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“Master of Dark Shadows” Might Be A Glorified Obituary

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There are two reviews to be written about Master of Dark Shadows, a new documentary nominally about producer/director Dan Curtis. For those of you already immersed in his work, there’s not much in the film you won’t already know.

Worse, much of Curtis’ career is reduced to bullet points between the demise of “Dark Shadows” — the Gothic soap he created in 1966 — and his expensive television collaborations with Herman Wouk in the 1980s, “The Winds of War” and “War and Remembrance.” The cover art might depict Carl Kolchak, the Zuni Fetish Warrior from “Trilogy of Terror” and Bette Davis in “Burnt Offerings,” but “Master of Dark Shadows” breezes past them with barely a mention. Worse, they’re referenced only in regards to Curtis’ interest in escaping the horror ghetto, which is not especially flattering to those works or their fans.

Still, as someone who loves many of the movies and television series touched upon in the film, it felt nice to spend a little time with old friends. Master of Dark Shadows might be a glorified obituary, but it’s an obituary for someone whose work I adore. I’m glad this movie exists, even if the content is a little underwhelming.

For those of you less familiar with Curtis, think of Master of Dark Shadows not as an obituary, but as a 100-level college course. From a cultural perspective the movies and television shows he created, produced, directed or championed make up some of the fundamentals of American horror. I’d put Dan Curtis in the same category as Rod Serling, Richard Matheson and sure, even Joss Whedon.

You always know when you’re watching a Dan Curtis production, credits be damned. They’re deeply American in their sensibilities, which often makes them difficult to parse. He shares Hammer’s interest in formal wear and cleavage, but none of their sense of grace and moral tradition. I’ve compared his first feature, House of Dark Shadows, to Italian Giallo films, but that comparison falls shy of being correct because of the stodgy displays of sexuality in his movies. Curtis also loved classic monsters like vampires, ghosts and witches, but preferred to slam them together against the nihilistic sensibilities of 1970s cinema. There are no happy endings in a Dan Curtis production.

Of course, none of this is really discussed in Master of Dark Shadows. Instead, director David Gregory holds our hand as he walks us briefly through the early days of Curtis’ career as a salesman for syndicated television and his first real success as a producer, bringing golf to television with “Challenge Golf.” Curtis was able to parlay this success into making a pitch for a dramatic series, negotiating with ABC in 1966 for a project that became Dark Shadows. After a slow start, the Gothic soap became a television sensation, and it’s here in the film that Jonathan Frid wrestles away control of the narrative from both Curtis and Gregory. Which is no small feat for a man who has been dead since 2012.

Despite being billed as “The Gothic World of Dan Curtis,” the majority of Master of Dark Shadows is spent discussing Dark Shadows. And whenever you discuss Dark Shadows, you’re going to spend most of your time talking about Frid, the Canadian actor who joined the cast more than 200 episodes into the show’s run and became a pop culture sensation. The gaunt, middle-aged alumnus of Yale and Oxford was set to retire from acting when offered the role of Barnabas Collins…a year later he found himself an unlikely teen heartthrob appearing on the covers “Tiger Beat” and “Sixteen” alongside Davey Jones and David Cassidy.

Image courtesy of collinsporthistoricalsociety.com

More than an hour passes before Master of Dark Shadows moves on from Dark Shadows and Jonathan Frid, spending about 10 minutes on his Herman Wouk adaptations (the first of which, The Winds of War, cost a whopping $38 million to produce — less than some actual wars) before moving back to… Dark Shadows. In this case, it’s the 1991 prime-time “revival” series for NBC, but even in this sequence — the final one in the documentary — you can sense resentment from Curtis over having to return to the well.

Ben Cross, the actor who succeeded Frid in the role of Barnabas Collins, says Curtis wanted to distance himself from the original series to such an extent that he asked the cast not to watch it. Decades later, on another channel and shooting on a different coast, Curtis still found himself in the shadow of Jonathan Frid.

Master of Dark Shadows closes on footage from the 50th anniversary Dark Shadows Festival in 2016 in Tarrytown, New York, and some words from Curtis that Gregory must not have digested. “I’ve always said I’d be remembered for Dark Shadows,” Curtis says in an interview taped sometime before his death in 2006. “And not things I really cared about, which were the great epics that I made. ‘Dark Shadows’ will be the thing that will be on my gravestone.”

When the closing credits begin to roll, it’s over the face of Frid as Barnabas Collins, fangs bared in a panel from the 1971 Dark Shadows newspaper comic strip.

Image courtesy of collinsporthistoricalsociety.com

Frid manages to upstage Curtis in the documentary’s bonus features, too. Among them are a delightful 1968 appearance by Frid on “The Dick Cavett Show” in which the two actors try to out-manner each other. (The episode has been lost, but has been “reconstructed” with stills and audio of the appearance.) There’s amazing newsreel footage of Frid’s 1969 UNICEF Halloween appearance at The White House with Tricia Nixon, plus his “Shakespeare & Poe in the Shadows” PBS special from 1983.

Dark Shadows cast member Kathryn Leigh Scott takes us on a guided tour of the New York City studios used by the show in the 1960s, which is invaluable because the studio has since been demolished. And … well, there’s lots of great bonus features on Master of Dark Shadows. My reaction to the documentary might be lukewarm, but the special features make this disc an essential part of any Dark Shadows fan library.

You can find read more from Wallace on Dark Shadows at
http://www.collinsporthistoricalsociety.com

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American Horror Story: Delicate

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As most of us are already aware, the 12th Season of AHS has been fraught with all kinds of differences to the previous seasons, mainly in that this is the first one to be based entirely off a novel, ‘Delicate Condition’ by Danielle Valentine. The first half of the season aired in October 2023 to mediocre reviews, while the SAG-AFTRA strike caused production and airing delays for the latter half of the season, and the episodes of Part 2 were all cut to less than an hour long apiece. And none of that is even getting into the disjointed attempt at storytelling for Season 12, so let’s dive into this! 

Meet Anna Victoria Alcott (Emma Roberts), former young ling star of Hollywood now struggling to recapture fame as an adult, who wants a baby, very very badly. Bad enough to drive herself and her husband Dex (Matt Czuchry) through multiple unsuccessful rounds of IVF (in-vitro fertilization), bad enough to keep trying no matter how crushing each failure turns out to be, bad enough to involve her purported best friend and bougie publicist Siobhan Corbyn (Kim Kardashian) in her struggles, and maybe, just maybe, bad enough to give up on a burgeoning resurgence of her career after interest in her comeback role for The Auteur begins garnering her Oscar-worthy attention. 

So, Anna and Dex are going to go through yet another round of IVF, likely one of their last attempts at it, from a different doctor, Dr. Andrew Hill (Denis O’Hare), and clinic based on Siobhan’s recommendation. And already, strange things are beginning to happen to Anna – her appointments that she set herself begin springing up incorrectly, a doom saying woman called Preacher (Julia White) shows up spouting warnings about trusting no one, dire warnings appear in unlikely places, and BTW, it seems as though long-suffering but good-nurtured Dex has a side-piece too. It doesn’t help that Dex’s new partner at his art gallery, Sonia Shawcross (Annabelle Dexter-Jones), bears a striking resemblance to his dead ex-wife Adeline, either. Those spiked emerald heels start appearing weirdly too, and it seems as though no one will listen to Anna as she grows more and more suspicious that some sort of sinister cult has designs on her as-yet-unborn baby. At the same time, Anna tries to live the life of a successful returning actress, attending parties and gallery openings while draping her rapidly-expanding middle in shimmering fabrics and actively ‘campaigning’ for that little golden statue that most actors covet. Competition is fierce, even among her co-stars of The Auteur, and while Anna wants to be supportive of her fellow entertainers, she clearly appears to be incapable of doing both at the same time – wanting the baby and the little gold award at the same time is too much to ask, apparently. 

Elsewhere, mostly in the past, various women in states of desperation formed from one situation or another are visited by sinister-looking women in prim black dresses, headgear reminiscent of – to me anyway – an odd cross betwixt birds and bunnies, my guess is an ostensive nod to fertility in general, and a general feeling of blood-bound witchery about them at critical moments of crossroad choices. 

Though the second half of the season moves a good deal faster than the first, the attempts at callbacks and reminder flashes to Part 1 hit with all the impact of a dropped bag of garbage onto their friends Talia’s (Julia Canfield) borrowed bougie kitchen floor – splat, into incomprehensible silence, from all parties, both characters and audience, concerned. Even the reminders that, in Part 1 of Delicate Dex’s mother Virginia Harding (Debra Monk) did indeed have perfectly valid memories of abuse at the hands of a black cult and Dex’s own father Dex Sr. (Reed Birney), the revelation pales and peels away in the face of Dex’s true parentage. 

Which brings us back around full circle kinda sorta, to the only real character worth a damn in this entire miserable season of strange feminism and aspirations of world domination through a kind of idiotic Rosemary’s Baby nightmare scenario, we should have known she’d steal the show when Kardashian was cast for it, Siobhan Corbyn, leader of the blood cult her high and mighty (old) self. Throughout the whole show her character has remained exactly the same, and it’s a wonder Anna can stare at her all stupefied while Siobhan does her villain speech at the end of the last episode. Siobhan never masked her ambition or greed, her mysterious protective vibe and even deep love for Anna, and can always be counted on to have secret plans of her own, already in motion, bitch. 

The idea that Anna herself was used as a surrogate for Siobhan and her incestuous eugenicist plans, plus the sweet little demon baby she just birthed, has an ironic the-world-is-tilting-the-wrong-way kind of witchy madness to it. Sure, Anna really can have it all, the baby and the golden statue, if only she joins the patriarchy-crushing cabal of blood witches with world domination plans, got it. 

I have questions, or I would have, but things are moving on and Anna is being saved by … Dex’s dead ex, Adaline the former member of the coven right okay her, she’s going to show back up and offer Anna a simple chant to Hestia her patron Goddess, and that is somehow enough to deal with Siobhan entirely – poof. And finally, after all that rigamarole, decades of planning and scheming and witchy plotting finally settled, Anna really can have it all as a White Witch of Hollywood, heaven help us, with her perfectly human baby and that damned little golden statue, clutched in an only slightly desperate grip. 

As with any season of AHS there are a great deal of statements that could be implied just under the skin of the season – the canker way of ambition, the millenia-old pain of a woman giving birth, the savagery and bloodshed that comes with bringing forth life, pushback against both the patriarchy and ultra-feminism, the absolute desperation of humans wanting to have a child, and perhaps strangest and most open to interpretation of all, what it means to be feminine. The worlds population of women who can’t or don’t or simply won’t have children, for any reason or none, are relegated to servants, expendable servants at that, for this new world order that Siobhan is proposing, and that is far too close a comfort to things like outright slavery. A dictator is a dictator, no matter how great she looks in those emerald spiked heels. 

It’s not the really beautiful grotesquerie that Ryan Murphy and his AHS gang are often known for, nor is it utterly terrible and should be burned at the stake. What Delicate should be, is put back together with missing and cut footage, an hour long per episode again come on folks, fleshed some more of Siobhan’s baby-stealing adventures in the past and given us an actual reason to like anything about the whiny Anna, at least the Part 2 we as longtime AHS fans deserve. Toss in some more spidery hijinks! Give us the actual origin of those weird feather bunny-ear headdresses! 

American Horror Story Delicate the whole season can be seen on FX! 

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Jurassic Park: Unraveling the Mystery in a World Gone Prehistoric!

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Hold onto your hats, dino fans! The highly anticipated sequel to the adrenaline-pumping Camp Cretaceous saga is here, and it’s taking us on a wild ride six years in the making. Following the harrowing events of Camp Cretaceous, our beloved “Nublar Six” are back, but they’re not out of the woods just yet. In fact, they’re about to plunge headfirst into a world where dinosaurs roam freely alongside dangerous humans, and trust us when we say, it’s a Jurassic jungle out there!

Picture this: a world where survival isn’t just about avoiding sharp-toothed predators but also navigating the treacherous waters of human greed and deceit. As our resilient heroes reunite in the aftermath of a heart-wrenching tragedy, they quickly realize that danger lurks around every corner, and trust is a luxury they can’t afford. 

But wait, there’s more! Prepare to embark on a globetrotting adventure like no other as the Nublar Six find themselves thrust into the heart of a conspiracy that threatens not only the fragile balance between dinosaurs and humanity but also their very existence. From the lush jungles of Isla Nublar to the bustling streets of bustling cities, buckle up for a rollercoaster ride of epic proportions as our intrepid group races against time to uncover the truth about one of their own and, ultimately, save both dinosaur and humankind from certain doom.

So, dear readers, if you thought you’d seen it all in Jurassic Park, think again! With heart-stopping action, pulse-pounding suspense, and jaw-dropping revelations, this latest installment promises to be a game-changer in the Jurassic universe. Get ready to roar with excitement because Jurassic Park: Unraveling the Mystery is about to take a bite out of your imagination and leave you hungry for more!

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Netflix’s Upcoming Thriller ‘Trigger Warning’ Promises Action-Packed Intrigue”

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Get ready to buckle up for an adrenaline-fueled ride as Netflix prepares to drop its latest original thriller, “Trigger Warning,” on June 21, 2024. Directed by Mouly Surya and boasting an all-star cast, including Jessica Alba, Mark Webber, Tone Bell, Jake Weary, Gabriel Basso, Anthony Michael Hall, Kaiwi Lyman, and Hari Dhillon, this film is set to keep viewers on the edge of their seats from start to finish.

The plot centers around Special Forces commando Parker, portrayed by the talented Jessica Alba. Parker’s life takes an unexpected turn when she receives the heartbreaking news of her father’s sudden passing, prompting her to return to her hometown. As she steps into her new role as the owner of the family bar, Parker quickly realizes that there’s more to her father’s death than meets the eye.

Reconnecting with figures from her past, including her former flame turned sheriff, Jesse (Mark Webber), and his volatile brother, Elvis (Jake Weary), Parker finds herself embroiled in a dangerous web of deceit and violence. With the influential Senator Swann (Anthony Michael Hall) casting a shadow over the town, Parker must navigate treacherous waters to uncover the truth about her father’s demise.

As tensions rise and alliances shift, Parker taps into her elite commando training, determined to unravel the mysteries plaguing Swann County. Assisted by her covert ops partner and hacker, Spider (Tone Bell), and the enigmatic local dealer, Mike (Gabriel Basso), Parker embarks on a perilous journey filled with twists and turns.

Penned by John Brancato & Josh Olson and Halley Gross, “Trigger Warning” promises to deliver a gripping narrative packed with action, suspense, and unexpected revelations. With a powerhouse cast bringing the characters to life and a talented creative team behind the scenes, this Netflix original is primed to captivate audiences worldwide.

Produced by Erica Lee, Basil Iwanyk, and Esther Hornstein, “Trigger Warning” offers a thrilling glimpse into the murky depths of small-town politics and criminal underworlds. With its pulse-pounding action sequences and compelling storyline, this film is sure to leave viewers on the edge of their seats until the very end.

Mark your calendars for June 21, 2024, as “Trigger Warning” arrives on Netflix, ready to ignite your senses and keep you guessing until the credits roll. Don’t miss out on this adrenaline-charged cinematic experience that promises to be the ultimate summer blockbuster.

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