MPI // 1967 // 883 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // November 24th, 2003
Alluring tales of Gothic mystery and supernatural intrigue.
The enormously popular ABC-TV soap opera, which ran from 1966-1971, is slowly making its way onto DVD courtesy of MPI Home Video.
Starting with the episode that first featured Barnabas Collins (episode 211), eight sets have been released so far, of which this is the fourth.
Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) is a 175-year-old vampire who lives in his estate Collinwood. Well, it was his estate; now his relatives live there, thinking he's a cousin who happens to resemble the "original" Barnabas.
In this set of forty episodes, Barnabas is working with Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) on a series of treatments that will cure him of his vampirism. On the side, Barnabas is trying to transform Victoria Winters, the governess of his cousin David, into the perfect image of his late fiancée, Josette.
From my research; click on links in the Accomplices section for more detailed information.
Dark Shadows made its television debut in July 1966. Surprisingly, these early shows did not feature Barnabas Collins. The initial focus was on a secret Roger Collins had concealed about his past and on Victoria's adjustment to life at Collinwood. Facing cancellation and noticing that supernatural elements had provided a brief ratings spike, creator Dan Curtis added Barnabas to the story. Originally intended to last just a few episodes, the character connected with audiences and the show's ratings began to soar. The show remained a hit until mid 1971, when Barnabas was no longer the focus of the program.
Two films were spawned from the series, both directed by Curtis: House of Dark Shadows (1970) and Night of Dark Shadows (1971). Both are practically unseen today and the latter film has a poor reputation, due to the massive cuts made by MGM at the insistence of then-studio head James Aubrey (Night wasn't the only victim; Blake Edwards' Wild Rovers and The Carey Treatment were also butchered; to date only Wild Rovers has been restored; there is hope of MGM restoring Night). If you like the series, check out the films.
Anyway, back to the show itself. It is first and foremost a soap opera. But unlike a typical soap opera, Dark Shadows had the ingredients to survive and retain a cult following over 36 years later. The first thing Curtis and his crew remembered was to create strong, well-developed characters. A lot of soaps tend to rely too much on plot and less on character and that's a reason why even the good soaps start to fade after a brief period. Also, by adding the Gothic element and the device of traveling through time, Curtis had created the impossible: a timeless soap opera that remains fresh.
The other ingredient that made Dark Shadows work was the acting, unusually strong and effective for a soap opera. Jonathan Frid, a Canadian actor making his American TV debut, has a difficult challenge: how to make this vampire both menacing and sympathetic. The results are obvious because Barnabas became a phenomenon, spawning posters, dolls, trading cards, and even albums. He never veers towards overacting, despite his stage origins. He keeps an even keel and understands when to display the correct emotion at the right moment. It's brilliant work.
If Frid managed to stay restrained, Grayson Hall, an Academy Award nominee
for The Night of the Iguana, tended to lean toward overacting, even in
quiet moments. Her performance is acceptable by soap standards, but considering
this isn't your average soap, a lot less would have been better. The show is
well cast down the line. Louis Edmonds lends the right amount of tactfulness and
sharpness to his role of Roger Collins. Joan Bennett is properly dignified as
Elizabeth, the now-owner of Collinwood.
Alexandra Isles underplays nicely as Victoria. (If the name sounds familiar, it's because of the massive publicity she received in the early 1980s as the mistress of Claus Von Bulow. See Reversal of Fortune.) Best of all, despite only appearing in three episodes in this set, is Lara Parker as Angelique. She provides definitive proof that the eyes can say a whole lot more than mere words.
This collection features all forty episodes that aired in October and November of 1967. Spread out over four discs (two weeks of episodes per disc), all episodes are rated from a scale of zero to five fangs. Episodes marked # refer to 16mm kineoscope used in place of lost master:
David receives an antique toy soldier. Sarah warns him that danger is forthcoming.
David finds Barnabas' empty coffin and a very angry Barnabas behind it.
Burke and Dave Woodard search for Barnabas' coffin after listening to David's story.
David tells Burke and Woodard of Barnabas' secret room.
Elizabeth sends for a psychiatrist for David. Woodard goes searching for the secret room again.
The ghost of Sarah Collins appears to Dr. Woodard.
Dr. Woodard discovers Barnabas' secret after researching the family history.
Dr. Woodard discovers the truth about Julia's experiments.
Woodard steals Julia's notebook containing detailed notes about her experiments with Barnabas.
Barnabas plans to kill Dr. Woodard.
Barnabas and Julia confront Woodard at his office.
Sam Evans, father of the woman Barnabas kidnapped a few months before, suspects foul play in Woodard's death.
Julia interrupts Barnabas' plans to split Victoria and Burke.
David becomes upset after Burke plans to go on a trip to Brazil.
Burke's plane has crashed, but Victoria refuses to believe he has died.
Barnabas wants Julia to accelerate the treatment to make him human again.
Julia hypnotizes Victoria to prevent Barnabas from getting closer to her.
Julia accelerates the treatments, turning Barnabas into date bait for Anna Nicole Smith.
Barnabas needs fresh blood to reverse his aging. Who will be his victim?
In an attempt to help David, Carolyn searches the basement. Big mistake.
Carolyn is now under Barnabas' control and proceeds to do his bidding.
Julia again hypnotizes Victoria, in an attempt to kill Barnabas' plans for her.
Barnabas tells Julia that if she interferes again, he will kill her.
Julia once again hypnotizes Victoria, only this time Carolyn witnesses the whole thing.
Carolyn tries to steal Julia's notebook.
Julia hides her notebook in the clock. But will it be safe there?
Julia hides her notebook in the safe of Tony Peterson, a lawyer who knows Roger's secret.
Barnabas uses his powers to drive Julia off the deep end.
The ghost of Dave Woodard visits Julia.
Sarah Collins appears to Julia suddenly,
Julia is haunted again. Who is haunting her? Woodard or Barnabas?
After charming Tony to cloud nine, Carolyn steals his keys and breaks into his safe.
Who will Tony believe? Julia or Carolyn?
Sarah appears to Barnabas but disappears; she appears to David once more.
Victoria disappears during a séance to contact Sarah.
Victoria learns that she has traveled back to 1795. She also sees Barnabas, who is human.
Victoria is branded a witch by Barnabas' aunt; Jeremiah Collins, who resembles Victoria's late fiancé Burke, befriends her and convinces Joshua to hire her.
Episode 368/369 #
Angelique, the servant of Barnabas' fiancée Josette, arrives at the Old House.
Barnabas spurns Angelique, prompting her to get revenge the only way she knows how: witchcraft.
Barnabas nearly dies from choking; Angelique breaks the spell, fearing his death.
Staying faithful to the original aspect ratio, MPI gives us a full frame transfer. A note about the circumstances surrounding the transfer: a disclaimer was included on the back of the case that states:
Please Note: Every possible effort has been made to produce the highest quality DVD release. Due to the age of the original elements, some audio and video imperfections may be experienced.
I praise them for their honesty. Dark Shadows was one of the first shows to use videotape. Also, as Lara Parker discusses in her interview, the show was often taped shortly before its airing. So as a result of those circumstances, the photography and staging has some major errors, both visual and visceral. In addition, some of the original videotape masters have been lost forever, so 16mm black and white kineoscopes of the lost episodes were used instead. So how does it look? In short, the transfer is very uneven. Some scenes look fantastic, as new as their televised premiere. Others, however, don't look quite so good, the kineoscopes looking particularly rough. Also, given the quasi-live atmosphere of the tapings, some shots are out of focus, others are incorrectly framed, and there are some things that you aren't supposed to see (my favorite being the camera nudging Grayson Hall's hip). Given all that, MPI has done a fine job under the circumstances.
The sound suffers under the same problems as the video portion. All forty episodes are presented in Dolby Digital 2.0 mono and results are, again, very uneven. Mistakes are present (a crewmember coughs, some mike feedback) and the sound on the kineoscopes is very poor, requiring adjustment with your sound system. The sound is better on the videotaped episodes, but again, you're going to be fiddling with your speakers. Still, considering the circumstances, you can't fault MPI.
The extras are this collection's a real gem. Producer Robert Costello,
make-up artist Dick Smith, head writer Sam Hall, and actress Lara Parker are
interviewed, one per disc.
All are extremely insightful and worth seeing.
An expensive set with a $69.99 retail price, you will have to make the decision on whether or not you want to add Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Four to your DVD library. I encourage you to at least rent it, or at least check out the reruns on Sci-Fi Channel. The deliberate pace will turn off some, but if you are the patient type, there are many rewards.
MPI is given a special citation for doing the best restoration job they possibly could considering the dubious quality of the source material. Case dismissed!
Review content copyright © 2003 Bill Treadway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Golden Gavel 2003 Nominee
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 883 Minutes
Release Year: 1967
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interviews with Producer Robert Costello, Make-Up Artist Dick Smith, Writer Sam Hall, and Actress Lara Parker
* Official Site
* Dark Shadows Online
* Jonathan Frid's Official Site
* Lara Parker's Official Site