Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dark Shadows: Be Very Afraid.

"Oh, the horror! What have they done?"  Jonathan Frid as Original Barnabas Collins
Okay, so in the last blog I mentioned we should just enjoy a good Gothic film and not be too cerebral in our criticisms. But remember I also used the term Good with the term Gothic Film.  I have to admit, I'm a little uneasy about this new Burton/Depp conception named "Dark Shadows".

I feel the urge to utter caution to my fellow Goths, something along the lines of "Be very Afraid!"

Not in the good sense. No. That's the problem. I'm not anticipating  delicious 'chills' or screams or a squirm factor from this one. What I'm anticipating in this odd remake of the old 1960's soap opera is plenty of 'schmaltz'. Lest you scratch your head wondering what the bloody hell I just said, let me rephrase it;  I think it's going to be over the top silly and cute, to the point of being utterly pointless and possibly downright stupid.

I could be wrong. I'd love to be wrong because I have been a serious fan of Tim Burton's work for years and usually if Johnny Depp in the project, it's double the pleasure. But lately, dear readers, I've been a little wary regarding this sacred union of Burton & Depp. Alice in Wonderland was . . . a little scarey--and not in a good way. I looked forward to AIW long before it's release. But the Mad Hatter depiction by Depp was silly and disappointing. I love Captain Jack Sparrow. But the Hatter, hmmm, weak, limp, hapless. You had the name Johnny Depp after it, but even so, it was just too--cute--to suit me. And then there was the Willy Wonka nightmare. The repetitiveness of silly, hapless characters is getting wearisome. At least Captain Jack had . . . dare I say it . . . BALLS. In comparison, the other two characters have teeny little marbles, lots of them--and their strewn all over the floor in a jumbled mess.

But I digress. My purpose in this little discussion is not to complain about Depp's recent characters, but rather to discuss the authentic Dark Shadows Television show for those who have not had a proper introduction to a truly unique television series--for it's time period.

I have seen the original Dark Shadows, the original TV series from the 60's, back when it was on regular TV in the sixties. I was just a kid, but even then, I knew, I could tell by the intro scene with the dark seas and waves crashing upon the jagged rocks, complete with the eerie music, that this was not a campy, silly show. It intrigued me as a child. It was dark, creepy, and that was precisely what attracted me to it. I would have loved to stay home from school to watch that show, but mom wouldn't have it. It was the forbidden fruit because it was on during daytime, and it was serialized story about life, love, convoluted storylines, romance and loss, (a. k.a. soap opera) with dark brooding undertones. The original series was not campy, sarcastic or spoofy. It was a serious drama. Oh, yes, I know, the whole vampire thing and the soap opera thing make it a spoof of the regular soaps, but it was a brilliant sort of spoofing in that it did not stoop so low as to make an ass out of itself in the process. The actors were serious, not seriously deluded. Okay, okay, I'll calm down a little and discuss this rationally. I promise. It's just that ..... as I said in an earlier post, the label Gothic used to stand for something really special, and that something was a darkness with gravity and dignity coupled with intense yet beautiful moodiness that was nothing short of majestic.

Dark Shadows, the Original TV Series
 Dark Shadows, premiered on the 27th of June, 1966 on daytime television and was billed as a "GOTHIC" soap opera. Note I capitalized the word Gothic. It was filmed in black and white to add to a very nuanced creepiness of an old horror movie. The series starts out with a young woman, Victoria Winters, who is traveling to Collinsport, Maine by train to take the job of governess for the wealthy Collins Family. The child she will oversee is troubled, the family she will live with is troubled. There is a dark brooding spirit over the manor, and supernatural goings on. Victoria has dreams and queer flashbacks regarding her past that she can't explain. There are allusions in this work to past life experiences and reincarnation. Eventually, Victoria encounters an English cousin of the Maine Collins Family, who is in truth one of the earlier founders, Barnabas Collins. He's a vampire from the 18th century who was cursed by a witch, and trapped in a coffin for 175 years. He comes back to his home, and finds Victoria there; he believes she is the reincarnated spirit of his lost love, Josette. The two of them spend a lot of time dancing back and forth, each trying to make sense of the situation in traditional soap opera style, with heartache, longing, angst and avoidance. An undead love story, he's a vamp, she's a reincarnated governess who doesn't like him so much after all these centuries, but he doesn't want to give her up . . . you get the idea. There are lots of other story lines, as there is a whole cast of characters, but Barnabas pining after Victoria/Josette is really the thru-line of the story once Barnabas appears.

Interesting trivia fact: Barnabas Collins, the Icon of the show, wasn't on it for the first 9 months. Dan Curtis, the creator, decided to toss in a vampire at the end of season one when the ratings weren't so great, kind of along the lines of hell, if we're going out, let's go out with a bang! (Note to reader, not a direct quote from Dan Curtis, but my research points to an indirect general idea that these were his thoughts at the time). Well, they got this creepy looking dude, Jonathan Frid, to play said vampire, and wouldn't you know it, rather than sink the show took off!  It continued on, with the vampire becoming the most well remembered character, for five years, ending in 1971.

Jonathan Frid was a Shakespearean actor. By that, I mean he was trained in theater, and was a very talented actor in American Shakespeare playhouses before joining the cast of Dark Shadows and immortalizing Barnabas Collins as a cultural Icon. He took his role very seriously, and played the part of Barnabas with a mixture of angst, longing and good old Shakespearean Romantic Longing. This is why I'm afraid the latest version of Dark Shadows on the big screen will prove disappointing--there is no depth of character in the Burton/Depp version. It appears (from the trailers) to be merely a mindless romp with plenty of bad puns and dark scenery when held up against the backdrop of the original. Jonathan Frid makes an appearance in the 2012 movie. Mr. Frid died on April 13, 2012, at the age of 87.

The original series had a really attractive werewolf in it as well. David Selby played a brooding, young Byronic hero, cursed to be a werewolf. He is Quentin Collins, and a few other Collins ancestors, as they use this handsome young man to do some soul swapping through the centuries. This is an interesting plot line as well for daytime television set in the late 1960's. Concepts like reincarnation and soul travel, or rather, astral projection, were not really all that common on network TV back then. Today, we are inured to alternate religions and the paranormal with shows like Supernatural, Ghost Whisperer, The Vampire Diaries and the like so we take those plot-lines for granted. But nearly fifty years ago an obscure soap opera started it all. Oh, what the devil has unleashed!

And yes, a storyline even involved the devil in the last season! Truly imaginative Television for it's day.  

They tried to re-make the TV series in the 1990's, with Ben Cross playing Barnabas Collins. It lasted one season, didn't have the werewolf in it, or the devil. It was okay, and it was a serious work, not silly or campy, but it ended on a cliff hanger and didn't get renewed for the next season. You can get it from Netflix, if you're so inclined.

In closing, I want to direct you to a truly wonderful site that celebrates the old TV series properly. If you are curious about the actors who played in it, about the series itself (episode guides), photos, journals, links, where to buy the DVD's and whatnot, you'll find it all here. I was awed and amazed by this site, so rather than using pictures or clips from it, out of respect for the creator and contributors to this site, I'm just sending you there. Bon Appetite. Link to Dark Shadows Journal Online

Oh, and if you do see the Movie, email me and let me know what you think. I'd love to hear from you.

Chills to you,

Lilith Bloodrose

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