Case Number 13529: Small Claims Court


MPI // 1966 // 690 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Christopher Kulik (Retired) // April 30th, 2008

The Charge

"My name is Victoria Winters..."

The Case

Most soap operas tend to concentrate on romance, sex, and relationships. Dark Shadows gives us elements of the paranormal, the eerie, and the Gothic. After watching Dark Shadows: The Beginning, Collection 4, I have begun to scratch the mysterious surface as to why this show has so many followers in this day and age.

Watching this collection was a challenge, however. I had to jump in the middle of a show that I hardly knew anything about, and do research on what went on before and after to grasp the characters and storylines. I respect soaps since they are all about continuity. That being said, do they really need to take 20 episodes before one story element is entirely resolved? Some viewers dig this, to be sure, though it's plodding for others. Dark Shadows is not without repetition and sluggishness, though it makes up for it at times with the bizarre and unexpected.

The central character of Dark Shadows is, more or less, Victoria Winters (played by Swedish-born actress Alexandra Moltke). She gets a job as governess to the Collins family, who own Collingwood, an "old dark house" so foreboding that Boris Karloff or Tom Poston would feel right at home. The family consists of the emotionless Roger Collins (Louis Edmonds, All My Children), his sister, Elizabeth Stoddard (Joan Bennett, Suspiria), and Roger's strange son David (David Henesy). Other recurring characters include the Collins' gruff groundskeeper, Matthew (Thayer David, Rocky), and their business rival, Burke Devlin (Mitchell Ryan, Lethal Weapon).

These episodes take place before the show would acquire its most recognized character: vampire Barnabas Collins, who wouldn't come along for another two months. Dark Shadows: The Beginning, Collection 4 basically covers two major plotlines over the course of 35 episodes. The first involves a murder mystery, with Victoria believing that Roger may be responsible for several attempts on her life. As it turns it out, it's a different character, who abducts her and spends a number of episodes trying to figure out what to do with her. The second storyline begins with the arrival of Laura (Diana Millay), Roger's first wife. Laura wants to take David away, though he's convinced she's not his mother. Hmmm, maybe a seed pod got her. (Actually, she is a Phoenix.)

At best, Dark Shadows is certainly intriguing. However, sometimes it can't maintain the intrigue, particularly when it's more concerned with other developing, less attractive subplots. I understand that this is how most soaps/serials work, and it's really the eerie atmosphere and paranormal undercurrent that make Dark Shadows stand out from others of its ilk. In this pre-Barnabas era, we see ghosts beginning to haunt the Collins estate. It adds flavor, but when it settles with endless, melodramatic discussions on the same subject, the show goes hollow. I recommend Collection 4 only for true fans.

In his review of Dark Shadows: The Beginning, Collection 3, Judge Kent Dixon made it clear that the quality on the episodes left much to be desired. This also applies to Collection 4, though I feel obligated to forgive MPI for their decisions to release these episodes without any improvement. They simply want to be faithful to fans by presenting the episodes in how they premiered on television. Sure, the outdoor sequences suffer considerably from haze and lots of debris, though that is due to the age of the master tapes, and MPI makes it clear on every disc it was their intention to present the show as is. If anything, the presentation adds to the overall chilling aura of the show's mood.

Fans will appreciate MPI's decision to include the original chalkboard slate intros (as they have with the previous collections), even though hearing 35 of them can get tiresome. Still, I fell out of my seat laughing with the intro to Episode #135, in which the announcer couldn't read the slate...and actually said so on the air! Also included are the original CBS promos over the end credits, in which they ask you to stay tuned for the next episode of Bewitched or Batman. Since these shows are from late '66/early '67, there are also warm "happy holidays" announcements at the end of the December episodes.

Bonus features are on the skimpy side, however. On disc four, there are interviews from Millay, writer Malcolm Marmorstein (Pete's Dragon), and producer Robert Costello (Ryan's Hope). All three talk about how they got started in show business, and the road they took to working on Dark Shadows.

As a first-time watcher, I must say I found Collection 4 simply okay, though nothing to write home about. Fans will no doubt tell me it's better to watch the episodes with Barnabas, and perhaps I will some day. It's a close call, but the court finds MPI and Dark Shadows: The Beginning, Collection 4 not guilty and free to go.

Review content copyright © 2008 Christopher Kulik; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2016 HipClick Designs LLC

Scales of Justice
Judgment: 80

Perp Profile
Studio: MPI
Video Formats:
* Full Frame

Audio Formats:
* Dolby Digital 1.0 Mono (English)

* None

Running Time: 690 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated

Distinguishing Marks
* New interviews with actress Diana Millay, writer Malcolm Marmorstein, and producer Robert Costello

* IMDb

* Official Dark Shadows Fan Club Website

* Wikipedia: Dark Shadows

* DVD Verdict Review - Collection 1

* DVD Verdict Review - Collection 3