When I was a bachcha (OED Word of the Day), I, along with my fellow orphans, would run home from school each afternoon to watch Dark Shadows. My desire to see what would happen next in the lives of Victoria Winters, Elizabeth and Carolyn Stoddard, Roger and David Collins, and of course, Barnabas Collins never waned until life events in high school turned my head.
Dark Shadows ran on the ABC television network from 1966 until 1971 and was the first gothic soap opera. My weekday afternoons in 1966 through about 1969 found me glued to the black and white television that sat in the corner of the study hall where I lived in Hobday cottage on the campus of the Virginia Baptist Children’s Home. My love of Victoria sprang from the fact her story was centered on her search to discover who she was. She was raised in a fondling home and mysteriously was employed by Elizabeth Stoddard, the matriarch of Collinswood, the family compound, located in the fictional town of Collinsport, Maine. (For wonderful stills, images, and details about the original series and all things “Dark Shadows,” visit the Fandom Dark Shadows wiki).
Years later, I often thought of the old main building that once stood proudly announcing itself as it stood sentry out over Salem. My memory is not the best, but I believe it was raised sometime after 1966. A missed opportunity of my life was not taking a picture of that old building before it was removed from its foundation. Today, I have a framed print of that old building that hangs in my home flanked with wooden cutout images of some of the old cottages and other buildings that peppered campus when I lived there from 1962 to 1971. Today, when you travel up the winding hill, many of the old buildings I remembered are gone, in use for other things, or have been raised and rebuilt in a modern style.
About eight weeks ago, while searching Amazon Prime for something to watch, my husband and I found the Amazon Prime free streaming of all 1225 episodes of the original Dark Shadows series. Only if you watch the series back then can you understand how excited I was to share this series with Albert. He had never seen it. Not because he wouldn’t like it, but because his television access was limited to two TV channels – CBS & NBC. Yes, there was a time when we only had limited access to one of three television channels. It seems surreal in some respects. We also couldn’t record what we watched on TV. Thus, the reason we rushed home in the afternoons to catch the 30-minute show (NOTE: Each episode actually runs about 21-minutes each without commercials).
The fun of watching this series then (and now) was the introduction of story-lines that openly spoke about ghosts, vampires, werewolves, warlocks, witches, and a phoenix, to name only a few of the character types. There were moments of mysteries, murders, jealousy, and other evils, and how good could overcome them all. Each episode wrapped these story themes around the lives of the Collins family, the people of Collinsport, and an occasionally spread out to Bangor or New York City. It was the ultimate story for kids.
The last 30 days or so have found Albert and I sitting in front of our TV, much as I did as a bachcha, almost every evening from seven-thirty until nine or ten with a fire in the fireplace, our drinks by our side, glued to the events of Collinswood. Albert and I find ourselves relating the events of Dark Shadows to some of the current events we read about, see on the news, or hear around town. In many ways, Dark Shadows is much like any other soap opera. There are the quirky things we see — stage hands seen accidentally in scenes, bloopers, and continuity of story issues. But, for the most part, it is just as entertaining as the first time I saw it. The intrigue, the misdirection, the eerie characters and music, and the mystery of Victoria Winters keeps us coming back.
Besides, it makes for a great research project. We’re looking into the idea of maybe taking a trip to the real location sites used for the original series. Since the series was completed five years after it began, there have been several movies produced, a revival series in 1991, and a range of books and other forms of entertainment. One of my favorite directors, Tim Burton, and a favorite actor, Johnny Depp, worked together in 2012 to produce an adaption of the story line focused on the Barnabas Collins time. I’ve not seen the movies being a purist of the TV series. But, now that we are watching the original TV series, I may consider watching the movies.
An episode we watched the other evening (Episode 83— be careful when you click – there are spoilers) was one of 26 out of the 1225 episodes that exist because of kinescope. A kinescope is a device used to record the output of a television screen on 16mm film. Back in the day, the three television companies would do this in order to create backup copies of episodes for the smaller-market stations who couldn’t afford videotape recorders or would broadcast the show at times other than the regular network airtime.
If you enjoy following a series, if you love gothic style stories, if good overcoming evil is your cup of tea, you will enjoy watching, reading, and learning more about Dark Shadows. I know we are…
What series are you watching – following – reading?
Update: The Owl, the Sword, & the Efil Stone is now available on Amazon in eBook and paperback formats.