Tuesday, November 17, 2015

Spend Black Friday in Collinsport


On Black Friday, I’m gonna party like it’s 1991.

Okay, I apologize for that. I don’t even like Prince. Starting with such a line is part of the ritual, and now that it’s out of the way, I want to talk about why I’m watching all of the 1991 Dark Shadows in a day.

(Oh, and to get something else out of the way, “blame the Gulf War, blah, blah, blah.…”)

I had no contact with Dark Shadows fandom until 2012, when I watched “The Twelve Twenty-Five” (meaning all 1,225 episodes) in 45 days. As fandoms go, there are few more dedicated, passionate, and firm in opinions. And the legend I heard was that many fans were not fond of the 1991 series. I heard legends that Festivals tried to include some 1991ian involvement, and that did not, um, go well. Maybe it’s apocryphal.

Anyway, this surprised me.

Was it just me, or did they cast the 1991 show and start filming nearly a year before? I feel like I saw the first picture of Ben Cross as Barnabas in 1990, as I was graduating high school. If so, that was a significant picture, because I felt like I was seeing “my Barnabas.” Coming from the paradigm (finally) set by Star Trek: The Next Generation (as well as, more importantly, Love Boat: The Next Wave), I now looked at the major franchises a bit like comic books or James Bond. They’d always be around. They’d be freshened by necessity. The only question was if they’d maintain continuity or be remakes.

I’d always hoped for a “new” Dark Shadows. Given that Mr. Frid didn’t seem very interested, a remake was the most I could hope for. When it was announced as a big budget, nighttime production by the Wouk-powered Dan Curtis on ratings titan NBC, it seemed that I’d finally be able to show people Dark Shadows and have them “get it.” This was the age of Twin Peaks, which might have made it possible. Between that and STTNG, I suspect that NBC was more than willing. They saw what I still see: Dark Shadows is the untapped Star Trek of horror. It’s a potentially expansive universe starting with a core cast of characters and central location. This was the best way to see that happen, I thought.

I remember liking it. And I also remember reluctantly acknowledging that the changes were made to appease 1990 audiences. I dealt with it. Would I have done things differently? Sure. And I may go into those things. But at its essence, is it Dark Shadows? Yes. Wrongdoings, regret, and ramifications abound. What it never had the chance to explore was atonement and forgiveness. I think it handled “1791” with a respectable tightness, and it played well with the whole Josette Doppleganger thing, making it dramatically pertinent to our audience surrogate. The most important change was that of Barnabas. He’s a bit too comfortable twirling his metaphorical mustache, a bit too confident in lying, and a bit too oily in romancin’ the gals. Jonathan Frid specialized in putting a barely concealed terror behind everything Barnabas did. Meaning that Barnabas felt a barely concealed terror. When he’d proclaim a plan would work, it always sounded like he were trying to convince himself. Ben Cross had a strength and confidence that was very different. Yet I bought it as a viable interpretation of the text. Will I now? I’m not sure.

I’ve watched it a few times over the years. Usually, to bring new girlfriends into the Collinsport fold. But this is the first time since I pretty much chucked all fandoms over to have no other franchise before Dark Shadows. I just hope they solved the day-for-night issues. Even if they didn’t, I’ll shut up and deal. We’re Dark Shadows fans. It’s what we do.

It’s worth it.

(Editor's Note: You can find a schedule for the day's events HERE.)

Patrick McCray is a comic book author residing in Knoxville, Tenn., where he's been a drama coach and general nuisance since 1997. He has a MFA in Directing and worked at Revolutionary Comics and on the early days of BABYLON 5, and is a frequent contributor to The Collinsport Historical Society. You can find him at The Collins Foundation.

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