MPI // 1966 // 840 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // August 22nd, 2007
Victoria Winters: My name is Victoria Winters. My journey is beginning. A journey that I hope will open the doors of life to me and link my past with my future. A journey that will bring me to a strange and dark place, to the edge of the sea high atop Widows' Hill -- a house called Collinwood. A world I've never known, with people I've never met. People who tonight are still only shadows in my mind, but who will soon fill the days and nights of my tomorrows.
On June 27th, 1966 Dark Shadows debuted on ABC. For 1225 episodes, the show chugged on until 1971 with visions of vampires, werewolves, and all sorts of monsters traipsing through a small Maine seaside town named Collinsport. School kids used to run home to catch the adventures of the supernatural soap, the scariest thing to run on afternoon television. Yet the show started off as a simple, Gothic, soap opera revolving around a new governess who knows nothing of her family, a mistress of the house who hasn't left the grounds in 18 years, a sassy diner waitress with an alcoholic painter for a father, a rebellious daughter who's into boys and rock and roll, a mischievous little boy with a mean streak, and plenty of black and white shadows for atmosphere. Barnabas Collins was probably the most well known character from the show; a sympathetic vampire who did not debut until episode #210. In fact, for the first hundred or so episodes Dark Shadows was simply a melodrama with the usual love triangles, black mail plots, and all the familiar trappings of the soap opera. Nothing supernatural about it (at least not until that ghost and Phoenix story line, but that's a ways off).
Dark Shadows: The Beginning Collection 1 presents the first thirty-five episodes of the show which establish all of the plot threads effectively. It starts with Victoria Winters arriving in Collinsport by train to be a governess for the imperious Collins family's youngest charge, a troubled boy named David. She arrives at the same time that the sophisticated, mysterious Burke Devlin pulls into town; he seems intent on finding out all the family secrets. We're introduced to the main characters, most of which carried on with the series until it was canceled. The thrill of this Dark Shadows: The Beginning Collection 1 set is a chance to see the humble beginnings of a show that became a phenomenon. Amazingly the series was well established from day one with familiar musical motifs, signature camera style, and the same tone -- even if the events are decidedly more pedestrian than what was to come. These thirty-five episodes contain no spooky elements or supernatural occurrences, but damn it if the whole cast didn't look like beautiful vampires from day one. During the 1966 first year of Dark Shadows there were mainly the following plots. Victoria Winters is hired as the governess to David Collins, and she wonders why the family hired her in the first place. She's an orphan, and suspects she can trace her family roots to Maine. Could she be a Collins? Burke Devlin mysteriously appears in Collinsport, and begins investigating the entire Collins clan looking for some dirt. He been accused of manslaughter. How far will Burke go to seek revenge on Roger Collins and his family? Elizabeth Collins Stoddard remains housebound in the estate, and we are left to wonder why she has chosen to be a recluse.
MPI has always made the Dark Shadows DVD sets solid collector's worthy editions and Dark Shadows: The Beginning Collection 1 continues the tradition nicely. They've already released the entire series from episode #210 until the end of the run on DVD, featuring both archived special features from the VHS collections as well as new interviews. These first 209 episodes have never been seen on DVD, so this is uncharted territory for the format (previously these episodes were on VHS). The only other outlet we've had to see these shows so far has been through Sci Fi Channel's airings, and those were infrequent since most people are interested in the Barnabas episodes. Of course we get the full first 35 episodes spread over four discs uncut even with flaws that exist on the master tapes. Don't expect digital perfection, the presentation is decidedly low tech to preserve the original feel of the show. The only cast member who is interviewed is Alexandra Moltke, who introduces the series on disc one and is interviewed on discs two and three about how she remembers the beginning days of the series. This makes sense since she plays the lead, the governess Victoria Winters. The narrative begins with Victoria's arrival, and the stories revolve around her. On disc four we are also given an original ABC Promo for the show, and the entire first episode complete with the commercials that ran during breaks. The ads break up the show, and give us a good sense of what it was like to see the show as it first aired with spots plugging products every five minutes. Packaging is in line with the rest of the releases, and the menus recall the rest of the sets as well.
The set is for hardcore fans only, but luckily Dark Shadows has enough of those to make it prospectively a reasonably good seller. I can't imagine the casual fan would want the soap opera episodes without any of the trademark vampires and other supernatural trappings the show later developed. On the first collection of Barnabas episodes MPI provided a summary of the first 200 episodes, and that usually suffices for neophytes who only want to get into the show for the spectacular adventures of the reluctant vampire. What is amazing about these shows is how much they were in line with what came later. The core characters minus Barnabas, Dr. Julia Hoffman, and Quentin are all here. They look and act the same, and it's nice to see their secrets and plots mined with more intricacy than they were when the humans took a backseat to the supernatural beings later in the run. These episodes can seem slow and plodding at times, but they are a unique chance to see your favorite characters as originally envisioned. Dark Shadows: The Beginning Collection 1 is a joy to watch because it's a rare chance to see the series as originally conceived. It represents a time when the soap was more traditional, but still well-executed.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 840 Minutes
Release Year: 1966
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Episode One with Commercials
* Series Introduction by Actress Alexandra Moltke
* Interviews with Alexandra Moltke
* Dark Shadows Journal Online