Category Archives: Gordon Russell

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.

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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.

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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 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.

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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.

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Episode 1159: This First Unhappy Experience

“He only remained a few nights and then vanished mysteriously with his manservant.”

It’s fall 1970, and the question on everyone’s mind is: what are we supposed to do with Quentin Collins? We’ve rebooted him, and jailed him, and sent him mysterious love notes, and still he remains as moody and Byronic as before, and as far as I know, nobody requested a Byronic Quentin. Moody and Byronic people are annoying and difficult to manage; even Byron was a pain in the ass.

It’s all the weddings, I think. Just this year, Quentin has been married to Angelique, Maggie and Samantha, a mixed assortment of nuts who keep hitching and unhitching themselves to him, dragging him down and saddling him with young sons that he hardly notices. He keeps struggling to separate himself from these crazy broads any way he knows how — strangle Angelique, chase Maggie out of the house, tell Samantha that he despises her — but then they keep living in the house with him for one reason or another, piling up in untidy heaps. What he needs is a good hard divorce, and one that sticks this time, and actually gets the wife all the way out of the house.

So it’s time for Quentin to get back to his woman chasing roots, and that’s why we’re spending the day reading another goddamn Paperback Library novel.

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Episode 1158: When One Deals with Judah Zachery, There Is No Margin for Error

“When one deals with Judah Zachery, there is no margin for error!”

“Something else has happened,” Angelique shudders, “something far more terrifying!” Angelique, of course, is something pretty terrifying herself, so whatever’s got her spooked must be top-shelf in the terror department.

Her gypsy companion Laszlo observes, “I’ve never known you to be frightened of anything!” which is why you keep gypsy companions around, for remarks like that.

“Well, I have good reason to be this time. Judah Zachery has returned!”

“Who’s Judah Zachery?” Laszlo asks, and you see what I mean? Super helpful.

“I’ll tell you all about him,” Angelique purrs, with that subtle satisfaction you feel when somebody feeds you the right cue. “And you listen, and listen very carefully, because when one deals with Judah Zachery, there is no margin for error!”

Continue reading Episode 1158: When One Deals with Judah Zachery, There Is No Margin for Error

Episode 1157: The Last Sheriff

“I only know that someone has been filling your mind with evil distortions.”

Well, to begin with, he wears a ring with a spooky symbol on it. It’s got a circle with an X through it, and it’s hot off the finger of a witch doctor from the dark jungles of Brazil. So either Quentin is a fan of The X-Men or he’s a Satan-worshipping serial killer, and I haven’t seen a lot of comic books lying around, have you?

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Episode 1153: How to Explain the Doll

“Then how do you explain the doll?”

“We were in a little village in Brazil,” says Gerard Stiles, “up the river.” He’s looking back on an experience he had with his friend, Quentin Collins, on an unspecified business trip in South America. “One of the crew members got very ill, suddenly. Quentin had heard of a witch doctor who could perform miracles — or so Quentin said.”

God-fearing buttinsky Lamar Trask recoils. “You let him take a Christian soul to a pagan?”

“It wasn’t my decision!” Gerard swears. “When the witch doctor was doing his incantation, Quentin mentioned the ring that he was wearing. When the ceremony was over, I could see plainly that Quentin wanted that ring very much, but was afraid to ask for it. So I bought it for him.” End of anecdote.

Several questions spring to mind. First: did the crew member get better? Why wasn’t Gerard afraid of the witch doctor? And — most baffling of all — what the hell were you doing in Brazil?

Continue reading Episode 1153: How to Explain the Doll