Monday, April 11, 2016

Dark Shadows: The Best of the '70s


Jonathan Frid, who passed away in April 2012, remarked that, when all of its elements came together in just the right way, ABC-TV’s DARK SHADOWS became something very special indeed. Frid was quite right, and every fan can cite several “perfect” episodes that were extremely atmospheric and effective. Some of my choices as gems from the highly familiar episodes of the show’s oft-syndicated middle years (1967, 1968, 1969) are Dr. Woodard’s death at the hands of Barnabas and Julia, Barnabas’s shooting Angelique and her cursing him (a milestone 1795 episode), Josette’s fall from Widow’s Hill (the final moment of one of the greatest episodes of the entire series), Barnabas’s forcing Vicki to tell him the Dream Curse and his having the dream, an aging Angelique’s holding Barnabas at gunpoint, and Judith, Edward, Karl, and Quentin’s heated discussion of their grandmother’s will.

Perhaps less familiar are some perfectly written and/or executed episodes from the more elusive final year (1970-1971), whose episodes were not seen again until MPI Home Video and the Sci-Fi Channel progressed to them in the mid-1990s. More than one dozen post-Leviathan episodes distinguish themselves in my mind as some of the finest segments of the entire TV series.  The following is a list of eight such delights — not with too much plot description to give them away if you have not yet seen them but with just enough praise to urge you to acquire the particular MPI videotapes or DVDs on which the episodes appear. (I have included VHS volume numbers and DVD set numbers for your convenience.  VHS tapes are still available on eBay, and a coffin-shaped box of DVDs of all 1225 episodes of DARK SHADOWS is available from MPI and Amazon.) If you have seen these episodes recently, see if you agree or disagree with my assessments of them.

It goes without saying that some of the finest moments of the DARK SHADOWS episodes of the 1970s occur near the end of 1970 Parallel Time, in almost all of the shockingly effective 1995 episodes, and in the highly emotional last three 1840 episodes.  Eight additional shows that I feel are truly superb are listed below.

EPISODE #1012  (Tuesday 12 May 1970).  Written by Joe Caldwell.  Directed by Henry Kaplan.  First episode on VHS volume 155.  Original DVD Collection 20, disc four.  Coffin-box disc 104 (first episode).

1970 PT. This is a perfect episode and one of the greatest of the entire series.  Many of the basic themes of DARK SHADOWS are represented in this show, which includes vampirism, parallel time, Barnabas’s longing for Josette, his introduction to the family at Collinwood, and a scary ghostly visitation.  There are no technical gaffes or flubbed lines; the episode is both written and performed flawlessly.  Show #1012 also boasts four of the TV series’s most memorable sets—Collinwood, the Old House, Eagle Hill Cemetery, and the parallel-time room.  Even better, episode #1012 presents six of the greatest stars of DARK SHADOWS — Louis EdmondsJonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, John Karlen, Lara Parker, and David Selby.  Show #1012 is superlative in every way.  (We fans always knew that DARK SHADOWS was ahead of its time, but this episode certainly demonstrates that fact as Will Loomis conducts an interview with the vampire — and Barnabas Collins asks, “Is that your final answer?” a la WHO WANTS TO BE A MILLIONAIRE.)

EPISODE #1017  (Tuesday 19 May 1970).  Written by Joe Caldwell.  Directed by Lela Swift.  First episode on VHS volume 156.  Original DVD Collection 20, disc four.  Coffin-box disc 104 (sixth episode). 

1970 PT.  Another stellar cast — Nancy Barrett, Jonathan Frid, John Karlen, Kathryn Leigh Scott, and David Selby — elevates this excellent episode, notable for its examination of the hungry compulsions of vampirism and the anguish of its victims. Jonathan Frid’s portrayal of Barnabas Collins is filled with desperation and emotion, and the show concludes with perhaps the best-ever bat-to-Barnabas transformation.  This episode is a black-and-white kinescope.

EPISODE #1113  (Wednesday 30 September 1970).  Written by Sam Hall.  Directed by Henry Kaplan.  Second episode on VHS volume 175.  Original DVD Collection 23, disc two.  Coffin-box disc 114 (second episode). 

1840 & 1970.  Featuring Nancy Barrett, Thayer David, Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, David Selby, and James Storm. Perhaps even more so than the superb #1012, show #1113 is one of the finest episodes of the series.  This show, which takes place in two different time periods, includes almost everything that makes DARK SHADOWS so magical and irresistible — time travel, vampirism, chained coffins, portraits, insanity, Wyndcliffe, visions of the future, great music cues, the I Ching trance, and microphone shadows!  Show #1113 has it all; it is our whole, beloved DARK SHADOWS in microcosm.

EPISODE #1143  (Wednesday 11 November 1970).  Written by Gordon Russell.  Directed by Henry Kaplan.  First episode on VHS volume 181.  Original DVD Collection 24, disc one.  Coffin-box disc 117 (first episode). 

1840.   Featuring Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, Gene Lindsey, Lara Parker, Virginia Vestoff, and Donna Wandrey. In terms of plot and writing, 1840 ranks with 1795 and 1970 PT as one of the greatest time periods of DARK SHADOWS. In a way, 1840 is a grand, Gothic summation of all of the previous events and themes of the series. Most 1840 episodes are highly atmospheric and have excellent production values; many are like mini-Hammer horror movies. Episode #1143 begins with the first appearance of Gene Lindsey as Randall Drew (a role originally intended for Don Briscoe) and ends with the newly-risen vampiress Roxanne Drew closing in on her victim.  In the middle, there is an electrifying confrontation among Angelique, Barnabas, and Julia and, later, an even more powerful scene between Angelique and Julia. At this point, Angelique, who has not yet lived in the 20th century, is suspicious of the drastic change in Barnabas’s psyche and is completely baffled by Julia, whom she has never met before. In this episode, Angelique gets some answers — and, in another Dark Shadows staple, she works voodoo magic by the fireplace.

EPISODE #1169  (Thursday 17 December 1970).  Written by Sam Hall.  Directed by Henry Kaplan.  First episode on VHS volume 186.  Original DVD Collection 24, disc three.  Coffin-box disc 119 (sixth episode).

1840. Featuring Louis Edmonds, Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, Lara Parker, Christopher Pennock, and James Storm.  This is another episode that comes together perfectly and delivers definitive DARK SHADOWS.  There are more Angelique/Barnabas/Julia dynamics and two stunning scenes between Barnabas and Angelique. Also in this episode, Barnabas receives unusual declarations of love from the two most important women in his life.  Additionally, Angelique tells Barnabas about her background, and Gabriel Collins is the victim of an extremely effective haunting.

EPISODE #1195  (Friday 22 January 1971).  Written by Gordon Russell.  Directed by Henry Kaplan.  Fifth (last) episode on VHS volume 190.  Original DVD Collection 25, disc one.  Coffin-box disc 121 (tenth episode).

1841 & 1841 PT. Featuring Jonathan Frid, Kate Jackson, Jerry Lacy, Lara Parker, Charles Reynolds, David Selby, and James Storm. The thrilling 1840-1841 storyline reaches a fever pitch in this episode, which features several heated confrontations and a pivotal scene between Barnabas and Angelique. Other highlights occur when Barnabas looks into the parallel-time room and sees Catherine and Daphne and when Angelique works more voodoo magic at the hearth. This is another superb episode, as are the next three episodes (the first three on VHS volume 191 or the first three on DVD Collection 25, disc two).

EPISODE #1211  (Monday 15 February 1971).  Written by Gordon Russell.  Directed by Lela Swift.  Fifth (last) episode on VHS volume 193.  Original DVD Collection 25, disc three. Coffin-box disc 123 (fifth episode).

1841 PT.  Featuring Joan Bennett, Grayson Hall, Lara Parker, Christopher Pennock, Keith Prentice, and David Selby. This well-acted episode is a good representation of the show’s final, change-of-pace 1841 PT storyline.  Especially notable are the powerful scenes between Morgan and Gabriel and (especially) Quentin and Gabriel.  The episode concludes with the start of the storyline’s trademark: the lottery.  1841 Parallel Time is a well-written romantic mystery, but its drawback is that it has nothing to do with “our” world and “our” characters.  In all of the show’s previous time periods, someone from “our” world (e.g. Vicki, Barnabas, Julia, even Stokes or Eve) was present and interacted with the characters, and that link to the original Dark Shadows universe is painfully absent in this otherwise enjoyable storyline. As little screen time as Thayer David received in 1840, wouldn’t it have been interesting if, when Barnabas and Julia took Quentin’s stairway back to 1971, “our” Stokes could have stayed behind in 1841 and migrated to 1841 Parallel Time?

EPISODE #1231  (Monday 15 March 1971).  Written by Gordon Russell.  Directed by Lela Swift.  Fifth (last) episode on VHS volume 197.  Original DVD Collection 26, disc one.  Coffin-box disc 125 (fifth episode).

1841 PT & 1680 PT.  Featuring only four actors. Unlike episode #1211, show #1231 is the least typical 1841 PT episode, for it switches the action, for one day only, to the distant world of 1680 Parallel Time. If many of the 1840-1841 episodes are like Hammer horror films, then this self-contained 1680 PT segment is like an episode of Boris Karloff’s THRILLER. In one violent, eerie episode, we learn the whole story of ruthless Brutus Collins (Louis Edmonds), his sister Constance (Grayson Hall), his unfaithful young wife Amanda (an especially beautiful Nancy Barrett), and his ambitious young business partner James Forsythe (Keith Prentice). Although the episode has a few technical flaws, this unique DARK SHADOWS segment is well done and memorable. (One amusing note is that the Collinwood of parallel time was built in the 1670s while the same structure was not built in “our” world until the 1790s!)

These are my choices for eight of the many finest 1970-1971 episodes of DARK SHADOWS.  Who knows what other excellent storylines and episodes the ABC-TV serial would have featured if it had had a much longer run?  In light of how SEARCH FOR TOMORROW and ANOTHER WORLD each lasted 35 years, GENERAL HOSPITAL and DAYS OF OUR LIVES have been on the air for 53 and 51 years and counting, and Guiding Light and As the World Turns continued for 57 and 54 years, the five-year-long run of DARK SHADOWS is very short for a daytime serial.  However, DARK SHADOWS obviously has enormous staying power, for it is the only daytime drama which has spun off three feature films (Dan Curtis’s HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS and Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS), had its own comic book (1968-1975, 1992-1993, 2011-2013) and newspaper comic strip (1971-1972), gone into TV syndication (since 1975), been released in its entirety on VHS (since 1989) and DVD (since 2002), and even been remade twice by its creator, Dan Curtis. (A DARK SHADOWS nighttime series aired on NBC-TV in early 1991, and a 2004 pilot episode for the WB network never aired.) Now that Tim Burton has directed a DARK SHADOWS  feature film starring Johnny Depp — and the 1966-1971 and 1991 episodes are available in several different media (including Netflix) — DARK SHADOWS  continues to gain new fans and to keep its long-time devotees under its spell.    

Dr. Jeff Thompson teaches English at Tennessee State University in Nashville.  He is the Rondo Award-nominated author of The Television Horrors of Dan Curtis: Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker, and Other Productions, 1966-2006 (McFarland, 2009); House of Dan Curtis: The Television Mysteries of the Dark Shadows Auteur (Westview, 2010); and Nights of Dan Curtis: The Television Epics of the Dark Shadows Auteur (Ideas, 2016).  He writes about the Gold Key Dark Shadows comic books for Hermes Press.  At home, Jeff has a Dark Shadows guest bedroom, a Joan Bennett wall of pictures, and a Psycho bathroom.  

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