Thursday, March 3, 2011

My name is Victoria Winters....

So began what would later be referred to as "America's first gothic soap opera" DARK SHADOWS!

Dark Shadows, the product of a dream by the late producer Dan Curtis in which he saw a girl, dark and mysterious, huddled agasint a window in a train riding to an unknown destination, debuted on ABC June 27, 1966! The original concept did not contain any supernatural elements,but rather just a hint of mystery, somewhat along the lines of another popular soap, EDGE OF NIGHT. Vicki Winters came to Collinsport, Maine, to the ancestral mansion known as Collinwood, to be governess to David Collins, son of Roger Collins and brother of the family matriarch, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. From the begining there were spooky instances but nothing really wierd - most of it centered around a murder mystery involving the aforementioned Roger and Vicki's first love interest, Burke Devlin. (It later turned out that Burke had been sent to jail for a murder which Roger committed). Part of the fun was watching madcap heiress, Liz's daughter Carolyn (played beautifully by Nancy Barrett) go through the gyrations of being exactly that - a spoiled brat heiress. Plagued by low ratings, Curtis was convinced the show would not be picked up at the end of its option period so...they started to throw in supernatural characters, feeling that if the ship were sinking, they might as well have some fun going down. There were ghosts, and a phoenix (one who rises from the ashes of fire) but nothing extraordinary...until episode 211.

Episodes 211 to 365 (which began on March 22, 1967 for those who care...or remember) introduced the first foray into the really dark world of the supernatural: Barnabas Collins, a "cousin from England" who was in reality a nearly 200 year old vampire just released from the coffin in which he'd been chained. Barnabas started out evil...chililngly so...and Jonathan Frid's portrayal of him evoked images of Shakespeare's greatest villans. (Frid, from Canada, started his career as a Shakespearean actor...and someday Im gonna do a post about all the great actors we've gotten from Canada, prime among them NATHAN FILLION...but I digress) Barnabas had a fixation with waitress Maggie Evans, a dead ringer for his lost love, Josette (whose spirit also haunted the "old house" and appeared on occasion to David Collins). he kidnapped her and had plans to make her his "vampire bride" but his faithful servant, Willie Loomis, had other ideas and helped Maggie escape. Enter Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) who's called in to investigate her kidnapping. Julia discovers the truth about Barnabas and agreees to help him find a cure (because she's just as hopelessly in love with him as he's hopelessly in love with Vicki, now). It backfires and Barnabas turns into a 200 year old man - he bites Carolyn in order to restore his good looks. In episodes 366 to 460, A seance at the old house follows, and Vicki travels back in time, to 1795, wherein we learn Barnabas's condition is the result of a curse put on him by the jealous witch, Angelique. Often called the "Golden Age" of Dark Shadows, ratings soared during this timeframe, and also during the one that followed, wherein Barnabas was temporarily cured of his vampirism when Dr. Hoffman completed an expiriment allowieng a Frankenstein type monster, Adam, to come to life, using the vampire part of Barnabas as the "life force".

The writers went crazy, now, with a hit on their hands, "borrowing" every type of monster known to man and Universal Studios. Werewolves, gypsies with curses and tarot cards, an ancient Lovecraftian race of superbeings, parallel time and travelling into the future...nothing was left out. Eventually the convoluted storylines brought about the series demise, and we said farewell to Dark Shadows on April 2, 1971. BUT...

DS was never really forgotten by its legions of fans. Conventions were held yearly, celebrating the show, which still in some states enjoys a healthy run on SCIFI channels. IN 1991 NBC bought a revised, revamped version of the show, starring Ben Cross as Barnabas and Joanna Going (of Another World soap fame) as Vicki Winters. However, the timing was not right - coverage of the Gulf War crisis continually pre-empted the show, causing it to lose its tenuous fanbase. It was cancelled after 12 episodes, ending on a cliffhanger that was never resolved: Victoria leanred that Barnabas was a vampire (something the Vicki in the soap opera never did).

And now...Johnny Depp, a longtime fan, is playing Barnabas in a new movie, filming now to air next year...and we shall discuss this tomorrow.

Did you see how long this post is? My paws ache!


ps: Interested in learning more about the old soap? there are a number of places, Wikipedia of course, and here:

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