Dark Shadows became a pop culture phenomenon with the introduction of vulnerable vampire Barnabas Collins, a legendary role made famous by Jonathan Frid and, more recently, Johnny Depp in the motion picture remake.
This collection offers 9 complete TV episodes that are among the most popular in the history of Dark Shadows, serving as an ideal introduction to new viewers as well as an enticing overview for veteran Dark Shadows devotees. As a bonus, new introductions for each episode are included.
* Vampire Barnabas Collins returns to Collinwood after being released from his chained coffin
* A séance is held at Collinwood to reach the ghost of Sarah Collins
* The beautiful but jealous witch Angelique puts a spell on Barnabas
* Barnabas and Dr. Julia Hoffman uncover the secret of the werewolf
* Quentin Collins rises as a zombie and Reverend Trask attempts an exorcism
* A costume party is held at Collinwood with dramatic results
* Barnabas and Julia discover that two members of the Collins family have gone insane
* Maggie Evans becomes the victim of a vampire
* Quentin asks governess Daphne Harridge to save the children who are possessed
* Barnabas attacks Roxanne Drew and places her under his power
Dark Shadows 6.75
eyelights: Barnabas Collin. the hilariously inept performances. the over-the-top plot lines.
eyesores: Creepy girl. the cheap sets. the funky hairdos. the characters’ irrational behaviour.
Like many people, I hadn’t ever heard of ‘Dark Shadows’ before Tim Burton decided to make a feature-length version of the show. I didn’t know that there were well over a thousand (a thousand!!!) episodes spread over the course of five years, that there had been a couple of feature films, a more modern remake of the series, books, comics, and that it’s long been a cult favourite.
Where had I been this whole time?
So when the series was finally revived on DVD, after having last seen the light of day on VHS tapes, I was mildly intrigued and considered looking into it. The problem was that the series only existed in its entirety as a limited edition boxed set, and was otherwise only available in compilation format; it has not been released in season sets as most television shows were – which was likely normal given how huge each season was.
Being a purist, I couldn’t fathom watching a “best of” disc – that is, until I was able to snatch this one up from a guy I met for a mere 2$.
I started watching this disc with but a few preconceived notions. By then, I knew that Tim Burton’s remake was not a success, either commercially or critically. I also knew of ‘Dark Shadows’ status a bit more: that it was a daytime soap opera with a gothic infusion, that it apparently had kitschy moments, or so-bad-it’s-good appeal, and that it was a cult classic. I was quite curious to finally discover what everyone was now talking about.
1. Episode 212 (April 19, 1967): This is the first episode featuring fan favourite Barnabas Collins, a friendly, but creepy-looking character who would later turn out to be a vampire. I loved how he looked like a painting that the Collins had on the wall, but no one assumed that he might be the same person. It’s made painfully clear to the audience that, despite the painting being centuries old, he is one and the same – but no one else clues in.
The actor playing David stumbles over his lines like crazy: “But at sunrise, when the water… when the ocean… when the sun comes over the ocean…”. Frickin’ hilarious! You have to love live-to-tape television!
2. Episode 365 (November 17, 1967): David claims to be haunted by the ghost of Sarah. To ascertain whether or not this is true, Elizabeth decides to hold a séance – in order to contact Sarah and get her side of the story. Not only will they get her side of the story, the séance will inexplicably introduce a new character, trading in an old one. Methinks that they should have stuck with a Ouija board…
- The actor who plays Roger Collins frequently hesitated before saying his lines, as though he hadn’t learned them. Or was too drunk to remember them.
- This episode being in colour, we also get an eye-gouging look at the women’s nasty-looking frocks. Black and white has its advantages, it turns out.
- Also hilarious is that characters keep rehashing lines or plot elements that were already established almost word-for-word after the commercial breaks – no doubt for viewers with mnemonic disorders.
3. Episode 370 (November 24, 1967): In a fit of jealousy, given that he does not love her, Angelique decides to use a voodoo doll to kill Barnabas. The whole episode revolves around his sudden malaise, choking, which inexplicably fails to kill him despite being deprived of air for the whole episode.
- Angelique first states that she was choking the “Barnabas” figurine so as to destroy him (which is already a ridiculous gimmick) and then… um… later says that it was all done to make him fall in love with her. Christ on crutches, lady, get your head together! And don’t ever become a matchmaker!
4. Episode 699 (February 27, 1969): A convoluted mess, perhaps because it’s completely taken out of context, this episode revolves around Chris turning into a werewolf. Thankfully, he is locked in a secret room. Unfortunately, it isn’t that secret since everyone knows about it. Meanwhile another secret room is found, behind a West Wing wall: Quentin’s old room. And it so turns out that he’s lurking there. What the…?
- Julia (I affectionately call her “Creepy girl” due to her weird bone structure, pasty complexion and dour look) suddenly got creepier by getting a haircut – from a weed-whacker! Her hair is cut all weird and it’s frizzy and thin… It’s terribly funny-looking.
- Also laughable is the nightmare sequence, which amounted to the picture going squiggly and blurry. This is followed by the hand-drawn picture of Quentin appearing in the top left corner, growing bigger. Hahaha! So bad it’s good!
5. Episode 725 (April 2, 1969): Barnabas discovers that Quentin’s spirit is inhabiting Jamison’s body, while his own is in a zombified state. Complicating things further, Reverend Trask has been sent to collect Jamison to take him to a boarding school. When he discovers what is happening, he takes it upon himself to return Quentin to his own body. Um… with prayer.
- The kid (now possessed by Quentin) lets out this “maniacal” laugh that is so veritably robotic and abrupt that I think I wet myself.
- The moment when, at the end of the exchange between the Reverend and Judith, in trying to close in on the actors, the camera starts to shake quite visibly.
- Judith’s halting delivery. Pffft!
6. Episode 1024 (May 28, 1970): This is one of the “Mirror, Mirror” episodes, taking place in a parallel time. In it, Maggie is struggling to sustain her relationship with Quentin. But, in comes Angelique, returned from the dead and posing as her sister Alexis, to make things worse as she tried to regain Quentin for herself. Oh, the drama!
- Creepy girl stumbles all over her line reading (you’d think that she’d know how to do this professionally after a few years’ worth of daily performances!).
- Meanwhile Quentin won’t stop SHOUTING!!! I don’t know why the actor was so dialled up, but it’s nothing a good bottle of Valium wouldn’t have fixed.
7. Episode 1065 (July 24, 1970): Escaping the afore-mentioned parallel time only to find themselves in the then-future of 1995 (honestly, I have NO idea how these things happen in a gothic soap opera!), Barnabas and Creepy girl… ahem… Julia try to find people who can tell them what happened to Collinwood, now in ruins and deserted. Unfortunately no one will: they are either unwilling, or too mentally unstable to say anything coherent. If they think things don’t make sense to them, imagine how the viewing audience feels!
- While Ben describes what he saw 25 years ago, what the turning point for the Collins family might have been, Creepy girl mugs the camera like mad, contorting her face into wilder and wilder expressions.
- Immediately after she and Barnabas leave the Doctor’s office, Caroline pops in as though she had just been in the other room, waiting. She wasn’t. And, for some reason, Creepy girl and Barnabas didn’t bump into her either.
- Bizarrely, Caroline upper lip had a massive amount of make-up applied to it. But no other part of her face did. It must be how “1995” women put their faces on!
8. Episode 1102 (September 15, 1970): A vampire is loose at Collinwood! And it’s not Barnabas! Meanwhile, the ghost of some guy named Gerard is giving the heebie-jeebies to the family, who believe that he is the cause of the children’s illness. Well, the children are obviously in disagreement (or in denial!) ’cause Tad decides to start a ceremony to call on Gerard, freaking out Creepy girl in the process. “Oh, this house. Can one more thing happen in it?”
- Creepy girl is falling asleep and tries her damndest to stay awake – so she shakes her head violently and makes faces and googly eyes like a woman possessed. Why she didn’t just get up and run head first into a wall to snap herself out of it (b-t-w, it wouldn’t have harmed her hairdo, which was helmet-like, combed forward with a mallet, all twisty-like).
- The moment when Quentin leaves the house, closing the door behind him – but it doesn’t lock, swinging open and a hand reaches in ‘discreetly” to bring in to a close.
- David’s pentagram, which was drawn on the floor but shows traces of the one done beforehand (for another take, no doubt!). It also changes shape from one take to the next.
9. Episode 1116 (October 5, 1970): Barnabas has fallen in love with Roxanne and decides to transform her into an vampire. Meanwhile, Gerard is planning to poison Samantha with arsenic. But Creepy girl is on the scene, saving Roxanne, distracting Gerard and fending off an attack by Barnabas himself. So much heroism in so little time. She deserves a trip to the hairdresser’s.
- The opening narration: Right from the start, the voice-over narrator actually stumbles in her delivery. Wahahaha! What is up with these people?!!!
- The moment before the commercial break when the girl screams and runs off but, after the commercial break, she runs back to Roxane’s body. And then runs away again.
- Ben’s face, which looks like it’s made of putty, stretching and wobbling like Inspector Clouseau’s disguise at the end of The Pink Panther Strikes Again‘.
‘Dark Shadows’ is everything you can expect in a soap opera, especially of the era: its plotlines are ridiculous beyond belief, every moment is manufactured, the acting isn’t excellent, the costumes are recycled and all look the same, the sets are cheap-looking (and sometimes actors have been known to knock into them on-screen!) and it offers nothing more than junk food for the brain. It’s not quality television in any way, shape or form.
To be truthful, the whole series hinges on Barnabas Collins, as played by Jonathan Frid. Apparently his character was only meant to be a temporary guest on the show, enough to get through one storyline, but ratings increased dramatically after his arrival and he pretty much became the star of the show. I can see why: Frid brings a certain presence and gravitas to the character that is otherwise missing from the series. His magnetism is unmistakable: one is pulled into watching him.
And yet, I struggled to get through the DVD for the sake of getting a sense of the original show. I know now that I will never get the full series – or, if I fall on my head and actually do, will never watch it in its entirety. It’s probably only lots of fun with the right crowd, with a bunch of hollering and hooting friends who can take the piss out of it adequately. I mean, I would maybe watch them with Joel or Mike and the ‘bots, but that’s about the extent of the appeal of the show for me now.
‘Dark Shadows’ is just not dark enough to be taken seriously, nor is it light enough to truly be rip-roaringly funny. At best, it’s amusing. But painfully so.
Post scriptum: for extensive information on each Dark Shadows episode, including background info and a list of bloopers, please visit the Dark Shadows Wikia site.
Date of viewing: March 1 + 12, 2013