Friday, May 4, 2018

Donald F. Glut ♥'s Dark Shadows

In 1974, DARK SHADOWS might have been dead, but it was hardly forgotten. Both HOUSE and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS remained Halloween favorites at local theaters for the rest of the decade, while writers who had grown up with the series could hardly wait to tell young readers about about the "soap opera about a vampire." Magazines such as Famous Monsters of Filmland, Fangoria and Cinefantastique would rouintely to trot out features on the original television show, sometimes prompted by a syndicated revival of DARK SHADOWS, but sometimes just because professional fans felt like talking about something they love.

Below would be an example of the latter. Had the byline on this story been different, I might not even be sharing it. "Barnabas: Dark Shadows in the Afternoon," published in 1974 by Marvel's Monsters of the Movies magazine, is a love letter to DARK SHADOWS but otherwise has little new to offer readers. It's a pretty thorough summary of the DS phenomenon up to 1974, granted, but if you make a habit of visiting this website, well ... there's not much in the way in "new" information.

Donald F. Glut
But there's that byline: Donald F. Glut. He's got one of those biographies so amazing and absurd that I don't even know where to begin with it. Because he's got his name attached to a STAR WARS property, you can probably expect his novelization of THE EMPIRE STRIKES BACK to make an appearance in his obituary one day, but he's also got dozens of screenwriting credits for television (G.I. JOE: A REAL AMERICAN HERO, MASTERS OF THE UNIVERSE, SPIDER-MAN AND HIS AMAZING FRIENDS), comics ("Captain America," "Savage Sword of Conan"), and a series of "Frankenstein" novels that are must-reads for true monster kids.

But before any of that, Glut made dozens of amateur films featuring unauthorized adaptions of such characters as Superman and The Spirit, convinved Glenn Strange to return to the role of the Frankenstein monster for one of his movies, and shot the first live-action (though unauthorized) Spider-Man film. I've embedded that show here to give you an idea of who you're dealing with.

Now, on with the show!

Barnabas: Dark Shadows in Bright Afternoon
Monsters of the Movies #3, October 1974

Was Barnabas Collins a fiendish blood-sucking vampire? Or was he merely the victim of a cruel
fate? Don Glut will tell all about DARK SHADOWS, the show that became the afternoon compulsion for a generation, just as earlier groups of young people faithfully followed SPACE PATROL and, earlier still, CAPTAIN MIDNIGHT

By Don Glut

Willie Loomis was a neurotic with a particular interest in the history of the Collins family, the
wealthy founders of the town of Collinsport, Maine. It was known that Willie was especially curious about one Barnabas Collins, an enigmatic member of the family who had lived — and presumably died — in the late 18th century. What people didn’t know was that Willie believed that, in earlier days, deceased members of the Collins family were entombed with their jewels, much like Egyptian pharoahs of old. And the thought of all those beautiful gems and all that lovely gold just lying around in some corpse's tomb, gathering dust and mold and benefiting absolutely no one at all, was just too much for Willie to resist.

So, late one dark night, under a new moon and a starless, cloud-swept sky, Willie slipped onto the grounds of the Collins estate and went tomb-robbing.

The crypt he chose was that of Barnabas Collins. Willie moved quickly and silently through the dank
chamber, finding nothing at ail until his questing fingers accidently tripped the latch of a secret door. The crypt had another room'. Where better to hide the family jewels, Willie thought excitedly. And in he went.

Willie Loomis found no jewels inside the secret room.

Instead, he found a coffin. Barnabas’ coffin. A coffin sealed with wax and heavy chains. A coffin seemingly designed expressly to keep grave robbers out. Believing the coffin to be the treasure chest that he'd been searching for all the night, Willie smashed the chains and levered the lid off the ornate casket. And screamed as the perfectly preserved corpse lying inside the coffin reached , up and grabbed him, holding him with a frightning, preternatural strength.

Poor Willie had never realized — never dreamed — that the chains on the coffin had been designed — not to keep robbers out — but to keep something far more horrible in!

Presently, a sharp knock sounded on the majestic oak door of the “big house" at Collinwood. Elizabeth Collins — the widowed matron of the estate — opened the door and found herself face-to-face with a tall, roughly handsome, oddly-formal gentleman, “Hello," the man said, smiling cordially, “I am Barnabas Collins."

Thus ended perhaps the most important episode of DARK SHADOWS, television's original gothic horror soap opera, which premiered in the late 1960's, as part of ABC-TV’s weekday afternoon schedule. The episode is important because it introduced to television viewers the most popular vampire ever to haunt the video waves, a character who — only a short while after his debut — had became one of the biggest stars on the air.

Barnabas Collins.

DARK SHADOWS was the artistic brain-child of producer, Dan Curtis, the show designed as a replacement for a short-lived soap opera called, NEVER TOO YOUNG. Originally, DARK SHADOWS followed the formula of the standard gothic mystery novel that has become so popular in recent years. (You know the type of novels — the ones with virtually the same cover repeated ad infinitum, depicting a young woman fleeing from a dark and ominous mansion, in which only one
window has a light).

The first episode of DARK SHADOWS brought young, innocent and naive Victoria Winters (the typical gothic novel heroine, right down to the “Victorian” name), played by Alexandra Moltke, to Collins mansion in Maine, where she was to work as a governess. These early installments centered upon the standard gothic conventions — secret panels, leering “red herrings” and brooding members of the Collins family. Supernatural elements, except for an occasional ghost, were often explained as hoaxes, or misinterpretations of perfectly natural phenomena. In short, the show was dull and, as a
result, bombed in the ratings.

As an experiment, Curtis told his writer, Sam Hall, to introduce an element of true horror into the series — a supernatural vampire that would, it was hoped, also attract an audience of monster movie fans who might otherwise scorn a soap opera ostensibly intended for the housewife audience in those pre-Lib days. The vampire would be called Barnabas Collins and he would be portrayed by a fine Shakespearean actor named Jonathan Frid. Barnabas was to continue on the show for a few
months, after which he would be destroyed and written out of the script. If all went well, his introduction would boost the ratings of DARK SHADOWS to a level of at least some respectability. No one involved with the program, least of all Frid himself, could have predicted just how high those coveted ratings would soar!

Jonathan Frid had been a relatively unknown actor until his debut on DARK SHADOWS, and the original characterization of Barnabas was anything but sympathetic as the 170 year-old vampire went about his fiendish ways. Yet, surprisingly, the viewing audience — particularly the women — took an immediate liking to this fascinating character. Frid began to receive fan mail by the bundle. And the more villainous his character became on the small home screen, the more adulatory letters he received, most of Frid’s fan mail coming from frustrated females who squealed delightly at his ignominious actions.

At first, Barnabas’ vampiric condition was merely hinted at — references to his never being seen during the day, the lack of mirrors in the “Old House” where he lived on the Collins estate — as was the revelation that he was really “dead." But when Barnabas finally bared his fangs and bit pretty young Carolyn Stoddard (Nancy Barrett) on the neck, the ratings skyrocketed higher than
ever. Frid received apparently serious letters from women begging him to bite them on the neck. The sexual aspects of vampirism were always present for anyone caring to probe beneath the glaring red eyes and flowing cloaks, and with Jonathan Frid's sudden birth as a star and “sex symbol," those implications were as apparent as ever,

DARK SHADOWS, a show which had been in danger of cancellation because of poor ratings, was almost instantaneously the most popular offering on daytime television. The storyline of the initial Barnabas Collins plot continued as planned, somehow always avoiding the term “vampire.” With one difference: the popular Barnabas could not be so abruptly dispatched by a wooden stake or silver bullet as originally planned. The fans simply wouldn't allow it! Barnabas, who had been introduced as a temporary character, was now the star of the show.

Instead of destroying Barnabas, Sam Hall decided to show his previously untold origin. During a seance, Victoria Winters was transported back in time to the Collinwood of 1795. Confused, believing herself still to be in the world of the Sixties, Vickie approached the Collinwood house to meet a very human Barnabas, dressed as an 18th Century gentleman and standing in the brilliant rays of the sun.

This first of DARK SHADOWS’ time travel stories showed that Barnabas Collins was in love with the beautiful Josette (Kathryn Leigh Scott). But when Barnabas spurned the love of a comely blonde witch named Angelique (Lara Parker), the latter placed a curse on him — warning him that tragedy would strike his family, that he would never know true love and that he would never know the peace of death.

The last part of Angelique’s curse was realized when Barnabas was attacked by a vampire bat. Dying from the creature’s bite, Barnabas was laid to rest in the tomb. However, Angelique decided it better to destroy Barnabas before he could rise from his coffin. It was during this episode — wherein Angelique and her seedy lackey Ben (Thayer David) went to drive a stake into Barnabas’ heart — that the word “vampire” was first used on DARK SHADOWS. (From that point onward, the
term was used without reserve.) Angelique never drove home that stake. Barnabas killed her before she had the chance.

When Barnabas' father Joshua (Louis Edmonds) confronted the son he believed to be dead in the tower room of the Collins mansion, the pompous skeptic was totally perplexed. His face torn by anguish, Barnabas looked into his father’s eyes and confessed, “I'm a vampire!”

Barnabas eventually implored his father to end his torment. But Joshua, unable to fire the silver bullets into his own flesh and blood, went to his casket, placed a silver crucifix upon his chest, then chained the coffin shut in the hopes that no one would ever find the secret room of the crypt.

All of a sudden, Barnabas had become a sympathetic character, a tragic figure doomed to roam the dark corridors of the night and drink the blood of the living. When angered, Barnabas could still become as ruthless as Count Dracula himself, but it was this “victim of a cruel fate” interpretation of the role that his fans seemed to like the most. This characterization of Barnabas (as opposed to the original unscrupulous fiend) returned, along with the storyline, to the time of the 1960s.

Barnabas Collins' fame was only beginning to realize itself. Before long his image became affixed to model kits, games, a series of paperback books and a still-running series of comic books; fan clubs, posters, records, bubblegum cards, even a syndicated newspaper strip. Barnabas and his alter ego, Jonathan Frid, had become a nation-wide sensation. The country had suddenly become vampire conscious.

Now, producer Dan Curtis realized the direction that DARK SHADOWS must take. If one vampire would boost the ratings, then surely DARK SHADOWS would be unparalled in the competition game if even more monsters were added to the cast of characters.

Barnabas then proceeded to become involved with a mad scientist — who was stitching together his own version of the Frankenstein Monster, a giant named Adam (Robert Rodan). Barnabas' life force was transferred to Adam — which had the double effect of bringing the monster to life amid crackling electrical apparatus, and also providing the first of the vampire’s many “cures” of his undead condition.

After the introduction of Adam, Sam Hall heaped a deluge of new versions of classic horrors on the DARK SHADOWS audiences. There were werewolves, warlocks, demons, Jekylls-and-Hydes, Lovecraft monsters, crawling hands, Dorian Grays, zombies, you name it! — not to mention more excursions into the past, into parallel worlds (with the same actors playing different parts), and the introduction of a parade of countless new vampires. It was still Barnabas, however, who remained
most popular, with Frid eventually receiving star billing along with the regular star of the series, Joan Bennett. Despite all the different time and parallel world stories presented on DARK SHADOWS. Jonathan Frid never played any other character except Barnabas — that is, until the last season of the program in 1970-71. Among other plots being adapted simultaneously, the show was doing a version of WUTHERING HEIGHTS. Frid portrayed Bramwell, a character patterned after Heathcliffe, of the original novel by Emily Bronte. It was February of 1971 on a portentious afternoon for DARK
SHADOWS. With the conclusion ofthe WUTHERING HEIGHTS episode, a girl was found in the woods, apparently the victim of a vampire. Bramwell looked selfconsciously at the portrait of his ancestor, Barnabas, hanging on the wall. A new vampire episode was seemingly about to begin. But no, as Thayer David explained in his voice-over narration of the scene, this time the animal-like marks on the victim's throat really were made by an animal. There were no more vampires on the series. No more witches or even sliding panels. This was the last episode of DARK SHADOWS.

Shortly before the series met its final end, Dan Curtis created a fine and lasting tribute for the program’s fans in an amply-budgeted MGM feature-length film entitled HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS. The movie retained the soap opera's cast and basic story line of the original Barnabas Collins television story. Barnabas is freed by Willie Loomis (John Karlen), then proceeds to the Collinswood mansion, identifying himself as a cousin from England and a descendant of the "original” Barnabas Collins. Willie becomes to Barnabas what Renfield was to Dracula, as the vampire tries to make a bride of lovely Maggie Evans (Ms. Scott, again), a reincarnation of his lost Josette. During the events that follow, ‘cousin" Carolyn Stoddard becomes a fetching vam-
pire who is eventually trapped in her tomb by the police and staked through the heart. Barnabas himself is temporarily cured by the frustrated Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall, wife of the film and TV show’s writer). But when Barnabas rejects her love and goes after young Maggie, the vengeful doctor reverses the experiment, causing him to revert to his true age (thanks to an incredible make-up job by Dick Smith). By the end of the film, almost everyone is either dead, a vampire or a dead
vampire. Barnabas prepares to make his "Josette" his vampire bride until Willie — in love with her himself — impales him through the back with an arrow.

HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS not only preserved the elements of the television show in a handsomely-mounted film, but also established Dan Curtis as an important director in the horror genre. Curtis kept HOUSE moving without taking away from the gothic atmosphere. The trapping and staking of Carolyn is superb, as is the final sequence, showing a black-cloaked Barnabas meet-
ing an extremely graphic death amid the fog and shadows of his island retreat. Despite what the squeamish may say, gore is a part of the horror film. Dan Curtis elevated the gore in HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS to the status of art.

The DARK SHADOWS television series is often condemned by “purists” as being a mish-mash of old Universal horror films cliches, stretched out over several years. Granted, the show suffered from any number of faults. But DARK SHADOWS also provided we monster afficionados with a half-hour-a-day, five-day-a-week excursion into realms we’ve grown to love. Characters like Barnabas Collins were mourned by thousands of viewers when the series was finally canceled. Since the
series was videotaped, Curtis had considered rerunning it. But apparently not enough interest was generated on the part of the network executives.

Want to see DARK SHADOWS back on the air? Perhaps if enough fans follow the example set by the "Trekkies,” flooding Dan Curtis Productions or the networks with mail, everyone’s favorite afternoon vampire will again be attacking the various members of the Collins family Monday-through-Friday. This writer for one, would be glad to see a return of the original series.

I miss Dark Shadows.

And I miss a vampire by the name of Barnabas.

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