Dark Shadows: A Mini Retrospective

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I remember watching this poorly produced Gothic soap opera on ABC, but at age six, I really didn’t care about production values.    This weekday supernatural “drama” was unique for its time and had garnered an audience of housewives, gay men, Junior and Senior High students and of course,  college students that were simply high.

Plus,  it scared the crap out of me.

I remember coming home from first grade and watching this program  about the cursed Collins family who lived in Collinwood, this dreary, palatial estate situated on one of the oh so famous “moors” in Jersey or some foggy,   vampire-riddled New England state.   I’d get scared hearing that damned spooky theme song, one of the first TV show themes which prominently featured the Theramin (THANKS BEACH BOYS AND YOUR GOOD VIBRATIONS!!!)  Dig this trivial tidbit:  the original soundtrack cracked the top 20 of Billboard’s national album chart in 1969 and still ranks as one of the top-selling TV soundtracks ever.   I did not know this. 

I remember hating that creepy Canadian thespian, Jonathan Frid in his portrayal of the undead family patriarch, Barnabas Collins:  vampire by day; B-List schlock actor by night.

Barnie Collins:  Bloodsucker and Pompous Ass

Barnie Collins: Bloodsucker and Pompous Ass

Barnabas  was a 175-year-old vampire who was constantly in search of  fresh blood and his lost love, Josette.   His character was introduced to the serial in a last-ditch effort to resurrect the flagging ratings. The role of Barnabas Collins was originally intended to be a brief one, to run but a mere 13 weeks, but the popularity of the character and the quick spike in ratings resulted in him continuing on and becoming virtually the star of the show.  Ironically, the living dead breathed new life into the show.

The serial focused on all kinds of supernatural themes, vampires of course, there were witches (remember Angelique???), a real out of this world Kabbalah-approved Golem named Adam and other creatures who went bump (and based on the frenetic acting, probably did a few backstage) in the night. 

Aside from Barnabas, characters included Angelique,  Quentin of the poorly fitting mutton chopped sideburned man person, Victoria, Willie, Dr. Julia “Ya’ll KNow I’m A Drag Queen”  Grayson, Judith Collins Stoddard (played by vdeteran one time screen siren, Joan Bennett), the Professor and Mary Ann,  were all the brain children of  TV producer/director, Dan Curtis.   The show ran from  June 27, 1966 to April 2, 1971.    It’s premise centered around a dream  Curtis had one night;  he dreamed about a girl who took a long, train ride to a large mansion.

OK….

How he derived a family of vampires and time travellers from that is beyond me, but what the hell, it was the mid 60’s!  

I mentioned that the show had pathetic production values.  Well, it did.  Why?  Perhaps, the daily grind of shooting live or almost live as it were for this show meant “shoot and get it on the air ASAP at all costs”.   I can vaguely remember seeing (what I would later learn to be)  stage hands and gaffers caught in shots.   That, plus Frid and Grayson Hall, who played Dr. Julia Hoffman looked ridiculous as they spanned the sound stage, desperately looking for the cue card boy with completely noticeable furtive glances out of the corners of their peepers.    They’d forgotten their lines.   There was a lot of that on the set of Dark Shadows.  In addition, props would fall and make loud noises, props wouldn’t work, there were flubbed lines; lines fed faudibly rom offstage,  unintentional head bumps on the set, trips, plus cameras and microphones that appeared in the scenes.  

It was completely laughable.

See for yourself, but keep this question in mind right off the bat:  where in the hell is the fog, man?   Where IS the fog????????

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Flies on the forehead….shoo fly, shoo.

But wait!   There’s more

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Poor ratings forced the shows cancellation in early 1971,  but it has since amassed a signifcant cult following.   The SciFi  (or SyFy) Network aired it every morning several years ago and there was a remake of the series starring  Ben Cross as Barnabas in 1991.  I vaguely remember that having a short network shelf life though.  You can however, catch reruns of this latter series the Chiller Channel every morning. 

And to titillate Dark Shadows fans even further,  a little celluloid birdie tells us that we will soon be seeing it on the big screen.   In July 2007, Warner Brothers announced they purchased the film rights of  Dark Shadows  from the estate of  show creator, Dan Curtis, who died in 2006.   Warner Brothers has since teamed with Johnny Depp to star in the film.

Depp was a logical choice to star in this opus, since he’s made no bones about having something of a lifelong obsession with Dark Shadows.  He recently called it, a “childhood dream” to portray Barnabas Collins.  In June 2008, Tim Burton was signed on as director.   I understand filming  began in London in earlier this summer.

Before we close, a little bit about actor Jonathan Frid.   The octogenarian retired from acting in 1994 and returned to his native Canada.   Though currently 85,  he still participates in the occaisional Dark Shadow’s convention where he still has an amazingly devoted  fan base. 

I knew a woman who was a Jonathan Frid Freak.    She knew everything about the man and found him to be sexy and alluring.  I didn’t get it, but she dug that cat.  She was also an Anne Rice fan.  She loved Gothic stuff and thought anything vampire related was hot.  As  a result, she knew everything about Frid’s  blood lusting character, too.   She knew Barnabas’ birthday; his favorite color, his history with his lost love, Josette.  She knew his favorite episodes, his favorite neck to bite and his favorite food, which of course was completely befitting a vampire:   scream of mushroom soup. 

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Obviously, I didn’t have a better ending for this post.

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4 comments

  1. Your observations are right on the money, dollface. Don’t forget the catchy Quentin’s Theme, which is etched in my brain forever. Wasn’t Kate Jackson in D.K. as well. I always loved Grayson Hall. I think she was a drag queen.

  2. Hell i remember the episodes on abc channel 13 daytime lineup
    I was young with my Grandma watching it
    I still remember it even though Vamp movies bore me, that show was freaky for a young kid and still rocks today

  3. Creator of Dark Shadows just died: http://urdead2me.wordpress.com/2009/11/06/rip-ron-sproat/
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    Sorry to hear of his passing. But just to clarify a few things: Dan Curtis created “Dark Shadows”. Sproat was the Head Writer for the series and basically, created the character of the patriarchal vampire of the Collins clan, Barnanbus Collins.

    Some Dark Shadows purists might argue that Barnabus WAS Dark Shadows…the meat and potatos from which the series evolved and sustained, but I would disagree. In my opinion, Dark Shadows worked because of a myriad of things: characters, the writing and of course, the unwitting, unintentional comedy that was missing props, botched lines, dreadful, dreadful over acting and on-air production snafus.

    LK

  4. Jonathan Frid lives in Ancaster, Ontario, Canada, not far from his birthplace of Hamilton, or from the NY border. See his website at jonathanfrid.com, but don’t expect to find out anything personal about the guy, as his personal life is his own – unfortunately.

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