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“A shovel and a trip through Eagle Hill Cemetery at this hour?  You sure know how to show a girl a good time, Sabrina.”

Sabrina Stuart nee Jennings meets up with her cousin by marriage Amy Jennings, still at Collinsport after the events in last month’s The Happier Dead.  Weaning Amy away from her studies, the two head out to the cemetery to dig up the corpse of Gerard Stiles…who like Judah Zachary before him, is bereft of head…

“Caroline’s taking notes for me, but I’ve got a little catching up to do.”
“Can’t end up academic second best to Carolyn Stoddard…”

Leaving Amy to do a bit of magick to locate the missing member, Sabrina takes a late night train ride across country in the hopes of finding a cure for her lycanthopic curse.  But she and a single cabin worth of unsuspecting passengers are about to enter into a far more mysterious…and dangerous encounter with the unknown…

Sabrina is quickly found out when she runs into another former Collinwood resident, none other than Hallie Stokes (Kathy…now going by Kathleen Cody), who’s also after the head of Gerard Stiles, albeit for what turns out to be a very different reason.  And when the sole occupied car becomes uncoupled from the rest of the train, a round robin of body hopping possessions begin…

Sabrina is strangely forthcoming, quite willing to let loose on what amounts to total strangers what you’d think would be her most guarded secrets.  I mean, seriously.  Picture someone walking up to you and dropping an introduction like this: “Hi!  I murdered my husband on our wedding day!  Care for a drink?  I could use the company…”
OK, that’s more of a paraphrase than an actual quote, but still.  Really?

With some particularly florid (over)writing (particularly in the first half of the story) and quite possibly the worst pronunciation of a Latin incantation ever caught on tape, this is probably not the one to start with for Dark Shadows newbies (unless they’re huge fans of the understated literary stylings of that up and coming fellow Edgar Allan Poe.)

But that aside, there are some particular delights to be found for those more familiar with the series, placing Carriage of the Damned firmly within the confines of what’s becoming an increasingly expanding catalogue of quality Dark Shadows audio releases.

“Did you ever hear the story about the boy who cried wolf?
…I’m not the boy.”

Jam packed with original cast members, this will go down in history as the one where Amy Jennings met herself…well, televised Dark Shadows-era Amy (Denise Nickerson) meets audio Dark Shadows-era Amy (Stephanie Elleyne).

James Storm also joins the cast of Dark Shadows veterans here, reprising his role as the sinister Gerard Stiles…”or at least, some of him,” as Sabrina demonstrates, showing off her prize exhumation to the other passengers.  “…That’s disgusting,” Samuels replies, drily.

Lucy Scott (Nurse Pauline Brown of last month’s The Happier Dead) returns as the same character, as does Barra Collins (of The Harvest of Souls and Curtain Call) who takes on the role of porter Matthew Samuels.

You really can’t go wrong with a story set on a train.  Like the old dark house or locked room mystery, a set of disparate characters and literal strangers are thrown together in confined quarters…how can strange doings not result?

With a subtle underpinning of tongue in cheek humor poking its head in halfway through (“train tamperer!”) and more than its fair share of supernatural doings, this is as Dark Shadows as it gets, particularly with so many original series veterans rerturning to the series for what amounts to the first time in four and a half decades (Nickerson, Cody, and if you don’t count a cameo near the end of Curtain Call, Storm).

Richards is getting to be something of an old hand at these, having appeared previously (however briefly) in The Flip Side and three earlier installments I haven’t yet been exposed to.  Elleyne, of course, continues to essay the role of Amy Jennings quite brilliantly, infusing her ongoing portrayals with equal measures of wry humor and grim cynicism as befits a woman who since childhood has been marked by the spectre of death and the supernatural.

“Life isn’t fair…it’s just choices.”

Despite a somewhat overcrowded script, author Alan Flanagan delivers a tale boasting an underlying theme of the necessity for forgiveness.  Suffice to say Callie is forced to confront an uncomfortable truth about Stiles…and Nurse Pauline must face an even more difficult one about herself.

With several characters dealing with some form or another of survivor’s guilt, the stories of Sabrina, Amy and Pauline wind together comfortably with the separate if related ones of Callie and even Stiles himself to add a measure of poignancy to all the spooky goings-on and touches of humor.

In all, this is definitely a win-win for Dark Shadows regulars, if a bit too much, and far too busy, for a newcomer to take in all at once.