Five Least Favorite Dark Shadows Storylines

As much as I love Dark Shadows, these are five of the show’s storylines most likely to make me drive a stake through my heart. In an interview about his upcoming film adaption of Dark Shadows, director Tim Burton commented that when the original show utilized time travel it made him want to do his homework. With one exception (which may be the storyline he is actually remembering but he instead generalizes all of the show’s time traveling adventures), it is interesting to note they all take place in the modern day (1960s).

5. Pre-1840 Buildup: Time Travel, Playrooms, & Hippie Astrologists 

David & Hallie in the Playroom

It’s 1970. Most teenagers are interested in sex, drugs, and rock ‘n’ roll, but David Collins and Hallie Stokes are different. They’re into playrooms, ghosts, and dressing up like dead teenagers from 1840.  

Even though the 1840 storyline is one of my absolute favorites, I find the episodes leading up to the actual events of 1840 excessively tedious. First, Barnabas and Julia return from the world of parallel time in 1970 to find themselves in the year 1995, in which Collinwood is destroyed. Everyone is dead, crazy, missing, or simply unwilling (or unable) to talk about the events that lead to the disaster. Once Barnabas and Julia make it back to 1970, the disaster starts to unfold, yet they are unable to do anything to it. At the center of this tragedy is the teenage David Collins and Hallie Stokes, niece of Professor Stokes, and the fleeting playroom. Yeah, like David and Hallie are definitely not too old to be interested in a “playroom.” We sit through 40+ episodes of seeing the results of the disaster, the disaster unfolding, and we’re still struggling to understand its cause. It gets a bit old. The story is also interwoven with a mysterious vampire who’s not Barnabas (…who cares?) and a hippie astrologist named Sebastian Shaw whose outfits are outrageous as his name.

4. The Dream Curse: A Dream with Twelve Doors, Black Wigs, & Other Things That Make Me Want to Bury Myself Alive

The Dream Curse

Dream Sequences: a Dark Shadows specialty.

Soon after Victoria Winters returns from her trip to 1795, she discovers the year 1968 has brought Roger Collins a new wife, a woman named Cassandra aka Angelique in a (not so) chic black wig. Angelique, of course, has to ruin the lives of everyone but most of all Barnabas, whom, she is infuriated to discover, has been cured of his vampirism. She plans to reinstate the vampire curse through the grueling dream curse. One person has the terrifying dream and will continue to have it until they tell it to the next person. And eventually when someone tells Barnabas, he will awake from the dream to find a squeaking piece of cloth waiting to rip into his neck. So we get to see this dumb dream like…twelve times. Cassandra is also simultaneously torturing Elizabeth with the fear that she will be buried alive because Elizabeth said something snooty to her (she’s the mistress of Collinwood, Cassandra, she can do and say whatever she wants, get over it). So Elizabeth is running around making arrangements for her coffin to have twelve holes drilled into it or something, I don’t even know. It’s ridiculous.

We do get to meet Nicolas Blair, though, so…

3. The Leviathans: Don’t talk to strangers, Barnabas 

Barnabas Converting Others to the Leviathan Cause

Will the real Barnabas Collins please wake up and end this Leviathan storyline?

Joshua and Naomi evidently never taught Barnabas to not speak to strangers or take strange boxes from them because that’s what starts this whole nightmare. Actually, Barnabas’s never-ending obsession with Josette starts it, but that’s nothing new. Barnabas meets some creepy people, accepts a box (which has some sort of power?) from them, takes it back to Collinwood, acts really weird, and converts members of the family, one by one, to the Leviathan cause. Whatever that is. I don’t know. I guess it made sense to people in 1969.

Redeeming quality: Christopher Pennock. He makes all his greaseball characters worth it.

2. Adam & Eve: A Match Unfortunately Made in Dr. Lang’s Laboratory

Baby’s first words: Bar-na-BUS!

Ugh, ugh, ugh. I can’t even write coherently about this storyline because I hate it that much. The purpose of Adam was to cure Barnabas’s vampirism; it’s a success. The purpose of Eve was to create a mate for Adam; it’s not a success. Because she hates him. Because he’s dumb. But so is she, so I always failed to see the problem. It never ends. Unfortunately.

1. 1841 Parallel Time: What Could Have Been, But Never Should Have Been 

Bramwell Collins

Bramwell Collins aka Barnabas Collins with a really bad haircut and major anger management issues

What could be worse than Adam and Eve? Well, I forgot how bad this final storyline of Dark Shadows was until I reached the end of my DVD collection. In 1840, Daphne Harridge begins to witness the strange events of parallel time in the east wing. Once we conclude the 1840 storyline, we jump straight into this not-so-interesting world. Its premise is somewhat intriguing: a curse has been placed on the Collins family since the 17th century, requiring a lottery to be held each generation. One member of the family must spend a night in the locked room and either comes out dead or insane. The story swiftly loses color, accelerated by the lackluster characters–Morgan Collins (gag me), Catherine Harridge, Bramwell Collins. They just don’t work. The concept of parallel time is also no longer remotely interesting. It’s a really disappointing end to the show.

The wardrobe of Quentin Collins is exceptionally dapper, however, and Christopher Pennock as the alcoholic Gabriel Collins is a pleasure, as always.

Don’t forget to catch House of Dark Shadows on TCM tomorrow (January 31) at 10 P.M.!

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Five Favorite Dark Shadows Storylines

Dark Shadows Title Card

Even though this blog’s title originates from Dark Shadows, it is by no means a strictly Dark Shadows blog. But I do rate Dark Shadows as one of my top three favorite television shows of all time–if not just my flat-out favorite. I do own the complete series on DVD, sans the pre-Barnabas episodes, which are so…slow. (That’s 26 four-disc sets…26! Thanks, MPI Home Video, for waiting to release a complete series box set–which would have saved me hundreds of dollars–until right after I’d bought all the individual sets. Thanks a lot.) I did write to MPI multiple times, requesting the missing collector’s cards from my DVD sets. I did ask for and receive a Dark Shadows sweatshirt for Christmas. And I wore it every day for a week before I could bear to be parted with it long enough to wash it. I did write to Sci-Fi after they withdrew Dark Shadows from their schedule, telling them what a huge mistake they were making, and then I wrote to a handful of other channels telling them what a great idea it would be to add Dark Shadows to their lineup. (Nobody capitalized on this genius idea.) And so it seems fitting, then, that my first few entries should focus on this weird, wonderful show.

I started watching Dark Shadows when I was seven, maybe younger. I used to write about it in my journal: “Monday, December 30, 1996: Today I watched Dark Shadows. We are on #13. It was get[ting] a little scareyer [sic] little by little.” I watched it from tapes my grandparents had (which Grandma later sold at a garage sale, boo), then I watched it on Sci-Fi (who removed it from their lineup in 2003), and then I started buying the DVDs in 2004. It took me seven years to buy and rewatch the entire series. I’m not sure what captivated me as a child, held onto me through my adolescence, and continues to fascinate and engage me. The acting can be embarrassing at times, the sets are often beautiful yet still lacking, and the special effects…well, it was the ’60s. Yet there are still strong performances, unforgettable characters, and enchanting storylines, even though many of them borrowed from well-known (and perhaps overused) literature.

More than the flubbed lines, the front door of Collinwood that often just wouldn’t quite shut,  the squeaking cloth (it’s a vampire bat, people) that bit Barnabas, I remember those stories and their characters. I remember how they made me escape into another world, suspend every ounce of logic and reason, and make me believe. These are my five favorite Dark Shadows storylines, in descending order:

5. 1970 Parallel Time: Murder Begets Murder 

Quentin & David, 1970 PT
“Your loving husband, Quentin.” 

So I guess this storyline is well-loathed, but I have always enjoyed it. The concept of parallel time–which was later grossly overused on the show–was fresh at this point, and I loved seeing characters I knew and loved (or hated) live completely different lives. I loved seeing Dr. Julia Hoffman as the housekeeper at Collinwood (poor Mrs. Johnson didn’t make it into Parallel Time) and act as a complete ally to Angelique! The moment when Angelique’s coffin is opened will forever give me goosebumps. The storyline is so that when Jonathan Frid (Barnabas), Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie), and a handful of other cast members were absent filming House of Dark Shadows for about six weeks, I did not find it completely lacking. I mean, Cyrus Longworth/John Yeager? Come on. Christopher Pennock can do no wrong. The worst part about parallel time is when Barnabas does return and falls in love with a total lame-o named Roxanne. By this point in the series, it was getting a tad tedious seeing Barnabas fall in love with any character who resembled Josette (i.e. was played by Kathryn Leigh Scott) but his infatuation with Roxanne is torture. Worst. Character. Ever. (Ok, I hear you, Adam. Maybe not worst ever, but…awful.)

4. 1840: Resurrection, Witchcraft, & Possession (y’know–the usual) 

Gabriel Collins, 1840Gabriel Collins, resident cripple, plots to augment his awesomeness even further.

This storyline does bare a strong resemblance to the 1897 storyline: two ghosts, once menacing, one kind, haunt Colllinwood and eventually take control of and endanger the lives of the two children, and Barnabas is forced to travel back in time to understand and prevent this tragedy. Even the witchcraft trial of Quentin Collins strongly mirrors that of Victoria Winters in 1795. The incredibly, deliciously evil character of Gerard Stiles, the introduction of the lovely Kate Jackson, the existence of Gabriel Collins (that’s right–all he has to do is exist because he’s just that amazing), and the revelation of how exactly Angelique became a witch set it apart, however. It enchants me every time.

3. The Original Barnabas Storyline: Barnabas Collins, a cousin from England

Willie opens Barnabas's coffinAll Willie wanted was your jewelry, Barnabas.

Few things make my heart beat faster than the moment when a hand with a single black onyx ring reaches out of the coffin and grabs Willie Loomis by the neck. Barnabas Collins is introduced to the 20th century, introduces himself to the current Collins family as a “cousin from England,” and once again embarks on his never-ending quest to find his long-lost love Josette in this strange, unfamiliar time. Barnabas is cruel, full of hate and a desire to exact revenge. We see him and Dr. Julia Hoffman as enemies. We see him desperate to recreate Josette. We see him desperate to live in The Old House and restore it to its 18th century splendor, void of any modern conveniences (i.e. electricity, indoor plumbing, etc.) which is completely normal. We see Barnabas host a costume party in which all the family members dress in clothes worn by their ancestors in the 18th century–which is also completely normal. The introduction of Barnabas initially left me with so many questions: Who was Josette? Why did she betray Barnabas and commit suicide? What happened that made Barnabas what he was? I’d find out shortly.

2. 1795: The Origins of Barnabas Collins 

“I put a curse on you, Barnabas Collins!”

In 1967, Barnabas Collins was a cruel, ruthless vampire. In 1795, we see a kind, gentle man, with every opportunity in the world at his feet. Then a beautiful witch named Angelique, with whom Barnabas had a brief fling in Martinique, wreaks havoc. Must have been some fling, that’s all I can say. Poor Barnabas.

1. 1897: Victorian Nightmare 

Quentin Collins & The Hand of Count Petofi
“Oh, Quentin that hand is bad. It is the hound–hand of Count Petofi!”

Yeah, that totally happened.

So…1897 in brief: Quentin Collins, vampires, werewolves, Quentin Collins, gypsies, a magical hand that can float around freely, Quentin Collins, a crazy woman, a phoenix, Quentin Collins, typical Collins family drama (“I should have control of the family fortune!” “No, I should!”), glasses–no, bottles–of sherry being consumed in the drawing room in single sittings, Quentin Collins, a woman who came to life because an artist painted her out of his imagination, Quentin falling in love with every female character except his sister and Minerva Trask, Zombie Quentin Collins, Count Petofi possessing Jamison Collins, Count Petofi, Angelique’s typical shenanigans (blackmailing Collins men into marrying her and torturing them regardless), Crazy Carl, Quentin Collins, a fortune huntin’ widow peakin’ reverend named Trask, The Picture of Dorian Gray 2.0, and Quentin Collins. Seriously, what’s not to love? Sure beats me.

Now that I’ve finished a complete rewatch of the series, I’m looking forward to being able to sift through and watch all my favorite storylines at leisure, leaving all my least favorites (yet to come in a separate post) in the dust. Take that, Adam and Eve.

P.S. Public Service Announcement: House of Dark Shadows airs on TCM Tuesday, January 31 at 10 P.M. My DVR is set. Is yours?

Inaugural Post: Let the Curse Begin!

Stephen Stills, 'High'
(“Musician Stephen Stills pointing to a ‘High’ sign, 1 August 1967 by Henry Diltz.” Seriously. That is the official description of this photograph.)

High and welcome to my brand-new-never-before-been-touched-by-human-hands (just by the Hand of Count Petofi) blog. I’ve blogged intermittently before about vital topics, such as the metaphorical meaning of Richard Ashcroft cutting his long, dark locks and dying them blond and what it meant for his musical career, but I’ve failed at consistency and commitment. It’s a new year, though. The fact that I am not acting on a resolution (to create and actually maintain a blog) until January is nearly February bodes well.

(I’m also going to finish reading Mozipedia, acquire every live version of “Ghosts” by The Jam available, and finally finish watching Robert Redford’s filmography this year. Those goals are progressing equally well.)

Seriously, though, this blog will not be be a fluke because it features David Selby’s beautiful face. And I have to log in on a regular basis to look at it. Right? Right.

No, really…Look for me (at least) once a week, spouting off about the books I read, the films I watch, why David Selby is so darn dreamy, and well, I don’t know, maybe something half-interesting once in awhile–replete with all my charm, intelligence, and unique worldview solely founded on the fact that the Beatles are the best band ever, thankyouverymuch.

It should be fun. You should be here. Or else…well, remember that scene in Back to the Future where Marty is once again pestering George about taking Lorraine to the dance? And he tells George that if he doesn’t ask Lorraine to the dance, then he (Marty) will regret for the rest of his life. And George says he can’t because he’ll miss his favorite television program (Science Fiction Theater), he’s just not ready to ask Lorraine to the dance, and not Marty or anyone else on this planet (Earth) can make him change his mind. And then Marty dresses up in his radiation suit, claims to be Darth Vader from the planet Vulcan, plays (really awful) Van Halen music, and…well, I’m not going to give away the whole plot. But that’ll be you–regretting not joining in the fun of reading this blog and then Darth Vader will come and haunt you. Just consider yourself warned.

(You should know I use Back to the Future references at every chance. And did you know it only has a 8.4/10 rating on IMDB? What kind of world do we live in? One in which people are seriously, seriously dumb.)

Ok. See ya.