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Episode 944: Essence and Intelligence and Werewolves

“No, they do make sense! I don’t know why, but they do!”

So apparently it’s written in the book that the Leviathans only have one weakness, which is werewolves.

Now, I get why the Dark Shadows writers have suddenly come to this surprising decision, because they currently have two monster storylines that have nothing to do with each other. The primary storyline is about ancient blasphemies from outer space, who are attempting to rig the presidential election and install Carolyn Stoddard as a teratologically fabulous first lady. The other storyline is about a guy who turns into a werewolf on a regular schedule, and refuses to take even the most basic precautions to avoid bloodshed.

They want to connect these two storylines somehow, so now the Leviathans and the werewolves have a brand-new long-standing feud that dates back to a time before man existed, when there was only essence and intelligence, and none of these shapes that human beings wear today. That’s not me saying that, mind you, that’s dialogue from Dark Shadows. “Before man existed,” the Leviathan guy said, “when there was only essence and intelligence [and werewolves].”

Therefore: Jeb Hawkes, the teen gang leader who can turn into a giant slime-wrapped tentacle monster with glittering eyes and a thousand razor-sharp teeth, is vulnerable to werewolves. Well, I suppose everybody’s vulnerable to werewolves.

Although the other day, we saw Quentin Collins knock Jeb unconscious by hitting him over the head with a vase, so apparently he’s also vulnerable to antiques. And he lives in a place that’s full of antiques! Collinwood has a lot of antiques too, and so does the Old House. Jeb must fear for his life pretty much 24/7.

Continue reading Episode 944: Essence and Intelligence and Werewolves

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Episode 888: Little Shop

“Something terrible is going to happen to us if we stay here!”

We’re back in the swinging sixties, and just in time. Barnabas’ trip to the nineteenth century was held over by popular demand, and if they’d kept it up for another six weeks, then by the time he came back it would be the 1970s, because of how time works.

The new storyline is just getting started — this is actually the first episode that takes place entirely in 1969 — so they’re still lining up the plot points. So far, Barnabas has been hijacked by some kind of ancient pyramid scheme death cult, Julia is anxiously awaiting Barnabas’ return from the past, and Carolyn is wearing a terrible clown skirt.

But today, we get our first big shock: Jason McGuire is back!

Continue reading Episode 888: Little Shop

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Episode 880: The Further Adventures of Other People

“I like Collinsport. There’s all this stuff going on all the time. Weird stuff.”

The 1897 storyline is coming to a close this week, and once again Dark Shadows is tying up a time trip by murdering everybody who isn’t nailed down. Do you remember how they killed everybody at the end of 1795, and then went back eight months later because they realized they hadn’t killed Natalie? Well, they’re not going to make that mistake again.

This scorched-earth approach is hard on everyone, but it’s especially tough for the folks at Big Finish, who watch these episodes, and all they can see is the lights going out on one spinoff after another. Big Finish has been producing new Dark Shadows audio plays for the last ten years, and every character that gets exterminated is just money taken out of their pockets.

I mean, this is a production company that’s made twelve box sets worth of audio stories about Jago and Litefoot, two secondary characters from a six-episode Doctor Who story made in 1977. Now, I don’t think they would have squeezed that much juice out of The Adventures of Evan Hanley and His Assassin Associate Aristede, but I’m sure they would have appreciated the opportunity to try.

Continue reading Episode 880: The Further Adventures of Other People

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Episode 877: The Killing Club

“Do you usually kill people you disagree with?”

Why do they do it, the villains? Why do they turn on their own people?

Dracula pushes Renfield down the stairs, Gutman’s gunsel takes the fall, Blofeld shoots Mr. Osato, Tobias Vaughn decides the Cybermen have betrayed him, Barnabas declares that Willie Loomis must die…

I mean, I get it about the blundering. You work hard to come up with an evil plan, and then all the blundering happens. It’s discouraging. But killing your employees after they’ve made a mistake means that’s one less person standing between you and the hero. Yes, you’ve removed someone that you can’t trust from your social circle, but that doesn’t make the rest of them any more trustworthy. Everybody else just starts updating their LinkedIn profiles.

Continue reading Episode 877: The Killing Club

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Episode 870: The Collapsing Cat

“Have I come back to tragedy and death again?”

We left off yesterday with Erwin Schrodinger and his magical cat, trapped in a thought experiment about quantum indeterminacy that threatens to destroy us all.

Here’s how it works: The theoretical cat is placed in a sealed chamber with a Geiger counter, a hammer, a flask of cyanide, and a small chunk of something radioactive, which may or may not decay over the course of an hour. Within that hour, there are two possibilities:

#1. The atom decays, which is detected by the Geiger counter, which trips a sensor that makes the hammer smash into the flask, releasing the cyanide and killing the cat.

#2. The atom doesn’t decay, which means no Geiger, no hammer, no cyanide. In that case, the cat is alive at the end of the hour, and it can go about its business.

Now, according to quantum mechanics, the atomic decay in the radioactive substance is in both states simultaneously — both decayed and not — until it’s observed, at which point it resolves into one state or the other. And if the cat’s life is determined by the unresolved atomic decay, then the cat is both alive and dead at the same time — until you open the box and look inside, which causes the wave function to collapse into either “alive cat” or “dead cat”. And then you feed the cat, or bury it, as appropriate.

But Schrodinger and his imaginary thought-experiment grad students completely missed the third alternative, which is that the cat would look at all this equipment, and figure out what’s going on.

At that point, you have an undead cat, sitting alone in a steel box with a flask of cyanide, a hammer and an active source of plutonium, and nothing to do for the next fifty-five minutes but think about the future. Schrodinger has created a dangerous supernatural entity, and provided it with an arsenal.

You don’t resolve a situation like this by opening the box. Opening the box is the beginning of act two.

Continue reading Episode 870: The Collapsing Cat

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Strange Paradise, Episode 5: When Raxl Attacks

“Killed? Revenge? We?”

Okay, one more lap around the track, and then we’re done with this forever, I promise. This week, we’ve been taking a break from Dark Shadows to watch the first week of the failed 1969 Canadian knockoff, Strange Paradise, and it’s even stranger than I expected it would be. This is the fifth episode — here’s the other Strange Paradise posts if you want them, and if you’d like to watch along, there’s a YouTube channel that can scratch that itch. But I have to warn you that there’s a strong possibility that the show does not actually exist. We may be experiencing a shared dream, and this is all an illusion.

Because when you think about it, the whole concept seems unlikely. Dark Shadows is on television every single afternoon, fifty-two weeks a year, minus a few days off for Thanksgiving and Christmas and Apollo splashdowns. And the people who like Dark Shadows really like it a lot; when Strange Paradise debuts in September 1969, it’s the high point of Dark Shadows’ popularity.

So if you’re launching a second half-hour daily supernatural soap opera at that time, then there are only four possible theories that might justify such a thing.

#1. The people who are currently enjoying Dark Shadows for 30 minutes every day would like it even better if there were 60 minutes of supernatural drama in the afternoon.

#2. There’s an untapped audience of people who don’t currently watch a daily spookshow soap opera, who might turn on your show by accident and get hooked on it.

#3. You think that you would be better at making Dark Shadows than the people who are already making Dark Shadows, very successfully.

#4. You have a television production company, and you know that Dark Shadows is popular, and you honestly can’t think of a single other thing to do.

So what we have here is the Shadow of Shadows, a muck-encrusted mockery of a mad-science duplicate, trying to capture somebody else’s lightning in a bottle. They’re tampering in Dan Curtis’ domain, with predictable results.

Continue reading Strange Paradise, Episode 5: When Raxl Attacks

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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

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Episode 845: Barnabas Collins Must Die

“I just can’t remember all the reasons why we should get rid of the vampire.”

Well, here we go again. Vampire fugitive Barnabas Collins — on the run, and spending his days sleeping in a cave, apparently — pirouettes into his secret headquarters at the old rectory, and tells his friend Julia — who has recently channeled the zeitgeist in order to travel back in time and help him — that they have to change their plans to defeat the mad old wizard who’s threatening the future of the Collins family, and all of the people that he loves. Why? Because he just ran into somebody who reminds him of Josette. That’s why.

It’s maddening, and just imagine how Julia feels. She came all the way here from the 20th century for this. Barnabas is the one who convinced her that they need to stay in this time so they can counter the wicked Count Petofi, and now, quelle surprise, he’s going off-script.

He was just out rambling around in the woods, like he shouldn’t be, when all of a sudden who should come along but Lady Hampshire, a brand-new character who’s played by the same actress that played his long-lost love a couple years ago, and therefore she is the actual reincarnation of Josette, according to rules that only seem to apply to this specific instance. And you know how Barnabas gets, when he thinks he’s found a reincarnation. This is his third consecutive swing at that particular plot-point piñata, and it’ll probably end the same way, with gunfire.

You know, I’m starting to see Count Petofi’s point. Barnabas Collins must die.

Continue reading Episode 845: Barnabas Collins Must Die

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Episode 844: Those Meddling Adults

“I must go. I have a feeling that there are evil forces at large tonight.”

As you know, it’s September 1969, and our vampire soap opera is reaching the peak of its popularity. After school, the kids all hurry home to check in with Collinwood, and find out what the vampires and witches and mad scientists are up to. Dark Shadows owns Mondays through Fridays — but on Saturday mornings, where we least expected it, a new creature is born. It has five heads and twelve legs, and it will run forever.

Scooby-Doo, Where Are You! is an occult-tinged mystery-adventure cartoon sitcom about four hep teens and a talking Great Dane, who travel around the country in a van called the Mystery Machine. Each week, they visit one desolate tourist attraction after another — an abandoned circus, a deserted mansion, an old marina or a haunted hunting lodge — where they inevitably find a ghost, a witch, a Frankenstein, a phantom (which is a kind of ghost), a mummy, a zombie, a killer robot, or a snow ghost (which is also a kind of ghost).

The monsters are thrilling, but they aren’t real; the creature is always caught at the end of the episode and unmasked, revealing that they’re actually someone that the teens already know. This is a comforting, rational world, where there’s no such thing as a monster — there’s just your Uncle Stuart, or that nice archaeologist, or the curator of a local museum, and they’re dressing up as monsters because they’re committing a crime, and they want to murder you.

On Dark Shadows, of course, there are actual monsters, and the real mystery machine is the television, which is broadcasting directly at a defenseless audience of housewives and children with twenty-two minutes a day of black magic and werewolf attacks. For the last two and a half years, we’ve been asking the question, “How did they get away with this?” The answer, as far as I can figure, is that nobody actually cared. Everyone thought that Dark Shadows was perfectly acceptable children’s television; that’s why they made trading cards and View-Master reels and joke books.

But as summer wanes, that begins to change. The fall of 1969 is where we start asking the flip side of that question, namely: How did they stop getting away with it?

Continue reading Episode 844: Those Meddling Adults

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Episode 799: When Halloween Decorations Ruled the World

“You told me that hand was the most magical hand in the world!”

There are moments in life when you have to step back and ask yourself: How did I get here? For example, Grayson Hall. She moved to New York City to pursue an acting career when she was 19 years old. She studied with Lee Strasberg at the Actors Studio. She was in a Broadway revival of Six Characters in Search of an Author. She was nominated for an Oscar and a Golden Globe for her work in The Night of the Iguana. She’s done Pinter and Shaw and Chekhov.

And today she’s on network television at 4:00 in the afternoon, blacked up like a Universal Monsters gypsy, and she’s locked in a life-or-death struggle with Halloween Express.

Continue reading Episode 799: When Halloween Decorations Ruled the World