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The story of Dark Shadows begins with newly hired governess Victoria Winters arriving at Collinwood, the Collins' estate in Collinsport, Maine in search of her mysterious origins. She soon is caught up in the strange events and mysteries that seem to surround the Collins family. Eventually, the Collins' "cousin from England", Barnabas Collins, arrives and takes the show in a new direction; his vampire curse introduces a new history of the Collins family. Part of this revised history is the popular character of the witch Angelique whose jealously led to the tragic death of Barnabas' great love Josette and who placed the curse upon Barnabas. Written by
Originally airing in the afternoon in 1966 as a half hour "Gothic" soap opera then a few months later morphing into pure supernatural story telling, Dark Shadows is unique in American television. Though not 'run' live, the show was taped with almost no interruptions so it 'felt' live. Only the most catastrophic of events would cause producers to re-shoot a scene. The show is famous for the occasional slip-up: crew visible on screen, a boom-mike shown above the actors' heads, actors struggling to remember their lines or actors calling another character by their wrong name. Still , this only helped to give the show a theatrical feel, as if you were sitting in the audience watching a live piece of theatre which consequently endowed the show a certain prestige that typical soap operas never achieved. Former movie star Joan Bennett, headlined the show as the Collin's family matriarch, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. Ms. Bennett's 'old' Hollywood trained voice & poise gave the show glamour. Many of the jeweled baubles Ms. Bennett wore on the show were the real thing from Ms. Bennett's private collection. Closing credits of the shows always had.."Fashions by Orbachs.." The show is great for, if nothing else, a study in late 60s early 70s fashion sensibilities. From Ms. Bennett's upswept hairdos & flowing chiffon dresses or tailored skirt/blouse 'sets' to the younger womens' minis & long flip hair styles, the show's a veritable time capsule of retro chic. But the show is so much more than its fashion. The show is a true American Gothic original.
The Collins family live in the coastal town of Collinsport, somewhere on the coast of Maine. The Collins have money & breeding. The initial modern Collins family was not a traditional nuclear family. There was Elizabeth Collins Stoddard & her grown, 20something daughter Carolyn, played by Nancy Barrett who lived on the family estate/mansion Collinwood. Mr. Stoddard, mysteriously missing for twenty years or so, is presumed dead. They share the estate with Mrs. Stoddard's brother, Roger Collins, played by Louis Edmonds & his young pre-teen son, David, played by David Henesy. Roger Collins's wife, Laura (Diana Millay) has recently died in a fire. As the series opens, we are introduced to the character Victoria Winters, played by Alexandra Moltke, raised an orphan on her way to her new position as governess to young David at Collinwood. Each show would begin with a shot of the impressive mansion Collinwood, bathed in moody lighting, while Victoria Winters' voice eerily introduced themes of mystery & secrets hopefully to be revealed on that day's episodes while Dark Shadows' famous theme music played in the background. As the shows progressed over the first few months from mystery Gothic to supernatural suspense we are introduced to the character of Barnabas Collins played by Jonathan Frid. Mr. Collins represents himself to the family as a distant cousin newly arrived from England. Hanging in the entry hall, is a portrait of the original Barnabas Collins from the 1700s, which bears a striking resemblance to the newly arrived cousin. We as the audience know that they are one in the same & that Barnabas Collins is a member of the undead, a vampire who has been imprisoned in a chained coffin for over two hundred years & who has only just recently escaped. Story lines would go back in time, revealing how Barnabas became a vampire by an evil curse from witch Angelique (Lara Parker), a maid of French Caribbean descent. Angelique, in the service of Josette Dupres (Kathryn Leigh Scott), Barnabas's true love, was jealous of the love Barnabas had for Josette. So she cursed Barnabas with the curse of vampirism. Josette herself would reach an untimely death at the edge of Widow's Hill overlooking the rocky shoreline hundreds of feet below. Later back in modern time, Roger Collins will bring home as his new bride, Cassandra, a woman who looks amazingly like the Angelique from the 1700s. Soon we learn that it is in fact the immortal Angelique still seeking either love or revenge from her spurned lover Barnabas. Meanwhile, Barnabas has met a young woman in the village of Collinsport, a Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) who reminds Barnabas very much of his beloved Josette. He soon kidnaps Maggie and tries to turn her into his long lost Josette. Along the way Collinwood becomes haunted by the spirit of long lost relative Quentin Collins (David Selby). Completing the major characters of the show was Dr. Julia Hoffman, (Grayson Hall), a woman committed to transforming Barnabas by scientific (or supernatural if necessary), means back to a normal man. Their friendship (and her secret love for Barnabas) would form one of the shows' main plot lines.
The show moved slowly and deliberately & revelled in it's Gothic, supernatural feel. It was in no hurry to move from storyline to storyline. Instead, it relied on shadows, mysteries, lightening, candlelight, vampires who longed for the brightness of the sun and witches pining for love. In an era of MTV and commercials, Dark Shadows is our television equivalent to Jane Austen & Edgar Allen Poe.
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