Wednesday, October 5, 2011

The "Dark Shadows" of Television...

When I was a kid, I would get home from school and switch on the tube to see the latest installment of the cult classic soap opera, "Dark Shadows".  I couldn't wait to check out the latest shenanigans on the Collinwood Estate. Awhile ago, I had added the DVDs for the TV series to my "need to watch" list for Netflix.  The news about Tim Burton's latest 'Dark Shadows' film project bumped the DVDs up my list to the top spot.  I won't get into my views right now on Burton touching what should really be untouchable (you can find two posts that reflect my thoughts on the subject under 'Movies').  This post is about the original...the engaging, often hilarious, "Dark Shadows".

(Joan Bennett, Louis Edmonds,  Alexandra Isles)
First, let me say that even though quite a bit of what I write from this point forward might sound like I'm being a tad disparaging of the series, I am not.  Far from it.  I think that all of the various "flaws" are rather inherent, and add to the shows popularity.  A fact that existed back then is still valid to this day.  "Dark Shadows" was a groundbreaking show.  There hasn't been a soap style show in televisions history that can compare, and there hasn't been another soap on television that deals with the subject matter of "Dark Shadows" in terms of a main plot.  In more recent years, the soap "Passions" tried to tap into the realm of "Shadows", but in my opinion it far from succeeded.

(Jonathan Frid)
With the first episode we are transported to Collinsport, Maine, and the Collinwood Estate on top of Widow's Hill.  With a rap on the mansion's front door, it is opened to our first encounter with the oily yet graciously sinister Barnabas Collins.  From moment one he is compared to the old portrait of the "ancestor" Barnabas in the front hall of Collinwood, and the striking resemblance of the two is pointed out.  From there, the fun begins.  The sets of  "Dark Shadows" definitely reflect the gothic mood.  The production values...well, I will get to those in a minute.  The show was cast perfectly, each actor grasping the essence of their character.  But the acting...the acting was so-so.  Less than so-so in many instances.  One of the charms of the show.  It was like watching a weekly installment of community theater.  The dialogue was written in crayon, bordering on finger painting in places.  The majority of the actors didn't have a handle on their lines and would repeatedly fumble, often saying what was obviously the wrong thing because once the next line was uttered the previous line would make no sense.  Interestingly enough the main offenders in the line fumbling department were seasoned screen actress Joan Bennett who played the Collins family head, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard;  Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins, an extremely seasoned stage actor, who attended London's Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in his younger years; and Grayson Hall as Dr. Julia Hoffman, an actress with a number of credits to her name, as well (oh, and her husband was a head writer on the show...maybe that gave her an edge).  I'm not saying that other members of the casts didn't flub their lines, they did...a lot.  I just find it interesting that the actors with the laundry lists of experience were the biggest flubbers.  Moving right along.

(Jonathan Frid as 'Barnabas', Grayson Hall as 'Dr. Hoffman')
Now I will get to the production values.  As I said before, the sets are great.  Although in a scene in the basement of "the Old House" where Barnabas has been
keeping Maggie Evans while he brainwashes her into being his long lost love Josette, Maggie (Kathryn Lee Scott) is in the basement eavesdropping on Barnabas and his 'Renfield', Willie Loomis, when she gets frightened and throws her back against a brick wall...that proceeds to sway like a cardboard partition...which it most likely was.  There are tons of gaffs like that.  Actors "pounding" on doors, and the doors, door frames, even the walls shake and sway.  Another constant presence in a number of shots is the microphone being held above the actors.  Not only do we see it moving around in the tops of shots, we see the pole extension it is on, as well as the operator in shadow form on walls of the sets.  Shadows of the on-set crew are a regular part of the cast.  Nothing like an intense moment where Barnabas is looking like he might go all 'bitey' on someone, when they switch to an angle where you can see the dark silhouette of a beer gutted stage hand on the wall.  Then there is the less than perfect camera work. Moving in quickly for the dramatic close-up right before a commercial break and the shot just turning to fuzz due to no accompanying focus.  That was quite common.  Every once in awhile seeing a shot go to another camera that is focused on something totally unrelated to the scene happens as well.  It doesn't get any better than that.  Seriously.  It doesn't.

(Kathryn Leigh Scott as 'Maggie')

(The Old House ~ home to Barnabas Collins)

(David Henesy as 'David Collins')
('Igor' on the Munsters...)
One of my favorite "effects" is the introduction of the vampire bat to the cast.  The air is pierced by bat squeaks along the lines of old 'D' grade horror films, and the shadow of a frantically flying prop bat can be seen behind the window blind, strings and all.  My favorite bat scene is in young David Collins' room.  By this time in the story, David has become chums with Sarah, the ghost of Barnabas's dead younger sister.  He (David) has his suspicions about who Barnabas really is and what he is.  Deeply concerned with David's nosing into his business, Barnabas pays young David a visit in the form of a bat.  Picture it...David is in his room when the window blows open and he sees a huge bat squeaking away at him.  He goes to the window, his eyes open so wide they look as if they will pop from their sockets.  Instead of going the common sense route to try to close the window, David stands there freaking out until the bat enters the room.  Actually, it was beyond obvious that he was giving the prop guy enough time to get the bat into the interior of the set.  So David is cowering away on the ground while this string riddled fake bat swoops at him, the stick the bat is on clearly in the left hand side of the shot.  Even Igor of Munsters fame was more convincing.  What a hoot!

(The entry hall of Collinwood)

(Left: Anthony George as 'Burke Devlin', Alexandra Isles as 'Victoria Winters'
Right:  Peter Trugeon as 'Dr. Woodard')
There are other characters that stand out in various ways.  Burke Devlin (Anthony George), and Victoria Winters (Alexandra Isles) are the couple in a love triangle with Barnabas.  That whole thing is rather creepy.  Both George and Frid look like they could be Alexandra Isles father.  Well, maybe not "father" in George's case, but he does look a sight older than Isles.  Anthony George is another of the great line flub offenders.  His line gaffs are so prolific that Alexandra Isles is constantly stepping all over his lines because of his incessant pauses as he tries to remember what to say.  John Karlen as Willie Loomis did a great take on the classic Renfield character.  One of my favorite actors on the show is the last gentleman they cast to play Dr. Dave Woodard, Peter Turgeon.  His acting style is absolutely hilarious.  Imagine if William Shatner and Phil Silvers had a crack quote Master Thespian, "Acting!" Another thing about Grayson Hall as Dr. Julia Hoffman.  I can't help it, but every time she is on the screen, I keep thinking of her resemblance to the 'child catcher' in "Chitty Chitty Bang Bang".  I also loved the episodes with Buzz Hackett (Michael Hadge) the biker who Carolyn Stoddard (Nancy Barrett) was engaged to when her mother Elizabeth was being blackmailed into marrying the greasy con-man, Jason McGuire (Dennis Patrick).
(Am I right, or am I right?)
(Left:  Isles as 'Winters', Nancy Barrett as 'Carolyn Stoddard', Michael Hadge as 'Buzz Hackett,
Joel Crothers as 'Joe Haskell'
Right:  John Karlen as 'Willie Loomis')
(Old Barnabas)
Jonathan Frid as Barnabas...Ya know, he would have to possess vampire powers to get the young chickies they have in Collinsport because Mr. Frid is by no means a looker.  I am sure he is a lovely fellow if you know him, but I'm just saying.  My mother (who used to watch with me while she did the ironing) thought he was great looking.  To each his own, I suppose.  As I mentioned earlier, I'm up to episode 120.  This is the point where the "injections" Dr. Hoffman has been giving him to make him a "man" again go awry.  Barnabas has forced her to give him a mega-dose, and it has drastic effects.  He gets really old.  He looks like he should be wearing a string tie, a white suit, and holding a bucket of chicken.  I must say though, the aged make-up they put on him looks rather impressive, and I am sure it was for the times.  What I couldn't figure is why it didn't dawn on either of them that if the good Doctor makes him a "man" again, the years he has been around might catch up with him?  Oh well...

An interesting thing...while I was doing a little research for this post, I found the official "Dark Shadows Fan Club" site.  Apparently, they are having a big dinner gathering for fans.  Kind of a dinner convention (which it looks like they have a number of...conventions, that is).  The guest is supposed to be Jonathan Frid. The man doesn't look to be a spring chicken on the show, so he must be older than dirt by now.  I tried to find some current pictures of him, but didn't have any luck.

(Lara Parker as 'Angelique', David Selby as 'Quentin Collins')
I am hoping that Netflix decides to stream the rest of the episodes that continue beyond the 160 mark.  Those will delve into the historical story line where they take us back to the Collinsport days of old with Werewolves, Witches, and Zombies.  Lara Parker as the witchy Angelique. Oh, and David Selby as Quentin Collins.  My mom liked Frid, but I thought Selby was the looker.  He had the bushiest eyebrows and mutton chops though...always prone to rather intense expressions, too.

There were two feature films based on the world of Collinsport, "House of Dark Shadows", and "Night of Dark Shadows".  'House" is about Barnabas and his young lovely vampires.  'Night' centers around Angelique and a more modern day (well, modern in the 1970's) Quentin Collins who brings his new wife, Tracy Collins (played by Kate Jackson) to Collinsport.  Both films aren't bad.  I have them in VHS format.  Are they Oscar material?  Does anyone really need to ask?

(I had to include this screen capture of Barnabas.  This is a super-imposed Barnabas after he changed from his bat form.  I do realize that the hilarious effect isn't as easy to read in the photo...oh well, I tried...)
As for this new production slated for release in 2012, my jury will remain out until I see it, which is as it should be.  Since I wrote my other posts about this film, I have learned that Depp is a huge fan of the original series.  Apparently, when he was a kid he wanted to be Barnabas Collins.  Well, come the release date of the film, it looks like he will be.


  1. Great blog on one of my fav shows, you are one of the few who really seems to *understand* what makes the original DS so unique and fun!

    Frid's website is still available, in years past it was quite active, but in his old age its more of a means to sell memorabilia for his relatives, it seems.

    Best wishes ~

  2. Thanks for your comment. It's interesting how some people can't grasp the concept that something with so many gaffs can actually be very special and unique.:)

  3. Thank YOU. My spouse and I have been astounded for years by how those most closely associated with DS cannot see it, and love it, as we do. It needs no tweaking, no streamlining, and its ok to laugh at its sometimes absurdities. Its not making light of it, its a part of loving it.

  4. I too used to run home from school to see DS. It was an is my favorite tv series of all time. Without a doubt the most imaginative story line ever. Each show ended in a cliffhanger and I never once guessed where the plot was going? Regarding the famous bloopers. DS was essentially live TV as they shot it in one take. If they did the same thing to any tv series today you would see an equal amount of flubbed lines and prop failures. For me they do not detract from the enjoyment of the show as they gave it a live play feel. You felt like you were live in the audience watching it on stage. No actors today would have the guts to even try doing such a thing once, let alone 5 days a week for 6 years. My hats off to the entire crew. I think Jonathan Frid was a fabulous actor who we couldn't stop watching. He took what was supposed to be a temporary 6 week villain and turned it into a classic iconic figure that we are still talking about 40 years later. I think that says it all. I am still writing DS fan fiction for those interested I'll include the url.
    Simon M.

    1. It is most definitely one of a kind. True perfection in many respects, even with the flaws that happen during live broadcasts. I watched all of the episodes available on Netflix, and it was great seeing the original episodes again. They transported me back to the time they first aired, and I was sucked into the world of Collinwood again. Unfortunately, the episodes cut off at the beginning of Victoria Winters' time-travel to the past. I'm hoping they will add them in the near future. A few marathon viewings will be in order.

      Thanks for commenting. I will check out your Fan Fiction.


  5. Just came across your site and I'm enjoying being in the company of others who loved DS, flaws and all, as much as me! If you're interested has every episode (well, currently, the website creator has only uploaded Episodes 1 - 1110 of the 1245 that were aired, but he's getting there!) I've been watching them on his site since January, 2012. He's also included the first movie and plans to upload the 2nd movie. I also used to run home to see DS back in the day, but since I was born in 1961, I think it must have been reruns of the show, since I highly doubt I was watching this at 5 yrs of age (It originally aired from June, 1966 to April, 1971... perhaps the later episodes but I can't imagine I was watching it pre-1970. Anyways, just thought I would share the site with you as well as another site which has a synopsis of each and every episode. Hope you enjoy as much as I am!