Saturday, July 20, 2013

Dark Shadows

"My name is Victoria Winters. The residents of Collinwood are aware of a stranger in their midst. A man whose presence is felt by all. Others far away from the great house are soon to be aware of his presence, are soon to be aware of the mystery that surrounds him."—Dark Shadows, episode #221, opening narration

I was eleven years old when Dark Shadows premiered—and yes, I was one of those millions of kids who ran home from school to watch it every afternoon. (By the way, that phrase, "ran home from school to watch," has become a cliché which, as far as I know, is only applied to Dark Shadows. Google it, and you'll get 89,400 hits—89,401 after I post this.)

I adored Maggie Evans, as well as her 18th century incarnation, Josette Dupres. I was terribly conflicted about Angelique; she was evil incarnate, and yet I found her incredibly sexy, before I even knew what sexy was. And, as an awkward adolescent, I could identify with Barnabas—the tragic, romantic outsider who started out as a blood-sucking monster, but eventually became a heroic figure.

I saved up my allowance each week to buy the Dark Shadows paperback books by Marilyn Ross (who, I recently discovered, was actually a man named W. E. Daniel Ross)—as well as comic books, fan magazines, and the soundtrack album by Robert Cobert, which contains some of the spookiest music ever composed. I still play it every Halloween to scare trick-or-treaters.

I hadn't thought about Dark Shadows in years, when last year's Tim Burton-Johnny Depp film rekindled my interest. I wanted to see it but at the same time was afraid to—the trailers made it look like a camped-up parody. I finally watched it this year—Loretta gave me the DVD for Christmas—and I was relieved to discover that, although it is a bit campy, it is not a parody. I enjoyed it—especially Depp's portrayal of Barnabas, which, though eccentric (and when is Depp not eccentric?), was a nice homage to the late Jonathan Frid, who was alive when the movie was made and, along with several other actors from the original series, had a brief cameo in the film.

The critics were not kind, but then they were never kind to the original series, either. Wobbly sets, flubbed lines, and over-the-top acting made the show the subject of ridicule then and now. In an interview discussing the movie, Helena Bonham Carter called the original series "hilariously bad," and in a recent episode of Mad Men, one of the characters referred to it as "a piece of crap."*

But guess what? I recently started watching the original series again on Netflix, and it's not that bad. In fact, at times it's amazingly good. Check out episode #221 (available on Netflix, Amazon, or Hulu) for the beautifully-acted and seriously creepy scene where Barnabas (Jonathan Frid) and Maggie (Kathryn Leigh Scott) meet for the very first time. It's been only a few days since Willie Loomis inadvertently freed the two-hundred-year-old vampire from his coffin. Maggie is alone, closing up the coffee shop for the night, when Barnabas suddenly appears at the door. There's some wonderful dramatic irony here: Maggie is charmed by Barnabas's old-world manners, while we know that he's begun stalking his next victim. As the tension mounts, dogs begin to howl outside. (I fully expected Barnabas to use Lugosi's famous line from Dracula: "Listen to them, the children of the night...") Finally, Barnabas leaves, and we all breathe a collective sigh of relief. Maggie is safe—at least for now. However, Barnabas has left behind his trademark wolf's head cane, knowing that Maggie will return it to him before the night is over.

I'm rediscovering why I became a fan of Dark Shadows, and I'm becoming a fan all over again. And I'm loving all the background information about the show I now have at my fingertips, thanks to the Internet. For instance, did you know that Alexandra Moltke, the actress who played Victoria Winters, was born a Swedish countess, and was the mistress that motivated Claus von Bülow to murder his wife?

I will leave you with a truly horrible joke from a truly horrible Dark Shadows joke book, entitled Barnabas Collins in a Funny Vein (and yes, I am ashamed to admit that I have it in my collection):
What happened when Barnabas forgot his lines on the show?

There was dead silence.

Maggie Evans Meets Barnabas Collins ("I don't")

*Read Kathryn Leigh Scott's responses to Helena Bonham Carter here, and Megan Draper here.

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