Category Archives: December 1970

Episode 1174/1175: Merrie Gentlemen

“What has shaken your little mind now, that makes you not believe me?”

It’s Christmas Eve 1970, and the tidings aren’t as comfortable or as joyful as you might wish. In-universe, Gerard Stiles, possessed by the will of the legendary warlock Judah Zachery, is himself in possession of the Collins family estate. If allowed to go unchallenged, this will result in the destruction of Collinwood, one way or another, which is a shame, because I’m not done looking at it yet. Out-of-universe, this is the last Christmas that Dark Shadows will ever see, because this trial storyline is ruining everything.

Quentin’s only been on trial for witchcraft for three weeks, but somehow it has drained the plot of all momentum; everything else has to slow down while the lead characters get foiled again and again. We spent most of this week concerned about a plot to get Daphne in trouble for dropping a note in an oak tree, and today it turns out they don’t even need that, because they have different, even more damning evidence. By the end of the episode, it looks like Quentin probably should be beheaded for witchcraft after all, and so should pretty much everybody on the show. I don’t know about you, but I am letting something me dismay, and I don’t care who knows it.

Continue reading Episode 1174/1175: Merrie Gentlemen

Episode 1173: The One Where Everybody Finds Out

“I will be your ghost tonight. I will be your ghost twice.”

“Oh, Julia, if you could have seen his face yesterday,” Angelique breathes.

“I did.”

Angelique whirls around. “And his eyes?”

Julia doesn’t respond, so I assume she’s thinking, You know what? I saw his face, but I totally forgot to look at his eyes. Oh, well, maybe next time.

Continue reading Episode 1173: The One Where Everybody Finds Out

Episode 1172: The Deck Chairs

“Slow agonizing death is the worst kind, you know!”

It’s three days till Christmas 1970, and here we are in the dying days of Dark Shadows, a show that has specialized almost exclusively in dying days since its ratings peak in October 1969. Don’t tell the 1970 audience, but between you and me, the show only has 15 weeks left to run, which means, if my recent posting schedule is any guide, that this blog will shudder to a stop somewhere around the middle of 2075.

So we should get back to The War for Dark Shadows, the ongoing struggle to define what kind of story Dark Shadows becomes when it’s not a half-hour daytime soap opera anymore. This battle has been raging for decades in books, movies, comic books and the hearts of children, and there’s a lot of it, so we’d better buckle down and start taking this seriously. I mean, those deck chairs aren’t going to rearrange themselves.

Continue reading Episode 1172: The Deck Chairs

Episode 1171: He Schemes, He Scores

“But you don’t deny that you would have sent those messages to Daphne!”

Samantha’s first mistake, as she was looming, dagger in hand, and saw that the figure in the bed was Gerard and not Daphne, as she’d expected, was that she didn’t just stab and stab and stab anyway, because there are only two possible outcomes when finding oneself in an enclosed space with Gerard; you’re either going to kill him, or kiss him. She chose not to kill him. A rookie mistake, really, and not in keeping with CDC guidelines.

Continue reading Episode 1171: He Schemes, He Scores

Episode 1170: This Place Is Not a Place of Honor

“Spirits don’t usually attack people.”

This place is a message…  and part of a system of messages…  pay attention to it!

Sending this message was important to us. We considered ourselves to be a powerful culture.

This place is not a place of honor. No highly esteemed deed is commemorated here… nothing valued is here.

What is here is dangerous and repulsive to us. This message is a warning about danger.

Continue reading Episode 1170: This Place Is Not a Place of Honor

Episode 1169: This Wonderful Little Gathering

“We cannot love at will, any more than we could prevent our love.”

Oh, it was such a good idea at the time.

When Dark Shadows went to 1795, the show discovered that they could shake up the soap by traveling back into the past, using the existing cast but dressing them up in old-time costumes, and giving them new names and storylines. It was a spectacular way to move forward, interrupting a story that didn’t have anywhere to go, and breathing new life into the premise. While they were in the past, they figured out that you could have more than one monster on the show at the same time, and once they came back to the present, they started piling them up in heaps.

Problem is, they’re now doing time travel for the fourth time, and it turns out giving everybody a new character name every six months doesn’t automatically refresh the show; you also need to think up some new storylines. In fact, traveling to another time means that it’s possible to rehash the same plot points with a freshly neuralyzed set of family members, and there’s nobody around to say, wait a minute, this already happened, fifty-seven years from now.

Well, live and learn, I suppose, although on this show, it’s more like live and die and come back to life and then learn the same stuff over again.

Continue reading Episode 1169: This Wonderful Little Gathering

Episode 1168: How I Long to Be Wrong

“Whatever they know, I’m afraid it’s a great deal more than we care to imagine.”

You know, people say that Dark Shadows storytelling is slow, but just look at Gerard and Lamar; it was only yesterday that they even thought of looking for secrets in Ben Stokes’ diary, and now here they are, all the way downstairs in someone else’s house, tearing into the architecture.

“It was during the witchcraft trial,” Ben wrote improbably, “that the Reverend Trask made his last trip to the Old House. He made the mistake of finding the secret in the basement.” Upon reading this, Lamar Trask remembered hearing something bumping behind a brick wall a few weeks ago, and less than one minute later, he and Gerard have broken and entered the Old House, stormed to the cellar, and banged on a brick wall with a hammer and chisel, and now — ta-dah! — they’ve uncorked it, the co-star of The Cask of Amontillado.

And here he is, the Reverend Trask in skeleton form, hanging on a hook behind a pile of bricks, just like he was when they unveiled him last time, in spring 1968. I don’t know how many times they’re planning to unimmure the same guy; at a certain point, you ought to just leave him upstairs in a glass case and charge admission.

Continue reading Episode 1168: How I Long to Be Wrong

Episode 1167: The English Way of Death

“So the next step is that we must go to the basement!”

So with pop sensation Quentin Collins on trial for introducing plot points, and the show’s ratings sinking slowly in the west, I might as well introduce The War for Dark Shadows, a latter-days theme that’s going to run through the last few months of the blog. We’re approaching the dreaded April Third, 1971 — history’s first day without Dark Shadows — and naturally the show’s not just going to lie down and take it. Going gentle into that good night is not what you might call one of Dark Shadows’ core competencies.

After April Third, the show does in fact go on, hopping from one medium to another in a long line of spinoffs and remakes. The Paperback Library novels keep running until 1972, and the Gold Key comics stretch all the way to 1976. We’ve already discussed the Dark Shadows comic strip, the Night of Dark Shadows movie and the 1991 NBC remake, each of them disastrous in their own individual way, and there are more disasters to come, including a book series, a failed pilot, another comic book series, and yes, a certain medium-budget Hollywood spectacular.

But the thing is, the show is so complicated that none of the remakes and spinoffs can agree on what Dark Shadows actually is. For the comic strip, Dark Shadows is an adventure serial, the story of hardly-hungry vampire Barnabas Collins, who secretly battles a series of supernatural villains in order to protect his cousins, Elizabeth and Carolyn. Meanwhile, the 1991 show thinks that Dark Shadows is a super-sexy time-travel love epic, spending a lot of time setting up a quite vicious Barnabas with Victoria Winters, who’s the reincarnation of his lost love Josette.

Those two ideas have very little in common, aside from a few character names and the fact that they only lasted for a year. They’re not the same kind of story at all. But when you look at either one, you can recognize that they’re based on Dark Shadows as you understand it. So the concept of “Dark Shadows” must be big enough to encompass both of these kinds of stories, and probably more to come, and each interpretation is casting a vote for a particular way to read the show. The War for Dark Shadows is a decades-long struggle to figure out what kind of show Dark Shadows was, and what it means for us today.

Continue reading Episode 1167: The English Way of Death

Episode 1166: The Proceedings

“Mr. Collins called them astral disturbances. They’re very difficult to describe in words.”

Yes, of course they’d repealed the Witchcraft Act by 1840; don’t be ridiculous. I know that Judge Lang said last week that the former royal colony of Massachusetts was still somehow bound by make-believe British law, and in accordance with the imaginary “Law 119”, dated 23 April 1696, a citizen can be charged with witchcraft if there are depositions from six citizens naming the perpetrator of said evil, but Judge Lang also thinks it’s a good idea to sew parts of dead people together. The man’s an ass.

The truth is, the English stopped prosecuting witches in 1717. The English Witchcraft Act of 1604 was repealed by Parliament in 1735, giving a clear signal that you can collect as many depositions as you like, but if you want to get rid of an unwanted governess then you just need to go ahead and fire her.

In an overdue burst of rationality, the Witchcraft Act of 1735 said that witches weren’t a problem in society; the problem was all the non-witch people who claimed to be witches in order to further their career development. According to this law,

“If any Person shall pretend to exercise or use any kind of Witchcraft, Sorcery, Inchantment, or Conjuration, or undertake to tell Fortunes, or pretend, from his or her Skill or Knowledge in any occult or crafty Science, to discover where or in what manner any Goods or Chattels, supposed to have been stolen or lost, may be found, every Person, so offending, shall, for every such Offence, suffer Imprisonment by the Space of one whole Year without Bail or Mainprize, and once in every Quarter of the said Year, in some Market Town of the proper County, upon the Market Day, there stand openly on the Pillory by the Space of One Hour.”

The 1735 law was then repealed by the Fraudulent Mediums Act of 1951, which made an exception for “anything done solely for the purpose of entertainment.” This was good news for Lara Parker, who pretended to exercise witchcraft quite a bit and otherwise would have wasted a lot of hours standing openly on the pillory.

Continue reading Episode 1166: The Proceedings

Episode 1165: In the Haze of History

“I demand that counsel define the term ‘occult practices’.”

We’re going back to court for another witchcraft trial on Dark Shadows today, and once again, people have missed the entire point of the Salem story. The witch trials that took place in Massachusetts in the late 17th century happened in the actual real world, where I don’t know if you’ve noticed, but there’s no such thing as witches. Salem 1692 is a story about a justice system perverted by superstition and mob panic, where innocent people were jailed and executed based on the claims of a pack of hysterical middle schoolers.

But in modern Salem, they’ve discovered that it’s a lot more lucrative to pretend there were real witches in the late 17th, and build a tourist trade by promoting Halloween parades and haunted house tours. Yes, they have a Witch History Museum that tells the real story, but on the whole, it’s more fun to build events around spooky fictional witches instead of focusing on the thing that’s really scary, which is putting Christians in charge of a legal system.

So there are a whole bunch of TV shows and movies that depict real witches on the scene of the Salem witch trials — Charmed, Bewitched, Hocus Pocus, Sabrina the Teenage Witch, I Married a Witch, The Vampire Diaries, that WGN Salem series with sexy versions of John Alden and Mary Sibley. This is basically like making a TV show about the Holocaust in which the Jews kind of deserved it.

Continue reading Episode 1165: In the Haze of History