MPI // 1966 // 690 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Kent Dixon (Retired) // March 19th, 2008
"My name is Victoria Winters. The morning mist has formed a lace curtain around Collinwood, almost like the haze that surrounds the ghosts which live within its walls. Ghosts which haunt a family that lives with fear" -- Dark Shadows premiere episode opening narration
At a time long before Kolchak: The Night Stalker, Buffy the Vampire Slayer, The X-Files, Millennium, Supernatural, and other shows made supernatural and horror TV a regular part of prime time viewing, Dark Shadows set the stage, delivering a daily dose of soap opera-style gothic drama.
Before the second season introduction of vampire character Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) in episode 211 boosted sagging ratings and began laying the groundwork for the show's future cult status, Dark Shadows had already established itself as a suitably creepy alternative to run-of-the-mill soap opera fare.
Dark Shadows: The Beginning, DVD Collection 3 includes episodes 71 through 105 of the show's first season, distributed over four discs:
Episodes 71-79, airdates October 3 to 13, 1966
Episodes 80-88, airdates October 14 to 26, 1966
Episodes 89-97, airdates October 27 to November 8, 1966
Episodes 98-105, airdates November 9 to 18, 1966
Let's get this right out of the way...I do not have monthly subscriptions to either Soap Opera Weekly or Soap Opera Digest, I don't own pet love birds that I've named Luke and Laura, and I honestly couldn't name a single Daytime Emmy Award-winning soap opera actor. I have, however, been a long-time fan of TV shows whose plots include alien abductions, time travel, vampires, and pretty much anything that goes bump in the darkest hours before dawn.
An ABC weekday gothic soap opera created by American producer/director Dan Curtis that aired from 1966 until 1971, Dark Shadows spanned 1,225 episodes over four years and 10 months, included literally hundreds of cast members during its run, and counts celebrities like Madonna, Tim Burton, and Johnny Depp among its legions of fans. Along with producing Dark Shadows, Curtis is best remembered for his Emmy Award-nominated mini-series The Winds of War. Dark Shadows reached its 40th anniversary in 2006, sharing the distinction with the Australian soap opera Prisoner of being one of only two long-running soaps to have every episode released in a home video format.
Dark Shadows focuses largely around the mysterious Collins family, their hilltop mansion Collinwood, and governess Victoria Winters, who comes to Collinwood to teach young David Collins. It's interesting to note that until the 70th episode (not included on this set), when a ghost appeared from a portrait, the show seemed like a slightly creepy but otherwise unremarkable soap opera. Little did viewers at that time know that more ghosts, witches, and ultimately even a vampire, would make their way to Collinwood and Dark Shadows before long.
Premiering on television at a time when video editing capabilities were limited, Dark Shadows was shot "live-to-tape" without the opportunity for retakes, and any flubs or production issues were immediately immortalized. It's interesting that MPI Home Video decided not to edit any of the episodes, and they appear in this set in their full original form, including the chalkboard slates from the beginning of each episode that identify the production date and tape information. From visible boom microphone shadows to odd on-set noises during filming, the show comes across more like a community theater production, and performances that range from bearable to downright pathetic don't help that impression. Some exterior shots, while offering interesting contrast to the on-set scenes, seem to have fared worst and are poorly reproduced in this set.
Dark Shadows aired in black and white from its premier episode until August 11, 1967, when it made the move to color, so all the episodes in this release are reproduced in the original black and white presentation. The original two-inch videotape masters for episodes 83 and 120 were apparently lost, but fortunately the 16mm black and white kinescope archives of the shows have survived, explaining why some episodes that were originally taped in color are now only available in black and white. Of the 1,225 episodes of the show's entire run, only episode #1219 has disappeared entirely, with no film or video versions in existence today.
It's a good thing that all the episodes of Dark Shadows are finally being released on DVD, but unfortunately the quality leaves a lot to be desired. There really isn't anything special about either the video or audio quality on Dark Shadows: The Beginning, Collection 3. Although the picture is free from any significant signs of damage, it is soft throughout, and at times it's even downright hazy. The sound mix is unbalanced, with the music levels often set too high, resulting in distortion, and the dialogue levels are predominantly so soft that by the time you adjust the volume appropriately, a noticeable hiss is present.
Although not plentiful by any means, the bonus features on disc four include relatively recent interviews with original Shadows cast members Alexandra Moltke (Victoria Winters), Mitchell Ryan (Burke Devlin), and Conard Fowkes (Frank Garner). Whether you're a long-time fan or just a curious newcomer, it's interesting to listen to the actors reminisce about their characters and production experiences, the appearance of Dark Shadows on bubble gum cards, the loyalty of Shadows fans, and the lasting impact of the show.
Despite the near-mythic status of the original series and its 30-year success in syndication, for whatever reason, attempted remakes in 1991 and 2004 never managed to get their feet under them. Perhaps this is due in some part to modern TV audience's desire for new, edgy, and innovative concepts, rather than reimagined shows from the past.
After production on the series ended in 1971, the Montel Williams Show moved into ABC Studio 16 in New York. I'm sure there's a joke there somewhere, but it's likely best left alone. It's a testament to the impact and lasting appeal of the original series that Dark Shadows has enjoyed syndication and reruns, revivals, feature films, audio dramas, fan conventions and Websites, and most recently, talk of a new Warner Bros. feature film project involving Johnny Depp.
The DVD release of Dark Shadows: The Beginning, Collection 3 does fans a great service, finally bringing the earliest episodes of their beloved series from VHS to DVD and introducing a digital-age edition for a whole new generation of fans to discover. That said, the unfortunately poor picture and audio quality make this a set only die-hard fans could love.
Review content copyright © 2008 Kent Dixon; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 690 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* New interviews with actors Alexandra Moltke, Mitchell Ryan, and Conard Fowkes
* Wikipedia: Dark Shadows
* Official Fan Site
* DVD Verdict Review - Collection 1