DVD Review: Dark Shadows–The Phoenix

When we last visited the charming coastal town of Collinsport, Maine, Laura Collins, Roger’s long-absent wife, had returned to ask for a divorce and to reclaim her son David. But as her story progressThe Phoenix paintinges, it becomes increasingly obvious that something is not-quite right about Laura. She has a peculiar effect on certain people, especially her son, and some very odd and interesting things are happening.

Sam Evan’s painting of a woman amid flames is almost finished. The woman portrayed is clearly Laura Collins. Lines fan out behind her like rays of light or stylized wings. A David-shaped blank spot remains in one lower corner. Everyone who sees the painting is appalled by it and calls it horrible. Actually, I think it’s kind of cool–Sam’s best work from what I’ve seen.

In spite of her opinion of the painting, Vicky feels compelled to buy it and take it back to Collinwood to show the family. When David sees it, he loves it and wants to hang it in his bedroom.

That night, the painting glows and the head of Laura Collins emerges from it until it looms large over the foot of the sleeping boy’s bed. The huge, blonde head does not chant “Tom Stewart killed me! Tom Stewart killed me!” although the floating head of the murdered singer in Tormented is the first thing that springs to my mind.

David awakes as if from a nightmare.

The Floating Head of Laura Collins

Then things begin to get even weirder.

The local police come to Collinwood bringing news that there’s been a fire in Laura’s apartment house in Phoenix. An unidentified dead woman was found in her rooms, burned beyond recognition. Does Laura have any idea who she might be? Laura says no. The police also bring an item that survived the fire: an antique locket containing a photo of David as a baby and a lock of his hair. But Vicky has seen this identical locket before; Laura showed it to her a few episodes earlier. This is clearly impossible, since the locket was still in Phoenix at that time. Nor can there be two lockets. It’s a Collins family heirloom, one that both Roger and Elizabeth know well. Laura denies showing the locket to Vicky at all, which is a lie.

Having finished one painting of Laura Collins in flames, Sam Evans starts another. He can’t help it; he tries to draw something else, but the moment the charcoal touches the canvas, his hand moves against his will to draw the same image again. I had thought that this was Laura’s doing, but when she hears about the second painting, she visits Sam’s studio to tell him to stop it. When he says that he can’t, she returns to the cottage on the Collinwood grounds where she’s staying and sits gazing into the fire. We cut to Sam asleep on his sofa. The newspapers scattered on his floor burst into flame. Sam wakes in time to beat the fire out, burning his hands in the process. No more painting for awhile!

Everyone attributes the fire to a drunken man falling asleep with a lit cigarette (which is true enough), but they are unable to explain how the second painting of Laura, on the other side of the room and under an untouched cover, is also burned.

While all this strange and supernatural stuff is going on, there’s been a tug-of-war between Burke and Roger over Laura. You may recall that she was present at that hit-and-run accident which led to Burke Devlin’s conviction for manslaughter and shares with Roger and Sam the horrible secret about what really happened. Since she first returned to Collinwood, the three men have been eager to learn whether or not she’ll tell what she knows. Roger hangs his agreeing to a divorce and letting her have David on her keeping her mouth shut. Burke is hoping she’ll tell the truth. He’s also hoping to resume their old romance once she’s free, but Laura puts him off by saying that regaining her son is her first priority.

LauraWhen the police at last identify the body in Phoenix, they claim that it’s Laura Collins. But a medical examination of the woman at Collinwood confirms that she is Laura.

After a slow start, Dark Shadows is really picking up! I’m enjoying this very much. It’s not the usual type of ghost story. The only thing I can think of that’s at all similar is an episode of Kolchak: The Night Stalker, in which a concert conductor is haunted by his own doppelganger, which goes around setting fires. Both Dark Shadows and Kolchak were Dan Curtis productions. I’ll have to check if the two stories had the same writer.

Even before I saw an interview with writer Malcolm Marmorstein on the last DVD in the 4th set, I could tell that somebody new had come aboard. While the earliest episodes were set in a primarily realistic world with a few mildly ghostly trappings, the show has now moved into the unabashedly supernatural. Ghosts come and go all the time. The characters try very hard to find rational explanations for the inexplicable events occurring around them as things become more fantastic. Piecing together information about what Laura Collins is exactly and what she’s up to has kept me intrigued. There’s some very nice layering and symbolism involved in her story. Not only has she apparently literally risen from the flames, but she also tells David the legend of the phoenix to provide the first clue as to what’s going on here. After hearing the legend, David draws a picture of a bird amid flames, echoing Sam’s paintings. To top it off, Laura has come from the city of Phoenix!

My one criticism is that too many people feel compelled to do things in order to move the plot forward. Sam is compelled to paint Laura in flames, okay. But then Vicky buys the painting and brings it to Collinwood under compulsion instead of being given some more reasonable motive for her actions. And it isn’t enough that Burke hopes to revive an old flame (no pun intended), but he seems to be under some sort of spell to do Laura’s bidding.

More to come…


Author: Kathryn L Ramage

Kathryn L. Ramage has a B.A. and M.A. in English lit and has been writing for as long as she can remember. She lives in Maryland with three calico cats named after the Brontë sisters. In addition to being the author of numerous short stories, reviews, essays, and period mystery novellas, she is also the author of a series of fantasy novels set in a dukedom called the Northlands on an alternate Earth whose history has diverged from ours somewhere during the medieval period.