Tag Archives: portraits

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.

Continue reading Time Travel, part 14: It Is What It Is

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

Night of Dark Shadows: The Haunted Horse

“Kill Doubloon!”

Happy Turkey Day! It’s time for another pre-emption, as we reach Thanksgiving 1970 and ABC decides to spend the day looking at basketball. It’s traditional on pre-emption days to do a little time travel, and watch a future version of Dark Shadows. This time, we’re only jumping about eight months ahead; we’re going to watch the 1971 feature film Night of Dark Shadows, executive producer Dan Curtis’ next attempt to catch lightning in a bottle.

Last year, Dan signed with Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer to make a Dark Shadows movie, and he came up with House of Dark Shadows, a fearlessly unrestrained retelling of the original Barnabas storyline. The movie did well at the box office, considering how cheap it was to make, and MGM asked for a sequel. Unfortunately, almost every character in House of Dark Shadows met a grisly end in one way or another, so bang goes the Dark Shadows Cinematic Universe before it’s even started.

For the sequel, Dan had the good manners to wait until the TV show was over before hauling half the cast to Tarrytown, New York and dousing them with a hose. The final taping day on Dark Shadows was March 24th, 1971, and shooting began for Night of Dark Shadows on March 29th. Dan had nine hundred thousand dollars, six weeks, and a cast and crew that was mostly from the TV show. He’d planned to resurrect Barnabas for the second movie, but Jonathan Frid was sick of playing vampires, and asked for a million dollars. So Dan took the show’s second male lead, David Selby, and set him up with two leading ladies — Lara Parker, Dark Shadows’ veteran vixen, and Kate Jackson, an ingenue who’d joined the show about ten months earlier and was obviously destined for stardom.

Night of Dark Shadows was vaguely based on the show’s Parallel Time storyline, which was vaguely based on Daphne DuMaurier’s Rebecca, plus some inspiration from The Haunted Palace, a 1963 Roger Corman film that was supposed to be based on an Edgar Allen Poe poem, but was actually based on an H.P. Lovecraft story, “The Case of Charles Dexter Ward”, which when you get right down to it isn’t really very much like Night of Dark Shadows at all.

Continue reading Night of Dark Shadows: The Haunted Horse

Episode 1025: Rebecca to the Rescue

“Fight me? When I’ve already won?”

It seemed to me, as I sat there in bed, staring at the wall, at the sunlight coming in at the window, at Maxim’s empty bed, that there was nothing quite so shaming, so degrading as a marriage that had failed. Failed after three months, as mine had done.

For I had no illusions left now, I no longer made any effort to pretend. Last night had shown me too well. My marriage was a failure. All the things that people would say about it if they knew, were true. We did not get on. We were not companions. We were not suited to one another.

I was too young for Maxim, too inexperienced, and, more important still, I was not of his world. The fact that I loved him in a sick, hurt, desperate way, like a child or a dog, did not matter. It was not the sort of love he needed. He wanted something else that I could not give him, something he had had before.

Continue reading Episode 1025: Rebecca to the Rescue

Episode 1014: Are You the Quentin

“But there’s always violence in love!”

Barnabas is trapped in Parallel Time, a fantasyland where everything’s the same as our world, except the stuff that isn’t. To the extent that there’s any logic at all, it’s the logic of dreams. People appear and disappear, taking various forms and shapes. Things that seemed dramatic and important in an earlier stage melt away, replaced by other concerns that are equally difficult to express. The ring. The seance. Someone is humming. Where is that sound coming from? Evil, calling to evil. Didn’t I tell you to take down that painting? The people in that room are different, but the same. Who was standing nearby when she died? We couldn’t explain it, so we burned the body, and nobody saw the fire, because we were quiet. Come, we will burn the book together. What happened to the ring? A skeleton, hanging in the cupboard, extinguished by candlelight. She was in Italy visiting with friends, now she’s in our house, visiting with friends. Does she have a job? What does she do for a living? Shouldn’t one of us be going to work occasionally?

Continue reading Episode 1014: Are You the Quentin

House of Dark Shadows: Let’s Not Play Insane Games

“I haven’t seen the light of day in almost two hundred years.”

Right this minute, teenage bad boy John Yaeger is in the basement of the Old House, pulling apart the locks and chains that keep Barnabas Collins shut up tight in his coffin. Six weeks ago, the Dark Shadows cast took off for Tarrytown to shoot a feature film, leaving the newcomers and second-stringers to keep the show warm while they’re gone. Now they’re cracking open the mystery box, and once more unleashing Barnabas upon the populace. Dark Shadows is back at work.

To celebrate, I’ve invited actual famous grown-up film critic David Edelstein to come watch the 1970 film House of Dark Shadows. David’s the film critic for New York magazine, NPR’s Fresh Air and CBS Sunday Morning, and he’s also a lifelong Dark Shadows fan and a friend of the blog.

Five years ago, David wrote a very funny review of the Tim Burton movie, which he figured was his only chance to write about Dark Shadows. But it turns out he’s got more in the tank, so we’re going to watch the 1970 film House of Dark Shadows together, and discuss the whole thing from start to finish. David saw HoDS when it first came out, and he’s always loved it, so yeah, I know, just another example of bias in the mainstream media.

Today’s journey involves Hammer movies, overstuffed sets, inadvertent love triangles, how you can tell it’s daytime, cameos, cannons, the color of blood, and the age-old war between actors and scenery, and it ends with the extermination of everything that you love.

Continue reading House of Dark Shadows: Let’s Not Play Insane Games

Episode 1004: The Way Home

“There’s a spirit at Collinwood that will not let you do what you plan!”

Haunted homeowner Quentin Collins strides down the hall in the east wing of his enormous mansion, headed for the suite occupied by his sister-in-law. Flinging open the doors, he finds himself face to face with an episode of Dark Shadows.

Quentin knows this room well; he’s in and out of it all the time these days. It’s mostly orange and pink, with a portrait and a piano and several dreadful secrets. But the doors have flung him into an unfamiliar space — the same room, but dark and empty and underutilized.

His son Daniel and niece Amy are standing in the middle of the room, having an argument. They don’t hear him when he calls, and he’s held back by some invisible barrier that he can’t penetrate. All he can do is stare in amazement at this new, grittier reboot.

This isn’t the television show that Quentin knows, but you can tell that it’s daytime programming, because the boy says, “Maybe if we stand here, something will happen!” and the girl says, “But I don’t want anything to happen!” That’s the new ad campaign for Parallel ABC Daytime.

Continue reading Episode 1004: The Way Home

Episode 924: Pretty Woman

“We became friends in the past. Please, let us be friends now.”

Mrs. Rumson arrives at her palatial beach mansion on Little Windward Island, and greets her husband of six months, the handsome publishing magnate. She’s found peace at last, after so many years of struggles and schemes. She’s going to go straight, she said, and everyone laughed. But she’s on the level, this time. The dead past will bury its dead.

But nothing ever stays dead, not on this show. At least, not with Dr. Julia Hoffman around.

Continue reading Episode 924: Pretty Woman

Episode 923: Probably Her

“If we can find more realities like that, maybe we can get him out of the mist.”

Okay, so do you remember how pretty much all of last year I was saying that the writers didn’t have a big master plan that connected Quentin’s haunting with Chris’ werewolf story, and that they had no idea that they were going to use Charles Delaware Tate’s magic portrait skills to cure Quentin and bring him to 1969 to reunite with his long-lost great-grandson? And everyone was like, no, they planned that all out, they knew the whole thing, like, totally in advance. And I was like, no, they’re just making it up as they go along.

Well, here we are, in Tate’s big dark mansion, with the culmination of this master narrative — Quentin, werewolf, Tate, portrait. So what’s the big payoff?

Nothing! Because they didn’t actually have a plan.

So everybody else was wrong and I was right, and that’s why I am the god emperor of understanding how Dark Shadows works.

Continue reading Episode 923: Probably Her

Episode 910: Epistemology of the Portrait

“Look, I’m really not someone who lived a hundred years ago.”

We’ve got it all wrong, of course. We usually do.

An understanding of virtually any aspect of modern Western culture must be not merely incomplete, but damaged in its central substance to the degree that it does not incorporate a critical analysis of the structured binary opposition between the signifiers “Quentin Collins” and “Grant Douglas”. The only way to properly understand these meanings is to deconstruct the assumptions and knowledge systems that produce the illusion of singular meaning.

Quentin Collins understands that. I understand it, too. The rest of you are just going to have to catch up.

Continue reading Episode 910: Epistemology of the Portrait