Dark Shadows (1991)
"My name is Victoria Winters. My journey is just beginning, a journey that I am hoping will somehow begin to unravel the mysteries of my past. It is a journey that will bring me to a strange and dark place...to a house high above a stormy cliff at the edge of the sea...to a house called Collinwood. To a world I have never known , with people I have never met. People who are tonight still only vague shadows in my mind but who will soon fill all the days and nights of my tomorrows".
In 1966 ABC aired the first, and only, gothic romance soap opera, Dark Shadows. It involved a young woman, Victoria Winters, who goes to work as a governess for the Collins family in Collinsport, Maine. The show floundered in the ratings for months then, on the verge of cancellation, Producer Dan Curtis told head writers Sam Hall and Art Wallace to go ahead and do what they want…throw in the kitchen sink. So they did a 6 week story arc which brought Barnabas Collins…a distant cousin from England, to Collinwood (the massive estate where the Collins lived). Barnabas was a vampire and audiences fell in love with him and he quickly became the star of the show overstaying the original six weeks till the end of the series.
Dark Shadows suddenly became a hit. In the five years it aired they “borrowed” every classic horror trope from The Innocents to Dracula to Frankenstein, The Wolfman and even HP Lovecraft. By the end they had covered ghosts, severed heads, severed hands, zombies, “Leviathans”, witches, warlocks, time travel and alternate timelines. It spawned 2 feature films…House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows. We all know someone who says they ran home from school to watch the soap at 4 pm. I was one of those kids. I can’t say I followed the story too much, but I was a baby geek who was just discovering super heroes thanks to the awesome Saturday mornings we had then. My mom loved horror movies and I think I picked that up from her. We had Creature Features back then, hosted by Bob Wilkins and which showed schlocky old horror films. So it was natural I’d be drawn into Dark Shadows. Then, around 1971, Dark Shadows was gone, sporadically appearing in syndication. Dan Curtis turned down numerous requests to bring the series back over the years. But fans kept the series alive, in their hearts and later in conventions. In the late seventies I started going to a convention in San Jose called “TimeCon”…a strange amalgam of Dr. Who and Dark Shadows fans. That’s where I met Jonathan Frid, Barnabas himself! He was such a fascinating man, gentle, articulate, who couldn’t remember anything about the stories on the show yet fans would still ask. What he remembered were how uncomfortable those fangs were! And the stick that Squeaky The Bat was attached to getting into the picture. There were no retakes in those days. He talked of how the producers would run upstairs and borrow the chyron generator from the news department so they could super-impose special effects such as fire and floating skulls. Jonathan Frid was someone you want to invite to dinner and listen to him talk all night.
Ultimately, Dan Curtis gave in and agreed to bring Dark Shadows back. But he would be in charge of every aspect of the production, making sure it was done right. He recruited his original writers Sam Hall and Hall’s son, Matthew, and the show’s composer Robert Cobert. And this time the new series would focus on the Gothic Romance aspect of the series. He felt the more fantastic elements needed to be left out for a modern audience. As Dan Curtis put it, that a lot of that stuff just wouldn’t have worked in the nineties and would have slowed down the story he wanted to tell. Dark Shadows The Revival, as it would be known as was the perfect remake. It retold the first year and a half of the original series in its 12 episode run. Gone were unnecessary plot lines needed to sustain a 5 day a week 30 minute show. The remake would begin with Barnabas’s release from the crypt by grounds keeper Willie Loomis searching for hidden jewels. From there the new show followed pretty much the same steps and even some of the same dialogue as its predecessor in introducing “cousin” Barnabas to the family. He was the descendant of the original Barnabas Collins whom they all knew from the family history book had gone off to England after some family tragedies at the end of the 18th century including the death of his beloved fiancee Josette Dupres. Barnabas tells them he is interested in restoring the “old house”, the place where the Collins family lived while Collinwood was being built. Naturally, Collins family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard gives the house to Barnabas after only just meeting him. Willie Loomis, now a thrall of Barnabas, helps him in the restoration.
The casting of the new show would be critical. Fans certainly had their attachments to the original cast but Curtis also had to pull in new viewers. I believe he got the new cast perfect, particularly the lead of Victoria Winters. He kept the focus on Victoria as the central character, something that the soap eventually seemed to move away from especially after Alexandra Moltke wound up exiting the show following an affair with Claus Von Buelow–a story dramatized in the film Reversal of Fortune. All of the voice overs that started each episode were done by Vickie…”My name is Victoria Winters….”. Joanna Going was a perfect find, embodying the qualities that Alexandra Moltke had while giving a “modern woman” touch. Victoria Winters represents the audience…taking them on this strange and mysterious journey with her. We meet the Collins family through her eyes. There was to have been a sub-plot that would reveal that Victoria Winters was the illegitimate daughter of Elizabeth Collins before her marriage to Paul Stoddard. Unfortunately due to a number of reasons the show was never able to follow up on that.
Veteran actors Jean Simmons and Roy Thinnes (The Invaders) would be the new Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the family matriarch, and Roger Collins who handled the family shipping industry business. Barbara Blackburn played Elizabeth’s grown daughter, Carolyn Stoddard and Joseph Gordon-Levitt made his debut as Roger’s son, David Collins, a precocious young boy known for scaring off past governesses. Some bread crumbs are dropped at the beginning of the series suggesting a connection to his mother, Laura Collins, when David tries to burn Roger alive. Undoubtedly Laura Collins was to have appeared on the show had it not been canceled.
Barbara Steele who had appeared in several horror films in the past was brought aboard to play Dr. Julia Hoffman who was previously played by Grayson Hall. Grayson Hall was such a pip! A much beloved actress from the soap, she also had some of the funniest moments and gaffes. Whether it was a tendency to be a little over melodramatic or some of her classic facial expressions, she was always ready with a shiny bauble to hypnotize someone or pull a sedative out of her black doctor’s bag. A blood specialist, she was also the head of Wyndecliff Sanitarium on the soap, something dropped from the remake. Barbara Steele did a great job making the character her own. She is writing a historical book on the Collins family and also come to the aid of Daphne Collins after she becomes the first victim of the Vampire. To this day I have never been able to figure out who the hell Daphne Collins is. She is not the daughter of either Elizabeth or Roger and there is no indication anywhere in the soap or the Revival that Liz and Roger had any siblings. She first appeared in the film House of Dark Shadows.
Then there is Angelique Bouchard, Josette Dupres’ personal servant and friend. I absolutely adored Lara Parker’s portrayal of the wicked blonde hair blue eyed evil witch. She would steal scenes with such ease when she walked in. On the soap, Angelique is not seen until the 1795 part of the series, a risky move taken by Dan Curtis and company when a seance sends Victoria Winters to the Collins family of 1795 (changed to 1791 in the Revival). In the past, everyone looked like someone from the present though relationships change. It was a brilliant move, keeping the original actors while the series shifted to a different setting and allowing them to stretch their acting while playing their ancestors. They remained in the past on the soap for six months but it paid off with the audiences who stayed tuned to see how Barnabas became a vampire. In the 1991 Revival, Angelique first appears as a ghost, a screaming apparition that was very frighteningly well done with the modern special effects. The new Angelique was played by Lysette Anthony who certainly fit the look but took her performance in a totally different direction than Lara Parker yet was nonetheless just as captivating. Lysette spoke with a French accent which one would expect from a character who comes from Martinique. I was fortunate to see Lara Parker and Lysette Anthony on stage together at the West Coast 25th Anniversary of Dark Shadows. The festival played a couple of scenes that appeared in both series, comparing the two actresses and the audience cheered equally for the two. I remember while getting an autograph from Lysette she said she really loved the character and to write to NBC to save the show and her job (NBC had just canceled the Revival). My only disappointment was the Revival didn’t use Angelique enough!
British actor Ben Cross was chosen to fill the hardest role, that of Barnabas Collins. And he did a fine job, a little hammy at times,, though he ruffled the fan’s feathers by putting down the show and its fans. But the fact was that no actor was going to be able to fill the fangs of Jonathan Frid in the eyes of the fans. For all the flaws he had–often muffling lines because, as Frid put it, he had a bad memory for memorizing lines over night. Cross went on to play another key role in another franchise…that of Spock’s father, Sarek, in JJ Abrams 2009 remake of Star Trek.
One very critical role from the original series was that of Maggie Evans. In the present, she was a waitress at the local pub, the Blue Whale. But in the past she played Barnabas’s ill fate bride to be Josette Dupres. With modern film making technology it became capable of having Victoria Winters also play Josette, a change made in the revival that made much more sense to the storyline as a whole and Barnabas’s interest in Victoria in particular. Katherine Leigh-Scott was such an integral part of the original Dark Shadows and even more, an instrumental force in keeping the show alive years after it had gone off the air. When Alexandra Moltke left the show Katherine filled in for some of Victoria’s sub plots and essentially became the show’s ingenue. However, in the Revival there was very little use for Maggie Evans, now played by Ely Pouget. She was given some psychic abilities and an awkward affair with Roger Collins. To be truthful, the character could have been written out without notice. They could have put Professor Stokes back in the show and gotten much more use.
In Part Two of Dark Shadows The Revival I’ll take a look at some of the supporting characters and the story and who did it best…the soap or the remake.
Fun factoid: Jonathan Frid's portrayal of Barnabas Collins as a tortured soul changed forever how vampires were portrayed across the medium. Once they were simply monsters, but Frid brought an humanity to them not seen before. Author Anne Rice cites Dark Shadows as an inspiration for her Vampire Chronicles.
Dark Shadows The Revival: Part One-Casting Shadows for a Perfect Remake
Writing - 10/10
Storyline - 10/10
Acting - 10/10
Music - 10/10
Production - 10/10
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