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I really do think my enjoyment of horror comes from watching Dark Shadows as a child.

The show was spooky. I’m not really sure what drew me to Dark Shadows, but I was also watching other soaps with our babysitter, but by far and away, Dark Shadows was my absolute favorite, and it was my grandmother’s favorite, too.

“My name is Victoria Winters.”

Every time I hear those words, or type them, I can hear that strange, haunting background music they always played as she spoke. Every episode, before the opening credits, Alexandra von Moltke (who later became the other woman in the von Bulow case; she was Klaus’s mistress and her ultimatum to him about leaving his wife theoretically was his motive for allegedly injecting her with an overdose of insulin that sent her into a coma), spoke those words, and other cryptic words, setting the stage for the episode, and the brief cliffhanger scene that would air before the opening credits and a commercial break. I recently watched the very first episode again, on either Netflix or Amazon Prime, I can’t remember which–and thrilled to those words, to the scene of Victoria on a train, riding to Collinsport to become the governess to troubled child David Collins.

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If I can recall correctly, another part of the plot and original story was that Victoria was an orphan; but the entire time she lived in the home a cashier’s check to pay for her expenses and to give her a little spending money always arrived at the orphanage, drawn on a bank in Collinsport and with no name on the check. When the opportunity for the job came, Victoria jumped on the chance to take the job and maybe find out the truth about her heritage and background.

 

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Dark Shadows was seen originally as a Gothic soap; how many Gothic novels are about the orphaned governess coming to the spooky mansion in the middle of nowhere to work with the tormented family? It was all about the atmosphere, and the show did a great job with that. The Collins family itself was secretive and strange; Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, whose husband disappeared and hasn’t set foot outside of the great house of Collinwood in twenty years; her snarky hard drinking brother Roger, David’s father, who has no patience for his son and whose own wife is missing; rebellious Carolyn, Elizabeth’s daughter–the Old House, nearby and abandoned for hundreds of years. The show didn’t do too well, though, and was bordering on cancellation when showrunner Dan Curtis decided to take the show all the way to the supernatural side: he introduced Roger’s wife as a phoenix, and when her story ended, David started seeing the ghost of a little girl in the big house. Shortly thereafter, a cousin from England showed up–Barnabas, who was actually a vampire and had been imprisoned in his coffin since the 1790’s, only to be released in the present day.

Man, did I want to live at Collinwood. There were witches (Lara Parker as Angelique!) and werewolves and the Devil and time travel and parallel universes…it was amazing.

collinwoodnightThe show went off the air in 1971, although two Dark Shadows movies were made for theatrical release, House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows. The first simply retold the Barnabas-is-a-vampire story from the original show, only gorier, without Victoria Winters, and without the ‘cure’ that made Barnabas human again. The second starred David Selby, Kate Jackson, and Lara Parker in a strange story that had little or nothing to do with the television show; although it had something to do with a ghost story and witchcraft (I only saw it once, and don’t really remember it well).

And then….for years, nothing. The show was syndicated for reruns, and I was able to rewatch some of it in the early 1980’s, but it was over.

It was rebooted in 1991 as a prime time show, which I also loved. It only lasted one season, but I thought the cast was terrific, and it was done very well. I was really looking forward to season two; but alas, it was cancelled. In the first season, they did the Cousin Barnabas is a really a vampire story, and then flashed back to the 1790’s, where Victoria Winters (in the show, played by Joanna Going, somehow got sent back in time to witness how Barnabas became a vampire due to the machinations of the witch Angelique (Lysette Anthony), and was about to be hanged as a witch herself when the present-days Collinses were able to bring her back–knowing that Barnabas was the vampire. That was the season ending cliff-hanger. I was totally bummed the show wasn’t renewed.

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I made Paul watch it from Netflix a few years ago, and he, too, was addicted and bummed that it ended after one season.

Dark Shadows fans still have conventions and get-togethers, and are quite fanatical about their devotion. The Tim Burton comic remake/reboot of a few years ago earned quite a bit of scorn from the devotees; I actually didn’t mind it that much–having Eva Green in the cast is always a wise move to earn my approval, quite frankly. But when the daytime show was still airing, it was quite a cottage industry; there was an entire series of paperback novels based on the show and its characters written by Marilyn Ross (I read some of them), comic books, a board game, dolls, albums–pretty much any way you could make money off Dark Shadows, they found a way to do it. There wasn’t a cartoon series, though, nor a breakfast cereal.

So, yes, my love of the supernatural is partly due to Dark Shadows. I’d love to have the time to watch the original show again, from beginning to end.

 

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