The oh so stunning Victoria Winters (Joanna Going) arrives via train at the sinister Collinwood Mansion to act as tutor for the resident brat (Joseph Gordon Levitt). But before she can spell “I’m f*cked”, distant Collins relative Barnabas (Ben Cross) crashes the shindig and guess what? He’s a vampire cursed by a bitter witch named Angelique (Lysette Anthony). And ya know what else? Victoria happens to be the reincarnated version of his lost love. Hey-ho!
The late Dan Curtis (he passed in March 2006 ) knew he had gold with the Dark Shadows concept, so much so that he streamlined the original show (which aired from 1966 to 1971), two theatrical flicks based on said show: House of Dark Shadows (1970) and the Barnabas-less Night of Dark Shadows (1971), a revival/remake in 1991 and an off-Broadway play adaptation. He then tried to get it going again in 2004 with another TV re-telling (a pilot was shot for WB, they didn’t go for it, saying it was too “out there”) and he’s of course credited on the upcoming TIM BURTON big screen version. So in light of Burton’s go at it, I decided to go backwards and tackle the show. In a curious growth spurt the original Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows only tossed in vampire Barnabas Collins (then played by Jonathan Frid) and the supernatural elements come Season 2 which resulted in the show finally “catching on” 100%.
But that's not the one I grew up with. For me DARK SHADOWS will always be the big budget 1991 retelling. That version cut right to the chase and launched its shenanigans with Barnabas (now tackled by the great Ben Cross) in the middle of the action right off the bat. Now although it sadly only lasted one season (the show had the misfortune of airing while the Gulf war kicked in, it kept getting bumped by NBC in favor of news coverage and it eventually lost its audience) and it ended on a cliff-hanger that never got resolved (maddening, that cliffhanger haunts me to this day). Re-visiting this
Collinwood house today was a big treat for this horror fan! And here’s why!
DARK SHADOWS hit home for the right and wrong reasons, hence it was hard for it to stumble in my bubble of a world. It had me in its grasp right away with its eerie opening theme song by Bob Cobert, yes the same ditty they used in the original series. It then put out an infectious Gothic atmosphere that reminded me of Old School Hammer films i.e. sombre cinematography; dread filled set designs and a smoke machine earning its pay check. The visual style was endearing as well with lots of sweeping shots of the settings at hand, a “Vaseline smeared” like look and heavy handed dramatic quick zoom-ins. The show was well written, with dialogue that went from bang on to deliciously cheesy and gripping performances across the board. Ben Cross was fantastic as the vampire anti hero. Although the blood sucker had a temper that put me to shame (unless JD is involved), and fits of random violence, Cross managed to bring out the pathos of the character and his romantic streak, hence making Barnabas untouchable. Even when he messed up I was rooting for that fanged bastard to attain his goal! I mean damn, he paid his dues, just give him his broad and let’s move on already! On her end, Joanna Going was so gorgeous that it should be crime and she had the chops to back them looks up to boot.
Other stand outs for me were Barbara Steele as Dr. Julia Hoffman, a cold and calculated character that I loved to hate, sexpot Barbara Blackburn as Carolyn Stoddard who’s oral fetish (see her lick her lips for the umpteen time, or put her finger on said lips) turned me on like I was 12 again, discovering a hard-on. What happened to that girl (last I heard she was doing theater in New York)? Too bad, she had that “star” quality and then some! A young Joseph Gordon-Levitt was creepy yet vulnerable as David Collins while Lysette Anthony gave me a boner and chilled my bones at the same time as Angelique, the witch with a grudge to quench. And was that a pre Highlander Adrian Paul doing his charm schtick I saw? You bet it was! The man owned it! Now I could spend all my time praising the ENTIRE CAST, but I won’t because you got shit to do. All that to say; the ensemble of actors here was BEYOND excellent! Whoever cast this bitch deserves a hand/palm job for a task well done!
What about the story you may ask? I was all up in it. We had a potent love plot line (between Barnabas and Victoria/Josette), love triangles, vampire hunters, time travel, possession, ghosts (slick visual effects there) shit a Zombie even got into a the mix at a certain point! I was loving it! DARK SHADOWS stayed true to the original's soap opera roots that’s for sure! In this revival, most of the episodes had an “out there” plot twist with a quick zoom in and a tum-tum-tum music cue letting us know that shit is rotten in Denmark. The B Movie fan in me loved every second of it.
Any down sides? Yes, but not really. The exterior shots were obviously a miniature model of the house…but... it was part of the shows charm. Moreover, I did resent that some characters were slapped in the background too much as the show went on (like Jim Fyfe as Willie/ Ben Loomis). Lastly, they shot most of the night sequences in a day for night manner. No sure if it was the transfer on my DVD but yeah, seeing the sunlight beaming in the background when its supposed to be night-time took me out of the affair a tad, I don’t give a shit how many blue filters you’re slapping in there; if I see sun shining through trees; you’re busted!
All in all though, the 1991 DARK SHADOWS was a delight for me to sink my teeth into; it was brilliantly cast/acted, its storyline had me in its grasp the whole way, and aside from its day for night muck ups, its cheesy elements only added to my relishing of the experience. It really is a shame that NBC gave this one the axe, cause just when it started to fly high via its own wings, out of the shadow of the original, it got shot down, buried and forgotten. A show of this caliber deserved a better fate. Huge bummer this show didn't go on! Because once I reached the final frame of the last episode, I soooo wanted more! You gonna hang with the Collins or what?
The show was surprisingly fairly grisly. We got lots of blood and messy bites.
This show WAS cleavage shots and I was a hornier man for it. The ladies get a fit Weiss pandering his toned upper body all over the place.
At the end of the stake in the heart, revisiting DARK SHADOWS 1991 was a blast! Cast up the ying-yang, expertly acted, with a topsy-turvy storyline that had me in its grasp the whole way, Gothic atmosphere and production values that showcased the green on the screen. Yes some of it was cheesy (but that added to its charm). The day for night muck ups were almost unforgivable, I said almost, and it truly sucked that it ended on a cliff-hanger that will never be resolved but all in all DARK SHADOWS 1991 was quality horror inclined entertainment. Looking back, NBC made a HUGE mistake in letting this one go, they had a jewel on their hands and they abandoned it as if it was a piece of coal. Those not initiated to DARK SHADOWS may want to wrestle the original 1966 to 1971 series but for this a-hole, DARK SHADOWS 1991 will always be top of the DARK SHADOWS food chain; a finer than red wine series that was unplugged before its time. Do with that what you will.
2004 saw yet another version of DARK SHADOWS. A pilot was shot (commissioned by WB) but wasn't picked up. It starred Alex Newman and Marley Shelton and was only screened once at the 2005 Dark Shadows Fest...
Even though NBC received over 50,000 letters from fans BEGGING them to continue the 1991 Dark Shadows show. They said NO DICE. NBC sucks!
Barbara Blackburn went on to do theatre in New York. her one woman show Extreme Girl was conceived, written and performed by her and critically lauded.