MPI // 1967 // 180 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // May 11th, 2012
The original sympathetic vampire given to you in bite-sized doses.
Dark Shadows began in June of 1966 as a soap opera serial that only ran a half hour in length. Originally the show was a gothic romance without supernatural happenings, but failing ratings led to desperate measures. The series did well with viewers when they introduced a "phoenix witch" who sought the soul of a small boy and fate was sealed. The paranormal paid off and the producers decided to pursue it with a vengeance for a thousand more episodes. A year into the run the creators introduced Barnabas Collins, a vampire that fell in love with a waitress he was convinced was the reincarnation of his long deceased love.
In anticipation of the big-screen Tim Burton version of Dark Shadows, MPI has decided to release a couple of collections including this Dark Shadows: The Best of Barnabas. The emphasis is on the vampire who sauntered into the show meaning to be a subplot, but rather became the heart and soul of Dark Shadows on television. Before Interview with the Vampire, Twilight, and True Blood, Jonathan Frid made vampires sexy and sympathetic with his portrayal of a rather noble ancestor who came straight out of the family crypt. No matter what Johnny Depp does in the 2012 feature film, the legacy of Frid will live on, indelibly intertwined with the name Barnabas Collins. The actor recently passed away, so this collection serves as a fitting tribute to the man who fanged his way through many an after-school episode.
This is a celebration of Barnabas Collins, meant to give you a sense of what he was like. Here we get nine episodes introduced by Lara Parker, who played Angelique in the series. She sets up context, tells you the episode number, and summarizes what has gone before so that you kind of understand what is happening. It's really just a small dose of what the show was like, almost a tease making you want more. Fans will groove right into it, and find these episodes a great collection of fun iconic moments from the original run including episodes from 1967 to 1970. People new to the series may well not get it, because these twenty minute installments taken out of continuity don't make tons of sense to watch as stand-alones. I almost wish they had taken nine episodes from when Barnabas first rose up from the grave. That might have given a good arc to watch over before heading to see what Tim Burton did with the tale. They give you shows that cover a lot of ground plot-wise from almost every episode of the show. There is the first time Barnabas meets Maggie in black and white, an appearance by Quentin, and even a surreal Leviathan episode.
Dark Shadows was produced on the cheap with either grainy black and white or color video. It hasn't aged well, but part of the terrible transfer is the nostalgic charm. Everything is slightly blurry, lacking in detail, with washed out colors and it's all the more spooky for these things. Sound is monaural and sometimes tinny, but it is of the era. The sole extra is the set of introductions from Lara Parker with nothing else added. Viewers can choose to watch the episodes without her segments, but that takes most of the fun out of it.
I doubt you could ever declare a mere nine installments the "best of Barnabas," but these twenty minute episodes do serve as a fine reintroduction to the charms of Jonathan Frid. Despite cheesy dialogue, paper thin sets, and low budget special effects, the actor always came off as graceful and intense. He managed to do this even when he flubbed his lines. This will be a blast for fans, and hopefully new viewers will be inspired to either use DVD or Netflix to watch more of the show. It deserves to be remembered, celebrated, and rewatched again and again. Rest well Mr. Frid, your immortal character lives on forever young and charming.
A guilty pleasure, Dark Shadows is free to go on casting its spell.
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Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 180 Minutes
Release Year: 1967
MPAA Rating: Not Rated