Thursday 24 March 2016

Zombies or maybe Killer Hippies at Collinwood?!.

Dr Wotan's celebration of the 50th Anniversary of Dark Shadows continues with my marathon reading of the 'Marilyn Ross' Dark Shadows novels.

I just finished the fifth novel in the series The Curse of Collinwood which was first published in May 1968.

When I received this from Amazon I was immediately struck by the cover which uses the painting of Victoria Winters from the original illustrated cover of the first novel in the series Dark Shadows (see last blog post).  Superimposed on this image is now the vampire Barnabas Collins who by the time this book was published, thanks to the incredible talent of Jonathan Frid, had become the most popular element of the show.  So to get the attention of readers it makes sense to have him on the cover, fangs bared and clutching his wolves head cane.  However, readers of the book would realise quite early on that Barnabas does not appear anywhere in this story!  This is not a Dark Shadows story about vampires - but, as the back cover proclaims, the question of whether Zombies are walking at Collinwood!

At the start of the novel Victoria is upset over the recent death of Ernest Collins, the classical violinist with past wife problems from the first novel Dark Shadows.   This death causes Victoria to think that phantoms are haunting her - possibly Ernest.  Ross gives us the same cast of TV characters - Elizabeth, Roger (still swigging away at the brandy), Carolyn, David and (in very bit parts) Matt Morgan and Jo Haskell (no Julia Hoffmann presumably because no Barnabas).   We also get a really interesting new character Amos Martin who lives in a shack by the beach and holds seances (we know how much the Collins family love them) with the help of his dead mother.  He is appropriately called 'Mad Martin'.  Ross also develops the relationship, just hinted at towards the end of the first book, with Victoria and the mysterious Burke Devlin.

The two strands of the story that Ross introduces through Victoria and Burke set up the suspense of the story.  First, Victoria and Burke learn from Amos Martin the story of Derek and Esther Collins - ancestors of the Collins family who lived in the 1850's.  Amos calls Derek 'a dark-souled villain' who got involved with the slave trade and made his wife Esther, on board the ship with him, witness the suffering and degradation of his captives until 'she was consumed with a hatred for him that exceeded any lover for him she ever knew.'  Esther's hatred grows until one night on the ship off Barbados (not Martinique) she shoots Derek dead.  But that's not enough for old Esther.  She elicits the help of a voodoo witch doctor (well they are close to Barbados) to prepare her husband's body so it would live again but not as a human - but as a zombie, one of the walking dead, condemned to walk the earth as a mindless slave (a nice irony!).  And because she still kind of fancies old Derek she then shoots herself and is turned into a zombie as well - so she could join him in zombie bliss when he returned from the dead (now that is devotion - a somewhat twisted version of the Angelique/Barnabas story).

Both their bodies are placed in 'elaborate mahogany coffins' and shipped back to Collinwood where they are placed in a mausoleum (another Collins mausoleum).  The prophecy is they will stay in their coffins unless a shaft of moonlight strikes their coffins.  Well no surprise that curiosity gets the better of Vicki and Burke and they go to the mausoleum and through a series of adventures the moon-light strikes their coffins.   Derek and Esther are seemingly released and start their murderous rampage through Collinsport.

But here Ross does something that I thought was clever.  He creates a counter-story of two hippie types who are reported as breaking out of jail and are on the run.  Sergeant Sturdy comes to Collinwood and lets the family know that the big lumberjack Tim Mooney and his girl friend Nora Sonier have broken out of jail and are heading to Collinsport and thus could very well be the cause of the strange man and woman ravaging the country-side (which Victoria thinks are the released Derek and Esther).  The description of Mooney is quite interesting and I think here Ross based on this dialogue is drawing on contemporary news and media from the time the story was written:

'They say the girl is a looker,' Roger went on taunting his sister, 'She's one of the hippie crowd with long yellow hair and a great figure.' 

Carolyn nodded 'I read that in the paper.  And Mooney wears his hair long. Like those poets in the coffee houses. [Remember Carolyn has had experience of this with her fling with Buzz!] 

'Like the LSD crowd that goes around killing innocent people.' Elizabeth reproved her daughter, 'Mooney is a kind of degenerate revered by the foolish youngsters in the Village and then in Cambridge, when he moved to the Boston area.  They called him the lumberjack troubadour because he worked in a lumber camp for a few months and plays a guitar.  Don't forget he killed someone and probably won't hesitate to kill again.'  (63) 

Elizabeth's response is quite interesting as she gets very specific.  I would suggest Ross might be drawing upon a real-world person here who around this time also played a guitar and was revered by foolish youngsters who joined his 'family' - a 'family' that in August 1969 would become infamous for murdering innocent people in Hollywood in the Tate/La Bianca Murders.

Did Ross know something (perhaps in the papers) about Charles  Manson and his 'Family' which influenced his characterisation of Mooney?  The description seems very close and Manson's 'Family' was known for heavy drug use (at their trial, depicted in the 1974 book Helter-Skelter by prosecuting attorney Vincent Bugliosi, one of the family members Linda Kasabian said she took LSD 150 times.

So Ross juxtaposes the possible threat of supernatural zombies (Derek and Esther Collins) with a real-life version of late 1960 'monsters' possibly drawn from the media of the time.  And for the rest of the story this interplay between these two possible solutions to the horrors and murders that come to Collinwood ratchet up the tension until the final page-turning conclusion....and the finale with Victoria Winters in Burke Devlin's arms (with that ill-fated flight to Brazil far in the future).

A good cracking and interestingly nuanced story that moves aways from the main television story-line of the time to create an alternative story that adds to the Dark Shadows mythos.

Now for Vampires!  Time to go into that other masoleum, open the coffin and meet the novelised version of Barnabas Collins in novel number 6 - Barnabas Collins!

My 50th Anniversary Dark Shadows journey continues!

1 comment:

Chris_JP said...

The only problem with this analysis is that The Curse Of Collinwood was published in 1968, and the Manson Family murders did not take place until 1969. Ross could not have been basing his hippie characters on the Manson Family, as they had not achieved national infamy as of yet.

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