Going on with Dark Shadows after all

It’s been awhile; I’ve continued to watch Dark Shadows on DVD, but for a long time wasn’t sure whether or not I would go on writing about it since we’re now well into the part that most people who know the show at all are already familiar with.

But what the hell.

Since a whole lot has happened since I last wrote about this series and I want to catch up, I’m going to condense the story through a number of episodes.

When last we looked in on Barnabas Collins, he was renovating his old home to make it look as it did when he lived in it over 100 years ago. Now that he has parts of the old house fit to receive company, he invites his family and a few chosen others over for a costume party; he will provide the costumes.

Costume partyNormal people might say “What fun!” or “I’m not dressing up in that silly outfit,” but the Collinses regard the upcoming party with a strange sense of foreboding, as if they’re expecting something terrible to happen. They repeatedly speak of how Vicky is too much in love with the past.

As Barnabas delivers the party clothes, he also provides historical identities for each person, based on whom their clothes used to belong to. Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and her brother Roger are given clothes belonging to Barnabas’s parents Naomi and Joshua. Carolyn’s dress belonged to a cousin named Millicent, and Vicky’s once belonged to Barnabas’s beloved Josette. Burke Devlin, who has also been invited, is given a suit belonging to Josette’s husband, Jeremiah Collins.

Barnabas’s hostility toward Burke isn’t just due to this old rivalry, however; at this point in the story, he’s rather smitten with Vicky himself and she and Burke are about to become engaged. (I’ve no idea what happened to Vicky’s sort-of boyfriend Frank; he just disappeared awhile ago without comment.)

While watching this show, I’ve avoided reading episode guides online or other sources that might spoil the story for me. I’ve gotten some information about things that will happen from the interviews with surviving cast and show writers that appear at the end of each disk, but I’m generally relying only on what I recall from watching Dark Shadows as a child. There are huge chunks of this show that I don’t remember at all, but then some incident, scene, or character name will awaken a memory.

Since I did remember that there was a long sequence in which these people were thrown into the past to enact the story of how Barnabas became a vampire, I was expecting that it was going to happen at this costume party. But it doesn’t.

Costume Party There is a séance and, once again, the ghost of Josette speaks through Vicky. She no longer speaks in French; her English is perfectly good as she describes how she is running in terror from some vaguely defined menace and either jumps or falls from the cliff to escape.

Barnabas is visibly upset by this and it puts a damper on the rest of evening. Vicky also glimpses the figure of the little ghost-girl Sarah standing at the top of the stairs before she leaves the house.

I didn’t remember Sarah, even though she has been all over the place since she helped Maggie to escape from Barnabas. She appeared to Maggie’s father, Sam Evans, at his cottage to tell him where he could find his long-missing daughter, and later to a nurse at the hospital where Maggie was being kept in secret during her recovery.

Sarah also occasionally pops up on the grounds of the old Collins house to play with David, although at first he believes she’s a living child in spite of her old-fashioned clothes and indistinct answers about who she is and where she lives. She refers to her brother, and it’s no surprise when that turns out to be Barnabas–the one person Sarah refuses to appear to. It’s really funny to hear him declare that he doesn’t believe in ghosts, which he does after she’s had a chat with Willie. But in spite of his protests, Barnabas does believe in her and is disappointed that she won’t show herself to him.

The big bad vampire is about to learn that the one person he shouldn’t cross is his little sister.

The little girl whSaraho plays Sarah isn’t a very good actor–I suspect that her distracted gaze off into the distance is more because she’s reading her cue-cards than seeing into the spirit world–but I always enjoy when she shows up. This was long before ghost-girls were supposed to be creepy, and she seems like a nice kid.

I like the no-special-effects way she sometimes has of appearing or disappearing: Other characters will be standing in a room having a conversation, then after they exit through the door, the camera pans over to the opposite corner… and there she is. Or the person who’s talking to her turns away for a moment and when they look back, she’s gone. It’s just a matter of the child stepping into or out of a shot, but it’s much more effective than the double-exposed effects also used which tend to look terrible.

On the other hand, it gets kind of tedious when Sarah begins to show up regularly to warn David about Barnabas, and his family insists that she’s some sort of imaginary playmate the boy has made up in spite of the fact that half the town has seen her by this time. Someone will bring her multiple appearances up every once in awhile, then they all go back to the imaginary friend idea as if it had never been discussed.

Dr Julia HoffmanI also remembered next to nothing about Dr. Julia Hoffman. The character originally appeared after Maggie escaped from the basement dungeon at the old Collins house with no memory of what had happened to her. Through hypnosis, Dr, Hoffman helps Maggie to piece together what fragments she can recover–although they always hit a point where Maggie responds with terror and refuses to recall any more. But there’s just enough to lead the doctor to Collinwood, where she presents herself as an historian researching the family and continues her investigation of Maggie’s abduction among the Collinses. There, she picks up another interesting clue: the one significant difference between the old house’s original décor and Barnabas’s recreation is that all the drawing-room’s gilt-edged mirrors are missing. From this, she draws the correct conclusion about him!

She lays a trap for Barnabas and sits up waiting for him–not to expose the truth or to drive a stake through his heart, but to offer him a cure for his unfortunate vampirism. Part of this plot was reused in the film version of the story I reviewed a few weeks ago, but here it goes on for quite some time and goes through a number of permutations as the doctor’s experiments with Barnabas progress, although her work isn’t as successful. Barnabas is never un-vampired enough to go out in daylight.

All during this part of the show, the most strange and frustrating thing is that no one who knows or suspects the truth about Barnabas ever uses the word “vampire.” I noticed this once earlier, when Willie was trying to warn his old partner-in-crime Jason, but Willie isn’t alone in his peculiar reluctance. Sometimes during conversations about Barnabas, where two or more people danced coyly around the word, I was moved to shout at the TV, “Vampire! Vampire! Vampire! Just say it already!”

While he remains suave and charming to his family, Barnabas’s true personality reveals itself to those who know him better. He is the whiniest vampire I’ve seen outside of an Anne Rice novel, but it’s not existential angst that drives him. At the least little possibility of someone learning his secret, or if he’s afraid of being betrayed by those who already know, he threatens immediate death. “I must kill you,” in the same drawn-out tone. Willie’s had to listen to this from the beginning, but it’s Dr. Hoffman who brushes off his threats, talks him down again and again, and finds alternative solutions to keep him from killing people.

David’s been poking around the old house looking for proof after Sarah warned him to stay away? Make everyone think the boy’s imagination is way too overactive so no one believes a thing he says. Maggie’s starting to remember? Use more hypnosis, this time to block her memories rather than recover them. Willie’s efforts to warn Maggie end up taking care of themselves in a manner advantageous to Barnabas. And when Dr. Woodward, the old medical-school friend who brought Dr. Hoffman to Collinsport to treat Maggie in the first place, becomes suspicious about what she’s up to with Barnabas… well, she tries to save her friend too, but Barnabas wins out this time.

Old BarnabasI do remember the sequence where Barnabas suddenly gets very, very old–one of Dr. Hoffman’s experiments gone awry–but I recalled it as going on for a long time. In fact, it’s only about 3 episodes.

In the film version, this was deliberate, while here it’s an accidental overdose, and it was Maggie’s blood that restores him; in this version, David warns Carolyn not to go to the old house and, like David before her, Carolyn takes this to mean “Go right over to the old house and start poking around in the basement.” Unlike David, Carolyn does find the coffin. Barnabas gets an infusion of fresh, young blood to restore him to his previous state, and also acquires a new servant to replace Willie. Due to her status as a fellow member of the Collins family, Carolyn’s not so much a henchwoman as a sort of evil aide de camp.

Barnabas hopes that his chances with Vicky will improve after Burke Devlin is lost in a plane crash in the Amazon and presumed dead (and isn’t that a perfectly typical piece of soap-opera plotting–right up there with amnesia and evil twins.). But Dr. Hoffman, who has developed romantic feelings for Barnabas herself, is doing everything she can to keep Vicky away from him. Carolyn, acting for Barnabas, works to thwart the doctor.

Dr. Hoffman has also kept meticulous notes on her experiments, information disastrous to Barnabas if anyone else should get hold of it. Carolyn’s other new job is to retrieve and destroy this notebook. While Dr. Hoffman is normally smarter than Barnabas and much, much smarter than Carolyn, she’s been heading for a mental breakdown since Barnabas forced her to participate in the murder of her old friend. She goes all Lady Macbethish with guilt, aided by some ghostly apparitions, and it looks like Carolyn and Barnabas will succeed…

The seanceThen all these plot threads are abruptly set aside.

There’s another séance–and this is the scene I recalled so vividly: Vicky is suddenly, physically replaced by a young woman in colonial dress who claims to be the governess at Collinwood.

We have little time to dwell on this amazing event and how the modern-day Collinses react to it. Instead, we accompany Vicky back to 1795, where she finds herself standing outside the old Collins house when it was new, still dressed in her late-1960s clothes and clutching a large book about the Collins family history.

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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.