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 41_thehappierdead_cover_large

“Root, petals…what’s the difference?”
“Well, one’s a potion that neutralizes a voodoo priestess, and the other’s a marinade that goes quite nicely with fish.”

A weird old man with an affected voice delivers the traditional voiceover bringing us into yet another episode of the Big Finish take on Dark Shadows.  This month’s story?  A disarmingly romantic adventure cum horror that moves straight from light diversion into what appears to be a recurrent focus for the line on tragedy for all involved.

Amy Jennings, Collinwood houseguest and sister to both vampire Tom and werewolf Chris, has gone off to college to study metaphysics under the erstwhile Professor Timothy Elliot Stokes.  She’s also fallen sort of in love with the goofy, somewhat inept Simon Turner (John Chancer, who played a small role in last month’s Curtain Call).  Turner desperately wants to ingratiate himself into Amy’s haunted world…one she contrarily looks to his clueless “normality” to escape.

“Would you look at that…you give Scooby enough snacks, and eventually even he can solve the mystery.”

Starting off as something of a Scooby Doo adventure (quite deliberately – both that series and the likeminded Goober and the Ghost Chasers find themselves name-checked within), debuting author Adam Udsen brings the listener through a more romantic dramedy sort of milieu before getting shoved headlong into Re-Animator territory and in what’s becoming apparent as endemic to the line, a horrible end for all concerned.

“You drove me for 2 1/2 hours with an exploding appendix?
…Collinsport hospital is where you come when you want to die.”

After a bit of a tiff, their planned holiday trip to see Simon’s family is sidelined by a sudden attack of appendicitis.  Given Amy’s supernaturally obsessed bent, he makes the call to drive her to the only town whose hospital brings both physical and metaphysical concerns into play – Collinsport.  This turns out to be a very bad decision indeed…

“This town?  It is cursed.  You breathe its air, you choke.  You drink its water, you drown.  You even look it on a map and you go blind.  If anyone had any sense, they’d level it.”

There’s a fairly obvious red herring who redeems himself at a key point in the narrative, a whole lot of comic relief from Simon’s utter ineptitude (in particular but not limited to when it comes to experiences outside the everyday), and a heaping helping of soap slathered over the whole thing.  Add in the zombies, and you more or less have a winner on your hands…so long as you’re prepared for yet another grim ending.  Does anyone have even a shot at happiness in the world of Dark Shadows?  Apparently not…

“I’m in Collinsport, I have appendicitis, there are zombies in the ICU.  You know, the usual.”

Stephanie Elleyne, who is quite frankly possessed of one of the warmest female voices to grace audio, essays a more young adult iteration of the part Denise Nickerson originated back in the series’ heyday.  Something of an unknown quantity to me when I first dove into the Big Finish Dark Shadows universe with the disturbing The Flip Side, she subsequently played a more substantive role in the excellent Beyond the Grave, finally getting her moment in the sun herein.

*at least from the perspective of a recent convert to the line – I understand she’s done a few stories earlier on, one of whose trailers is appended hereto.

Regardless, her comparatively restrained performance (for what we’ve become used to from the quite theatrical if not hysterically overplayed world of Dark Shadows) and soothing tones are quite welcome, and one hopes to hear more from the lady and the character she so competently essays in the future.

Listeners are further treated to all-too brief cameo appearances from Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) and Carolyn Stoddard (Nancy Barrett), as well as a surprise walk on from none other than Sabrina Stuart nee Jennings, the fiancee (and we’re told, eventual spouse) of Amy’s lupine brother Chris, who would appear to take center stage next month.

Of the non-Shadows alumni, mention should be made of Murray Melvin’s Edwin Beadle, a rather Decadent fellow patient and acquaintance of Stokes who tips the duo off to some of the odd doings at the hospital.

“I can’t believe it.”
“I can’t believe he was married.”
“He did seem a little hung up on Dr. Balthazar’s cheekbones…”

To say any more would give away the twist in the tale, but suffice to say that this was a thoroughly enjoyable adventure comparable to other series highlights to which I’ve been exposed thus far such as The House by the Sea, The Wicked and the Dead and Beyond the Grave, suffused in an engaging mix of atmosphere and lightheartedness…until things turn quite sour at the denouement. 

If that sounds like your cup of tea, you certainly can’t go wrong with this month’s offering.  How much happier the dead will be for it remains open to debate.

 

http://www.bigfinish.com/releases/v/the-happier-dead-1007

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