DVD Review: Dragonwyck

Dragonwyck

When I was 15, I was hit by a car while crossing the street on my way home from school. I spent several weeks in a cast and weeks more recovering afterwards, and which gave me a lot of time to read. My mother gave me a large paper shopping bag filled with romance novels, bought for a dime a piece at a garage sale. I read them all during those months after the accident, and even at that young age formed a general impression of romantic fiction that hasn’t changed much since. Most of these novels can be placed in one of three categories:

  1. The ones that want to be Pride and Prejudice. Usually set in Regency England.
  2. The ones that want to be Gone With the Wind, especially the part where Rhett carried Scarlett up the stairs. Often set against the sweeping backdrop of some major historical event. Bodices will get ripped.
  3. The ones that want to be Jane Eyre. May or not be historical, featuring a naive young woman who comes to a big and gloomy old house owned by a brooding older man with dark secrets. If the book cover features a woman in a white dress running away from said house, then it’s very likely one of these.

Dragonwyck falls into this last category. I haven’t read it since I was a teenager, but the 1944 novel by Anya Seton was an enormous success when it was first published. The film version followed in 1946 and was also a big hit, starring Gene Tierney and Vincent Price.

Gene Tierney and Vincent PriceIt wasn’t the first time Tierney and Price had appeared in a major film together; she almost married him a couple of years earlier in the noir classic Laura but ended up with Dana Andrews instead. For the best really.

She should’ve avoided making the same mistake this time too. His character’s much worse in this film–it’s one of Price’s earliest villain roles and probably led to the shift from playing junior George-Sanders at Fox to becoming a horror icon at AIP.

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Dark Shadows: Curse of the Pharaoh

Last week, I went shopping on Amazon to see how many other Dark Shadows audio dramas were available, following Return to Collinwood. Quite a lot of them, as it turns out. They come in two types: 1. Audio plays performed like old-fashioned radio programs with a cast of actors from the original show in their old roles or new ones; 2. Dramatic readings of Dark-Shadows-based stories done by one, maybe two, of the actors. I picked out one of each.

Curse of the Pharaoh is a dramatic reading, done by Nancy Barrett, who played Carolyn Stoddard, and Marie Wallace, who played Evil Eve and Mad Jenny.

Why this one? From the description on the back of the CD box:

Curse of the Pharaoh“Finding Nefarin-Ka’s tomb was only the beginning… I made the most important discovery in archeological history.”

Dr. Gretchen Warwick, famed Egyptologist … comes to Collin- wood, searching for the answers to life in the hereafter.  At first, Carolyn cannot comprehend why an expert in ancient, mystical lore would desire her help, but to her horror, discovers that she is indeed the key to a dark, dangerous world on the other side of death….

In my review of the final episodes of Dark Shadows, I mentioned a feature on the last DVD where one of the show’s writers foretold a future for Carolyn in occult research; I said I would love to watch a spin-off series based on that premise. Although this story doesn’t follow that idea exactly, it seemed to be along similar lines. Also, I’d just listened to the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre play Imprisoned with the Pharaohs to prepare for writing that review, and I thought I’d like to hear another story about an evil ancient Egyptian ruler with a cult that survives into modern times. As it turns out, the story does have its own Lovecraftian overtones.

It was amusing to me that this story begins with Carolyn looking over “strange, alien” hieroglyphics and declaring that “It makes no sense!” just as Nathaniel Ward did.

Carolyn, however, is not in a deep and long-forgotten tomb in Egypt, but in her own home at Collinwood. She is making subtle changes to the hieroglyphs as transcribed in the notes of some person as yet unnamed, and is terrified that that person will come in and discover her before she finishes.

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CD Review: Imprisoned with the Pharaohs

Harry Houdini and Charlie TowerImprisoned with the Pharaohs (a.k.a. Under the Pyramids) was H.P. Lovecraft’s first collaboration with Harry Houdini; the serialized story was ghost-written for Weird Tales magazine in 1924 as a first-person account of an experience the great escape artist is supposed to have had one night while touring Egypt.

The story is online at http://www.hplovecraft.com/writings/texts/fiction/up.aspx 

The Dark Adventure Radio Theatre version is fairly faithful to Houdini’s adventure, but adds some elements that seem to me to improve the story. First, a reason is given for the events that take place. Second, additional characters are introduced to give Houdini someone to interact with.

In the original story, Houdini often refers to “we” and “us” as he describes his travels in  Egypt, but it often isn’t clear who is with him on his tour. Is it his wife? Other tourists in their party? Some Egyptian guys? Here, “we” is primarily Bess Houdini, Harry’s wife, voiced by Leslie Baldwin and given a distinct voice of her own. The Houdini’s relationship and interactions are some of the best parts at the beginning of this audio play–Bess’s practicality balances Harry’s impetuous and thrill-seeking nature, yet they are both at heart show-biz people.

The other new character is an HPLHS creation who shows up in a lot of these Dark Adventure Radio Theatre adaptations, and whom I’m always happy to see more of: Miskatonic University professor of archaeology, Nathaniel Ward (Andrew Leman).

The audio drama begins at the American Cosmograph Theater in Cairo. We’re presented with brief snippets that give us a medley of the kind of thing you’d get in pre-WWI Vaudeville: song and dance acts, trained dogs, jugglers, comedians, a ventriloquist, a hypnotist, and finally the big draw of the night–The Great Houdini!

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Who Killed Toby Glovins? Third Excerpt

It was dusk by the time Freddie returned to Foxgrove Park. At this same hour yesterday, they’d found Toby dead. Instead of entering the house, he walked a little way down the drive toward the Vixen and let himself in through a latched iron gate in the garden wall. He wasn’t ready to face anybody yet.

Toby Glovins cover detailThe garden was quiet, seemingly abandoned, but as he wandered the shrubbery, he heard the sound of someone sobbing. Freddie traced the sound to the pavilion. The decorative lanterns that had been hung up around the lawn remained unlit, but there was enough light cast from the Vixen’s windows for him to see Amelia weeping in the bower they’d made for her.

“Mellie?”

She lifted her face from her handkerchief. “Freddie?”

“Are you all right?”

“I’m fine… as well as can be expected. I had to get away. Everyone means well, but I can’t bear to hear one more person tell me how lucky I am to be free of Evvy. I don’t feel lucky! I’m sorry about the flowers,” she added nonsensically. “You worked so hard on this silly bower and now it’ll have to come down before they wilt and turn brown.”

Freddie ventured a few steps closer. “Do you want me to leave you alone?”

“No,” Mellie answered after a moment. “Since you’re here, you might as well stay.” She patted the wooden bench as an invitation to join her. “Are you still investigating?”

“Yes,” he said as he sat down.

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Kolchak: The Werewolf

Werewolf on a cruise ship (I know, I know, it’s serious)

Kolchak and the cruise ship There’s a lot I really like in this episode, and one thing that really lets it down. But we’ll save that for later.

After the usual introductory framing narration, which has Carl Kolchak sitting on a dock with the cruise ship he’s just disembarked from visible behind him, this week’s episode begins in snowy Chicago shortly before Christmas. The staff at INS is throwing a holiday party that doubles as a bon voyage for editor Tony Vincenzo, who is headed out for an all expenses paid working vacation aboard the passenger liner Hanover, a “floating anachronism” that’s been in service since the 1930s and has finally been run out of business by the jet age.

For those observing the evolution of the character Miss Emily, Ruth McDevitt appears briefly here for the first time as the INS staff  “office mother,” but the name of her character isn’t Emily; it’s Edith Cowells.

Unfortunately for poor Tony, a phone call in the middle of the party puts an end to his vacation plans. Accountants from the New York INS offices are coming to audit the Chicago INS office partyoffice’s accounts and Tony has to be there to pick them up at the airport–the same airport he was going to fly out of.  Since he can’t go and half the office staff are down with flu, Tony gives Carl his tickets and an assignment to write a nostalgia piece about the Hanover’s final journey, which happens to be a swinging singles cruise. Carl is also expected to deliver some personal interest stories about his fellow passengers.

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CD Review: Dagon: War of the Worlds

This episode of Dark Adventure Radio Theatre concludes with announcer Eskine Blackwell’s words:

“If we’ve taken more liberties with our story than usual, we hope that you and Mr. Lovecraft will forgive us. We thought it would be fun.”

Bub-L-Pep
Yes, dammit, that was fun! A lot of fun.

It’s not simply an adaptation of HP Lovecraft’s short story Dagon; it’s also a sequel to Shadow over Innsmouth, as well as fanfic from the guys at the H.P Lovecraft Historical Society using their own characters, and an homage to Orson Welles’ famous Halloween 1939 radio broadcast that panicked the country.

It’s October 1935, and this week’s Dark Adventure Radio Theatre begins as usual. But after an introductory word from the sponsor, the invigorating beverage Bub-L-Pep (“The L is for Lithium!”), the show is interrupted by a news bulletin: A ferry crossing the San Francisco Bay has sent out distress calls and the Coast Guard is rushing to its aid.

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Who Killed Toby Glovins? Second Excerpt

Toby Glovins cover detail“Freddie.”

When Freddie left the Vixen, he headed toward Foxgrove along a path that skirted the outer garden wall. Inspector Deffords stood waiting for him. “I thought you’d gone.”

“I had some business with my men before they packed up, but I wanted to talk to you before I went into Foxborough.” He offered a cigarette and Freddie was grateful to take it; he hadn’t had one since before breakfast.

“I can’t say I’m surprised to find you in the middle of this,” Deffords told him. “Not after that business with Bertram Marsh, then the Putey girl who was mixed up with your cousin Wilfrid. Now a body turns up in your uncle’s back garden.”

“Do you mind that Uncle Percy’s engaged me?” asked Freddie.

“I won’t object. I can’t if Sir Percival insists and my superiors allow it–and they do. Even the higher-ups know to stay on the good side of the local nobs, and not just where murder’s concerned. As long as everybody important in Norfolk is an uncle of yours, I might as well make use of it. I know how your class closes ranks. Sir Percival’s family won’t tell me a thing, but they’ll tell you. You can ask them questions. Play detective all you like, but I want you to be careful. It’s safer to stay out of murders. I’ve said so before.”

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Kolchak: The Vampire

The Vampire

“This vampire didn’t come from Transylvania. It came from Las Vegas!”

Although no one says so distinctly–probably for copyright reasons–this episode is a sequel to the original Night Stalker movie.

Catherine Rawlins, the eponymous vampire, is another victim of Janos Skorzeny, never found during the time he stalked Las Vegas. Now, she returns from her unmarked grave.

The story begins one night about three years after the events of The Night Stalker in the desert just outside Las Vegas. A lone driver takes a wrong turn and finds herself on a dead-end road that’s closed for repairs, then she a flat tire. She gets out to change it, cutting her hand in the process and dripping a small amount of blood on the ground just off the road near her car.

While she changes her tire, she doesn’t immediately notice an upheaval in the sandy ground behind her. Two slightly out-of-focus hands emerge from the earth.

Hands!Unexpectedly for the beginning of a Kolchak episode, the car’s driver doesn’t become the newly-risen vampire’s first victim. When she finally sees the hands reaching up out of the ground, she abandons her car and runs away screaming into the night. Civilization mustn’t be very far away. Carl Kolchak’s narrative informs us that by the time the woman returned with the police, there was no sign of a body, dead or undead, by the roadside. The police dismissed the report as coming from an hysterical and over-imaginative kook.

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Kolchak: They Have Been, They Are, They Will Be…

This isn’t one of my favorite episodes; I usually skip over it on the DVD. But I’ll bet that Chris Carter, creator of The X-Files, likes it more than I do. He’s always attributed the inspiration for his own show to his teenaged watching of the Kolchak series, and you can certainly see some inspiring points in this particular episode.

Spaceship Carl Kolchak sits at his desk in the INS offices, speaking into his pocket tape recorder:

I knew this would be more than the biggest story of my career. It was the biggest story in the lives of everyone on this planet. I fought for the story, fought harder than ever before.

I wanted people to know, to be prepared–if you can be prepared for something like this…

CheetahAs usual, Carl’s story of bizarre happenings in the Chicago area begins with a murder–not a woman or a man this time, but a cheetah at the Lincoln Park Zoo. The big cat is attacked by some unseen menace in its cage one night (and I wonder what they were really doing to the poor thing to make it look so agitated).

When his editor Tony Vincenzo tells Carl about the cheetah being “missing” the next morning, he says that this is old news. He’s confused it with a “missing” panther from the day before. When Tony corrects him, Carl recalls that a panda died at the same zoo last week, and this pattern interests him enough to pursue the story.

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Dark Shadows: The Mystery of the Missing Pen

ds-pen When I first watched Dark Shadows via Netflix, Collection 3 of the pre-Barnabas Beginning series wasn’t available. I skipped from the end of Collection 2, concerning the murder of Bill Malloy, to Collection 4, where the case is wound up, and missed most of the actual mystery story in between.

Since I got the entire Dark Shadows series on DVD for Christmas, I’m finally able to watch that missing section–episodes 71 through 105, about 7 weeks of airtime from the autumn of 1966.

Quick recap of the backstory: The body of Collinses’ cannery manager Bill Malloy washed up on the rocks below the cliffs of Collinwood, but the police believe that he was actually killed at a place a little farther up the coast called Lookout Point. His broken watch suggests that this happened at 10:45 pm, halfway between the last time he was seen alive at 10:30 by his housekeeper Mrs. Johnson, and the 11:00 Roger, Burke, and Sam waitingmeeting at the cannery, where Roger Collins, Burke Devlin, and Sam Evans were expecting him. Of course he never showed up.

Since Malloy intended to produce evidence that proved that Burke wasn’t driving the car during that drunken hit-and-run accident that sent him to prison for manslaughter–and that Roger was driving–Roger is very naturally the prime suspect. And Roger makes the most of it by trying to look as suspicious as possible.

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