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
“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)
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
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
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
“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?