My Descent into Dark Shadows
By MARK GILLMAN
A warm humid day has overtaken the small community known as Chauncey, WV, in the year 1996. The ringing of the bell has signaled the end of another school day for a particular sophomore student who was gathering his books to start his usual walk home by the old cemetery located next to his school. Unknown to him this evening, his brother will bring home a VCR cassette that, upon his viewing, will begin to fill the days and nights of his next twenty years with experiences and friends that will define who he will become...an insatiable fanboy of a series known as Dark Shadows…Growing up in the tiny Coalfield/Bible-belt community of Chauncey, WV, there wasn’t much we had as far as television other than about a dozen channels. Thankfully, I was lucky that my parents were able to get a VCR and a Nintendo to occupy my time when I wasn’t playing outside. My parents were not really horror fans, but they didn’t seem to mind my enjoyment of scary stories and mysteries through venues of Nintendo games like Shadowgate and Ghosts’n’Goblins. I also watched Ghostbusters, It’s The Great Pumpkin, Charlie Brown, The Halloween That Almost Wasn’t, and The Ghost and Mr. Chicken constantly, regardless of what time of year it was. Later in grade school, I became obsessed with the Hardy Boys books and loved mystery stories. Of those, the titles and cover-art featuring ghosts and creatures were always the first ones I would read and re-read.
My first glimpse of the show (971) was of a man standing inside an old abandoned room inside a large dark castle. A flute was playing an eerie tune as he stood holding a book called The Life and Death of Barnabas Collins. Paraphrasing my brother’s explanation to catch me up on what was going on, it was something like this:
“Okay, so he looked in this room and saw another dimension of people he knew living different lives. He could watch them, but they couldn’t hear him. The room disappeared and he found a book written about his life and death. His name is Barnabas Collins. He lives in this castle. There is a couple that lives there too that just got married, and a witch just placed a curse on the husband that whenever a light comes on, a shadow demon appears and will keep growing larger until it kills him. Oh, and that Barnabas guy, he’s a vampire.”THIS…WAS... AWESOME! This was everything I had grown up loving packed inside one TV show! I was immediately sucked in by the amazing stories, beautiful sets and music, and, not to mention, the gorgeous actresses. I thought about the show and the stories all day at school and couldn’t wait to get home to see the new episodes that my brother had taped for the day. While all my friends went home to watch Real World and Road Rules, I was a lone fan who walked home quickly to pop in the VHS tape of MY show. This continued for me all the way until the show’s end. When the series started over on Sci-Fi, I admit I was confused at first by the Beginning episodes because NOTHING was similar to what I had been watching. There were no mentions of parallel time, potions that would mutate genetic codes and change someone’s appearance, shadow demons, severed warlock heads, or vampires. There was a beautiful girl coming to a haunted house that held a dark secret in the basement. That was completely fine with me, though! I was still in love with all the mystery and horror of what was going on.
Unfortunately, when my brother moved, I had no way of taping the show and lost touch with it. The VCR tapes that I watched moved with him. No video stores in the area had any of the MPI tapes. Sadly, for the last year or so of the 90s and decade following, Dark Shadows became a fond memory that I looked back on often and remembered so many of the episodes and stories with many smiles.
Finally, in 2012, the internet became available to my hometown, and I discovered the show on Netflix in limited episode quantities. There was a new movie on the way, and I couldn’t get enough Dark Shadows! It was everywhere for me. I joined Twitter and found some wonderful fans and fan sites, I watched the episodes available on Netflix many times over, and I bought The Vampire Curse and House/Night of Dark Shadows on PlayStation network. My favorite show was back!
Now, in 2016, because of Dark Shadows, I’ve enjoyed meeting some of the cast at the 2014 festival (including my celebrity crush since day one, Lara Parker), collecting memorabilia, writing fanfiction stories and articles about the show and festival, and meeting an extra special fan that loves the show as much as I do. We have since become happily inseparable.
Happy 50th birthday, Dark Shadows, and thank you for the last twenty years and more years to come! My life has been made infinitely happier because of you!
Mark Gillman has been a very devoted fan of DARK SHADOWS since he was first introduced to the show in 1996 on the Sci-Fi Channel during his sophomore year in high school. Born in West Virginia and now living in North Carolina, he continues to watch the shows and films regularly and enjoys interaction with other DARK SHADOWS fans. He has recently graduated college with a degree in health sciences, but he most enjoys spending his time writing and talking about his passion for the series through Twitter, Wordpress, and Fanfiction.net.