Remote Outpost looks back at the original DARK SHADOWS
REMOTE OUTPOST – OUT OF MY DEPP WITH DARK SHADOWS
Written by Mark Onspaugh
“You can’t watch everything.” – either Marshall McCluhan or George Orwell
The above quote, which is most certainly apocryphal, was especially true in the 1960s, when the only small screen was the television and there were no DVD’s, videotapes, bootlegs or endless carping by fans on websites.
I missed the original DARK SHADOWS (1966 – 1971), partially because I was in school and partially because I was oh-so-serious when it came to monsters, especially vampires and werewolves. (Little did I know that twinkly vampires and basketball-playing werewolves were just down the road, so to speak.) Shows weren’t endlessly promoted and marketed, because there was so little competition for certain shows, what with only three major networks and no cable. Since I had no close friends who watched DS, I figured it was stuff meant more for my Mom, like ONE LIFE TO LIVE (1968 – 2012) and ALL MY CHILDREN (1970 – 2011) (two shows that had long lifespans before recently being canceled by ABC~editor).
DARK SHADOWS was the brainchild of Dan Curtis, who would later bring us such tasty fare as TRILOGY OF TERROR (1975), BURNT OFFERINGS (1976) and DEAD OF NIGHT (1977). Curtis based the show on a dream he had about a mysterious woman on a train. His TV track record was such that he was able to pitch that premise and sell it to ABC.
Initially, the show was about this young woman, named Victoria Winters, an orphan who becomes stranded in Collinsport, Maine, and ends up working for Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and her brother Roger Collins. The show had no supernatural elements, at first. In fact, I was surprised to learn that Barnabas Collins did not appear for the first year of the series. The series was labeled “slow,“ “a bore,” and “confusing” (actors would play multiple characters and also reappear in parallel timelines and flashbacks) by some critics.
The turning point came six months into the series, when ghosts were introduced. Because the series appeared at a time when kids were getting home from school and moms were off making dinner (4pm Eastern), teens claimed it as their own, and it began dominating its timeslot, leading to cancellation of the original MATCH GAME and the variety show ART LINKLETTER’S HOUSE PARTY (both fare aimed at older viewers like Gramma, and your annoying Aunt Beatrice with the mustache and cheese breath).
Con-men come to Collinswood to search for the family jewels, and inadvertently release Barnabas Collins from imprisonment in a mausoleum. Once Barnabas was introduced, the show would, in its five year run, also feature ghosts, werewolves, witches, warlocks, zombies, monsters, time travel and a parallel universe. (I missed a lot, it would seem!)
DARK SHADOWS had some notable cast members, all except Frid playing numerous roles of contemporary characters, ghosts, doppelgangers and ancestors.
Jonathan Frid, of course, played Barnabas Collins. Frid died just this year, which is sad and ironic, as the movie version has just debuted. Surely as iconic to television vampires as Lugosi was to movie vampires, Frid was a Canadian actor who did little beyond the DARK SHADOWS franchise. As far as I can see, he did two other films, THE DEVIL’S DAUGHTER (with Shelley Winters in 1973) and SEIZURE(1974). Of Barnabas, he said, “I love to play horror for horror’s sake. Inner horror… I mean, I never thought I created fear with the fang business of ‘ Barnabas.’ I always felt foolish doing that part of it. The horror part I like was ‘the lie’.”
Joan Bennett (Elizabeth Stoddard Collins and several other Collins women) had a long and varied career in film and television, doing such diversely different projects as GIDGET GETS MARRIED (1972) and SUSPIRIA (1977). (Note to self: remake of Suspiria with Gidget?)
David Selby (Quentin Collins, everyone’s favorite werewolf) did a lot of TV and found some happiness in nighttime soaps like FLAMINGO ROAD (1981-1982) and FALCON CREST (1982-1990). He was also in a movie based on a New York Post headline, HEADLESS BODY IN A TOPLESS BAR (1995).
Grayson Hall (Dr. Julia Hoffman) also did a lot of TV work including NIGHT GALLERY (1970) and the TV movie GARGOYLES (1972).
During the run of the series, Curtis directed two features with many members of the television cast: HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970) and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS (1971). HOUSE follows the arc of Barnabas pursuing a woman he believes is his reincarnated love, Josette, while NIGHT involves a family moving into a house filled with ghosts of witches who are not at rest.
In 1971, it became illegal to advertise cigarettes on television. This huge loss of revenue led to a large purge among the networks, replacing some soaps (like DARK SHADOWS) with the much-cheaper-to-produce game shows. DS was particularly vulnerable because its main demographic—teens—were not the purchasers of food and household goods, the main advertisers on daytime television. Also, the early 70’s (say it ain’t so!) saw a decline in interest in shows dealing with horror or science fiction.
Because of its rather abrupt cancellation, several plotlines were left unresolved, though the shows producers tried to compensate for this with a one minute voice-over at the end of the final episode that tied everything up with a (fairly) neat bow.
The original run of 1,225 shows never ran fully in syndication until on the Sci Fi (now SyFy) channel from 1992 to 2003 (which I also missed—I hang my head in shame).
Besides its melding of the soap opera and monster/horror genres, DARK SHADOWS was believed to be a live production. This was because the rigorous shooting schedule often demanded one take of most scenes, so errors in dialog or continuity (wobbling sets, stagehands in the background) were left in. Fans delighted that they were seeing a “live” production, and the producers played into this belief by having a clock in an episode precisely coordinated with the clocks in one time zone—viewers of that time zone thought they were seeing events as they happened.
In 1991, the show was revived on NBC with a much more lavish budget. Ben Cross played Barnabas, and Joanna Going was Victoria Winters. Cross would later appear in movies like EXORCIST: THE BEGINNING (2004) and STAR TREK (2009). Also appearing in the revival were veterans like Roy Thinnes (THE INVADERS 1967-1968) and Barbara Steele (BLACK SUNDAY, 1960, CASTLE OF BLOOD, 1964, and SHE BEAST 1966). The coverage of the Gulf War led to the show being preempted many times, and it could never recover its footing. It was cancelled after running just three months. Plans to revive this version with this cast led to a pilot being written by Dan Curtis and Barbara Steele, but it never went forward. Another pilot with a new cast was shot in 2004 but was never picked up.
DARK SHADOWS also spawned a line of novels, a newspaper comic strip, comic books, audio plays, coloring books, View-Master reels, two board games, a jigsaw puzzle and trading cards.
DARK SHADOWS is often credited with introducing the concept of a “compassionate vampire” to a wide audience—a vampire who is troubled by his hideous appetites and longs for a cure.
DARK SHADOWS (the original series) is now available on DVD – ain’t technology wonderful?
© Copyright 2012 by Mark Onspaugh
As I mentioned briefly in the CKF review of the new DARK SHADOWS movie, I’ve been a fan of the original TV show since its initial run. Mark asked me to add some of my thoughts here, since he didn’t see DS in its first incarnation.
I remember coming home from school, eager to see the newest chapter of the Collins family (from the start, I was obsessed with all things horror and “monsters”). This must have been toward the end of the show’s run, in the early 70s, since I would have been around 7 or 8 years old. The fact that so many episodes are still so vivid in my mind is a testament to its effect on me.
Storylines I particularly remember involved Barnabas and Victoria Winters/Josette; Quentin Collins’s struggle to overcome being a werewolf (I don’t know if I’m sad or happy that the character of Quentin was left out of Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS movie); a FRANKENSTEIN-like storyline where a monster was being made from parts of dead people in a lab beneath a graveyard crypt; and the time-jumping episodes set in the past, where one particular Collins ancestor was involved in experiments much like the ones performed by a certain Dr. Jekyll.
For some reason, everyone of my generation who watched the show remembers it with great fondness, and I’m sure that Burton didn’t give much thought to the original show’s fans when we made his recent film version. He probably just saw the concept as something he could recreate in his own “special” way, disregarding the fact that the show still has a loyal following.
The fact that the “real” Barnabas Collins, Jonathan Frid, died recently, just makes the new movie (which I think is awful) seem all the more tragic. Ahhh, what it could have been in the right hands!