Dark Shadows: Vampire Troubles

In my last Dark Shadows review, I wrote that Barnabas’s impulsive, bitey solutions to his problems only get him to deeper difficulties. As the story line for 1897 progresses, these problems get worse, but Barnabas does bring most of it on himself.

It starts when Barnabas bites and inadvertently makes Dirk, the Collinwood groundskeeper, into Dirk the Vampire (no relation to Tom the Vampire or Tom’s twin brother, Chris the Werewolf).

Pansy in a tranceOn his first night out, Dirk attacks Carl Collins’s fiancee Pansy, then goes into hiding in the cellar of the same abandoned building where Tim Shaw has been hiding since he was hypnotized into poisoning Mrs. Trask.

When Tim discovers Dirk’s coffin empty the next evening, Dirk bites him but doesn’t kill him to keep his secret safe. His next victim is Judith Collins when she encounters him over at the old house and orders him off her property (she had fired him shortly before Barnabas bit him). So now the mistress of Collinwood is his servant. He comes to her again the next night at her own home and gives her explicit instructions for a task she must perform at dawn.

Then Rachel comes to see Tim, and Dirk bites her too. Only a vampire a few days, and he’s building up quite an army of minions.

Dirk tries to use Rachel as a hostage to force Barnabas to bring Laura Collins back, but that simply isn’t in Barnabas’s power. When Laura doesn’t appear to him by sunrise, Dirk retreats to his coffin. At her new vampiric master’s order, Judith shoots Rachel.

To my surprise, Rachel dies. This is not how Jane Eyre ends.


Judith returns home, but she’s still at Dirk the Vampire’s beck-and-call and goes out again the next evening to meet him when he summons her. Barnabas has told Judith’s brother Edward that she’s the victim of a vampire; Edward is more open to the existence of supernatural beings than he used to be, but he still has doubts until he follows his sister out that night and sees everything for himself. He knows where the coffin is, and Barnabas has told him what he must do to destroy the vampire.

Edward takes a little time to find a big rock and something he can use as a wooden stake. By the time he opens up the coffin, it’s nearly dark and Dirk’s eyes are open. He reaches up and I thought, “Well, that’s it for Edward,” but the Victorian gentleman is made of sterner stuff and manages to pound the stake in before Dirk can stop him.

Once Dirk the Vampire is dead, his surviving minions are freed. Judith has mercifully little memory of shooting Rachel, although she still feels really guilty about it.

Barnabas also feels guilty about Rachel’s death, recognizing that he was responsible for Dirk’s vampire existence in the first place, although he makes it more about himself being “cursed” to lose those he cares about than he does about poor Rachel.

Speaking of curses–Earlier, Barnabas sent his two gypsy servants on errands to find other gypsies who might be able to remove the werewolf curse on Quentin. Magda returns now from her trip to Boston, where she met with the gypsy king Johnny Romano and has brought back a beautiful inlaid wooden box with a grisly severed hand inside it. (I used to have something like it as a kid, only not so pretty on the outside or nasty on the inside; you put a penny on the edge of the box and a green hand reached up to take it.)

The Hand Magda tells Barnabas that this is the hand of Count Petofi. She doesn’t tell him until later that she stole it, and the gypsy king will kill to get it back.

The idea is that they should put this grotesque object over Quentin’s heart so it will draw the curse from him. But since Quentin doesn’t know about his two children who are also cursed, he’s suspicious of Magda’s motives and very naturally doesn’t want that thing anywhere near him.

Further ramifications of Dirk the Vampire’s activities: Carl, meanwhile, grows frantic after Pansy’s disappearance. He’s been told by Barnabas that she left Collinwood, but he’s convinced that she’s still around somewhere on the estate. He hears her singing and even glimpsed her ghost once.

One night, Pansy appears to Carl in a dream and tells him that although the vampire that killed her is dead, there’s another vampire at Collinwood. She sends him to the mausoleum, where he sees Barnabas returning to his coffin in the secret chamber at dawn.

Carl tells Quentin, and Quentin believes him. It explains so much about “our cousin we never see in daylight.”

The two brothers go to the mausoleum, where we have one of those temporal causality issues that used to irk Miles O’Brien. The Barnabas Collins who was first chained up inside his coffin in the secret chamber in 1796 should remain there until 1967, when Willie Loomis frees him, but the Barnabas who was freed in 1967 and then went back in time to 1897 is sleeping there now in an unchained coffin. So where’s the original 1796-1967 timeline Barnabas? `Tis a puzzle.

Quentin shuts Carl up in the secret chamber so that Barnabas will get him when he rises at sunset. This room isn’t a good place for John Karlen to be, no matter what character he’s playing. Fortunately, he discovers the trick to open the door from the inside and escapes before Barnabas wakes up.

He runs home, where he meets the Reverend Trask in the drawing room, and tells him everything.

Unfortunately for Carl, when Barnabas does awake, Quentin has returned to the mausoleum to discover that his brother hasn’t been killed after all. He tells Barnabas that he knows all about him now. Quentin isn’t afraid to face a vampire–after all, he’s been a zombie and he’s currently a werewolf, so vampires don’t hold much terror for him. Besides, he realizes that Barnabas is his only hope of finding a way to get rid of his werewolf curse. He sides with Barnabas against his own brother and warns Barnabas of the danger Carl represents.

By the time Carl is back at the mausoleum himself to show the Reverend Trask the secret room, the coffin is gone; Quentin and Barnabas have moved it to a new hiding place. Trask isn’t inclined to believe the young man, who’s been a bit unhinged lately. At least, he doesn’t until Barnabas makes another one of his impulsive and stupidly brutal decisions and throttles Carl to keep him quiet.

Barnabas doesn’t know that Carl’s already talked until after Quentin and Trask find the body behind the drawing-room curtains.

Trask, now a believer, goes over to the old house to wave a great big crucifix at Barnabas and demand that he prove he isn’t a vampire by staying where he is until the sun rises. Of course, Barnabas can’t do this and he has to flee at daybreak.

The vampire hunt is on. Trask enlists Edward’s help. After his recent experiences with the supernatural, the eldest Collins brother has no problem with accepting this. He even understands now that Barnabas was the Horrible Family Secret that Granny didn’t get a chance to pass on to him before she died.

They search the old house, including all the secret rooms and hidden passages that Edward knows about; he even gets out old building plans to look for more. They find the coffin the next day, empty, and despoil it with garlic and crosses so that Barnabas can’t use it anymore. He has to seek another sleeping place.

There’s a convoluted plot where Barnabas gets Charity Trask to help him. Charity goes along not only because she’s his minion, but she hopes she’ll be rewarded by becoming his wife; her late mother wanted her to marry into the Collins family, but had an eye on Quentin. Not that poor Charity’s own ideas about Barnabas would work out for her anyway, since Barnabas only thinks of her as a sometimes-useful servant and he’s already got a fiancee who’s very jealous.

He’s bitten Charity so often that she’s getting low on blood and is in danger of dying. But the Hand takes a hand. It doesn’t creep around using its fingers like a spider, but appears floating over her in a bad, superimposed image. The bite marks on her neck disappear and she’s freed from Barnabas’s influence. She can’t, however, tell her father and Edward where Barnabas is hiding.

Where is Barnabas hiding? In the caves in the cliffs over the sea, and only Magda knows where he is.

No, wait–the lawyer Evan Hanley does too. He’s stopped by the cave for a right-before-dawn chat with Barnabas, and brought a crucifix with him just in case. He was calling on the Reverend Trask to see how the aftermath of Trask’s wife’s murder was going and to be sure they were both safe from suspicion, and happened to be present to witness the Hand curing Charity. As a student of the occult, he knows what the Hand is and wants to try out its powers for himself. He wants Barnabas to hand it (ha!) over.

Magda and Barnabas warn him that the Hand was cut from “the most evil man in the world” and will do he wants, but Hanley doesn’t listen.

Hanley with his face ruinedHe sets aside the crucifix and opens the box. That badly superimposed image of the Hand floats up at his face and grabs him. He screams and falls to the floor, where Magda and Barnabas find him.

I thought at first that he was dead, but in a way it’s worse. His face has been hideously disfigured with one eyeball hanging out, and his mind is similarly damaged.

Okay, so Barnabas isn’t the only person on Dark Shadows who makes really stupid decisions.

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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.