FRIGHTENING FLIX BY KBATZ: Dark Shadows 1897

Revisiting Dark Shadows’ 1897 Storyline by Kristin Battestella

Let’s celebrate with Dark Shadows as we are so often wont to do! Though arriving in the middle of the macabre sixties soap opera, the 1897 storyline is the series’ longest time travel jaunt at 183 episodes. Its Victorian turn of the century vampires, werewolves, and panache make this plot the perfect place to sample what the eerie endurance of Dark Shadows is about as our company stock becomes all new characters for the period mayhem. Thanks to video releases and streaming options broken down into forty-episode seasonal Collections, viewers new or old can easily jump into this Dark Shadows breadth. Here’s a recap of said Collections covering the 1897 ghosts, secrets, and curses.

Collection 13

When the Ghost of Quentin Collins (David Selby) drives the entire Collins family from Collingwood, governess Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) and her two possessed charges (David Henesy and Denise Nickerson) flee to the Old House as Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) and Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) search for answers to rid them of the poltergeist and stop Chris Jennings’ (Don Briscoe) werewolf transformations. When Barnabas and Professor Stokes (Thayer David) discover Quentin’s I Ching wands, Barnabas uses them to will himself to the year 1897. Once in the past, he introduces himself to Judith Collins (Joan Bennett) and investigates Quentin’s secrets. Unfortunately, Barnabas harbors a secret of his own – he has been unchained from his coffin and is once again a vampire.

Collection 13 begins with Episode 696 from February 1969, just before the nineteenth-century switch, and concludes with a wallop for Number 735. Opening narrations get the viewer up to speed on the scandals and ancestral players after the Episode 701 transition, and the paranormal tricks work well with the soap opera mysteries. We’re like the newly arrived vampire Barnabas indeed – at the mercy of unfolding mysticism, scheming gypsies, heirs at each other’s throats, and missing wills. Why is the maid Beth Chavez still on at Collingwood if her mistress Jenny Collins has left? Where is Edward Collin’s wife Laura and what does she have to do with Quentin’s banishment? Why does governess Rachel Drummond see lights in the empty Tower room? Borrowing from classic literature on Dark Shadows is apparent with this Jane Eyre symbolism, yet the familiar gothic tropes anchor the spooky changeover. Iconic Dark Shadows music accentuates the shockers, and Robert Cobert’s morose motifs and creepy cues help build character suspense. Scary shadows, fake cobwebs, spotlights, darkness, and candle effects invoke careful mood and ominous set design even as Dark Shadows remains notorious for its fly-by-night production cheapness. Thankfully, the antiques, colorful frocks, microphone shadows, and set bloopers alike set off the quality storytelling keeping us on the edge of our seats with illicit twists, fiery whodunits, and Martinique zombies. Episode 705 has a sweet, fatal climax, and plenty of red herrings and tower mysteries makes for some great undead kickers and fainting frights – especially Episode 723.

Collection 14

The mysterious Laura Collins (Diana Millay) returns to Collinwood determined to take her children Jamison (David Henesy) and Nora (Denise Nickerson) away from Reverend Trask’s (Jerry Lacey) strict boarding school. Her former lover Quentin Collins, however, has other occult plans for her. Barnabas Collins also battles Laura with the help of gypsies Magda (Grayson Hall) and Sandor (Thayer David). Unfortunately, his unraveling of Quentin’s secrets has deadly consequences, and Barnabas must help family matriarch Judith in the 1897 past to save the Collins’ 1969 future.

Dark Shadows adds even more supernatural elan with children in peril in Episode 736 and wolfy foreplay thru 775. The 1897 action interweaves bizarre dreams and eerie prophecies as the ensemble tackles several well balanced plots at once. Unlike slow soaps, something happens each episode with real-time half-hour pacing. First time viewers are treated to surprise connections and cliffhangers regarding the murders, blackmail, and poisons. Certainly, there are melodramatic hysterics, but the lycanthrope suspense, meddling witches, and phoenix – yes a phoenix – storylines remain unique. The impish Quentin is oh so suave, calculating, and full of love to hate charm as he causes trouble in every way possible. Paranormal layers populate Dark Shadows with bats, doppelgangers, Egyptian motifs, and psychic torment. Cool crypts, wolf howls, and chilling knocks at the door invoke atmosphere while the wobbly Styrofoam tombstones and visible boom mikes are drinking game-worthy. Poor Barnabas Collins, stuck in a foreign time and dealing with ghosts, wolf investigations, and vampire victims all at the same time. His flub, “My cousin, Uncle Jeremiah…” is certainly understandable! We can laugh and forgive such same day tape mistakes because Dark Shadows comes together so effectively – creating intense, ambitious daytime action with complex characters to match.

Collection 15

While werewolf Quentin Collins and Magda the gypsy who cursed him seek a cure for his lycanthropy, time-traveling cousin and vampire Barnabas Collins tries to keep their paranormal secrets from fellow family members Edward (Louis Edmunds) and the newly married Judith Collins Trask. Corrupt Reverend Trask has all but taken over the Collinwood estate and soon seeks to cleanse the family of its evils once the mysterious Count Petofi (Thayer David) and his magical cohorts come to town.

After nearing over 100 hundred episodes in the 1897 storyline, Dark Shadows lends itself a hand by adding even more vengeful ghosts, gypsy curses, and freaky talismans to the gothic storytelling. 1969 names and plots are mentioned to remind the audience of this 1897 excursion’s original purpose, but the time travel troubles, shockingly bloody vampires, and expanding werewolf yarns lead to a zany off-screen shootout and elaborate action sequences. Character shakeups and spooky developments keep the paranormal fresh; no player is superfluous as each wrench contributes to the complex immediacy amid witches, zombies, and disembodied hands. Steamy dream sequences, psychics, and undead secrets come to a head as disposable policemen, jailed werewolves, and possessions provide tension and suspense. Manipulated wives mix with supernatural causes, and the infamously inaccurate Collins Family History book means anything can happen. The Picture of Dorian Gray twists delight along with a crazy finale in Episode 816. Of course, that monkey’s paw style hand leads to some wildly bad makeup and pasty skin effects that are actually ghoulishly fitting, and the black and white kinescope versions of Episodes 797 and 813 are more disturbing thanks to chilling séances and ghostly overlays. When the panning cameras, zooms, booming screams, coffin creaks, slamming doors, fog machines, and lights out cooperate, it’s the exclamation on all the fearful gothic mood. Certainly, the gypsy material here is stereotypical and cliché. For some audiences, Dark Shadows may seem comical in its juicy horror camp. However, today many shows seem to easily unravel with less material over shorter amounts of time. There’s even been a small Victorian cum steampunk resurgence onscreen, but Dark Shadows has been doing this kind of entertainment all along.

Collection 16

Vampire Barnabas Collins is re-entombed in his coffin by the warlock Count Petofi who is intent on escaping 1897 by traveling to the future with werewolf Quentin Collins. Unfortunately, the witch Angelique (Lara Parker) has marital plans for Quentin, leaving the possessed Charity Trask (Nancy Barrett), jealous maid Beth Chavez (Terry Crawford), and painter Charles Delaware Tate’s (Roger Davis) perfect woman come to life Amanda Harris (Donna McKechnie) with brokenhearted, violent, and trigger happy threats.

1969 time travel goals lay the 1897 exit groundwork as skeletons, full moons, gunpoint confrontations, and confessions spearhead the intersecting supernatural tangents, unreliable I Ching attempts, and astral projections gone awry. The vampires, vendettas, paradoxes, and possessions are no longer secret thanks to prophetic harbingers and fatal deadlines. Hooded executioners provide suspense and vicious murders push the daytime television envelope while deceptive visions create an eerie mix of who is who, past or present, and living or dead. Vampires can’t help against unique spells during daylight nor is the werewolf available during the full moon. Characters learn of their own suicides from their future ghosts as villainous malice and emotional anchors swell with sword-wielding terror. Spectral toppers, paranormal visuals, and dark romanticism balance the traditional two-shot soap opera conversations. Although the performances are sincere and earnest, the cast tries not to laugh over crazy dialogue, infamous flubs, and teleprompter glances. Enemies sit together over brandy, waiting for who will blink first before the witch hypnotizes a man to put the pistol to his temple. That’s Twisted! Hidden letters written in 1897 are read in 1969 just in the nick of time – bringing the ominous facts full circle with bloody bright red flashbacks, cyanide, and jealous women. Redemptions and rejections lead to dying for love morose, and mystical bargains trap the afflicted via voodoo effigies, shackles, or black magic. Episode 839 would seem to resolve this fatal past with all is well second chances but the lycanthrope troubles and bodily possessions then and now linger. Stolen portraits, magic rings, late messages, and all aboard whistles add to the diabolical in Episode 850, and unknown prices must be paid. On Dark Shadows, most characters accept the fantastic rather than balk. However, no one ever really escapes from Collinsport.

Collection 17

Barnabas Collins travels from 1897 back to 1796 with Countess Kitty Soames, the reincarnation of his beloved Josette DuPres (Kathryn Leigh Scott) after seemingly defeating the vile Count Petofi – who has switched bodies with the now immortal Quentin Collins in order to travel to 1969. Unfortunately, ancient Leviathan interference and an evil antique shop run by the enthralled Megan Todd (Marcia Wallace) upset numerous events past and present for Dr. Julia Hoffman and the rest of Collinsport.

Body swaps, mistaken identity, and abused I Ching hexagrams open Episode 858 amid bitter marriages, magical portraits, and blackmail. Enemies become allies as characters must prove who they are thanks to skeleton keys, psychic visions, and mystical ruses. Inner monologues matching the real person in the wrong body curb confusion as well as garner sympathy while buried alive threats and haunted punishments result in kidnappings and failed rituals. Dubious lawyers and lookalike vampire encounters ramp up the scares in Episode 868 as suspicious relatives and antagonizing ministers plot with buried suitcases and decoy burglaries. Will power over evil, cliffside desperation, and deadly shockers in Episode 876 up the intensity before 879 adds double-crosses, stranglers, poison, and fresh cement. Climatic scandals keep the paranoia and graveyard chases on track as victims must stay awake lest spells overtake them. Green screen mistakes and innate camera flaws may make the magentas look garish, however, the distorted hues are terribly effective for gaslight ambiance and ghostly overlays. Cursed people are packing, gold diggers are making plans – there’s a sense that 1897 is a wrap and 1969 is imminent thanks to psychedelic dreams, astral interference, and time travel technicalities. Unfortunately, the fiery 1897 finale fumbles thanks to a shoehorned in 1796 detour before the much maligned leviathan storyline with its naga lockets and necronomicons. After three odd colonial episodes, the vampire brides and meddling witches are also left hanging for torches and snake altars before the return to 1969 in Episode 888. It’s a big WTF that today would have audiences immediately tuning out and complaining on Twitter. If Dark Shadows had directly taken the I Ching back to 1969 and then revealed the unusual Lovecraft-inspired leviathan abstracts as a subplot to what happens with our 1897 immortals; the ancient rituals and cult incantations might have been received differently. A lot happens on Collection 17, but Dark Shadows has plenty of juicy left to come, and the 1897 escapade remains perfect for a spooky marathon.

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For even more Dark Shadows reviews, visit my detailed analysis at I Think, Therefore I Review!

Book Review: Barnabas, Quentin, and the Sea Ghost by Marilyn Ross

Dark Shadows is a classic for Horror Addicts everywhere, so when I saw a row of 1970 paperbacks based on the Dark Shadows theme at a thrift store, I couldn’t pass them up. My only regret is that I didn’t buy all of them.

Barnabas, Quentin, and the Sea Ghost by Marilyn Ross were a combination of everything we love. A vampire, a werewolf, and what seems like a pirate ghost, Jenny Swift.

Nora and her father have come to Collinwood to head a salvage project deep under the sea. They’ve been told of the curses of the Jenny Swift including the death of the wife of the last salvage expert. But those warnings fall on deaf ears as Nora and her father are skeptics. As soon as Nora arrives, she encounters a midnight visitor and then shortly after meets Barnabas Collins who she falls in love with.

Despite the rumors of the curse of the Jenny Swift, the salvage operation goes forward. But when accidents start to arise and Nora finds seaweed in her bed, she thinks there might be something to it. On a scary night in the fog, she sees the apparition of Jenny Swift, the beautiful side of her face calling her to the ship and the horrid, mutilated side of her face scaring Nora to the bone. But when Nora is attacked in the cemetery—only to be saved by Barnabas—the Collinwood family wonders if there’s more going on. Could the mysterious Quentin Collins be the one attacking villagers and Nora? Adding a fortune hunter claiming to have rights to the treasure and you’ve got quite a story.

I really enjoyed the story and the descriptions especially of the cemetery and of the apparition Jenny Swift. Some leniency can be given to the quality of writing because of the time and because of the writing style being very script-like. If you can get your hands on this book, I say buy! And if you see any others, buy them up! Or, call me so I can go get them! For lovers of Dark Shadows, these are must-reads and for us regular Addicts it’s a pretty damn good waste of an evening.

Guest Blog: KBatz – Dark Shadows Bloopers

Dark Shadows Bloopers Still In Good Fun
By Kristin Battestella

My father and uncle cringed when hoisting my heaviest trunk up my new condo’s steps, and my husband was downright appalled when he asked what was inside. “My Dark Shadows tapes,” I told him.

All 42 taped off TV with their scribbled labels-some even with commercials!  My mother was a fan growing up, so I saw reruns now and again as a child and spent most of my teen years thanking the Sci Fi Channel for airing the entire gothic soap series from beginning to end. My obsessions come and go, so I’ve never upgraded to MPI’s VHS series or the new DVD releases of Dan Curtis’ half hour daytime soap, which ran from 1966 to 1971.  Every October, however, I get a hankering for Barnabas, Quentin, and that creepy theme music. Thus I rented Dark Shadows: Bloopers and Treasures.

Perhaps one of the most well known-if not THE most- known show ever for hokey production values, Dark Shadows episodes were taped live, with no time to correct mistakes, much less budget and technology of the day. Some of the bloopers presented are almost famous; the late Louis Edmunds as Roger Collins claiming, “Some of my incestors-incestors!-my ancestors are buried here.” There’s falling sets, name flubs, and just as many trick candles, cameramen, and boom mikes as there are cast members.  Although some of the editing is poor, and a few of the mistakes presented are actually tough to spot.  It would have been nice to have the segments divided and labeled or introduced by the cast.  There’s no background music, but it’s neat that the goofs seemed to be grouped together by actor.  Who’s the biggest culprit?  I can’t tell you!

The music video segment opens and closes with some creepy highlight reels and poetry from Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins, but of course we have nearly all the musical segments from the show.  Both incarnations of Pansy Faye and ‘I Wanna Dance For You’; Quentin’s theme and the lyrics to ‘Shadows of the Night’; even a very young Nancy Barrett grooving it up at The Blue Whale.

This compilation dates to 1991 and 1992, but Lara Parker looks quite old in her newer In Salem segment.  The witch history, locations, and guests are very interesting and go hand in hand with Dark Shadows’ resident witch-who’s also pushing a new DS novel.  Unfortunately, the sound and editing is poor and tough to hear.

At least there’s great fun to be had in the game show segment, although I’d never heard of The Generation Gap.  (The clothes! The Hair!) Jonathan Frid’s heartthrob cheers from What’s My Line and Alex Stevens’ removal of his wolfman mask on the same show is a delight.  Joan Bennett needed no introduction on Line, and it’s sad her prolific work is not known to today’s audiences. Yet it’s amazing that there’s still treats like this to be discovered from almost a fifty year old show.

The promos segment is a little misleading, however.  This is Dark Shadows Bloopers after all, so the promos-which were promoting MPI video, conventions, and Dark Shadows books- are instead a reel of slip ups with Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, and Jonathan Frid.  Comedy Tonight turns the tables and presents Dark Shadows inquisitor Jerry Lacy as a vampire, and there’s even a commercial for Barnabas pillows.  Alrighty then!  There’s a separate section devoted to merchandise as well, including books by David Selby, and a very creepy trailer for the Dark Shadows audio dramas.

I was surprised to find this DVD widely available, although my VHS Dark Shadows Scariest Moments is just that, a VHS only.   The menus and music are fun and user friendly, I like the jazzed up rendition of Quentin’s theme.  Dark Shadows: Bloopers and Treasures is a must for fans young and old, but I don’t know its caliber as an introduction piece.  Young folks might laugh and tune in or laugh and tune out.  There’s plenty of DS material to be had for all:  DVDs, books, even mouse pads from darkshadowsdvd.com.  For some spooky fun, try Dark Shadows: Bloopers and Treasures one October night.