CREATOR Dan Curtis STARS Jonathan Frid; Grayson Hall; Alexandra Isles DVD Now
The word cult is often overused, but Dark Shadows is a series that truly earns the title. A daily soap opera — creator Dan Curtis oversaw an astonishing 1,225 episodes that ran from 1966 to 1971 — that delved heavily into classic horror literature for its inspiration, this gothic supernatural melodrama has rarely been shown outside of its native America. Casual observers of fantasy television will know it for iconic vampire Barnabas Collins, but the show also featured werewolves, zombies, witches, time travel and alternative universes amongst its many varied storylines.
Collins, however, remains the show’s greatest character, the charismatic Jonathan Frid embodying him strictly in the Lugosi and Lee style; all smouldering looks and slow walks. The story of his release from a chained coffin after 200 years and return to the Collinwood Estate to claim his long-overdue inheritance appeared a year into the show’s run, and skyrocketed its popularity. Metrodome’s three-disc, 20-episode introduction to the show wisely focuses on the vampire and this storyline in particular, with a handful of others picking the best of Collins’ evil moments — including a story that featured experiments to create life from body parts and his own spirit that one feels would struggle to get the green light for afternoon television today.
The problem is there’s so much material to choose from that it’s almost impossible to clearly follow what’s happening; Dark Shadows featured a large and recurring cast with threads that continued for months and established characters with rich background histories. Luckily this release offers plenty of supplemental material, including comprehensive documentaries on the origin of the show and a potted history leading up to the introduction of Collins. There are numerous interviews with the cast, most of whom drifted into obscurity and the convention circuit (although giallo fans will be delighted to recognise Suspiria’s Joan Bennett) and a cracking feature that showcases some of the serial’s darker moments. There’s more than enough here to satisfy your curiosity, and if you want to delve further there are complete box sets available on Region 1 releases. For the rest of us this is a fascinating look at a period and style of fantasy television that we will never see again — and much preferable to Tim Burton’s effort.