MPI // 1968 // 660 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Gibron // August 26th, 2004
Gypsies, tramps and thieves...
If there is one thing that can get rich folk fighting like sharks over a fresh bucket of chum, it's the death of a family patri- or matri-arch. Just the scent of the possible riches alone sends most wanting-to-be-well-off whelps turning on each other in McCarthy era treachery. Add in a few skeletons -- and/or siblings -- in the closet and a last minute change of heart by the tottering old coot on the Grim Reaper's guest list, and you've got a contested estate just waiting for a magistrate to overrule it. While current sue-happy social climbers simply hire themselves up a few dozen high-priced shysters and shoot the will probate works, there was a time when no amount of legal ease would broadside a bequest.
Back in the late 19th century, where more and more old money was finding its way into the coffers of less and less honorable kinfolk, the last will and testament of a crazy old crone was like an autographed copy of the Ten Commandments; break one subsection and the wrath of a vengeful spirit would come slithering from the grave to impose a paranormal injunction on you. Thus it is with the Collins family, those New England ninnies who harbor such horrible familial flaws as vampirism, lycanthropy, witchcraft, and spineless whining. During the run of the supernatural soap opera, Dark Shadows, creator Dan Curtis and head writer Sam Hall used the members of this House of the Seven Goofballs to carve out a campy, kitschy continuing saga revolving around backstabbing, double-crossing, curse casting, and neck biting. In the 1897 storyline which comprises almost all of the entire 40 episodes of Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Thirteen from MPI, we witness the kind of inheritance hokum that has made many jurists toss up their hands in birthright befuddlement. Just to make sure we don't forget which plane of existence our narrative is buttered on, we have some zombies, ghosts, and gratuitous muttonchops to amp up the menace.
Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Thirteen, released in July 2004 by MPI, finds us more than halfway through Dark Shadows' run (1966-71, 1225 episodes). It features 40 installments, #697 through #737. If you'd like specific information about the actual events that transpire in each segment, you can find all the information you need at DarkShadows.com (linked in the Accomplices at right), under its Episode Guide. However, for the sake of discussing the storylines inherent in this set, we must look at the previous events that transpired:
After traveling to the 18th Century to save former governess Victoria Winters from the gallows, Barnabas Collins is faced with two competing problems when he returns to the modern world. Chris Jennings's werewolfiness is getting far worse and more uncontrollable, and nothing that Dr. Hoffman has done has been able to cure him. The haunting of the estate continues unabated, as the ghost of Quentin Collins continues to use the children, Amy and David, to torment and terrorize the family. The residents of the stately manor have fled to the old house -- Barnabas's home -- to seek protection. But the spirit still works his wicked influence over the young ones.
At the start of Volume 13, Quentin's secret room in the West Wing is discovered, and David disappears. When he's found, the boy is in a deep coma. Hoping to save the child, Barnabas employs the mystical powers of the I Ching to, once again, travel back through an otherworldly portal. He finds himself in 1897, where the ancestors of the Collins are arguing over control of the family fortune. Edith Collins, matriarch of the clan, is about to die, and she has two pressing matters to resolve. First, she must decide who will inherit the estate. And second, the horrible family "secret" must be passed down to the next generation. The household assumes that Edward, the eldest, will end up with everything. But the other siblings want to prevent that from happening. Carl, the sad little jokester of the family, can't believe his grandmother would leave him broke. Judith, the sour old spinster, believes she has been the most dutiful family member to the dying old crone and should become the beneficiary of everything.
And then there is the black sheep rogue, Quentin. He wants Collinwood for himself, and will stop at nothing to get his way. With the help of an evil lawyer friend, Evan Hanley, and a couple of gypsies employed by Edith -- Magda and Sandor -- Quentin wants to call on the powers of darkness to secure his inheritance. But Barnabas is there to stop him, so Quentin must call on evil forces to deal with this stranger from another time. Enter Angelique, an old nemesis of Barnabas from another dimension, ready to wreak havoc on his life and the lives of those he loves, including new governess at Collinwood, Rachel Drummond.
Oh yes: there is some mysterious "thing" being kept locked up in the tower room -- something with a vendetta against most of the Collins clan...
When Dark Shadows wants to, it can be downright addictive. Like warm ooey-gooey fudge cake with cold vanilla ice cream, or a reality show centered around failed celebrities, once it turns on the tacky and pulls out all the subtlety stops, the series shapeshifts -- just like several of its main characters -- into a thing of hyper-melodramatic hilarity. But it's not unintentional comedy we are cackling at; Shadows is far too fiendish in its fixations and mysterious in its manners to warrant such misplaced wit. No, what we find so merrily amusing is the kind of interfamilial sparing that made the classic soap opera format so fetching to begin with. Shadows had always wanted to bridge the gap between horror and the hackneyed, and with the "Quentin Collins: 1897" storyline, the series finally perched upon said precipice. Combining all the elements that kept fans foaming at the fangs, this time travel attempt to rescue David from the fiendish whim of Collinwood's resident rapscallion was a stroke of storytelling genius. It gave us classic Barnabas (back from the dead and biting necks again), the return of Angelique (Laura Parker has the craziest eyes in all of villain-dom), and a few new endearing dunderheads to add to the already overloaded canon of classic characters.
First, there's Carl Collins (John Karlen, who usually plays Barnabas's Renfield, Willie Loomis). A fey prankster who seems constantly on the verge of giggling, crying, and wetting his pants, all at the same time, Carl enjoys his life smack-dab in the middle of the lap of luxury. Perhaps this is why he is so devastated when it is suddenly, and shockingly, snatched out from under him. Edward Collins (played by Shadows' master thespian, "Big" Louis Edmonds) has a smart little turned-up moustache to match his equally out-of-joint nose. As voiced with hyperactive authority by Edmonds, Edward is like a Victorian dandy version of Dr. Zachary Smith. Essaying the easy to identify role of Crazy Jenny, Marie Wallace resembles Anne Reinking on the verge of a nervous breakdown. Her fright wig whack-outs are abject lessons in the art of going batsh*t on screen. But perhaps the most juicy bit of recasting (if you have not already guessed, Shadows used existing company members for multiple roles to keep the constantly colliding planes of existence realistic and reliable within the show) was turning the cosmopolitan Grayson Hall and the robust Renaissance man Thayer David into a couple of smelly, thieving gypsies. As Magda and Sandor, they provide untold moments of mirth with their broad accents and even more amusing mannerisms. Both actors looks like they are having the time of their lives in these "alternative" roles, and their obvious energy spikes an already high bit of camp into pyscho-surreal melodrama. It is this frazzled family dysfunction that makes Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Thirteen so meaty, far more fleshed-out and crazy character-driven than ever before.
Yet Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Thirteen belongs almost completely to David Selby. This newcomer to the series is given the near-impossible job of making the loathsome lothario Quentin Collins into something more than merely the J.R. Ewing of pre-1900s Maine. Sure, Quentin is the quintessential bad boy we love to hate, but Selby's quest is a little more convoluted than that. While we hiss most of what Quentin stands for, and cringe as he makes another lecherous pass at the nearest available female, we also find a strange sense of sadness to his personality. Quentin will forever be the prodigal son, the free spirit set to wander, only to come back wounded, or even defeated. All of his bravado is false and his moustache-twirling (make that muttonchop-tweaking -- dude's got some fierce facial hair) a ruse to hide his sense of impending doom. Sure, he dabbles in the black arts, and has driven a massive wedge between himself and the rest of the clan with his aggressive adultery and lack of discipline. But in the end, all Quentin really wants is some guarantees: guarantee of love and affection; guarantee of a place to live; guarantee that there will always be a power to battle the evil he invokes. Since the curses visited on Quentin in Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Thirteen are merely a drop in the bucket for what he will face in future installments of the show, his impact on Dark Shadows is immediate and -- dare I say it -- the equal of Jonathan Frid's Barnabas when the bloodsucker first appeared at Collinwood.
With his mostly silent spook show antics in the previous DVD sets, Quentin Collins's bid for control of the family fortune takes center stage in Dark Shadows for what will be one of the greatest, if not actually the longest, continuous storylines in the series history. While this particular plotline will be flecked with the supernatural -- witchcraft, voodoo, gypsy curses, vampirism, zombies, werewolves, ghosts, and mythical creatures of doom (a.k.a. the Phoenix) -- it will be the ever-changing family dynamic that will become the focus of Dark Shadows and, frankly, the series is better for it. There is a snap and a crackle to the dialogue in Volume 13 that is sorely missing from other installments of the box sets. Thanks to the previously praised acting, all the lines sound like supercilious outtakes from a Tennessee Williams play. Even better, this segment of the 1897 storylines lays the foundation for more madness to come. With the introduction of the demented Rev. Trask (who gives private education a very bad name with his boarding school-as-private torture chamber, Worthington Hall), the soon-to-be-discovered connection between the gypsy Magda and Crazy Jenny (and the consequences of such a finding) and the arrival of Carl's new girlfriend, the bawdy Pansy Faye, it's the beginning of a beautiful bunch of bedlam for the residents of Collinsport. The only issue you will have with Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Thirteen is that it leaves you with such a stirring cliffhanger that you'll have to wait another month or so before the fate of those trapped in the fire at Trask's agony academy is revealed. Until them, you are left to relish one of the most miserable, miscreant roundelays of repugnant relatives ever to grace a daytime soap opera. Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Thirteen is the series finding a perfect match between the supernatural and the sudser. And it indeed makes the wait for Volume 14 that much more aggravating.
Visually, Dark Shadows has always had issues. Even in its recent syndication cycle, fans complained of video variations, tape tremors, awkward black and white kinescopes, and other less-than-solid visual representations. All of these lovely artifacts are preserved and presented in MPI's transfer of the series. They even offer a word of warning as to the print problems before each DVD begins. Overall, Volume 13 looks surprisingly good, with rich vibrant colors and a lot of nice lighting atmosphere. The 1.33:1 full screen images do have their issues, but they really don't take away from the enjoyment of the show.
On the audio side, this is one of the better presentations of Dark Shadows currently available on DVD. Usually, there are problems with dropouts, muffling, or other sonic shortcomings. But they are far less frequent on this set than with others. Also, when the over-the-top traumatics occur throughout the show, the sound engineers tend to pull back on the levels, meaning that whatever happens directly afterward is almost indecipherable. But for a show filled with music, sound effects, dialogue, aural cues and underlying atmosphere, Dark Shadows' Dolby Digital Stereo presentation is fine.
The sole extra here (except for a pamphlet outlining the episodes offered) is a series of four separate interviews (one on each disc in the set) featuring a different member of the cast and/or crew. In Volume 13, David Selby (a.k.a. Quentin Collins), Laura "Angelique" Parker, "Crazy Jenny" herself, Marie Wallace, and set designer Sy Tomashoff are presented. Selby gives a straightforward narrative on how he ended up with the part of Collinwood's resident lech, and discusses several of the problems with playing such a cad. Parker is lost, leaving reason and rationality behind to spend her entire Q&A sounding like a far more fetching Anne Rice. She deconstructs and reinvents the vampire legend so many times in her rambling retorts that you'd swear she's starting to believe the show was real. While she has many nice things to say about co-star Frid (her "Barnabas"), she is starting to wear out her value as a commentator on these DVD collections (this is one of her many sittings in the interview seat). Marie Wallace describes how wonderful it was to only have to work a few days a week on Shadows (her commitment was smaller than the actual "regulars" on the show), and explains how hard it was to act through layers of badly combed wigs. Only Tomashoff is vague and superficial with his recollections. Treating the fan base like they've never heard of the show before, he does describe the small soundstages the series filmed on before delivering a great deal of the same routine material that other crew members have offered. While getting a chance to hear the actual participants in the show wax poetic about their part in Shadows' legacy is intriguing, it would be nice if the discussions were more "focused" and not so random or routine.
Everything that this critic stated in his retort to DVD set #12 applies here. There should be selected commentaries. Some manner of documentary or making-of material ought to be devised to explain the show's creation and evolution. And without the first few hundred pre-Barnabas shows on the digital format, Dark Shadows will be woefully incomplete. Let the record reflect the repetition of these warrants.
There is nothing more devilishly entertaining than a family in-fighting over a fortune left behind by a dead relative (unless, of course, you're talking about Daddy's Dying, Who's Got the Will? or the god-awful Kingdom Come). After he successfully chased the modern Collinses out of the ancestral home, the ghost of Quentin Collins thinks he's won. But then Barnabas has to wield a little Peking paranormality and whisk himself back to 1897 to put a damper in his bio-exorcism. Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Thirteen introduces us to the terrible turmoil that is the Collins family circa the turn of the century and we love every snide, sarcastic minute of it. The belittlements are priceless, the scheming serene, and the occasional lapses into the lexicon of the lunatic fringe is gloriously hyper-real.
Those hoping for more of the amusing monster mash that made Shadows such a daytime sensation back in the post-blossom decay of the Summer of Love will, perhaps, find the lack of real scares to be something of a letdown. And sure, the show has really left us in the lurch, what with David in a coma, Barnabas in a trance, and a randomly shape-shifting werewolf locked up in the family mausoleum. But leave it to Dark Shadows to throw convention to the wind and go off on a terrific, tacky tangent. The bickering brothers and sisters of Maine's most macabre family, lead by chief jerk-ass Quentin Collins is yet another masterful maneuver by creator Dan Curtis to keep his continuing series fresh and innovative. While you've seen this all before, the addition of some incredibly kitsch gypsies and a whacked-out woman with homicide on her mind increases the guilty pleasurability tenfold. Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Thirteen is the series at its best. And it only gets better from here.
Dark Shadows is found not guilty and is free to go. MPI is also acquitted on all charges, but the Court applies the following reprimand: Make all the fans happy and get the first few hundred shows sans ghosts and ghouls ready for DVD as well.
Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Gibron; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 660 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interviews with Actors David Selby, Laura Parker, and Marie Wallace, and Set Designer Sy Tomashoff
* Dark Shadows Online
* Central Florida Dark Shadows Fan Club