and I’m glad Julia’s on the case.
But never mind that; we’re now halfway through the pilot, and it’s time for the all-singing all-dancing introduction of the main character of the show, appearing live in human form for the very first time on our stage. Fifteen seconds to curtain, Mr. Collins!
Now, you may think you’ve seen red before, but get a load of the weather conditions outside Collinwood tonight. Opening the doors, Sophia finds his satanic majesty standing on the porch, bathed in crimson. The silhouette turns and walks toward the camera, and then
we’re in the drawing room, standing to the immediate rear of the new arrival. Liz and Roger each get their moment for a refined spit-take, and then
we get a two-second glimpse of a previously unestablished portrait as seen from below, and then
the new arrival says, “I’m Barnabas Collins,” and arranges its visage into a cramped smile.
Now, this is a thing that bothered me in House of Dark Shadows, and in the 1991 show. They want to make a big deal about how much Barnabas looks like the portrait, but they didn’t bother to show the portrait on screen until after he walks in the door, and even then, they only showed it for a couple seconds and from an uncomfortable angle.
There is only one way to get any drama or even basic televisual sense out of this plot point, and that’s to put the portrait and the guy in the same frame, and hold it there for long enough to register. But Dan screwed it up two times out of three, which makes you wonder.
To P.J. Hogan’s credit, a phrase that I don’t often use, he does manage to give us enough time to understand the dynamics, although the staging requires a dizzyingly stupid camera angle that could have easily been solved if anyone cared about what anything looks like that isn’t cherry-apple red. My guess is that Hogan said, do we still have those red floodlights? and the lighting department said you know what, I think we forgot to bring those today, and Hogan said well screw it, just put the camera wherever you want, I’m going to go and sulk under a stoplight for the rest of the day.
Then they went and found some more red lights, and Hogan said thank you, now I can shoot the rest of the scene.
So this, for the next seventeen minutes of your life, is the new Barnabas Collins. He’s played by Alec Newman, who starred in the Sci Fi Channel’s 2000 miniseries Dune and its 2003 sequel Children of Dune. In 2004, he also appeared on the WB in an episode of Angel and on UPN in a few episodes of Star Trek: Enterprise, so he wasn’t that far from home.
This was the real casting battle, and I wish I knew more about how that played out. Jim Pierson said, “There was a feeling at the network that he wasn’t enough of a soap stud, but I don’t think that the WB completely understood the appeal of the show or the essence of the character.” I don’t know if Newman was the producers’ first choice, or if this was the compromise. If anybody knows anything else about this casting battle, please write it in the comments; I am anxious to hear your fifteen-year-old Hollywood gossip.
Newman is a handsome guy, but as far as I can tell from a Google Image search, I think he’s looked better in everything else he’s ever been in. Partly it’s the hairstyle, a shoulder-length mini-mane that appears to be fighting him for control, and partly it’s the fucking red lighting that makes everyone look washed-out and useless.
Still, he’s got a strong presence, this bogus cousin from England, and he holds the attention. They’ve lined up Liz and Roger on one side of the coffee table, where they stand essentially motionless, while Barnabas gets to act and move around and have interesting facial expressions.
They do a little moment when Barnabas says that he tried to get in touch before coming, but couldn’t because apparently there was some kind of family emergency, which doesn’t make sense as an excuse because it implies that he made the decision to fly over from England and visit his long-lost relatives sometime this morning.
Elizabeth explains that her daughter Carolyn was bitten by some kind of animal, and Barnabas has a moment that might be the uncomfortable realization that the woman he fed on was a Collins, which doesn’t make sense as a plot point, because if he didn’t know about that, then how did he know there was a family emergency.
There’s a lot about this scene that doesn’t make sense, mostly the lighting. I don’t want to keep harping on it, but it really is getting to me by now. You just don’t see dreadful mistakes like this on television very often, because usually the show isn’t picked up, and the director is taken out to the barn and painlessly killed. I’m not used to it.
There is a nice little visual flourish in this scene, when Barnabas looks hungrily up at the wall and says, “After so many years in England, I’ve decided it’s time to reclaim my…” — and then he turns around, and the camera swoops around him and ducks down a bit, to frame him against a display of hunting trophies as he concludes, “… heritage.” It’s pretty cute, and they clearly put some work into getting it right, so it’s a shame that the lighting is so bad that you can’t really see his face, or the trophies.
“I’d like to restore the old manor house,” he says, and Roger says something about money, and Barnabas smiles, saying that “cost is of no consequence,” because he’s got a Las Vegas mausoleum money bin.
And then they decide that sound works differently in Collinwood, because David dopplers around the corner, screaming “no no No NO NO!” on account of he heard Barnabas whisper something about the old manor house from down the hall and across county lines.
Vicki appears behind David, and there’s a nice little moment where she and Barnabas are both thunderstruck by the sight of each other’s pretty face. Vicki stammers out, “H-have we met?” and Barnabas murmurs, “I would have remembered,” and yeah, he nails it. Cool, now we have a Barnabas.
One establishing shot of the moon over Collinwood later, we find Vicki fast asleep in the Moulin Rouge, with Barnabas waving his hand directly over her face.
“Josette…” whispers Barnabas, “you’ve come back to me.” Barnabas has a beard now, which he apparently grew while Vicki was brushing her teeth. I don’t understand how that could have happened, and the show has no interest in letting us in on that particular choice. It doesn’t have any symbolic or plot value, it doesn’t make the scene better, and it’s not the haircut that this version of Barnabas desperately needs. It’s just happening in front of you and that’s all there is to it.
Todd McIntosh, the head of makeup, mentioned this moment in his Dark Shadows Journal interview: “Hogan was simply unprepared. As we got into filming he would okay Barnabas with a beard shadow, for example, and when the notes came back from the dailies that the producers hated it, he didn’t bother to re-shoot the scene!”
I’m starting to think that Hogan actively despised working on Dark Shadows, and honestly didn’t care what happened to it. He’s not the only problem with this pilot by a long shot, but he’s first in line.
There’s a tight close-up on Vicki’s neck, with a soft heartbeat-pulse and the suggestion that you can see Vicki’s jugular vein actually pulsing with warm, delicious blood.
And then a thirsty Barnabas, pretending for a split second that this isn’t exactly what he came here for.
He strokes on her vein for a moment, to establish his passionate longing for the oncoming fantasy-metaphor rape.
Then he whispers “Forgive me,” which fixes everything. He’s known this woman for about forty seconds so far.
In the script, this scene takes place on the balcony, with Vicki in a nightgown and Barnabas watching her from the shadows. He bares his fangs as a little girl appears behind him and tells him not to hurt her. “I can’t help myself,” he lies. “The rage devours me…” and the little girl tells him to get ahold of himself, which he does, reluctantly. But the pilot has no time for character development.
Instead, he bares his fangs, the red side of his face symbolically at war with the blue side of his face, and is about to dig in when he suddenly stops and shrieks out loud
and Vicki wakes up from what it turns out was apparently a dream.
She gets up and walks out onto the balcony for a moment, and as she turns to go back,
we see Barnabas Collins, the Spectacular Spider-Man, stuck to the wall above the balcony.
Looking tortured and Byronic, he whispers, “Josette…”
and then he shuts his eyes and a single tear of blood rolls down his cheek. And that’s how you do the worst possible version of that scene.
Then there’s a little montage of dead girl parts, as the police pull Kelly’s body out of the water.
And Julia, who is I guess a forensic crime scene investigator as well as an emergency-room doctor and saliva expert, says “Just like Carolyn Stoddard” and barely hides a secret little smile, and that sets up whatever’s supposed to happen in episode two.
And back to Collinwood, where it’s night again, because time is folding in on itself and I’m still writing about this pilot.
Young David Collins is awakened in the night by a spectral woman’s voice just off camera saying, “David! Help me!” He assumes it’s his mom calling from beyond the grave, because once again they’ve decided to introduce both Angelique and Laura in the same episode, and even the characters can’t keep track.
Following her voice — David, help me, she calls — David slips out of the house in his pajamas and runs through a decaying, disused cemetery, with old gravestones scattered in random patterns across what I guess is Collinwood’s backyard.
He pulls up short when he gets to the edge of what is apparently an overgrown mossy swamp. He doesn’t want to go further, but she yells, David! Come to me! so he does.
And here we are, with David Collins in his pjs, making his way across soggy swampland to locate his dearly departed.
Now, we all know that Collinwood has a swamp in the back pasture, because we’ve seen it in the 1968 Dark Shadows board game, and it plays a major role in the 1969 Paperback Library book Barnabas Collins Versus the Warlock.
And here it is, on television and now officially part of the Dark Shadows canon. The great estate at Collinwood includes an old graveyard and a swamp. Now you know.
The voice leads David to a patch of dry ground with the handle of a knife sticking out of it, and the dead lady says It’s so dark! so the boy starts brushing the dirt away with his hands.
And there, under about half an inch of loose soil, is a human skeleton. He should keep digging; they’ve probably got a whole Halloween Express down there.
The voice continues, It’s hurting me, David!, so the boy plucks the dagger out of the ground, simultaneously becoming rightwise king of all England, and releasing another dangerous predator from its really not very well-guarded prison.
I think that this is an issue worth raising: if you’re going to go and enact a magic ritual that imprisons a dangerous soap-vixen malefactress so that she doesn’t roam the earth destroying all she touches with her insatiable hunger for melodrama, then don’t bury the body at ground level, close enough to the house that it can be found by a child who’s not even wearing shoes. Also, don’t have the whole protection spell hinge on somebody picking up what looks like a pretty appealing dagger with their bare hands. Maybe, I don’t know, cover the thing with a big rock, or put chains around it, or something. Put up a sign, at least. This is not an effective security system; the Russians would hack this in a hot second.
So, yeah, now we’ve got one of these; a beautiful dead woman floating a couple inches off the turf, hair flowing in the breeze like it’s a Pantene Pro-V commercial.
“You’re not my mother!” David says, but obviously she is; you’ve spent the last two minutes of airtime establishing that, plus the Vicki/Liz breakfast scene. There’s only one mystery woman who’s been mentioned on the show so far. Nobody’s mentioned a witch or a curse or anything.
This is a prime example of Chekhov’s gun, mounted on the wall nine minutes ago, and going off exactly now. Basic televisual literacy says that this woman is David’s mother, and he’s only saying “not the mama” because she’s dead, and not like the mother that he used to know.
He asks if she’s alive, and the pteranodon says, “Not the way you think, my little angel,” because she’s obviously his mother. Nobody’s established that there’s a character whose name starts with “angel”, so this woman, as I said, is David’s mother.
She moves to his side and folds him in a maternal embrace, cooing, “But I shall love you, all the same.” Because she’s his mother.
This is Ivana Miličević, playing apparently-Laura here. She’s another model, like the guy playing Joe, and therefore fully WB-approved. She’s had small parts in the movies Vanilla Sky and Love Actually, and she appeared in an episode of Buffy the Vampire Slayer as the gorgeous secret-agent wife of Buffy’s ex-boyfriend Riley, if you happen to remember that distant plot point.
Vicki’s asleep again, obviously; this is literally the fourth time we’ve seen her wake up from sleep in the last half-hour. This time, the rude awakening is based on David shrieking, Help! Keep her away! No, no, keep her away!
She rushes to the rescue, and finds David yelling his head off, trying to barricade the doors with a piano bench, which is probably not going to work. He’s still holding the dagger, by the way, and he’s all dirty and swamp-soggy.
The point of the scene is that Roger is not sufficiently attentive to his pathological lunatic of a son, which they express by having Roger demonstrate boundaries. He grabs David and yells “Stop!” until the kid stops bellowing, and then says, “Just try to tell us what happened,” which is a perfectly ordinary thing to do.
“She was in the old cemetery,” David shivers. Roger tries to ask a follow-up question, but David turns away, screaming, “She’s not real, is she? She can’t be real!” which is just one more example of how dangerus unheralded pronouns can be. When will people on television learn?
Roger, quite reasonably, says, “He’s been dreaming.”
And his demon son turns, wild-eyed and frantic, raising his bloodcurdling dagger into the air.
“Oh! Oh! No!” he hollers. “She had THIS!”
Roger swiftly pulls the sharp object out of the ten year old’s grasp, before he hurts somebody. And do you remember when I mentioned the weird sword-sheathing sound that people always use when there’s a knife in a scene? They use it here, because that is the sound of someone taking a knife out of a child’s hand.
Roger, again entirely on point, asks David, “Where did you get this?” because when you have a child like this, you need to keep track of the cutlery inventory.
“I only did what she told me to,” David whimpers, which is not an answer to the question.
“David,” Roger repeats, “where – did – you – get – this?”
David changes the subject. “No! No!” he cries. “You’ve got to believe me!” As usual in these “you’ve got to believe me” scenes, they don’t believe him. No one ever does.
Roger, recognizing that this scene is going nowhere, tells Vicki to take the kid back to bed, and give him a double Xanax or something, with a vodka chaser. This is the kind of parenting that a child deserves, when he’s a shrieking necromancer that pretend-drowns in other people’s en suite bathrooms.
But David is not ready to let this go, and he grabs on to Roger’s arm, shouting No! No! No! No! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy! Daddy!, which is not constructive.
Roger, worn down to his very last nerve, finally shouts “KNOCK IT OFF!” and David does, collapsing into Vicki’s arms in a shower of whimpers.
“I can’t handle this,” Roger says, and shouts, “Get him back to bed!” which should be adequate. But David keeps screaming, Daddy! Don’t leave me! Don’t leave me! and Elizabeth shouts, Roger! Roger, he needs you! ROGERRRR! and all of this hysterical noise is just another reason for Roger to go back to bed, and start planning a long trip to anywhere else.
Meanwhile, a sweaty Carolyn Stoddard slowly lifts her head to stare at the audience. That’s it, that’s all the transition you get, just Elizabeth shouting ROGERRRR! and then we’re an inch away from an azure Carolyn, and someone’s doing spooky piano scales.
She’s still in the hospital, in the blue ward apparently, with her model boyfriend next to her, probably on guard for just this circumstance and here he is, sleeping through it.
Carolyn’s eager to go to the window and gape at the moonlight, so she swings her arm and rips out the butterfly needle that’s supposed to be delivering a much-needed transfusion of blood volume into her. This girl seriously seems completely fine operating at a couple quarts low; I don’t know how she does it.
Anyway, the needle flies out and blood spatters all over Joe’s face, who kind of rustles and rubs his face, but doesn’t wake up. They don’t teach situational awareness at model school.
She tears the bandage off her neck and fondles the still quite fresh open wounds in her neck; they don’t seem to have patched her up very much at all. I’d expect a stitch or two, but no, there’s just a mouth-shaped crater in her neck that I guess they’re expecting one day, it’s like a miracle, it will just disappear.
She looks at the moon, and shudders, “Come back… please, come back!” But nobody does. Barnabas has other things to attend to.
Next thing you know, it’s daytime, and Vicki is knocking on the door to David’s room. We get another little glimpse of the decor, but I can’t make much out from here, except for a car on the shelf, several framed butterflies on the wall, and in a few seconds, you can see what looks like the skeleton of a dog on the top of the bookshelf. Everything else is pretty much miscellaneous.
“David, it’s late,” Vicki says, walking towards the bed. “You’ve been sleeping all day. It’s almost three in the afternoon.” This is something of a surprise; it was the middle of the night two seconds ago.
It turns out there’s just some junk in the bed; David has slipped out of the house, and is currently heading southbound.
She rushes out to the terrace and sees the boy booking across the lawn, and guess what he’s holding? The terrifying dagger. I don’t know where Roger put it last night, but it’s not there anymore. These people are just not good at raising children.
Vicki shouts, David, come back! which is a thing that characters do on television. I don’t know why they bother; if the person wanted to come back, they wouldn’t have gone away in the first place. This never occurs to people on television.
David hightails it to the imaginary Old House, which is entirely computer-generated in this show. They just had David run in front of a screen and then they made an Old House later on.
You know, it’s really red out today, considering it’s three in the afternoon. How could it get so red, outside?
David barges in, and runs through the Old House set, which is mostly scaffolding and statuary. He’s yelling Sarah’s name and waving the dagger around, like nobody ever told him not to run with scissors. They haven’t established the plot point about Sarah and the Old House very well, but at this point it doesn’t really matter.
The boy races around the corner, and then suddenly stops short, and stares.
There’s a shot of these doors, with some lights behind them, and a little morose glissando fills the air.
Still looking at the door, David says hopefully, “Sarah?” I have no idea why he does this.
There’s a brief shot of Vicki calling for David, and then the boy goes through the doors, wielding his knife, and finds
some stairs leading down to a bunch of candles in a murky crimson-and-black haze. Not sure what’s supposed to be happening down here. David says “Sarah?” again, but it doesn’t help.
He continues slowly down the stairs, and we see something large and red with something black on top of it, but just when we might be able to figure out what the hell we’re looking at…
A pair of hands fall onto David’s shoulders, and he lets out a piercing fire-alarm wail. By the way, David is played by Alexander Gould, who was the voice of Nemo in 2003’s Finding Nemo. Did I mention that before? Looks like someone finally found him.
Turns out to be Willie, not that you can really see him very well. Vicki catches up to David, finally taking the knife off his hands, and he says that he’s looking for Sarah.
“Yeah, well, there’s no Sarahs here,” says Hot Willie. “And since Mr. Collins isn’t big on after-hours visits, let’s go.”
You can’t really tell that it’s Hot Willie yet, of course, because once again he’s bathed in ridiculous red light, which seriously, how much of an homage to Suspiria do you really need in one lifetime.
And now it’s a walk and talk with Hot Willie, who explains that he’s “traded up”, working for Barnabas instead of Roger.
Vicki says “I like the new look,” and Willie looks at her, puzzled.
She explains, “You lost your glasses,” and he touches his face, indicating that he’s thinking about the fact that he used to wear glasses. Hot or not, Willie is strong with the indicating.
“This is going to sound strange,” he smiles, “but ever since meeting Barnabas, I’ve never felt… stronger.”
So that’s a thing that Barnabas does now, he gives dudes makeovers and gym memberships. The women that he bites turn into hopeless traffic accidents, but the guys get haircuts and skin treatments and tight T-shirts. I am entirely in favor of this version of Barnabas.
Willie turns his head, just to prove that Barnabas is snacking on him properly, on the neck and not the wrist. Then the conversation turns to Barnabas’ skills as an interior decorator. I’m just saying.
And there he is, his royal badness, appearing at the top of the stairs for a movie star entrance.
And we see the sun set in the west, although last I heard, it was three in the afternoon. Still, it’s early November in Maine, when the sun sets around four-thirty. Yes, I just looked that up, because I sweat the small stuff.
Vicki says, “I’m sorry for the intrusion,” but he just fixes her with a casual stoner stare.
“Don’t be,” he murmurs. “Indeed, I was about to call on you.” This might be the world’s first laid-back vampire. “I’ve found something here that may intrigue you.”
Obviously, they’ve got to get the kid away from the scene of the imminent crime, so Barnabas sends Willie to take him back to Collinwood.
And here we are, in the reddest room in the house. A few months later, after it was all over, WB chairman Garth Ancier told people at the upfront that “we had a new director come in who was accomplished in movies but frankly didn’t do a particularly good job, and the rest is history. The script was terrific, but creatively, the end result did not come out the way we’d all hoped for. There are no salvageable scenes.”
And that’s all I can see, when I look at this sequence: another scene, unsalvageable.
“For some reason, the door had been boarded up and plastered over,” the vampire says, as Vicki stands motionless with a frozen, robotic grin. “It’s exactly the way it must have looked, over two hundred years ago.”
“It’s like walking back in time!” Vicki gushes. We’re going to have to take her word on that, it looks lousy from here.
“That’s what I wanted to show you,” Barnabas breathes, referring to something off-camera. “The resemblance is… striking.”
We’re mostly going to have to take their word on that, because this scene has less than three seconds of a close-up view on the portrait, compared to fifty-two seconds of people looking at it.
“Her name was Josette du Prés,” the villain explains, monologuing. “The first Barnabas Collins was devoted to her. They were engaged to be married… There was a time when this house was filled with light, and laughter.”
But Vicki isn’t there anymore; she’s walked over to a different part of the room and started messing with music boxes, like they’re doing Matt Neffer, Boy Spotwelder.
Barnabas doesn’t mind; the music box just gives him another opening for his sales pitch. “Legend has it,” Barnabas emotes, “that the first Barnabas Collins gave her this, on the day he asked her to be his wife.” I bet he did.
She gives him a shy smile. “It’s lovely,” she says, “but with a hint of melancholy.” Vicki’s no fool; she’s realized that this might be her ticket out of the insane-child-tutoring industry.
He gives a soft, shuddering intake of breath. “Much as Josette herself,” he whispers.
He turns away. “Or so it’s been said,” he concludes. “In her letters, she wrote of listening to it for hours on end, on her voyage to America.” He strolls over to a mirror, and gently strokes Vicki’s reflection.
And Vicki lifts her hand, as if she can feel Barnabas’ touch from across the room. They are going to make this happen, whether you like it or not. You are not offered a choice about this.
“She must have been a remarkable woman,” sighs Vicki, as the audience asks, on what grounds? I mean, receiving and listening to a music box is not going to get you a Nobel prize.
“Making it all the more tragic that she died before they could be wed,” he purrs, and then he looks at her like this.
So he can do the job, is what I’m saying, and in another world where they actively need a Dark Shadows, Alec Newman would have been an excellent choice.
Then she pulls a knife on him.
“Oh, I almost forgot,” she says, because people are always forgetting about murder weapons that they’re carrying. “David said he found this near the old cemetery last night. Given your knowledge of Collins family history, I thought you might recognize it.” He does.
He asks if David said anything else, and Vicki says, “Nothing that made any sense. Something about a woman with dark eyes, and hair of fire.” She chuckles. “We think he was probably fantasizing.” Yeah, kids always conjure up cutlery while they’re daydreaming.
Having bonded over their shared interest in kitchenware, Barnabas bids Vicki goodbye with a drawn-out, creepy kiss on the hand.
“I’m glad you came,” he whispers. It seems like they both did.
The violins start up, and it’s clear that they’re just about to seal the episode with a kiss…
when Barnabas’ well-built houseboy turns on the lights in their rose-pink art appreciation room, or whatever the hell this is, interrupting an act of heterosexual affection, exactly as planned.
As Vicki walks away, Barnabas murmurs, “Why did you bring me back, Willie?” The blood-slave says “what?” and then
Barnabas suddenly pins the knife to Willie’s delicious throat, so at least we’ve got this going on.
Then he takes the knife away, and Willie asks what it is,
and Barnabas tells him about his ex-wife, who was the devil incarnate, and they’re standing really close together, and if this is the way that their story ends — two fit young men, engaging in high-intensity short-range gossip and knife play — then all I can say is that it works for me.
And then there’s the baffling ending!
EXT. COUNTRY ROAD – NIGHT
Victoria drives, headlights burning through the darkness, her face hard with determination. As she makes a turn, she suddenly hears a weird, ethereal VOICE.
Stay away from him…
Victoria looks around, confused, not sure what she heard.
ANGELIQUE (O.S.) (CONT’D)
He’ll never love you…
Suddenly, a drenching DOWNPOUR explodes from the sky. Startled, Victoria fumbles for the wiper switch, looking back up as the wipers take ther first swipe, revealing
standing in the road directly ahead of Victoria’s car!
Victoria JAMS ON THE BRAKES, but it’s too late. An instant before they collide, Angelique’s face subliminally dissolves into a leering, skeletal
then WHAM! They hit! Angelique’s body folds over the hood, head SMASHING face-first into the windshield as Victoria loses control. The car fishtails, sliding off the road and
into a tree. Dazed and bleeding, Victoria woozily pulls herself up, staring in horror at ANGELIQUE’S CRUSHED BODY, sprawled on the hood, gaping at Victoria through lifeless eyes. As Victoria begins to falter from her injury,
ANGELIQUE’S HEAD SUDDENLY TURNS,
bones CRUNCHING from the effort. Her face is a mask of blood.
So there’s a metaphor, if you want one, for this whole unsalvageable traffic accident of a show. The 2004 Dark Shadows is so determined to scare you that they’ll stand in front of your car and smash your windshield open with their own head.
“She is the Devil incarnate,” Barnabas says, which is a bit rich coming from the guy who killed Kelly, mutilated Carolyn and enslaved/improved Willie, when the only bad things Angelique has done is encourage David to get his pajamas wet, and stop a car with her face.
“One thing we pushed for,” Verheiden told Fangoria, “was to introduce Angelique in the pilot, which did not happen in the ’91 series. We just thought we needed a real supernatural villain in this version.”
Which is baffling, because they already have a supernatural villain, and his name is Barnabas.
But Verheiden thought otherwise. “I never saw Barnabas as the villain of the piece,” he said. “Barnabas was the good guy, struggling with his humanity, forced to do awful things by circumstances outside his control. Angelique and Roger Collins did their terrible things willfully, with intent. Ultimately, all Barnabas wants to do is save his family.”
Well, that and murder people because he’s hungry, I suppose. So this is where Mark Verheiden and I part ways.
Because I think that a show where Barnabas is a “good guy” who eats people, and Angelique and Roger are villains because they drink brandy, is probably not going to expand our understanding of this fictional universe.
Barnabas is absolutely not a good guy. He never is, at any point in the original series, the ’91 series, the trading cards, the View-Master reels, the Big Finish audios, or any other version of the show that people like. He is an insane, self-absorbed nightmare machine who reluctantly chooses to destroy everyone’s lives, over and over again, because he’s decided that he’s in love with some girl, or because someone is annoying him. He will do absolutely anything to satisfy his whims and appetites, and evade punishment for his many grisly crimes. Also, he thinks that he’s the hero. That is why we like him.
“We liked it and they didn’t,” said John Wells. “They wanted young and pretty. Barnabas was never a handsome leading man. He was a 215-year-old with bad skin. They wanted more Interview with a Vampire. We wanted Dark Shadows.”
I don’t know what Jonathan Frid’s skin has to do with anything. I know you’re upset because your show wasn’t picked up, but leave the skin out of it.
Back in the planning meetings, one thing that Dan really wanted was to hit the 1795 flashback as soon as possible. “Dan was insistent, but I wasn’t convinced it made sense, at least early on in the series,” Verheiden said. “I felt that jumping back into the past for several episodes would have been enormously distancing to an audience that was just getting to know our people. You really want to spend your first 10 or 12 episodes cementing in the characters you’ve got and establishing that world. Then you can start playing around a bit, because the audience understands the relationships.”
“Let people get familiar with Barnabas’ world and his love for Victoria,” Verheiden continued, “what the hell Roger is up to, what’s wrong with Carolyn, what Elizabeth’s story is, etcetera. We had plenty of characters to play with.”
But the thing is, Dan isn’t interested in those characters; those are the exact characters that he thinks are expendable. You can see in this pilot that nobody is interested in David’s emotional life; he screeches in literally every scene that he’s in. David is a plot device that gets Victoria to Collinwood, wakes up Angelique, and then gets Vicki over to the Old House by sundown. Dan doesn’t care about the Collins family; they’re the background.
Dan wants to fast-forward through the 1967 and 1795 story as fast as he can, so that he can get to the really outrageous characters: Adam and Eve and Nicholas Blair and Professor Stokes and Chris Jennings and Quentin’s ghost. He wants to live in 1968 again, the most exciting year of his career, when the show was firing on all cylinders, and he was flying.
So, yes, P.J. Hogan made all the wrong choices, especially the lighting, but they handed him a script with prosthetics where its spine should be. It’s a romance with no couple to root for, a monster movie that doesn’t know who the monster is, a family drama that’s not interested in the family. The executive producer hates every new idea, the network just wants it to be sexy, and there’s a big action scene in the middle where the vampire hides in a tree, and snatches up beautiful women with his fourteen-foot elastic arms.
So what do you do? You check out. You get some red lights, you don’t bother to shave the vampire, and you point and shoot.
So Icarus drowns again, and he hardly even got aloft this time. They don’t make wax wings like they used to, and the farther away you get from 1968, the easier they are to melt.
“The Cliffs Notes version is that the WB just didn’t respond to it,” Verheiden explains. “We didn’t have any long discussions on it. In a funny way, the business works in a very seat-of-your-pants manner. ‘I don’t like it.’ It’s that simple. And there’s really no court of appeal.”
Meanwhile, in Fort Wayne, the screaming is unbelievable. Eleven women fainted, there were 58 lost children, one broken arm, a broken leg, and $1,500 damage to trees and shrubs. That’s what happens when you let Vicki drive.
What are they screaming, those eleven unconscious women, as they count up all their lost children and prepare for 1971, and the end of all things?
“He’s MINE!” Angelique says, and her mutilated face resolves into a cheery grin. Well, at least it’s a happy ending for somebody.
Monday: The Week Between.
Thanks to everybody for your lovely messages and comments over the last couple weeks, as I’m getting back to posting again. You are all lovely, and I adore you, and I can’t believe you’re still here. As I hope this insanely long post demonstrates, I’m still working on this blog for real, and we are going to get to 1245, you and I.
If you’ve read this far and you still want to hear more from me, here’s a video of a talk that I did while I was away, about the history of dangerous toys. Merry Christmas!
Monday: The Week Between.
— Danny Horn
46 thoughts on “Time Travel, part 13: Total Blood Volume”
Muriel’s Wedding is legit one of my all time favorite movies. Also, “the guy who directed Muriel’s Wedding is directing a new Dark Shadows” is a sentence which would instantly make me take a hard pass. “You’re terrribble Barnabas” ha.
“She stares at him like she’s never seen a minor character before” applause
Am I remembering correctly that the “minor character” on the train was the role that was offered to Jonathan Frid?
Well,the idea that a grownup David returns to Collinwood and deals with all the things that happened in the past and are happening again actually sounds GOOD to me. Too bad Dan Curtis wanted to redo the “greatest hits” of DS instead of moving on. He could have pulled in old viewers, including the kids who saw the series on SyFy (SiFi at the time) and still peppered the past stories though out the series in order to catch people up on the former plot if they didn’t know it, either from watching or from cultural osmosis.
Alec Newman has played adult David in the Big Finish audios, as well as a couple of one-off roles early on.
The idea of a “what came next” is definitely more interesting than the greatest hits that keep coming up. The material is new, a new cast of characters can be created but still allows for callbacks to the original. One possible angle is the Collins in the 21st century and how the supernatural plays into that. Granted, 2004 was a few years before the iPhone, but Buffy did a demon in the internet in 1997, so it’s not impossible. Coming out of 1795 into 2004 would be some serious culture shock, which the original never exploited and would be a good way of exploring a vampire character unboxed (that’d make a killer unboxing video).
I’ve always felt that the various DS reboots were misguided because they always simply rehashed the original storyline (or some close variation thereof), albeit greatly sped-up, with different actors. I believe the best way to approach it, however, would be to consider the original storylines as having occurred back in the 1960s (and preceding centuries) and then use them as the background for NEW storylines using the same characters (either “unaged” for those who don’t age for supernatural reasons or “aged” for those who aren’t supernatural and who would have grown older through the years but were young enough back then to still be alive). So we would have, say, a David Collins and a Carolyn Stoddard (or whatever her married name would be) who are now the parents and grandparents of younger Collins descendants. And they all get involved in new plots, some of which might be spin-offs from old, original plots, and others of which could be entirely new.
I assume you’re basing your comments/reactions on the version of the 2004 pilot episode that’s been available on the web for the last few years. I just wanted to point out that this version is slightly different than an earlier version – the one I assume the WB execs were shown. It was screened at a Dark Shadows convention in Los Angeles about a dozen years ago – that’s the first time I had a chance to see it.
The one difference that really sticks in my mind: the ending. When Josette comes to and looks up to see a decayed Angelique’s face inches from her own, she screams. Angelique then looks up – and screams right back. Josette screams again – and Angelique responds by again screaming. They end with a literal two-shot, in profile, of Josette and Angelique screaming their heads off at each other. It’s so over the top that laughter is the only appropriate response. That and just a general “What the f*ck?” and a more specific “Who the hell thought THAT was a good idea?”
It’s also curious that even though this is a failed pilot, someone still went back and did some editing to it in order to make that original ending something slightly less embarrassingly awful.
Oh, I didn’t realize that was an edited ending; thanks for posting. I’d read about the Vicki/Angelique screaming, but couldn’t figure out what they were talking about, since the version I was watching just has “He’s mine!” If anyone knows how you can see the original ending, I’d love to see it.
Thank you! I saw it at the DS Festival in 2005 and remember that ending all too well and wondered where it went when I saw the pilot again years later on YouTube. Apparently other festival showings were in 2006, 2008 and 2009. I wonder (mildly) what versions screened at those. IIRC, the 2005 screening had text superimposed over the image to avoid piracy.
At the 2016 Dark Shadows Fest, when they showed the 2004 WB pilot, the sound was out-of-synch with the picture. The dialogue and sound effects followed their visual counterparts by several seconds. It was like watching a dubbed Godzilla movie. This version also contained the shortened ending.
Sorry, of course I mean “Victoria” whenever I say “Josette” (I swear, it’s the portrait’s fault!)
I’m so glad you’re back, Danny. Your blog is a shining light in the dark shadows of the Covid-19 Universe. Your analysis of why subsequent versions of DS haven’t worked is both spot on and hilarious and I appreciate the painstaking detail you go into. (I also particularly admired your Trumpian slant in your first entry in ten months — well worth waiting for.)
One of the pictures, by my count the 43rd picture from the top, solves a deep mystery. The picture is the one where hot-Willie is on his side with his jaw sticking out. The mystery is how the young Thayer David could have have been thought of as “the handsomest man at Harvard,” as you’ve told us John Simon said he was when he was dating the junior Countess von Moltke. That face looks very much like Thayer David’s, and it is, as you say, a very handsome one.
oh my gosh, acilius, he totally does.
From your post it looks like the pilot suffered from too many plot threads, same problem the 2012 movie has. And enough red to make even the patience of a saint go crazy.
a month or so ago i sat through this pilot, riveted with morbid fascination. i too thought of suspiria when i saw the red-lit scenes, but they seemed so out of place i didn’t realise it was a design choice, i just thought it was because it was only a pilot and they intended to replace them later with better cinematography. still, it was nowhere near as bad as the train wreck of the 2012 film adaptation.
“Willie turns his head, just to prove that Barnabas is snacking on him properly, on the neck and not the wrist. Then the conversation turns to Barnabas’ skills as an interior decorator. I’m just saying.”
and saying it better
than anyone else ever could
in the here, or now, or never.
Thanks, Danny, for the references to the fuller Vergheiden script, which might have been–less bad?
So much of the hopelessness of this discouraging mess is in the editing, the mannered and distorted lighting, the dialogue that lacks any interest or color, the failed exposition, the lack of dramatic rhythm, lack of characterizations, the mindless Easter Egging of references to the first series with no meaning for a new audience . . . it’s all been said. And there’s the obvious tug of war between classic DS and WB wise-ass teen demographics.
But can we also mention the set design? Collinwood is, in some ways, a major character in the DS universe, but what we see in the glowing darkness is the most tasteless hotel lobby in the world with over-lit, over-sized family portraits suspended over decor that comes out of a glossy bad taste catalog. But before you settle your hatred, wait–there’s more. Wait till WIlly turns on the lights in Josette’s room, and–WOW. Plaster statuary and bright pink highlights and–was it designed by Donald Trump? Jim Bakker?
The fact is, Curtis was originally excited about Dark Shadows in the early days, and he got good collaborators and got them excited about making something special. The set designs, costumes, makeup really were exceptional for their day, on on soaps on a pinchpenny budget. Part of the nightmare in this disaster is the raging crassness behind all the fumbled efforts.
I remember the buildup to this remake. I allowed myself a lot of hopes. (I thought Alec Newman worth a shot, and Milecevicz has actually done some rather good work when given a chance, and there was the unknown Chastain’s Juliiard red.) Some undead things should die.
Not to mention the Old House. Judging by the pictures Danny has posted of it, this version looks not even vaguely like the sort of house a wealthy 18th century New England family would live in. Even though the original Dark Shadows studio was roughly the size of my bathroom, and their budget barely enough to buy a coffee and a danish, they still managed to make their indoor sets look believable.
Oh, thank you for bringing up the set design and props; I realize that I didn’t spend enough time thinking about that. (I guess partly because half the time you couldn’t see anything anyway.) Josette’s room is truly terrible.
I’ve got a copy of the original 2004 Verheiden script, if anybody wants it. It’s a 61 page 1.93mb .pdf file though, so I don’t believe there’s anyway to upload it here. IF you can figure out how to send me your email address, I would be happy to email a copy to you.
Ok, I found Danny’s Gmail address, and sent him a copy of the script, hopefully it gets through. I got it back in 2005, way before this version of the pilot was released to Youtube.
Julliard CRED. (Sheeesh)
My humble opinion is that HoDS and the series retellings all suffer from the same thing; trying to tell too much of the story too fast and sacrificing characters for plot. It seems as though everything is happening at once and we have no chance of connecting to the people we see because we don’t know anything about them. (‘We’ being a relative term; viewers of the 60s series know the Collinsport clan, but those without the history just see a blur of pretty faces with no real reason to care about them.) In this pilot episode, how much storyline did they burn through as compared to the original? How many details and characters were cut out to push the plot along? Granted that the WB formula was not ‘daytime soap’ oriented, but DS needs more breathing room than there was in this.
And the red wash would NEVER have worked out – – did they plan on using THAT for every episode?
They could have achieved bringing Barnabas in the first season but not the first few episodes by doing what Agents of SHIELD did for its first season, establishing the characters and relationships before throwing in the big twist and shaking up the characters. Hint at the supernatural elements in Collinsport to establish the community and how they view events before unboxing Barnabas to drive the plot into action. Part of the reason the original worked so well was because we knew who Willie, Maggie, Victoria, Elizabeth, David etc were pre-Barnabas, and were more invested when they had a vampire in their lives. Starting with the unboxing takes that away.
Start with Josette’s ghost and the blackmailer plot (which could be truncated; it moved pretty slowly), while Willie gets the clues about the crypt. THEN throw the vampire in.
But Dan Curtis knew the vampire was what made those ratings soar and was what everyone remembered, so that was always the starting point for him for the retreads.
“The only way that Dan could stop retelling the story of Dark Shadows was to die, and even then, I bet he’s up in Heaven, pitching Saint Peter on another series. I’m kidding, of course; executive producers don’t go to Heaven.”
As you’ve often said, Danny, Dark Shadows is Satan’s favorite TV show. If Dan Curtis should wind up in “the other place” I’m sure he’ll have no trouble at all in getting a green light for another remake.
I dunno. Dan Curtis’ version of Hell just might be trying to sell Satan on a remake, but Satan’s watching episode after episode of the original series on his console TV and saying, “Why do you want to remake this? You NAILED it the first time! Hey, let’s watch the whole 1795 story again! That’s some great stuff! I could watch these same episodes for all eternity, and you’ll be by my side! Won’t it be fun, Dan-o?!?”
I have to admit i enjoyed the ’91 re-do much better than the original. I also agree, as is pointed out repeatedly, it’s a shame Dan Curtis’ creativity was stuck. In the WB version, it was kind of creative that Barnabus’ body was a corpse that was reanimated with a drop of blood. But if DS picked up with a “next generation” theme, they could have done that with another character. The Tim Burton movie was kind of disappointing for me because it seemed all over the place. I suppose Satan’s favorite show has a curse on it?
Or perhaps Barnabas could have ended up back in the box and been especially annoyed when he was let loose again.
Wow! I had no idea there was a 2004 attempt at resurrecting this show!
Maybe it was better that I did not know…
Damn, I just discovered this post, and now I’m up past midnight reading it, on a school night! (Yes, I have something to do that’s school-related on Saturday. It’s a thing.) I only just saw the pilot for the first time myself a couple of months ago, so I had to read this all the way through. My comments, because I’m about to slip into unconsciousness, are scattered and as follows:
“Medical note: SSRIs are not typically prescribed to cure Halloween. Talk to your doctor if Halloween persists.” This made me laugh harder than it should have – because, dammit, it’s true. My drugs never get rid of my Halloween.
“Twenty years later, my daydreams still regularly feature David Boreanaz from Buffy, Scott Foley from Felicity, Tom Welling from Smallville and Brian Krause from Charmed…” Throw Mark Famiglietti from the barely-watched summer fill-in series YOUNG AMERICANS, and I am right there with you.
“In their first meeting, Verheiden pitched some radical suggestions, including telling the story from a grownup David’s point of view, returning to Collinwood after some time away: ‘Maybe he’s married, maybe he has a kid who’s like the creepy little David we knew before. Then Barnabas enters their lives and you’re off to the races again.’ It didn’t land.” Time someone sent an email to Big Finish? They’ve already done DOCTOR WHO UNBOUND, and this would be great for a completely new audio series…
“They originally hired Rob Bowman as the director; he’d directed a couple of episodes of the 1991 show, and then a bunch of X-Files. Bowman did the location scouting and most of the casting, and then he suddenly dropped out of the project. He’d been hired to direct Elektra.” You asked for our old gossip, and this almost qualifies: right after Katrina hit and I had to shelter at a friend’s house in Baton Rouge, I had the chance to do a phone interview with Rob Bowman about the director’s cut DVD of that very movie. (Yes, there really was a director’s cut DVD. I still have the review disc around here somewhere.) Having never seen the original, I won him over immediately by telling him how much I liked the recut, and we got to some serious talking – just when our phone connection cut out and I had to rush to get his publicist to reconnect it. It wasn’t the same after that. Still, he’s a very sweet guy, and he would’ve done something to rescue this pilot, I’m sure. Probably less red, if nothing else.
“He had a supporting role in the WB show Young Americans…” There, I knew there was a reason Mark Famiglietti was on my mind! I’d honestly forgotten Matt Czuchry was on that show, so when I saw the pilot, I thought, “Good god, they’ve cast Cary from THE GOOD WIFE. I like this!” (Somewhat hilariously, IMDB lists his part in this as being in “a TV movie.” Wish it had been. There’d have been more room for plot, and less room for red.)
“This is Blair Brown…” Which, I have to admit, is the other thing I liked about this pilot. I wanted to see a lot more of her in this, but Dan didn’t seem to be interested in giving her more to do.
One thought that struck me, and it’s about the original scripted first scene with Carolyn (not the filmed version with the surprisingly bad Jessica Chastain): if you read it with the voices of Alexandra Moltke and Nancy Barrett, it kinda works, and I like it better that way. By contrast, I tried hearing Grayson Hall’s voice doing the original scripted lines of Julia, and…hell to the no.
As for Alec Newman… I rather wish Big Finish had thought to cast him as the regenerated(?) Barnabas, but having him as David works, I guess.
And one vaguely interesting thing: Martin Donovan and Alexander Gould would work together again, quite soon in fact, on WEEDS. I did say VAGUELY interesting, remember.
Now I’m all worked up, and the kitchen’s closed for the night. Damn it, Danny!
And welcome back.
Big Finish would not have been allowed to cast Alec Newman as Barnabas. Their licence was strictly limited to the original series and using elements from the remakes was strictly not allowed.
This came up when fans suggested they use Joanna Goring to play Victoria Winters. They can use any of the actors from the remakes, but not in the same roles. Goring eventually played Laura Murdoch Stockbridge (aka the Phoenix).
BF have also used Roy Thinnes, but not as Roger.
Thanks to Danny for watching this, so I didn’t have to. 😱
The only thing I’m going to hold close to my heart from this debacle of a reboot is Doug Jones as Barnabas Collins.
How magnificent would that have been as a permanent choice?!
Great to have you back, Danny.
Re: the proposed 1993 film — I cannot imagine why, two years after basically remaking HODS as the first couple episodes of the ’91 revival, Curtis would have thought a film remake would fly. He didn’t need backers, he needed a therapist to help him work through why he was so obsessed with retelling this same story over and over and over.
Maybe things were so red because they had loads of red gels left over from the sets they used the blue gels from back in ’91. Maybe they were just trying to even out the overall hue balance of the DS franchise 🙂 Seriously, I was just watching the ’91 revival pilot, and damn, Daniel, there’s some massively excessive use of blue lighting going on there.
Regarding the Old House interiors, they look…odd…because they were filmed in an old movie palace (unfortunately, I can’t find a reference at the moment).
I think one reason the Star Trek franchise is still around, and Dark Shadows not so much, is that the owners of Star Trek weren’t crazy enough to make us try to accept Patrick Stewart as Capt. James T. Kirk. Likewise, Dark Shadows would benefit from shelving the endless and pointless retelling of the original story, and creating new characters and stories in the Collinwood universe.
For better or worse, the original version is the definitive one, and it’s had a 50 year head start over any competitors. Those stories are synonymous with those characters, and no retelling is ever going to satisfy fans of the original.
At this point enough time has passed that a new generation of Carolyn’s and/or David’s children could have plausibly taken over the estate, negating the need to attempt recasting characters that are too closely associated with the original actors to ever be satisfactorily replaced. Story and character wise, they have an opportunity to start with a clean slate.
I agree 100%. Why rehash what has already been told quite well? New stories with new characters descended from the originals would be much, much better.
OK, both Google (on the web) and grep (on my local files) are failing me — does anyone know the name of the movie theater they used for the Old House interiors? That was an…interesting…choice. Without something like the studio foyer/staircase set they had in ’91, having Greystone serve double duty would have been challenging, but the Old House interiors’ look here just doesn’t work for me.
The funny thing is that Ken Bald used to scatter gratuitous statues around Collinwood in the daily strip.
To answer my own question, “The location for the Old House interiors is the Los Angeles Theatre, located in downtown Los Angeles. Built in 1931, the building offers lavish French Baroque style architecture, representing one the city’s most impressive surviving movie palaces, and has appeared in many films….In addition to period furnishing and dressing, the existing structures have been embellished with false walls and other adaptations for Dark Shadows.” (https://web.archive.org/web/20120225073105/http://www.collinwood.net/news/news05-04.htm). This is why the Old House here looks like a 19th Century New Orleans brothel.
Speaking of Collinwoods, for anyone who hasn’t already seen this, this is the most batshit-crazy, fandom-dialled-up-to-11 thing I’ve ever seen — and a couple years ago, it could all have been yours for $3.5M:
Meanwhile, a modest proposal — instead of continuing to do pseudo-remakes of HODS to kickoff a revival, how about bringing viewers up to speed by replacing the music-over-waves titles with a montage using deepfake technology to put the new actors’ faces into clips from the original show, accompanied by a theme song to the tune of the theme song from The Nanny:
Willie was looking for some jewels in a secret crypt
when a hand flew up and grabbed him in an iron grip.
They wanted him to go —
Liz and Burke and Joe —
he was out on his fanny!
So past the cemetery to the Old House door,
helping Barnie get Josette
and drain cows some more.
He lacked couth, he lacked flair, he was there —
that’s how he unleashed — the undead!
Who would have guessed that the ghoul we described
was just exactly what Doctor Hoffman prescribed?
Now Vicki finds Barn beguiling,
(look out, Burke D.!)
and David’s rarely smilin’
(he saw the coffin, you see).
He’s the vampire in black,
can Julia help him get a tan?
The spooky English “cousin” —
it’s Dark Shadows, man!
“There is an argument to be made that Dark Shadows is not horror, and that argument is correct, because it’s not…actually scary.”
“Dark Shadows is soap opera cliffhanger melodrama suspense…”
All valid points.
It was intermittently a soap opera. It was most assuredly a melodrama. It definitely had horror fiction characters. But I think after Barnabas arrived, it had more in common with the early serialized “Dr. Who” episodes than it did with a “Supernatural” or “As the World Turns”. (With Julia as The Doctor, of course.)
I can’t imagine anyone duplicating it because I don’t think you can even really define it.
I don’t think Dan Curtis really understood what its attraction was either. WHY did he keep trying to remake it, even after he had done it TWICE? Who does that? He even moved on to success with “The Winds of War” and then returned to Dark Shadows! Maybe his ego was such that he wanted Dark Shadows to be omnipresent: daytime soap, movie, book, prime-time series, toys, bubblegum cards, comic, cartoon, Broadway play, musical, opera, web series, video game, podcast, Vegas act, ice skating spectacular, mockumentary… Maybe he was trying to figure out the magic formula of its success. He seems to have been obsessed with it. Maybe it was a control issue. (After all, he hadn’t picked Frid for Barnabas. His idea was a governess on a train. His creation got away from him.) Maybe he was trying to show that without budget and time constraints his original vision for Dark Shadows could become a classic of the genre.
Or maybe he just didn’t know what he had until it was gone and he regretted it.
…and as of yesterday, Jessica Chastain is now a Best Actress Oscar winner.
So this is the reason why Angel ended all of a sudden on a cliffhanger….
All this talk of “Suspiria” without mentioning that Joan Bennett was in it? She was great, gets to say “That bitch!” and is in at least one scene with Jessica Harper that appears to use actual on-set live production sound rather than the post-sync that was still ubiquitous in Italian films of the time.
There’s an interview on one of the video releases where Harper talks about the challenges of post-sync, specifically about trying to do a take while someone was hammering. No one cared about “Quiet on the set” because everything was going to be re-recorded later.