26 September 2018

Ghostly Gals and Thrilling Skippers

Ghostly Gals and Thrilling Skippers
by Kristin Battestella

Another dreary, rainy day means another quartet of forgettable ghostly ladies and moody thrillers that ultimately don't quite foot the spooky bill.

Edgar Allan Poe's The Oval Portrait – Stormy nights, carriages, red velvet, and antiques accent this loose 1972 adaptation alongside candles, staircases, ominous housekeepers, late relatives, and ghostly piano playing. The titular painting, apparitions, and haunted house atmosphere come early with eerie music, lovelorn letters, and fainting ladies. However the inaccurate Civil War costumes, shabby uniforms, off kilter voices, and dark print make it difficult to tell who's Union or Confederate. The echoing overlays, visions of past couples, and angry artist can't overcome the lookalike characters, soap opera stylings, and rip off plots. Sure Poe's tale is thin, but here the new wife shocks everyone by coming down the stairs in Rebecca's clothes – and yes that's the late subject's name. More people keep arriving, but the ghostly possessions are put on hold for flashbacks with rally calls, cavalry, and a soldier on the lamb that look borrowed from another picture. If this scandal is where the story starts, why not begin there? Of course, there's also confusion between this movie and another with the same cast called One Minute Before Death, and the bookends make it seem like the two movies are combined into one on top of weak scripting, fly by night production, and jumpy flash cuts between the back and forth that never lets the forbidden love build. The muddled dialogue and stalling gothic romance feel like part of the story is missing – compromising the illicit, funerals, and grave robbing before more hysterics, wills, and tacked on ghosts. Though watchable – bemusing even thanks to the overlong, nonsensical dancing with the corpse finale that's probably followed by some good old fashioned necrophilia – this could have been a better, faithful adaptation of Poe's story instead of some kind of two for the price of one messy that doesn't go together.

House of Bones – The 1951 baseball nostalgia opening this 2010 ghost hunters yarn starring Charisma Carpenter (Buffy) is totally The Sandlot complete with a chubby redhead hitting dad's Babe Ruth autographed baseball over the ominous fence. Technicalities drag the arrivals as dude bros in a van with the latest gear are sure to announce themselves as the cameraman, the host, and the producer. Slow motion strobe and in your face television credits for the internal paranormal program parody such series while playing into all they do with annoying crescendos, false jumps, and cheesy bumpers. Every horror moment has to be a bad effect – a glance at gross apple worms has to be some herky jerky strobe when exploring the cluttered old house, skulls behind the plaster, roaches, suspicious ectoplasm, and disappearing assistants better build the eerie atmosphere. Black and white camera screens, creepy radios, and EVPs accent the attic artifacts and bloody toes yet the modern filming is too fast with no time for the haunted house mood or psychic sensations. The unlikable crew remain jerks trying to turn throwing up hair, shadows caught on camera, disturbing phone calls, and impaled police into a reality show angle rather than taking the danger seriously. Trying to be both a debunking paranormal show and a horror movie at the same time doesn't quite succeed when the out of place humor and handheld camera sarcasm jar with the scary glass mishaps and arms coming through the walls. The television production asinine should have been dropped sooner so all can fear this alive house that feeds on blood and plays psychological tricks with vintage visuals, power outages, mirror images, and gear hazards. However, the find the blueprints plan of action is silly – an overly serious and contrived resolution meandering with a thin script and useless psychic before running out of steam. While fine for a late night millennial audience, this ultimately has very little haunted house merit.

The Spiritualist – Staircases, ominous statues, shadows, vintage style, flickering lights, and varying hues accent this 2016 British agoraphobic tale with obligatory eerie opening credits, inspired by true events claims, and sexy times in the bathtub. Empty glasses filled when one's not looking and the feeling that something is in the room are better subtle fears than the false jump screams, and the sound is very uneven between the nighttime whispers and those loud shocks. Incest delusions and other unnecessary incidental scenes dampen superb scenery as well as deeper conversations on diagnosing an ill parent and still loving a sick spouse that isn't all there but won't leave the house. Of course, dad is caught in bed with the kinky maid, and confusing flashbacks and timeline foolery add to the disjointed crazy or grieving plot holes amid suicide letters and bereavement videos. Ghostly reflections on the laptop screen, strange noises, and tip toeing about the huge, dark house are simple yet effective, and letting the audience get creeped out is better than toying with us. Telling a friend about the family past is a much more succinct way to express character emotions and lead to the psychic invitations when all the unnecessarily cryptic makes it easy for viewers to tune out – we can't relate to the fear happening if we're confused by all the on the nose. A writer/director/more is once again wearing too many hats or trying to do too much with incoherent jumpy moments, character back and forths, and more overreaction screaming that quickly becomes obnoxious. It takes forty minutes to gather everyone for a proper séance with contortions, vomit, tears, and possessions, but a dang cell phone rings during the séance – wrongfully breaking the intense atmosphere by withdrawing audience immersion. It's no spoiler that the gay men are killed first while other lookalike jerks argue, and half the viewers probably stopped watching long before the power outages, killing sprees, and failed twists.

10x10 – Island scenery and quaint streets belie the stalking and kidnappers opening this 2018 thriller starring Kelly Reilly (Eden Lake) and Luke Evans (High-Rise). Guns, duck tape, a bag over the head, and wire ties complete the daylight parking lot abduction – cars and people abound yet no one sees or hears a thing. Unfortunately, the rug is pulled out from under such real world fear thanks to blatantly obvious L.A. Fitness storefronts, an ominous Dodge Charger, and Instagram as the latest form of communication product placements when any yoga class, vehicle, or phone number would do. Despite the elaborate concrete and soundproof construction of the titular room, our perpetrator makes mistakes as our victim easily fights her way out of the cell amid screams contrasting the quiet isolation and padded darkness versus the normal, bright kitchen. Rather than a slow burn tense, the back and forth, stilted pace becomes annoying with slow, time wasting snippets padding the piece itself. Dead family members and past malpractice revenge lack substance, leaving the audience wondering if the typical questions about his apparently sympathetic purpose and her suspicious real name are going anywhere we don't already know. Without their natural accents, the cast comes off as monotone or hoarse, and the surprisingly not thrilling or scary genre cliches are likewise dry. This should be a taut two-hander that never leaves the four walls, but the players – who have both done impressive horrors and chills – don't have enough to chew on alongside trite housekeeper intrusions and close calls with the cops. Home movies angst, adultery, and religious hypocrisy are on the nose and nothing new or edgy – it might have been interesting if the characters had been reversed, but the suspicion between who is good or bad never really delivers, leaving viewers waiting for something that doesn't happen. What tense there is gets a little silly by the finale, and by time a kid in peril is shoehorned in, it's tough to care anymore.

24 September 2018

The Three and Four Musketeers

The Three and Four Musketeers Double the Swashbuckling Charm
by Kristin Battestella

Producers Alexander and Ilya Salkind (Superman) and director Richard Lester (A Hard Day's Night) infamously doubled the adventure with 1973's The Three Musketeers and its 1974 sequel The Four Musketeers. Despite the behind the scenes two for the price of one controversy, both films remain charming with supersized Dumas spirit.

Young d'Artagnan (Michael York) is off to join the King's Musketeers. Unfortunately, he immediately finds himself dueling with not one but three musketeers – the brooding Athos (Oliver Reed), boisterous Porthos (Frank Finlay), and religious but romantic Aramis (Richard Chamberlain). d'Artagnan seizes the chance to assist the musketeers in fighting the villainous Rochefort (Christopher Lee), henchman to the ruthless Cardinal Richelieu (Charlton Heston), who also conspires against the King of France with Milady de Winter (Faye Dunaway) amid stolen diamonds, secret letters, kidnappings, and revenge.

 Opening crescendos, swords slices, and clanging metal set the tone for The Three Musketeers, which is also subtitled as The Queen's Diamonds. Our young hero isn't quite ready for this outfit with training tumbles, bungling in the mud, and swinging and missing his quarry amid rowdy musketeers, snotty enemies, and sassy attitudes. The Three Musketeers is truly cavalier with bawdy drinking, chuckling errors, and winking asides – swords are cut in half, library shelves domino over, scaffolding below makes a lover look more heroic when he jumps out the window, and courtiers try to organize the king's dogs into playing life size chess in the park. The well edited comedic timing isn't slapstick, leaving room for French quips and tag team dead pans. Against odds melees versus the Cardinal's Guards provide a variety of action gags and fighting tricks accented by up close winks, overhead shots, and wide angles. The intense pace is done in camera – The Three Musketeers doesn't have to cut corners with editing or special effects because everyone's kick ass shows. Granted, the musketeers aren't fully developed as characters beyond their lighthearted distinctions and some humorous padding is unnecessary. However, the ensemble is up to any task with the right delivery and period gravitas be it intrigue or wit, providing charming moments that keep this familiar tale fresh without obvious cues. Unlike contemporary romps, The Three Musketeers doesn't need to show excessive raunchy thanks to subtle romantic winks and rowdy laundry house brawls. The coordinated thieving, horseback races, hidden passages, and betrayals culminate at the grandiose ball before The Four Musketeers brings viewers right back where we left off with narrations and credits showing highlights from The Three Musketeers. Now that d'Artagnan is a musketeer, the swashbuckling rescues continue as our eponymous soldiers must thwart the subtitled Milady's Revenge before battlefield canons and firing squad target practice where no one can hit a thing. Although serious talk on coups and religious strife becomes somewhat lost thanks to kidnappings, intercepted messages, primitive submarine inventions, and daring escapes; tender flashbacks deepen character histories. Swords, poisons, and feathers fly as hiding in the water trough ruses and stilts versus attack dogs don't work. In The Four Musketeers, the famous trio has more to do, yet their convenient rescues feel deus ex machina easy amid the disjointed plots – dilemmas are quickly resolved without the wither tos and why fors because the focus here is enjoying the good guys versus the bad guys and their daring fights upon frosty bridges and frozen lakes. The terribly risky but unique action looks like a lot of fun, keeping the swash in swashbuckler alongside deceptions, confrontations, and darker aspects of the novel that many adaptations gloss over in favor of Hollywood trite. A lot's happening with protestant versus catholic, England versus France, Buckingham plots, and front line encampments – the sieges, assassinations, and strangulations at times conflict with the humorous nunnery disasters. Villains montage over Tower of London captures and La Rochelle victories as carriage chases and superb one on one sword fights keep the kicking butt pace before a fiery finale with killers in disguise, executions, revenge, and consequences.

What's not to love about Michael York's (Romeo and Juliet) young, handsome, and sweaty d'Artagnan? The foolish farm boy cum wannabe musketeer is bonked on the head when picking his first fight but has all the roguish charm required – tipping his hat to a lady before promising to kill her other male friend and scaling the vines to her balcony even if he doesn't exactly make it to the window. d'Artagnan is earnest in love and war but is only granted a musketeer consideration because of his renowned father while he proves his worth. He's spirited but has a lot to learn as one woman after another tries to get into bed with him or use him for her own motives. d'Artagnan can't outwit the Cardinal but knows not to accept his duplicitous offer even as he blindly and blissfully does what the Queen tells him to do. The Three Musketeers is largely about him doing most of the bumbling or heroics himself with only peripheral musketeer assistance. By The Four Musketeers, however, d'Artagnan understands where Athos is coming from as the men bond in the tavern over the women they are supposed to love. Oliver Reed's (Paranoiac) Athos is an angry, ornery, sarcastic, and serious but drunken leader reluctant to join d'Artagnan's follies – the dark horse rarely seen in his musketeer frock. There has perhaps never been a more perfect casting, as Reed is definitely believable as a chip on his shoulder drunk wild man with a sword. The Four Musketeers recalls his ruined romance with Milady, and her murderous deception haunting Athos gives Reed some scene chewing when this not one but two movies ploy ironically doesn't provide much meaty drama for the ensemble. Fortunately, Athos becomes like an elder brother to d'Artagnan, threatening to kill anyone who touches a hair on his head – all for one and one for all and all that.

Richard Chamberlain's (The Thorn Birds) Aramis prays during a duel, but it is just another crafty musketeer ruse. In fact, Aramis barely talks in both films, merely standing around a lot and looking pretty when not in the steam bath. He does suggest one plan of action, but of course it goes completely awry with a kick in his groin to boot. Frank Finlay's (Othello) larger than life Porthos also knocks folks on the head with whatever is handy and picks the pocket of a man who's down for the count. Porthos is a gambler making bets on silly games when not eating and drinking in battle. He's sure to make a fighting spectacle in the marketplace so they can steal more wine, and his silly way of fighting – like dropping pots on the bad guys – always helps at the perfect moment. Both Aramis and Porthos are portrayed as a more circus styled duo where one can't seem to do anything without the other. Neither is fully developed and both seem to be there just because they have to be, bemusing as their moments are. Likewise, Raquel Welch (Fantastic Voyage) as dressmaker Constance Bonacieux has being a klutz as her main character development. She's perky, bouncy, and uses a delicate nightie to her advantage when not catching d'Artagnan's eye. Her husband's weakness and the Queen's confidence in her are merely plot devices before she herself is used in a kidnapping scheme in The Four Musketeers that plays for both rousing humor and shocking, well, shocks. 

It's immediately clear to start The Three Musketeers that Charlton Heston's (The Omega Man) Cardinal Richelieu is that selfish kind of Man of God. He has parades to himself and pays the bystanders to be there, stands out in his purple regalia at court, and talks out both sides of his mouth to the King. Richelieu uses the Queen's affairs with Buckingham to pressure the King, gaining information from the top as well as his tormented underlings. He captures people and tortures them only to release them with money so they will become his friend – effortlessly creating a network of spies and manipulation while he remains Teflon and Rochefort does his really dirty work. Richelieu has the most dialogue thanks to his numerous plots yet insists he has no personal enemies – only the enemies of France. Christopher Lee also looks even more nefarious with his eye patch and attitude as Rochefort. He's suave in contesting the Cardinal's plans even if he fears and hates him, and I would have loved to see these two together in more than some blink and you miss it moments in Julius Caesar. Lee has a rough, physical role and must match wits with each musketeer – even if he's always foiled. Likewise charming and deceiving in white or pristine in pearls, Faye Dunaway's (Don Juan DeMarco) Milady de Winter is undressed so all her clandestine weapons can be pulled from inside her frock. The ladies also have some dust ups before the boys come diving in through the window, and Milady has more to do in The Four Musketeers – such as luring d'Artagnan to her chamber for some poisonous daggers about the bed. Down shots over her bosom or close ups upon her lips reflect her temptation, and Milady knows how to use her femininity to serve her fatal nature or make her jailer fall in love with her and kill on command. Again, I'd loved to have seen more of her in league with Rochefort, but Milady remains ruthless right to the end.

Of course, when you end up shooting two movies for the price of one, the colorful production values between those pictures remain seamless with rousing scores invoking the medieval fun amid extensive duels, zany acrobatics, awning leaps, and clothesline spins. Such stunts happen fast and in camera, natural action rather than a superficial, slow motion effect. Horses, country roads, cobblestone squares, and authentic buildings accent the Spanish filming locations as bleak dungeons, barren quarters, and stained green patinas of the poor contrast the marble palaces, grand staircases, and massive chandeliers. Capes and big hats with even bigger plumes set off the regal carriages, red interiors, luxurious bedrooms, and vintage weaponry – daggers nestle inside the corsets even as the cinched bosoms nearly burst from the colorful frocks, fabrics, and sparkling parures. The costumes reflect one's station as the crowded, dirty, plain marketplace bustles against the pompous regalia and music likewise reflects the whimsical of the musketeers or leisurely at court. While some may find the complex fight choreography stagnate thanks to today's flash and dazzle whirlwinds; it's pleasing to completely see the difficult riverside sword action, frigate raids, and night time duels by lantern light. The actors earned their cuts and bruises in these melees with no CGI assistance in the realistic, well filmed battle scenes. Strangely, the DVDs offer options for widescreen or full-frame viewing, and the lack of subtitles can make audiences miss some of the sarcastic asides and quick quips. Thankfully, both videos offer half hour behind the scenes features with some of the late cast recalling the twofer controversies, elaborate fights, and incomparable Oliver Reed.

Despite some ups and downs in adapting the written humor and peril, The Three Musketeers is a straightforward story in full spirit of the novel. The superficial characterizations could have been deeper, but they don't have to be thanks to the roguish charm, courtly adventure, and witty personality continued in The Four Musketeers. Kids can laugh at the swashbuckler visuals while adults can chuckle at the cavalier innuendo. Though intended as one epic film split in two after the fact, The Three Musketeers and The Four Musketeers can be viewed together or separately for a timeless escapade.

22 September 2018

Comfort Food Shows to Binge!

Comfort Food Shows to Binge Marathon
by Kristin Battestella

Every now and again – and more so these days – audiences need escapist television. Although I've not reviewed the following series in season by season long form detail, I find myself often turning to such classic comfort food programs any time I need a little feel good, some pleasing white noise, or calorie free smiles.

The Rifleman – This black and white western about the titular but anachronistic toting widower Chuck Connors (The Big Country) and his son ex-mouseketeer Johnny Crawford debuted in 1958, running five years and 168 episodes. These days, that's a lot of half hours, and this series can get tiring fast when almost every single episode is about a crook or bitter enemy seeing either father or son injured, ill, or kidnapped while the other must use his frontier ingenuity for the rescue. Despite the then progressive dilemmas and serious, complex storytelling, many plots are trite, cliché, and predictable yarns. Nonetheless, there's a certain innocence between father and son, a homestead safety because whatever their peril, The McCain boys always make sure the good guys win. When you need to flick away from any turbulent news, these cowboys provide a sentimental, reassuring calmness.

Are You Being Served? – Racism, sexism, ageism, and just about every other of its time phobia and cultural faux pas you can imagine litter this 1972-1985 British comedy brimming with double entendres, cheeky innuendo, saucy puns, fourth wall winks, and “I'm free!” catch phrases. Although the series embraces its preposterous department store technicalities on who stands where, which positions permit wearing a bowler hat, who can't call whom by their first names, and which staff members are dead common status or not; other plots against classism, low wages, no upward mobility, and union strikes remain relatable. Lovable characters such as Mollie Sugden's Mrs. Slocombe and John Inman's Mr. Humphries make it easy to get behind the misadventures despite some disastrous fashions, zany hair colors, faulty store gadgets, advertising errors, ridiculous song and dances, and ne'er do well store productions. The storylines can repeat themselves when marathoning all seventy episodes in a row, however the shorter seasons are easily digestible portions – “And my pussy is unanimous in that!” For more gone country comforts, continue on with the spin-off Grace & Favour.

Magnum P.I. “Zeus, Apollo, kill!” The theme tune alone from this quintessential eighties Hawaiian based detective drama starring Tom Selleck always puts me in a happy place. Granted, the quality dips in Seasons Six and Seven, the perms on the ladies are bad, and the shorts, are well, short. However, superb characters, fourth wall touchés, taut storytelling, and great capers create enough delightful charm for whimsical episodes such as “The Case of the Red-Faced Thespian” as well as lingering Vietnam heavies like the must watch “Did You See the Sunrise?” From male bonding sports, good guys versus bad guys intrigue, and bemusing mystery adventures to Island Hoppers helicopter action, sweet Ferrari chases, and of course, those lovely Oahu panoramas, this series has all the infinitely watchable nostalgia one needs. The camaraderie at Robin's Nest isn't always paradise, yet you know Magnum, Higgins, T.C., and Rick always have your back – rubber chickens and all. “Oh, my God!”

Melrose Place – Skip the First Year and a half of this 1992-97 Aaron Spelling yarn starring Heather Locklear, Jack Wagner, Josie Bissett, Courtney Thorne-Smith, and many, many more. Don't feel obligated to plod along for the Last Year and a half, either. The middle seasons of this Fox nighttime soap opera, however, are peak melodrama complete with all the scandals you can imagine. Be it your basic murder, blackmail, stolen babies, and multiple personalities or kidnappings, assaults, car accidents, medical disasters, and cults – I don't know how we watched back then in prime time without a web chart showing who has slept with whom. Despite some shaky attempts addressing abuse, workplace sexism, and homophobia, this lengthy 226 episode binge remains the bomb – no pun intended – thanks to the juicy clichés, nineties fashions, and love to hate characters worthy of a Seinfeld subplot, “Oh, that Michael, I hate him. He's just so smug.”

Frasier Kelsey Grammar's eponymous doctor is an insufferable pretentious snob in this massive 264 episode eleven year spin-off of the likewise lengthy but comforting Cheers. Fortunately, it's delightful to see Dr. Crane get his due largely thanks to the tug and pull of his laid back retired cop dad John Mahoney and his equally uptight, delicate brother, David Hyde Pierce's fellow psychiatrist Dr. Niles Crane. Memorable guest stars likewise help tackle religion, homosexual stereotypes, divorce, dating, sex, professional ethics, and more in classic episodes such as “The Ski Lodge,” “Merry Christmas, Mrs. Moskowitz,” and “The Doctor is Out.” Sure, the Freudian jokes, witty gags, and intellectual dilemmas are high brow comedy with sophisticated writing and cultural references embracing the pompous self-awareness. However, the turnabouts and heaps of irony remain binge worthy chuckles alongside those nineties hairstyles, millennial fashions, and radio station blunders.

Don't forget to read up on some of the lovable shows I have reviewed at length including The Munsters, The Addams Family, Dark Shadows, The Bob Newhart Show, Highlander, and Buffy or revisit my Top Ten Favorite Shows for yet more comforting delights such as The Golden Girls, The Joy of Painting, and The Mary Tyler Moore Show.

07 September 2018

Dark Shadows: Collection 17

Dark Shadows Collection 17 Struggles with Storyline Changes

by Kristin Battestella

After spending the summer re-watching Dark Shadows from the beginning, I'm back to Collection 17 and this last leg in the 1897 storyline – an entertaining but fumbling exit perhaps overwhelmed with Victorian horror, vampires, and Lovecraft spells as Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) travels back to 1796 with Kitty Soames, the reincarnation of his beloved Josette DuPres (Kathryn Leigh Scott), after seemingly defeating the vile Count Petofi (Thayer David) – who has switched bodies with the werewolf Quentin Collins (David Selby) in order to travel from 1897 to 1969. Unfortunately, ancient leviathan interference upsets numerous events past and present for Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall).

The body swaps, mistaken identity, and abused I Ching hexagrams open Episode 858 amid gypsy threats, bitter marriage alliances, magical but stolen portraits, and good old fashioned blackmail. Enemies become allies as characters must prove who they are despite witches, seances, skeleton keys, chained coffins, and hooded figures. Cursed people are packing, gold diggers are making plans – there's a sense that 1897 is a wrap and 1969 is imminent thanks to psychedelic sounds, astral bodies, time travel technicalities, and echoes from another century. There are many threads to resolve with the Hand of Count Petofi and buried alive threats coming back to haunt deserving parties. Psychic visions see thru the mystical ruses alongside fiery witches versus warlocks confrontations and kidnappings. Inner monologues matching the real person in the wrong body curb confusion as well as garner sympathy during the body swindles, however Collection 17 takes a few episodes to catch up on who cast what spells with some round about half hours and straggling characters loosing steam before ghostly apparitions, dubious lawyers, chloroform, and failed rituals. Lookalike vampire encounters ramp up the scares in Episode 868, but the 1795/96 chronology is shoehorned in with fudged dates and Collins Family History books. New characters read Ben Stokes' diary and suddenly everybody's an expert! Answers are dismissed as madness amid suspicious relatives, antagonizing ministers, crosses, and women in cahoots. Pulsing heartbeats, ill conceived marriage proposals, and love triangles repeat themselves as Dark Shadows strays from the high quality previously seen in 1897 thanks to flashback explanations with witches excited a doppelganger ruse worked when the same thing was accomplished against The Phoenix on Collection 14. Lengthy reprises cut into the next episode, and in the days of VHS, I would fast forward through the dull back and forth partnerships telling each other what they don't know but the audience already does. Fortunately, buried suitcases and risky I Ching hexagrams make ready for the future as romantic duets and dancing dreams turn into terror. Dark Shadows picks up the intensity with will power over evil, cliff side desperation, and deadly shockers in Episode 876 before 879 adds double crosses, stranglers, poison, and fresh cement. Nobody's surprised by the supernatural anymore, much less betrayals, home invasions, and decoy burglaries even as people leap out Collinwood's windows or pass brandy to the fainting women. Climatic scandals keep the paranoia, graveyard chases, and taunting phone calls on track as forgiveness comes to some, but not all.

Bitter deaths and fast resolutions tie up each loose end, however, the main characters are largely absent without one key storyline, and it's as if Dark Shadows doesn't know how to resolve yet more body switches as the nonsensical fantastics unravel. Targets must stay awake lest spells over take them, and fiery finales rush to a unbelievably easy end, leaving a sense of confusion on whether 1897 is really finished as shocking twists and suicides are glossed over before three odd episodes in 1796 with admittedly atmospheric vampire brides, meddling witches, and prophecies. This revisit to the further past, however, is also left hanging in the balance for torches, snake altars, and a big WTF that today would have audiences immediately tuning out and complaining on Twitter. Actors who played two characters in 1897 also don their 1795 wigs before returning to their original 1969 roles in Episode 888, and it's a lot to digest. If Dark Shadows had simply taken the I Ching back to 1969 and immediately shown how some of our 1897 immortals show up in the present and then revealed the unusual Lovecraft inspired leviathan abstracts, the intriguing rituals, ancient motifs, and cult incantations wouldn't be off on the wrong foot and may have garnered an entirely different reception. Although their stilted speech and faux ritualistic moves may be bemusing, those hooded leviathan minions are also terribly creepy folks! Instead, characters meander over what has happened, bringing up the forgotten werewolf plots before new players, pentagrams, locked boxes, and one ominous antique store that led kid me to believe every junk shop was evil. There's a moon landing reference, too – an outside rarity on Dark Shadows alongside the Naga lockets, necronomicons, and freaky dream sequence overlays as paranoid friends become enemies. Chosen ones, enchanting evil gifts, traumatized patients – one by one players old and new become part of some kind of telepathic cult, and it hurts the series further when more time is spent on compromised strangers rather than the regulars. How does that antique shop do business when it's always closed while the proprietors grow monsters in the dark upstairs room? Foreboding zooms can't compensate as everyone speaks in riddles, “It's the time of the leviathan people, and that time is now!” Such sweet nothings make the mind control and fake baby bundles laughable, and by Episode 898 Dark Shadows appears even cheaper than usual with less cast, weaker effects, and thin writing. The creepy doesn't capitalize on the surprising violence much less talk of how only people in leviathan tune can see their altar or mentions of an unseen village apothecary. Ultimately, this leviathan yarn really should have been a shorter secondary plot like The Phoenix rather than keeping other stories standing still for scary rituals, shopkeeper frights, and seances that come too few and far between.

Jonathan Frid's Barnabas Collins is supposedly dead to start Collection 17 but we know better! Barnabas reinserts himself at Collinwood yet seems one step behind without much to do in the 1897 finale except effectively kill Kitty with his disturbing insistence that she is the reincarnated Josette. When he gets to 1796, however, he forgets all about her to join a cult. Dark Shadows shoots itself in the foot by making its hero a minion of a pretty box – he's not honest with Julia and flaky when acting like a jerk does nothing to endear this leviathan plot. Barnabas actually claims the brainwashing weirdness going on is due to his electricity experiments when the Old House still goes by candlelight! Grayson Hall's Madga also disappears for no reason when the gypsy aspects would have been quite useful with the doppelgangers and body switches, and her voiceover dropping some 1897 gossip is a cop out after the fact as Julia Hoffman plays catch up, carrying several episodes while Barnabas calls her nosy. He blows her off by saying she sees the paranormal in everything (Hello!) and Julia stumbles alone in pursuing what happened to Tate and his paintings. This uneven division between Dark Shadows' go-to team adds to the off balance storytelling, and Kathryn Leigh Scott's gold digger Kitty Soames isn't exactly sympathetic even if she is losing control to this Josette possession. Transitioning the entire storyline through this dragging back and forth when Barnabas doesn't even want her just Josette is anti-climatic – especially when the appearance of the Ghost of Jeremiah Collins will only resonate with audiences who've seen the original 1795 storyline. Surprisingly, Lara Parker's witch Angelique doesn't seem to care about Barnabas marrying Kitty and initially doesn't notice the Quentin/Petofi switch despite still trying to trap Quentin for herself. As portrayed by Thayer David, Quentin Collins is sympathetic, desperate and innocent against his handsome, dangerous self. Once he's back in his own body, David Selby's Picture of Dorian Gray Quentin loses his portrait and again fears his werewolf curse, remaining guilty over the part he's played in all that has happened to the people he supposedly loved – thus completing his journey from evil ghost to tormented immortal. Donna McKechnie's Amanda has bittersweet plans to meet Quentin in New York, and her late appearance as the suspicious actress Olivia Corey sets up one of my favorite later series moments on Collection 18.

Likewise, Terry Crawford as Beth Chavez is packed and ready to whisk away with Quentin – however she's largely forgotten until it's important, used and abused by Petofi as Quentin until it's too late. As inhabited by David Selby, Count Andreas Petofi is angry and sparing no expense in traveling to the future. Any life is expendable, and he uses his devious charms to string along all the ladies and cover his tracks when he slips up – like playing Mozart on the gramophone instead of Quentin's Theme! Thayer David's Petofi almost succeeds in his plans, but his magic both works or doesn't work just because the writing says so. While Michael Stroka's Aristede can't be seen at Collinwood with Petofi as Quentin, he foolishly expects the Count to take him to the future. He runs away several times, gets laughed at or tricked, but Aristede isn't a significant enough character to draw out his end over five episodes of prison history and rent boy winks. It might have been neat if the Garth Blackwood vengeance actually orchestrated by Petofi had been chasing Aristede all along but such chills are wasted this late and detract from more important happenings. Dark Shadows grande dame Joan Bennett has a dramatic entrance as fresh from the sanitarium Judith Collins Trask, tricking Jerry Lacy's Reverend Gregory Trask out of her money and placing Collinwood back under her rule. Trask is caught red handed in his lies, but claims the devil is at work in Collinwood as he plots more ill gotten deals. Fortunately, Judith masterfully orchestrates his punishment, going from the stuffy old maid at the beginning of the 1897 storyline to fully embracing the Collins twistedness. He's gravely underestimated her, and Trask finds himself trapped with one dwindling candle while regretting all the times he locked his fearful students in a closet when they were so afraid of the dark. Although often used for psychic convenience that does prove critical to the plot, Nancy Barrett also provides a multi-faceted performance as the once demure Charity Trask who's now permanently second sight singer Pansy Faye. Naturally there are obligatory “I'm Gonna Dance for You “ cues, but Barrett plays piano and sings in Pansy's cockney accent. She doesn't like to be lied to so tries being as honest as possible – one of the few sympathetic characters trapped in all this supernatural crazy. She won't take bribes but will except gifts for her insights and when Quentin leaves, she gives him a “racy” photo so he'll never forget Pansy Faye. Barrett spends a minute as ditsy Millicent Collins as well before returning to Carolyn Stoddard who has a bad feeling about the new antique shop yet works there nonetheless.

Don Briscoe's Tim Shaw is mostly useless in the 1897 end, however Chris Jennings is still an angry werewolf, and Carolyn wonders what his secrets are while Barnabas tries to break them up for his own leviathan motives. Whiny, drinking, and arguing with customers, Roger Davis as Charles Delaware Tate is likewise as obnoxious as ever on Collection 17. At once he complains about his terrible and mystical talent yet begs Petofi to give it back to him before stealing Quentin's portrait and making full moon jokes. He's said to be near 100 years old in 1969, and his plot will still provide one last annoyance on Collection 18 where some of the dangling 1897 threads are finally resolved. Unfortunately Louis Edmunds' Edward Collins gets ditched off screen, disappearing early on Collection 17 after asking Kitty to marry him with no resolution about how he feels regarding his ex-vampire cousin stealing his lady. Denise Nickerson's Nora also appears once to dislike her would be stepmother before Amy is also suspicious late on Disc Four. As important as they were to the haunting and the reasons for going to 1897, David Henesy's Jamison is also only mentioned before young David is sucked into underground snake lairs with only a few throwaway lines about what he may remember of their ghostly possessions. Dennis Patrick's Paul Stoddard also has some explaining to do as he snoops about the Old House. He hangs around the leviathan altar and makes prank calls, generally creeping around for several episodes before telling where he's been for the past twenty years. Unfortunately, Dark Shadows audiences who haven't seen the pre-Barnabas episodes of the series won't really appreciate the leftover murder, blackmail, and conspiracy much less recall Patrick as the ne'er do well Jason McGuire. Marcia Wallace also returns briefly as the Ghost of Jenny Collins before coming back to Collinsport with Christopher Bernau as antique store entrepreneurs Megan and Phillip Todd. Megan's the more vocal and pushy of the yuppie pair, over eager while Philip is reluctant to accept the Naga box. They talk in abstracts about the leviathan intangibles but it doesn't help the audience care. In fact, it would have been more interesting if Barnabas had comeback to 1969 straightaway and then be corrupted into the cult by this new couple in town and their suspicious baby.

The colorful Victorian gowns peak on Collection 17 with satin, lace, and ruffles alongside curly wigs and fancy jewelry. Although Judith wears the same earrings Julia had on when she disappeared into the future and there must have been a fire sale on purple satin because every woman is wearing it. Dark Shadows juggles three different time periods as well as creepy leviathan snake motifs, and while I can feel that bright orange velvet colonial dress, that belted purple sweater and plaid pants menswear is a no, and I swear everyone is wearing some damn heavy eyeliner! Thankfully, tolling grandfather clocks, shadow schemes, and gaslight ambiance set off the abandoned rectory hideout's stained glass, red velvet, and vintage décor – and I think I've subconsciously decorated my house in Dark Shadows' faux Victorian gothic revival style. Great antique storefronts, old fashioned knick knacks, clutter, and cradles add to the telegrams and phone books of the 1969 present while keeping the past spirit. Of course, the special effects are often obvious with green screen mistakes and out of sync voiceovers. Jumpy prints and innate camera flaws also make the magentas look garish and reds turn pink. However, those distorted hues are terribly effective amid ghostly greens, candlelight, and gauze around the lens for some wild psychedelic dreams. Rattling chains, ominous knocks at the door, storm sounds, and those familiar Bob Cobert music crescendos are likewise chilling – except when they aren't right on cue. From the 1969 couch in the 1897 living room and rumpled carpeting substituting for grass to prop guns that don't go off and a canvas portrait that's rolled up like a poster, there are always fun bloopers on Dark Shadows. The traveling afghan! That intrusive music box! A gramophone that's in the living room after it's been walled up in the sealed off west wing! Fortunately, artistic camera shots through windows or reflections and quick cuts to match pulsing sounds make up any difference along with foreground and background photography where the audience sees the hidden attacker but the victim doesn't. The Dark Shadows DVDs, however, can get confusing, as Collection 17's forty episodes are also on Discs 89 thru 92 on the Dark Shadows: Complete Original Series Sets 15 and 16. At least David Selby's bonus interview wonderfully recalls the unique glint in Jonathan Frid's eye, Grayson Hall's maternal style, Louis Edmunds' outspokenness, and how Dark Shadows knew how to use their talent in an industry that otherwise maybe didn't know what to do with such special personalities. Lara Parker, however, Selby simply calls “moon eyes.” While the DVDs may have such touching features, there is one thing the streaming options have that video doesn't: subtitles!

Dark Shadows still has a lot of good to come, however much happens on Collection 17's four discs and this is where the series begins taking on more than it can chew. Up until the 1970 Parallel Time switch late in Collection 19, one can even view this entire leviathan smoke and mirrors as suspect. Did we really go back to 1796 or is this an alternate time created by the heroics in 1897? When watching with a critical eye such technicalities can hurt the gothic immersion Dark Shadows does so well. Fortunately, while the first half of the set is not an introduction piece, fans looking for a fresh Lovecraft inspired piece without any preconceived notion of what came before can join the fray here. Collection 17 isn't totally terrible, and the supernatural time traveling escapades remain perfect for a spooky marathon. 
 (It's Count Chocula!)