I really did not know what to expect when I popped Big Finish’s audio play (or dramatic reading) The Night Whispers released in 2010 from their Dark Shadows series. This particular story marked the return of Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins. A role he made famous and established Dark Shadows as a cult classic. Sadly this marks the only time Frid would reprise the character. He passed away April 13th ot 14th of this year.
It had been 39 years since Frid hung up his fangs and distinctive silver wolfshead walking stick. It has been well documented that he had been a long-time hold out from having anything to do with the character or the series. At least in the sense of portraying the character. He had been attending Dark Shadow conventions since the 1980’s. The great bulk of his acting work since leaving Dark Shadows had primarily been stage with a few television appearances and couple of films. Apparently, his experience on Oliver Stone’s film Seizure had been such a frustrating experience for him that he swore he would never make another film again. Which is not surprising because many people have stated Oliver Stone being a difficult person to work with. Ray Manzerek of the Doors walked on the biop Stone produced about the band disgusted with the way Stone exaggerated the life of Jim Morrison.
Since Big Finish launched their Dark Shadows series in 2006, many of the former cast including Lara Parker, David Selby and John Karlen have reprised the roles they made famous. As well as a few new characters. Actor Andrew Collins had taken the role of Barnabas for a few of Big Finish’s audio plays. However, having Jonathan Frid reprise the role of Barnabas is the holy grail for Dark Shadows fans.
Co-starring alongside Jonathan Frid in the play is John Karlen as drifter and conman turned manservant Willie Loomis.
At first I was surprised at how much Jonathan Frid’s voice had changed. But I also kept in mind that it has been 39 years since he last played the character. Age and frail health doesn’t allow him to recreate the distinctive voice he used for the character. However, John Karlen’s voice has hardly changed. I could immediately tell it was Willie Loomis speaking whereas I found myself a bit confused at first before I realized I was listening to Barnabas speaking.
But that’s not a criticism. Had they tried to create the past with the characters I might be a bit more critical. However, what I really liked about the story is Big Finish does not try and recreate the past but create a story featuring an older Barnabas Collins. Long since cured of the vampirism that cursed his life for so long. Still living at the old house with Willie working as his manservant. You can imagine the Barnabas of this story sitting by the fire leaning a bit more heavily on that walking stick as he tells his story.
The Night Whispers opens on a night where a powerful storm has swept over Collinsport. Barnabas has decided to confide in Willie about his past sins as a young man. He and several of his shipmates wronged a young creole woman by the name of Celeste (portrayed by Barbara Steele) who placed a voodoo curse on them. With many of his friends dying around him, Barnabas must do the unthinkable in order to appease this spirit of vengeance by taking another life. But now the spirit of Celeste has returned to claim Barnabas Collins for her own.
Jonathan Frid proves himself an incredible storyteller. His voice seems made for the medium of radio. Very much like the way Tom Baker narrating the Hornets Nest series as the Fourth Doctor mezmerized me, I found myself mezmerized by the haunting visuals Frid’s narration created in my mind as Barnabas Collins pours out his past to Willie Loomis. Barnabas’s confrontation with the spirit of Celeste is brilliant. By the end of the play I wish I could have heard more from this older Barnabas Collins. It seems there could have been more stories to tell which sadly will never be head now.
However, the scene at the end between Jonathan Frid and John Karlen as Barnabas and Willie Loomis is very touching and heartwarming. It makes for a nice final chapter for those two actors appearing in their respective roles. If you have not been introduced to Big Finish’s Dark Shadows series, I feel this particular audio play makes for a nice introduction to the series for both fans of the series and new fans who wish to learn more about the classic series.
You may also contact Annie’s Book Stop of Worcester to inquire about ordering a copy of The Night Whispers.