When I was a child, I dreamed about living at Collinwood. Sure, the place was over run with vampires, ghosts, werewolves and nasty human beings, but it wasn’t the stuff of nightmares for me. I loved everything about Dark Shadows. I wanted to explore The Old House with Willie Loomis. Smell the salt air at Widow’s Peak with Josette. I wanted to have a drink with Joe Haskell at the Blue Whale and have dinner with Elizabeth and Carolyn at the main house.
A half hour a day of Dark Shadows wasn’t enough for me. So I honed my writing skills penning my own fan fiction while listening to the soundtrack album, surrounded by photos torn from Tiger Beat and 16 Magazine.
My family wasn’t surprised by my obsession. For many years, my bedroom was decorated in Universal Monsters’ style. I had a full collection of Aurora monster models (built by me), monster movie posters on the walls and a bookshelf full of spooky tales. One shelf was nothing but gold spines — Dark Shadows tie-in novels which I bought at the Berlin Auction as soon as they came out.
I suppose the big question is why? Why was I, and so many others, crazy about Dark Shadows? Maybe because it was unlike anything else on TV at the time. It was spooky and cool and romantic in its own quirky way. Victoria and Maggie were girls I could relate to. They were normal girls who wandered into an extraordinary situation and I wanted to trade places with them in spite of the danger.
And while most people were fascinated with Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), I had a soft spot for Willie Loomis (John Karlen). Oh, I know. He was a whiny, conniving, ne’er do well who got what he deserved when he tried to rob a Collins’ coffin, but I still adored him. And I continued to adore him as he changed characters and personalities through the run of the show and the later movies.
There are more than 1,000 episodes of Dark Shadows. Many of the cast members were there throughout much of the run, often playing different characters in different eras and alternate worlds. We’ve lost quite a few of them, most recently Jonathan Frid, but also Grayson Hall, the regal Joan Bennett, Louis Edmunds and Dennis Patrick. But still carrying the torch on behalf of the show we have Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, and my dear John Karlen just to name a few.
We also have MPI, they’ve done an amazing job keeping the lights burning at Collinwood. They just released the entire series in one incredible collection. 131 discs in a coffin-shaped case. When lined up, the discs form an image of Barnabas in his coffin, which right at the moment, is a little too disturbing for me, given Mr. Frid’s recent passing.
If the full set is a little rich for your blood, pick up one of their greatest hits collections.
Dark Shadows: The Best of Barnabas includes 9 episodes spanning from 1967 to 1970. Each episode has a new introduction by Lara Parker. You’ll see the first time Barnabas meets Maggie Evans, a romantic encounter with Josette, a suspicious moment with Quentin and an alternate universe episode with Willie the writer wanting to interview Barnabas for his book.
Dark Shadows: Fan Favorites also features 9 episodes with new introductions. You’ll see Angelique put her spell on Barnabas, see his return to Collinwood after being released from his coffin, watch him hunt a werewolf with Julia and save Maggie from a fate worse than death.
If you’ve read this far, you probably know that Johnny Depp is starring as Barnabas Collins in a big budget movie remake of Dark Shadows. It’s a Tim Burton film so it’s quirky and funnier than most people had imagined when it was announced. I’ve no doubt that it will be entertaining, a fun homage to the series. But there will never be anything like the original Dark Shadows. Pick up one of the “Best of” DVDs and experience it for the first time, or the first time in a long time. It’s a show everyone should see at least once.