“As a little girl in the early ’70s, I would come home from school every day and turn on the TV to watch reruns of what we called ‘Barnabas Collins,’ the show about the vampire.”
And 40 years later, she watched it all again from the very beginning. It started as a brief blog experiment: watch and review the earliest episodes of the 1960s soap opera Dark Shadows before the arrival of vampire Barnabas Collins… but then it kept going. In the end, Kathryn L. Ramage watched the entire series of more than 1200 episodes and wrote about the experience. This book presents the highlights of those reviews.
Where to buy: Amazon(eligible for free shipping). Not available in eBook format.
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I bought this Dark Shadows dramatic reading CD at the same time I bought The Ghost Watcher. Of the two, I liked that one better. I picked this one because it had to do with that period just after Quentin Collins’s departure from Collinwood in 1897, which is a part of the story I thought I’d like to hear more about.
This audio story begins with that gramophone music of Quentin’s that we’ve heard 400 times before, a sweet and sentimental old waltz. Quentin (read by David Selby, as always) announces that he’s “the last man standing, as ever.” Locked in a room, all alone. No, wait. Angelique (read by Lara Parker) whispers in the background until Quentin finally hears her. The two strike up a conversation.
After some banter about the old days, Quentin settles in to tell Angelique the story of what happened to him after he left Collinwood.
He says that he arrived in New York City in 1899–which is odd, since that’s where he was headed for when he got on a train at the Collinsport station in the autumn of 1897. Either that was a very long trip, or else in his sleepless and brandified state, he got on the wrong train, ended up on the far side of the country, and took some months to get back to the East Coast.
I’ve been left hanging about the fate of Quentin and Barnabas Collins after the fiery conclusion of The Rage Beneath. Unable to obtain the next episode in this particular audio series, or even to confirm what the next title is, I ended up purchasing a couple of other Dark Shadows dramatic readings, based on how interesting their descriptions sounded.
The Ghost Watcher, has the following description on its back cover:
As Maggie Evans leaves the Windcliff Institute, she begins to build a new life for herself away from the Collins family. But when an enigmatic stranger arrives in town, searching for phantoms, Maggie finds herself plunged into a world of intrigue and danger.
What is the Ghost Watcher’s secret, and what is the true cost of his gift to the people of Collinsport?
Dramatic readings, unlike audio dramas, are voiced only by one or two actors rather than a full cast. In this case, Kathryn Leigh Scott tells the tale through her character’s voice, assisted by Alec Newman as Nathan Hawkins, the Ghost Watcher. The Collins family are peripheral figures: Barnabas makes a brief appearance, Roger sort of floats around in the background, and Carolyn shows up a couple of times to converse with Maggie–but this isn’t their story. This one is Maggie’s own.
This audio drama begins with Maggie Evans speaking, “I remember when it all started. Quentin Collins… came home, and brought the darkness with him.”
Her voice is interspersed with those of other characters–Quentin’s, Angelique’s–but the focus of the story’s introduction remains with Maggie as she summarizes the events of previous audio-plays in the Legend Reborn series, alluding to the “The Lost,” “Charlotte Howells,” and “the Professor and his army” (which settles my question of when the Christmas Presence occurs).
“But the day I’ll always remember,” Maggie concludes, “is the day the Collins family perished.”
She isn’t referring to the Collinses who disappeared mysteriously before this series began, but to those two who are still around: Quentin and Barnabas.
“Quentin Collins cordially invites you to spend Christmas in his company. On behalf of all those present here at Collinwood… I bid you welcome.”
It’s not the listeners of this audioplay Quentin extends this invitation to in his opening monologue–although, of course, we can feel free to drop in at Collinwood for the holidays too. The people he’s reaching out to, through means both commonplace and esoteric, are “those loyal to the Collins family” in Collinsport as well as “the missing members of our family” in hopes that they might be “reunited in the coming days.”
Quentin’s feeling sentimental as he plans an old-fashioned Christmas celebration, and the other inhabitants of Collinwood try to get into the holiday spirit to go along with him. Maggie Evans has come to cook the dinner and tries to get Barnabas (now voiced by Andrew Collins) to kiss her under the mistletoe. But even though he’s in a new body, Barnabas is still a vampire, and vampires don’t kiss; they just give hickeys. Angelique decorates a Christmas tree, and amuses herself with taunting Willie Loomis about how the townsfolk will come to blame him for the disappearance of their children.
A number of Collinsport children have been taken from their homes, from “under their parents’ noses” recently, but their abductor isn’t Willie, nor any mortal man. A scene at the beginning of this drama reveals one child’s abduction after his grandmother leaves him tucked up in bed in his room. Someone who says that he “could be” Santa appears and converses with the little boy, asks him what he wants. When the boy realizes that this isn’t Santa, it reveals its true self. The next thing you know, the child has joined this creature’s choir of voices.
This Dark Shadows audio drama on CD picks up where The House of Despair leaves off: Quentin Collins has returned to Collinsport to find his family home haunted and abandoned, and his family mysteriously gone; he’s summoned up Angelique, who in turn has resurrected Barnabas Collins in a new body (to match his new voice).
While this long-lived and supernatural trio are up at Collinwood trying to figure out what happened to the rest of the Collinses, Maggie Evans, now proprietor of the Collinsport Inn, looks after traumatized Willie Loomis.
Willie had a rough time up at Collinwood due to his own part in driving out the evil entity that occupied the house. For one reason or another, it became necessary for the newly restored Barnabas to bite him again, so Willie’s back where he was as far as playing Renfield.
Not that Maggie knows this. She’s forgotten that she ever knew Barnabas was a vampire, and certainly doesn’t know that he’s alive again.
Willie has said something to the effect that “he wants me back” at Collinwood. Maggie assumes that “he” refers to Quentin and heads up to the house to find out what happened to Willie there and why he wakes up screaming.
At the house, she meets the new Barnabas, who introduces himself–not as the Barnabas she used to know, you understand, but another member of the Collins family with that same name who’s come to help Quentin. He doesn’t claim to be a relative from England, but he sounds more British than Johnathan Frid did.
While she’s at Collinwood, Maggie is lured into a room in the servants’ quarters by a whispered woman’s voice. She thinks it’s Angelique, whom she met as an “associate” of Quentin’s when she first came in, and who was jealously catty to her because of that Barnabas / Josette thing two whole centuries ago.
Maggie discovers an old journal written by a maid named Charlotte Howell and reads the opening passages, which are dated April 16, 1926. Charlotte writes that the Collinses have made her work hard but they’ve been kind to her, more kind than her previous employers. But they have a weird habit of locking the servants up in their rooms every night. There’s a touch of romance concerning a young man Charlotte met at the Blue Whale.
It doesn’t sound like much, but this is where the trouble for Maggie really begins, for this journal is the Book of Temptation mentioned in the audio-play’s title. Once you start reading it, you can’t stop.
I hadn’t realized when I bought this Dark Shadows audio drama on CD that parts of it would already be known to me. When I listened to it for the first time, familiar phrases jumped out:
“My name is Quentin Collins. I come from an old family–and old families have long-held secrets…”
“I’d forgotten what a strange town this is…”
“…poor people, barely people at all. They seem empty.”
I’d heard these lines spoken multiple times in an ad that appears at the very end of each of the Dark Shadows: The Beginning DVDs, long before I’d seen Quentin Collins on the show or grew to recognize Angelique’s evil laugh. Intriguing as the ad might be, however, these phrases never really gave me an idea of what the story behind them was about.
The House of Despair takes place a few years after the end of the series–how many years, I’m not certain. Quentin Collins (David Selby) returns home from his world travels. Even before he gets there, the conductor on the train has some information for this passenger with a ticket to Collinsport. It’s a place with a reputation. “Bad things happen” there; “murder and sin are all they know”. The “Collins family is the scourge of Maine” [Quentin agrees, aware that the conductor doesn’t know who he is]. And, just as they arrive at the station, there’s this last piece of ominous advice:
“Once you leave this train, you won’t have a chance. It will be dark by then.”
A lesser man might be daunted, but Quentin has lived over a century and seen plenty of weird and horrible things going on in his hometown. He gets off the train, and soon finds that the town is worse than ever. Collinsport has almost literally become a ghost town.
Few people remain in town since the cannery closed, and many of those who still live there are in a dazed state. They’re called The Lost, since they go about wandering the streets at night as if they’re looking for something. They don’t even seem to remember who they are. Flocks of strangely behaving seagulls also menace the town. Townsfolk who are not afflicted lock their doors and stay in after nightfall.
Last week, I went shopping on Amazon to see how many other Dark Shadows audio dramas were available, following Return to Collinwood. Quite a lot of them, as it turns out. They come in two types: 1. Audio plays performed like old-fashioned radio programs with a cast of actors from the original show in their old roles or new ones; 2. Dramatic readings of Dark-Shadows-based stories done by one, maybe two, of the actors. I picked out one of each.
Curse of the Pharaoh is a dramatic reading, done by Nancy Barrett, who played Carolyn Stoddard, and Marie Wallace, who played Evil Eve and Mad Jenny.
Why this one? From the description on the back of the CD box:
“Finding Nefarin-Ka’s tomb was only the beginning… I made the most important discovery in archeological history.”
Dr. Gretchen Warwick, famed Egyptologist … comes to Collin- wood, searching for the answers to life in the hereafter. At first, Carolyn cannot comprehend why an expert in ancient, mystical lore would desire her help, but to her horror, discovers that she is indeed the key to a dark, dangerous world on the other side of death….
In my review of the final episodes of Dark Shadows, I mentioned a feature on the last DVD where one of the show’s writers foretold a future for Carolyn in occult research; I said I would love to watch a spin-off series based on that premise. Although this story doesn’t follow that idea exactly, it seemed to be along similar lines. Also, I’d just listened to the Dark Adventure Radio Theatre play Imprisoned with the Pharaohs to prepare for writing that review, and I thought I’d like to hear another story about an evil ancient Egyptian ruler with a cult that survives into modern times. As it turns out, the story does have its own Lovecraftian overtones.
It was amusing to me that this story begins with Carolyn looking over “strange, alien” hieroglyphics and declaring that “It makes no sense!” just as Nathaniel Ward did.
Carolyn, however, is not in a deep and long-forgotten tomb in Egypt, but in her own home at Collinwood. She is making subtle changes to the hieroglyphs as transcribed in the notes of some person as yet unnamed, and is terrified that that person will come in and discover her before she finishes.
Since I got the entire Dark Shadows series on DVD for Christmas, I’m finally able to watch that missing section–episodes 71 through 105, about 7 weeks of airtime from the autumn of 1966.
Quick recap of the backstory: The body of Collinses’ cannery manager Bill Malloy washed up on the rocks below the cliffs of Collinwood, but the police believe that he was actually killed at a place a little farther up the coast called Lookout Point. His broken watch suggests that this happened at 10:45 pm, halfway between the last time he was seen alive at 10:30 by his housekeeper Mrs. Johnson, and the 11:00 meeting at the cannery, where Roger Collins, Burke Devlin, and Sam Evans were expecting him. Of course he never showed up.
Since Malloy intended to produce evidence that proved that Burke wasn’t driving the car during that drunken hit-and-run accident that sent him to prison for manslaughter–and that Roger was driving–Roger is very naturally the prime suspect. And Roger makes the most of it by trying to look as suspicious as possible.
I’m not done with Dark Shadows yet. An extra feature on one of the final DVDs for the television series, after the last episodes, was about an audio play written by Jamison Selby, David Selby’s son; it was performed by some of the show’s actors at fan conventions in the early 2000s, then they went into a studio and recorded it.
I checked for it on Amazon. Still available!
The story is on 2 discs. Some of the actors play their old, familiar characters again. Nancy Barrett is Carolyn Stoddard, now owner of Collinwood since her mother Elizabeth has passed on. David Selby is Quentin Collins, 140 years old, but he puts gray streaks in his hair to look like a well-preserved 50ish. Kathryn Leigh Scott is back as Maggie Evans. John Karlen is still Willie Loomis, living at the old Collins house.
I like that Jamison Selby has followed some of the projections for these characters provided by the show’s writer Sam Hall. Carolyn has been working for years as Head of Psychical Research at the University of Maine (sadly, not Miskatonic U). Maggie was married to Joe Haskell and has been widowed for about 1o years. Maggie now works at the nearby Windcliff sanitarium, where another old boyfriend, Sebastian Shaw (Christopher Pennock) is currently a catatonic patient. She and Quentin are an item again, and she meets him at the train station when he returns from a trip to Peru; he’s been traveling all around the world since 1970, and has most recently tried unsuccessfully to locate the long-missing David Collins. David Collins went away after a quarrel with his father Roger and hasn’t been heard from since.
Other actors from the show are present as new characters. Roger Davis, who played Peter Bradford/Jeff Clark, is Ned Stuart, Carolyn’s husband. They’ve been married about a year prior the events of the audio play. Donna Wandrey, who was Roxanne Drew, is the dour Collinwood housekeeper, Mrs. Franklin. Marie Wallace, who played Evil Eve and Mad Jenny, is the not-at-all evil and entirely sensible Jessica Loomis, Willie’s wife.
The Loomises are hoping to stay on at the old house now that Carolyn is in charge. Willie has been renovating the place, putting in electricity and plumbing, as well as a big-screen TV. He’s in the process of installing a hot tub when he discovers a mysterious package hidden within the wall–a package addressed to him.
The surviving Collins family has been summoned to Collinwood for the reading of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard’s will and to try contact her spirit at a specific date and time, since she expressed a desire to speak to them all one last time. The only actual Collinses to make it are Carolyn and Quentin. David wasn’t found. Roger predeceased his sister, and who knows where Barnabas is?
To contact Elizabeth, they’re going to hold a seance. You know that the Collinses love their seances even more than I do and will leap on any old excuse to have one.