DARK SHADOWS

U.S. Gothic Soap Opera

This enormously popular half-hour gothic soap opera aired on ABC-TV from 1966 until 1971, and showcased a panoply of supernatural characters including vampires, werewolves, warlocks, and witches. During its initial run, the series spawned two feature-length motion pictures, House Of Dark Shadows (1970) and Night Of Dark Shadows (1971), as well as thirty-two tie-in novels, comic books, records, Viewmasters, games, models, and trading cards. Fans of the show included both adults and children (it aired in a late afternoon time slot which allowed young people the opportunity to see it after school), and many of these fans began to organize clubs and produce fanzines not long after the show was canceled. These groups were directly instrumental in getting Dark Shadows re-run in syndication on local stations (often public broadcasting stations), throughout the 1970s and 1980s and in persuading series creator Dan Curtis to remake the show as a prime-time weekly drama on NBC-TV in 1991. Although the new show did not catch on with the public, the entire run of Dark Shadows, both the original series and the remake, are available on tape from MPI Home Video. Fans continue to hold yearly conventions, write their own Dark Shadows fanzines, collect memorabilia, and lobby the entertainment industry.

Set in Collinsport, Maine, the original series focused on the tangled lives and histories of the Collins family. Matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (well known classical Hollywood movie star Joan Bennett) presided over the ancestral estate, Collinwood, along with her brother Roger Collins (Louis Edmonds). The show was in danger of being canceled after its first few months on the air until the character of Barnabas Collins, a 172-year-old vampire, was introduced. As played by Jonathan Frid, Barnabas was less a monster and more a tortured gothic hero, and he quickly became the show's most popular character. Governess Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke), waitress Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott), and Elizabeth's daughter Carolyn (Nancy Barrett) became the first few women to fall sway to the vampire's charms. Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) attempted to cure him of his affliction, although she too subsequently fell in love with him. Barnabas was protected during the day by his manservant Willie Loomis (John Karlen), although Roger's son David (David Henesy) almost discovered his secret.

One of the series' most innovative developments was its use of time travel and parallel universes as narrative tropes which constantly reshuffled storylines and characters, enabling many of the show's most popular actors to play different types of characters within different settings. The first of these shifts occurred when governess Victoria Winters traveled back in time (via a seance) to the year 1795, so the series could explore the origins of Barnabas's vampirism. The witch Angelique (Lara Parker) was introduced during these episodes, as was the witch-hunting Reverend Trask (Jerry Lacy). After the 1795 sequence, Angelique returned to present day Collinwood as Roger's new wife Cassandra; she continued to practice witchcraft under the direction of warlock Nicholas Blair (Humbert Allen Astredo). Soon other classic gothic narratives were pressed into service, and the 1968 episodes also featured a werewolf, a Frankenstein-type creation, and pair of ghosts a la Turn of the Screw.

Those ghosts proved to be the catalyst to another time shift, this time to 1897, wherein dashing playboy Quentin Collins (David Selby) was introduced. His dark good looks and brooding sensuality made him a hit with the fans, and his popularity soon began to rival that of Barnabas. The 1897 sequence marked the height of the show's popularity, and the writers created intricately interwoven stories about vampires, witches, gypsies, zombies, madwomen, and a magical Count Petofi (Thayer David). Quentin was turned into a werewolf only to have the curse controlled by a portrait as in The Picture of Dorian Gray. When the show returned to the present time once again, it began working a storyline liberally cribbed from H. P. Lovecraft's "Cthulu" mythos. Through various time shifts and parallel universes, the show continued to rework gothic classics (including Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Turn of the Screw {again}, Rebecca, Wuthering Heights, and The Lottery) until its demise in 1971. Ingenues came and went, including pre-Charlie's Angels Kate Jackson as Daphne Harridge, and Donna (A Chorus Line) McKechnie as Amanda Harris.

The popularity of Dark Shadows must be set against the counter-cultural movements of the late 1960s: interest in alternative religions, altered states of consciousness, and paranormal phenomena such as witchcraft. Dark Shadows regularly explored those areas through its sympathetic supernatural creatures, while most of the true villains of the piece turned out to be stern patriarchs and hypocritical preachers. (The show did come under attack from some fundamentalist Christian groups who dubbed the series "Satan's favorite TV show.") Monstrous characters as heroic or likable figures were appearing elsewhere on TV at this time, in shows such as Bewitched, The Addams Family, and The Munsters. Many fans of those shows (and Dark Shadows) apparently looked to these figures as playful counter-cultural icons, existing in a twilight world somewhere outside the patriarchal hegemony. Furthermore, since the show was shot live on tape and mistakes were rarely edited out, the series had a bargain-basement charm which appealed both to spectators who took its storylines seriously and to those who appreciated the spooky goings-on as camp. The range of acting styles also facilitated a camp appreciation, as did the frequently outlandish situations, costumes, and make up. In spite of these technical shortcomings, the gothic romance of the show appears to be one of its most enduring charms. Fan publications most regularly try to recapture the tragic romantic flavor of the show rather than its campiness, although some fans faulted the latter day NBC remake for taking itself too seriously. Whatever their idiosyncratic reasons, Dark Shadows fans remain devoted to the property, and its characters remain popular icons in American culture.

-Harry M. Benshoff


Dark Shadows
Photo courtesy of Dan Curtis Productions

CAST

Victoria Winters............................... Alexandra Moltke David Collins..................................... David Hennessy Elizabeth Collins.................................... Joan Bennett Barnabas Collins................................... Jonathan Frid Roger Collins .....................................Louis Edmonds Dr. Julia Hoffman................................... Grayson Hall Maggie Evans ..............................Kathryn Leigh Scott Carolyn ................................................Nancy Barrett Quentin Collins ........................................David Selby Daphne Harridge................................... Kate Jackson Angelique................................................ Lara Parker Nicholas Blair.......................... Humbert Allen Astredo Reverend Trask......................................... Jerry Lacy Count Petofi........................................... Thayer David Willie Loomis........................................... John Karlen
Joe Haskell/Nathan Forbes..................... Joel Crothers

PRODUCERS
Dan Curtis, Robert Costello

PROGRAMMING HISTORY

ABC
June 1966-April 1971                            Non-Primetime

CAST (Primetime Series)

Barnabas Collins....................................... Ben Cross Victoria Winters/Josette........................ Joanna Going Elizabeth Collins Stoddard/Naomi .........Jean Simmons Roger Collins/Reverend Trask.................. Roy Thinnes David Collins/Daniel (Age 8)......... Joseph Gordon-Levitt Dr. Julia Hoffman/Natalie..................... Barbara Steele Prof. Woodward/Joshua..................... Stefan Gierasch Angelique .........................................Lysette Anthony Willie Loomis/Ben......................................... Jim Fyfe Mrs. Johnson/Abigail...................... Julianna McCarthy Sheriff Patterson........................... Michael Cavanaugh Joe Haskell/Peter................................ Michael Weiss
Sarah Collins
.................................... Veronica Lauren Carolyn Stoddard............................ Barbara Blackburn

PRODUCER

Dan Curtis

PROGRAMMING HISTORY


January 1991................................ Sunday 9:00-10:00 January 1991................................ Monday 9:00-10:00 January 1991................................ .Friday 10:00-11:00 January 1991-March 1991................ Friday 9:00-10:00 March 1991................................... Friday 10:00-11:00

FURTHER READING

Benshoff, Harry M. "Secrets, Closets, And Corridors Through Time: Negotiating Sexuality and Gender In Dark Shadows Fan Culture." In Alexander, A., and C. Harris, editors. Theorizing Fandom: Fans, Subcultures, and Identity. Hampton Press, 1996.

Pierson, Jim. Dark Shadows Resurrected. Los Angeles & London: Pomegranate, 1992.

Scott, Kathryn Leigh, editor. The Dark Shadows Companion. Los Angeles & London: Pomegranate, 1990.

Scott, Kathryn Leigh. My Scrapbook Memories of Dark Shadows. Los Angeles & London: Pomegranate, 1986.

 

See also Soap Opera