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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

Episode 1114: The Unshakeable

“Go back to Collinsport and bury someone!”

First there was the unconscious Roxanne from Parallel Time, who talked like a jungle girl and got mesmerized by random objects. Barnabas fell in love with her, and then the house burned down, while she was trapped inside.

Then there was the vampire Roxanne from 1970, who talked about astral twins and punctured Maggie on the neck. Barnabas fell in love with that one too, and then the house burned down again, while she was trapped in a box.

In fact, every time we run into Roxanne, there’s an omega-level apocalypse just around the corner; clearly, the universe wants nothing more than to destroy this girl, and murder everyone who comes into contact with her.

But every time we leave Roxanne behind, we get to the next place, and guess what we find? Roxanne! This girl is the unshakeable Droopy of Dark Shadows.

Continue reading Episode 1114: The Unshakeable

Episode 1102: More Than Just Sleeping

“Julia, you were doing more than just sleeping.”

Hey, do you remember Maggie Evans? There used to be a character on Dark Shadows called Maggie Evans. She used to be pretty important, and there’s actually a whole Dark Shadows movie about her. But she’s been having a rough couple weeks, and I think we ought to take a minute to check in on her.

Continue reading Episode 1102: More Than Just Sleeping

Episode 1091: You, the Living

“I know I shouldn’t summon you, but won’t you appear to me?”

It’s exactly midnight, obviously, and in walks Maggie Evans, dazed and consumed.

She’s come home from a brisk walk that she took through the pitch-black dystopian nightmare surrounding her extremely haunted house. She was just going out for a bite, she said, and look what happened.

Julia sees Maggie stumble through the door, and she knows at once that something is amiss; Maggie’s head is traveling south, while her heels are trending north-north-east. You don’t have to be a doctor to tell that she’s in a bad way, although Julia is a doctor, so even more so.

Julia says, “Maggie, what is it?” as the girl topples over, but you know what it is, as well as I do. It’s vampires, is what it is.

Continue reading Episode 1091: You, the Living

Episode 1034: Mistakes in Justice

“I tried slapping her, and telling her there was no such person as Alvah.”

And so, as Sabrina sinks slowly in the west, we wonder: is there any other version of this story we could pay attention to instead?

I mean, the current storyline on Dark Shadows basically entails Barnabas struggling to save fake Maggie from fake Angelique, as they fight over an imitation Quentin made of straw and food coloring. Sabrina is gone and Julia is on the ascendant, but still, it’s Parallel Time and there’s only so much I can deal with. So how about today we turn to an equally ersatz band of time, and see what’s happening over at the Paperback Library?

Dan “Marilyn” Ross is currently pumping out Dark Shadows novels at the rate of 159 pages a month, and honestly they’re just as canon as anything else, so we ought to keep an eye on them just to make sure they’re not hurting anybody. The current installment as of May 1970 is #17 in the PBL Gothic series: Barnabas, Quentin and the Avenging Ghost, the second book to use the “Barnabas, Quentin and…” construction.

The cover blurb says “Barnabas and Quentin join forces against Collinwood’s ghostly killer,” which isn’t strictly accurate, in that they don’t join forces, it’s not necessarily Quentin, there isn’t a ghost, and nobody gets killed. Besides that, it’s fine.

Continue reading Episode 1034: Mistakes in Justice

Episode 1021: Five Things

“If you had murdered someone, what’s the most logical thing that you would do?”

It’s Monday, as you know, because here we are and it’s Monday. Just look around, this is what Monday looks like. Right? Okay.

Now, I’m going to tell you five things about this week on Dark Shadows, and one of them is going to be hard to believe, so you’re just going to have to trust me on this.

First: One of the main characters — who we thought was in love with one character, and has been drawn into a complicated relationship with a second character — is suddenly and without warning going to be madly in love with a third character, and then we’re supposed to pretend that it’s been that way all along.

Second: There’s an episode this week that only has four characters — one nice person, and three nasty people who spend the entire half-hour criticizing her, gossiping about her and openly mocking her.

Third: You know that rape subtext that sits awkwardly behind practically everything that happens on Dark Shadows, including the vampire bites, the possessions, the enchantments, the body swaps and the aggressive reincarnations? You know, the thing that makes us uncomfortable, because we enjoy a show that expects us to be interested in the love lives of serial rapists? Well, that’s going to graduate from subtext to actual text this week. In fact, we’re going to see a villain do a brief monologue on the subject of how great it’s going to be when he literally rapes someone you like.

Fourth: A relationship that you’re interested in, and that maybe you’re rooting for, will get blown to bits this week, and you will never care about it again. This is no longer a story about love triumphant in the face of evil, it’s just a story about things that happen to this particular set of complex, haunted people.

Fifth — and this is the one that’s hard to believe — this is what it looks like when Dark Shadows gets better.

Continue reading Episode 1021: Five Things

Episode 1020: To Serve Man

“We were just standing here talking, and suddenly he fell over!”

Why does the moth love the flame?

You turn on the porch light and there they are, banging their little moth noggins against the lightbulb, desperate to break through and be consumed in flames. There doesn’t seem to be a good evolutionary explanation for this, but there they are, doing it, all night long. Why?

Well, one explanation is that a moth’s navigation system depends on transverse orientation, keeping a fixed angle on a distant source of light — typically the moon, apparently. So the moth is trying to keep the moon in a fixed place, and then along comes your porch light, and the moth gets all confused, ending up in a spin around the bulb. Or maybe not. It’s possible that people just made up the concept of “transverse orientation” in order to explain the moths, and it doesn’t really make a whole lot of sense. Why couldn’t moths just fly in whatever direction they wanted to fly, like everybody else?

There’s another possible explanation, which is that female moths’ pheromones are slightly luminescent, and emit some of the same frequencies as candlelight, so the moths trying to immolate themselves think they’ve found a spectacularly turned-on lady moth. Except moths are even more attracted to UV light than candlelight, and UV light doesn’t have the same wavelengths as the pheromones, so that’s not it either.

People also use the word “phototaxis” to explain this phenomenon, which once again doesn’t really apply to anything except moths, and another possibility is that flowers reflect UV light, so maybe the moths think that the lightbulbs are a food source. There’s a point at which this is more about you than the moths.

Continue reading Episode 1020: To Serve Man

Episode 1017: The Struggle

“He is my cousin, as you are my cousin, in this time or any other time!”

“The countryside near Collinwood,” says Nancy Barrett, “lies quiet and serene on this night, in Parallel Concurrent Time. But in the great house, the web of evil being woven by Angelique will begin to ensnare its first victim — Maggie Collins — who will be placing herself in double jeopardy by her presence at her husband’s side, for Angelique is not the only force that could conspire for Maggie’s destruction.”

So, a few things. First, nobody calls it Parallel Concurrent Time. Second, the first victim of Angelique’s web of evil was Alexis, and the second victim was a random day player handyman, so Maggie is either the third victim or the fourth, depending on whether you count Dameon or not. Also, that’s not what “double jeopardy” means.

Still, Nancy’s talking about a character that we recognize doing things that we more or less understand, so hooray, Dark Shadows is saved.

Continue reading Episode 1017: The Struggle

Episode 952: Something Evil People Are Afraid Of

“Human, yes… except for his hatred! That’s what makes him so dangerous!”

Yesterday, sporadic vampire Barnabas Collins burned down the local antiques store, because his enemies turned him into one of the living dead, and then they didn’t know where the off switch was. This should be a lesson for us all.

But this isn’t the first time that Barnabas has been revamped, and it won’t be the last, not by a long shot. He’s been bouncing back and forth between the living and the dead for a couple of years now, and every treatment is only a reprieve, not a cure. Barnabas may long to be human again, but the audience wants fangs, and we cannot be denied our simple pleasures.

So it’s no surprise that the Gold Key Dark Shadows comic books have gone through the same cycle this year. In February 1970, the same month that flappy bat reclaimed TV Barnabas, comic book Barnabas was suddenly freed from his curse with no explanation, apparently sprung on a technicality. He mentions “the day Angelique’s curse dissolved,” and then he’s human for four issues, or as close to human as Barnabas ever gets.

But a year later — issue #8, February 1971 — the bat came back. “Barnabas Collins… the VAMPIRE!” says the caption. “Caught in a web between the lust for blood and the peace of normal life, Barnabas Collins laments his fate… even as he PREPARES TO STRIKE!”

So this is an opportunity for us to look at Barnabas’ current difficulties from another angle, and since the antiques shop is still smoldering, we might as well see what’s cooking at Gold Key Collinwood.

Continue reading Episode 952: Something Evil People Are Afraid Of