Tag Archives: camp

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 891: Curious People

“I feel like if we open it, our lives are going to change.”

The Old Ones were, the Old Ones are, and the Old Ones shall be. Not in the spaces we know, but between them, they walk serene and primal, undimensioned and to us unseen.

So there they are, Pandora and her husband Phil, staring at a puzzle box that will wipe the earth clean, just licking their lips and desperate to get their hands on it. She’s wearing a necklace decorated with the sign of the Naga — a four-headed serpent, a creature without a soul, and the very latest Thing in fashion.

Now they’re at the Old House, these reckless antiquers, and they’re delighted to find a Naga-branded mystery box that would complete their stockpile of hazardous material.

“Is there anything inside?” she asks, and the owner admits, “To tell you the truth, I’ve never looked inside. Is that strange to you?”

“Well,” she grins, “we’re very curious people.” Yeah, you can say that again.

Continue reading Episode 891: Curious People

Episode 853: Head Games

“Don’t touch me! Let his eyes tell me what to do!”

It must have been hard, over the last several years, to always play the good girl on a show increasingly inhabited by loud ladies. Kathryn Leigh Scott started out on Dark Shadows as waitress Maggie Evans, who was originally supposed to be a tough cookie, but mellowed fairly quickly into the sweet girl next door, and stayed there.

The show’s writing team turned over several times, early on — from Art Wallace to Francis Swann to Ron Sproat and Malcolm Malmorstein, in less than six months — and when the writers change rapidly on a soap opera, you’d better have a really firm grip on your character, or you risk drifting into just playing a version of yourself. That’s what happened to Roger, who started out as a villain and got himself nerfed all the way into harmless gay uncle. Maggie was a cynical young woman taking care of her alcoholic dad, but those rough edges got sanded off clean by the time Barnabas emerged from the mystery box.

And then Julia happened — a high camp trickster, whose priorities are finding her light, getting her hands in the shot, inventing facial expressions and paying attention to other actors, in that order. She was the pioneer loud lady on Dark Shadows, establishing a no-holds-barred theatrical style that chased all the nice girls off the stage.

In 1795, other actresses got to be louder and crazier — witch-vixen Angelique, obviously, and angry Aunt Abigail, and the eternally teetering Millicent. After a while, loud lady became the default setting for new characters — Eve and Magda and Judith and Jenny and Laura and Minerva and Charity Trask, all of them strutting and scheming and getting into fights on the regular.

But Kathryn Leigh Scott was stuck in the nice girl persona — the kidnapped Maggie, the spellbound Josette, the innocent Rachel. She’s spent the last two years being upstaged by one vixen after another. And then there’s Kitty.

Continue reading Episode 853: Head Games

Strange Paradise, Episode 1: Dry Ice Burns

“Mr. Desmond, please! Has the Devil taken your SOUL?”

Dreamed in darkness and filmed in Canada, the Shadow of Shadows was dragged from the earth. The creatures scratched at the well-worked soil, pulling what little they could from the oft-defiled graves. Look! A rag, and a bone, and a hank of hair. Isn’t it beautiful, they said. We have given it a name.

In the fall of 1969, a show called Strange Paradise shambled onto the air — a Canadian soap opera with supernatural themes, conceived at the height of Dark Shadows’ popularity. The daily show premiered in America in September, with the Canadian debut six weeks later.

In the US, Strange Paradise aired around 7pm on local stations owned by Metromedia and Kaiser Broadcasting, but not for long. A month after its debut, Metromedia pulled the low-rated show from New York and Los Angeles, and Kaiser stations moved it to the early afternoon.

In an attempt to save the show, the production company replaced the producer and writer after the ninth week of production. When they finished the first 13 week cycle, the show was extensively retooled, ditching most of the cast and moving the setting from the Caribbean island of Maljardin to the Desmond family’s ancestral home in North America. It didn’t work. They managed to scrape through another 26 weeks, and then gave up.

Strange Paradise enthusiasts talk about the show’s “three 13-week arcs,” but that’s just a fancy way of saying that it was cancelled after ten months. In Dark Shadows years, that’s just at the moment that they would have hired Jonathan Frid, and saved the show.

As a Dark Shadows fan, I’ve seen Strange Paradise mentioned in books occasionally, and I always thought it was a DS clone created by ex-Shadows staffers. That’s not actually how it happened. The creators were Jerry Layton, a producer who’d mostly done crime dramas before moving into romance, and Ian Martin, a soap writer who’d worked on Search for Tomorrow, Young Doctor Malone and The Nurses. The pair had worked together on the successful NBC soap The Doctors, before being hired for Strange Paradise.

The Dark Shadows people were brought in later, following the Metromedia and Kaiser disaster. Producer Robert Costello was brought in to replace Layton at week 9, and Ron Sproat joined the writing team for the second 13-week cycle, with occasional scripts by Joe Caldwell.

So this is a weird footnote in the history of Dark Shadows, and since the show started during this period, I’m going to watch the first week with you, to see what people do when they think they’re making Dark Shadows. All of the episodes have been posted on YouTube, so you can watch along, if you like.

I figure it’ll be fun — we’ll take a week’s vacation from Dark Shadows, and see what it’s like on the other side. What could possibly go wrong?

Continue reading Strange Paradise, Episode 1: Dry Ice Burns

Episode 757: Drunk History

“I’m not here because I want to see your face, or you want to see my face.”

So let’s see if we can get a handle on this. Laura Collins — alias Laura “several middle names” Collins — has vowed to destroy Quentin, Barnabas, her children, Worthington Hall (nailed that one) and as of today, Angelique. Her malevolent scheming keeps getting sidetracked by her inability to decide who she’s scheming against.

In fact, today’s episode is the clearest possible example of this unfortunate character flaw. Laura is literally just about to destroy Barnabas, holding the hammer aloft and ready to drive the stake through his chest — when suddenly Angelique grabs her wrist, and sets her off on a whole new branch of furious revenge.

But that’s how life is here in 1897, where the popular catchphrase is “I have to kill her, before she kills me.” Every person on this show wants to kill every other person, before each of them kills any of them first.

Continue reading Episode 757: Drunk History

X2: Everything That Julia Says in Episode 361, in Alphabetical Order

“mausoleum mausoleum mausolem maybe”

Sadly, I have to take this week off, because I’m going to Barbados to learn the secret magic number of the universe. But I don’t want to shatter the ancient truce between the readers and the blog, so I’m filling in with some odds and ends that wouldn’t fit in a regular post.

This would be one of the odd ones.

Continue reading X2: Everything That Julia Says in Episode 361, in Alphabetical Order

Episode 649: The Rise and Fall

“Someone now dead lived in this room.”

Good evening, ladies and gentlemen. Tonight, our feature bout is a winner-takes-all cage match between the savvy psychic, Madame Janet Findley, and the sinister specter, Mr. Quentin Collins (deceased).

Quentin has been quietly haunting the halls of the great house at Collinwood for seventy years, lurking in his sealed-up chamber in the abandoned west wing. Lately he’s been reaching out to the two children of the house, urging them to visit his room, plot against family members, scatter tarot cards around the house, and listen to his hit song, not necessarily in that order.

Earlier this week, under their ancestor’s malign influence, David and Amy tricked Roger into falling down the stairs in the foyer. Concerned, Elizabeth has called in Madame Janet Findley, an exterminator for the already exterminated.

Madame Findley is one of the craziest dames that we’ve seen on Dark Shadows, and that’s getting to be a crowded field. She says surprising things, makes extravagant hand gestures, and goes into a trance at a moment’s notice. I will miss her terribly.

Continue reading Episode 649: The Rise and Fall