Saturday, October 10, 2009

Dark Shadows – The Vampire Curse – review

dvdDirectors: Lela Swift & John Sedwick

Release: this edit 2009, series ran 1966-71

Contains spoilers

It might seems strange, to some of you, that for someone so steeped in the vampire genre I haven’t seen much of the soap opera Dark Shadows for, even though it ended some 38 years ago, it still has a loyal following. There is a simple reason; it never aired (as far as I know) in the UK. Now, much of what I view here never originally aired over here but is now available on the international DVD market. Dark Shadows is no exception but it stretches over a mammoth 32 DVD box sets and that is off-putting.

That said I have seen The Revival, the short lived 90s remake, and I have seen the primary movies – most importantly House of Dark Shadows. Now, two DVDs have been released that take the original series and edit together a feature length (actually just over 3 hours each) storyline. This is a review of the release The Vampire Curse.

Now, if we take the Revival, for a second, it had two primary storylines. The first half of the series involved the vampire Barnabas Collins and his return to his family home in modern days – this was also the story of House of Dark Shadows. The second half saw the character Victoria Winters go back in time and observe how Barnabas became a vampire. That is the focus of this DVD. Actually the intro is spoken by Victoria Winters (Alexandra Isles) and we see her a couple of times in confusing moments that, having watched the revival, I know tie into her time travel and the accusations in 1795 that she is a witch, but that story is almost totally edited out and thus is confusing.

using voodooThis concentrates on the tragic love story of Barnabas (Jonathan Frid). Barnabas is desperately in love with Josette (Kathryn Leigh Scott) and they are due to be married. However it is apparent that he had a fling with her maid, when visiting Martinique, and Angelique (Lara Parker) is very much in love with Barnabas. Angelique has knowledge of witchcraft and determines to use it to keep the two apart and have Barnabas for herself. This begins by using one of Barnabas’ handkerchiefs and a toy soldier to choke him. She relents when she realises that it is killing him – not her desired result.

drinking the potionShe then goes off collecting deadly nightshade to create a potion. When she meets the convict, forced to work for the Collins family, Ben Stokes (Thayer David), she realises she has a recipient for her poisonous brew. She uses her womanly wiles (and apparent telepathic abilities) to call him to her and then gets him to drink the potion (on a promise). The potion strips him of his will and he becomes her slave and, it has to be said reluctant, co-conspirator.

a duel over a womanHer next trick is to try and break the lovers up. She casts a spell that causes Josette to fall in love with Jeremiah Collins (Anthony George). Jeremiah is Barnabas’ uncle (it seems) and she throws herself at him but is rebuffed. Angelique expects him to tell Barnabas but he does not and so she makes Jeremiah fall for Josette also. When this only results in Josette's Aunt, Countess Natalie (Grayson Hall), bringing the wedding forward she casts a further spell and makes the two be-spelled lovers elope. They return, due to Josette's guilt, married and Barnabas challenges his Uncle to a duel. Angelique gives Barnabas a protective amulet and he kills his Uncle.

Crap Bat SyndromeDespite this it seems that the true love Barnabas and the widowed Josette feel might win out and so Angelique turns her attentions to Barnabas’ little sister Sarah (Sharon Smyth). She uses voodoo to make her ill and then suggests to Barnabas that she knows a folk cure – the price, marriage. She ‘heals’ Sarah and he does marry her. However he soon discovers her witchy ways and shoots her, she curses him to live eternally without love for he will destroy all who love him. A window breaks and a bat attacks him and what a crap bat! Not only does it look crap but you can see the shadow of its wire and the pole it is on is in shot!

Barnabas bittenCrap bat Syndrome aside, Barnabas has been bitten and has become very ill. This has done nothing but push Josette to him as she doesn’t want to lose him and as for Angelique… She has survived it seems and now regrets the curse as she wants him still and knows that he will become a vampire if he dies. She is desperate to find a cure but it is too late. Barnabas dies but his father, Joshua (Louis Edmonds), puts a story out that he has returned to England and buries him in a hidden section of the family crypt (previously used to store weapons) as he thinks Barnabas has died of plague and doesn’t want the workers scared off his shipyard.

poised to stakeAngelique knows otherwise and she wants him dead rather than undead. Her reasoning is that he is now a creature even more evil than her, but one can only think that the real motivation is that she loves Barnabas (in her own twisted way) and her curse will lead him to kill all who love him. She goes down to the crypt with stake and hammer but is to late and her curse does lead to her demise. Unfortunately, for Barnabas, witches aren’t that easy to get rid of.

a vision of Josette as a vampireHer spirit now haunts Collinwood and she will not allow Barnabas and Josette to be together, even now. Especially as Barnabas has a plan to make Josette one of the undead. Angelique will use whatever powers she has left to prevent this from happening, including offering visions of a vampiric Josette to the mortal girl to scare her away.

Black and White worked betterThe series was a soap opera and it is also, very obviously, technically flawed in many respects. It was, I understand, recorded live-to-tape and first takes often used. That explains the limited sets, the occasional boom mikes and crew shadows and fluffed lines. Whilst it explains it, it doesn’t necessarily forgive it, however. The majority of this edit is in colour (with the last ten minutes, regarding Barnabas’ reappearance in 1967, in black and white) and the colour does not hide the sins perhaps as well as they were hidden when it was in black and white.

The acting and dialogue is also incredibly melodramatic and it perhaps does not tread the line between the necessary melodrama of Gothic storytelling and the irksome melodrama of the soap opera that well. It was much improved in House of Dark Shadows and the acting (from the same actors) was much, much better. I know that this has a special place in people’s hearts but it is a Penny Dreadful on screen (and I can only imagine how much more true that would be in the unedited originals). That’s not to say that it doesn’t have something, but it is flawed.

a vamp out momentThe editing of this cut, for the most part, works well. Some things are mentioned that were clearly occurring in other storylines that have been edited away but nothing too important other than the Victoria Winters sections as they are so limited and yet feel like major events (we hear she has no memory of where she came from and then vanishes from view, appears briefly at the dying Sarah’s bedside and then in a few minutes moment Angelique has her accused of witchcraft and dragged off with no resolution).

More an interesting step into vampire TV history – for I will not underestimate the long term impact Dark Shadows had – than a necessary viewing. 5.5 out of 10.

The original series’ imdb page is here.

Additional: The Haunting of Collinwood DVD

dvdThe other dark shadows re-edit is The Haunting of Collinwood is set around the haunting of Collinwood by Quentin Collins (David Selby). This involves manipulating and possessing the two children of the household and, to be honest, watching 3 hours plus with the children as principles was a little painful.

Barnabas is in this edit, briefly, but at this point he is a former vampire and can happily walk around in daylight. The DVD actually ends on a wonderfully dour note and I believe that, in the series proper, Barnabas ended up going back in time to save the children and, as a result, became a vampire once more (as he was a vampire in the time period he visited). I also believe that Quentin is revealed to be a werewolf, though that doesn’t come into this DVD.


Cherie/ Butterfly Dreamer said...

that was amazing. i feel like i watched the whole thing...

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Welcome Cherie.

I go tend to spoil quite a bit but do try to avoid main twists and endings...

in this case, however, the story has been done a couple of times, and quite a while back, so I went a little further into plot then a newer film.

Zahir Blue said...

Yeah, DS veered in quality between very good and just-plain-awful, with everything in between. Also, the pace was suited to 25 minute segments during a less frenzied generation.

For the record, DS was not broadcast live but there was enormous pressure to use the first take, in order to save money (the special effects of the day were rather expensive, coupled with the period costumes). Some of the cast claimed there was never a second take.

But one can see Barnabas as the successor of Varney, as well as the title character in DRACULA'S DAUGHTER. He was almost certainly the predecessor of Louis, Nick, Angel, etc.

A new remake is scheduled to be made, starring Johnny Depp (who loved the show as a kid) and directed by Tim Burton!

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Zahir - I misunderstood some of the research I did when it mentioned live-to-tape - I have corrected the article.

I am aware of the Depp/Burton prject - and very excited about it - actually I just did an article re my thoughts on this for Vampchix that should be published sometime this month.

Christine said...

I have seen only bits and pieces of original DS because I live in Finland. However, there is something in this Gothic melodrama I really love. For example, I really like those pretty Gothic sets - there is something charming in them, something so different than modern TV with it´s digital age dullness - and the plots were entertainingly wild.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Christine - note my score is for Vampire Curse alone, as Zahir said, this veered in quality and, from what I understand, the core Barnabas story (episode 210 onwards, later made as House of Dark Shadows) is really worth seeing.

I can see your point re the charm within - I think that holsd up more in the black and white episodes.

Many thanks for stopping by, as always.

Zahir Blue said...

I should point out that Barnabas in the series was a much more ambiguous character than in the film. From what I understand, Dan Curtis was fairly busy when the storyline began. He returned to the show to find his evil, soulless vampire was a melancholy antihero--and a hit. He had to accept it. But in House of Dark Shadows he told the story much closer to his original conception.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Zahir... how would you say Ben Cross' depiction of Barnabas fits in. Closer to the series or closer to the film?

Zahir Blue said...

Given the scripts--which was closer in most ways to the original series--Ben Cross' actual portrayal was more in the spirit of the movie. IMHO. With a few exceptions (like when he saw his reflection again).

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers Zahir

Anonymous said...

I enjoyed the show so much as a kid, that for years I edited this storyline in my mind down to a six-hour miniseries. This edit pales in comparison. Good scenes are missing, unnecessary ones are included. Technically, the video is good. The special effects were ahead of its time (think of it as a live stage play). This compilation needed a few establishing shots to bridge scenes, snippets of dialogue from missing scenes played with still shots of the mansion, etc. Annoying fade-outs and fade-ins using the same or similar camera angles could have been eliminated with a little work if someone had cared. As it is, though, I would give it a 6 or 7. Some thought did go into it, just not enough to make it the 10/10 it could be.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

cheers Anon, I do want to see the whole thing at some point - it is a lot of DVD sets though...