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Confessions of a "Dark Shadows" geek

Updated on July 12, 2015

I was one of those geeky kids who ran home from school every day to catch up on the latest misadventures of Barnabas the vampire, Quentin the werewolf and Angelique the witch; i.e. the original TV series, "Dark Shadows". But wait, there's more- I own the soundtrack record album, several videos and DVDs and books on DS.

What was it about this show, the strangest soap opera ever created, that captured the imagination of so many in its late 1960's -early '70s run?

It started out as a run of the mill soap opera. Occasionally, a supernatural occurrence was hinted at, until the plotline of Laura Collins the phoenix was introduced. Anemic ratings put the show on the verge of cancellation, but director Dan Curtis' daughter had an idea. Why not go full boogeyman and introduce a vampire? Curtis didn't think that would bail out the show, but figured it might as well go out in flames.

When Barnabas Collins, the (ahem) cousin from England first knocked on Collinwood's door, Curtis' original intention was to have him for a few episodes; serve him up a wooden stake and be done with it.

But Barnabas became so phenomenally popular that he remained a staple of the show right until the series end, and actor Jonathan Frid became the de facto star. Moreover, Barnabas became an object of sympathy- he felt awful about what he had to do to stay alive, make that undead. The vampire plotline opened a Pandora's box of supernatural critters. Who would have thought a remote seaside town in Maine would be home to so many werewolves, witches, ghosts and zombies? Classics like "Frankenstein", "Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde" and "The Turning of the Screw" "inspired" more plot lines, and time travel and parallel universe allowed for actors whose characters were killed off to come back in different incarnations,

Much of the credit for the show's success has to go to Robert Cobert and his orchestra; whose spot on soundtrack music made some of the dialogue and action that would have otherwise seemed boring and/or silly much more suspenseful. Ahead of its times special effects also were a boon. Even the occasional bloopers- a misread or forgotten line or stagehand appearing in a scene added a certain charm to the show which was filmed live.

The show ran out of steam with the overly long Leviathan plot, and a move to parallel time where Frid played his only non-Barnabas character, Bramwell. But the TV show's demise coincided with the release of the theatrical film "House of Dark Shadows" in which Barnabas remains a bad batty from beginning to end, with an R rating that allowed for much more graphic action. Shortly after came "Night of Dark Shadows" which largely departed from the series and was centered on the ghost of witch Angelique.

Revival attempts have been less than successful. A prime time version starring Ben Cross as Barnabas opened to great acclaim, but eventually was overshadowed and often preempted by coverage of Pres. George H.W. Bush's Gulf War. It didn't help that it was scheduled for Friday nights, one of the lowest nights for TV viewership.

The theatrical version directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp was met with derision by most of the show's original fans, due to some departure from the original show's plotlines and some comical touches. (Full disclosure, this correspondent liked the movie.)

Nevertheless, "Dark Shadows" retains a "Star Trek" like fanatical fan base with web pages, new books by former stars Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker and others coming out almost monthly and annual conventions held in LA and NYC.


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