Thursday, January 11, 2007

Dark Shadows: the revival – TV Series – review


Directed by: Various including Dan Curtis

First Released: 1991

Contains spoilers

Dark Shadows was a long running gothic soap opera in the 60s/70s, which I have to admit I have never seen. I have considered visiting this via DVD but at 20+ DVD sets I felt somewhat discouraged. I discovered that the series was re-imagined in the early 90s and, only having run for one season, buying the DVD set was not so financially onerous.

From what I have been able to gather the revival series actually retold the story from the beginning Joseph Gordon-Levitt as David(or at least from the point where vampire character Barnabas Collins entered the show) and followed essentially the same story. What we have is a soap opera of gothic melodrama filled with vampirism, witchcraft, voodoo, ghosts and, bizarrely, time travel. I will not be comparing this to the original, as I have never seen it, and will be judging it on its own merits. What I will be doing is looking at the first (feature length) episode in depth and then at aspects of vampirism in other episodes and the generic story direction.

Joanna Going as VictoriaThe story begins with the journey of Victoria Winters (Joanna Going) to Collinsport in Maine and, more specifically, to the Collinwood Estate where she is to be the new Governess of youngest child David Collins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), a precocious little brat whose idea of fun is leaving a bloody dead rat in his Governess’ bed and has been kicked out of the local school for starting a rather large fire.

When Victoria arrives no one is at the station to pick her up and she ends up going to the Blue Whale Inn. A phone call to the Collins household sets Roger Collins (Roy Thinnes) looking for (handyman for want of a better description) Willie Loomis (Jim Fyfe) as he was meant to pick the young woman up from the station. Willie has been drinking whilst researching something but, despite protests, is forced to pick Victoria up - he is clearly a little odd and not happy with his lot in life.

When he returns we discover, Willie has awaken Barnabasas he speaks to his Aunty, Mrs Johnson (Julianna McCarthy), that he believes he knows where the Collins lost treasure is. She is sceptical and wants Willie to straighten out his act. Willie, instead, follows the clues he found and ends up in the Collins’ crypt. He finds the secret room that the cryptic clues suggest and, inside, a stone casket wrapped in chains. He breaks the chains and is grabbed by a hand. Barnabas Collins (Ben Cross) is free.

Leaving the injured Willie on the floor Barnabas exits into the night, though at first we do not see much more than a hand. He finds another victim, Daphne Harridge Collins (Rebecca Staab). The police find Daphne, still alive but suffering a massive loss of blood. What concerns Sheriff Patterson (Michael Cavanaugh) is the lack of blood at the scene and the fact that they find human saliva in the wound, in desperation he turns to Professor Michael Woodard (Stefan Gierasch) for help. Barnabas returns to the crypt and takes the family treasures.

The next day he turns up at Collinwood and introduces himself as a long lost cousin from England. Matriarch Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard (Jean Simmons) is struck by his uncanny resemblance to his name sake from 200 years previous and Barnabas confides that he was named for him and is a student of their family history, he even has the ring and cane of ‘the original’ Barnabas – family history telling them that Barnabas The ghost of Sarahleft America for England, they buy the story though there is a little mention of Roger having been in England – the implications are never followed up. Barnabas says he wants to restore the old Collins Manor house. David says that is where his friend Sarah (Veronica Lauren) lives, he shows a picture of a girl from centuries past – actually Barnabas’ sister. Sarah appears through the show, a ghost who tries to warn them of impending doom.

a victim of Barnabas' bloodlustAs things proceed the police find they have a rash of murders on their hands, as far as they know only Daphne has survived. Their suspicions turn to Willie but it appears he now works for Barnabas and the newcomer vouches for him. Woodard calls in a colleague, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Barbara Steele) to help them. Barnabas himself has met and recognised Victoria as the reincarnation of his mortal love Josette.

Barbara Steele as Dr. Julia HoffmanHoffman has discovered that there is an errant mystery cell in Daphne’s blood work that is also present with the other victims; using it she makes a serum that speeds Daphne’s recovery. She decides to use hypnosis on Daphne to try and break her amnesia with regards the attack. They make some progress, though it is distressing for the girl, and she mentions red eyes and teeth. They fear that the killer will return for her.

In the second episode we see Daphne’s fate and it tell us more about the vampire lore used in the series. Woodard has given her a cross, obviously suspecting a vampire, and her boyfriend, Joe Haskell (Michael T Weiss), and the Deputy (Steve Fletcher) Barnabas takes Daphnetake turns sitting with her. Yet Barnabas comes. He stands outside and, with some long distance eye mojo, causes Daphne’s protector to fall asleep. She awakens, removing the cross, and goes to him, the flowing mists seem controlled by the vampire. They kiss and then he bites, her reaction being one that seems seeped in passion and there is a tie in the series between passion and vampiric bloodlust.

Daphne left deadThe next day she is found and the kill is not clean. She is buried and yet soon rises as a vampire herself. This begs the question, why didn’t the other kills rise also? It also begs the question, why does undeath make your hair curly? David is the first to see her but, being a child, his concerns are dismissed. She then gets her fangs into Joe and the family and police begin to realise that something supernatural is afoot, Daphne is back.

In a visit to Collinwood, Barnabas meets Dr Hoffman and she notices that he has no reflection in the mirror; strangely she keeps her discovery to herself.

standard police issue?Joe is called by Daphne and goes willingly to her as the police hunt across the estate. Daphne is found as she munches on Joe’s neck and it was a great scene to watch, especially the police officer entering the building with cross in hand – the police have totally bought the vampirism explanation. Daphne is held down and staked.

Hoffman visits Barnabas in his cellar at Collins Manor and manages to make a deal with him. She thinks she may be able to cure his vampirism and offers to help him.Barnabas feeds In the first episode Barnabas came across, at first, as simply evil he kills indiscriminately and viciously beats Willie when he disappoints. However, the show makes it clear he is a sympathetic vampire. He describes himself as “compelled by desires that I cannot control to commit acts which sadden and repulse me.” Though his temper might rage and he is prepared to kill in order to protect himself we do root for him. The effect he has on Willie is remarkable, really turning the odd little man around.

Through Barnabas agesthe cure storyline we see Hoffman get to the point where Barnabas has a reflection and can stand limited exposure to the sun. We see, through exposed vampire blood that bubbles, boils and causes a test tube to explode, the violent reaction that sunlight causes a standard undead. Later, we see Barnabas age massively when something goes wrong with his treatment.

really crap batThe only other vampiric thing to mention is that we discover, later, that the vampires can turn into bats. Unfortunately, even in 1991 good bat effects were hard to come by. Now I know bats are standard vampire genre material, but bad bats are becoming somewhat of a bugbear for me. Film makers take note, don’t do bats unless you can do them right.

As the story progresses we see Barnabas trying to woo his reincarnated love and then we discover the source of his vampirism. the witch AngeliquéAt first we see the witch Angeliqué (Lysette Anthony) as almost a banshee type creature who haunts Barnabas but as things progress, and Victoria is propelled through time to when Barnabas was still human, we discover that Angeliqué was a practitioner of voodoo who curses Barnabas when he spurns her for Josette.

There is overlap in the series with Dracula, though some of the overlap is cyclical. The concept of a reincarnated lost love (and indeed the use of a musical box that reminds of that time) Rebecca Staab as Daphnewas used in Curtis’ version of Dracula, though Curtis took that idea from the original Dark Shadows series. Willie is very much a Renfield type and, between them, Hoffman and Woodard, fulfil the Van Helsing role – though in this case one of them is pro the vampire. The burial and return of Daphne actually felt very much like Lucy’s story in Dracula, though there was no obvious reason for why I felt this as I watched it. Curtis does indicate his affection for Dracula by naming the Deputy ‘Jonathon Harker’ in the credits.

The acting does come across as *very* soap opera at times, but that is what the show was of course, another victimand yet the melodrama of the soap opera translates to a gothic format rather well. I cannot compare Ben Cross’ performance to that of Jonathon Frid (who played Barnabas in the original series) having never seen Frid’s performance, but Cross has a wonderfully sonorous voice that fits the character well and a dark and brooding look, though he looked a little sickly some times when he bared fangs - as though the prosthetics might make him ill.

It was, of course, great to see the legendary Barbara Steele who still maintains a commanding presence. It is worth noting the presence of Roy Thinnes who stared in Curtis’ The Norliss Tapes, Lysette Anthony who played Lucy in Dracula Dead and Loving it and, in the episodes in the past, Adrian Paul playing Jeremiah Collins who was in The Breed (2001).

Talking of the episodes in the past, though it was fascinating to watch the birth of the vampire Barnabas, I didn’t think that those episodes were quite as strong as many in the cast (and it was the main present day cast talking on other roles) seemed less comfortable with period roles and those episodes needed perhaps less of the soap opera melodrama. One exception was Joanna Going, I found her a bit simpering as Victoria and yet as Josette she was excellent.

This is not, by any stretch of the imagination, an unpleasant way to spend 590 minutes. Daphne is stakedThe effects were, in the main, very good (except for the damn bat) and there was a nice amount of blood. After a while you loose sight of the melodrama and get sucked into the story. Parts of the story jarred, why it took the police almost 3 months to go and interview Barnabas when, if nothing else, he was the new guy in town was beyond me. There were threads that became lost and were never again picked up on, such as Roger’s estranged wife using witchcraft to control David in order that he might kill his father, perhaps there were plans to return to such stories but the series cancellation prevented it. The end had a minor cliff hanger that will never, of course, be answered – though the answer may be in the original series.

Scoring a series will always be difficult. There are going to be weak parts that, in a film, would let it down but is more forgivable in such a large whole and the series format has the advantage of being able to develop stories and characters perhaps more than a film format allows. This series might have been even more difficult to score as it retold an earlier series and replaced actors for characters that many knew and loved – this is irrelevant to me, luckily, having not seen the original. All that said 7 out of 10 for a dose of pure melodrama and escapism.

The imdb page is here.


Corroding-Halo said...

A,thanks for your message, no i'm not doing too good at the moment but i am working through it.

Have you heard about the Blade TV Series?-could be interesting..

speak to you soon.

Ash said...

It's funny, because Dan Curtis freely rips himself off. If you compare the burial scene of Lucy in the 1973 "Dracula" with Daphne's burial in the "Dark Shadows" revival, you can see that he copies himself almost shot-for-shot, right down to the audio, the heavy rain, and the "booming" sound when the coffin is placed in the vault. I own both on DVD, and watching them back to back, some parts are almost copied exactly.

Taliesin_ttlg said...


he certainly does, and a worthwhile observation. Thank you :)