Endless Shadows

I’ve always loved DARK SHADOWS, the horror/fantasy/SF/gothic/romance ABC-TV soap opera that ran from 1966 to 1971—not to mention the pair of movies the series spawned (HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS [1970] and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS [1972]), as well as the 1991 NBC-TV revival series. Now, a new cinematic adaptation of the franchise is in the planning stages, set to star Johnny Depp as the infamous vampire, Barnabas Collins (though whether the project will actually see the light of day is anyone’s guess). In its day, the original series drew fans of all ages; many of the show’s actors achieved something akin to superstar status; and the property became a merchandiser’s wet dream, generating everything from trading cards to board games to a series of paperback novels. Not unlike STAR TREK, DARK SHADOWS retained a considerable fan following well after its demise, and with its subsequent syndication—and eventually, VHS and DVD releases of all 1,225 episodes—its fanbase continued to expand. In the late 1990s, a new, though short-lived—series of novels followed; two written by Lara Parker (who played Angelique in the original show), and one written by Elizabeth Massie and myself. And now, Big Finish (UK) is actively producing all-new DARK SHADOWS audio dramas, starring many of the surviving members of the original cast, including Lara Parker, David Selby (Quentin Collins), and Jonathan Frid (Barnabas Collins). I’ve written the scripts for three of them (PATH OF FATE, CURSE OF THE PHARAOH, and BLOOD DANCE).

You know, back in those glorious days of yore and youth, during DARK SHADOWS’ original run, I had this wacky dream that one day, somehow, I might be a part of it all. In fact, I pretty much calculated that if I lived a secret life, prayed to the Leviathans every night, and kept all the commandments according to Dan Curtis, when I died, my soul would go to Collinwood. It’s a pretty cool place; I mean, it’s a big honking shadowy mansion full of secret rooms and corridors, numerous resident supernatural beings, and a helluva cool musical score. Come to think of it, the idea of spending the afterlife there still seems a reasonable bargain. I still vividly remember when my friend and fellow writer, Elizabeth Massie, first called me up to say she had a line on the new HarperCollins DARK SHADOWS series and wondered—since I knew a little more than the casual viewer about DARK SHADOWS—whether I might be interested in collaborating on a novel. When the screaming stopped and she could hear again, I think I said “okay.” So, yeah, becoming involved with DARK SHADOWS in some official capacity, even all these years later, has been relatively pleasing. Let’s put it this way: if, when I was nine years old, someone had told me that I would one day write DARK SHADOWS stories and even get acquainted with many of the cast members, I surely would have had a coronary and died, and thus never grown up to write DARK SHADOWS.

Sometimes it’s better not to know….

Even as an adult, I’m far from alone in my deep fondness for the old show. While it was quite a magical thing in my childhood days, in more recent years when I watched the series all over again, and could see the gaffes, bloopers, and low-budget stylings for all that they were, I found that I admired it all the more. Yes, its plodding pace and internal inconsistencies could sometimes be brain-numbing, but when the show fired on all cylinders, it was an inspired masterpiece of storytelling, acting, direction, and visual design—all coming together to generate an atmosphere like no other, either before or since. Especially early in the series, its setting—Collinsport, Maine—was drawn as a real place, populated by real people. The characters’ lives reflected the lives of their real-world counterparts, so when the darker, more bizarre things began to insinuate themselves into the storyline, they were all the more unsettling, especially for a daytime soap opera, which customarily just didn’t do THAT.

Needless to say, it was the introduction of Barnabas Collins (for a time, television’s most renowned vampire) that propelled the show from eerie gothic drama with supernatural overtones to a rollicking supernatural extravaganza. In fact, in short order, we had ghosts, witches, werewolves, Frankenstein monsters, Dorian Grays, Jekyll-and-Hydes, and Lovecraftian beasties (off-camera, of course). While all of these colorful entities were novel—certainly for that time—the allure of the show still went way beyond those things. To my mind, the reason DARK SHADOWS still has such a powerful draw for so many fans today is its characters, and the people who played them. DARK SHADOWS was not just about monstrous thrills; like any traditional soap opera, at its heart, it was still a study of the people who lived at Collinwood. Most of them were just like us; they were people we knew, that we could relate to…just as in any other “true-to-life” drama. There were the child characters (David Collins, Amy Jennings, Hallie Stokes); the young adults (Carolyn Stoddard, Maggie Evans, Victoria Winters, Joe Haskell, Willie Loomis); and the mature, if sometimes peculiar set (Elizabeth Stoddard, Roger Collins, Julia Hoffman, Professor T. Elliott Stokes). Even now, as I did then, I hardly see the actors who play the roles; those characters ARE the real people, with distinct personalities, histories, and issues to be solved. No matter that Jonathan Frid spent as much time as he didn’t looking at the teleprompter or that Grayson Hall stuttered and stammered so long that by the time she reached the end of a sentence, you’d forgotten what she’d said at the beginning. It was just who they were, those people. The actors gave their characters a lot of tender loving care, and now even more than way back then, it’s highly apparent.

Very much to its credit, the cast was very much akin to a repertory company. With all the different time periods in which the show was set—the 1960s, 1795, 1840, 1897, even 1995—and most of the actors taking on different roles, for the viewer, a strong sense of familiarity always remained, regardless of each actor’s part in the drama at hand. Several of the cast members, particularly Thayer David, Nancy Barrett, and Grayson Hall, proved themselves consummate actors, wholeheartedly dedicated to their performances, no matter how outlandish the scenario. One can’t deny that, in a setting that for all intents and purposes was live television (the video could not be edited except in the most extreme situations), circumstances often conspired to create onscreen near-catastrophes, resulting in many of the now-infamous bloopers for which the show is known. Still, the individuals involved, both cast and crew, always, ALWAYS gave their all, and THAT, I believe is where so much of the magic of DARK SHADOWS lies.

I don’t know what the future holds for the franchise, but it’s been around for going on half a century. Something tells me DARK SHADOWS won’t be fading into our dim collective memories anytime soon. I hope I’ll be around to help make some more of its history.

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