Thursday, June 2, 2016

Dark Shadows: A 50th Anniversary Appreciation


My discovery of Dark Shadows was actually in a series of installments, and in a sort of backwards manner. I’ve seen every episode, and many of them several times. But I did not watch it in sequence.

It started on March 28, 1969. I was eleven years old and I had made a new friend, who invited me to her house after school. When we got there, she sat us in front of the TV in the living room, saying it was time to watch her favorite show, Dark Shadows. I’d never heard of it, and she said it was like a soap opera, but scary. And then it began, and I was hooked from the start.

The first episode I ever saw was #720, near the beginning of the 1897 story arc. One of the first things I saw was a tall, incredibly handsome man being stabbed by a crazy woman with wild hair, and my little adolescent heartstrings were plucked. Of course, it was Quentin, and he’d just been attacked by his wife, Jenny. I had no idea who the characters were or the details of any of the situations, but it didn’t matter. Watching Dark Shadows became an obsession, a fixture of my weekdays. My new friend became my best friend, and we truly did rush home every day after school, stopping at the local 7-Eleven first for Slurpees and candy bars, then plunking in front of either her TV or mine (we lived down the block from one another), stuffing our faces and swooning over Quentin.

The next two years went by, and we watched all the way through 1897, the Leviathans, and the remaining storylines until the show ended. And that should have been that. Daytime dramas don’t get repeated, and there was no such thing as the VCR or the DVD yet. So I figured I’d never get to see the years I’d missed.

Fast-forward to the early 2000s when, quite by accident, I rediscovered Dark Shadows while sick in bed one morning channel surfing. It was rerunning on the Sci-Fi channel (the name before they changed it to the ridiculous SyFy), and they showed two episodes back to back every morning. However… guess what? When I found the Sci-Fi reruns, they were right in the middle of—you guessed it—1897. No matter. I had a blast watching again, and got just as hooked as I had been when I was a kid. I taped the two episodes every morning and played them back each evening, and I discovered the Dark Shadows Bulletin Board on Now that was fun, posting on a forum with several others who had the same passion for the show and its characters. I called myself “Quentin Fan” and yes, thirty years later, I still swooned over him. I used to crack up the other forum members with my bawdy comments and fantasies about him, and I even wrote rather kinky fanfic and song parodies about him. It was great fun, but something was missing. People talked about things I had no idea of, characters and situations from all the episodes I’d not seen. Who the hell was Victoria Winters? What was the Dream Curse? Who was that cute little girl in the nightgown and cap—she wasn’t Nora/Amy. Why did people keep talking about what a bastard Barnabas used to be? Wait a minute—Barnabas and Julia weren’t always the best of friends and allies? My Dark Shadows passion was thorough, but my experience was nowhere near complete.

By now, the series was being released on DVD, in collections of 40 episodes each. Set #1 started with episode 210, the first appearance of Barnabas. I bought a new collection every time I had some extra cash and I was binge-watching long before that became a thing. Finally, I was seeing all the situations and characters I’d only heard of before. But I still hadn’t seen the infamous first 209 episodes, pre-Barnabas…

…Until late 2007, when those 1966-67 episodes were packaged in collections called Beginnings. Not wanting to buy them, as I’d heard they were tedious, I rented them on Netflix. (They were fairly tedious, but they had their good points.) At long last, nearly 40 years after I’d first started watching, I had now seen every Dark Shadows episode, and had full DS literacy.

And to put the cherry on top, in 2010 I experienced the last item on my Dark Shadows bucket list: I went to a festival. I threw myself into it fully; I got autographs from everyone there, except for Jonathan Frid, who wasn’t giving them out. But it was a thrill to see him, just a couple of feet away, making his way down the hall to cheers from the onlookers, leaning on his Barnabas cane. I got a photo with Kathryn Leigh Scott. And my inner adolescent swooned when I not only got a picture with my nearly lifelong crush David Selby, but it was of me kissing his cheek.

Of course, after I filled a shelf with Dark Shadows DVD Collections 1-25, then they came out with the complete show in one set. Figures!

I still love Dark Shadows, the original and the greatest, with all its bloopers and cheesy effects. And if it were to be shown yet again on an oldies cable station, yup, I’d watch it.

Erica Scott is a freelance copyeditor in Southern California who is still a Dark Shadows nut and who no longer has kissing David Selby on her bucket list.

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