Sunday, June 17, 2012

1991 Dark Shadows "breaks no new ground"

'Dark Shadows' lurks among prime time soaps
The Frederick Post, Jan. 12, 1991

NEW YORK (AP) - Even today, that broody theme music, the turgid, foam-swollen seas bashing against the rocky shore have a strange power to make us surrender to the morbid, sexy, Gothic horror of "Dark Shadows."

NBC has pulled the stake out of the heart of ABC's long-departed soap opera of vampirism, lycanthropy and teeth-gnashing passion, and what emerges from the sarcophagus Sunday night is a lush, broody, romantic prime-time soap opera. What writing!

"I believe Daphne was destroyed by a vampire," says the old professor, his spectacles glinting fiercely, feverishly toying with the buttons of bis cardigan, "and that tonight she walks as one of the living dead."
Watch out, Daphne!

Ah, but seriously, folks, the four-hour miniseries nicely introduces us to the series' regular characters. The second chapter concludes Monday night, before "Dark Shadows" settles into its regular Friday night time slot. It's hard to know whether 1991 audiences are going to enjoy a revival of the cult soap opera that ABC aired from 1966 to 1971. At the time, "Dark Shadows" was watched by even non-soap devotees, many of whom reveled in its less-than-plush production values and teeth-gnashingly overacted story lines. And there was that creepy theme music ...

NBC's '91 version brought back the soap's creator, Emmy Award-winner Dan Curtis ("War and Remembrance"), as executive producer. He directed and co-wrote the first episode with Hall Powell, Bill Taub, and Steve Feke. The show is shot on film and is atmospheric as all get-out. It has a bright, attractive cast who make the most of dialogue like:

"Vampirism isn't a disease, Julia: Vampires are the living dead!"
"That's going to be difficult to prove, Michael."
"I expect that proof to be forthcoming," the old professor says, firing up his old briar pipe.
Watch out, professor!

"Dark Shadows" opens with the beautiful Victoria Winters (Joanna Going), who travels to Collinwood, a remote estate on the coast of Massachusetts, to be the governess of nasty little David Collins (Joseph Gordon-Leavitt) and to investigate "the mysteries of her past."  Also inhabiting Collinwood are David's father, Roger Collins (Roy Thinnes), Collinwood's aristocratic matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Jean Simmons), and cousin Daphne Stoddard (Rebecca Staab).

And then there's not-very-bright Willie Loomis (brilliantly played by Jim Fyfe), a drunken, young handyman whose quest for buried treasure takes him down into the Collinses' ancestral crypt.
Watch out, Willie!

Ben Cross stars as Barnabas Collins, the star-crossed vampire who lived in the late 18th century and only lately has been emerged from his hidden crypt on Collinwood, his family's isolated estate hi the coastal town of Collinsport. Barnabas makes his way to the front door and introduces himself as their long-lost cousin from England.

He spends the rest of the miniseries being introduced as "Barnabas Collins, my cousin from England." Mr. Cross's dark good looks make him a great vampire. His diction is formal and florid as an 18th  century gentleman's. When the blood-fever's on him, the red-eyes, oversize canines and sexy, growling hiss take care of the rest. Before you know it, there've been several vampire-like attacks, two of them fatal. The police are getting a bit concerned.

(NOTE: You have to love a world where a handful of dead bodies, drained of their blood through twin neck punctures, doesn't attract even cursory attention from the local newspapers and TV stations. 0, "A Current Affair," where is thy sting?)

Cousin Daphne may be a snack, but Miss Victoria's dark, Pre-Raphaelite beauty knocks Barnabas right off his cams She's a dead ringer for his 18th century fiancee, Josette, who died tragically under mysterious et ceteras. These are ruthless people who will stop at nothing! And that's just Part One!

"Dark Shadows" misses a few bets in sticking faithfully to its genre and aiming at a family audience. We are more sophisticated than we were in 1966.

The psychological and sexual component of the vampire myth could have been played a lot heavier than it is in the current "Dark Shadows." The emphasis on old-fashioned romance breaks no new ground.

It's nice that there's no gore — well, OK, maybe there is just a LITTLE gore — but this is essentially the same kind of show that aired in 1966. The clothing's tighter, the kisses wetter, but it's still just a soap. And it's not that scary. After television like "Twin Peaks" and actual human beings like Ted Bundy, a character like Barnabas Collins seems like a pretty nice fellow with a terrible personal problem.
Watch out, Barnabas!

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