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Monday, November 29, 2010

Dark Shadows

      A lonely woman travels by train to a fog-drenched, sleepy seaside town.  Her destination- a gloomy old mansion named Collinwood...

      Originally airing on ABC in 1966, "Dark Shadows" started as a deliciously gothic and gloomy afternoon soap. The story was about a woman, Victoria Winters, who was raised an orphan and takes a job as governess at the seaside manor of Collinwood, in the small town of Collinsport, Maine. Victoria soon learns that something strange is going on with the mysterious Collins family, led by matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard.  Film legend Joan Bennett played Elizabeth, giving an air of class to the show.  The first season languished on- to be honest, not much really happens in the first season.  Basically the cast of characters are introduced, and while watching, you can tell that something is eventually going to happen, but it does take its time getting there.  In fact, the show was dangerously close to being cancelled and lost forever in oblivion.

      However,with the sudden introduction of a character, Barnabas Collins, near the end of Season One, it became an instant, world-wide phenomenon as it took a full-blown turn into the supernatural.  Barnabas, you see, is a vampire who's been locked away in his coffin for the last 250 years or so.  Once Barbabas arrives at Collinwood, all hell breaks loose as all sorts of supernatural shenanigans start to happen.  "Dark Shadows" was certainly no ordinary soap opera, and while most soap operas are addicting, this one is about the most addictive of them all.  People went absolutely nuts over this show back in the latter 60's.  And it's easy to see why.

     First of all, it's campy.  Shot on a low-budget, there are many shots where you can plainly see the overhead microphone, shadows of the crew members, and actors constantly flubbing their lines.  Yet, all of this only adds to the appeal of "Dark Shadows".  It becomes almost as if you're watching a stage production.  "Dark Shadows" also broke new ground for a daytime soap.  Seemingly no topic was off limits- besides the lead star being a vampire, the show would introduce witches, demons, ghosts, werewolves, bodies in the cellar, and even the Devil himself at one point.

     Second, television audiences had just never seen anything like this before.  "Dark Shadows" was absolutely unique from the very first episode.  Shot in black and white at first, the show incorporated many classic horror film elements.  Creaking doors, fog-swept mansions, and many other Gothic trappings all helped the wonderfully spooky atmosphere the show would become known for.  "Dark Shadows" also concentrated more on character and plot, rather than cheap scares.  The show still provided many great, eerie moments.

     As campy as the show could be, it still boasted a most impressive cast- one of the most impressive assembled for any American daytime television series.  Besides the aforementioned Joan Bennett, many other Hollywood and Broadway actors and actresses contributed to the show- Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, Abe Vigoda, Marsha Mason, Nancy Barrett, Thayer David, Kate Jackson, and Louis Edmonds, just to name a few.  The show was also clearly inspired by the film-noir and Gothic cinema of the 1940's.

     "Dark Shadows" deliberately moved slowly but surely.  Building tension and suspense, the show took its time developing story lines and plot elements.  Relying instead on shadows, fog, candlelight, whispers, and mysteries to weave its hypnotic and addicting spell.  The show was a huge smash, shooting Jonathan Frid and the rest of the cast to instant superstardom.  A merchandising explosion would follow as well, offering up everything from lunchboxes to board games.  The show was truly a phenomenon of the 60's.  And extremely influential, as well.  The supernatural soap has attracted a huge cult following that easily rivals that of "Star Trek", and shows no signs of slowing down.  Beloved by its millions of adoring fans, "Dark Shadows" is truly immortal.  Although one of the most far-fetched television shows of all time, it's also one of the more believable because of its bloopers.  Because in real life, we all flub our lines and knock things over from time to time.  I'm going back, thanks to Netflix, and re-watching every episode of this wonderfully dark and strange show.  Right now, I'm getting deep in to Season Two, and things are really starting to pick up.  This is great stuff, and I highly recommend it.

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