ABC, angelique, Barnabas Collins, Dan Curtis, Dark Shadows, Joan Bennett, Julia Hoffman, Kathryn Leigh Scott, lara parker, Leviathan, Louis Edmonds, original, Quentin Collins, soap opera, vampire, werewolf
My name is Victoria Winters. My journey is beginning. A journey that I hope will open the doors of life to me. And link my past with my future. A journey that will bring me to a strange and dark place, to the edge of the sea, high atop Widow’s Hill. A house called… Collinwood.
Vampires, witches, warlocks, ghosts, a severed head and hand, parallel times, mad scientists and werewolves. All of these supernatural elements are pretty commonplace on television today.
In the 1960s, we could watch the good-spirited, friendly, madcap antics of the Munsters and the Addams Family. And Hammer Films was at its peak in theatres around the world. But only one show dared to bring the supernatural to daytime TV. It was a bold, all or nothing, last-ditch effort to save a floundering series. And as anyone who recognizes that opening I quoted above knows, it was a ghostly gamble that paid off in spades.
Today marks the 48th anniversary of the delightfully dark soap opera Dark Shadows. On June 27, 1966, this soon-to-be-supernatural hit aired on the ABC network for the first time.
In the beginning, Dark Shadows wasn’t really anything overly exciting or out of the ordinary. Orphan Victoria “Vicky” Winters (Alexandra Moltke) is searching for links to her past. She takes a job as governess for the wealthy but extremely troubled (and cursed) Collins family. Roger Collins (Louis Edmonds) and his son David (David Henesy) share the great Collinwood mansion with Roger’s sister, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Joan Bennett) and her daughter Carolyn (Nancy Barrett). Every weekday, you could tune in and hear a lot of talk about business, finances, dirty dealings, and any other typical headaches of the well-to-do. It was a soap opera. Slow paced, full of dramatic over-acting (and sometimes under-acting by extras) — a small helping of substance, and not a whole lot of style.
But there was something about it that set the show apart right from the beginning. Dark Shadows was on the air for 5 years. It premiered June 27, 1966 and finished its 1225 episode run on April 2, 1971. Even before the show turned full-on supernatural nearly a year after its debut, Dark Shadows still had a delicious air of mystery to it. It was just downright spooky at times.
The wonderful year-one black-and-white videotaped episodes will always hold a special place in my heart. Regardless of what was happening in the scene, it looked spooky. And Robert Cobert’s haunting musical score, which opened and closed every single episode, still gives me goosebumps to this day. And they did have a few supernatural touches practically from the start. There’s the ghost of Bill Malloy in episode 125, and David’s mother, Laura Collins (Diana Millay), was a phoenix. That’s not exactly considered normal in these parts!
So the groundwork was already there to make something special happen. And finally, something very special DID happen in episode 210. The moment that made history, captured in one video still.
Enter one Barnabas Collins (Canadian actor Jonathan Frid) — ancestor of the present-day Collins family, and 200-year-old vampire. Yes, I said vampire. Technically Barnabas doesn’t make his on-screen debut until the next episode when he shows up at Collinwood claiming to be a long-lost cousin, Barnabas, from England, but as far as I’m concerned, that iconic image of the ringed hand rising up out of that coffin to grab Willie is the moment the Dark Shadows we know and love was born.
The character of Barnabas was a hit with the audience. An audience that surprisingly was made up of kids and teens who hurried home from school every day to watch The Vampire and Co.’s latest adventure.
Dark Shadows was constantly redefining itself. Like a phoenix (appropriately enough), each storyline lived to its fullest, then ended, only to be resurrected as something brand new. It truly was a ground-breaking series, and this is one of the reasons why it’s one of my favourite shows of all time.
We begin in the present day, 1967. One of my favourite characters, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall), and Barnabas have had a falling out. For the past few months, Julia has been trying to cure Barnabas of his vampirism. As the body count rises, however, Julia’s conscience has gotten the better of her, and she refuses to continue with her experiments. Barnabas is trying to kill her, and Julia is on the verge of telling the entire Collins family the truth about dear old cousin Barnabas.
It’s been a great story so far. But a major shake-up is looming on the horizon. In episode 365, a séance is held at Collinwood in an attempt to summon the ghost of Barnabas’ long-dead sister Sarah, who has been appearing to people. Sarah takes possession of Vicky, and suddenly the lights go out. She screams, and when they come back on…
Vicky is gone, and in her place is a terrified woman in eighteenth-century dress. Then the scene cuts abruptly to a perplexed and frightened Vicky, who’s standing outside The Old House (the Collins’ home before the Collinwood mansion was built) on a bright and sunny day. “Where am I?!” she cries. Cue Robert Cobert’s spooky cliff-hanger musical score and tune in tomorrow to see what the heck just happened!
Oh, my gosh, I just adore this show! Nearly every episode ended in a suspenseful cliff-hanger just like that. So what did just happen?
The first of many instances of it too. Vicky has been transported back to the year 1795, where along with her, we get to witness firsthand the history of the Collins family writing itself.
But the time travel isn’t even the best part.
No, my favourite aspect of Dark Shadows is that while the stories change, it’s always the same actors/actresses, just playing different roles. How cool is that? Louis Edmonds transitions from playing Roger Collins to Joshua Collins. Joan Bennett’s Elizabeth Stoddard becomes Naomi Collins. Barnabas is of course himself, pre- his blood-sucking curse days, and so on and so forth with the ENTIRE cast. Maggie=Josette du Prés, Julia=Countess Natalie Du Prés, Joe=Lieutenant Nathan Forbes, etc. And the series continues on in this same vein (no pun intended) for its entire run.
It was a brilliant concept if you think about it. The story is always changing, so the audience never gets tired of it. And the actors don’t get bored with their characters, because every few months, they get to be somebody new. Everything is changing, yet staying just enough the same. And the writers/producers really did a nice job of transitioning between storylines. I’ve heard Dark Shadows criticized for its transitions, but whatever. Frankly, some people just don’t know what they’re talking about.
The point of the 1795 storyline was to show us how Barnabas became a vampire. So enter one Angelique Bouchard (Lara Parker). Blonde, beautiful, and a woman scorned if ever I’ve seen one. She’s a very powerful witch who’s in love with Barnabas. This is a soap opera though, so there’s always a catch. Angelique happens to be the servant of Josette Du Pres — Barnabas’ fiancée. *sigh* Crap.
Angelique is the character you love to hate. Lara Parker plays various incarnations of evil on the show, but we also get to see her be completely loveable as Catherine Harridge in the final story — 1841 Parallel Time. She has the most amazing eyes that you’d swear could burn a hole right through someone.
Speaking of stories, the Dark Shadows story timeline is a marvel to behold. The show borrowed ideas from a wide range of famous literary sources, and blended it all in the most tantalizing way. Normally I don’t care much for Wikipedia, but in this case, I’m going to make an exception and transcribe from their Dark Shadows storyline page. If you’d like a more in-depth look at the stories set in each time period, click here. (Feel free to skip over this section to continue with the rest of my post.)
Victoria Winters’s Parentage, episode 1 to 92.
- Victoria Winters and her role as governess is inspired by the title character in Charlotte Brontë’s gothic novel Jane Eyre.
Burke Devlin’s Revenge For His Manslaughter Conviction, episode 1 to 201.
- Burke Devlin and his motivation for returning is reminiscent of Alexandre Dumas’ novel The Count of Monte Cristo.
Roger Collins’ Mysterious Car Crash, episode 13 to 32.
The Murder Of Bill Malloy, episode 46 to 126.
Laura Collins the Phoenix, episode 123 to 192.
Jason McGuire Blackmails Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, episode 193 to 275.
The Resurrection Of The Vampire Barnabas Collins, episode 202 to 220.
The Kidnapping Of Maggie Evans, episode 221 to 261.
Julia Hoffman’s Attempt To Cure Barnabas, episode 265 to 351.
Barnabas Terrorizing Julia Hoffman, episode 352 to 365.
Angelique Bouchard’s Vampire Curse On Barnabas, episode 366 to 426.
Victoria Winters’s Witchcraft Trial, episode 400 to 461.
- The witchcraft trial involving Victoria Winters is inspired by Arthur Miller’s play The Crucible. Reverend Trask’s fate is inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Cask of Amontillado“
Nathan Forbes’ Manipulation Of Millicent Collins, episode 419 to 460.
The Mystery Of Jeff Clark, episode 461 to 665.
The Creation Of Adam, episode 466 to 636.
- The character of Adam is inspired by Mary Shelley’s horror novel Frankenstein.
The Dream Curse, episode 477 to 548.
Elizabeth’s Fear Of Being Buried Alive, episode 513 to 672.
- This storyline is inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Premature Burial“
Nicholas Blair’s Scheme To Create A Master Race, episode 549 to 633/634.
Chris Jennings’ Werewolf Curse, episode 627 to 700.
The Ghosts Of Quentin Collins And Beth Chavez Haunt Collinwood, episode 639 to 700.
- The character of Quentin Collins and his role are inspired by Peter Quint in Henry James’s gothic novel The Turn of the Screw.
Barnabas’s Mission To Save David Collins, episode 700 to 839.
- The heartbeat that tortures Quentin is inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Tell-Tale Heart“
Jenny Collins The Mad Woman In The Attic, episode 707 to 748.
- Jenny Collins is inspired by the character of Bertha from Charlotte Brontë’s gothic novel Jane Eyre.
Laura Collins The Phoenix, episode 728 to 761.
- Worthington Hall and Gregory Trask’s running of it is inspired by Charles Dickens’s novel Nicholas Nickleby.
Magda Rakosi’s Werewolf Curse On Quentin, episode 749 to 834.
- The portrait of Quentin Collins is inspired by Oscar Wilde’s gothic novel The Picture of Dorian Gray.
Gregory Trask’s Manipulation Of Judith Collins, episode 762 to 884.
- Gregory Trask’s fate is inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Cask of Amontillado“
The Hand Of Count Petofi, episode 778 to 814.
- The hand of Count Petofi is inspired by W. W. Jacobs’s short story “The Monkey’s Paw”. Quentin’s torture is inspired by Edgar Allan Poe’s short story “The Pit and the Pendulum.”
The Creation Of Amanda Harris, episode 812 to 850.
- The theme of an artist falling in love with his own creation who is brought to life by supernatural forces is reminiscent of the classic Greek myth of Pygmalion.
Barnabas’s Infatuation With Kitty Soames, episode 844 to 885.
Count Petofi Body Swaps With Quentin, episode 849 to 883.
- The character of Count Petofi is based on the real-world Count of St. Germain, a Georgian-era courtier and man of science who claimed, and possibly was, the son of Francis II Rákóczi. In the 19th Century, Theosophist legends claimed that he attained the secret of immortality.
Barnabas Falls Under The Control Of The Leviathans, episode 886 to 950.
- This storyline is inspired by H. P. Lovecraft’s shared universe known as “The Cthulhu Mythos.”
The Mystery Of Grant Douglas And Olivia Corey, episode 888 to 934.
- This storyline is inspired by the Greek mythological tale of Orpheus and Eurydice.
Chris Jennings’s Werewolf Curse, episode 889 to 978.
The Leviathan Child, episode 891 to 929.
Jeb Hawkes The Leviathan Leader, episode 935 to 980.
1970 Parallel Time
The Death Of Angelique Collins, episode 969 to 1060.
- This storyline is inspired by Daphne du Maurier’s gothic novel Rebecca.
Cyrus Longworth’s Experiment, episode 978 to 1035.
- This storyline is inspired by Robert Louis Stevenson’s “chilling shocker” short novel The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde.
1995 / 1970 / 1840
The Destruction Of Collinwood, episode 1061 to 1070.
The Ghosts Of Gerard Stiles And Daphne Harridge Haunt Collinwood, episode 1071 to 1109.
- This storyline is inspired by Henry James’s gothic novel The Turn of the Screw.
Barnabas’s Infatuation With Roxanne Drew, episode 1081 to 1150.
The Head Of Judah Zachery, episode 1117 to 1138.
Judah Zachery’s Possession Of Gerard Stiles, episode 1139 to 1197.
Quentin Collins’s Witchcraft Trial, episode 1162 to 1197.
1841 Parallel Time
Bramwell Collins’s & Catherine Harridge’s Love Affair, episode 1186 to 1245.
- This storyline is inspired by Emily Brontë’s gothic novel Wuthering Heights.
The Cursed Room Lottery, episode 1194 to 1245.
- This storyline is inspired by Shirley Jackson’s short story “The Lottery”.
When it comes to Dark Shadows, it’s hard to pick a favourite time/storyline. But the Leviathans is one that I very much enjoyed. A little boy who grows up into a man in a very short period of time, some creepy, mystical folklore, and a cult devoted to ancient shape-shifting beings. I say “Why the heck not?”
The dream curse, the hand of Count Petofi, and all of 1970 Parallel Time were also great fun and well-written stories. Such a varied cast of characters in each! The sets and costumes on Dark Shadows were spectacular. It was a magnificent feast for the eyes.
Dark Shadows certainly fits the category of a “cult classic”. Fans like myself love the show, while others hate it. But it was quirky and fun and it always delivered. It never took itself too seriously. Much like “Batman“, another of my favourite shows which also debuted in 1966, the campiness is part of what makes the series so endearing.
A favourite pastime of Dark Shadows fans is watching for slips, flubs and a myriad of other bloopers that have become synonymous with the show. Sure, it would be easy to look at the seemingly overabundance of “errors” and scoff. But that’s what helps give Dark Shadows so much character. Seeing the boom mic, a bat’s string, scripts on a bed, dead people blinking, broken and poorly placed Chroma Key effects, or a too-slow-to-get-out-of-the-shot stage hand only enhances the viewing experience.
One thing to remember is that Dark Shadows was produced live-to-tape, which means, no do-overs. Or very, very few. If an actor forgot his lines? They didn’t stop taping and start the scene over. They had to keep going. Other actors in the scene would try and cover while you can practically see his eyes moving as he stares at the teleprompter. And on a few occasions, you’ll even hear someone off stage SAY the line for the actor, who then repeats it.
I can remember one particularly bad scene in the tower room of Collinwood, where Joan Bennett (as Elizabeth Stoddard) forgets her lines. But she’s facing away from the camera, making a quick glance at the teleprompter impossible. She just stands there for a few seconds, fidgeting as she fights the urge to turn around. Finally you hear someone off camera say, “Go the Old Ho –” and she immediately remembers the line and says it before he can even finish. “Go to the Old House and find Barnabas” is what the line was, if memory serves me correctly. (If anyone knows for sure, please feel free to correct me!) *Updated: (I’ll correct myself here!)*
Dark Shadows was a cornucopia of creepy characters. Angelique may be my favourite character, but Grayson Hall was my favourite actress on the show. Doctor Julia Hoffman was so curious, inquisitive, sensible and smart. She was fearless, and the delightfully expressive Hall was perfect to play her and a host of other sly and cunning ladies.
Other notable characters are of course Quentin Collins (David Selby), Professor Timothy Stokes (Thayer David, who also played the memorable Count Petofi), Nicholas Blair (Humbert Allen Astredo), and the menacing reverend Gregory Trask (Jerry Lacy), who I think deserved his own spin-off show. And I had a definite soft spot for Willie Loomis (John Karlen) too.
And let’s not forget about the famous Collinsport Afghan! While it might be a stretch to call this famous travelling blanket a “character”, another fan-favourite sport is scouring episodes to find the same blanket turning up all through space and time. In nearly every timeline, in nearly every set on the show, with nearly every character, this spectral prop can be found.
Sure, it’s silly. But more importantly, it’s fun. And that’s the one ingredient a series needs to survive the test of time. Television and film are supposed to be about escaping harsh reality, where all too often the innocent are punished and the guilty go free. Where everything is serious and glum and negative. (Like far too many shows today are.) And when you tune in to a show like Dark Shadows, for that one half hour every weekday, you can be transported to another world where it’s okay to just relax and enjoy what you find there. Where it’s okay to stop thinking about what’s wrong in your own life and just be entertained by the ridiculously fun adventures of someone else’s.
For 48 years, Dark Shadows has been endearing itself to generation after generation. This little slice of television heaven has stood the test of time — past, present, future and parallel! — to remain the prime example of how to achieve perfection in imperfection. It just works.
Happy anniversary to those who brought Dark Shadows to life, including creator Dan Curtis, preeminent writers Ron Sproat and Sam Hall, director/producer Lela Swift, and the amazing cast of unforgettable characters and the actors who so brilliantly portrayed them.
Our revels now are ended.
These our actors, as I foretold you, were all spirits and are melted into air, into thin air.
And like the faceless fabric of this vision, the cloud-capped towers, the gorgeous palaces, the solemn temples, the great globe itself, yea all which inheritance shall dissolve, and like this insubstantial pageant faded to leave not a rack behind.
We are such stuff as dreams are made of.
And our little life is rounded with a sleep.
~ Jonathan Frid, “Beyond the Shadows”