7th Annual Favourite TV Show Blogathon – Dark Shadows – Episode 702 (1969, dir. Henry Kaplan)

I’m 759 episodes into Dark Shadows so there’s only another 470 episodes, two movies, a 90s’ reboot done by the original show’s creator Dan Curtis, and a failed 2003 pilot to go. It’s been quite the journey. What started as a black-and-white small-town soap opera has morphed into colourful tales of Gothic horror. There was always a hint of otherness present in the show right from the beginning, but it was there in the background in the hallways of the big house called Collinwood and the feeling that the family that lived there were hiding some terrible secret.

The main storylines which dominated the early days of Dark Shadows were relatively simple and revolved around two strangers who met on the same train to Collinsport. Victoria Winters (Alexandra Isles) has recently been hired as a governess to look after young David Collins (David Henesy), but there are hints somebody might have an ulterior motive for bringing her to town. Victoria was brought up in a children’s home and has no memory of her real family. Burke Devlin (Mitchell Ryan) is returning home having left in disgrace some years ago after serving time for manslaughter after causing a fatal car accident. Now he’s made his fortune and returned to take revenge on the man he blames for his imprisonment, Roger Collins (Louis Edmonds).

By the time we get to 702 both characters are long gone having both been recast then eventually written out completely. Their initial storylines were never finished and it seems unlikely they will be resolved in the remaining episodes. Dark Shadows main protagonist now is the vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), whose first appearance was slowly built up to with references to a creepy painting of him as a young man in 1797 which hangs in a hallway in Collinwood, Then when he’s inadvertently freed from his coffin by petty thief Willy Loomis (John Karlen) he returns to his former home claiming to be a cousin from the London branch of the Collins family tree.

Why choose episode 702 over all of the others I’ve watched? There’s been a lot of good storylines in Dark Shadows and some really unsettling moments, notably the whole of the Laura the Pheonix story arc in which the mother of young David Collins (David Henesy) returns after many years to reclaim her child, but she’s not what she seems, “That’s not my mother.” But 702 is the episode when I realised how much of an influence Dark Shadows has had on Twin Peaks. The strange occurrences in a small town and soap opera elements of the early episodes had already alerted me to this, but later on we get actors playing several different roles, buddhist mythology, demonic possession, haunted paintings, a ring that carries meaning, and the protagonist travelling back in time to try and avert a tragedy. I don’t know if David Lynch or Mark Frost ever saw Dark Shadows but it must have been on in the background when they were kids.

In the episodes leading up to 702 David Collins and his friend Amy (Denise Nickerson) have been playing in the old abandoned west wing of Collinswood and disturbed the ghost of Quentin Collins (David Selby). In one of the show’s most terrifying moments they answer an antique telephone that rings despite not being plugged in. The children become possessed by the spirits of Quentin and former servant girl Beth (Terry Crawford), and David becomes seriously ill. Barnabas discovers I Ching wands Quentin used for black magic and attempts to use them to contact his spirit but instead sends himself back into his body in 1897, meaning he’s trapped inside a coffin, and Quentin and Beth are alive. The episode ends with a scene mirroring his first appearance on the show, a grave robber looking for spoils but finding only the hand of a vampire clasping his throat.

This time the intruder is Sandor, played by Thayer David who so far has been the busiest actor on the show playing four different parts. Dark Shadows had a half hour run-time and typically they would deal with around two or three storylines in the short time available. Here we have Barnabas finding himself in 1797, Quentin forming an alliance with Magda (Grayson Hall), and the fragmented nature of the Collins family as it’s matriarch lies close to death.

Scene 1 – Barnabas Awakes

Sandor has broken into the Collins family mausoleum looking for jewels he believes could be hidden there. Seeing the chained up coffin he assumes something must be hidden away in there, something nobody wants to be found, and he’s right. A hundred years ago Barnabas was entombed by his father Joshua Collins (Louis Edmonds in his 2nd role) who was horrified at his son’s transformation into a vampire. Having awoken Barnabas the terrified Sandor draws his sword only to realise there’s no point trying to fight a dead man who’s just climbed out of a coffin.

Scene 2 – The Inheritance

Magda visits Collinwood to see the dying Edith Collins (Isabella Hoopes) for what she assumes will be the last time. Quentin surprises her and offers an alliance. Magda’s a tarot cards grifter and Quentin assumes she’s been fixing her readings to swindle Edith. He offers her 1/10th of his inheritance should she able to use her influence his grandmother into forgiving him for his past indiscretions.

Scene 3 – A New Familiar

Having bitten Sandor Barnabas has now brought him under his control. He’s perplexed when Sandor tells him he lives at the Old House, which in 1969 is his home. Then it dawns on him. He wanted to communicate with Quentin and I Ching magic sent him to a place where he can. He resolves to find out all he can about Beth and Quentin while he’s back in the past. Sandor wonders why Barnabas keeps talking about time. “There are many times. You only have to find them.”

Scene 4 – After Edith

The longest scene follows on from scene 2 with Quentin quizzing Magda about her offscreen meeting with Edith and if she mentioned anything about a terrible family secret. “I have no prejudice against your kind.” For a reprobate who practices black magic and is planning to defraud his family, Quentin does at least have not being a bigot in his favour. Their talk is interrupted by Judith (Joan Bennett, in her third role), Quentin’s sister, who’s not best pleased to see her errant younger brother return to the fold, nor Magda visiting her grandmother. After practically pushing the gypsy woman out of the door Judith offers her brother money to leave town but Quentin wants something else, to see his young nephew Jamison Collins (David Henesy again).

Scene 5 – The Future Past

A brief scene taking Barnabas back home to the Old House. Barnabas is hit with a weird sense of nostalgia having grown up here in the late 1700s’ and lived here again as a vampire in 1969.

Scene 6 – Meet Jamison Collins

Quentin has a gift for his nephew, an expensive-looking model ship. There is a powerful bond between Quentin and Jamison and Judith disapproves thinking he will lead the boy to ruin. Judith wants Quentin gone, but the boy is adamant he must stay. Quentin’s possession of David in 1969 seems related to his affection for his nephew. Amy claimed in an earlier episode Quentin intended to turn David into Jamison.

Season 7 – An Unwelcome Guest

In the final scene Magda returns to the Old House to find her husband Sandor with Barnabas. She recognises him from the portrait in the hallway at Collinwood, but Barnabas deflects her questions. He’s a bit OCD about the house though, complaining about the mess and wondering where the painting of Josette (Kathryn Leigh Scott) has gone. A knock at the door and Quentin turns up wanting to finish the conversation Judith interrupted earlier. Barnabas gets a look at Quentin for the first time as he hides behind a door watching as Sandor and Magda try and get rid of this unwanted visitor. After Quentin leaves Magda quizzes him about Barnabas. They both believe in the supernatural and seem to have encountered such creatures before. “He has the mark of death on him..” and then she notices the bite marks on her husbands neck. Episode 702 ends in true soap-opera style with a cliffhanger.

I will have to continue my journey through Dark Shadows to see how these storylines will develop over the course of the show. At the moment I’m still in the 1897 time period so I have no idea how these storylines will be resolved, or if they will. Maybe Barnabas never returns to 1969, maybe I’m a few episodes away from it happening. Or maybe he ends up somewhere else or becomes someone else. At this stage anything seems to be possible.

This post is an entry in the 7th Annual Favourite TV Show episode blogathon run by Terence Towles Canote at his site A Shroud of Thoughts.

Sins (1986, Douglas Hickox) – The Joan Collins Blogathon

This post is a contribution to the Joan Collins blogathon run by Gil at RealWeegieMidgetReviews. Somehow despite her busy Dynasty schedule Collins found time to produce this glossy mini-series set in Paris. I’ve wanted to see Sins for ages, partly because I love these late 70s’/early 80s’ big-budget events and partly because this has a wonderfully eclectic cast. These kind of shows were designed to dominate an evenings viewing back in the day when there was a limited choice of networks available to people, so they’re bold and brash and there’s plenty of high drama. They feel like the natural successors to the woman’s pictures of the 1950s’, a genre that got waylaid by the breakdown of the studio system, and all that melodrama seems to have gone into TV and the prime-time soap opera. Two of my favourites are Bare Essence (1982, Walter Grauman) set in the world of professional perfume-making and A Woman of Substance (1985, Don Sharp), both of which tell underdog stories about young women trying to make it in the world of business despite their backgrounds being against them. Sins tries to tell a similar story but something’s not quite right. The frequent jumps between time-frames are disorientating and some of the narrative choices are quite frankly nuts.

What makes it worthwhile is the cast who all do their best to rise above the material. Sins is notable for being the final onscreen appearance of Gene Kelly. Some of the other names have fallen out of cultural memory as the years have passed. I am ashamed to say I don’t know the work of Jean-Pierre Aumont at all. I almost didn’t recognise Kraken-bait Judi Bowker with short brown hair, Capucine will be used to starring in French farces having appeared in The Pink Panther (1963) and What’s New Pussycat! (1965). Steven Berkoff was action cinema’s go-to psycho in the early 80s’ in films like Octopussy (1983, John Glen), Beverley Hills Cop (1984, Martin Brest), and Rambo: First Blood Part III (George P. Cosmatos), and he brings his own brand of swivel-eyed crop-headed lunacy to his role here, while Lauren Hutton makes for a glamorous love and business rival. And then there’s Sins has Timothy Dalton just a few months before he would be cast as the new James Bond.

Although the production is sold on the Dynasty connection it’s unusual seeing 80s’ era Joan Collins playing against type as some a kind-hearted soul whose strength is being a survivor rather than outmanoeuvring her opponents. Alexis Carrington-Colby-Dexter-Rowan would have wiped the floor with everybody on this show. Collins has brought onboard fellow Dynasty alumni James Farentino to play the best of her lovers, a soldier who goes MIA in Vietnam, and might have had a hand in bringing Neil Dickson onto Dynasty for a short-three episode run towards the end of season 7. This felt like an introduction for a major new character, but this went nowhere, save for a bizarre montage scene where he took Alexis on a date to a burger bar on a motorcycle while a cover of Berlin’s Take My Breath Away played on the soundtrack. I do wonder if Dickson’s character Gavin Maurier was initially intended to be the character played by James Healey in season 8. The mysterious stranger routine and the initial interactions with Alexis are very similar.

Sins takes place over four decades and follows the rise of fashion magazine editor Helene (Joan Collins) from her childhood during WWII, through her time as a fashion model in the 50s’, to her time as a journalist and the eventual launch of her flagship title Woman of Today in the 80s’, as well as a series of disastrous relationships, and the search for her brother Edmund (Timothy Dalton) who has been missing since they were separated during the war. Every decade brings a new powerful adversary who eventually all come together to form a cabal determined to destroy her. There’s sadistic former Nazi officer Von Eiderfeld (Steven Berkoff) who raided Helene’s home and killed her mother for sending messages to the Allied forces. Whiny Count Hubert Du Ville (Neil Dickson), who killed her ex-husband (Gene Kelly), her former boss Marcello (Giancarlo Giannini) seeking revenge for her taking his company and ending his career, and finally love-rival ZZ (Lauren Hutton) who blames Helene for the death of her husband. All of the ingredients are here for a decent mini-series but even with an old pro like Douglas Hickox (Theatre of Blood) directing it doesn’t come together. Sins is based on a novel by Judith Gould, a pseudonym for co-authors Nicholas Peter Bienes and Rhea Gallaher, and there’s two people’s worth of ideas in here. All of the money’s onscreen, Collins has 85 wardrobe changes, there’s lavish parties, fancy locations, but it still feels cheap. I can see now why it was difficult to get hold of for a long time.