Dark Shadows Revival, Not That Bad.
By Kristin Battestella
I grew up watching reruns of the classic goth soap opera Dark Shadows. Oft syndicated and poorly imitated, in 1991 Dan Curtis re-launched his beloved spooky series in the aptly named, but unfortunately short lived Dark Shadows: The Revival.
Victoria Winters (Joanna Going) arrives in the sleepy Maine town of Collinsport to become the governess to young and troubled David Collins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt). At the creepy and massive mansion Collinwood, matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Jean Simmons) is kind to Victoria, but David’s father Roger (Roy Thinnes) is harsh to Victoria and handyman Willie Loomis (Jim Fyre). Searching for the family jewels so he can leave Collinsport, Willie breaks into the secret room in the family mausoleum, inadvertently releasing the 200 year old vampire Barnabas Collins (Ben Cross) from his chained coffin. Barnabas claims to be a cousin from England and insinuates himself at the estate’s Old House. Unfortunately, Collinswood is soon gripped with blood, sorcery, and terror.
Focusing on one spooky storyline at a time, The Revival begins where the original series first took its gothic turn: the tragic story of brooding vampire Barnabas Collins. What takes hundreds of episodes and months of viewing from the original series is tidied up here in thirteen shows. Each episode builds naturally to the finale, which unfortunately ends rather abruptly due to the revived series’ cancellation. From Willy’s freeing Barnabas of his coffin to Victoria’s witchcraft trial in 1790, The Revival plays like a condensed miniseries homage to the original series. The series premiered to rave ratings and reviews, but a wishy washy schedule from NBC doomed Dark Shadows: The Revival.
My mother disowned this series because of her love for original Barnabas actor Jonathan Frid, but I think the cast of The Revival is a-okay. Jean Simmons (Elmer Gantry, The Big Country) gives a classic element as matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. She has the spirit of original series star Joan Bennett, but we don’t see enough of her. Barbara Blackburn (Ryan’s Hope) is just the right touch of hoochie as Carolyn Stoddard; she seems to enjoy the vampire make outs at least. It’s unusual to see Ely Pouget’s (ER) psychic Maggie Evans having an affair with Roy Thinnes’(Falcon Crest) jerky Roger Collins, and both characters are somewhat wasted by the briefness of the series. We’ve got that young and sexy, sure, but The Revival is a little older and more old fashioned then say the more recent Buffy or Underworld. The supporting Dr. Woodward/Joshua Collins (Stefan Gierasch) , Mrs. Johnson/Abigail Collins (Julianna McCarthy), and Sheriff Patterson/Andre Du Pres (Michael Cavanaugh) give The Revival that good old spooky movie feeling. Their turns in the past-along with Roy Thinnes’ divinely creepy Reverend Trask- add talent and appeal for mature fans.
I must confess I’m not sure what to make of Barbara Steele (War and Remembrance, The Winds of War) as Julia Hoffman. Her voice looks dubbed, and her harsh style seems to try too hard. At the same time, however, this fits her scientific nature and strong support in curing Barnabas. But oh my those huge glasses have to go! Ben Cross (Chariots of Fire, First Knight, Star Trek) may also be a toe over dramatic as Barnabas, but its as if we are supposed to enjoy his torment and acts for the rest of the Collins family. Joanna Going (Inventing The Abbotts) has that old fashioned look and beauty, and her romantic air is the perfect compliment to Cross’ brooding Barnabas.
Michael T. Weiss, later of Pretender fame, is unfortunately very clunky as Joe Haskell and Peter Bradford. Guest star Adrian Paul, later of Highlander: The Series, is far more worthy as Jeremiah Collins. Joseph Gordon-Levitt (3rd Rock From The Sun, Stop-Loss) is a real brat as David Collins, but Veronica Lauren (Days of Our Lives) is cute as the ghostly Sara Collins. The cast shifts to their past selves just as the original series did and we conclude The Revival largely in the past. Lysette Anthony (Dracula: Dead and Loving It, The Bill) is vile and sexy as Angelique, but she comes into the series rather late. Again a character who could have been something greater had the series continued.
Original series creator Dan Curtis wears many hats for this production. In addition to producing, the late Curtis wrote and directed the two hour pilot and the following three episodes. The sweeping zooms and overhead camera angles are a bit much, as are the way too close close ups. Establishing shots of people just walking around take too long, and the Collingswood sets seem somehow too full of obstacles. Its layout, surrounding gardens, support buildings, and the Old House all look the same. It’s also amusing that we always seem to see Barnabas snooping about at 4 a.m., where there’s a lot of fog and too much daylight for the vampire. Although the subtle changes in Cross’ appearance as a vampire are a fine touch. The eyes, teeth, and pale makeup look just different enough from his aristocratic cousin from England self. Big hair and satin nightgowns-the still eighties looking hair and clothes do give The Revival a sub par Dynasty feeling. Although in Dynasty you would never see deputies carrying silver crosses and staking vampires.
While the opening credits remain true to the original series with its shots of Collingswood and crashing coastal waves, they are at the same time absolutely hokey. The moving pictures of the actors should have just been simple stills. Some of the cast’s inclusion in the opening credits compared to his or her little screen time also seems amiss. Thankfully, the classic musical themes we know so well are all here. (I have the Quentin’s Theme 45, that’s all I’m saying!) Sometimes they seemed corny on the original show, but here, the music from Bob Cobert adds an extra gothic flare. Josette’s Theme has its fair share once we switch to 1790; and the past’s production, locations, and costumes are superior to the original Dark Shadows.
The Dark Shadows: The Revival DVD set contains all thirteen hours over three discs. The menus aren’t anything fancy, but they are easy to navigate. Not all the episodes have a voiceover introduction from Victoria Winters, so I don’t know if this is part of each particular episode or a technical mistake. Allegedly there are also cropping errors and missing scenes from the original airings and VHS releases. There are no subtitles or features, but I’m just pleased this series has even seen the DVD light of day. After waiting for the price to come down, I found a used set for a very affordable price. Though not as complex or lengthy as the original series, Dark Shadows: The Revival has better production values.
For younger folks who can’t appreciate the cheese of the original, The Revival is a fine substitution. For gothic aficionados who don’t have the time for the original or horror fans uninitiated with the classic series, The Revival is a great place to begin. For vampire fans who like a little sex appeal and brooding mixed with a good bit of darkness and fear, you can enjoy Dark Shadows: The Revival without having to skip around some of the weaker storylines from the original series. (The Dream Curse, The Leviathans, and that stupid shadow that chased Christopher Pennock!)
Dark Shadows: The Revival is short, affordable, and risk free for any fan of the original series to chance. Horror fans young and old will enjoy its timeless tale.