name is Victoria Winters... my journey is just beginning..."
On 27 June 1966, those words began the journey of a young
governess to the remote coastal town of Collinsport, Maine,
which for the next five years would be the home of the assorted
supernatural forces inhabiting the world of ABC-TV's Dark
Shadows, the first gothic soap opera.
From the murky images of
virginal governess Victoria Winters (Alexandra
Moltke) on a twilight-bound train, to the hulking inky
outline of the ominous Collinwood mansion, the opening moments
of the first episode made it clear that Dark Shadows
did not intend to play by any of the traditional soap opera
rules. A heady distillation of gothic romance plots and intrigue,
Curtis' brainchild was not an overnight success. Intially
faced with poor viewing figures and twee mysteries surrounding
the parentage of the young governess, in desperation a ghost
story was added to the mix. When viewers responded positively,
the producers decided that the supernatural plots were where
the show's future lay, opening the floodgates for a vivid
cast of spectral characters to menace the tortured Collins
family and their ghost-ridden mansion, Collinwood, a dark
wonderland housed in a tiny Manhattan studio.
Nine months into the show's run, grave-robbing drifter
Willie Loomis (John
Karlen) released vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan
Frid) from imprisonment in the Collins family mausoleum,
and pop-culture history was born. Dark Shadows pioneered
the silhouette of the angst-ridden vampire searching redemption
some three decades before Angel lusted after Buffy. In spite
of Dan Curtis' mandate to introduce a bloodsucking fiend
as his vampire protagonist, the writers and production staff
took a more considered approach, using the vampire myth as
a metaphor for loneliness and isolation.
In the coming years, the
residents of Collinsport would be victims to werewolves, witches,
and warlocks, even the Devil himself. Amongst the most popular
supernatural characters were Angélique (Lara
Parker), a beautiful vengeful witch who gave the vampire
curse to Barnabas, and Quentin Collins (David
Selby) a Byronic teen idol afflicted with the werewolf
Moving back and forth through various time periods with bravado,
and featuring an ersatz 'repertory company' of actors
in multiple roles, Dark Shadows delivered imagination
and adventure in abundance, drawing massive audiences. The
cast toured the country to huge acclaim, regularly drawing
thousands of enthusiastic fans.
In 1970, Barnabas'
story was retold in graphic detail--replete with gallons of
lurid gore--in the first of two Dark Shadows films,
House of Dark Shadows, which proved a box office smash.
Featuring the television cast, and filmed concurrently with
the tapings of television episodes, the film's gory nature
may have alienated some viewers. For Jonathan Frid, it resolved
his growing dissatisfaction with the role of Barnabas, and
confirmed his suspicions that the role would leave him typecast.
In 1971, when his contract had expired, Frid proved reticent
to re-sign, and only agreed when offered the chance to play
another character, Bramwell Collins.
After 1,225 episodes, and
still commanding impressive viewing figures, Dark Shadows
ended its network run in April 1971, a cult television legend
and a unique footnote in television history. A final voice
over assured viewers that "...for as long as they lived,
the Dark Shadows of Collinwood, were but a memory of the distant
Within days of the final taping, production began on a new
Dark Shadows film, Night of Dark Shadows. With
Jonathan Frid declining the starring role, David Selby, Kate
Jackson and Grayson
Hall fronted an evocative ghost story with shades of Rebecca.
Sadly, an eleventh-hour editing session saw nearly half an
hour excised from the film, leaving it disjointed and confusing.
In spite of this, its takings were respectable enough for
MGM to request another Dark Shadows film, but Dan Curtis
was not interested.
However, this did not signal the end of Dark Shadows.
Nationwide syndication of numerous episodes throughout the
next two decades maintained interest in the show, and helped
foster a strong fan culture. The late 1970s saw the first
Dark Shadows convention, ShadowCon, which ran for several
years before being superseded by the Dark Shadows Festivals,
which continue today.
From 1975, a number
of Dark Shadows alumni were reunited for the ABC
daytime drama Ryan's Hope, which taped at the original
Dark Shadows studio. In addition to a cast that included
Barrett and many Dark Shadows guest actors, producer
Robert Costello, directors Lela Swift and Henry Kaplan and
scenic designer Sy Tomashoff were also involved extensively.
Costello and Swift both won Emmy awards for their work on
Shadows itself continued to endure throughout the 1980s,
and after many rumours of reunions and sequels, Ben Cross
assumed the familiar Inverness cape and wolf's head
cane for a short-lived prime time NBC revival series in
1991. Dan Curtis returned to spearhead the new project,
which also starred Barbara Steele and Jean Simmons. Boasting
lavish production values and locations, the series retold
the original Barnabas storyline for an adult audience. Sadly,
in spite of a rigorous publicity campaign, the misfortune
of debuting on the eve of the Gulf War proved insurmountable.
The new Dark Shadows was cancelled after just 12
episodes, in spite of NBC receiving over 50,000 letters
The 1990s saw the entire Dark Shadows archive repeated
via the Sci-Fi Channel, which continues broadcast today,
and their European counterparts gave its territories their
first ever broadcast of the show from 1995-1999. MPI Home
Video has released the entire series on US home video, and
HarperCollins published two Dark Shadows novels in
1998 and 1999.
Today, 40 years since its first broadcast, it maintains
an enthusiastic following of fans, fuelled by successful
annual conventions and a vast array of merchandise. Rumours
of a variety of new Dark Shadows production formats
persist, and 2003 saw classic cast members reunited for
Return to Collinwood, an audio play bringing the
story into the present day. Spring 2004 saw another cast
embracing the familiar Collins personalities as part of
an ill-fated pilot for the WB network's fall season.
saw Dark Shadows fans mourn the passing
of Dan Curtis, the show's founding father. Ironically, at
the same time, the Dark Shadows legend
began another chapter with the announcement of a new series
dramas, starring original cast members.
Indeed, much like
Barnabas Collins himself, Dark Shadows retains an
immortality that time steadfastly fails to erode.
· To read more about the Dark
Shadows Movies, click
To read episode summaries for
the original series, click
To read more about the Dark
Shadows cast, click