DVD Review: Dark Shadows, finally the conclusion of the Phoenix saga

At the close of the last set of Dark Shadows episodes on DVD, parapsychologist Dr. Guthrie proposed a jaunt to the vault/graveyard of an old New England family named Stockbridge to open up the tomb of Laura Murdoch Stockbridge–a lady who died by fire exactly 200 years ago. Carolyn Stoddard and her former fiance Joe were shocked by the request and just a tad reluctant to join him, but as this DVD set begins, the trio is at the crypt.

Laura's empty graveSo, what’s inside Laura Murdoch Stockbridge’s tomb? Nothing.

Nor, after a spot of late-night grave digging, is there anything to be found in the coffin of Laura Murdoch Radcliffe, who died 100 years ago by fire, except for a nice satin lining. Their bodies have disappeared as completely as that of the unidentified woman who burnt to death in Phoenix.

While Dr. Guthrie and his companions are at the vault, they discover more historical evidence in the collection of books the old caretaker keeps concerning the Stockbridge family.

An article clipped from an old newspaper reveals the full story of Laura Murdoch Radcliffe’s death. She burned alive at her home with her son David in her arms. In spite of attempts to rescue them, neither wanted to be saved from the fire.

1867 news clippings
The three return to Collinsport to tell the others what they’ve learned and discuss how to prevent the cycle from repeating itself with Laura and David Collins. There is some nice cross-cutting between two conversations, as Dr. Guthrie talks to Roger Collins and Vicky talks to Burke Devlin–the two main characters who still think that they’re living in a rational universe where women don’t go up in flames regularly once a century, rise from the ashes, and return to try and take their sons with them. Roger and Burke don’t entirely buy this fantastic tale about Laura’s true nature, and utterly reject the part where Josette’s ghost comes into it, but they both agree to try and keep David away from Laura for the boy’s sake.

Then Roger receives one piece of evidence that convinces him it’s all true: Josette’s intervention.

Meanwhile, Dr. Guthrie goes to the cottage to confront Laura with what he’s discovered about her. She laughs it off at first, but he continues to push. “Are you denying that you’re the undead?”

This is a really stupid move on his part, considering the powers he believes she possesses–that she does in fact possess. He’s been subjected to them before…. and will again that same evening while driving to Collinwood to attend a second séance. Vicky, David, and painter Sam Evans have gathered at the old house to try and contact Josette. They are waiting for Dr. Guthrie, but when he doesn’t arrive, they decide to go on without him.

I was thinking, “But none of you speak French!” As it turns out, none of them need to; the spirit they contact is not Josette.

Just as Vicky seems to have a sympathetic connection with the ghost of Josette Collins, so does David Collins have a connection with that other little boy, David Radcliffe, who died with his mother 100 years ago. This long-dead David speaks through the living boy about the fire that killed him, then predicts that another fire will happen soon at “the little house.” Vicky is completely baffled by what this could mean, even when Josette shows up and provides some hints. I thought that “the little house” must surely be Laura’s cottage on the Collinwood grounds, but I wasn’t right either and didn’t have Josette helping me out.

LauraThat evening, Laura lures her son out of the house and arranges to meet him at a fishing shack on the cliffs over the sea. Events that have been building slowly over weeks finally come to a climax. But will Vicky and the Collins family realize that David has gone, figure out where he is, and get there in time to prevent him going up in flames with his mother?

I’m not going to give the ending away. I’ll just say that I enjoyed this entire story from first to last. It was entertaining to put together all the clues about who Laura was and what she meant to do. The story of the Phoenix was different from most of the supernatural tales I’ve seen, and I’m rather sorry to see it end. The introduction of Barnabas Collins that must be coming up soon doesn’t look nearly as interesting. I’ve seen plenty of vampire stories before.

Now that the Phoenix saga is over, Dark Shadows returns to some of its earlier plots. In a quarrel with Roger, Sam Evans finally reveals the Terrible Secret that he’s been keeping since Burke Devlin showed up in the very first episodes: Roger was driving the car during that hit-and-run accident that Burke went to prison for.

This in itself didn’t surprise me–from early on, it seemed obvious that Roger or Laura had to be the driver–but Sam’s stating it so bluntly was startling. After he and Roger have made such a to-do for so long about not telling anyone what really happened, it tells me that the show’s writers are getting ready to wrap up this story line. Good! It’s been the most tedious part of the goings-on in Collinsport all along.

As soon as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard awakens from her coma (and Joan Bennett returns after a five-week absence), she demands to leave the hospital. She says that she’s worried about David, but she seems more anxious about whether or not Dr. Guthrie did any exploring around the closed wing of Collinwood or in the basement. Once she’s home again, she sneaks down into the basement in the middle of the night to check on the locked door of that mysterious room. Now what, or who, do you suppose is in there?


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.