Dark Shadows: How Barnabas Became a Vampire (Part 1)

The old Collins house, looking pretty

Time has been suspended at Collin- wood. It waits for the completion of an uncertain and frightening journey into the past, back to the year 1795…

With some variation, this is the new opening voiceover for every episode of Dark Shadows. Since the character of Victoria Winters has been sent back into the past to witness the beginning of the unhappy story of Barnabas Collins and his family, actress Alexandra Moltke no longer does these introductory speeches and the other women in the cast take turns with it. Sometimes, it’s a voice I don’t recognize and I wonder if the woman speaking is a production assistant or perhaps the show’s director, Lela Swift?

I have to note that when we were first introduced to Josette Collins in the very earliest episodes of Dark Shadows, and even when Barnabas first arrived, the key events of their lives and deaths were supposed to be happening in the 1830s. At some point in the narrative, the timeline shifted back about 40 years to the late colonial era, which is where Vicky suddenly and unexpectedly finds herself.

Vicky has been in love with the past and dreaming about the history of Collinwood for some time, but she’s about to discover that the olden days weren’t all that great to live in.

Not that we’ll see this at first. As we and Vicky approach the old Collins home when it wasn’t so very old, the initial impression is of a bright and cheerful place. There are flowers all around the handsome colonial house. Inside, the drawing room is painted pastel colors–pink and minty green.

Vicky. Barnabas, and SarahBarnabas, who seems like he might’ve once actually been a nice guy before that whole vampire thing, is out in the sunshine with his little sister Sarah, awaiting the arrival of his bride-to-be, Josette, from Martinique.

Vicky is more than a little bewildered, not just by this information that contradicts what she knows of the Collins family history–that Josette was the bride of Jeremiah Collins–but also that this Barnabas who looks just like the Barnabas she knows in 1968 doesn’t recognize her.

Poor Vicky’s bewilderment will only increase as she meets the rest of the family, who also look just like people she already knows. No wonder it takes so long for her to accept that she really is in the past; this double casting gives things a sort of Wizard-of-Oz “and you were there, and you,” dream-like feeling.

Most of the regular actors are in the same roles that Barnabas assigned their characters at his costume party: Joan Bennett (Elizabeth Stoddard Collins) and Louis Edmond (Elizabeth’s brother Roger) now play Barnabas’s parents Naomi and Joshua. Nancy Barrett (Carolyn) is ditzy cousin Millicent, who’s come all the way from New York with her little brother for the wedding.

Collinwood under constructionThe actor who plays Burke Devlin is brought back as Jeremiah Collins–which is particularly upsetting for Vicky when she first sees him, since Burke in 1968 is presumed dead. Jeremiah has completed the construction of the new Collinwood–which is a very progressive house for 1795 if not quite anachronistic; the neo-Gothic style did exist before 1800, but it really didn’t become popular until the Victorian era.

One significant difference in the recasting of roles is that Vicky herself hasn’t become Josette; she is presumed to be the new governess for Sarah, whom the Collinses were expecting, although they are all a bit shocked by her above-the-knee-length skirt and disconcerted by her way of addressing them by the names of the Collinses she knows well. Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie) plays Josette. Her father as Maggie is still her father as Josette, but Grayson Hall (Dr. Hoffman) is now her French countess aunt.

The only nAngelique will demonstrate how to make Barnabas nearly choke to deathew face is that of Angelique, a pretty, blonde young woman with weird, pale eyes. She is Josette’s maid and also a practicing witch. She and Barnabas had a romantic fling while he was in Martinique before he fell in love with Josette. He wants to put that all behind him with his pending marriage, but Angelique has no intention of letting him go.

Unfortunately for the Collins family, she has powers to help her get what she wants.

Pay attention now: using various common household objects and a personal possession of the person she wants to cast a spell upon, Angelique will demonstrate how to make Barnabas nearly choke to death, how to make Josette and Jeremiah fall suddenly Joshua the catand inexplicably in love with each other and elope, how to turn Joshua into a cat (he got better), and how to make poor little Sarah fall dangerously ill. Each of these spells brings her closer to her goal.

The dark side of Barnabas’s personality first emerges when Josette and Jeremiah return from their brief honeymoon. Consumed by jealousy and resentment, he challenges Jeremiah to a duel and shoots him in the face. Following a drawn-out and agonizing interval during which I felt sure that Jeremiah would recover from his injury, he dies.

It was at this point that I started to wonder who the present-day Collinses were descended from. I’d assumed that Josette and Jeremiah were their ancestors, since they’ve played since a prominent role in the family history from the beginning. Viewers were given to understand in a soft, PG way that their brief marriage had indeed been consummated, so I expected for some time that Josette would have a baby before she fulfilled her destiny and went over that cliff… but more on that later.

At last, Angelique has her way. In spite of his family’s protests and the fact that he doesn’t like her very much and is still pining for the newly widowed Josette, Barnabas marries her. The rest of the Collinses move into the new Collinwood, and the newlyweds are left to take up residence in the old house. Surely they aren’t the ancestors of the modern Collinses? A witch and an about-to-be vampire? That’s a little too Addams-family!

Besides, this marriage doesn’t look as if it was ever consummated. Things go badly for Angelique and Barnabas right from their wedding night, when the freshly-dead Jeremiah comes up out of his grave and abducts Angelique from her bedroom. He carries her back to the graveyard and tosses her into his open grave.

Jeremiah looking down into his grave A point-of-view shot looks up at his bloody and bandaged-wrapped face as he leans over the grave and throws down handfuls of dirt until it covers the camera lens.

You know, that’s pretty good for this show. They usually have trouble pulling the focus when they go in for close-ups, so it’s nice to see them do something this arty and ambitious with a camera and pull it off effectively. It’s also a very EC Horror Comics moment.

Where’s Vicky while all this is going on? Her strange clothes and behavior have excited suspicion from the moment of her arrival, and her habit of blurting out information about future events only makes her look stranger still. As disaster swiftly piles on upon disaster, some of the Collinses and their guests begin to believe that a witch is among them. A witchfinder is brought in, and it’s no surprise that it’s Vicky, not Angelique, who is arrested and brought to trial for witchcraft.


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.