Sunday, 1 June 2014

Dark Shadows: The Death Mask written by Mark Thomas Passmore and directed by Darren Goss

What's it about: Moments after welcoming his guests to a party, millionaire Harrison Pierce is murdered. But his death is only the first of many as, trapped on an isolated island, his guests start to die in increasingly bizarre ways. Attorney Tony Peterson must join forces with a woman who destroyed his life years before, the beautiful but deadly Cassandra Collins. But can she be trusted? And what really is the secret of the mysterious Death Mask?

PI: Cassandra Collins practically destroyed Tony's life and as you can imagine he isn't best pleased when they run into each other at Harrison's party. His reputation was shot thanks to her games, half of Collinwood thinking that he caused the break up between Cassandra and her beau. He never gets involved with anyone from a clients family...not after last time. He was dating Carolyn Stoddard, daughter of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the head of the Collins family when Cassandra showed up as Roger Collins' new wife. The witch soon had him under his spell. Things didn't really get better when he left Collinsport, he always wanted more out of being a lawyer than just the basics. He genuinely wanted to help people, to make a difference but instead it has been boring. Sealing corporate deals and the like. It is probably a welcome relief from the monotony that the woman who wrecked his life has walked back into it. Anything to add a little spice. He always fancied himself as a bit of a gumshoe. His father was a fisherman for the Collins Fleet. He died in a boating accident when Tony was in his teens. He blamed the Collins' for being cheap and comprising safety. His mother worked hard to give him the opportunity to go to college and she didn't live to see him pass. He build his practice in Collinsport because he resented the family and wanted to make thing better for those who worked there.

Witch: A woman who was as dangerous as she was beautiful, for Cassandra Collins was a bona fide spell-casting witch. She dresses to the nines, showing that she has money yet not flaunting it. Poised with confidence and style that was all woman. Mayhem follows in her footsteps. No one in the Collins family liked Cassandra and it turned out some them had a good reason. She's got a certain bluntness about her, happy to give somebody a slap if they are hysterical or smash a priceless vase to get everybody's attention. For Cassandra, Tony was simply a means to an end. A useful tool. She was done a great wrong in the past, Barnabas Collins' ancestor who she had unrequited love interest in. Cassandra did come to the party with a motive, associates of hers wanted to know if the Death Mask was the original and if so to acquire it for them. Passmore ensures that once the story is over that we are still in doubt as to Cassandra's motives...I like not knowing whether I can trust her or not. Let's hope she always remains this ambiguous.

Standout Performance: So much of this story relies on the chemistry between Jerry Lacy and Lara Parker and so it pleases me to report that their relationship really sings in their hands.

Great Ideas: Summoned to a party on an isolated island, the host found dead, the suspects being picked off one by one...if you are going to borrow from the murder mystery genre then you might as well take your inspiration from the best and The Death Mask had a strong feeling of And Then There Were None about it. Because Cassandra and Tony are meeting again for the first time there is the opportunity for him to introduce the guests (aka the suspects) and feed us a little information about them. Marilyn Wedgwood, heir to the Wedgwood publishing fortune - drowning her sorrows at parties after her husband died. Dr David Stone, Pierce's private physician and old friend and friendly rival collector. Horace and Evelyn Saunders, Pierce's cousin and his wife. James Rice, Pierce's nephew. Sharon Rice, the niece, who clearly has a thing for Tony. Pierce only throws his parties to chow of the latest in his cabinet of curiosities. The stranger, the better. His relatives angry that he is wasting their inheritance on useless trinkets. All the family have their debts and have their reasons to get their hands on his money. We've got all the ingredients for the perfect drawing room mystery. Rice is the next to go, strangled and it turns out he was having an affair with the maid. Stone next. Akasha is the fifth element, the master of the other four elements. The original Death Mask was supposed to give the wearer power. That's all you get plot wise because there is no point in listening to a mystery if you know the ending...needless to say I guessed the wrong murderer and was completely hoodwinked by the writer! 

Audio Landscape: Lapping waves, seagulls, rumbling thunder, footsteps, polite chatter, laughter, angry rantings, rain falling, gasps, a good slap around the chops, smashing a Ming vase, choking, screaming.

Musical Cues: Being a complete novice to the series I have no idea if the opening titles are authentic...and a quick trip to youtube and I can confirm that they are! It's a nicely, subtly menacing piece that still manages to suggest the melodrama to come. It reminded me of the theme to The Nightmare Man in all the best ways, except Dark Shadows came first of course.

Result: Inspired by Joe Lidster's beginners guide to Dark Shadows on the Big Finish forum I have decided to give this much praised by those who like them but rarely discussed by the masses series a listen in stages to see what all the fuss is about. What really struck about this release in particular was two names that I didn't recognise from the world of Doctor Who audio as the writer and director. Given the same names keep cropping up ad nauseum in the Big Finish world (for good or for ill) it is the ultimate refreshment to enjoy an audio and have absolutely no expectations of what I am about to listen to. So the big questions The Death Mask any good? Yes it is. If you are a fan of the murder mystery genre then you certainly wont be disappointed by the first tryst between Tony and Cassandra on audio, it has all the ingredients of a really solid Christie with a delicious supernatural twist. The suspects are well drawn and the setting claustrophobic and atmospheric and the story gains momentum as the suspects are slowly whittled down, And Then There Were None style. The central mystery is good but what really draws the attention is the relationship between Tony and Cassandra, their history in the TV series integrated into the story so we can concisely catch up with their back story. I had no idea who these characters were before I started listening but I know I feel as though I have known them for some time and the frisson between ensures things are never quiet. He's a bored lawyer looking to be a gumshoe, she's a no-nonsense witch who has a violent way of cutting to the chase. I enjoyed the suggestion that they might come together for further oddball investigations. Reminding me pleasingly of both the Sapphire and Steel (supernatural mystery) and Dorian Gray (period drama, well drawn characters) ranges, my first venture into Dark Shadows is a great success. More please: 8/10


Audrey the Leviathan Vampire Girl said...

I'm so glad your reviewing 'Dark Shadows', its my favourite series ever! When are you going to get around to reviewing all 1225 episodes of the original series? Episode by episode naturally!

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