Dark Shadows holds such an unusual place in television history that it almost feels like a dream, not an actual show. Begun in 1966 as a 30-minute daytime drama with gothic trappings, Dark Shadows quickly moved beyond the standard mix of romantic entanglements and murder mysteries and started incorporating ghosts, witches, and—in a move that briefly made the show a phenomenon—vampires. Dark Shadows has the basic feel of a soap opera, with its dragged-out conversations, washed-out lighting, broad one-take performances, and close-ups that give way to extreme close-ups. But the writing has an elevated quality that matches the finely tailored costumes and entrancing score. Just about any given shot in a Dark Shadows episode looks like the cover of a romance novel. And episode-by-episode, the show led viewers from the believable to the bizarre, until the spooky old mansion known as Collinwood became a place where characters could wander down a shadowy corridor and end up in a parallel universe.
The DVD collections Dark Shadows: The Vampire Curse and Dark Shadows: The Haunting Of Collinwood each offer three hours of scenes from the show, excerpted and edited together to encompass long stretches of plot. The Vampire Curse includes a flashback to the origins of Barnabas Collins (played by Jonathan Frid), the vampire character who helped cement Dark Shadows’ transition to all-supernatural-all-the-time; The Haunting Of Collinwood features the introduction of Quentin Collins (played by David Selby), who troubles his family as a ghost (just as he would later in the series as a werewolf). Though the editing is seamless, these two sets don’t give the truest picture of Dark Shadows. The stories are more streamlined, and in both, Barnabas is more domesticated than the troubled beast who captured the nation’s imagination in 1967. Still, both discs provide a crash introduction to a series whose impact continues to felt in popular culture. Dark Shadows was way ahead of the curve in the “sympathetic vampire” genre, and a lot of its confident combination of classic monster-movie tropes and high-minded fantasy ideas influenced shows as far-flung as Buffy The Vampire Slayer and Lost. Dark Shadows’ main legacy is what it taught other TV creators about how to explore the fringes of fiction. Just start with the possible, and then gradually edge away.
Key Features: Short interviews with Frid and Selby, plus bonus full-length episodes.