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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Film Review: Edgar Wallace’s “The Terror”

Edgar Wallace is known for his crime dramas that often feature brutal and grotesque acts of violence. A number of films were made from them through the 1930s through the ’60s in the UK and Germany. Not my usual cup of tea, but this film featured a haunted house, so I put it in my queue to watch.

The Terror‘s story begins with two career criminals named Joe Connor and Soapy Marks (the latter played by Alastair Sim) who have just participated in the theft of a large shipment of gold in transit between Paris and New York; before they can enjoy their ill-gotten gains, however, they are betrayed by their unseen third partner-in-crime, known to them as Micheal Shea. It’s Shea’s phone call to the police that leads to the arrest of Connor and Marks, while he keeps all the gold for himself.

Ten years in prison give Connor and Marks more than ample time to think about revenge. The police, meanwhile, are still searching for the gold, which has never been recovered; they believe that the two about-to-be ex-cons know more about its whereabouts than they admit. Marks and Connor don’t know, but they do have some idea of where to hunt for Shea once they’ve been released.
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Film Review: The Bat

Last year, when I was taking an interest in Old Dark House movies, I ran across this title. Based on a stage play, it’s the story of a killer dressed in a bat costume who terrorizes the inhabitants of an isolated country house. Sounded like just the sort of thing I was looking for! A silent version was made in the 1920s and another, presumably talkie version, in 1930. These earlier versions were not available on DVD, but since this 1959 remake starred Vincent Price and Agnes Moorehead, I thought it was worth a look.

Moorehead plays Cornelia Van Gorder, a writer of murder mysteries who has rented a country house called the Oaks for the summer from the bank president of the nearest town. The bank president, Mr. Fleming, is away vacationing in a cabin in the woods with his friend, the local doctor. Miss Van Gorder just happens to be at the bank, meeting the nice young cashier who’s been left in charge and his nice young wife, when over a million dollars worth of bonds and negotiable securities are discovered missing.
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CD Review: The Dunwich Horror

The Dunwich Horror appears to be the first of the 1930s-style radio plays on CD produced by the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society (HPLHS). I was sorry to see that Matt Foyer isn’t in this one—I’ve begun to be a fan of his.

H.P. Lovecraft’s The Dunwich Horror is the story of a decayed and nearly forgotten rural Massachusetts farm community and the curious events that occur there in the early part of the 20th century, culminating in the Horror in 1928. The family at the focus of these events are the Whateleys: the old man, “Wizard” Whateley, who practices strange rituals at the ancient stone circle on the hill near his farm; his albino daughter Lavinia, who somehow gives birth to a son with no apparent father (old Whateley has some things to say about Lavinia’s husband, but who pays attention to his lunatic ravings?); and Lavinia’s very peculiar son Wilbur.

Wilbur’s remarkable growth and premature maturity is probably the least weird thing about him. Something else seems to inhabit the Whateley home besides these three persons; the neighbors don’t see it, but they do hear strange sounds, smell odd smells, and make note of the anemic cows that old Whateley has to replace so frequently. It’s only after the old man and Lavinia have gone and Wilbur tries to beg, borrow, or steal an intact edition of the Necromonicon from the Miskatonic University library to replace his grandfather’s tattered and fragmentary copy that the Horror begins to unfold.
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CD Review: The Shadow over Innsmouth

When I purchased Whisperer in the Darkness from the HP Lovecraft Historical Society (HPLHS), I also bought a set of their radio plays on CD, charmingly boxed in a cardboard recreation of an old-fashioned, gothic-style radio cabinet. These plays are performed for The Dark Adventure Radio Theatre–the conceit being that these are episodes from a 1930s radio series, complete with an opening announcer and a sponsor, Fleur-de-Lis cigarettes.

The first one I listened to was The Shadow over Innsmouth, Lovecraft’s story of a young man from Ohio who takes an historical and genealogical tour of New England, including a visit to the decayed port town of Innsmouth. Once he starts poking around and talking to a crazy, drunken old man who knows all about the town’s history, he draws the ire of the rather fishy-looking inhabitants of Innsmouth and his brief visit ends in terrifying events that will change his life.

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Film Review: The Whisperer in Darkness

I’ve been waiting for this film to come out on DVD for a long time, since I first saw and fell in love with the H. P. Lovecraft Historical Society’s (HPLHS) 1920s-style silent film The Call of Cthulhu. This latest film from the HPLHS is a talkie, done in the style of an early ’30s horror film.

The Whisperer in Darkness isn’t as close an adaptation of Lovecraft’s short story as Call of Cthulhu. The first thing that struck me when I began to watch it is that there are a lot more people here than appeared in the written story. New characters are introduced, and characters that were no more than alluded to by Lovecraft are present, fleshed out with dialog, and given roles to play in the drama that leads our protagonist Albert Wilmarth to his fate.
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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.

New Amazon review

“Kathryn Ramage effortlessly transports you to the Northlands, an alternate Earthly reality of magick and wizards. Once again, she delivers an unusual, unexpected — but very satisfying — take on the journey of becoming a wizard. Her world is vivid and believable, and the story very much character-driven; I didn’t want to leave, and I fell absolutely in love with Laurel — this is a perfect fantasy read for long weekend.”
Escape for a Weekend to the Northlands…, by Molly Kiely, June 23, 2011

New Maiden in Light review

Maiden in Light is beautifully written, vivid descriptive passages alternating with well-paced action, poetry intermingling with natural dialogue. Laurel herself is a likeable heroine, strong yet with understandable human failings, impulsive yet given to procrastination, and playful while capable of being ruthless; her story is reminiscent of the Romantic literary legend of Lorelei, a nymph inhabiting a rock above the river Rhine, who siren-like attracts the attention of would-be lovers, though her fate is somewhat different from Laurel’s. How the youngster gets to grips with the distractions that life throws at her while attempting to be single-minded about her calling and its associated responsibilities makes for engrossing reading, repaying the investment the reader pays in empathising with her character.”
GoodReads, by Ed Pendragon, May 24, 2011

Jubercat review of Maiden in Light

“The story begins with Laurel, who has never felt comfortable or accepted in her home town of New York, being called for by her Uncle Redmantyl to join him at Wizardes Cliff and become a magical apprentice. Laurel is happy to leave New York, and her adventures at her uncle’s home as she learns the ways of magic and makes friends with the other apprentices make for a delightful and charming read. Things change when she is sent back to New York on a mission for her uncle.”
Maiden in Light, review by Jubercat, LibraryThing, May 8, 2011