Bluefield Daily Telegraph, Bluefield, WV

May 10, 2012

Sorting out Barnabas Collins, the Avengers and Batman in a busy summer

Bluefield Daily Telegraph

— Despite the weather’s occasional cool spells, summer is almost here and with it, the summer movie season.

When I was young, going to summer movies was part of the family ritual. We would head for a drive-in theater at Kanawha City and consume a bunch of snacks while watching movies such as “The Incredible Mr. Limpet” and “Pinnocho Goes to Mars.” In fact, my very first movie experience is when we saw “Snow White” in a Charleston theater. There was a long line, but we arrived just in time for the evil queen to step before the magic mirror and ask “Who’s the fairest one of all?” That blew my 6-year-old mind.

As my sister and I got older, the type of movies our parents let us see were for more mature audiences. I can still remember the long lines around the block outside the Capital Theater in Charleston when we went to see “Superman” featuring the late Christopher Reeve. The theater’s manager came outside to assure everybody that there were still seats available and they had time to get inside. We made it just as the opening credits were starting to roll.

Of course, I still remember seeing “Star Wars” for the first time and thinking that the opening space battle was the most awesome thing I had ever seen. And like the other movies, it marked a summer of my life.

Occasionally I still go see a movie the old-fashioned way, in a theater. Yes, I know I can wait for the DVD and sometimes I do that, but there’s still something special about seeing a movie on those huge screens and smelling the buttery aroma of popcorn. The last movie I went to see with a friend was “Rise of the Planet of the Apes.” I suddenly remembered seeing advancers years ago for the very first “Planet of the Apes” movie featuring the late actors Charlton Heston and Roddy McDowell, and thinking those were really talking apes.

Now the summer movie season is upon us again and there are plenty of advertisements for the latest features. I’m leaning toward seeing “The Avengers” because it feeds into my childhood memories of comic books. I can still remember when the Incredible Hulk and Spider-Man were new heroes and longing for an Iron Man suit. In a way, Iron Man was a favorite of mine because he didn’t have super powers. Like Batman, he “built” his powers by creating that super suit of armor. Even a kid knows that getting super powers after being nuked by accident like the Hulk is pretty unlikely, but you can dream of becoming smart enough to be Batman or Iron Man.

Another movie I’ll likely see is “Dark Shadows” with Johnny Depp. I can remember seeing the original soap opera featuring anti-hero vampire Barnabas Collins. The actor who portrayed the original Collins, Jonathan Frid, made a cameo appearance. I understand it was his last film appearance before he passed away last month.

I once met Frid when he performed a one-man Shakespeare show at the Barter Theater in Abingdon, Va. He acted out parts in plays such as “The Tempest” and sometimes made you believe that more than one person was on stage. He was a great actor, and fans of vampire epics such as “Twilight” have reason to thank him. Frid was one of the first actors who presented a vampire as a person with feelings and issues instead of just another monster.

After the show, he came outside to speak with fans, and he had to be one of the nicest people you would ever want to meet. His Barnabas Collins was a forbidding guy, but Frid came across like a kindly college professor. He signed everything from “Dark Shadows” memorabilia to comic books and the show program I had. I’ve kept it safe all these years, and I really should have it framed.

That show in Abingdon and all the movies I’ve seen are like signposts. They help mark memorable events in our lives. When we think of a movie from long ago, that show comes with a lot of memories attached to it. You think of the people in your life and what was happening in your life when you went to the theater. If I go see the new “Dark Shadows,” I’ll likely remember that day in Abingdon, but I’ll also remember a woman I met at Marshall University and later dated and almost married. We both were fans of Frid and shared a taste for things macabre. Then I’ll remember the other friends I had back in college and all of the things we did together.

I’m not sure what memories will attach themselves if I go see “The Avengers.” Maybe I’ll remember the recent election, gas prices, and planning summer vacation. But then again, I’ll probably just start remembering those cartoons and comic books I enjoyed when I was a kid.

Greg Jordan is the Daily Telegraph’s senior reporter. Contact him at