DVD Review: The Treasure of Abbot Thomas

The Treasure of Abbot Thomas, written by M.R. James in 1904, is a tale in which his usual type of protagonist, an antiquary scholar, discovers and solves a series of puzzles that lead him to find a horde of gold concealed by a wicked Reformation-era Abbot. But this treasure still has a guardian protecting it.

The plot is similar to A Warning to the Curious, but the mystery to be solved is more complicated and interesting, and the creature who guards the gold more horrible than the angry ghost that protects the buried Anglo-Saxon crown.

In 1974, the BBC presented its Ghost Story for Christmas based on The Treasure of Abbot Thomas. Aside from the central mystery leading to the treasure, there’s very little of James’s original tale. I like it, but it’s barely the same story. Hands form a circle for the seance

The BBC’s Treasure of Abbot Thomas begins with a seance–and you know how I enjoy those. The year is 1859. A man with abundant side-whiskers and three ladies in black crinolines and lacy headgear are seated around a table in dim light, attempting to contact the spirit world but having some problem getting through. The man at last announces that his wife, the medium, is unable to reach the spirits due to a “presence hostile to manifestations.”

A moment later, we meet this hostile presence–a young man (a boy, really; he doesn’t look to be more than 20) who obviously thinks that the whole thing is rubbish. This is Peter, Lord Dattering (Paul Lavers). He’s just come into the title following his father’s death. His mother, Lady Dattering, is having a hard time accepting the loss of her husband and Peter believes that these spiritualists are charlatans taking advantage of her grief.

None of these people are in James’s story. At most, there are one or two passing references to a Lord D who owns a chapel. The three characters in James’s story are the antiquarian Reverend Justin Somerton, his comic Cockney manservant, and another clergyman, Mr. Gregory, who comes to Somerton’s aid and hears the story he has to tell about finding the treasure; only Somerton appears in the television version.
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DVD Review: Lost Hearts

“Lost Hearts,” one of M.R. James’s early stories, is a more conventional type of ghost story, in which the dead seek revenge against a wrong done against them. But the ghosts are not the horror here and, for once, the scholarly gentleman is no mere witness nor a victim, but the villain of the piece.

It’s on the Gaslight site at http://gaslight.mtroyal.ab.ca/jamesX03.htm.

The BBC version filmed for Ghost Stories on Christmas Eve in 1973 begins on a very Dickensian note. We are in the early 1800s–James’s story was set in 1811, but this looks more like the 1830s or ’40s to me. A horse-drawn coach comes riding out of the morning mists; inside is a little boy dressed in a top hat, caped coat, and scarf, and looking like the Artful Dodger. (This same child actor, Simon Gipps-Kent, also played young Pip in a film version of Great Expectations made around the same time; he grew up to be Michael York.) The boy is Stephen, recently orphaned and invited to come and live with a distant cousin.

“Is it much farther?” he asks the coachman in weary tones.

“Not long,” the coachman assures him. “Don’t lose heart.”

As the coach passes by an open field, Stephen sees two raggedly dressed children, a boy and a girl, around his own age. They wave to him; the horse shies.

When the coach arrives at the large, old house, its owner, Mr. Peregrin Abney, is waiting eagerly. He is much older than his young cousin, an elderly man, with long, white hair and spectacles. He greets Stephen with avuncular warmth, shakes the boy’s hand, asks when Stephen’s birthday is–asks it twice. Stephen will be 12 on October 31.

Mr. AbneyAbney seems like just the sort of absent-minded, comical gentleman one might find in a Dickens novel, if more intellectual than the usual Dickens character. He has an interest in the occult and studies books of antiquary spells.

Simon Magnus, for example, wrote that one who performs a certain spell can “fly through the air.”

Mr. Abney then jumps off his library steps, but doesn’t fly. “Not yet.”

A harmless eccentric? No. As we learn more about the type of spells Abney is most interested in, the ones about how to gain immortality, he grows more sinister.
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Dark Shadows: Monster Mash, Part 3

Barnabas on trial The last time we saw Barnabas Collins, he was facing a ghostly trial at the instigation of the Reverend Trask, whom he had bricked up in a basement wall in the old house, with his first 18th-century victims as jurors. That was the last that anybody saw Barnabas. Apparently, the reverend had his revenge in kind.

People have noticed Barnabas’s absence and wonder where he’s gone. Willie Loomis hears thumping sounds from the cellar, but he assumes it’s mice.

Adam, learning to paint with blind Sam Evans, suddenly sensed that Barnabas was in danger and rushed out into the night. I thought he was headed straight back to the old house to rescue Barnabas from behind the brick wall, but he never got there. Instead, he lurks around the town and the Evans cottage, and is riled to anger when Willie pays a visit to Maggie. Willie is sweet on Maggie, but she seems oblivious to it–and after her boyfriend Joe beats the snot out of him, she brings him into the cottage to tend his injuries. That’s when Adam comes in, announcing that Willie is bad.

Perhaps Willie might’ve been able to calm the big lug down using those sparkly emerald earrings he gave to Maggie, or perhaps Sam might have when he returns home, since they both have some idea of how to handle him, but Maggie’s never seen this very tall man with the scarred face and limited vocabulary before. She’s screaming and hysterical and makes it impossible for her dad to convince Adam that she’s his friend, especially after she hits him over the head. Adam isn’t hurt, but he becomes very upset and pushes Sam down as he flies out of the cottage; Sam hits his head as he falls and is taken to the hospital.
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Dark Shadows: How Barnabas Stopped Being a Vampire

After their car crashes on the way to the cemetery, Vicky and Barnabas are taken to the local hospital. Vicky’s got a few minor injuries, but the hospital staff are alarmed that the unconscious Barnabas apparently has no blood pressure or pulse. This man needs a transfusion right away! He is soon under the care of a Dr. Lang, who seems to pick up on what Barnabas is pretty quickly and isn’t afraid to say the word “Vampire” out loud.

Except that Barnabas isn’t a vampire anymore. That blood transfusion started his cure, and Dr. Lang gives him injections that further it. He no longer craves blood and can stand the sunlight.

One of the subplots that was dropped during the long storyline set in 1795 was the enmity between Barnabas and Dr. Julia Hoffman. Dr. Hoffman was at the point of a nervous breakdown when Vicky went into the past but was perfectly fine and medically competent when Vicky returned and took change of her recovery. The doctor and Barnabas are allies again. When he first comes to in the hospital after the accident, he demands that they send for her as his personal physician. Dr. Hoffman does rush right over but by the time she gets there his transformation has already begun. She and Dr. Lang have some previous acquaintance as well; neither of them believes that the other’s attempt to cure Barnabas is the most effective way to do it.

By a remarkable co-incidence, the young man Vicky nearly ran over works for Dr. Lang. He was also the one who thoughtfully phoned for an ambulance. While she’s still in the hospital, he introduces himself. Even though he looks exactly like Peter Bradford from 1795, his name is Jeff Clark. This new name doesn’t stop Vicky from believing that he’s the same person, keeping his promise to seek her out through time, although she doesn’t harp too much on it and scare him away by sounding like a lunatic.

As it turns out, Jeff’s pretty well inured to the bizarre. What was he doing up at the cemetery in the middle of night? Collecting spare body parts, of course.
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Winding up Dark Shadows 1795

The newly vampired Barnabas falls quickly into the routine of his undead life. He and his henchman Ben Stokes move the coffin to the basement of the otherwise unoccupied old house and Barnabas rises each night to wander the streets of Collinsport in quest of blood. He attacks women who have the misfortune to encounter him. Colonial Collinsport, by the way, has a surprising number of floozies and trollops; it must be because of all the sailors at the port.

He also sinks his teeth into Josette. Not that he intends to at first–he only wanted to warn her away from Collinwood before Angelique’s curse destroyed her too–but now that he’s a vampire, his impulse control has pretty much disappeared. He keeps coming back to her, not simply to feed but to try and make her a vampire as well. Though her family tries to protect her from a danger they don’t fully comprehend, she’s more than willing to go to him, even to the point of slipping out of the house via a secret panel in her bedroom.

Josette as a vampire Of course, this ends badly. Josette can’t escape her fate.

While wandering the cliff top, she encounters the apparition of Angelique, who shows her a pale and ghastly vision of herself as Barnabas’s vampire bride. Horrified, Josette flees and heads straight off the cliff to fulfill that destiny we’ve been hearing about from the first time her name came up in the earliest episodes.
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Dark Shadows 1795: How Barnabas Became a Vampire (Part 2)

If you were worried about Barnabas’s witchy wife Angelique being buried alive, don’t be. It takes more than a premature burial to keep her down.

Jeremiah buries AngeliqueAngelique is dug up and rescued by the Collinses’ indentured servant Ben Stokes, whom she has ensnared with her spells, before she’s even out of breath.

Unfazed by having a dead man come up out of his grave to try to kill her (I guess that’s just the sort of thing that happens when you’re a witch), she is soon focused again upon her ultimate purpose of making Barnabas love her or else destroying him and his entire family–one or the other; she fluctuates wildly between the two from episode to episode, which makes her motivations seem a tad inconsistent.

Meanwhile, Vicky Winters has been arrested for witchcraft due to her 1960s clothes, her odd behavior while adjusting to being thrown over 170 years back in time but still seeing the same familiar faces all around her, and her foreknowledge of certain events. Also, Angelique needs a scapegoat to draw attention away from herself, and poor hapless Vicky is certainly the best candidate.

Vicky does, however, have a few friends. Naomi Collins is as kind and supportive as Elizabeth Stoddard-Collins always was. She also gains a cute young law student named Peter Bradford as her advocate. Barnabas also believes her innocent–at first because he doesn’t believe in superstitious nonsense like witches, then because he suspects who the witch really is. It’s Angelique’s unwilling henchman Ben who finally gives her away, using his new-found basic literacy skills by writing down her initial for Barnabas; he too is sympathetic to Vicky’s plight.

This is where Barnabas’s downfall truly begins. Once he’s certain that his bride is in fact a witch, Barnabas decides to put a stop to her before she can do any more harm. An attempt at poisoning her wine doesn’t work; a plan to stab her is likewise thwarted. By this time, Angelique is aware of his plotting against her and tells him plainly that if he doesn’t knock it off, Josette will be the next one to die. Instead of giving up his plans when faced with this threat, Barnabas first tries to get Josette safely away from Collinsport before he carries on.
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Dark Shadows: How Barnabas Became a Vampire (Part 1)

The old Collins house, looking pretty

Time has been suspended at Collin- wood. It waits for the completion of an uncertain and frightening journey into the past, back to the year 1795…

With some variation, this is the new opening voiceover for every episode of Dark Shadows. Since the character of Victoria Winters has been sent back into the past to witness the beginning of the unhappy story of Barnabas Collins and his family, actress Alexandra Moltke no longer does these introductory speeches and the other women in the cast take turns with it. Sometimes, it’s a voice I don’t recognize and I wonder if the woman speaking is a production assistant or perhaps the show’s director, Lela Swift?

I have to note that when we were first introduced to Josette Collins in the very earliest episodes of Dark Shadows, and even when Barnabas first arrived, the key events of their lives and deaths were supposed to be happening in the 1830s. At some point in the narrative, the timeline shifted back about 40 years to the late colonial era, which is where Vicky suddenly and unexpectedly finds herself.

Vicky has been in love with the past and dreaming about the history of Collinwood for some time, but she’s about to discover that the olden days weren’t all that great to live in.

Not that we’ll see this at first. As we and Vicky approach the old Collins home when it wasn’t so very old, the initial impression is of a bright and cheerful place. There are flowers all around the handsome colonial house. Inside, the drawing room is painted pastel colors–pink and minty green.

Vicky. Barnabas, and SarahBarnabas, who seems like he might’ve once actually been a nice guy before that whole vampire thing, is out in the sunshine with his little sister Sarah, awaiting the arrival of his bride-to-be, Josette, from Martinique.

Vicky is more than a little bewildered, not just by this information that contradicts what she knows of the Collins family history–that Josette was the bride of Jeremiah Collins–but also that this Barnabas who looks just like the Barnabas she knows in 1968 doesn’t recognize her.

Poor Vicky’s bewilderment will only increase as she meets the rest of the family, who also look just like people she already knows. No wonder it takes so long for her to accept that she really is in the past; this double casting gives things a sort of Wizard-of-Oz “and you were there, and you,” dream-like feeling.
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DVD Review: Night of Dark Shadows

I put this movie into my Netflix queue because of the title, thinking it had some connection the supernatural soap opera. In spite of the title, however, it has little to do with the TV series; the little it does is more of a detriment than than a benefit except in the marketing sense. Changing the names of a few characters and locations would remove the relationship, but improve the viewing experience.

The story begins with Quentin Collins and his wife Tracy (Kate Jackson before she was anybody famous) inheriting the family mansion, Collinwood, from Mrs. Elizabeth Collins Stoddard whom it seems has recently died. The Collinwood seen here doesn’t resemble the house in the series. Instead of flimsy studio sets for the interiors, Collinwood is a now shown inside and out as a handsome and spacious, actual house. This is a reasonable change; the filmmakers had a much bigger budget, so of course they’d want to make use of it with a good location.

The housekeeper, Carlotta, is waiting to welcome the young couple upon their arrival. The Collinses jokingly refer to her as “Mrs. Danvers,” but they don’t know the half of it.
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