“The screaming was unbelievable.”
There is another world.
There is a better world.
“The screaming was unbelievable.”
There is another world.
There is a better world.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“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.
“What of the witchcraft?”
Well, wills were made to be broken, and this one’s about as broken as you can get. Tower-dwelling invalid Daniel Collins, purportedly of sound mind and body, has slipped away from his lawyers and nurses, and scribbled himself a will that leaves everything to the black hat villain Gerard Stiles, who’s currently hosting the furious spirit of the legendary Judah Zachery, and if you can find a worse thing to do with your fortune then you’re welcome to it.
The situation is particularly dire because we know that it’s interfering with the proper course of Collins family history, which runs from Daniel to Gabriel, through some unknown mid-century child, and then on to Edward, Jamison, Elizabeth and points south. Finally, it ends up in 1970, when the family is scattered and the mansion destroyed by Gerard Stiles, aka the furious spirit of the legendary — oh, dear. He’s got us either way, hasn’t he?
“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!”
“I have never harmed anyone simply for the sake of harming them.”
And what do Barnabas and Julia have to do with all this warlock malarkey? Practically nothing, I’m sorry to say. Barnabas might be vaguely aware that Quentin has something on his mind, but it’s certainly not keeping him up all day. The simmering tensions between Quentin, Gerard, Daphne and Desmond, which we might call Plot A, have entirely escaped our gentleman vampire, who’s been focusing his attention on Plot B, a cul-de-sac sidequest involving Roxanne, Julia and Angelique.
I’ve had to speak sharply to the main characters in the past about this unfortunate tendency of theirs to drift off into side issues. Two months ago, Barnabas and Julia traveled to the 19th century hoping to avert the Collinwood-closing catastrophe of summer 1970, and practically the only thing that they understand about those future events is that they involve shady gun-runner Gerard Stiles in a prominent role. But Gerard has been permitted to run roughshod over the entire show for weeks and weeks, getting possessed by warlocks and working his wiles on Daphne, entirely unchallenged by the two characters that the audience has presumably tuned in to see.
We last saw Barnabas on Thursday, when he brought a day player named Randall to a nearby crypt, handed him a hammer and stake, and gave him instructions on how to kill the lady vampire heading in that direction. Then Barnabas sprinted off towards his own coffin, leaving this pop-eyed nonentity to handle the protagonist duties. And where is Barnabas now?
Well, that’s what local undertaker and part-time detective Lamar Trask wants to know, observing to Julia that Barnabas is still missing. “No, he is not missing,” Julia sniffs. “He was grief-stricken about Roxanne, and he is in seclusion for several days.”
“I hardly think the circumstances warrant going into seclusion,” Trask scowls, and I agree. What we need right now is for Barnabas to shake that B-plot off his shoes, and get himself involved in the main story.
But seclusion is where he’s going to stay, I’m afraid, because Jonathan Frid is taking a two-week vacation. Barnabas won’t be back until episode 1159, when he’ll walk into Collinwood and act like he just stepped out for a breath of air. You’d never accept that kind of behavior from a main character in any other medium, but this is daytime soap opera, a genre composed of 15% creative storytelling and 85% logistics.
“There is a world — an evil world — which exists for some men.”
He’s not a handsome man, it’s true, but he’s powerful, and portable, and persistent. And he’s the man of your dreams, in the sense that you keep having naptime nightmares where his disembodied head bosses you around.
We’re all familiar with Judah Zachery the paperweight, lurking on the credenza in his glass enclosure, silently slipping through your defenses and inspiring you to steal newspapers and murder an antiques dealer with the wrong ancestor. But what of Judah Zachery, the man?
His eyes could bewitch you, they said. He lured beautiful young women to his house, and persuaded them to participate in unspeakable acts. And this was in the 1690s, when they really were unspeakable, because nobody had invented the slang words to describe them yet.
That was a hundred and fifty years ago, give or take, and for all that time, he’s been operating at a serious disadvantage. They say size doesn’t matter, but try to lure somebody somewhere when you’re ten inches total.
But that ends today. This is the day that Judah Zachery breaks out of his box, and gets his groove on.
“There’s nothing on earth that can keep us together, or apart!”
Well, here we go again. The legendary head of Judah Zachery has detached once more from the legendary neck, and is now on display in the bedroom of Gerard Stiles, who happened to have a severed-head display case in his closet, just gathering dust. This is why you shouldn’t throw anything away; you never know when you might need it. In fact, that’s pretty much the guiding principle of the show these days.