Shedding light on ‘Dark Shadows,’ fun escapism
By Mike Haynes
It’s four days ’til Halloween, so I’m writing about something really scary.
Did some of you baby-boomers run home from school every day to see the gothic soap opera that offered ghosts and werewolves instead of soaps’ ho-hum romantic triangles and declarations of “We need to talk”?
The opening title of “Dark Shadows,” which ran on ABC
from 1966 to 1971, originally was in black and white.
OK, the Collins family and their friends did have plenty of serious talks in the wood-paneled drawing room of Collinwood, the Maine coastal mansion filled with mystery, darkness and secrets. But the topics tended to be unearthly ones such as why Maggie had two puncture wounds on her neck or what did it mean that women with the same name kept burning up once every 100 years.
“There must be a logical explanation,” was the usual response when someone had seen the ghost of Josette Collins. Or, “It must have been your imagination.”
A few weeks ago, I wouldn’t have imagined that my wife, Kathy, and I would be binge-watching “Dark Shadows.” We’re already past the first 294 black-and-white episodes and into the color era of the 1,225 total shows that aired on ABC from 1966 to 1971.
The reason? When Kathy and her best friend, Sallyann, were about 10 years old, they bonded together watching characters such as vampire Barnabas Collins and warlock Count Petofi. In another town, I also rushed to my grandmother’s house after school to follow the eerie storylines.
Kathy says she and Sallyann got seriously scared by the witch Angelique and the vampire bat flying (on a string) into someone’s window. Now, we laugh at the awful special effects and the actors staring into space not for dramatic effect but because they forgot their lines.
When we noticed that Amazon Prime offers the entire series, we thought we’d watch the first few episodes. For Kathy, it was in part out of nostalgia for her relationship with Sallyann, who died of cancer in 2017. Now, as silly as it seems, we’re hooked. We watch a couple of episodes before going to sleep most nights. It was a 30-minute show; but with no commercials, each one takes just 21 minutes to get to the next cliffhanger.
Jonathan Frid played Barnabas Collins in the original TV series “Dark Shadows.”
Most of the characters are either quirky, obnoxious, shadowy, creepy or just walk around wringing their hands. Some, though, seem normal and represent the viewers’ perception of the weird things going on around them. In fact, the whole story began when producer Dan Curtis had a dream about a young woman on a train. She evolved into former orphanage resident Victoria Winters, who arrives at Collinwood to be a tutor for young David Collins. She and a couple of others serve as likable characters.
Apparently in a storyline we haven’t reached yet, there’s a Rev. Trask, a witch-hunter from Salem, Massachusetts. Not wanting to skip ahead, I don’t know whether Rev. Trask’s character portrays preachers in a positive or negative light, but everything I know about the series is that it’s all fanciful entertainment, nothing that should worry parents or raise fears of an ungodly influence.
“Dark Shadows” did attract some protests from Christians in the ’60s because of its plots that included the occult. And I believe that if there can be good supernatural phenomena (which the Bible is all about), there can be bad supernatural phenomena that we shouldn’t fool around with.
But like “Harry Potter” more recently, this TV show was – and is – so far-fetched that it would be a stretch for anyone to take it seriously. It was wildly popular in its first run and has spawned three movies – one with Johnny Depp as Barnabas in a more campy version than the original – and two attempts at recreating the series. In the sitcom, “King of Queens,” nerdish Spence dresses as a vampire on his way to a “Dark Shadows” convention. Kathryn Leigh Scott, who played multiple characters, has written books on the making of “Dark Shadows,” and fellow actress Lara Parker has authored novels that keep the story going.
And now it’s been reported that The CW and Warner Bros. Television are doing a new pilot called “Dark Shadows: Reincarnation” that will stay close to the mythology of the original.
I’m not sure “Dark Shadows” could be the basis of a series of Sunday school lessons as “The Andy Griffith Show” was. But it’s fun escapism. It’s one more thing that brings my wife and me together.
Episode 1 begins with narration: “My name is Victoria Winters. My journey is beginning…”
So did ours.