Dun dun dun .... (Cue atmospheric music.)
And, before you say it. No, I’m not that old. I watched Dark Shadows in syndication in the mid-to-late 70’s.
Dark Shadows was a Gothic soap opera (how could you not love the concept?) that originally aired weekdays on ABC from 1966-71. Even though it was dark and atmospheric (and vastly different from any other soap opera at the time), the first year of the show was a little slow. Young governess goes to spooky New England mansion to work for rich eccentrics with a troubled son. A touch of Jane Eyre and Wuthering Heights. Yet it was admittedly dull, which is probably why the first year wasn’t syndicated until the 1990’s.
Things really pick up, though, when Cousin Barnabas shows up at Collingwood (the Collins family mansion)—and turns out to be ...dun dun dun ...a vampire. At this point, the show became wildly popular, and next thing you know, ghosts, werewolves, monsters, witches, and every kind of paranormal being start popping up in the story lines. The denizens of Collingsport, Maine even dabble in time travel and parallel universes.
My favorite part, though, was how the writers stole shamelessly from the classics. Story arcs were ripped right out FRANKENSTEIN, H. Rider Haggard’s SHE, Henry James’ TURN OF THE SCREW, Tennessee Williams’ THE MENAGERIE, and Oscar Wilde’s PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY.
Let me give you an example of a story arc. (This was one of my favorites.) In 1969, young David Collins is being harassed by the ghost of Quentin Collins. So, cousin Barnabas—temporarily cured of his vampirism--uses the I Ching to travel back to 1897, where he meets the very much living Quentin, who was cursed by gypsies—something to do with Count Petofi’s hand, I forget—and is now a werewolf. Barnabas has a painter do a portrait of Quentin, which cures his lycanthropy ala the Picture of Dorian Gray. The painting of Quentin turns into a wolf at the full moon. Incidentally, Quentin doesn’t age at all and therefore can’t become a ghost to haunt David in the future. Still following me? His work done, Barnabas I-Chings it back to 1969—only to find an ancient race of Lovecraftian beings waiting to nab him. Begin new story arc.
That’s my kind of horror. Camp. Literate. Byzantine. And just plain fun. (Did I mention the dreadful camera work and silent-screen-worthy acting?)
Here's a little taste:
You thought I kidding about the I Ching, didn't you? And did I forget to mention Barnabas goes back to being a vampire in 1897 because he was one back then.
I’m not the only one who still loves Dark Shadows. (Actually there are lots of fans and conventions even now.) Earlier this year on BBC’s Jonathon Ross Show I saw two of my favorite collaborators announce what one of their next projects would be after Alice in Wonderland. Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are working on… (dun dun dun)…a Dark Shadows movie. (It should come out after Depp does Pirates 4.) Yes, that means Johnny Depp will play Barnabas Collins. The last I read, the screenplay will be written by Seth Graham-Smith of zombie book fame. How's that for a combination?
Any other Dark Shadows fans out there? How about the '90's revival starring Ben Cross? He was certainly a better looking Barnabas, but the remake just kind of missed the point of the original. Sometimes it's really good to be bad.