Tag Archives: mystery box

Time Travel, part 14: It Is What It Is

“People I love haven’t always loved me back.”

Six months ago, in July 1970, the Firesign Theatre released a record called Don’t Crush That Dwarf, Hand Me the Pliers, an avant-garde slice of psychedelic, time-traveling radio comedy that was mostly about a ’50s teen movie spoof called High School Madness. In the spoof, young Peorgie and his pal Mudhead investigate the theft of their school, Morse Science High, by their rivals, Communist Martyrs High School. Infiltrating Commie Martyrs, the two buddies find the mural from their school in a storage room, labeled “Mural: Auditorium, right rear. Heroic Struggle of the Little Guys to Finish the Mural.”

Meanwhile, six months later, as we cross the chasm between 1970 and 1971, that is exactly what lies ahead for Dark Shadows: a 13-week heroic struggle to wrap up this wild, untamed soap opera that has broken free of all ties to civilization as we know it. Dark Shadows has never really been about a girl on a train, a mad family and a lovestruck vampire. It’s about some writers, a mad producer, a cast of eccentric New York stage actors, and a lonely boom mic trying to break into show business, working feverishly on a shoestring budget to produce the strangest possible television show, for as long as they can get away with it. In the three months left between January 1st and April 2nd, they are going to finish this mural or die trying, or both.

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Time Travel, part 13: Total Blood Volume

“Less talk, more crowbar!”

Stop me if you’ve heard this one: A man walks into a crypt, looking for buried treasure. He crowbars his way into a mystery box, and what does he find? A pain in the neck.

Today is Christmas Day 1970, happy holidays by the way, and the show is taking the day off. On pre-emption days, the blog is visited by the Ghost of Dark Shadows Yet to Come, often to our great and lasting regret. During previous pre-emptions, we watched the 1970 movie House of Dark Shadows, the 1971 movie Night of Dark Shadows, and the 12 episodes of the 1991 NBC revival. The short version is that they weren’t very good, because trying to catch lightning in a bottle is difficult, especially when you’ve already used that bottle a couple of times. Lightning’s funny that way.

Today, we’re taking a look at the next chapter of that story: the 2004 pilot for a new prime-time Dark Shadows, prepared for and rejected by the WB, which used to be a television network.

You see, Dan Curtis — Dark Shadows’ creator and executive producer — never gave up on Dark Shadows, except while he was making it, when he definitely did. Having tasted the thrill of unexpected success in 1968 and 1969 as the show’s popularity reached its peak, he decided to make a movie version, using the same cast, crew and writers, while the television show was still on the air. That left the show coasting for months on ABC-TV with the B-squad characters, and when Dan finally came back to the series, all he really wanted to do was make another movie, and that’s why the show came to a gradual, disappointing end.

In 1991, Dan decided to try again, making a 12-part prime-time series for NBC that used a lot of ideas from House of Dark Shadows, and it didn’t work out, for lightning/bottle reasons. And then he just kept on trying to remake the remake for the next 12 years, finally managing to convince the WB to spend five million dollars on a pilot that nobody liked.

I asked you to stop me if you’ve heard this before, but frankly, it’s no use trying. The only way that Dan could stop retelling the story of Dark Shadows was to die, and even then, I bet he’s up in Heaven, pitching Saint Peter on another series. I’m kidding, of course; executive producers don’t go to Heaven.

Continue reading Time Travel, part 13: Total Blood Volume

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.

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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.

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Episode 1142: The Golden Moment

“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.

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Episode 1126: To Your Head

“How are we gonna explain carrying a coffin around?”

It’s got a wobbly, unmarked styrofoam gravestone. It’s got spooky stairs leading down to a story-productive secret passageway. It’s got a mystery box, containing a headless corpse and a gold mask studded with improbable jewels. It’s got the great visual hook of an eight-foot wooden cross, pinning down a forbidden coffin lid. It’s even got a hapless 1840 equivalent of Willie Loomis, unwittingly unboxing an evil from the past. This should be right up my street. So why am I so unhappy?

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Episode 1118: Getting Ahead

“You seem to have a terrible effect on everyone but me.”

It always starts with a box.

In the red corner, breaking the chains that bind him and emerging once again from his family’s secret mausoleum to feast upon the juices of the living, we have returning champion Barnabas Collins.

And in the blue corner, with the purple satin drape over his glass cage, we have challenger Judah Zachery, a severed head who’d have a king-sized chip on his shoulder if he still had a shoulder.

This will be the final engagement that determines the ultimate fate of the Collins family — a mixed martial dark-arts battle royale between good and evil, or more accurately between somewhat evil and entirely evil.

It always starts with a box. Sometimes two boxes. It depends on how many boxes you have.

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Episode 1112: The Boy Friend

“She says, in the future, you can send your spirit back in time!”

It always starts with a box.

Let me try to explain. I woke you up, because you’re going to be a friend of mine someday. So I’ve opened your box, in the hope that the you of the future has projected back through time to replace the you of now. Does that make sense?

You see, what I need to do is get in touch with the you that’s going to wake up then, so we can do the stuff that you and I need to do, and when we’re done, you’ll put yourself back in the box, so that in the future, you can get out of the box again, and become the you that I know. Then maybe you can come back in time and help me explain this, because I can tell that this is not getting through.

Look, this really isn’t that difficult. Is there a supervisor around that I could talk to?

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Episode 1109: The Last Straw

“Gerard, you took life from them once. Don’t do it again!”

“First, Gerard killed Quentin,” Tad explains. “And then, soon after that, Carrie and I died!”

“And then what happened?” Barnabas asks. He’s trying to figure out when we’re getting to the interesting part of this anecdote.

But never mind about that. Collinwood will crumble today, just like everyone thought it would four years ago. Turns out the vampire was a reprieve, not a cure; sooner or later, gravity reasserts itself, and Icarus takes a tumble into the sea. We’ll be leaving the Collins family as we know them, bound for the nineteenth century and points north, which means we’re not responsible for the future anymore, and Tad and Carrie can live or die in whatever order they choose.

Heads up, Collins family: Today is the last day of the rest of your life.

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Episode 1106: Lady Is a Vamp

“Are you serious about trusting your secret to her?”

You know that your climactic vampire reveal is not all that it could be, when you raise the lid of the coffin and do the dramatic music cue, and then one character turns to the other and says, “Who is it?” That can’t be what they were going for.

Continue reading Episode 1106: Lady Is a Vamp