DVD Review: More “Dark Shadows” after all

After episode 211 and the arrival of Barnabas Collins, the DVD packaging for Dark Shadows changes. The first set beginning with 211 is called Collection 1–these were issued before The Beginning, if that makes sense. They go up to Collection 26, but I don’t think I’ll be hanging on that long.

I wasn’t sure whether or not I was going to continue to write these reviews, but one unresolved story line prompted me to go on: What’s behind the locked door in the basement? This mystery was introduced in the very first episodes, when Victoria Winters wandered down into the basement on her first night at Collinwood, following the sounds of a woman’s sobs. Elizabeth Collins Stoddard refused to leave her home for 18 years because of whatever was in there. I didn’t remember this story at all from my childhood viewing–for awhile, I had the idea that that was where Barnabas’s coffin was hidden, and Elizabeth was keeping guard over a long-hidden family secret.

But the secret behind that door isn’t as old as that. At long last, we’re going to get a peek inside.

Jason McGuire is still at Collinwood. He makes a few feints at figuring out what happened to Willie Loomis and why his former uncontrollable accomplice is now the meek and apologetic servant of Barnabas Collins, but his primary interest remains in blackmailing Elizabeth for allJason McGuire he can get. While the two originally hinted about the true fate of Paul Stoddard, Elizabeth’s long-missing husband, they now speak openly of it between themselves. Elizabeth did kill her husband and Jason helped her to hide the body in that locked room.

It had been my impression earlier in the series that Paul disappeared before Elizabeth’s daughter Carolyn was born, but as Elizabeth tells the story now, it seems that Carolyn was a baby at the time. Elizabeth also speaks repeatedly of these events happening 18 years ago. However, everyone has been saying that Carolyn was born, Paul disappeared, and Elizabeth shut herself up at Collinwood 18 years ago since the very beginning of the series. That was nearly a year ago. Shouldn’t it all be 19 years past at this point?

Whatever. Jason has been receiving large sums of money from Elizabeth for keeping her secret. She’s also given him a partnership in the Collins family cannery, although he doesn’t actually do any work there. But this isn’t enough. When she refuses to pay him any more, he proposes… well, he proposes. He suggests a marriage of convenience between them so that he can share in all she owns without receiving traceable chunks of cash at intervals.

Elizabeth balks at first. She says she’d rather die. Then she begins to give in and talks to her lawyer about obtaining a divorce for desertion, since she can’t admit that her missing husband is dead. Although she tells her brother Roger that she doesn’t intend to remarry, she also tosses out a few hints about her future plans that alarm both Roger and Carolyn.

Roger, Carolyn, and Vicky too, are certain that Jason has some hold over Elizabeth to make her put up with so much from him, but they don’t guess what it could be. Carolyn shows the most perception; she believes that it has something to do with the locked room and she’s determined to have a look inside, either by stealing the key from her mother or having Elizabeth open the door herself. Unbeknownst to Carolyn, it’s Jason who actually convinces Elizabeth to hand over the key–after he uses it to go into the room himself and check that everything is as it should be.

Elizabeth leads the curious party downstairs and unlocks the door. Finally, we get to see what’s behind it!

The CellarNot much of interest, really.

The room is remarkably free of dust, considering how long it’s been locked up, with just a few cobwebs in the corners. A suitcase and trunk contain Paul Stoddart’s clothes–possibly these were meant to be what he took with him when he supposedly decamped. There are also a metal box-spring for a bed and an ugly looking Victorian statue placed on top of a barrel.

Carolyn, Roger, and Vicky are disappointed as they have their look around. None of them seems to form the same idea about the luggage that crossed my mind; they simply regard it as some of Paul’s things that Elizabeth has stored here, just as she claimed.

It makes me wonder why Elizabeth was so afraid to leave the house for so many years. It’s not as if the skeletal remains of Paul Stoddard are lying sprawled on the floor or are stuffed inside the trunk for anyone to discover while casually poking around.

So where is his body? No words are spoken to answer this question, but both Jason and the camera focus their attention on the stone slabs of the floor…

Once the contrite little group has returned upstairs, Elizabeth announces her engagement.

***

The above is merely a subplot. Since his arrival, Barnabas Collins has completely taken over the show.

Barnabas's arrivalI can see why he was such a big hit when he first appeared. He makes a terrific initial impression with his charming, old-fashioned manners and his dreamy-eyed soliloquies about what the old Collins house was like when it was newly built.

He claims to be the great-great-great-grandson of the Barnabas who supposedly went to England, and bases his detailed knowledge of the Collins family history on traditions and historical records that were kept by the English branch of the family. Why should the New England Collinses doubt him? He looks so much like the portrait in the front hall. He’s even wearing the same ring. These two points will be noticed by everyone and repeated about 400 times. Besides, he seems like such a nice man.

Of course he’s not so charming to his victims.

When Barnabas asks Elizabeth if he can live in and restore the old house to its former glory, she consents. The only disquieting note occurs when the Collinses notice that he’s hired Willie Loomis to do the renovation work, but Willie is so well-behaved for Barnabas that no one makes much fuss about his remaining. In no time at all, Willie’s fixed up the front room and restored one bedroom upstairs so that it is suitable for a lady to inhabit. The portrait of Josette is moved from its position over the parlor fireplace to this room. Barnabas then hires Sam Evans to paint his portrait to hang downstairs.

Willie opens the coffin I think it was a mistake to make Barnabas so obviously a vampire from his introduction. We know it now, of course, and have for over 40 years, but there was no mystery about him for the original viewers either.

What made the Phoenix story so entertaining for me was working out what sort of supernatural being Laura Murdoch Collins was and what she was after. But from the moment that ringed hand reached up out of the coffin to seize Willie Loomis, there was no question about what Barnabas was.

Although Barnabas’s story will take some bizarre and original twists later on, this early part is very much like Dracula. I’ve already referred to Willie Loomis “Renfield,” and the old Collins house might as well be Carfax Abbey. When Barnabas turns his attention to Maggie Evans, the process of her victimization closely resembles Lucy Westenra’s. Maggie is drained of blood, receives a transfusion, and is drained again. Barnabas hangs around her home in wolf-form (not seen, but often heard howling outside).

But it seems that the universe in which Dark Shadows takes place is one where the story of Dracula does not exist–or at least no one in Collinsport has ever read the book or seen a movie version. The nature of Maggie’s illness baffles everyone in spite of the tell-tale puncture marks on her throat. A doctor might not seriously consider the idea of a vampire, but no one else remarks on the possibility either, even as a joke. Oddly, the doctor seems to be the only person with an inkling of what’s going on, but his instructions are routinely ignored. Don’t leave Maggie alone for a minute! She is left alone, several times. Keep that window shut! A nurse opens the window and Maggie disappears from her hospital room, abducted by Barnabas.

This is the part I recall watching during the early 1970s as a child. It’s Barnabas’s idea to hold Maggie in hypnotic thrall, convince her that she is his beloved Josette, and make her his vampire-bride. Maggie is dazed and disoriented at first, but eventually she recovers her own identity. To humor Barnabas and protect herself until she can escape, she pretends to believe that she is Josette. Barnabas accepts this, but Willie has his doubts. I can see why: Maggie pretending to be Josette shows signs of a spirited personality and is capable of forming complete sentences. When she was under Barnabas’s spell, the best she could manage was a confused echoing of the last thing he or Willie said to her. Which makes me wonder about the level of conversation Barnabas was anticipating from his chosen companion-for-eternity.

The real Josette threw herself off the cliff rather than become a vampire–a fact that Barnabas disregards during his transformation of Maggie. I was wondering where ghostly Josette was during all of this. She used to act as the family’s guardian and made frequent appearances in that same house. Is she afraid of Barnabas (what’s a vampire going to do to harm a ghost?), or does she just not care about Maggie?

The scene I recalled most clearly from childhood was one where Maggie sees the coffin Willie has made for her; sWillie, Maggie, and the coffinhe says it’s beautiful, and he replies that she isn’t supposed to think so until after she’s been transformed. That’s how he knows she’s faking it.

Exposed, she pleads for his help and offers him a diamond necklace Barnabas has given her.

As it turns out, this scene is almost the last thing at the end of Collection 1. Willie is still partial to jewels and is enormously tempted by the offer, but he’s more afraid of what Barnabas will do to him if he helps her.

Maggie, at least, has seen a vampire movie. She knows that the way to get rid of Barnabas is to drive a stake through his undead heart. She is about to do so… but unfortunately she tries it just a little too close to sunset.

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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.