Friday, May 11, 2012

Dark Shadows the series

With the Tim Burton Dark Shadows out today, I thought I would take another look back at the series.

It started as a dream - literally. Producer Dan Curtis had a dream about a woman named Victoria Winters and decided to make it into a soap opera. I believe that it was writer Sam Hall who actually translated this into a tv show.

At the time, gothic novels were hugely popular. These were all take-offs of Jane Eyre in which a young woman (often a governess) enters into a relationship with a rich, eccentric family. The plot revolves around a mystery which appears to involve the supernatural but at the last minute all is revealed. The least likely character turns out to be the perpetrator and the heroine runs off with the previously unavailable hero.

When it started, Dark Shadows had all of these elements. Victoria Winter was the governess, come to care for David Collins in the mansion of Collinwood in the town of Collinsport. The other family members were David's father, Roger, the younger son who had run through his inheritance and was reduced to working for his sister, Elizabeth Stottard. Elizabeth had a rebellious daughter, Caroline, who was in her late teens.

The other main characters were Sam, a drunken painter, and Maggie, his daughter the waitress. There was also Burk Devlin who had just returned to Collinsport and who had a history with the Collins family.

There were also hints of the supernatural, mainly ghosts. The ghosts of three widows were supposed to reside in the Old House, an abandoned mansion on the property. The principle ghost was Josette Collins.

For the first year or so, something would happen then different combinations of the characters would talk about it with each other. For example, Roger's breaks failed and he blamed Burk but it turned out that Roger's son David had sabotaged the brakes. The factory manager was killed and Roger and Burk accused each other. In this case it turned out that the Collins caretaker had killed the manager to keep him from nosing into family business.

This plotline eventually pushed the show into the supernatural. Victoria found an important clue about the murder and the caretaker kidnapped her and took her to the Old House where the ghosts drove him insane.

After that, plots involving the supernatural became more common. Roger's ex-wife returned. She was a phoenix who periodically died in fire along with her children then returned decades later to marry again, often choosing Collins men (she married at least three in three centuries).

Ratings climbed and Dan Curtis decided to drop the traditional soap opera plots and switch entirely over to the supernatural. The original plots were wrapped up or dropped. Years before, Burk, Roger, and Roger's wife had been out drinking. Their car killed someone. Burk was too drunk to remember who was at the wheel. It was Roger but he bribed Sam, the painter, to say that Burk was the driver. Once the truth came out, Burk made his peace with the Collins family and became engaged to Victoria.

The other original plot involved Elizabeth. She was a recluse who never left the mansion. This was because she had killed her husband and buried him in the cellar and was afraid that someone would find the body if she left. Later it turned out that she only stunned her husband and he left before she could try again. His best friend, Jason, told Elizabeth that he had buried the body so that he could blackmail her later.

Two other plots were dropped completely. Originally the show had dropped broad hints that David Collins was actually Burk's son and that Victoria was Roger's daughter. The plot about David was forgotten and, decades later, it was revealed that Victoria was Elizabeth's daughter.

Jason, the blackmailer, had brought a friend named Willie Loomis to Collinsport. Willie heard hints that one of the Collins family in the 18th century had been buried with her jewels and went looking for her. Instead he found her son, Barnabas who was a vampire.

Barnabas fit neatly into the established family background. He was from the time when the family lived in the Old House and Josette's death was linked with his vampirism. He introduced himself as a long-lost relative and moved back into the Old House with Willie as his servant. He also wrapped up the plot involving Jason the blackmailer - Barnabas killed Jason and hid the body.

Barnabas felt that he had been unfairly separated from his true love, Josette, and set about making Maggie the waitress into a new Josette. She eventually escaped but the shock gave her amnesia. After that, Barnabas pursued Victoria.

From there the characters took a new direction. Barnabas was the new star. Elizabeth and Roger never knew what was really going on. Caroline had a talent for attracting the wrong person. First Barnabas sunk his teeth into her, then a Frankenstein's Monster fell in love with her, and eventually she married a Lovecraftian horror. Her cousin David made friends with whatever ghosts came by including Barnabas's little sister.

A new character was introduced - Julia Hoffman, a doctor and owner of the asylum that Maggie had been taken to. She realized that Barnabas was a vampire and tried to cure him. When that failed he tried to kill her.

The family knew that something strange was going on and held a seance. They contacted Barnabas's sister who transported Victoria back to when Barnabas was human and engaged to Josette.

Barnabas had previously had a fling with Josette's maid, Angelique, who was a witch. She forced Barnabas to marry her and when she found that he was still seeing Josette, she engineered Josette's death and cursed Barnabas.

While this was going on, Victoria was accused of witchcraft and hung. She returned to the present just in time to escape hanging.

Barnabas bit Victoria and suggested that they run away together but they had a car accident and ended up in the hospital. While he was unconscious, a doctor cured his vampirism.

Then things got complicated.

The show worked through variations of numerous horror stories. The doctor who cured Barnabas was creating his own Frankenstein's Monster and after his death, Julia Hoffman had to finish. Angelique returned and tried to turn Barnabas back into a vampire.

The show took other trips into the past - twice to the 19th century then into an alternate word and finally into an alternate 19th century. A second cursed Collins was introduced - Quentin. Originally he was a ghost from the past. In the past he was a werewolf and was finally cured through a portrait (Dorian Gray). Barnabas fell in love multiple times, only to have his love snatched away. At the end he was finally reconciled with Angelique (who was shot a few minutes later). He was always accompanied by Julia Hoffman who obviously loved Barnabas deeply.

Dark Shadow's appeal was not in any individual episode. The acting was poor - the actors only had a few hours to learn their lines and block out their movements each day. The effects were limited to blue screen and bats on wires. Still, the earnestness of the show was infectious.

Also, the character of Barnabas was irresistible. He was a complex character. He hated what he was but he couldn't resist biting someone in the neck every now and then. He would risk his life to help the innocent or a family member but he would also kill anyone who threatened his existence, even family members.

During the height of the show, a movie was made based on the original Barnabas plotline - House of Dark Shadows. A followup, Night of Dark Shadows, was made around Quentin but it was a flop.

Over 20 years ago a new version of Dark Shadows was made for prime time. The pilot followed the plot of the movie (without Barnabas's death at the end) and the rest of the season took the plot through the end of the seance. It was not renewed.

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