The Dark Shadows Diaries: Volume 2
Starring: Alexandra Moltke, Joan Bennett, Louis Edmonds, Nancy Barrett, Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Henesy, Joel Crothers, Mitchell Ryan, and Mark Allen
Written by: Art Wallace
Directed by: John Sedwick and Lela Swift
Fashions Provided by: Ohrbach’s
Welcome back, creepies, to another installment of the Dark Shadows Diaries! A bold experiment in total immersion into the goth life and culture to see if I have the grit and grease paint enough to survive the experience. (Editor’s Note: He absolutely does.) My name is Justin Partridge. I am your Virgil through this long and winding trek through a television institution. One that became an honest to Yog-Sothoth cultural phenomena in the 60s. One that birthed generations of practical effects horror nerds and would-be monster-fuckers thanks to its canny mix of high drama and supernatural weirdness. We are still in early days in the show. However, the spookiness has started to creep its way into the halls of Collinwood. We see one of the show’s first major plots come to an unexpected, surprisingly macabre end.
So, a quick recap for everybody: We are introduced to the Collins family, matriarch Elizabeth, her flower child daughter Carolyn, port enthusiast and all around shit dad Roger Collins (Liz’s brother), and his creepy son David, who may or not be a mannequin come to life. We also have leads outside the Collins family. Governess and lover of bay windows Victoria Winters (our protagonist more or less), Actual Ray of Human Sunshine Maggie Evans, her crapsack dad Sam, and Collinsport’s (yeah, the Collins’ are so rich basically everything is named after them, to a comical degree) returning son Burke Devil. Excuse me Burke DEVLIN, who is in TOTALLY NO WAY EVIL AND OUT TO STEAL THE COLLINS FAMILY FORTUNE. WHY ARE YOU EVEN LOOKING AT ME.
After our players were laid out, the drama started almost instantly. Roger had a suspicious car accident. All signs pointed toward Burke who TOTALLY DOESN’T HAVE MOTIVE FOR KILLING ROGER AS HE FRAMED HIM FOR MURDER. THAT IS SO CRAZY YOU THOUGHT I WOULD THINK THAT, WEIRDO. We’re then treated to some riveting television about something called a bleeder valve. It was apparently the most important component of a car in the ’60s. After some finger-pointing and some truly hilarious “angry” acting from Burke and Roger, they retreated to their corners. Roger is determined to pin his car accident on the guy he just not a decade earlier pinned a fucking murder on.
This next block of episodes are the fallout from the Burke and Roger “showdown” in Burke’s hotel room. (Shippers, I hope you are taking notes.) While the first 20 episodes are very much establishing episodes, writer Art Wallace REALLY builds this whole plot to a satisfyingly bonkers conclusion. One that surely had to make all viewing audiences at the time just friggen plotz. After that confrontation, the cliffhanger going into episode 21 is that DAVID has the bleeder valve and is hiding it like a fracking serial killer trophy in his room.
From that reveal, the show really, REALLY starts digging into a heavy dread and tension. David slowly starts to crack under the pressure of having nearly killed his father and basically had been planning it the whole time. Having studied automobile magazines, David coldly found the neatest way to get rid of his father. Then, FUCKING ACTED ON IT LIKE THE MANIAC WE ALL KNEW HE WAS.
This is given an extra layer of ick with the tutoring scenes between him and Vicki where she asks about his numerous car magazines. He retorts with a question about if they give kids the goddamn CHAIR for murder. Along with him running away to Burke Devlin’s hotel room to PLANT THE GODDAMN THING IN HIS ROOM. I mean, it still doesn’t get David closer to being a character that I give a damn about. His relationship so far with Roger, who literally cannot stop talking about how he wants to send him away and hinting that he’s slapped him once or twice (or a fucking bunch), gives him sympathetic reasons for trying something this drastic. At the very least, he is becoming more active in the plot and provides a genuinely shocking twist for the show’s first real denouement.
Wallace and director Lela Swift also give this block of episodes a real high point in terms of the show’s incoming turn into the spooky. All the way back in episode 17, Carolyn teases Vicki about all the ghosts that have taken residence throughout the house. The exchange goes like this, but keep in mind I am paraphrasing:
CAROLYN: *Slaps a wall sconce* “This bad boy can hold SO MANY GHOSTS!”
VICKI: “David talked about the electric chair earlier today, and I literally did not know what to say to him.”
This, of course, was centered around the infamous East Wing of Collinwood. It’s been closed off for the 18 years Elizabeth has been a hermit. I didn’t think much of the exchange and went on about my watching and screenshotting thinking that the ghosts didn’t come until at least 70 or 80 episodes in. HOLY CATS was I wrong. Episode 30 finally gave me my first honest to god g-g-g-g-g-GHOST sighting, and it was a doozy. As Vicki is starting out of a BRAND NEW WINDOW which must have been so exciting for her, a heavy wind kicks up throughout the drawing room. The studio lights die away to a searing spot on Moltke in the foreground of the shot.
We then get a slight backlight from the main staircase corridor section of the set. There stands a shroud, featureless and backlit with a smoky set of floodlights. It’s a really striking and theatrical move for the series this early. There is also a REALLY awesome sequence toward the middle of this block. David is hiding in the phone booth of Maggie’s cafe, hiding from his dad. He slowly rises into the foreground like a shadow goblin once everyone exits the stage. It is small potatoes compared to the TRULY great gags the show pulls off later on. It is gratifying to see as a new fan that the show was always doing what it could with what it had in terms of horror staging.
If I had one major complaint with this block, it would be that we don’t get too much more headway with the Burke vs. The Collins family in these episodes. Burke was built up as this major antagonist and the show introduced some outside elements he had set in motion, like a shady lawyer from New York and commissioning the about-to-regenerate Sam Evans to paint a portrait of him. He is largely a side character this time around. He gets questioned by Sheriff Andy Daly a few times and hauled up to Collinwood for a stern talking to, but he’s much more passive this block. I’m not sure how I feel about it (or Burke just in general right now).
In all honesty, the most he contributes to the show during this stretch is covering for David when it comes to the bleeder valve (which he finds after David really poorly plants it in his hotel room) and a truly bonkers sandwich order early in this run. He apparently has some major face turn in the series. I am really curious to see how that plays out based on his very Sterling-Cooper-Draper-Pryce like characterization right now. Also absent is the plot about Vicki’s parentage and how it connects to Collinsport. I have a sneaking suspicion that that’s what this next block is going to be largely centered around. Christ, as long as it is less David, I am more than here for it.
NEXT TIME: High! Stakes! Portrait painting!
Vicki is gonna be so mad y’all were in her fave window.
PREVIOUS VOLUMES: Vol.1