J.D. Lafrance
Dark Shadows DVD Review

Dark Shadows

February 20, 2006

Director: Dan Curtis, Paul Lynch, Rob Bowman,
Starring: Ben Cross, Barbara Blackburn, Jim Fyfe, Joanna Going, Joseph Gordon-Levitt, Veronica Lauren, Barbara Steele, Roy Thinnes, Michael T. Weiss, Jean Simmons, Eddie Jones, Michael Cavanaugh, Juliana McCarthy, ,

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DVD Review

J.D. Lafrance

While the original Dark Shadows in the late 1960s was very campy, the show’s creator, Dan Curtis, decided to make the ‘90s incarnation a more serious take in the Hammer horror tradition. He is the godfather of TV horror with an impressive resume that includes the likes of Trilogy of Terror, Burnt Offerings and the Kolchak made-for-TV movies.

Beautiful young governess Veronica Winters (Going) arrives at the isolated and very foreboding mansion known as Collinwood to tutor the troubled child (Gordon-Levitt) of the dysfunctional Collins family. When the drunken groundskeeper (Fyfe) goes looking for the long lost family jewels he instead awakens the vampire Barnabas Collins (Cross) from his ancient tomb. Barnabas poses as a cousin from England and immediately ingratiates himself with the Collins family. Once he meets Veronica however, he sets his sights on her, captivated by her alluring beauty and how she eerily resembles the love of his life that died tragically many years ago.

Each episode has Barnabas terrorizing the seaside town of Collinsport while its inhabitants try to figure out who is killing off their citizenry. We are also privy to the relationships between the Collins family members and their interaction with Barnabas. Each episode juggles several subplots, pushing some forward while others relegated to the background in attempt to flesh out all of the various characters.

The pilot effectively establishes the proper horror genre mood with Veronica arriving at night via train to an imposing, gothic mansion and its fog-enshrouded grounds located on a cliff near the sea. This show features some great atmosphere – dark and stormy nights, old crypts and labyrinth-like mansions.

Ben Cross plays Barnabas as a very charismatic figure complete with a charming, cultured British accent and commanding presence that is ideal for the kind of vampire he portrays. Horror fans will spot one of the genre’s veterans, Barbara Steele who plays Dr. Julia Hoffman, brought in from Boston to investigate the murders but she quickly figures out that it is Barnabas behind them and what he is. Her presence certainly gives the show added credibility among horror fans.

Dark Shadows cleverly blends all of the traditional horror genre iconography with murder mystery and soap opera conventions. Curtis kept many of the stylistic conventions (i.e. quick zooms and musical cues) from the Dark Shadows of the ‘60s but had considerably better production values with the ‘90s version. It is well-paced, especially the beautifully crafted pilot episode that expertly packs in a lot of exposition and sets up all the major characters effectively.

J.D. is a freelance writer who is currently doing research for a book on the films of Michael Mann. He likes reading anything written by Jack Kerouac, James Ellroy, J.D. Salinger, Harlan Ellison or Thomas Pynchon. J.D. is currently addicted to the T.V. series 24 and enjoys drinking a lot of Sprite. This is not a blatant plug for the beverage but if they ever decided to give him a lifetime supply he certainly wouldn’t turn them down.
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