Tag Archives: the past

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Episode 889: It’s From the Past

“You mustn’t touch this, Julia. It happens to be very old.”

Barnabas was boring, is the problem. Around this time last year, they wrapped up all of his storylines — Angelique was banished back to Hell, Adam ran away, and all the other villains just burned or fell to powder. At last, Barnabas was triumphant — free from his vampire curse, surrounded by friends and family, universally respected and trusted. It was a nightmare.

With nothing else to do, he became Barnabas the butler, a facilitator for other people’s story progression. The show always faces a crisis when they don’t know what to do with the star attraction, and their usual response is to visit a different time period. When “toxic Barnabas” was getting too hot to handle in November 1967, we went back to his origin story, and when “tame Barnabas” ran out of story potential in March 1969, the show packed him off to 1897.

Barnabas is at his best when he’s on the defensive, struggling and scheming and making terrible mistakes. His trip to 1897 put him on the back foot immediately — no allies, a vampire once again, and generally confused about what he was even supposed to be doing. He had to ingratiate himself with a whole new family, and learn everybody’s secrets without letting on about his own.

And it worked! Even a month-long vacation didn’t diminish his charms; his miraculous return gave the show its all-time best ratings. But now he’s heading back home, where the outlook is even more drab than it was before he left: Quentin’s evil spirit is gone, and Collinwood is more or less at peace. The immediate future looks even more butlery than before.

So the writers, in their infinite lunacy, have decided to dodge the butler problem by making Barnabas the bad guy again. Instead of a happy homecoming, they’re giving him a mysterious new agenda, which splits him away from his friends and family.

It’s a risky idea, with the potential to squander all the good will that they’ve built up with the audience. But what is Dark Shadows except a string of terrible ideas, which sometimes turn out to be amazing?

Continue reading Episode 889: It’s From the Past

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Episode 858: The Woman Who Wasn’t There

“You can’t just go on killing until you find the right hexagram!”

If the 1897 storyline has an overall theme — and it absolutely doesn’t, but let’s say it does for a second — then it’s this: Can villains build a better world?

It’s been about two years since the villains took over Dark Shadows, first with Barnabas and Julia stealing all the screen time, and then the rise of Angelique as the antagonist’s antagonist, reducing all the other characters to the role of chess pieces. By 1968, the continuing saga was essentially just the story of the Collins family enduring the intrusion of one monster after another — Adam, and Cassandra, and Nicholas Blair, and Danielle Roget, and a swarm of vampires, and finally a werewolf and a handful of angry ghosts. For the most part, the villains were the characters that drove the plot; they were the ones with story arcs. The would-be heroes basically turned into goldfish, swimming in circles in the background, as the villains clashed at stage front.

So as the 1897 storyline begins ambling towards a conclusion, the show is essentially asking, why do we even bother having characters who aren’t villains? If we assemble a diverse cast of gold diggers and grave robbers and spell casters, can they produce a long-term, productive storyline? Or does it all end with a big smoking hole in the ground, and a handful of singed survivors? At the moment, the smart money’s on big smoking hole, but stay tuned.

Continue reading Episode 858: The Woman Who Wasn’t There

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Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 10: The Do-Over

“Suddenly, a violent gust of wind erupts, wrenching Esau Collins from his own tombstone!”

I thought it would be fun. You know? I had to go away — to Germany, for a conference, not that it matters — and I wasn’t going to be able to keep up with an episode post every day. So I thought, I’ll spend two weeks writing about the 1971 Dark Shadows comic strip. That’ll be fun and easy, I can write them on the plane (which I didn’t, really) and I won’t have much to catch up on when I get home (which I really did).

The thing that I didn’t realize was: this comic strip is a wake. It started just before the show ended, and then kept going for a year, a drawn-out death rattle. This fun little two-week sidebar has turned into my first real encounter with the end of the show, a vision of April Third and what lies beyond: a Christmas Yet to Come.

I’ve written about other post-mortem spin-off material — the 1991 revival, the Big Finish audios — but this one feels different, because the comic strip was there, at the scene of the crime. And right now on the blog, I’m in the 850s, right at the peak of Dark Shadows’ popularity, and just before things start to go wrong. The comic strip is a vision of the near-future, and not a promising one.

But what is Dark Shadows, if not a contemplation of death? Yes, the show will be cancelled. The nighttime revival will fail, and the teen-drama reboot, and the several disappointing movies. Dark Shadows will never come back. I will die, and everything that I love will die. But at least I’m going to outlive this goddamn comic strip.

Continue reading Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 10: The Do-Over

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Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 5: Try to Forget

“All my instincts tell me… it wasn’t a wolf! No… It was another kind of creature!”

So here’s the question: Is Dark Shadows cursed?

Over the last couple years on this blog, I’ve watched and read and listened to a growing number of Dark Shadows spinoff products — the 1991 revival series, the Gold Key comics, the Paperback Library novels, the trading cards, and the Big Finish audio dramas — and they all have one thing in common, namely: They don’t make any goddamn sense. And we haven’t even gotten to Night of Dark Shadows yet, one of the outstanding leaders in the field.

It seems like people are unable to write Dark Shadows stories that hang together in a coherent way, up to and including the writers of Dark Shadows. So what kind of chance does the Dark Shadows comic strip have? For these two weeks, while I’m out traveling, we’ve been reading this 1971 strip, and so far, it looks like the curse of not making sense is in full effect. So as we go along today, I’m going to periodically check in with the ABC7 AccuWeather Sense Tracker, to see if we can figure out what’s wrong with the structure of Dark Shadows stories.

Continue reading Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 5: Try to Forget

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Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 4: Ptainted Love

“How strange! At first, I too wished your final death!”

The story so far: Turns out eccentric millionaire Barnabas Collins is the reincarnation of the ancient Egyptian god Osiris. This comes as a surprise to you, me, him and the ancient Egyptians, but Isis — the mythical wife of the mythical Osiris — has shown up at Collinwood pretending to be a doctor, and she’s got a magic amulet that helps you tell the difference between people who are ancient Egyptian gods and people who aren’t.

Convinced that Barnabas has the soul of her lost love, Isis uses the amulet to hypnotize him into remembering his previous incarnations. “Gaze into the past!” she urges, as if Barnabas ever does anything else.

Continue reading Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 4: Ptainted Love

Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 3: The Bite of Love

“At last, after thousands of years, I shall be in the presence of the soul of my beloved!”

I’m traveling right now, so instead of writing regular episode posts, I’m doing a special two-week series on the 1971 Dark Shadows newspaper comic strip, because it’s easier to write these on planes. You might be wondering if having a book of vampire comic strips in one hand and scribbling sarcastic jokes with the other hand would excite comment among one’s fellow passengers. The answer to that question is yes.

But the interesting thing about the strip so far is that Barnabas has been a passenger too, riding shotgun on a storyline that was entirely about other people. He coasted through the magazine publisher warlock assassin story, which really could have worked itself out without him. Basically, he had one cool villain fight scene where he was temporarily enveloped in fire-retardant fire, and besides that, it was mostly thinks monologues. For Jonathan Frid, it’s hardly been worth showing up at the newspaper for work, really.

Continue reading Dark Shadows Comic Strip, part 3: The Bite of Love

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Episode 664: Sproat’s Last Stand

“Don’t ask questions. Now, you mustn’t panic, or ask — or be afraid, or ask questions, because something unexpected may happen. And you mustn’t panic! Do you understand?”

So where do I even start with this? Barnabas Collins has handwaved himself back into his own history, where girl governess Victoria Winters is still awaiting execution for witchcraft. You’d think the statute of limitations would run out after 170 years, plus she’s already been hanged for this, so it’s double jeopardy. Also, it’s not even the real Vicki.

But Barnabas is doing what the Collins family does best, namely: rewrite their family history with a black magic marker, powered by authentic black magic.

This is the start of a challenging run of episodes, because Sam Hall and Gordon Russell — also known as the good Dark Shadows writers — are taking a week off to figure out what they’re going to do with the show following this little cul-de-sac in story progression.

So the next five episodes are all written by Ron Sproat, who’s not a very good writer, and directed by Dan Curtis, who’s not a very good director, and it’s smack in the middle of nine consecutive episodes featuring Jonathan Frid, who’s not very good at remembering his lines. It’s like the perfect storm of barely adequate television production.

Continue reading Episode 664: Sproat’s Last Stand

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Episode 659: Gone Girl

“But last night, she sent me a message… from the past.”

The morning of a new day at Collinwood. Plans have been made to take two children away on an extended trip. But there are unseen and evil forces at work within the great house — forces that have possessed both children, and decreed that — oh my god, Vicki, WHAT IS IT NOW?

Continue reading Episode 659: Gone Girl

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Episode 617: Roger to the Rescue

“I was just having one of my moments of inexplicable hysteria.”

Here’s what the world sounds like before Roger shows up:

“I don’t understand you, Jeff, really I don’t!” says girl governess Victoria Winters, starting off the episode inexplicably petulant.

Jeff flashes a casual grin. “Well, I don’t know what could be plainer. I think we should get married next month, at the latest.”

“You know what I mean,” she frowns, and he doesn’t, and neither do I.

How exactly could you get yourself into this particular conversational logjam? Jeff comes bounding in, all smiles, and she’s just staring daggers at him. Jeff says, Hello, Vicki! So happy to see you. He gives her a kiss. She glowers at him. He says, Guess what I’ve been thinking about. She sighs and frowns. He persists: I think we should get married next month, what do you say?

And that, apparently, is where we came in. I can’t really picture it. It’s possible that I’m over-thinking this.

Continue reading Episode 617: Roger to the Rescue

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Episode 470: Mad Men

“This painting can’t be in the house. I was responsible for bringing it here, and I am going to dispose of it.”

It’s another dark and stormy night in the great house at Collinwood, and Victoria Winters, girl governess, is creeping around the house in her nightgown, eavesdropping on people. As she approaches the closed drawing room doors, she hears Roger speaking to someone. This is what you do when you live at Collinwood — you walk the perimeter, and check on the inmates. It’s a survival skill.

As usual, there’s something unearthly going on in the drawing room — Roger is being hypnotized by an oil painting, and when he flings open the doors to confront the interloper, he believes that he’s Joshua Collins, an ancestor from the 18th century. Lord knows what everyone else is getting up to. This could be contagious, you never know.

Continue reading Episode 470: Mad Men