I have needed something to laugh at, recently, and popular comedies are often not funny to me at all. So the Prime Video streaming of Dark Shadows sounded just the thing. I never saw this decades ago when it was running. Felt compelled to write commentary, probably because of Martin; let's blame him.
The first series, called Dark Shadows/The Beginning, didn’t have a vampire, but had ghosts. I watched some of it but got bored, skipped ahead to the later series to see Barnabas Collins. I’ve seen the funny Johnny Depp movie and wanted to see if the plot was basically the same….
=== THE SHOW
Well, I can’t stop noticing that everyone has really good hair.
A brief narration begins each episode; the character Victoria Winters gives the daily Gloom Report, which usually includes a poetic description of maybe the sunset or the sunrise, along with some philosophical and abstract comments on child-parent relationships, the current dangers of the local countryside, or some such crap. Always related to recent events or ones to come. Her words are always very feminine but gloomy.
The person who really has cornered the market on gloom is Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. You never saw such a lack of joy. Her expressions are simply hilarious in the first episodes. She lives in the mansion with her grown daughter Carolyn, and brother Roger. She has not set foot outside it for 18 years.
The Blue Whale, apparently the only bar around, is a swinging place despite its decor which is fit for a sailor who doesn’t care about anything but getting a drink. Perhaps the place is modeled after the Bikini Beach movies’ bars, some of which were just as bad.
The only other place to go in Collinsport is the diner where poor Maggie Evans used to work. It is near the bus station.
Everyone has a secret, it seems. Mrs. Elizabeth Stoddard, the gloomy one, definitely has secrets, or she might have gone outside at all. She haunts the mansion, basically, and moves slowly, gracefully, probably due to the piled-up masses of hair on her head which defy gravity. Soon we find she is being blackmailed for her secrets and won’t admit it to her brother or 18-yr.-old daughter. She is the strongest one in the family, and she runs the cannery and other businesses through managers. If she weren’t so blastedly independent, she might have thought of confiding in her cousin Barnabas Collins (the vampire), and due to his very strong family sense he might have done away with her blackmailer and solved her problem. Too bad…
Roger Collins, her brother, has a secret which seems to have faded from importance or been “resolved” in the earlier series. But now, his crime is still undeclared, he lives without fear of the being detected, and the man who went to prison in his stead for 10 years (Burke Devlin) is just fine with the status quo, for some reason. Roger is played by Louis Edmonds, an actor I recognize from All My Children, an elegant man whose speech is enjoyable to hear.
Burke Devlin, whose name is the sort only soap opera characters have, somehow got rich after getting out of prison. I still don’t know how. Played by Mitchell Ryan, who played roles in so much 70s, 80s and 90s TV I feel related to him. He’s kind of a ham, like William Shatner.
Barnabas Collins is his own secret. He is a vampire of nearly 200 years vintage, an ancestor to these present-day Collinses. His portrait hangs in their front hall, and he tells them when he arrives that he is a descendant of that man. Barnabas tells them the ancestor did not die in London as thought, but had a family. This Barnabas is also rich. The younger, non-vampire Collinses run the fish cannery in the town along with a fishing fleet. Somehow he talks them into giving him outright the “Old House” on the estate to live in. His clothes are always natty but he doesn’t wear them as well as Roger or even Burke Devlin, for that matter, because Barnabas despite his menace looks like a nerd. Maybe it’s the hair, a bit Julius Caesar-ish.
David Collins, Roger’s little boy, seems to me to be the worst person of all. Not simply a pathological liar, he is a trespasser and a thief. What a little twerp. He also sees dead people, in particular the ghost of Josette Collins, who should have been the bride of Barnabas, long ago.
Victoria Winters, the narrator, is David’s governess but can’t control him. She is an orphan who has no knowledge of her background, but was picked out and offered this job by Elizabeth Stoddard who can’t really explain how she knew of her at all. Someone, during Victoria’s childhood, used to send anonymous payments to the orphanage for her care. No one knows who that was, still. …I keep thinking how perfectly 60s the name Winters was. Maybe I’m thinking of Katy Winters, who was in all those ads for Secret deodorant. Who the hell was she and why did we want to know her name in a deodorant commercial?? They announced her name in every one!
Poor Maggie Evans, the waitress. So pretty and so doomed. Apparently when you are bitten a couple of times, you start to fall under the vampire’s spell, and he can control and confuse you. Barnabas kept telling her she was Josette Collins. After a while, she recovered from her blood loss and regained her mental state, so she wasn’t buying this Your-name-is-Josette-Collins business. So now she’s in big trouble.
Victoria Winters is starting to look much more interesting to Barnabas, because she’s without family, and enjoys history and thoughts of the romance of past ages. She is very agreeable to Barnabas when he stops by the mansion. A replacement of fiancees seems imminent!
And there’s Elizabeth Stoddard’s grown daughter, Carolyn. Lives in the mansion, has the greatest hair of all. I thought it might have been a fall pinned on top of her natural hair, but then I remembered how thick your hair can be when you’re young. She causes trouble. She is threatening to marry a hippie motorcyclist named Buzz. She dances a lot and is getting wilder as she grows more upset with her mother’s shenanigans. I hope to see her embrace the more psychedelic styles of the late sixties.
It should go without saying that no one realizes Barnabas is a vampire, except for two people he’s bitten but kept alive. He keeps them with him in the Old House.
The clothing is nice vintage sixties stuff. Every single character owns a raincoat. While the simple shift dresses with stand-up collars were not my favorite even back then, the nightgowns and robes are great. All that chiffon and quilted nylon. And the wedding gowns, that Barnabas forces Maggie Evans to wear, are just lovely.
…. I wait for Elizabeth to do something about her blackmailer, and for someone to escape from the vampire.