Wednesday, July 03, 2013

The Dark Side of Daytime TV

“My name is Victoria Winters,” Alexandra Moltke Isles intones as the eerie music swells, dark waves crash against craggy cliffs and the foggy Collinwood estate comes into view. I’m in heaven. Stories of vampires, witches and time-travel enthrall a young gay fifth grader as he rushes home from school to munch cereal in front of the TV as reruns of the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows come on at 4 p.m.

Though Jonathan Frid is hardly a heartthrob as the menacing vampire Barnabas Collins, he’s such a compelling actor that I am transfixed by his every British-inflected syllable. “Miss Wintizzz,” he says in that snooty cultured voice...

Jonathan Frid

Alexandra Moltke (aka Isles)

The great ensemble included Kathryn Leigh Scott as Maggie Evans, Nancy Barrett as Carolyn Stoddard, John Karlen as Willie Loomis, Grayson Hall as Dr. Julia Hoffman, David Henesy as David Collins...and the grand dame herself, old-time movie queen Joan Bennett as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the Collins matriarch. Later on, Kate Jackson and David Selby joined the cast.

Grayson Hall
Kathryn Leigh Scott
Nancy Barrett
John Karlen

Joan Bennett

Kate Jackson
David Selby

Created by visionary producer Dan Curtis, Dark Shadows ran for five seasons on ABC and spawned two big-screen adaptations during the series heyday. It was briefly revived in the early 1990s, and I was delighted: British actor Ben Cross was a sleek, sexy new Barnabas in the Christopher Lee vampire mold. Jean Simmons took over the role of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, and a young Joseph Gordon Levitt played the role of David Collins. Alas, the new nighttime series was preempted several times by ABC News continuing coverage of the first Iraq Gulf War, and quickly cancelled. (But all 12 surviving episodes are available on 

Ben Cross

Johnny Depp
As a huge Johnny Depp fan, I eagerly awaited the 2012 remake, hoping against hope that director Tim Burton, who had already made mincemeat (to steal a phrase from Sweeney Todd) of both Planet of the Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, two of my favorite films, would treat Dark Shadows with some degree of seriousness. Alas, my hopes were dashed. The film is a mess. It’s a shame—I sense that Depp and Burton share my recherché taste in film but in their quest to create something new out of something old (and already brilliant), they continue to fail miserably. Mr. Burton should use his old favorites as inspiration for new works instead of trying to update the classics in order to pander to contemporary mass audiences.

Today, lovers of True Blood have Dan Curtis and Dark Shadows to thank for blazing the trail for gothic and gory supernatural television entertainment.

Here’s a great resource for fans of Dark Shadows:


Ken Anderson said...

Nice to have someone pay tribute to this show who remember what an after school addiction it was when it first aired. I didn't watch often, but my best friend in High School was such a fan he actually wore a cape to school, carried a cane, and had a huge, Barnabas Collins-like ring. He took it very seriously and never appreciated my affection for all the flubs, bloopers, and mistakes that came from the manner in which they churned out 5 episodes a week on a small budget. I think I got kind of excited about it when "A Chorus Line"s Donna Mckechnie briefly joined the cast, near the end of its run. Now I enjoy the blooper reels on YouTube. My high school friend would be scowling at me now.
A fun post, Chris!

angelman66 said...

Oh yes! The shaking sets, the visible boom microphones, and best of all, the actors straining to view the teleprompter yet fully managing to maintain the intensity of the gothic dialogue! Eyes shifting in search of a cue card....long, blank spots as the actors go up on their lines altogether--adding to the mysterious aura of Collinwood!!

Thanks for reminding me, Ken! ;-)