Dark Shadows

Frid as Barnabas

Depp as Barnabas

The release of the Dark Shadows film with Johnny Depp this month has brought attention back to the campy TV original Gothic suspense series.

It ran from 1966-1971. I don't think I ever watched more than a few scenes in those days, but I do recall girls I went to school with being big fans. It was on in the late afternoon, so they could run home to catch an episode in those days of no VCRs or ways of recording, time-shifting or on-demand.

This gothic soap opera aired weekdays on the ABC television network, and actually started without any supernatural elements. It was unprecedented in daytime television when ghosts were introduced about six months after it began.

The series went more viral when vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) appeared a year into its run. Eventually, it had werewolves, zombies, man-made monsters, witches, warlocks, time travel, and a parallel universe.

Part of the camp fun was that it was low budget (often compared in that way to the British series Doctor Who). There was a small company of actors and they each played many roles and some characters were eventually played by more than one actor.

There have been compilations and bootlegs available over the years since it went off the air and it definitely has a cult following. It must have a following to warrant a release (re release, it seems) of a complete boxed set that contains every episode. That's 1225 episodes on 131 discs!

Yes, it has some extras too - interviews with the stars and creative members, but Dark Shadows: The Complete Original Series will cost in the range of $400-$600. Apparently, it had been released before in various box sets that were $60.00 per set and there were 32 sets to purchase - so, to the fan, I guess this is a bargain!

We also forget that so many shows from the early days of television through the 1960s were not recorded or archived that they are gone. For example, the first episode of Dark Shadows to feature Barnabas from 1967 was an old kinescope. Those were films that were shot off a TV screen to retain a copy. (Sounds like what would become "pirating." Kinescopes are usually grainy and rough looking. The new release has a better copy of that episode that was restored.

Director Tim Burton and Johnny depp are both big fans of the original. Depp was obsessed as a child with wanting to be Barnabas Collins and collaborated with Burton on the film inwhich he finally gets to be Barnabas. The film has gotten mixed reviews (5.4 of 10 on the review aggregator website Rotten Tomatoes)

There have been two other films based on the soap opera Dark Shadows back when it was a TV hit: House of Dark Shadows (1970) and Night of Dark Shadows (1971).

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