“Instead of showing your own death, it may be showing you mine.”
And then something about Woodstock, I guess, although honestly I don’t have a lot of energy for it right now. There’s so much happening in the summer of 1969 — the moon landing, and the Manson Family, and the Haunted Mansion, and the MGM deal, and here it is August and I haven’t even talked about the green gum cards yet.
And then this weekend, there’s this super critical three-day Aquarian Exposition of Peace and Music, which is obviously integral to the entire 1960s, and I just don’t feel like doing the research. So maybe I’ll be like the other one hundred percent of kids in August ’69, who stayed home and watched Dark Shadows.
Continue reading Episode 819: War and Peace
“When I saw myself rising from the dead — with those fangs!”
There are eight turning points in the story of Dark Shadows — moments when the focus and direction of the show changed forever. Four of them are character introductions, and four are backstage events. Here they are, in order of appearance:
- the introduction of Barnabas,
- Julia’s offer to cure Barnabas,
- writer Sam Hall joins the show,
- the introduction of Angelique,
- Jonathan Frid’s ten-city publicity tour,
- writer Ron Sproat leaves the show,
- the introduction of Quentin,
- and MGM greenlights House of Dark Shadows.
Here we are in mid-August 1969, and we’ve reached that final turning point — the moment when a grown-up movie studio agreed to distribute a feature film about a daytime soap opera, using the same cast and crew, while the TV show is still in production. Everything that happens over the next year and a half of the show will be affected by that deeply peculiar decision.
The story that people tell about House of Dark Shadows is that creator Dan Curtis, like all artistic visionaries, was deeply misunderstood. He had a burning ambition to turn his vampire soap opera into a feature film, and nobody at the movie studios would believe in his dream. Finally, Dan found a kindred spirit in James Aubrey, the president of Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer, who recognized the value of a Dark Shadows movie and eagerly gave it the green light.
Once the film was greenlighted, the story goes, the only headache to figure out was how to get the cast off the show for six weeks while they filmed the movie. Dan and the writers came up with a way to focus on the actors who weren’t part of the movie cast, until the shooting was over. That way, the movie wouldn’t have a negative impact on the show, and when shooting wrapped, everything went back to normal. On release, the movie was such a success that it saved MGM from closing down.
That story is almost entirely false. This is actually the story of the destruction of Dark Shadows. It’s also the story of the destruction of MGM. And like all Dark Shadows stories, the line between hero and villain is not necessarily clear.
Continue reading Episode 818: The Green Light
“If he dies, the whole future of the Collins family will not be existing!”
Well, it’s another August afternoon, and everybody on Dark Shadows is down in the basement, wasting a perfectly nice day. I can remember a time on this show when people would take a walk in the woods on sunny days, and have genial chats with little girls who they didn’t realize were ghosts. It was awful; I hated those walks. Turns out all the cool stuff was happening in the basement. Take that, mothers of America!
Continue reading Episode 817: A Night in Casablanca
“You said we could be together forever, now that I’m dead like you.”
“Barnabas Collins and I have been at war for quite a long while,” says Count Petofi, tapping on the chained coffin that he’s keeping in his basement lair. “This is one more battle in that war.” And then he turns, and stares directly into the camera. “But it is the last one, and it will go on until he gives me what I want.”
We cut to a different camera, with Petofi and his henchman Aristede in a two-shot. Aristede says that it won’t be easy to convince Barnabas to forget the mission that brought him back in time to 1897, but Petofi says he can do it. Aristede asks how, and Petofi turns, and stares directly into the camera.
“Military strategy, my boy!” he announces. “I shall do what one does to win any crucial battle… Increase the pressure!” The camera moves from his clenched fist to another close-up.
Aristede asks how Petofi’s going to increase the pressure, and the mad Count takes a few steps downstage. “So far, only those whom Barnabas Collins cares for in this time have suffered,” he says, and stares directly into the camera. “Now, I shall attack from another side!”
This is all taking place in a tiny basement, by the way. Petofi has turned away from the person that he’s talking to for the fourth time in the last sixty seconds, and he’s not looking out a window or anything. According to the logic of this set, he’s announcing his fiendish plans to a brick wall, which is approximately two inches in front of him. We’ve seen backacting before on Dark Shadows, but this really is the frozen limit.
Continue reading Episode 816: Midsummer
“Count Petofi, do you think this is some sort of a carriage ride?”
Okay, stop me if you’ve heard this one before: a mad god, an assassin and a vampire walk into a basement. The mad god says, “Look into that cupboard, Mr. Collins! What do you see?” And the vampire says, “I see the inside of the cupboard.”
All right, it’s not that funny, but you have to admit you haven’t heard it before. It’s kind of hard to believe that we’re hearing it now.
Continue reading Episode 815: The Time Television
“Only I know that… and the gypsies. Those deadly gypsies!”
In his secret lair in the basement of an old mill, Count Andreas Petofi waits for his magical Hand to be returned to him. The mad god’s spirit is currently inhabiting the body of young Jamison Collins, while his mortal form lies unconscious, biding its time. Soon, the boy will bring the Hand, just as he’s planned, and Petofi will rise.
But time may be running out, for Petofi and Jamison. The boy is weak, confused, lying helpless in the clutches of the Count’s frenemies. Barnabas and Quentin have the Hand now, and they don’t know what to do. Must they offer the Hand to Petofi, to save Jamison’s life?
So obviously, that’s super exciting. We have a lair now. Dark Shadows has an actual lair!
Continue reading Episode 814: Another Thing Coming
“It suddenly occurred to me that you might be telling the truth.”
Meanwhile, in the other spooky old haunted house of the American imagination, 999 restless spirits were settling into their new digs on the opposite coast.
This is the week that Disneyland opened the Haunted Mansion, a long-awaited E-ticket attraction that invites theme park guests to tour a post-mortem retirement home for the corporeally liberated. This is the old house, abandoned by the family after the dark and terrible tragedies of the distant past, now left available for whatever ghouls care to move in and set up housekeeping. I wonder if Quentin knows about this one?
To be honest, the Haunted Mansion has nothing to do with Dark Shadows, but I love Disneyland, and there’s no way I’m going to ignore the other spook sensation of ’69.
Continue reading Episode 813: Happy Haunts
“I’ll be meeting you on the back road to salvation.”
Hey! Tim Shaw’s back in town, and he has a hand and a top hat and a whole new lady. Just try to ignore him, he’s only doing it for attention.
Continue reading Episode 812: While You Were Out
“There can be no happiness for anyone at Collinwood!”
I think Quentin Collins must be running for president, that’s the only way to explain it. When we met him five months ago, he was a heartless scoundrel working his way through a list of every pretty woman in Collinsport, including the married ones, and especially including the married ones who were married to his brother. He’s also currently threatening a young woman’s life, saying that he will murder her if she tells anyone that he’s a monster who murders young women, and by “currently” I mean literally two scenes ago.
And yet here he is, worried sick about the health of his infant daughter, who he didn’t even know existed until he murdered her mother, and who he’s expressed precisely zero interest in ever seeing. Ladies and gentlemen, I present to you: Father of the Year.
Continue reading Episode 811: Deadbeat Dad
“Satan is determined to take over Collinwood!”
In the summer of 1969, the young set gather every afternoon at four o’clock to watch one of the great pioneers in educational programming.
Not Sesame Street, of course; that doesn’t start until November. For the summer, at least, the kids’ choice is Dark Shadows, and what they’re learning is that murder is awesome, and you can totally get away with it.
Continue reading Episode 810: The Most Dangerous Game