Sunday, April 21, 2013

Dark Shadows the Original Series (1966-1971)

[Knock, knock,knock]
Maid: [answering door] Yes?
Man in top hat: I'd like to see Mrs. Stoddard,if you'd be so kind.
Maid: Mrs. Stoddard?
Man in top hat: This is Collinwood, isn't it?
Maid: Yes.
Man in top hat: And the mistress here is Mrs. Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard, is she not?
Maid: Yes.
Man in top hat: Then perhaps you'd do me the courtesy to inform Mrs. Stoddard that her cousin is calling and wishes to pay his respects.
Maid: Her cousin?
Man in top hat: Yes. Her cousin from England.
Maid: From England? [clutches chest] Oh! Um, please come in.

And so was the entrance of one of the most interesting modern vampires, Barnabas Collins (played by the dark and regal Jonathan Frid). The word modern being relative. There have been a slew of shows with a vampire theme in recent years. But I don’t think many are as interesting as the original “vampire with a conscience”.

Dark Shadows was a soap opera that ran on ABC from 1966-1971. Its audience was housewives and eventually, as the series gained steam, school-aged children. Those kids included Johnny Depp and Tim Burton.  Eventually Depp and Burton created a mediocre movie adaption. The gen-x goths really couldn't bottle the magic of the original series.

My experience with Dark Shadows began in the mid 90s  while watching reruns on the Sci-fi channel. I didn't watch them in order and I mainly put it on as background noise, while studying for my undergraduate degree. Rubber bats hung in the air with visible fishing wire; camera guys were walking into the shots. The show was painfully low- budget and taped live. The DVDs note where the only available footage is damaged. The series didn't expect more than a one time run.  Dan Curtis, the creator, had no idea that the show would have a life of its own many years later.

If you have never seen the show, I recommend starting at story arc episode # 209 where cousin Barnabas (the recently departed Jonathan Frid) comes knocking.

He bites the wrist of groundskeeper Willie Loomis (a young John Karlen Daughters of Darkness) in order to gain vitality.  It was deemed less "gay" than a man to man neck bite (which wouldn’t pass by censors at the time).

Sci-fi enthusiasts will enjoy the story lines involving parallel time. It's pure camp when Barnabas goes back in time to rescue a family member (in 1969) by invoking the "I-Ching".

The show includes some great actors. Joan Bennett, who was the most famous actor in the series, was a film actress dating back to the silent film era. She plays the role of matriarch of this crazy family with a straight face. She is always pouring some kind of drink. And with the things that are going on in the house, she needs it.  Bennett must have had a heart for horror films, as her final role was Madame Blanc in Suspiria. Actress Grayson Hall, who plays Dr. Julia Hoffman, is great fun as the psychiatrist, who sympathizes with Barnabas and helps him by medically treating his vampirism.

The character Angelique (played by Lara Parker, also in the film Race with the Devil) is a witch from French Barbados who will not leave Barnabas alone. She is one nightmare of a one-night-stand. I love Parker's evil stare. Her acting is all in her eyes. They really creep you out!  Revenge is sought after Angelique is humped and dumped in the 1700s, while Barnabas is vacationing. He wasn't aware that she is a voodoo practicing witch on the island. She follows Barnabas in his time travels, always taunting and destroying lives of the ones he loves. The dynamic is the most interesting element of the show. You know when she gets out her voodoo doll, someone is gonna catch some serious shit. Each time Angelique is killed or cast back to Hell, she reincarnates and takes possession of another body; usually entailing Parker sporting a different colored wig. It's hilarious and intriguing at the same time. I’ve always been a sucker for doppelganger stories.

As you progress in the series, it goes from black and white to color. It's so neat to see the opening credits read: Dark Shadows, in color! You imagine what an event it must have been to see blood in color on a television screen!

There are a few great comic book series that have been made, based on the show.  Dynamite Entertainment currently has a series out that takes a darker view of Barnabas than daytime TV would allow. I prefer it to the Tim Burton remake.

Netflix, at this time, has one set of the show, starting with the arrival of cousin Barnabas (episode #209) viewable through streaming. The entire series is available on DVD.

When I see modern vampire tales today (think Twilight, True Blood, the list goes on) I think about what the cast and crew of Dark Shadows were able to do with so little, in regard to special effects , to make a compelling story. According to the actors, in interview, there were no retakes. Rubber bats, fumbled lines, and plastic vampire teeth add to this kooky marvel of a show!

Vampire Josette
Victoria Winters and the cast of crazy kooks!

Maggie Evans's vampire induced reality blur becomes Josette Du Pres

Dynamite Comic's dark adaption of the series

Wednesday, April 10, 2013


I don't wanna live in the creepy old house 
in the woods with the Boggles and Ogres!
I love to look for recurring themes, motifs or plain old fashioned gimmicks in any sort of movie genre. Horror movies are so full of these type of recurring characters and situations that the theme themselves often become mere parodies in movies anymore. An example might be the jumping, squealing cat (usually that appears to be in a state of being tossed by a stagehand) or the closing of the medicine cabinet and revealing, or not revealing though creating the anticipation, of someone in the background being reflected back in the mirror. Maybe it will be the killer or the gal's boyfriend, or nothing at all. Who knows. What we do know that is almost every other horror movie being made these days employs some sort of trick like this to either jolt the audience with a cheap shot or to make the filmmakers appear clever. In this little series I will explore some of these little themes and characters I have come to notice over and over  as they are  repeated ad nauseam in horror and thriller type films. Is it always a bad thing? No, not really. In fact I would go so far as to say these little tricks are necessary to move the story along, and to veer too far from the formula can make a movie unwatchable. That is why pop songs are popular. They follow a formula that usually works. Music that tries totally different ways to structure a song may be better in some higher artistic sense, but no body for the most part listens to that stuff. Except weirdos like myself maybe. But that is why when people talk of pop music you will hear them talk abut The Beatles and Elton John more than King Crimson or Steve Vai. And so, after that vague analogy,  onto the film aspect of this post.

I don't wanna live in the house in the country 
with the spooky people in the basement!

In this first post I will talk about a character we have all come to recognize -though hopefully not identify with- in  modern horror films, and that is the brooding, bitter teen in the backseat of the car. This character is usually introduced at the very beginning of the film and often has tuned out the rest of the family and world with their MP3 player. They are usually pissed off about something like the fact they have to leave the big city and relocate to the country, thereby leaving their friends and familiar surroundings, like cool pizza parlors, music stores and coffee shops. The reasons for this are usually something like the parents have gotten divorced and -typically- the mother has to find a new job and live in a decrepit old mansion that is located next to a cemetery, funeral parlor or crop circle.  No wonder the teenager is pissed off. I would be too. The teen is often dealing with issues, like the screen capture I gave from the film The Spiderwick Chronicles, where the boy Jared Grace (Freddie Highmore) is coping with the split up of his parents and subsequent relocation to a dark old mansion in the woods.

I guess I can live in the house in 
the country with the psycho.
The theme is all the over the place these days but I only have this film on my hard-drive to make a screen capture of a teen actually in the state of brooding in the backseat. It is a really good movie I think and I am not meaning to pick on it. More I am just saying that this character is as common in modern horror movies as the young gun in an old western who wants to make a reputation for himself and so challenges a character played by John Wayne or Gregory Peck to a gunfight. Again not to say that that character can't be developed more, as is Jared in Spiderwick. But more often they can get a bit stuck in the mud early on and stay there, sinking, as did the Kristen Stewart character in Messengers, who is also begrudgingly leaving the city for the a new life in the sticks. This time there is no divorce and the whole family is trying to start over  and their last make-or-break chance in life seems to be by becoming sunflower seed farmers. Again, who wouldn't sit in the backseat and brood over this. The way Stewart's character is introduced is similar to the girl in the slasher film Bereavement, who is (as I recall) suddenly orphaned and has to leave the big city to go live with uncle Micheal Biehn and sort out things in life while local folks are being butchered by a freaky serial killer. Of course all these characters wind up confronting the evil force in the film eventually. In some of these films I mentioned they conquer evil and in at least one other evil defeats them in the "surprise twist ending" (another gimmick/motif to be explored later, along with the "written out of the script adults" who pay the room and board for these melancholy teens while they are fighting the forces of hell but who seem to vanish from the storyline suddenly).

There is no way I could list all the movies that come to mind and that I have forgotten about with this character. Or maybe more with how this character is introduced into the story. It is a plot gimmick and not really a bad one but a little worn. If readers can think of some more such characters I will compile a little list and share it.