Tuesday, September 16, 2014


Last month, The Collinsport Historical Society asked you to name your five favorite DARK SHADOWS audio dramas from Big Finish. Every day this week we'll be revealing the results.

#4 The House of Despair

Released in 2003, “The House of Despair” is the first DARK SHADOWS audio drama from Big Finish. Set not long after the end of the original television series, the story featured a reunion of DARK SHADOWS cast members old and new.  David Selby, Lara Parker, John Karlen and Kathryn Leigh Scott reprised their roles from the television series, as well as a cameo appearance by Robert Rodan.

Because Jonathan Frid was still resistant to the idea of once again playing Barnabas Collins, the role went to the aptly named Andrew Collins.

“‘The House of Despair’ seems like a very long time ago,” said Stuart Manning, the story’s writer. “I remember arriving for the first day of recording in blazing L.A. sunshine and thinking how un-Dark Shadowsy it all felt.”

“I hadn’t watched an episode of the TV series when’ The House of Despair’ was released but I loved it,” said Joe Lidster, who today produces the DARK SHADOWS line for Big Finish. “There’s something very simple and elegant about it. I had the pleasure of listening to it again recently as our forthcoming ‘Bloodlust’ ties into certain elements of it.”

The episode was produced during one of DARK SHADOWS’ many resurgences. In 2000, producer Dan Curtis was planning a stage musical based on the original television series. In 2004, Curtis succeeded in shooting a pilot for a new primetime incarnation of DARK SHADOWS ... though the series was not picked up.

David Selby, Lara Parker, John Karlen and Kathryn Leigh Scott
The House of Despair” was not the first time the cast of DARK SHADOWS had convened in a recording studio. Three years earlier, much of the cast gathered in New York to record a two-hour play that had previously been performed as part of the annual Dark Shadows Festival. Written by Jamison Selby, “Return to Collinwood” was designed to tie up plot threads left dangling by the abrupt cancellation of DARK SHADOWS in 1971.

“DARK SHADOWS on audio was a bit new and daunting for everyone and our cast had an air of polite wariness about the whole enterprise,” Manning said. “Fortunately that soon lifted as we got to work. The play itself was nuts-and-bolts – it was effectively our opening night, written with no more ambition than to explain the concept to new listeners and get the characters up and running. That was enough to fill an hour; it didn't leave room for much besides.”

Rather than dwell on the past, “The House of Despair” was intended to move the story forward. Still, Manning said it took a while for Big Finish to find its own voice.

“We drew a little on the then-recent 2004 Warner Bros pilot, which probably makes it seem a little dated now,” Manning said. “Doing it again, I'd have worried less about trying to create our own distinct version of DARK SHADOWS and just trusted in the strength of the format. We were learning as we went along, but it's nice to see that people still remember it.”

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