Tag Archives: Seances

Dark Shadows | Issue #16

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Dark Shadows | Issue #16
The Scarab
Gold Key Comics | October 1972

An ancient Egyptian mystic of the black arts recruits Barnabas Collins into his undead army in this issue of the ongoing comic series.

The unholy priest, Potiphar, possesses a strange power enabling him to control those spirits trapped between worlds, such as the cursed Barnabas. Potiphar’s army, assembled over the last four thousand years, seeks to reunite the lost treasure of the First Kingdom, a mythic cache of legendary objects that will grant its owner total dominion over the Earth.

Barnabas’ first directive under Potiphar’s control is stealing one such item, the improbably named Golden Girdle of Ibex. Aside from his ability to fly away with the stolen cloth in his bat talons, Barnabas’ specially chosen role as “First Minister” to Potiphar amounts to little more than smash-and-grab robber among confused museum guards.

Meanwhile at a Collinwood cocktail party, Professor Stokes deduces the entire plan—and Potiphar’s responsibility, in particular—from the gathered small talk surrounding the simple news of a museum robbery.

Professor Stokes is rarely wrong…but, no! The whole thing is too preposterous!

After discovering that Barnabas’ coffin is missing, Julia Hoffman convenes an emergency séance to send a message to him through the spirit plane, thus breaking Potiphar’s spell.

Ultimately, Barnabas faces off against the other creatures of darkness, and Potiphar learns the dangers of transmutation—particularly surrounding the inherent vulnerability in taking the form of a beetle.

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Prince of Darkness

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Prince of Darkness
Barbara Michaels | Fawcett Books | 1969 | 224 pages

An outsider discovers yet another small village steeped in a secret history of black magic and occult rituals. Only in Prince of Darkness, the outsider’s intentions are far from pure.

Peter Stewart, a small-time con man recently released from an English prison, travels to Middleburg, Maryland, to pursue a new target. Through a disreputable old investigator, Peter gathers information on Dr. Katherine (Kate) More, a folklore professor in Middleburg who has recently been driven into a state of nervous exhaustion following the mysterious suicide of her English fiancé. Her grief, or perhaps her guilt, has triggered her descent into the world of spiritualism, transforming her into a true believer in the mysticism of her academic studies.

After the death of her uncle Stephan, Kate inherited his rambling estate in the Maryland countryside. Sharing the old house is her cousin, Tiphaine, an enchanting young girl with a talent for folk music. The quaint exterior of charming village life in Middleburg hides a dark history, with the remnants of an old religion—including its cyclical rites of ritual sacrifice—holding a firm grasp on the local population.

Stealthily surveying Kate’s house one night shortly after his arrival, Peter witnesses a ritualistic séance. Along with Kate and Tiphaine, Peter recognizes a few of the town’s citizens, including the proprietress of Peter’s boardinghouse, Mrs. Adams, who seems to be leading the ceremony. Assuming that Kate is trying to raise the spirit of her dead lover, Peter formulates a plan to insinuate himself into her life, and to further her mental breakdown to the point of collapse.

Prince of Darkness delivers many familiar genre trappings, including voodoo dolls, suspicious townsfolk, black magic, sacrificial altars, and animal-masked ritual attendees, but its shift in perspective helps set it apart from the standard fare. The typical viewpoint into this realm of occult danger is through Kate, as mysterious events push her to the brink of madness. Instead, here readers look into her world from the outside through Peter, as he puts his shady plan into motion. However, Peter’s anti-heroic nature fails to maintain through to the end, as other sinister forces emerge to threaten Kate. She moves to the center for the final third of the story, allowing for a return to more normal genre standards, along with the expected romance.

A final twist regarding Kate’s dead lover, accompanied by some pseudo-contemplative prattle reflecting upon the meaning of the title, wrap things up at (of course) a witches’ Sabbat on Halloween night.

As a total aside, Tiphaine’s enchanting musical interlude–if a book can be said to truly have one–at the Folklore Society of Middleburg conjures up the insidious, seductive Willow’s Song, the musical interlude from Robin Hardy’s The Wicker Man (1973). So here it is:

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Dark Shadows (Issue #11)

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Dark Shadows, Issue #11
The Thirteenth Star
Gold Key Comics | November 1971

After Quentin Collins is attacked outside Collinwood by a strange creature, Barnabas Collins must battle against a curse handed down centuries ago by an ancestor weary of his family’s predilection towards the dark arts, in an issue that features a guest monster-of-the-week appearance by a Golem.

Even by the obscure standards of multigenerational curses, the one delivered by Mordecai Collins six-hundred years ago is exceptionally nonsensical. To exact payback against the ills he has suffered by the black-magic actions of his own family, Mordecai instructs a priest to form an unlikely vehicle for his revenge. Upon his death, Mordecai’s ashes are sealed inside a gargoyle-like figure made of clay. This Golem, marked with astronomical signs of the Thirteenth Constellation, will come to life upon the once-in-a-one-hundred-year visit of the Collins Comet in the night sky, and destroy any Collins family member with evil dwelling in his heart.

Trying and failing with brute force against Quentin, the Golem deploys a surprisingly clever (for a Golem) method against Barnabas. It steals the grave soil lining Barnabas’ coffin which allows him a safe place to rest during the day. Fearing that he will not have time to find the hidden soil before the rising of the sun, Barnabas calls an impromptu seance with the residents of the great estate, a seance he inexplicably uses to [suspend disbelief here] travel forward in time to the next visit of the comet and discover the location of the soil so he can travel back to the present with this newly discovered knowledge and find the soil, return it to his coffin, and save his own (undead) life.

A completely throw-away issue, The Thirteenth Star improvises the canons of vampirism, spiritualism, and time travel as it goes, propelling Barnabas Collins to the futuristic landscape of Collinsport in the year 2071. He meets his great-great nephew, Halperin Collins, who displays a groovy fashion sense more appropriate to the 1970s-era present, featuring an open-collared plaid jacket, Cream-era Eric Clapton hairdo, and matching white belt, pants, and shoes. After a brief monster rumble with the Golem that leads him to the location of the grave soil, Barnabas notices that the comet has disappeared from the night sky.

Returning to the present without the aid of either the comet or a seance, Barnabas tries to enlist Julia Hoffman’s aid, pleading for her unquestioning cooperation. She neatly sums up the whole adventure by responding, “I will…but understand…I won’t even try.”

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The Unearthly

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The Unearthly
Dorothy Daniels | Magnum Books | 1970 | 189 pages

After the sudden death of her mother, Hope Owen returns home from finishing school to the family’s estate, Alleys of Oak. She has come to grieve, but also to uncover the mysterious circumstances that lead to her mother being crushed to death by a falling tree during a lightning storm. Her Aunt Vera Frazer, Hope’s father’s sister and mistress of the house, greets her coolly with the news that Hope’s school days are now over—there will be no more money for her boarding-school, and she will be required to work for her keep as a family servant.

Also living in the estate are Hope’s two cousins, Samuel and Elizabeth. Samuel is a lazy gambler, frequently away in town indulging his addictions in the local taverns. Elizabeth is a haughty daughter of privilege, with a blunt sense of tact. The only sympathetic member of the family seems to be Aunt Mary, a plump spinster living alone in the guest cottage on the estate grounds.

Visiting her mother’s grave, Hope encounters a seemingly feral child in the woods outside the cemetery, and is entranced by her otherworldly charm. The pixie-like girl leads Hope to the neighboring plantation, where she meets its owner, Adam Camden. The strange girl is Adam’s mute sister, Fern, who perhaps had some connection with Hope’s mother.

But another member of the family has influence over the household, Vera’s deceased mother, Althea. Using Elizabeth as a medium, Vera has been conducting séances to contact the spirit of her mother, in order to solicit advice regarding the running of the household. In one such séance, Vera attempts to contact Hope’s mother, but during the proceedings a vase is violently hurled across the room, narrowly missing Hope. The number of voices competing to speak through Elizabeth during her trance suggests turmoil in the spirit world, and warns of more violence to come.

The spirits of Alleys of Oak are not just communicating through séances. Hope is terrified by the sounds of a woman sobbing at night, seemingly coming from the hallway outside her door. After walking Aunt Mary back to her cottage one night, Hope is attacked by a dark figure with a club, and pursued until she meets Samuel on the grounds of the estate. Hope wonders if the attacker is a manifestation of the spirit(s) of the house, or if she needs to fear corporeal enemies as well.

The resolution of the mystery ultimately comes as expected, with the culprit breaking down and confessing under the flimsiest of evidence. Refreshingly, the supernatural phenomena experienced at the séances prove to be genuine, not smoke-and-mirror parlour tricks engineered by the villain to terrorize the household. The overall tension of the story is reduced somewhat by the presence of Hope’s love-interest, Adam, the good-natured farmer next door, who provides her with an opportunity for escape with his early offer of marriage. Although Hope justifies her decision not to leave Alleys of Oak, having her continually trapped as a servant in the house would have intensified the unrelenting atmosphere of terror.

<SPOILER> And what self-respecting Gothic Romance fails to end with the heroine’s marriage? Perhaps revealing my own deep-seated character flaws, I was somehow cheering for the shiftless, gambling cousin, Samuel—but he never had a chance.

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