Dark Shadows: Review: Big Finish Audio: Bloodlust: Volume 1 (Episodes 1-6)

Bloodlust 1Starring Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, David Selby, Andrew Collins, Jerry Lacy, Marie Wallace, Stephanie Ellayne and Alec Newman, with Asta Parry, Roger Carvalho, Jamison Selby, Daisy Tormé, Jeff Harding, Lachele Carl, Alexandra Donnachie, Walles Hamonde, Scott Haran, Peter Brooke, Daniel Collard, Jane Elsmore, Wallace McBride, Ross McNamara and Matthew Waterhouse

Written by Alan Flanagan, Will Howells and Joseph Lidster

Directed by Ursula Burton and David Darlington

In which perky newlyweds Mike and Melody Devereux (Harding, Tormé) arrive in Collinsport, Maine to celebrate their honeymoon – a decision which leads to them getting caught up in a chain of events that will have tragic consequences and long-reaching repercussions for just about everyone in the fishing village…

Taking place in the mid-1980s, about six months after the events chronicled in Kingdom of the Dead (familiarity with which is helpful but not mandatory), Bloodlust is deliberately set up as a “gateway drug” into the world of Dark Shadows. With the first episode centered on Mike and Melody as they familiarise themselves with Collinsport, listeners unfamiliar with the show’s premise will be quickly filled in with enough details so as not to feel lost or excluded. Nor will longtime fans feel impatient with this character-driven exposition, for Bloodlust returns Dark Shadows to its soap opera/serial nature in a way that it hasn’t been since 1971.

Early episodes concentrate on newer characters – a more ethnically and sexually diverse batch than the original television show, it must be said – with a handful of stalwarts (like Kathryn Leigh Scott’s Maggie Evans) on hand to issue ominous portents, while no-nonsense Sheriff Rhonda Tate (Carl) investigates a gruesome murder with unmistakable ties to the supernatural. (Heck, the first two episodes don’t even contain any characters named Collins!) This gradual build-up pays off wonderfully, as multiple plot-threads weave into a compelling tapestry that culminates in a breathtaking tableau within a dank cave.

Acting-wise, the veteran actors deliver their customary strong performances, with Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker being especially well-served by the scripts. And special mention must be made of Matthew Waterhouse’s Andrew Cunningham, a misogynistic, opportunistic bastard of a journalist brought to delicious life by the once and future Adric. People who only know his acting from Doctor Who will likely be bowled over by his performance here.

Some of the newcomers, it must be said, could be stronger. The Devereuxs, for example are played somewhat broadly, and a couple of the actors playing teenage characters, verge on the annoying at times. But considering how tightly controlled the rest of the cast are, these must be deliberate choices on the production team’s parts. One suspects that later episodes will clarify issues like this in due time…

Despite these quibbles, Bloodlust is an engrossing experiment which succeeds admirably, juxtaposing the supernatural with mundane domesticity (like Lucky Charms cereal and Polaroid cameras) in a way that only Dark Shadows can get away with.

Verdict: Travelling back to its roots – with slight elements of Twin Peaks and Broadchurch blended in to good effect – Bloodlust proves that sometimes you can go back home again… 8/10

John S. Hall

Click here to order volume 1 from Big Finish or for links to the separate episodes

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