Lara Parker discusses the down to earth magic of Dark Shadows’ iconic witch Angelique
By Tony Sokol
Lara Parker, who played the captivatingly conflicted witch Angelique on the classic occult cult soap opera Dark Shadows, says horror is more psychological than supernatural. Parker will be reuniting with the cast at the Dark Shadows 50th Anniversary Halloween In Hollywood on Saturday, October 29th in Hollywood. The actress who created one of witchcraft’s most enduring and endearing icons will also debut her new novel Dark Shadows – The Heiress of Collinwood, which drops in November. Parker spoke exclusively with Entertainment 2morrow about the magic behind the performance and what makes horror so terrifying.
Over the course of the legendary Dan Curtis production’s run, the mesmerizing mistress from Martinique mastered a wide spectrum of magic. The Dark Shadows wiki page says Angelique is gifted in conjuration, elemental control, mediumship, necromancy, spell casting, telekinesis and voodoo – and that’s just as a witch. She also did time as a ghost and a vampire. Parker, who put the whammy on the camera lens that taped her Dark Shadows audition, didn’t succumb to superstition when she conjured her character.
“Oh, I don’t really believe in magic,” Parker told us. “I don’t believe in vampires. I don’t believe in witches.”
Parker, who continues to follow her most known character through supernatural romance novels, believes the most nefarious necromancy comes from a much deeper place. The author had been invited to explore that at an NYU seminar after she’d earned her Master’s in Creative Writing at Antioch University in Los Angeles.
“I did my thesis on horror writing. I actually ventured into some pretty esoteric areas to do that,” Parker explained. “Freud, for instance, had an essay called ‘The Uncanny,’ in which he tried to explain what it is that scares us. What it is that makes the hairs stand up on your arms, or make the hairs on your head seem to lift. Why we get scared. Delving deeper into the fact that we like to see things or read things that frighten us.”
This writer’s hairs stood up at the mere mention of Freud.
“Yeah, it’s pleasurable,” Parker intoned before taking the subject deeper. “Freud talked a lot about the unconscious. How there was an aspect of our thinking that we’re not really aware of, but exists beneath the conscious awareness. It lay in the area of dreams. Anybody who’s studied psychology knows this. I’m not telling them anything.
“For instance, often the heroine or a hero will be locked in a cell or a jail or a room from which they cannot escape. You’ve seen that as a motif a lot of times. Freud says this is due to the fact that when we were young we wanted to return to the womb. But this childish desire to reunite with the mother became surmounted when we grew up and we realized as adults that that was an infantile desire.
“We pushed it back down into our unconscious and, once surmounted, that desire became fear. It became something we were terribly afraid of, being shut up in an enclosed room, with bars on the windows and the doors locked and not being able to get out. We think, ‘well, that’s strange.’”
Parker further explained how Freud interpreted the innermost fears of the innermost child as the core of the most enduring frights.
“He said, for instance, when we were young we might have had a poppet or a doll or a tin soldier,” Parker began softly. “As children, we imagine the doll is alive. Then that desire became surmounted. When we grew up as adults, if we were to look over at our bed and see our doll that was lying there on its pillow, if it were to open its eyes and move its head and move its arms … Are you getting chills?”
Of course, the novelist is also a performer who brings it together as an animated teacher.
“The whole idea of the inanimate object that we embodied with life as a child actually coming to life as an adult is very creepy,” she finished.
Some of the things that get under our skin are what our minds can’t rationalize. People instinctively react to what they see as foreign or outside their experience.
“He went on to explain why we’re terrified if we can’t see ourselves in the mirror, or if we think we see someone who is different from us,” Parker said. “Or if we see someone on the other side of the street that looks just likes us, the whole idea of replicants.”
Psychologically, the same things that cause nightmares also created the biggest myths to escape them.
“Freud was able to tie it to Christianity, the whole idea that the strongest human desire is the desire to not die, to be immortal,” Parker said. “It’s the basis of religion. He talked about how, as children, we really believed we would never die, that we would live forever. But then when we get older we know that’s not true, so we try to find another way to explain that and religion is one of the major explanations for our desire for immortality.”
Sigmund Freud might have had a future as a penny dreadful writer and the gothic romance novelist isn’t above snatching an idea or two from the revered master of the mind.
“I have a little thing called the ‘Freud Cheat Sheet’ where all the things that are scary are listed,” Parker admitted. “If I’m ever stumped when I’m writing my books, or if I need a new scene that’s scary, I go back to the cheat sheet.”
We asked Parker to give an example of some of her Freudian slips.
“Oh, maybe I’ll have a garden where the lake or the pond turns to poison,” Parker said. “Or a closet that was filled with things that are stored or thrown away. Just imagine, everybody has a closet where things are stuffed in. You open the door and you see some movement in the back there, and a sword or a book has come to life and you get chills.”
Freud explored the science of the inner mind with the new tools that were coming to light at the time. Although Dark Shadows precipitated the New Age movement with its depictions of hypnosis and past life regression, Parker didn’t personally delve into the depths of the subconscious.
“You know, it’s so disappointing to me when I’m asked these questions that I don’t have better answers. Maybe I should start making stuff up,” she laughed. “I’ve never been hypnotized. I can’t imagine being hypnotized. I’ve never done any magic and I’ve never hypnotized anyone else.”
Angelique was a natural mesmerist but Parker was gifted with the power of performance.
“I’ve played a girl who was blind,” she cited. “I’ve played cripples. I’ve played a woman who could play the cello. All aspects and playing being hypnotized wasn’t very hard and playing hypnotizing someone.”
It was her acting training, rather than any kind of occult knowledge, that informed Parker’s ritual performances.
“I put myself in a kind of state of hyper-awareness,” she said. “It’s hard to describe. When you’re playing a witch that’s performing some kind of spell, what would you do? I just believed that I was a witch and that I was performing a spell.”
“When you say internalize, in acting terms that would mean to make it refer to your own emotions within and I did do that. It was as if it was really happening to me,” Parker said. “That was one of the things that made Dark Shadows, I think, very special. We took it all seriously. We played it as though it were for real. We didn’t play it for camp. Sometimes it came out campy because the situations were very silly.”
It might seem that not much would be considered frivolous on a supernatural daytime soap.
“You know, you’re telling a ghost to leave you alone, or telling a corpse to return to his grave or you’re telling a vampire – when he’s getting ready to bite you and you’re going into his arms with his big fake teeth, or there’s a bat coming through the window or a werewolf howling outside the door,” Parker grinned. “All these things are not really real, but we played them as though they were real. We played strong believability.”
Dark Shadows fans believe the legend that Parker zapped the camera with her eyes and put a spell on the lens during her audition for the show, but it was actually a spur of the moment glance.
“Well, the scene that I had to play was just a scene of the rejected damsel,” Parker said, setting up the scene. “Barnabas was a French Captain who had gone to the island of Martinique. He seduced a young servant girl, that was me, then abandoned her for her mistress, who was his fiancé. When they came from Martinique to Collinsport, he told Angelique that he could not see her or be with her or make love to her anymore because he was marrying her mistress.
“So the audition scene was one where I came to his room and I sobbed and clung to him and kissed his face and said ‘please please don’t leave me. I love you so much. You’re the world to me. Don’t abandon me. Even if you marry my mistress, we can still see each other. We can still be together. Don’t you remember how much we loved each other in Martinique?’”
But Parker didn’t know the central point of her character until second before the camera rolled.
“We rehearsed the audition and I had no idea, other than that scene, what I was playing. He leaned over and said ‘do you know she’s a witch?’ and I said ‘what?’ He said ‘yes, secretly she’s a witch. She has powers and she can cast spells.’ So then when we actually did the audition scene on camera, there was nothing in the scene to indicate that I was a witch, so when he told me that it’s final, we can’t see each other ever again. I’m going to marry Josette, you and I are finished Angelique.’ I turned to the camera and gave it that ‘hell hath no fury like a woman scorned’ look of ‘I will have my revenge.’ And I think that’s what got me the part.”
The actress never dabbled in dark doings off the set. On the long-running series, Angelique is a supernatural creature, but the witch Parker played on Kolchack: The Night Stalker and the ones she spied on in the seventies Mephistophelian motorcycle movie Race with the Devil, with Peter Fonda and M*A*S*H’s Loretta Switt, the satan-worshippers are real, actual magic practitioners, whose real-life deviltry can be scarier than that of supernatural beings.
“I think when you’re up against people, like in Race with the Devil, who are devil worshippers, it’s like Trump supporters.” Parker said. “You know that you’re face to face with people who are not rational, which makes them more frightening because they can’t be reasoned with. They are unpredictable and they can’t be trusted to be moral or have standards that are socially acceptable. That is really a threat.
“There’s no way to cope with it or counter it. I find those people very unsettling, devil worshippers. They seem to be missing something in life so they turn to something very irrational and immoral. That’s how they get their kicks.”
But the most iconic TV witch since Samantha on Bewitched doesn’t find witches to be that scary at all.
“Well they’re not frightening,” Parker said. “The first rule for them is “do no ill.” There are a lot of good witches. They are healers.”
The Dark Shadows 50th Anniversary Halloween In Hollywood will take place on Saturday, October 29th from 12 Noon to 12 Midnight at the Woman’s Club of Hollywood, located at 1749 N. La Brea Avenue in Hollywood. Admission is $20 for adults and $10 for children 12 and under. Lara Parker’s new novel Dark Shadows – The Heiress of Collinwood is available for preorder at Amazon.