Monday, September 16, 2019

The Dark Shadows giallo that almost was


Now that we’ve all heard the announcement of a Dark Shadows sequel series, I decided to take it upon myself to finally watch the 2004 WB attempt at rebooting the series. I was unable to find it until earlier this year with the help of a good friend. I felt the same as them, I wasn’t sure if I wanted to watch it knowing it would be the final piece of Dark Shadows visual media I’d ever be able to see. Now that that’s changed, it’s time to take a look at it!

This was the final Dark Shadows related piece of media that Dan Curtis worked on that I am aware of. I can’t remember where I heard it, but being in the Dark Shadows fandom for 22 years you hear so many rumors in all sorts of places while you’re talking with a variety of people. What I heard is that he was very, very unhappy with the final result. Based on that possibility, it could make sense that his input was a reason why it wasn’t picked up and not just some random suit at the WB. More than likely it was probably a mixture of both, it wouldn’t surprise me if that was the case.

That was certainly something, exposition the episode! I’m almost at a loss for words to describe the amount of information contained within the relatively short run time. Starting with David, they set up the Laura Collins Phoenix storyline. Angelique used Laura as a way to get David to go to the family graveyard and take a dagger out of her chest claiming that Laura would come back. Instead he is bringing up what they looked to be setting up as the big bad for that season. David is still doing his usual chasing away of governesses, and tries to get Vicky to run away using his typical stunts. He is under the care of Dr. Hoffman because he told Roger that a ghost, Sara Collins who he says is his best friend and that she’s real because of this he’s under the care of Dr. Hoffman. The amount of plotlines they have David involved in is insane! He’s recognizable if you’ve seen Weeds. He’s played by Alexander Gould.

Something about Victoria made her seem like she is a medical professional to David, not just governess. She has a file on David with a headshot and medical records to go along with it. She also has a talk with Elizabeth regarding David’s medical history. Victoria’s backstory is also briefly brought up in the beginning with her in the train on the way to Collinsport. She wants to know who her parents are, she doesn’t quite say it but that’s definitely where they were going. This looked like it was gonna be another straight up remake, streamlined like the 90’s reboot. Vicky also shows signs of PTSD and having self defense training. She’s extremely hyper vigilant. If you’re a fan of The Sandlot, or Pleasantville you may recognize the actor who is Marley Shelton, she also was recently in the video game movie, Rampage with The Rock.

Roger in this episode is played by Martin Donovan who is an extremely successful character actor who also happened to be on Weeds like Alexander Gould. He’s just the same alcoholic, absent father Roger. That’s it. They didn’t give him enough time. Or maybe enough sherry?

Are we done with the information dump on the setups placed in this episode? No! It’s time for Willie, who in this one is played by Matt Czuchery. He’s a former football star and not an alcoholic. A very different Willie but still not without his weirdness, he’s strange with a capital ‘S’. The performance is very interesting with his personality change at the bite of Barnabas. He goes from weirdo, to a somewhat normal acting person after he saves David from seeing Barnabas in the basement of the Old House. He even has his eyes fixed through Barnabas’ bite. No more glasses for him! Willie also now has a sister that works as a maid at Collinwood named Sophia Loomis. She is in a single scene and has like one or two lines. She reminded me of Wednesday Addams.

Jessica Chastain
It’s through Willie that we find out he is having a liaison with Professor Stokes TA, a new character named Kelly Vance who is stealing Professor Stokes' work and finds out about the Collins hidden fortune. They even use the lion looks at the dove thing. I’m pretty sure most of you know the story from here. She promptly dies and you see her body that reminded me so much of how they found Laura Palmer in Twin Peaks.

One thing of note, through the other characters I’ve already given you all of Carolyn Stoddard’s story in this episode. The interesting thing is that she’s played by Jessica Chastain. She’s barely in it.

Dr. Hoffman is played by Kelly Hu who played Lady Deathstrike in X2. You’ve read everything she’s done in this episode through other character info from the episode. She is somehow also a doctor working in the ER which is her only scene where she’s physically in the episode, and she is taking care of Carolyn after Barnabas attacked her. Maybe they were trying to set up her being the Collins family doctor?

Now, talking about Elizabeth Collins Stoddard! Wow is she ever different in this. She doesn’t act like herself. She’s not quite a powerful, stoic matriarch, but a broken, somewhat manic one. I couldn’t quite tell if she was the one in charge of the family or Roger. Roger seemed ill-equipped to do it during a scene where he’s unable to comfort David and walks away. So I guess she’s it. She’s definitely got her issues like Elizabeth usually does but SHE LEAVES COLLINWOOD TO VISIT CAROLYN IN THE HOSPITAL AFTER BARNABAS ATTACKS HER! SHE LEAVES COLLINWOOD IN THE FIRST EPISODE! I CAN’T BELIEVE IT! I was in shock at the changes to her character and really, really wanted to see where they would have taken her. She was the most interesting of the bunch. She was played by Blair Brown who was seen recently in five seasons of Orange is the New Black.

It’s time to talk about the elephant in the room, Barnabas Collins himself. He’s played by Scottish actor Alec Newman doing one of the more regal sounding English accents. It gives more creedence to him being from the “UK branch” of the Collins family. He goes to Roger to ask to renovate The Old House and like usual in this story, Roger says yes and Barnabas moves in immediately with Willie switching jobs. The painting they used for Barnabas is terrible, I have no words. He looks like an arrogant jerk, and it’s full body instead of a bust. Very strange decision on their part. There’s no cane either. I feel that’s sorta important. That’s as important as Blade having his sword. He only has the ring, It’s shown in a sequence where he almost bites Vicki. He is very un-Jonathan Frid or Ben Cross, and gladly he’s not the Johnny Depp version. This Barnabas is very much a Dracula-like being. He makes people into ghouls and controls them like Carloyn, and Willie. Being a ghoul has benefits like I talked about with Willie’s glasses, but they’re under complete control of Barnabas. He’s also brought back to life and not awake in the coffin, as in the original. When Professor Stokes TA opens the secret door to the not so secret chamber in the Collins Family Mausoleum she cuts herself. She has Willie open the chains of the coffin and you just see a shriveled corpse. While looking for the Collins family fortune her blood drips onto/into Barnabas’ mouth and he immediately drains her. Then you get the classic choking of Wilie which was a really cool scene with the makeup. The whole mausoleum set was AMAZING! I’m talking overgrown, multiple level mausoleum with stairs, and multiple rooms kind of amazing. Very, very cool. Of course with the addition of Barnabas we have more plot being set up. Barnabas and Josette’s storyline with Victoria is introduced as is the music box, but it doesn’t even play Josette’s theme! It wasn’t even that good of a song, if you’re gonna replace the theme do it with something good. As another aside, the opening theme wasn’t even the Dark Shadows theme but it was still the water crashing on the rocks with a slightly DS looking font.

Ivana Miličević as Angelique
As for how it was shot, it looked BEAUTIFUL even though the version I watched was of very low quality, I could see what they were going for, very stark color combinations just like an Argento’s Suspiria. Many of the scenes were black and red, and black and blue. Sometimes you’d get color combinations making purples. It was colored so intensely when you saw scenes of natural lighting or daylight it was very startling. The CGI wasn’t that great, but the colors were awesome, and I was totally digging on it.

So I didn’t talk about every little thing that happens in this pilot, though it’s pretty close. It’s an interesting and fun entry to watch in Dark Shadows history. It's full of wasted potential. If given a chance and a decent writer’s room, you could have had some amazing performances and really played into the family drama. At its heart like I’ve said many times before and will again is that Dark Shadows is a family drama with supernatural elements. It’s perfect for that Buffy formula. Everything is connected. Every bit of it, exactly like the original. Overall I liked it and am disappointed that it wasn’t finished so I could see how they made the characters grow and make the cray amount of setup pay off. That was so much setup!.

The only issue I have is that they threw nearly every plotline they could fit in 39 minutes. How would they be able to pull this off. Even if they had 22 episodes and made every single one serialized with no stand-alones or side-stories maybe they could’ve done it. I feel they’d need a few seasons to make everything pay off satisfyingly and so it wouldn’t feel rushed. This is definitely a throw the kitchen sink maneuver kind of pilot. I’d have been ALL FOR IT then, and I’m all for it now. It’s beautifully shot, the actors are not bad and would have grown into their roles wonderfully. The stark contrast gialli color palette would have been a wonderful way to hide some of the more violent scenes needed to make a decent Dark Shadows visually interesting. It could have been very artfully done.

If you can find yourself a copy, check it out and see what could have been. It’s fun, there’s some really cool art design, they use the same mansion used in the 90s reboot for Collinwood. It’s not the worst way you could spend 39 minutes. I know I said it already, but I’m gonna say it again. I really wish this would’ve gotten a series order, it had the chance to be unique, and cool. Something the CW could have been proud of and pair with Supernatural in the line-up. The pilot was shot in 2004 which means it could have premiered in 2005 with Supernatural. Just think, what could have been?

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