Thursday, 14 August 2014

The Lucifer Gambit written by Eric Wallace and directed by David Darlington & Daren Gross

What's it about: "Don't live in the darkness, Amy Jennings." Adolescence is difficult enough, especially when your family members are vampires and werewolves. But somehow Amy Jennings survived it. Now a young woman, Amy has come back to Collinsport, determined to forget the horrors of childhood and start anew. But growing up means confronting the truth about the world around you and Amy's rite of passage has just begun. Drawn into a world of obscene wealth, blind seduction, and cold-blooded murder by the irresistible Dominic Randall, Amy is about to learn that passion burns. But so does a woman's scorn… because falling in love can be incendiary.

Amy: Determined and beautiful, she cannot be talked out of making this trip even though it is clear that she will be walking into danger. Amy goes on quite a journey throughout this story and learns a great deal about her family that she was previously aware of. How Sabrina and Chris managed to keep the fact that he was a werewolf from her remains a mystery but to learn that her brother was a slavering vulpine that killed innocent woman has got to be a massive shock to the system. She's smart enough to see the situation for what it really is and even throws in a little marriage guidance counselling as she does so. Some couples are stronger together, even if they don't realise it and Amy can help to give Dominic and Isobel a push in the right direction.

Standout Performance: Sheila Steafel can hardly be said to be giving a restrained performance but when you are given dialogue like 'I'm coming after you...wooooo!' (I exaggerate only slightly) how is that even possible? Isobel is mad and bad and dangerous and Steafel goes hell for leather with her performance, clearly having a wail of a time. If you cut your critical faculties for a moment and put yourself in the mood for a Lady Adastra/The Rani/Cassandra style villainess then you might take a great deal on enjoyment from this. I personally am on the fence as to whether high camp is an area that this series should go into (because one of things that I like about this series is that it is so much darker than Doctor Who on audio...and Doctor Who does high camp all the time) but I still found Isobel to be quite a fun spook of the week. Isobel even calls herself 'The Witch of Wall Street.' It doesn't get much camper than that.

Sparkling Dialogue: 'The sun is setting, Isobel. Why don't you go back to hell where you belong?'

Great Ideas: As unsubtle as it might be, the opening did manage to drag me in because it is further elucidation of Sabrina's story from The Enemy Within. It reveals the wedding between the poor woman and Chris...and a rather unholy intruder. It is nice to be able to continue the story from the point of view of somebody that was mentioned in the previous tale, Amy picking up the narrative of leaving Sabrina after her brother died. It's building a bigger picture of the events that were the catalyst of the last story. There's a dark soul afoot, evil made manifest...but that is largely becoming the norm in the Dark Shadows universe. Salt is the ultimate weapon against supernatural forces. Dark souls are vengeful spirits and Dominic's wife Isobel must be haunting them to be able to right some wrong. A pendant hand crafted by a 17th century warlock in Salem for protect from the powers of darkness...or to contain them. I could imagine how that would come in very handy in this series. A demon hat is using both Dominic (getting him to kill Isobel) and Isobel (trying to get her spirit to finish him off). Feeding on their mistrust and feasting on both their souls. That's rather clever. A demons bargain is always based on deception...but there is always a way out if you can find it. A demons strength is in its name. Know it and you can break its spell.

Audio Landscape: Rain, thunder, train hitting the tracks, growling car, footsteps, a scream in the dark, screeching birds in the aviary.

Musical Cues: As you can imagine in a story this melodramatic, the music follows suit.

Isn't it Odd: This story throws an awful lot at you right from the start; a girl lost and alone, whispery voices, evil laughter, thunder and lightning, a child singing a sinister rhyme, crazy organ is oddly unsubtle for a series that usually builds up to its scares. Is it my imagination or does the Devil laughing sound just like his namesake from the South Park movie? The laughter is insanely over the top. The opening five minutes seems to be little more than a bunch of screaming and loud sound effects (mostly laughter)...I was wondering when the narrative was going to kick in. Isobel assumes Amy should be on her side just because she's a woman? I hate sexism...even more so when it comes from the fairer sex. I have a real aversion to hysteria on audio. I just don't think there is any need to screech at the top of your voice to create drama. It bothered me in The Rapture ('Haaaaaacccceeee! Dorothy! McShane!'), it bothered me in Cradle of the Snake (the final episode was basically a shouting match) and it bothered me here too. I understand that Amy is going through a traumatic time but I don't need her to pierce my eardrums to prove it. Dominic talks about Amy not betraying him and yet at points he sets out to scare her and then confesses his infidelity without apology. He's hardly the sort of man that I would invest my time in, even as a friend. He's blatantly manipulative, trying to part her legs whilst she is at her weakest. When he reveals his true colours it makes Amy look very naive...when she screams that she isn't a child you do have to wonder if she has gotten this self reflection lark right.

Standout Scene: The nugget of information about Chris' death at the climax. His condition led to his death...but it wasn't the cause of it. And a reunion between Amy and Sabrina...a good lead-in for the next adventure starring these two, methinks. 

Result: 'You're next you little harlot!' The weakest Dark Shadows story that I have listened to to date but still fairly enjoyable if you are in the right mood. This is camp horror all the way complete with a madly over the top villainess (played to the hilt by Sheila Steafel), devilish laughter, a haunted house and some hysterical, melodramatic reactions to all the madness that ensues. It's a huge diversion from the creepy storytelling I have seen so far but it does show that the range is diverse enough to experiment with different styles. The direction is unguarded too, throwing everything at the listener and hoping that some of it will make an impact. The best moments were those that concentrated on Amy's journey and the revelations about her brother. These Dark Shadows audios are standalone but some of them are linked in ways that adds greater to depth to each other. The Lucifer Gambit and The Enemy Within are well placed next to each other, feeding in to each others story and building an overall picture of the Sabrina/Chris/Amy triangle. It is a strange reversal of the usual formula, which features a functioning relationship at the beginning and poisons it throughout the course of the story. Pleasingly, The Lucifer Gambit brings two people together in a very positive way and reminds them of why they fell in love. I think it's best to consider this story like one of those holiday specials, a madcap adventure that pushes everything to the extreme but one which can be a hoot if you are willing to run with it. I enjoyed it, but it was a step down from the other stories that I have listened to so far: 6/10

1 comment:

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