Monday, 2 June 2014

Dark Shadows: The Voodoo Amulet written by Mark Thomas Passmore and directed by Darren Gross & James Goss

What's it about: "We're surrounded by the living dead and you're worried about breaking the law?" Supernatural investigator, Tony Peterson, is summoned by the devious witch Cassandra Collins to the bustling city of New Orleans. On the trail of the mysterious Voodoo Amulet, they're hunted through bars, hotels, train stations and graveyards by the police, criminals, black magicians and zombies. Can Tony and Cassandra escape with their lives... and their souls?

PI: Tony doesn't know what it is about Cassandra's SOS to him that surprised him more - the word please or that it was he that she had contacted for help. He costs 200 bucks a day plus expenses. He thinks learning to be a witch takes as long as law school. He hated to admit it but he and Cassandra work well together. A kiss between him and Cassandra at the climax to bring her back from the dark side reinforces the sexual tension that is bubbling between them.

Witch: Cassandra is in the unfortunate position of having lost her powers and Tony is oh so smug about it when he learns as much. She is in the unfortunate position of needing his help and having to go to the lengths of hiring him. Cassandra was called in to deliver a voodoo talisman to a Mr Jericho, a local voodoo Priest. She was the one that could be trusted to protect the merchandise and protect herself from it too. Nothing about her is ever simple. In their last union Tony learnt some surprising things about Cassandra, that she had feelings beneath that cool veneer and that perhaps he had become a better person for his experiences with her. Tony can knock you down (he tells Cassandra that she has lost her edge) and pick you back up again (reminding her that she didn't need her powers in the Death Mask affair, that she used her wits and instinct for survival). She's sure good at creating a distraction too, playing the disgruntled wife on a miserable vacation. Tony has never seen her look so lonely and vulnerable, the story going to great lengths to humanise her after her cold portrayal in The Death Mask. Cassandra tried her hand at modelling for a while and Sky saw her picture in a fashion spread and became enamoured. When he asked her to marry him she had pause for thought because the relationships in her past had been complicated and painful. But the thought of someone being truly in love with her with no ulterior motive was bewitching. She should have known it would turn sour. Sky had made a bargain with dark forces for his wealth with an old enemy of hers. She had little choice but to regain her powers. At the time she thought she loved him...but now she isn't sure she knows what love is. When Cassandra's powers are returned to her she is a truly formidable presence, calling upon the restless spirits that have been defiled to exact their revenge. After suffering the indignity of mortals she is enraged and never again will she be humiliated in the same way. She thinks her powers are who she is...but Tony isn't so sure.

Standout Performance: I wasn't quite convinced by Michael Salami's Jamaican accent. I thought I could detect an English brogue breaking through, Peri style.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'I've been in New Orleans for two hours and I have already been attacked by the living dead and staged a jail break!'

Great Ideas: The Voodoo Amulet might go down in history as having the most development within a minute and a half of storytelling that I have ever heard on audio. Tony is summoned to New Orleans (a great setting for a supernatural mystery), he and Cassandra are reunited and they are attacked by zombies. That's all before the credits kick in. You can't accuse these stories of being slow paced, that's for sure. The power of self preservation is strong even amongst the living dead. Zombies are bodies of the recently deceased resurrected by voodoo...something that Cassandra explains to Tony as calmly as she might about what she had for dinner last night. She's one cool cucumber. The Amulet is called The Zombie's Eye, a large coin with skull face and a snake rim, well known in voodoo lore and was lost in the late 1800s. It is supposed to help a voodoo Master control zombies, which given their ravenous appetite for brains seems like a very sensible piece of kit to have around. Spencer planned to sell a fake amulet and skip town with the real one and it cost him his life. I would have been deeply disappointed if this hadn't featured at least one scene set in a spooky old graveyard and fortunately Passmore does not let me down. LaCrane is affiliated with an occult watchdog group attached to the law. Cassandra has heard about them and how they play by their own rules. Magic is a balance of knowledge, power and preparation. All the elements come together in the conclusion; magic, voodoo and zombies to create something quite unnerving. Like The Death Mask, there is another twist ending that you might not see coming, a character hidden in plain sight who turns out to be behind the whole affair.

Audio Landscape: Traffic, the living dead lurching and moaning, people screaming and running, applause, lounge atmosphere, elevator, slap, street cars jingling, chanting, screaming, snarling wraiths.

Musical Cues: I really enjoyed the music on this one. Nigel Fairs is having a great fun taking us on a whirlwind tour of New Orleans with some jazzy themes and foot tapping percussion. He's none too shabby when it comes to the more dramatic moments either, adding some pace and immediacy to the zombie attacks. And wait until you hear the fingers down the spine music when Cassandra who it was that stole her powers.

Result: New Orleans is a city I have always wanted to visit, to bask in the decaying atmosphere of the architecture and get caught up in the fascination with the undead. It is a location that I always get excited about when it features in books, novels and audios (it surprises me that Doctor Who has steered clear of it, City of the Dead aside) and seems to come with an atmosphere thick with dread. Perfect for a tale of zombies coming to life and pursuing Tony and Cassandra through the streets. It is a credit to Passmore that he has written another story for duo which is world away from their first encounter on audio. Directors Gross & Goss and in particular sound designer Nigel Fairs deserve a great amount of kudos for the evocating soundscape. Tony and Cassandra cover a lot of ground in this story and you will feel as if you have taken in the sights along with them. The focus is much more on Cassandra and her chequered past this time around and it proves a fascinating back story which explains why she is so cynical about the world now, lonely and vulnerable (however if this all played in the TV series I would love to see it!). Her relationship with Tony deepens as a result of her opening out and I was more invested in their future because of it. I'm glad that the character work and the setting were so evocative because zombies stories aren't among my favourites (I think I might be the only person who doesn't like Shaun of the Dead) but to my relief this is less about eating brains and more a pacy jaunt around an intoxicating city with some flesh eating terrors thrown in to add some action. Intelligently written and well realised, only the odd dodgy accent really jars: 8/10

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