DVD Review: Set 4 of Dark Shadows: The Beginning

Since the 3rd set of DVDs for the early episodes of Dark Shadows isn’t available from Netflix, I debated whether or not to wait for them or to go on to the 4th set.

Josette's ghostIt was the appearance of Josette Collins’s ghost at the very of the 2nd set that prompted me to skip ahead and hope I wouldn’t miss very much.

No, as it turned out, I didn’t miss much at all. The murder mystery is drawing toward a conclusion

To my delight, the first episode in the 4th set begins just after Roger Collins has been arrested for the murder of Bill Malloy. I gather that there was some business about a distinctive pen being found by Vicky in a suspicious place (I did see the beginning of this; Burke gave the pen to Carolyn, and Roger took it from her). Roger apparently dropped the pen, and then made an incriminating ass of himself. And now he’s being questioned by the police.
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DVD Review: Winding up the first 2 sets of Dark Shadows: The Beginning

I started out to watch the first two DVD sets of Dark Shadows: The Beginning, 70 episodes in all, and have reached the end of the second set. At this point, the investigation into Bill Malloy’s murder still going on.

My overall impressions:

Before I started watching Dark Shadows, the one thing I’d heard about the very early shows is that they were laughably bad, with frequent boom shadows and flubbed lines. Yes, these things do happen. Curious shadows appear on walls behind the actors, or an object that might be a microphone or part of a camera rigging is glimpsed at the edge of the screen. My favorite was the shadow of one of the TV crew crossing the foot of Vicky’s bed in a very early episode. Lines are sometimes misspoken, but they aren’t huge gaffs. I note from the chalkboard held up at the opening of each show that almost all of the shows as filmed are first-take efforts; the poor actors don’t get a second chance if they slip up. So I’m inclined to be forgiving.
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DVD Review: More of Dark Shadows: The Beginning

As I mentioned in my first review of Dark Shadows, the earliest episodes following Victoria Winters’ arrival at the little Maine town of Collinsport are rather tedious to get through. Most of them are taken up with the Burke Devlin revenge plot, which I can’t work up any interest in. Even in that story line, it seems like something only happens every third or fourth episode; the others consist of different pairs of people talking over the same points again and again.

To be fair, the show’s writer sometimes shows a clever turn in jumping from one conversation to another, both discussing the same topic and each picking up where the other left off even though the two are occurring in different parts of Collinwood or even miles apart in the town. But if this was usual for soap operas of the era, I’m surprised people could watch them from day to day. On DVD, an episode runs about 20 minutes with the commercials removed and I would watch 4 or 5 in an afternoon. That helped it move a little more briskly.

At this early point, I could see why they eventually brought a vampire into the story to liven things up. Some of the characters were definitely begging for a good bite to the jugular vein. I was about to give it up. Then, at about episode No. 40, things began to improve.
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DVD Review: Dark Shadows: The Beginning (first episodes)

Dark Shadows: Collinwood at nigtAs a little girl in the early ’70s, I would come home from school every day and turn on the TV to watch reruns of what we called “Barnabas Collins,” the show about the vampire.

I don’t recall very much about the show itself, however, except that one featured character named Maggie was played by an actress named Kathryn Leigh Scott–a name I am unlikely ever to forget or misspell. Nor can I say that I gave the show much thought in the last 40 years, until the first 200 episodes of Dark Shadows from 1966 and ’67, before the appearance of Barnabas Collins, became available on DVD in the wake of that very silly film remake.

The original concept for the show sounded like the sort of Old Dark House movies I’ve taken an interest in lately, atmospherically spooky and not so overtly supernatural as it later became. I thought I’d rent the first two sets of disks from Netflix and give it a look.

The first episode begins promisingly with a night-time view of a neo-Gothic house on a hill and a woman speaking in voice-over, at once evoking both The Haunting and Rebecca.

When the young woman speaking is introduced, her story also seems vaguely Jane-Eyrish.

Victoria WintersHer name is Victoria Winters (as she will announce at the beginning of nearly every subsequent episode). She was abandoned as an infant and has grown up in a New York orphanage. The only clues she has to her background are a note that was left with her as a baby, bearing her first name, and anonymous envelopes containing money for her care which have been sent regularly from Bangor, Maine, over the past eighteen years.

Vicky has just received a job offer from a woman named Elizabeth Collins Stoddard of Collinsport to be a governess to her nine-year-old nephew.

Vicky has never heard of the Collinses or Collinsport and has no idea how Mrs. Collins Stoddard has come to know about her, but Collinsport is only 50 miles from Bangor. Vicky has accepted the job in hopes of solving the mystery of her own past. We meet her on a train headed for the little coastal town.

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Key to Pronunciation

In preparation for the third book in this series, Sonnedragon, I’ve been putting together reference material and background information: a new and more expansive map, family trees, dramatis personae. While looking through some very old files to recover what I’d already done in this area, I found the following guide to pronouncing proper names.


The language spoken by the characters in this novel is an Anglo-French amalgamation similar to Chaucerian English; though the language itself is rarely represented, the spelling and pronunciation of proper names reflect its use. There are a few, simple, general guidelines to correct pronunciation:

  • Y is usually pronounced like long e: Ah-dee-nah, Oh-leer.
  • An initial I is a long i: Eye-gren, Eye-oh-bethe. Exceptions are the Spanish words, in which an initial I is pronounced with a modern y sound: Yar-din-ez.
  • The use of U as a consonant is frequently, but not consistently, employed. Names such as Houarde, Eduarde, and Uinmerchant should be pronounced as if the U were a W: Win-merchant.
  • When a word ends with a consonant followed by an E, the consonant should be stressed with a slight aspirate afterwards, a sort of uh sound: Da-feeTH-uh, Ed-warD-uh.
  • The accent usually falls on the second or middle syllable: Mar-GEER-reet, Kat-HER-Reen, Go-DEF-roi, An-DEM-ee-on.

A Cottage on Dartmoor

This is a long overlooked British silent film, directed by Anthony Asquith in the early days of his career. I’m posting my review of it here because the cottage reminds me of Orlan’s at the end of the novel–one large room below, and a partial loft above. The story is not at all similar.

A man breaks out of Dartmoor prison and runs across the darkened moors to the title cottage, where a woman is putting her baby to bed in the loft. He breaks in just before she comes downstairs. When she sees him, she is naturally alarmed… but they call each other by their first names.

Most of the rest of the movie is a flashback to when the escaped prisoner was a barber and the woman a manicurist at a posh hotel barber’s shop; he is smitten with her in a shy-but-slightly-creepy way and believes she returns his affections due to a misunderstanding about some flowers he sent her. When she falls in love with one of their regular customers, he goes into full-blown jealous stalker mode and follows the couple on a date to the movies (They’re in a silent movie, but they’re going to see a talky).

The scene in the theater is one of the movie’s high points: we never see what the audience is watching, but we observe all their reactions. I guessed that the short before the main feature was a Harrold Lloyd comedy from the way a boy in the audience reacts to Lloydish-looking man in glasses sitting near him. At one point, the scene features enough quick cuts to keep the shortest of modern attention spans happy. And while nearly everyone else is the theater is enthralled by the movie–and the manicurist and her boyfriend are cuddling up during the suspenseful parts–Stalker-guy is seated in the row immediately behind them and never takes his eyes off them.

The next day, the boyfriend comes into the barber shop for his usual shave and manicure. While the couple flirts as she works on his nails, guess who is holding a straight razor near his throat? This scene is a forerunner the sort of suspense work we’ll later see from Alfred Hitchcock. And since the man holding the razor escaped from prison at the beginning of the movie, the tension of the moment increases only toward dread.

The movie is worth seeing just for these two sequences alone.

Another excerpt from The Wizard’s Son

A traveling troupe of actors performs their own interpretation of a very old and highly symbolic play
______________________________________________

After dinner, Redmantyl brought Orlan downstairs. “You’re going to see a play tonight, Little One,” he said.

A stage had been set on the courtyard above the Plaza. Torches blazed on the walls and huge squares of black canvas hung across the southern side. There were few props—painted chairs, a baptismal font, an odd pile of lumber and canvas with a platform at the top, and a large, sheet-draped object at one corner—but Orlan looked around, wondering, as his father took him across. They sat on the Plaza just below the steps. All the servants, the off-duty guards, and the more prominent citizens of Lyges sat behind them, on benches and cushions. Orlan saw none of the thespians who had been rushing about all day.

“It’ll be starting soon?” He looked up at his father.

“At any moment,” Redmantyl answered softly. “Hush.” And as Orlan began to squirm with impatience, a young maid in plain dress—Anyse—walked out from the Bottom Hall and curtsied pertly.

“Our noble patron, Lord Redmantyl, his household, and welcome guests from Lyges,” her voice rang out clearly. “We the members of Redmantyl’s most kindly sustained thespian troupe thank you all for your favor and bid you attend the tale we perform tonight. `Tis a sad but worthy story of a man of pride and temper and of his grievous sins. With no more apology nor delay, we humbly present our tale of times long passed and people long dead, of Oedipus, the tragic King.” She bobbed again and exited.
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Why are Lord Redmantyl’s family so overfair? (Wizard’s Son version)

It began as a literary short-hand. When I wrote my first draft of this book’s opening scene many years ago, both Orlan and Redmantyl had ordinary skin and hair color. But that immediately presented me with a problem: A wizard might be able to recognize his previously unseen child at first meeting, but how would the little boy know that this was his father? And how would anyone else know? DNA testing doesn’t exist in a medieval-type world, and it seemed unlikely that a man could show up and simply claim custody of a child without providing some undeniable proof of his right to do so. There needed to be some way to make the true relationship between the wizard and little boy plain right away to both readers and the characters in the story without bogging the plot down.

After playing with some ideas about birthmarks or distinctive patterns to the eyes, I decided to give them a sort of ultra-albino coloring, with very pale skin and silvery-fair hair.The wizard Redmantyl, his son, and other relatives are not true albinos, however; their eyes are pale blue or gray instead of pink. This appearance made them easily recognizable as members of the same family, and marked them as something rare and remarkable even among the magicians of their world.

Although this series is only at its very beginning, there may also eventually be an explanation for the odd appearance of my main characters later on.