By G. Michael Dobbs
With the upcoming release of director Tim Burton's new take on the venerable "Dark Shadows" soap opera, it's natural to expect that people revisit the original show and MPI Home Video has done it in a very large way.
From 1966 to 1971, people tuned in daily to see a most unusual daytime drama. While soap operas had been the home of angst-filled doctors, ethics-challenged lawyers, bored homemakers and errant husbands, no one had seen the stories on these serials, which featured vampires, werewolves, witchcraft and time travel.
"Dark Shadows" stretched the boundaries of the soap opera and created an audience that is loyal to the show even today.
If you're too young to have experienced the show when it was first broadcast my mom was a devoted fan and I watched it with her after school most days now you have the chance through these new DVD releases. MPI is offering the entire 1,225 half-hour episodes in one collection of 131 discs that goes for a price of $599.98.
If that is a little too rich for your blood, there are two single disc collection that helps resurrect the Collinswood magic: "Dark Shadows: Fan Favorites" and "Dark Shadows: The Best of Barnabas."
"Dark Shadows" was a decidedly Gothic show when it first started in 1966, but really amped up the weird when a long-lost cousin turned up at the Collins family ancestral home. Elizabeth Stoddard (the series' nominal star, Joan Bennett) was delighted that cousin Barnabas knew all about the mansion and the family history and didn't think it was odd that he was a dead ringer for the Barnabas Collins whose portrait was hanging in the home a man who lived in the 1700s.
Cousin Barnabas was actually ancestor Barnabas. He was a vampire, transformed into a monster by a spurned lover, the witch known as Angelique hundreds of year previous and had been confined to a coffin. He was now back, yearning to have some sort of normal life.
"Normal" was not something Barnabas ever achieved as the storylines kept topping themselves in adding characters, situations and horror elements.
At the center of the show was Jonathan Frid, a graduate of the Yale Drama School and an experienced stage actor. Frid played Barnabas straight, actually trying to portray a man who was dealing with a curse that spanned hundreds of years.
The other break-out stars of the show were David Selby, who played Quentin Collins, a werewolf; Lara Parker who was the female villain Angelique; and Katherine Leigh Scott, the plucky heroine.
The two compilation discs are fun if you remember the show. Each of the episodes is introduced on the "Fan Favorites" disc by Scott and on the "Best of Barnabas" collection by Parker and these introductions provide necessary context for the episodes.
For die-hard fans, the question of whether these shows hold up after decades is almost meaningless. Seeing them again is like attending a reunion of sorts. For new viewers, they will find a soap opera that moves at a glacial pace featuring intricate storylines, claustrophobic sets and performances that border on camp at times.
For horror fans, the two theatrical movies that were spawned by the show "House of Dark Shadows" and "Night of Dark Shadows" provided traditional thrills. The show has a certain creepiness to it, but it's unlikely it ever raised any gooseflesh.
What "Dark Shadows" did do was to bring horror elements that were staples in low budget fright films into a mainstream entertainment genre such as the soap opera. The result was a singular entertainment that still inspires admiration to this day.