… Basically, this first DVD set is VHS Volumes 1-4; in other words, 8 actual weeks of the programme, 2 weeks on each disc. The quality is better than the VHS tapes, but not greatly, as Dark Shadows was a very low budget soap opera, and through the years some of the original prints were lost, damaged, etc., and alternative prints were utilised in their stead; but it is a definite improvement over the quality of the VHS tapes. The programmes on this DVD collection begin at the same point in the series as the VHS videos begin: a synopsis of the earlier episodes and characters followed by the introduction of Barnabas Collins the Vampyre. As far as extras, there are three interviews approximately 5 minutes long each: Jonathan Frid (Barnabas), Kathryn Leigh-Scott (Maggie, Josette), and John Karlen (Willie, Kendrick), each interviewed several years ago. What really should be noted about the DVD collection(s) that differs from the VHS tapes is that ALL THE EPISODES ARE COMPLETE AND UNEDITED. The VHS tapes are actually edited. I didn’t really notice this at first, until I realised I was seeing episodes and parts of episodes that weren’t shown in the VHS volumes. (A clue to this being my former statement that the DVD collection, consisiting of 8 weeks, equals that of the VHS Volumes, 1-4; and as the VHS volumes only consist of approximately one week each, the math is incorrect.) By seeing the complete episodes, the viewer will find (after having watched the VHS tapes) the story to be fleshed out more, focusing more on all the characters and situations.
If you’re new to Dark Shadows and are curious about this show and want a good starter sampler, this DVD collection is perhaps the best and least expensive way to start. For to begin with less than these 40 episodes will not give one a good idea of the scope of this programme. Quite frankly, even 40 episodes isn’t enough to give anyone the idea of the scope of this show as there were so many changes in events and characters throughout the series. Keep in mind this is/was a five day a week soap opera (even if it is gothic), that it was on for approximately four to five years, that, as with all soap operas, it is mainly dialogue-based and moves at a snail’s pace, and that, as such, can be very boring and tedious at times! And do expect low budget effects, bouts of melodramatic acting, and loads and loads of flubs and mistakes that made it onto film (due to the fact that the show was more often than not taped live and editing wasn’t an option). However despite the many drawbacks, Dark Shadows is charming, addicting, imaginative, romantic, and eerie. And no matter how much one likes or dislikes a particular episode, one simply MUST see the next episode…and the next…and the next…and so on.
In a nutshell, Dark Shadows, with all its faults (probably more than any other show that ever aired on television), is pleasing because of the suspense and intrigue, and the imagination that propells it; because of the continuing story and the characters involved (who are portrayed by some very talented actors); and because of the romantic, supernatural escapism that draws us in. Watching Dark Shadows is very much like watching a play on a stage; and if one views it that way (no pun intended) all the mistakes, flubs, etc. will simply not matter.
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Although it’s commonplace for classic TV programs to appear on DVD, it’s unusual for this to happen with a soap opera. But DARK SHADOWS is an unusual soap opera — the first to revolve around supernatural horror. In fact, the soap opera format gave DS time to present its tales of the supernatural with a depth and plausibility often lacking in TV speculative fiction. Furthermore, it was played by a group of topnotch actors who took it quite seriously and played it with as much sincerity as any reality-based soap opera.
The DVD release just might make it feasible to own the entire run. I don’t know how I’d have stored the original VHS edition’s 300+ cassettes (Liz, is the West Wing still empty?), but the DVD edition should total just over 30 of these boxed sets, which should fit nicely on one bookshelf.
DS is best known for the 200-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins, although he entered the story only after the show had been running for about a year. This installment begins with a 15-minute summary of that pre-Barnabas year, revealing that it was primarily non-supernatural, with periodic supernatural interludes.
The complete episodes begin with #210, wherein grifter Willie Loomis gets an unpleasant surprise during an attempted grave robbery. Willie disappears, and the mysterious Barnabas Collins appears, claiming to be a cousin from England. Willie reappears, suffering from an unidentifiable illness, and Barnabas asks permission to move into the abandoned “Old House” on the Collins estate. With Willie as an unwilling but powerless accomplice, Barnabas secretly kidnaps waitress Maggie Evans, intending to transform her into an undead reincarnation of his long lost love, Josette. In a moment of lucidity, Maggie attempts to kill Barnabas, but her timing isn’t so hot, and you’ll have to buy set #2 to find out what fate awaits her.
There’s also a pre-Barnabas, non-supernatural storyline to finish up, which involves Willie’s friend Jason McGuire blackmailing Collinwood’s matriarch, Elizabeth Stoddard. Unlike the original VHS release of DS, this DVD edition has not been edited to de-emphasize this storyline.
Although Barnabas is pure villain at this point, he contrasts sharply with his literary inspiration, Count Dracula. Instead of reveling in his condition, Barnabas is, according to who played the role, an “angry everyman.” Embittered over the fate that’s been forced on him, he’s determined to take what he believes is due him and had been unfairly denied him. It’s a motive plenty of unhappy viewers can and did relate to relate to.
One also can’t help feeling a bit sad for Barnabas because of the utter futility if what he’s trying to do. Even if he’s able to rob Maggie of her free will and sense of identity, the inescapable reality is that she never will really be his lost love Josette. A scene (in episode #239) I find particularly tragic in this respect has Barnabas arranging a romantic dinner with the half-dazed Maggie, and acting as if this really is Josette — in fact insisting as much when Willie tries to tell him it’s Maggie.
It also seems to me that the vampire myth is being used, to some extent, as a metaphor the various components of addiction — the substance itself, the addict who rejects loved ones for the sake of the addiction, and the loved ones who are powerless to help, and only get abused and rejected for their trouble. This metaphor is evident in the escalating hostility between Maggie and her father Sam, boyfriend Joe, and friend Vicky as they fight to save her and she rejects them, even resorting to deception and trickery.
Oh yes — note the dialog in episode #242, in which Dr. Hoffman is referred to as a man. The idea of a female Dr. Hoffman hadn’t been thought of as yet.
Barnabas is played by Shakespearean actor Jonathan Frid, who brings class and sophistication to the role. Alas, Frid also flubs more lines than anybody else in the cast. The problem was that, being a stage actor, he was unused to the rigors of daytime television drama. He reportedly has a bad habit of anguishing over specific lines and speeches, at the expense of memorizing an entire script. There appears to be an example of this in episodes 212 and 214. At the end op #212, Frid delivers a chilling yet moving soliloquy to the portrait of Josette. Then, in #214, he completely mangles a line about the Collins family in England.
One noteworthy detail of that speech in #212 is that Barnabas doesn’t use the word “vampire” in a situation where it would have been appropriate. In fact, it has been noted the DS deliberately did not use that word for quite a long time. Apparently, Dan Curtis wanted to break new ground, but to do it gingerly. Actually, I think it added to the plausibility. In later episodes, the word would get bounced around in an offhand way that came dangerously…
Are creaking coffins, cobweb-filled doorways and flickering candelabras your thing? How about romantic, angst-filled Gothic vampires, in endless conflict with their mortal souls and their immortal longings? Nah, it ain’t that overly-slick, too-hip-for-its-own-good “Buffy” show that people talk about. We’re talking about Dark Shadows, the FIRST vampire series on tv; the Granddaddy of all Gothic shows.
Premiering in 1966, it began as your basic routine, lovey-dovey serial tear-jerker with all those little coffee cups and handy hankies. But low ratings forced the mighty cancellation axe too close for comfort, so producer/creator Dan Curtis said, “Aw, the heck with it. If we’re gonna go out, let’s go out with a bang. Let’s introduce a vampire!” And so, BARNABAS COLLINS was born. At first glance, Barnabas seemed another bastardly knock-off of ol’ Drac himself…but this is daytime television. In soaps, you have time to peer beneath the surface of your favorite characters. We got to know him, this Barnabas, and rank imitator, or two-dimensional camp caricature he never was. No, this was a vampire with a soul. With a purpose. With longings far beyond the jugular of the next available neck. Ah, Barnabas. Television’s first sex symbol of the undead. An instant American icon. You invited him into your home. You loved him, and you loved for him to scare the…out of you.
But wait, there’s something else here that’s even scarier than Barnabas! Ya see, this was taped back in 1966. It is LIVE on tape, that is, whatever they taped was what you saw. There was very little in the way of editing. This is television at its most raw, and most compelling. Everything is left to chance, or fate. If the candles accidentally fall off their holders, that’s okay! Keep rolling! It’s too expensive to stop and go back! Did that legendary soap actress really flub her lines? Who cares! We gotta be out of the studio by 5:00! Keep going! Keep going!
Watching Dark Shadows is terrifying far beyond its subject matter…because you just…never…know what’s going to happen next. It could be a door that won’t open. It could be a fly landing on the ingenue’s nose. It could be a piece of scenery crashing to the ground. All these things could happen, and all of them did! And it’s right there for you to see…forever. This is not that canned, over-rehearsed and edited-to-death, spontaneity-free junk you’ve been watching the last 30 years. This is REAL television!
DARK SHADOWS, brother. See it!