Thursday, April 19, 2012

DARK SHADOWS' Jonathan Frid (1924-2012)

It was such a full day. A group of our contributors and I spent the day e-mailing one another about DARK SHADOWS, preparing a Round Table Discussion of the classic Dan Curtis series (1966-71) which we intend to accompany VIDEO WATCHDOG 169's coverage of MPI's lavish new box set of the Original Complete Series. Today was the second day of our RTD and the day it caught fire, generating no less than 79 e-mails from a team of seven.

As our furious flurry wound down, I went downstairs to watch another six episodes of DARK SHADOWS, continuing a viewing schedule I've been keeping since late January/early February, during which time I've watched close to 300 episodes. I recently completed the original Barnabas story arc, the one that begins with Willie Loomis releasing him from his coffin in 1966 and ends with Ben Stokes placing the chains and locks on the coffin in 1795, because Barnabas' father couldn't bear to fire a silver bullet into his broken heart to end his deathless torment. There is no other tragedy in the history of horror entertainment that begins to approach it; it is less than 25% of the entire series, but to approach it requires the resolve and fortitude of a mountain climber. It is a journey worth the taking.

But I digress... after I could not bring myself to watch another episode, I came back upstairs, got online, processed a few more late-arriving emails about DARK SHADOWS, then got on Facebook, where I updated my cover photo with a picture of Jonathan Frid sitting next to a graffiti image of his best-loved character, taken from the pages of an old issue of 16 SPECTACULAR... and then the news came, posted by his co-star, his Josette, Kathryn Leigh Scott.

Jonathan Frid died last week, on Friday, April 13, at the age of 87. The news was just released this evening, most likely to protect the privacy of his loved ones.

It means staying up all night, but I need to eulogize him. He's been at the center of my consciousness this entire year -- I got a Kindle Fire for Christmas and discovered that it was ideal for viewing Netflix episodes of DARK SHADOWS at bedtime; that's how I saw a good number of my first 160 episodes before the MPI box set arrived. I've written a great deal already for the Round Table, as have others, and I feel sure that the correspondence we'll share tomorrow has every chance of exceeding what we produced today, if we can put our hearts into it. I say this because anyone who writes something sizeable about any subject does so because they want it to endure, and it's upsetting to have the centerpiece of our fête taken away from us before the icing is on, before the blue candles are lit. We had hopes that he would see it.

I need to eulogize him, as I say, but though I have seen hundreds of DARK SHADOWS episodes, I am all too aware that I have seen only a fraction of the Barnabas Collins he portrayed in totality. This fraction, those 250+ episodes, comprise the most three-dimensional vampire in the history of filmed entertainment. We know him both after and before he was cursed. No matter what evil he commits, we fully understand what motivates him; if we cannot sympathize, we cannot help but empathize. We walk beside him as we do with no other monster, because there is real depth and duration in the relationship.

Barnabas was also the first romantic vampire. A lot was written by Hollywood publicity mills in the 1930s about Bela Lugosi's sex appeal, about his brand of vampirism being "the strangest love ever known," but his Count Dracula was portrayed without emotion. To borrow one of Lugosi's great lines from THE RAVEN (1935), Frid's portrayal of Barnabas -- with his serrated bat-wing bangs, oval onyx ring and wolf's head cane -- was that of a monster "with the taint of human emotions." As the series' storyline veered from its REBECCA origins to one closer to VERTIGO, Barnabas recovered from the primal trauma of seeing his beloved Josette fall to her death from Widow's Hill by trying in vain to recast other women in her irretrievable image. When series creator Dan Curtis made DRACULA with Jack Palance, he imposed a similarly romantic storyline on Bram Stoker's novel, and this subsequently inspired Francis Ford Coppola's take on BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA and, more recently, the TWILIGHT series.

Frid created this character in a medium he could scarcely have expected to last: live on videotape, a medium networks were known to erase and reuse. Fortunately, nearly all 1225 episodes of DARK SHADOWS survive in some form or other. In them, given the nature of the medium (which was in essence live theater), you will see Jonathan Frid forget his lines, look for the teleprompter, and fumble his dialogue into amusing Yodaisms, but you will also see hundreds of episodes in which he thrills you, breaks your heart, or chills your blood.

A Canadian stage actor prior to his hiring, specializing in Shakespeare plays and English drawing room comedies, Jonathan Frid brought to DARK SHADOWS a gentlemanly, Old World sensibility that made his portrayal elementally convincing. When Barnabas first arrived in Collinsport, he carried the ancient past with him in a doting attention to language, an appreciation, shall we say, of the niceties. Introduced to governess "Vicky" Winters, who then gave her fuller name of Victoria, he expressed courteous shock that anyone should address such an attractive young woman with any lesser name.

Frid was 42 when he won the role -- about the same age as Boris Karloff when he came down the west coast from Canada, where he had been driving trucks, to win the role of the Monster in James Whale's FRANKENSTEIN (1931). As with Karloff, it was late enough in Frid's life and career for him to appreciate the good fortune it represented, not only to him but to his hard-working fellow cast members. But during his daytime tenure, he also tasted enough of fame to know that it wasn't what made him happiest. After the show's run, a period which also encompassed the feature film HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970), he returned to the stage for the most part, and made the occasional film, like Oliver Stone's Canada-made directorial debut SEIZURE (1974).

Frid and several other cast alumni travelled to London last year, where they filmed cameos for Tim Burton's forthcoming DARK SHADOWS feature. Kathryn Leigh Scott documents the experience in illustrated detail in her new book (co-authored with Jim Pierson) DARK SHADOWS: RETURN TO COLLINWOOD, which includes a Foreword by Jonathan Frid. Last year, he also participated in an audiobook project, DARK SHADOWS: THE NIGHT WHISPERS, which recently won the Rondo Award for Best Horror CD.

In what now amounts to his final public gesture, Frid personally signed 2500 cards that were included in MPI Home Video's coffin-shaped box set DARK SHADOWS THE COMPLETE ORIGINAL SERIES, a 133-disc limited edition set that sold out well in advance of its street date. It is the most handsome DVD box set I've ever seen, but -- the next time I reach for a new set of discs -- it's going to be bittersweet to have to open Jonathan's coffin to fetch it! (For those of you who missed obtaining one of your own, an unnumbered, unsigned second edition is being released later this summer.)

There will be much more to say in the pages of VIDEO WATCHDOG 169. For now, join me in extending our fondest farewell to a genuine horror icon.

Friday, April 13, 2012

The Olympic Swimmer from Planet Ummo

Michael Rennie (right) goes to work on Paul Naschy in ASSIGNMENT TERROR.

Saw an episode of THE PATTY DUKE SHOW this evening called "The Girl From N.E.P.H.E.W." in which Patty's family play host to a debonair guest who works for INTERPOL, whom Patty assumes to be a secret agent. This fellow was played by an actor named Murray Rose, whose distinctive voice sounded weirdly familiar to me. About halfway through the show, I realized where I'd heard him before....

He dubbed Michael Rennie in the Paul Naschy monster rally ASSIGNMENT TERROR (Los monstruos del terror, 1969)!

Rose's IMDb page doesn't show too many screen credits, but his Wikipedia page offers some interesting revelations about the man whose voice issued commands to the Werewolf, the Mummy and, of course, the Faranksellen Monster. However, it won't tell you anything about his dubbing career.

Monday, March 26, 2012

A Rose for Natalie Perrey (1929-2012)

We are now already nearly four months into 2012 and much of my past year has been spent in deep contemplation of -- one might say in communion with -- the late Jean Rollin. In the course of studying, enjoying and empathizing with his films, I have come to a better appreciation of the fact that his films, however personal they were, were not simply the work of one man, but of a special group of people who were somehow consecrated to his dreams, who encircled him like the participants in a great séànce and helped conjure his fantasies into being on celluloid.

Foremost among these remarkable people was the lovely lady pictured at the left, Natalie Perrey, who passed away sometime today of undisclosed causes, just one month after her 83rd birthday. The news reached me like a ripple in the pond of communication: I was informed by her friend Daniel Gouyette, who had known and adored Natalie since they worked together on DRACULA'S FIANCÉE (1999); he received the news from titles designer Jean-Noël Delamarre, a ripple nearer the center, who had worked on films with her even before Rollin entered their mutual picture, since the short film BARTLEBY (1970). He was "Nat"'s companion for many years.

Writing about Rollin has pulled me closer into the orbits of these people, close enough that I can feel a sense of personal loss. Thanks to Daniel, Natalie and I were able to exchange little salutations of mutual appreciation, like this sweet photo of the two of them, which Daniel sent after they read my Rollin essay for the booklet included with the first round of Redemption Blu-rays. (Look closely and you will see in Daniel's hand Natalie's keepsake of Rollin, the Iron Rose itself.) Or the photo further down, which shows Natalie and Daniel posing with the then-current issue of VIDEO WATCHDOG. These were dear to receive then, and they are all the more precious now.

Daniel and I spoke on the telephone last week and he finished our long talk by urging me to come to Paris "while it's still here -- not while you're still here," he clarified, "but while this Paris is still here." I knew what he meant and, already, much too suddenly, that Paris is no more. A diminished Paris now stands in its place because this lady is gone. I am not just speaking of someone who worked on some horror movies, but of a great facilitator of the art of her time, someone who was a member of the French Resistance at the age of 12, someone who spent the two weeks prior to her last birthday in a hospital because she was mugged and fought back. As Daniel told me while relaying the incomprehensible news of her passing, "She fought against injustices all her life. She was so different from the people who were just hanging around... She was special." He also stresses to me that she wasn't to be mourned; she wouldn't want that. So I am thinking of all the news she has to share with Jean.

Daniel's interviews with Natalie can be found on the Redemption Blu-rays of THE NUDE VAMPIRE, THE IRON ROSE and LIPS OF BLOOD, and she will be back with more stories to tell in the next batch.

Natalie began working in films in the late 1960s, after raising a family. (The French actress Cyrille Gaudin, who played the title role in DRACULA'S FIANCÉE under the name Cyrille Isté, is her daughter.) She started out as a costumer on Jean-Pierre Bastid's Hallucinations Sadiques (1969), moved up to script supervisor on Bastid's short BARTLEBY and then served as a production assistant on Rollin's THE NUDE VAMPIRE, in the course of which she was recruited to act. An attractive woman of 40, she was asked to play a little old woman in the film's penultimate scene, and was somehow able to then inhabit a role she would still be playing in Rollin's La Nuit des Horloges almost a half-century later. She worked with many different directors -- Bastid of course, Jean-Pierre Mocky, Jean-François Davy, Pierre Unia, Gérard Vernier, Claude Mulot and others -- but her devotion to Rollin was unique.

She was a production assistant on THE SHIVER OF THE VAMPIRES, then she advanced to script supervisor and assistant director on many other films while also playing important, typically maternal roles. She is the woman who lays flowers on the grave of the two lovers in THE IRON ROSE, the protagonist's mother in LIPS OF BLOOD, the mother in NIGHT OF THE HUNTED, the schoolteacher in THE TWO VAMPIRE ORPHANS, the sorceress in DRACULA'S FIANCÉE, and she is one of the principal characters in La Nuit des Horloges, serving as a kind of pallbearer for Rollin himself. The IMDb lists 21 different acting roles under her name, and it is by no means a complete list. And in addition to playing these roles, she was assisting with costumes, securing locations, organizing the shoots, distracting graveyard attendants with bottles of wine. She was the perfect example of the kind of person who seldom receives acknowledgement from writers and historians, but without whom the movies could not exist -- because dreamers can't do much of anything by themselves. Those of us who love Rollin's films feel indebted to him, but he surely felt indebted to her. She was the backbone and sometimes the very sinew of his filmography.

Natalie's most visible accomplishments were not necessarily her most notable. She also had two original screenplays produced, both erotic in nature: Rollin's FLY ME THE FRENCH WAY with Joëlle Coeur, and Didier Philippe Gérard's s Les Hôstesses du sexe with Karine Gambier. In 1977, she became a film editor with Jean-Pierre Mocky's Le roi des bricoleurs and she continued to work in this capacity until her final editorial job in 2007.

What Natalie Perrey's passing brings to mind is that what was true of the places in Rollin's films at the time he made them -- that they belonged to the past, being torn down in some cases almost as soon as he filmed them -- is becoming true of the people and faces in them. To think of Natalie speaking to camera about the absent director in La Nuit des Horloges will doubtless become doubly poignant now that she shares his mysterious absence. With her death, Rollin's life's work takes its intended next step away from the status of fantasy toward becoming not so indistinguishable from the former realities that reside in our memory. Like a bubble within a bubble, or as Edgar Allan Poe described it, while writing about a beach we might now call "Rollinesque"...

All that we see or seem
Is but a dream within a dream.

In order of their appearance, the above photographs are the copyrighted property of Grégory Pons, Véronique D. Travers, Véronique D. Travers and Daniel Gouyette, and appear here with their kind permission.