Friday, July 6, 2012

Dark Shadows comes to home video, 1991

Packaging Dark Shadows for home entertainment has always been an adventurous prospect, especially in the days when video was not "priced to own." Cassettes were generally made to be purchased by video stores and libraries, and routinely cost as much as $100 a unit. Fortunately, MPI Home Video was willing to try a few new ideas to connect Dark Shadows with new and established fans. The company created reasonably-priced anthologies in conjunction with collections of episodes in their original continuity, eventually releasing all 1,225 episodes of Dark Shadows on video cassette and DVD. 

The reason we're discussing Dark Shadows today, 40 years after it's last episode aired, it's because of the work of MPI to keep the brand alive through home video and syndication. The company has shepherded Dark Shadows through video cassette, a lengthy stint on the Sci-fi Channel, laserdisc, DVD and online content. It's a pretty amazing feat.

Below is an Associated Press story about Dark Shadows coming to home video in 1991. It's a bit condescending (or, as the French would say, "douchey") and the writer doesn't have a clear idea of what he's trying to say, but it's still interesting to see what the media was saying about the show 20 years after its demise.

"Dark Shadows" lurks into home video market
AP, Dec. 20, 1991

While I was still young enough to say, "Girls: Yuk!," I felt pretty much the same way about soap operas.
Then I got sick. And I got hooked on  "Dark Shadows."

Once I returned to school after spending those few days at home with strep, one thing had changed: I couldn't get into the starting blocks fast enough to dash home and watch that days' episode of the Gothic soap opera that ran on ABC-TV from 1966 to 71. Long before its five-year run ended, my sixth-grade infatuation with the daytime series waned. A recent 25th anniversary retrospective of the series — with
its flashbacks to the 18th century and story lines about vampires, warlocks and ghosts — seemed intriguing, nonetheless. (But then I wouldn't mind seeing the target of my first case of puppy love, either.)

"Dark Shadows: Behind the Scenes" promised to deliver the series' complete history - its beginnings,  development into a national phenomenon "cult" afterlife and rebirth. However, it mostly delivers talking heads: reminiscences by creator Dan Curtis and 27 cast members, who indulge themselves in a treacly mutual admiration society

"Yuk! Scare me, why don't you!" Or at least show me more of what got me rushing home when I was a kid. Certainly, a few scenes from the show are interspersed amongst the talking heads. But the only other fun aspect of this hour-long video is the recollections of a couple of actors who talk about how they had problems reading the TelePrompTer because of their nearsightedness.

This was satisfying, too, to the extent that I remember thinking as I started to outgrow the show after a couple years: "Man, are they bad at reading their idiot cards!"  Which reminds me that the show had some of the chintziest production values: When Barnabas turned into a bat, it was rubber and hung from a string.

Still, "Dark Shadows" fans don't have to feel like fools about their ghouls. Other videos are available from MPI Home Video. All run 120 minutes with a suggested retail price of $9.98 each:

— "Scariest Moments from Dark Shadows." A compilation of the show's more terrifying moments

— "The Best of Barnabas." Some memorable scenes with the most memorable character. Barnabas
Collins,  played by Canadian, Shakespearean actor Jonathan Frid was a reluctant, guilt-ridden vampire a big part of the show's success.

— "The Best of Dark Shadows." An overview of clips spotlighting various characters.

MPI also has three-packs and four-packs of the original show at $79.98 and available individually at $19.98. Each tape carries five episodes.

So there's plenty of video viewing available for those 20,000 fan club members who have sunk their teeth into such items as a newsletter, "Shadowgram," books, board games, jigsaw puzzles, comic books and records.

"Music From Dark Shadows" ranked in the Top 20 when it was released in 1969 and remains the fifth biggest TV-show related LP. The single, "Quentin's Theme," also made the Top 20 and this year was cited for getting a million radio broadcasts over the years.

But for the more casual fans: Remember there's a least one video in which you should just drive in the stake.


retzev said...

Great stuff. Early MPI promo material is some of my favorite DS memorabilia. I'm curious where you found that HEB Video Central ad. Was that the HEB grocery store chain in Texas?

Cousin Barnabas said...
This comment has been removed by the author.
Cousin Barnabas said...

Yep. That was an ad that ran in a local newspaper in Texas around '91 or so.

retzev said...

Do you remember the name of the paper?

Cousin Barnabas said...

Sorry it took so long to get back to you ... the Video Central ad came from a March 1991 issue of The Del Rio News-Herald.

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