Tuesday, May 08, 2012

Dark Shadows {the Barnabas Collins Episodes} – review

Directors: various

Release date: this set 2012

Contains spoilers

With the impending release (at the time of review) of the Johnny Depp/Tim Burton big screen adaptation of the series, it was perhaps inevitable that a DVD from the original series of the Dark Shadows franchise would be released in the UK.

The reasoning – beyond simple commercialism – would be that the series was virtually unknown in the UK. The short lived remake, Dark Shadows – the revival, has been available on DVD for some time (and has received a repackaging in time to tie in with the movie) and two DVD compilations were released a few years ago – I looked at Dark Shadows – the Vampire Curse at the time it came out.

This new set, with the rather long title of Dark Shadows – the original TV series – the Barnabas Collins Episodes, showcases twenty episodes focused upon the vampire of the series Barnabas Collins (Jonathon Frid). The Vampire Curse was set back in time and looked at how Barnabas became a vampire, these episodes (filmed in black and white) are contemporary to the time of airing and show his first appearance on the show.

The show is a soap opera and thus we begin with on-going threads (there is an introduction section included). The Collins family live at Collinwood, an estate with two houses – the old house being abandoned and somewhat dilapidated. Collinwood is by Collinsport, a town with nautical/fishing ties. Living in the house are Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Joan Bennett) and her adult daughter Carolyn (Nancy Barrett), as well as Elizabeth’s brother Roger (Louis Edmonds) and his ten year old son David (David Henesy). The staff in the house are Mrs Johnson (Clarice Blackburn), the housekeeper and cook, and Victoria Winters (Alexandra Isles) who is David’s tutor and who offers a voice-over at the head of each episode. In the house also are Jason McGuire (Dennis Patrick) who is blackmailing Elizabeth and his cohort, the thuggish Willie Loomis (John Karlen).

Willie grabbed
As the episodes contained herein start, Loomis has become a figure of fear and McGuire has arranged for Elizabeth to pay him off and leave town. However Loomis has become obsessed with the Collins family legends. He spends time looking at the picture of Barnabas Collins resplendent with his jewellery and legend says the family members were buried with their jewels. Barnabas, it is said, returned to and died in England but there is another family member supposedly buried with her jewels. He determines to rob her tomb. Whilst using a pulley to open it he triggers a secret door in the crypt and finds a chained coffin. He breaks the chains and opens the coffin but a hand emerges and grabs him.

Barnabas by candle light
Barnabas Collins never returned to England but, having become a vampire, he was chained in his coffin and hidden in the secret room. The newly awakened Barnabas poses as his own descendant (and Elizabeth and Roger’s distant cousin) and ingratiates himself with the family, eventually persuading them to allow him use of the old house, which he will restore. Of course, he needs to feed.

fearing the dark
His first victim is Willie and we see through him the effect of vampiric predation. He becomes ill, lacking energy and anaemic (though the word isn’t used). Willie’s fight has left him and he is scared of the approaching dark (though he cannot or will not say why). When darkness descends the victim seems to shrug off their stupor but are at the vampire’s beck and call. Willie, however, is needed to be a servant and so Barnabas selects a further victim – Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott), waitress at the local coffee shop.

Maggie appears depravedly dark
Maggie falls victim to a similar illness, her evening persona at times almost depravedly dark (as communicated in look more than anything). And here we have the problem with the set. It covers some twenty episodes and the series is absolutely compelling. Despite wobbly sets, fake grass that rucks up, equipment in shot and fluffed lines occasionally, it is absolutely great. Many of the mistakes came from the fact that it was one take shooting and kudos to the actors who did fluff and then recover to finish the scene. All of this is forgivable because the series took the addictive format of soap and tied it into a gothic and supernatural theme – it is easy to see why those who watched it originally are still deeply loyal to the show.

a hint of fang
The trouble with the set is we get to a point where Maggie has just been rescued from the graveyard (and further Barnabas predation) and Barnabas has beaten Willie for betraying him and… it ends… no more episodes. I know it would have to cut at least some storyline off at the end of the set but I wanted to know what happened to Maggie and would Barnabas be completely foiled. The set doesn’t say and that leaves you with a cold disappointment. I also wondered (and probably wouldn’t have had an answer) just how much this vampire consumes as, as well as the feeding from Willie and Maggie (plus possibly others, girls are being attacked, the reported attacks being failed attacks), there has been a plague of livestock being expertly drained of blood. The lore is sparse as offered in these episodes. Barnabas has fangs – but rarely shows them and must avoid sunlight.

Jonathon Frid as Barnabas
The score I give is for the set and there is a third disc of extras as well as an interview with Jonathon Frid on disc 2. The story is the core Barnabas story and, along with the earlier UK release, bookends nicely. It’s just that frustrating aspect of being cut off, a frustration that will ease if the aim is to release further volumes but there is no indication of that as I publish the review. 7 out of 10 is for the set, frustration and all.

The imdb page is here.


Unknown said...

So glad to see a Dark Shadows review before the impending release of the film! Great review as usual. I feel you on your frustration with this. I've seen some of that same season of the show and it is quite gothic and fun, but leaving on a cliffhanger like that is just frustrating. I'm determined that one of these days I'll set about watching the entire series, but as I suppose it will take at least a year of my life to get through the whole thing, I am not in any hurry to do it! Thanks for another excellent review! Can't wait to see what you think of the Burton take on it.

Gabriel said...

Thanks for the review Taliesin

They have a Dark Shadows collection at my local DVD store for a while now, though I'm not sure if it's the same one and its about $80.

I own the Ben Cross series, and have seen House of Dark Shadows which is possibly a summary of the 20 hours within this set? Would you agree?

£16 seems quite reasonable for this, I think I will add it to my collection. Though watching this in addition to the other versions I own will possibly add to my frustration over what Burton has done with the franchise adding his "Beetlejuice" camp to it. Sigh.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi guys

Margaret, it is less the time the whole series would take up but more the price tag that puts me off (from memory the box sets are running into the high 30s in quantity)

Demon Hunter G, I don't know about it being the same set, tbh. House of Dark Shadows runs over a similar storyline but Curtis called it an alternate timeline - one in which Barnabas stayed bad (though he is not redeemed at the point this set ends).

re the new film, I am looking forward to it, though I recognise that I might be in a minority, however we shall see. Being Burton it'll either be brilliant or really bad (I tend to polarise in my opinion of his films).