Tag Archives: decline and fall

Episode 1150: The Strange Goings-On

“Nothing seems more important to me at the moment than the strange goings-on in this house.”

And so the afternoons wear on, Monday through Friday, and day by day, everyone’s getting a little bit older and a little bit wiser. That’s the usual arrangement, of course, and it generally works out okay, but it’s something of a problem for a television show like Dark Shadows, whose market share is determined by the audience’s appetite for the deeply unwise.

There’s been a steady drumbeat of cultural warning signs over the last year, signaling that the space that Dark Shadows occupies in the American consciousness is destined to be rezoned. There was that push for non-toxic children’s television, which resulted in the fall 1969 debuts of Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! and Sesame Street. There was the disaster at the Altamont free music festival in December ’69, when everyone discovered, to the surprise of an entire generation, that an enormous crowd of drug-addled young people is not innately loving and peaceful. There was the embarrassing string of House of Dark Shadows ads over the summer promising a “bizarre act of unnatural love,” and the shift in public opinion around April 1970 that made people start to classify Dark Shadows viewers as perverts, dabblers and scag freaks.

And then there’s another case study to consider, as we tumble towards 1971: the fall of Aurora’s Monster Scenes.

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Episode 1149: Wicked

“I do hope he’s not becoming emotionally involved with anyone at Collinwood.”

Here it is, the climax of this epic tragedy: the love story of Barnabas Collins and the late Roxanne Drew. He’s followed her through three layers of paradox to arrive at this choice slice of cliffhanging: the zenith of all his mistakes, piled up on top of each other and ready to topple.

“You will never rest, Barnabas,” the witch spat back then, as she clutched the buckshot wound that he gave her as a wedding present. “And you will never be able to love anyone — for whoever loves you will die!”

And they have, one after another. Kill your darlings, they say, and he has — Josette and Rachel and Kitty and Vicki and Angelique and now, finally, Roxanne, the latest in every sense. He has what he always thought that he wanted — a daughter of Dracula, clad in a filmy shroud, ready to join with him for eternity in a casket built for two.

But it’s all gone wrong, somehow. It turns out a vampire vixen isn’t as sexy as everyone had hoped — instead, she’s a green-skinned witch of the west, hollow eyed and sallow cheeked, and she doesn’t seem to like him. The two predators square off in this shabby lighthouse, lightning flashing from their dark eyes, as the tension stretches to the breaking point.

And then Roxanne opens a door, and walks away.

Continue reading Episode 1149: Wicked

Episode 1147: The Strain

“You’ve seen the strain in this house.”

First of all, I would like to make one thing quite clear: I never explain anything.

“But then something happens,” writes girl governess Daphne Harridge in her personal revenge journal, “just like now, and I feel such hate.”

“Who do you hate, Daphne?” the kid asks, clasping his hands and delivering an even stare. “Tell me.”

The kid is clearly used to this kind of scene. He walked into his governess’ room, came up behind her while she was writing in her diary, read what she was writing, and now he wants answers. He doesn’t betray the slightest bit of anxiety or doubt that this is the natural order of things. He is the heir, she is the help, and therefore he can feel free to peruse any of her personal data that he takes an interest in.

“What else did you see?” snaps Daphne, and the kid goes up a level.

“You never answered my question,” he admonishes. “I was taught to answer questions. Weren’t you, ever?”

She shuts up the book in a locked drawer. “A diary is personal, Tad. I write in it things that I wouldn’t tell anyone.”

He looks off into space. “Do you know, that our minister says that to hate is evil?”

She takes the risk, and hates anyway, and so do I. Sometimes you don’t get much of a choice.

Continue reading Episode 1147: The Strain

Episode 1133: Low Clearance

“But actually, I did not come here to discuss the dead.”

It’s another one of those mysterious messages that Quentin’s been finding lately, scattered around his mansion. They’re cryptic little postcards from beyond the veil, signed by an old, extinguished flame, and they’re starting to get to him. They say things like “Joanna is dead and you are responsible,” which is upsetting, and they have these impenetrable adamantium wax seals that can only be opened by experts.

This time, the wax seal is even more troublesome than usual, and he’s really struggling with it. Quentin’s been opening his own mail for years now, it shouldn’t be this big of a deal, but the paper is determined to resist his advances. It must be some kind of trick judo paper that uses the attacker’s strength against him; the seconds are ticking by, and he’s still wrestling with it. He lunges at the seal one last time, and still it eludes him, and that’s when David Selby mutters “Oh, shit,” on network television.

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Episode 1116: That’s Us In There

“I cannot go through eternity alone!”

Samantha tells Julia how Roxanne is feeling, and then Barnabas sneaks into Collinwood and leaves a note for Ben, and then Gerard thinks about killing Samantha but doesn’t, and then Ben and Julia read Barnabas’ note and go over to the Old House where they talk about Roxanne for a while, and then Gerard talks to Samantha about Gabriel, and then Samantha finds Roxanne, who’s been bitten in the gazebo.

So Samantha runs into Collinwood to get Gerard, but by the time Samantha and Gerard get back to the gazebo, Julia and Ben have taken Roxanne to the Old House. Julia sends Ben out to get alcohol, which I don’t know if he ever does. Then Gerard finds Julia in the Old House, which makes him suspicious, but then he stops being suspicious and goes home. And then Barnabas shows up and has a fight with Julia. Okay, that’s over with; now we can talk about something else.

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Episode 1105: The Burning Question

“You don’t know how much I’d like to have been in that crypt.”

“I didn’t know what else I was going to do,” says Dan Curtis, Dark Shadows’ executive producer and driving force. “I couldn’t think of another idea.” This is from an early-2000s interview for the DVD box sets.

“I was becoming very disenchanted, right along with the audience. Probably, over the last six months of that film — people didn’t see a lot of me, during that last six months of the show.”

So there’s a Freudian slip for you — when Dan looks back at this period, he can’t help thinking about the thing he really cared about, which was the Dark Shadows films.

“I was just hoping it was going to end,” he continues. “I just wanted to move on. I couldn’t squeeze my brain any harder to come up with one more story, and I wanted to move on and out.”

You can tell that we’re approaching that last-six-months mark, because they’re currently doing scenes from House of Dark Shadows as if they’re part of the show. For today’s episode, they drag poor Willie Loomis back out of retirement, so he can shine his flashlight through the door of a darkened crypt, and find the coffin of the vampire who’s killing Maggie Evans. They might as well put up a chyron saying “House of Dark Shadows, currently in theaters”.

So it’s worth asking the question: How do you run out of ideas for a soap opera, a genre that’s specifically designed to run forever?

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Episode 1104: The Burning

“You will not be able to do anything to this house unless you deal with me first!”

At the top of the show today, mad medico Dr. Julia Hoffman rushes into her patient’s bedroom to announce, “Daphne is the one who is to be murdered, and the destruction of Rose Cottage — will be tonight!”

This is welcome news, because these characters have been discussing the destruction of Rose Cottage for weeks and weeks; it’s a pivotal moment in the story that I can’t wait for them to pivot to.

Alarmed, Barnabas gasps, “Julia, we need to get help!”

“But who can help us?”

“Possibly Sebastian,” he answers, as the other one hundred percent of the world asks, In what way?

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Episode 1096: Rose Cottage Was the Sled

“We’re only going to die so we can live again!”

Here’s what’s supposed to be scary today: Evil scheming ghost pirate Gerard Stiles leads young David Collins out of his house, and across the lawn to an undiscovered country house that’s located within easy walking distance.

David follows Gerard through the woods, asking where are we going the whole time, and then they reach a clearing, and Gerard brushes a bush away so that David can check out the destination. “It’s Rose Cottage!” David says. “It’s real! It really exists!” Which it does, so they keep walking and eventually they get there.

Meanwhile, back at the main house, there’s Hallie Stokes, the show’s other ghost-addled teen, who the adults are trying to protect. Julia tells Quentin to keep an eye on Hallie, and Quentin says okay, but when Julia goes upstairs, Daphne the ghost governess appears, and she distracts Quentin, and Hallie runs out into the night.

So now Hallie is following Daphne through the woods, and saying where are we going, and so on. Then we return to Collinwood, where Julia is asking Quentin what happened, which we already know what happened, because it just happened, a minute and a half ago.

Then Gerard brings David inside Rose Cottage at last, and it turns out Rose Cottage is just a disappointing little hallway, with some drywall and a door and a curtain and a chair. They’ve been talking about Rose Cottage for weeks, and now that we’re here, it is profoundly depressing. There isn’t anything surprising here at all — we do eventually see more than just this little corner, but the other room is just as sad and empty but with more chairs in it, and everything that they do there could just as easily have been done back at Collinwood, in the playroom or the dollhouse or a dream sequence, or all of the above. In fact, they’ve already done everything that they’re about to do, in various visions and assorted daydreams, it’s just that now everybody stops asking where is Rose Cottage, and they start saying, well, here we are in Rose Cottage.

So David goes to sleep in a chair, which he might as well, and then we see Hallie and Daphne in the woods, behind exactly the same bush, and Daphne moves some of the foliage away. Hallie peers through the underbrush and says, “It’s Rose Cottage! It’s a real place!” And yes, we get it. It’s Rose Cottage, and Rose Cottage is real.

They want us to pretend like that’s scary, but obviously it’s not. This is the opposite of scary. The thing that’s actually scary is that I have to write one hundred and fifty more blog posts, and is this really what I want to be doing with my life right now?

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Episode 1093: The Shrinking Shares

“How can this be? There is no room!”

“You asked what would happen to you,” says the ghost, directing the children’s attention to a nearby dollhouse. “Look through the window. Find out.”

So they look through the window, and they see Allen Ludden, giving the first word to Jack Klugman and Brett Somers. The word is “caterpillar”.

Brett chooses to pass, so the first turn goes to Jack and some housewife from Indiana. Jack says “moth,” but Indiana can’t figure it out, so they lose their turn, and it goes to Brett and some housewife from Kentucky. Brett tries “butterfly,” but Kentucky’s at a loss.

They punt back to Jack, who says “crawl”, and the light dawns on Indiana. “Caterpillar!” she cries, and she gets eight points.

This is what will happen to them. It’s called Password.

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