Classic Television Review: Dark Shadows

I’m currently in a long distance relationship and one of the things we like to do is watch movies and television together. We’ve even perfected doing this across five states and a time zone, thanks to Netflix Boyfriend who has not acted jealous at all. Obviously I know how to pick ’em! (OK, so the other night he got up and left the room, but he’s been mostly understanding.) We’ve watched several classic movies such as Chinatown and The Invisible Man (review hopefully to come soon, once I finish listening to the audio version of the book), but mostly I cuddle into my couch and we will watch one or two episodes of Dark Shadows in the evenings. We both come at the television show a little differently. While I’ve seen (and reviewed) the movie starring Johnny Depp that came out in 2012, Chris has not, so I have a better general knowledge of the story line than he does. However, I joined watching the television series partway into season 2 (after the vampire arrives) and so I don’t have a lot of detailed knowledge of the background and Chris does. But if you think about this show as a soap opera (which it totally was) you know I didn’t miss much of anything even in an entire season (and Chris catches me up on events and people as they reappear).

dark shadows castSynopsis for

Dark Shadows was a daytime soap opera on ABC-TV which aired weekdays during the afternoon. With vampires, witches, worlocks, werewolves, and other supernatural creatures, it became a surprising phenomenon, lasting for five years before it was cancelled.

Synopsis from TOR:

Primarily, Dark Shadows concerns the machinations of the Collins family, of which Barnabas Collins, a vampire, is a distant ancestor. They all live at a gothic estate called Collinswood (sic), which is located in the town of Collinsport, a fishing village located in Maine. (Collinsport is not a real place, though it may have been inspired by another town in Maine called Bucksport, which had a rumored history of witchcraft and other things that go bump in the night.) The first episode sees New York City gal Victoria Winters heading by train on a dark and stormy night to Collinsport, for a governess job at Collinwood. Right away, spooky things are going on, an entire wing of the estate is closed, and people are arguing constantly. BUT, no ghosts, ghouls or vampires for a while. . . .

. . . . Initially not meant to be a reoccurring character, Barnabas Collins was introduced in episode 211. That’s right, 211 episodes into the show, the person we consider to be the main character finally arrived. The previous episode, 210, foreshadows what is about to happen by having Willie Loomis very interested in the portrait of the long-dead Barnabas, hanging up in Collinwood. Willie is a con artist hanging around Collinsport initially to attempt to blackmail Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the matriarch of the family. Willie eventually digs up the coffin containing Barnabas at the end of episode 210, and starting with episode 211, the show would never be the same. (Incidentally, James Hall played Willie through episode 205, but then by John Karlen from episode 206 all the way through episode 1106. Weird, when one considers how pivotal the character was!)

After Barnabas Collins, a good deal of the storylines deal with him and his friendship with Victoria Winters, who in some ways is the other main character of Dark Shadows. . . .

Considered a cult classic Dark Shadows is a lot of fun to watch if you don’t mind campy melodramatic goth soap operas. Which I don’t. The characters are almost caricatures of themselves. Perhaps this is because the show’s producers and writers never knew what the heck was going on. I mean they created the main character a season into the show! I understand when a guest star appears and does well and so the writers and producers keep that character on the show (Spike for (another vampire) example), but the main character! That is a little unusual. Plus they decided to add ghosts and other supernatural elements after pitching and beginning production the show. What? This lack of forward thinking is obvious in the chaotic story line, which seems like it is flying by the seat of its pants. But Oh My God it is an awesome ride! Everything is just so over the top that I laugh through most of the episodes. Chris and I make fun of the characters and their dramatic speeches. It’s a great show to watch while making commentary, because nothing happens and all the characters get upset about it.

The other really fun thing we do is try to catch all the mistakes. These people do not do retakes. Not even when a boom mic drops into the camera’s view, or the camera person’s shadow shows, or some crew member walks across the background! The actors flub their melodramatic lines all the time and it is gloriously hilarious and entertaining. Honestly, I don’t even know what is happening most of the time, but it is great fun to watch. Plus I really enjoy Barnabas, he is quite the creepy scary vampire!

If you enjoy campy cult classics, like to find hidden Easter Eggs of hilarity,  and scary vampires, try a couple of episodes of Dark Shadows. Only 22 minutes long, even if it’s not your thing you haven’t wasted much time.

Movie Review: Dark Shadows

Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer star in Dark Shadows a movie based on a television show of the late 60’s. Dark Shadows is the story of a man, Barnabas, who was cursed when after he hooked up with a scullery maid/witch but spurned her for a fair haired maiden. The scullery maid spelled the fair haired maiden into jumping off a cliff and when Barnabas followed his true love off the cliff he fell into the crags only to discover that he did not die because he was…. a vampyre (think Andrew in “Storyteller” in season seven of Buffy the Vampire Slayer). The witch formed a mob of the towns people and they stowed Barnabas away in a coffin and buried it underground.

Fast forward to the 60’s. Barnabas’ descendants rattle around in the grand old mansion Barnabas’ parents built. They’ve closed off most of the rooms because they can’t afford to heat them. Enter Victoria, or so she claims to be, a brunette with big eyes who arrives in answer to a post in the newspaper advertising a governess position for a little boy who sees ghosts. The family business, owning fishing ports, is going down the drain because a big head honcho Angelique has been buying up the ports and taking over their business. Barnabas’ coffin is uncovered during construction on the land and he awakens and bloodies his hands, and mouth, with the lives of the construction workers before hunting down his family. Though he swears he wont harm them.

Instead, he goes about revitalizing their name and business. As part of his revitalization he confronts Angelique, who turns out to be a figure from his past. His descendant Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, played by Michelle Pfieffer, is mother to a rebellious teenager and aunt to the ghost believing nephew. She is trying to hold down the fort and deal with Barnabas’ arrival with as much grace as she can muster. Barnabas is enchanted (in the normal sense, I think) by the governess who bears some relation to his dead fair haired maiden. Then his past looms up to destroy him.

With the help of several drinks at my local theater (they have a liquor license, it was perfectly legal) and having only spent $5 on a matinee I giggled my way through the movie. Due more to my slightly sober state, than the movie. In a word it was, OK. Not nearly as campy or as funny as I thought it would be. There was a whole lot of melodramatic acting which is only giggle worthy for a short time. Johnny Depp was how Johnny Depp always is in a Tim Burton film. Quirky, white faced, with lots of hand gestures. Michelle Pfeiffer was, as usual, excellent. The story line went along as expected until the last five minutes and then…. W. T. F?

And I don’t think it was because I had had something to drink that I didn’t understand the sudden turn in plot line. Additionally, the $5 dollar payment and drinking did not excuse a noticeable plethora of plot holes. Which would have been OK if there had been some sort of meta acknowledgement about them. Instead it was just more melodrama. How did Barnabas have descendants that survived if his parents were killed off, he was the only kid, and he died/became a vampire before having any children with the fair haired maiden? (If they had kids at some point, this was never explicitly explained.) The whole premise of the movie is based on something that makes NO SENSE!!!! Furthermore, the continuity in the universe as relating to vampire mythology is completely lacking. At one point the only way to be turned is to drink the blood of the sire and then the next there is no need to turn. I don’t really care how a person sets up their universe when it comes to vampires, mythological creatures after all, be it sparkles or ruthless blood thirsty demons who can get their souls back, but I demand continuity or the premise stinks to high heaven like a rotting corpse in the Florida everglades.

Quirky, with a few giggles, Dark Shadows does not rise to the level of cult classic campy nor does it leave the melodrama behind to be a fun family film. It hovers somewhere in the middle like a vampire outside the window of a 17 year-old sour face. All in all, I was extremely glad I had only paid $5 to see the show and that I had a class (or two) of champagne to see me through.

I did have fun posing in the lobby! Though, I need a better phone camera.