MPI // 1968 // 860 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Bill Treadway (Retired) // July 15th, 2004
The original television cult classic.
That creepy Gothic mansion known as Collinwood has once again reappeared in the DVD docket. After ten well-received sets, MPI has revisited the Collins clan for an eleventh DVD collection.
Does the old soap opera still have bite (forgive the pun), or is it toothless in this age of splashy special effects and gore? Read on to find out.
The basic premise of the series is that Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) is a 175-year-old vampire who lives on his estate, Collinwood. Well, it was his estate; now his relatives live there, thinking he's a cousin who happens to resemble the "original" Barnabas. In this batch of forty episodes, Barnabas still lives in the Old House but is no longer a vampire, having been cured temporarily, and is less abrasive than in the past. Little does he know that there is a plot to kill him, led by his spurned wife Angelique (Lara Parker), who is a witch.
Note: If this review whets your appetite for more Dark Shadows information, be sure to click on the links provided in the Accomplices section.
The first thing I noticed about Collection Eleven was the slimmer keep case. Instead of being placed in individual black panels, the four discs are in reversible white clasp cases within a black keep case. This packaging is compact and looks a lot better on my shelf.
After watching the forty episodes provided here, I noticed that the storytelling is even better this time around. Only one episode is a dud, and the remainder range from very good to great. With more than a year's worth of episodes behind them, the creative team was at its peak. There is greater sense of plotting and suspense in these forty episodes than ever before. Some younger audience members may complain about the lack of gore and flashy visuals, but I think that the lack of both these elements actually enhances the program. Gothic horror works best when the worst is left to your imagination, and creator Dan Curtis wisely realizes this; mood and great acting create stronger suspense than blood and guts.
Jonathan Frid is still the anchor of Dark Shadows. He is simply superb as Barnabas. The character is less menacing this time around because he has been cured of his vampirism, but Barnabas is even more sympathetic than before because he doesn't have the weight of a curse on his back. Frid plays those emotions for all they are worth. As for the rest of the cast, they are all excellent. I mentioned in my review of the fourth collection that Grayson Hall tended to lean toward overacting, so imagine my surprise when I saw that Hall gave a restrained, textured performance in this collection of episodes. Everything that irritated me before is thankfully absent now. Based on the evidence offered here, she might have actually been a good actress after all. Louis Edmonds is still as sharp as ever as Roger. He actually adds a little humor and sympathy to Roger this time around. Lara Parker is only in a handful of episodes, but the eyes that don't quit more than deliver.
This batch of episodes is notable for a particular reason: the departure of Alexandra Isles (nee Moltke) midway through. She left the program for reasons that are still unclear today (some report that a pregnancy rushed her departure; the included video interview says she voluntarily left). She was replaced by Betsy Durkin, and the program was never the same. Durkin is very stiff and boring as Victoria, lacking the naïveté and likability Isles brought to the role.
The forty episodes included in this set aired from October 31 to December 27, 1968, and have been spread out over four discs. I've rated them on a scale of zero to five stars.
* "Episode 614"
Joe admits he attempted to murder Barnabas via strangulation.
* "Episode 615"
Local law enforcement questions Julia and Barnabas.
* "Episode 616"
Barnabas is locked in the basement of the Old House.
* "Episode 617"
Roger experiences a disturbing dream.
* "Episode 618"
Barnabas attempts to contact Victoria, unaware of Angelique's plans.
* "Episode 619"
Victoria finds the weakened Barnabas lost in the woods of Collinwood.
* "Episode 620"
Adam happens to have the same strange neck wounds as Barnabas.
* "Episode 621"
Nicholas finds an empty coffin when he attempts to kill Angelique.
* "Episode 622"
Eve is sent back to 1796 to locate Peter Bradford.
* "Episode 623"
Peter refuses to return to 1968 with Eve.
* "Episode 624"
Victoria plans her wedding to Jeff.
* "Episode 625"
Jeff bails out of marrying Victoria and runs off into the woods.
* "Episode 626"
Jeff finds the empty coffin of Peter Bradford and the fresh corpse of Eve.
* "Episode 627"
Victoria pleads with Jeff to stay with her instead of running.
* "Episode 628"
Angelique enters Hell and divulges Nicholas's devious plans for Maggie Evans.
* "Episode 629"
Nicholas is ordered to sacrifice Maggie Evans.
* "Episode 630"
Tom Jennings is resurrected from the dead by Nicholas.
* "Episode 631"
Barnabas battles Tom in a duel to the death.
* "Episode 632"
Chris Jennings returns to Collinsport permanently.
* "Episode 633/634"
Nicholas decides to resurrect Eve in the body of a young woman.
* "Episode 635"
Adam kidnaps Victoria and decides to use her to resurrect Eve.
* "Episode 636"
Adam is sent to a clinic for plastic surgery.
* "Episode 637"
Jeff disappears into thin air shortly after his wedding to Victoria.
* "Episode 638"
Elizabeth hears a beast howling in the woods.
* "Episode 639"
David and Amy Jennings go exploring in the west wing of Collinwood.
* "Episode 640"
The spirit of Quentin Collins is brought back at a séance.
* "Episode 641"
Victoria learns that she must resort to a drastic measure to reunite with Jeff.
* "Episode 642"
A séance to contact Jeff goes awry.
* "Episode 643"
Spirits possess David and Amy as they enter the west wing.
* "Episode 644"
David disappears in search of the source of Quentin's music.
* "Episode 645"
The skeleton of Quentin Collins is discovered.
* "Episode 646"
The ghost of Quentin Collins appears to David and Amy.
* "Episode 647"
Famed psychic Janet Findley comes to Collinwood to find Quentin's spirit.
* "Episode 648"
David and Amy lock Janet into Quentin's secret room.
* "Episode 649"
Janet hears the ringing telephone but meets a grisly end.
* "Episode 650"
Victoria disappears with Jeff into 1796.
* "Episode 651"
Chris transforms into a werewolf.
* "Episode 652/653"
Joe is attacked by a werewolf, unaware that it is his friend Chris Jennings.
* "Episode 654"
Chris pleads with Joe to kill him if he transforms into a werewolf once again.
* "Episode 655"
Angelique reappears under the guise of Cassandra in one of Elizabeth's dreams.
Before the episodes begin, each disc contains this warning: "The Dark Shadows episodes in this collection are mastered from the best possible sources. However, due to the technology at the time of production and the age of the original elements, certain video and audio imperfections exist that cannot be eliminated. In particular, several episodes in this collection contain video streaks and varying degrees of picture instability in certain scenes due to an original camera malfunction at the time the episodes were recorded. It is not possible to remove the blemishes without editing material out of the episodes. To retain the program's integrity, the episodes have been left intact including these inherent video problems." I praise MPI for their honesty. They could have done the sleazy thing and butchered these episodes. Instead, they do the program and fan base right by leaving them intact, even if it means a less than pleasing video transfer. Some of the defects are jarring, particularly an extended sequence that contains some crucial action in Episode 635. The audio isn't much of an improvement: Again, there are some gaps in certain episodes as well as some distracting pops, hiss, and other distortions. MPI has done the best they can to make them at least tolerable to listen to. Some music cues have been spruced up nicely, but others are beyond repair. MPI is not at fault: They have done the best possible job under the circumstances.
As with previous Dark Shadows collections, brief interviews are featured at the end of each disc. The participants for Collection Eleven are series creator Dan Curtis and actors Marie Wallace, Alexandra Isles, and Nancy Barrett. It would have been nice to have a few commentary tracks, particularly from Curtis: His track for Burnt Offerings is still one of the best ever recorded and shows how well a Curtis-led group commentary could work. A retrospective documentary would have been nice as well. But, as Mick Jagger once sang, "You can't always get what you want..."
As is the case with other Dark Shadows collections, this one is going to set you back $59.99. As steep as that price is, it is really a great bargain. Considering that the original $29.99 VHS releases contained only four episodes per tape, it would have cost you over three hundred dollars just to own the forty episodes featured here.
If you do not want to purchase it, at least rent it. It's one of the few soap operas that pass the test of time.
MPI is commended for at least trying to deliver Dark Shadows in its best possible form on DVD. It is not their fault that the elements were in less than stellar shape.
As for Dan Curtis's gothic soap, I acquit all involved of any wrongdoing.
Review content copyright © 2004 Bill Treadway; Site layout and review format copyright © 1998 - 2013 HipClick Designs LLC
Scales of Justice
* Full Frame
* Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
Running Time: 860 Minutes
Release Year: 1968
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
* Interviews with Series Creator Dan Curtis and Actors Marie Wallace, Alexandra Isles, and Nancy Barrett
* Lara Parker Official Site
* Jonathan Frid Official Site
* Dark Shadows Online
* Official Site