MPI // 1966 // 780 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Cynthia Boris (Retired) // February 13th, 2009
My name is Victoria Winters. Strangers have come to Collinwood, strangers who
threaten to uncover secrets that could destroy the Collins family. But unknown
to one of them, he has stumbled onto the darkest and strangest secret of all.
-- opening narration to episode 209
If you're reading this review, chances are you're already a fan of Dark Shadows. I watched the final year or two as a teen, but came back around to the series as an adult when it was run in syndication right after Mary Hartman, Mary Hartman on a Philadelphia UHF station. The syndication package was kind enough to back the story up to the pre-Barnabas days, and boy was I surprised. Here they were talking of ghosts and witches and not a vampire in sight. So I watched, night after night, and then Willie Loomis arrived and I knew it was only a matter of time. Just a handful of episodes before he opened that coffin and released the biggest thing to ever happen to daytime TV before Oprah came along.
It was a pivotal moment in TV history, and you'll see it all unfold in Dark Shadows: The Beginning, Collection 6.
Dark Shadows: The Beginning, Vol 6 contains 32 episodes that span two major plot lines.
The first concerns Doctor Guthrie (John Lasell) and his quest to find the tomb of Laura Murdoch Stockbridge. Legend has it that Laura Murdoch died in a fire, and more investigation reveals that her young son, David, died along with her. This leads to young David Collins (David Henesy) having visions of his own death by fire, which isn't surprising since David Collins' mother is also named Laura (Diana Millay) and she's up to no good. In typical soap fashion, the story is drawn out over weeks as Roger Collins (Louis Edmonds, All My Children) tries to keep his son away from Laura while the others try to raise the ghost of Josette Collins for more information. It all leads up to a fiery conclusion keeping with the legend of the Phoenix who rises from the ashes to be born anew.
The second plot line is a weak, non-supernatural storyline that leads to the show's greatest reveal ever. It begins when Jason McGuire (Dennis Patrick, Dallas), an old friend of Elizabeth's (Joan Bennett, Father of the Bride), husband, moves in to Collinwood. McGuire has some kind of strange hold over Elizabeth so she says nothing when his shifty, drifter friend Willie Loomis (John Karlen, Cagney & Lacey) comes to stay as well.
Willie, a man interested in getting as much as he can with as little work as possible, learns that many of the Collins family members were buried with their jewelry. This leads to thoughts of grave robbery -- only Willie picks the wrong grave to rob. A hand reaches up out of the coffin and grabs him by the throat. A hand with a ring matching the one in the portrait of Barnabas Collins, who is supposed to have died in England more than a hundred years ago. Too bad for Willie, but great for us. This DVD set officially ends here, but you'll find an extra episode in the special features. It's 211, Barnabas' actual arrival in Collinwood.
When I was a young teen, I bought every piece of Dark Shadows memorabilia I could find except for two truly coveted items, Josette's music box and the wolf's head cane, neither of which I could afford. I played the album until it played no more and every school book-report was based on the latest Dark Shadows novel. I even wrote my own fan fiction from the series to keep the plots going the way I wanted them to go. I was one of the show's biggest fans, and so I have a soft spot for this DVD that probably has me overlooking most of the flaws.
Of course, this DVD was made for fans. I can't imagine anyone who has never seen the show picking up Volume Six and expecting to jump right in. This is a soap opera, which means it's loaded with the complicated relationships and storylines that are indicative of the genre. Where it steps out of the box is with the paranormal element, which really ramps up in this volume. We've got death visions and séances, ghosts and grave robbing. Which is not to say that these episodes can hold a candle to the kind of horror shows on TV we've become accustomed to. Dark Shadows is talky and the plots plod along at a snail's pace, but that's all part of the charm.
Dark Shadows is one of those shows you have to watch in the mindset of the era in which it first ran. MPI makes it easier for you by including a full episode with the commercials still in tact. Believe me, you'll have a whole new appreciation for the show when you see the ad for "Cope," the woman's pain reliever with a tranquilizer built right in. I can just imagine some suburban housewife watching those ghostly fire effects while doped up on Cope, it must have been quite a blast.
The cast of characters are the same as you'd find on any soap opera then or now: Vicky, the naive nanny, Maggie, the sexy, but wholesome girl-next-door, Carolyn, the slightly naughty bad girl, Joe, the all-American boyfriend, Roger, the stodgy blue-blood, and the shifty, yet charming Jason.
Then there's my favorite character, Willie Loomis, played by John Karlen. (I refuse to acknowledge the first actor who played Willie.) Karlen is familiar to TV audiences as Tyne Dailey's husband on Cagney & Lacey, but he made his mark as the man who let Barnabas loose on Collinwood. Okay, so he's not a nice guy when we first meet him, but that doesn't keep me from loving the way he descends into madness while under Barnabas' control. Sadly, you won't see that on this DVD set as it comes to a close before that happens.
Watching these episodes was like visiting with an old friend. As a teen, I dreamed of living in Collinwood, ghosts and ghoulies and all. I imagined myself as a nanny like Vicky, discovering mystery and romance in some old house by the sea. It was an inspiring adventure back then and I felt that excitement return as I watched. I know I'm going to sound like an idiot when I say this, but I got a chill when I saw Barnabas posed by that painting for the very first time. It's like seeing Fonzie ride up on his motorcycle, or hearing Archie Bunker calling his son-in-law a meathead or Lou telling Mary Richards that she's got spunk. It's TV history and that makes it a must-have in my book.
Let's talk bonus features. They include extra footage from episode 191, episode 211 (Barnabas' arrival) complete with the original 1967 commercials, interviews with two of the show's writers, and a sales reel and various series promo ads. The rarest bonus feature has to be the Joan Bennett newsreel footage, which shows a much younger Joan hobnobbing with Hollywood stars such as Carole Lombard and Clark Gable and meeting with the royal family in England.
Each of the DVDs in the series comes with a character postcard. In Collection 6 you get Roger Collins. The discs come in a plastic snapcase with one disc hiding under the episode booklet which tripped me up for a few moments. The packaging feels cheap but I forgive MPI because they have a lovely close-up of a dreamy-eyed John Karlen on the back of the box.
You've heard it all before, I'm sure. This DVD was made from old video tape masters with no attempts to clean them up. In addition, two of the episodes are from kinescope as the masters were lost. Still, these episodes are extremely watchable, and it's fortuitous that the masters were even saved given that it was a daily soap run live to tape. Personally, I find the video quality to be part of the charm of the show but I may be alone in that.
With this DVD release, the entire Collins saga comes full circle. It is the beginning but it's also the end. The Post-Barnabas era episodes were released first on DVD, followed by the start of the Pre-Barnabas era (The Beginning), which rolls us right back to this point. Collection 6 completes the entire run, which is ironic since it ends with the iconic arrival of the show's signature character.
Because these are the episodes that lead up to that fateful moment, I suppose the casual fan might think of adding it to their collection, but these DVDs will sit best with the die-hard fans who want to own every minute of this series. I'd say I fall somewhere in between those two types of fans, and I thoroughly enjoyed the experience. It is a piece of TV history, after all, and that alone made this DVD a stand-out for me.
Review content copyright © 2009 Cynthia Boris; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2014 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 780 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Unaired Footage
* Original Commercials
* Newsreel Footage
* Sales Reel
* Dark Shadows on DVD Official Site
* Dark Shadows Journal Online
* Dark Shadows Reborn