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Case Number 06718: Small Claims Court

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Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Eighteen

MPI // 1969 // 840 Minutes // Not Rated
Reviewed by Judge Brett Cullum // May 4th, 2005

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All Rise...

Judge Brett Cullum reveals that yes, he does worship ancient snake demons, but insists that he's only "saving" souls to redeem them for valuable prizes.

Editor's Note

Our reviews of Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Two (published March 16th, 2005), Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Three (published April 6th, 2005), Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Four (published November 24th, 2003), Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Five (published July 21st, 2004), Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Eleven (published July 15th, 2004), Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Twelve (published June 22nd, 2004), Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Thirteen (published August 26th, 2004), Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Fifteen (published February 23rd, 2005), Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Sixteen (published February 23rd, 2005), Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Seventeen (published March 16th, 2005), Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Twenty (published September 27th, 2005), Dark Shadows (Blu-ray) (published October 8th, 2012), Dark Shadows: DVD Collection Nineteen (published July 20th, 2005), Dark Shadows: Fan Favorites (published April 30th, 2012), Dark Shadows: The Beginning, Collection 1 (published August 22nd, 2007), Dark Shadows: The Beginning, Collection 3 (published March 19th, 2008), Dark Shadows: The Beginning, Collection 4 (published April 30th, 2008), Dark Shadows: The Beginning, Collection 6 (published February 13th, 2009), Dark Shadows: The Best Of Barnabas (published May 11th, 2012), and Dark Shadows The Revival: The Complete Series (published October 26th, 2005) are also available.

The Charge

"Are you sure you haven't been dippiting into the whiskey supply?"
—Grant Douglas, a.k.a. Quentin (actor David Selby slaughtering his lines)

The Case

Dark Shadows DVD Collection 18 finds us thrown smack into the middle of the infamous Leviathans plot. According to the "Jump the Shark" website, most people thought the show went downhill around this time and pointed to this plot as the most problematic. The original ratings for these episodes were also strong indicators that Dark Shadows was slipping a bit. The show lost about a quarter of its viewing audience, and it never really fully recovered from the blow. This collection begins with episode number 899 (which aired December 5, 1969) and extends to episode 941 (February 2, 1970). Was the Leviathan plot a sign of a show that was losing its popularity due to quality, or was it simply too advanced for the young audience that made up the bulk of the show's viewership? Vampires, werewolves, and witches were all easy draws for the Dark Shadows core audience, but here was a complex science fiction plot that left many people wondering where the show was going.

Dark Shadows DVD Collection 18 opens with Paul Stoddard receiving mysterious warnings and odd phone calls that are spooking him pretty badly. Soon he is confronted by Barnabas (chosen leader of the Leviathans for now), who makes him remember a deal he made the night he left Collinsport, agreeing to give up "his most valuable possession." He laughingly thinks they meant his soul, but the Leviathans want something even more valuable—his first-born, Carolyn Stoddard. As the episodes progress we see the real Leviathan leader rise—from the baby Joseph, to the child Alexander, to the teenager Michael, and finally into the full-grown guise of Jeb Hawke. All the while he is protected by the creepy couple running the antique shop, Phillip and Megan Todd. Barnabas seems to be effective at recruiting new members for the cult, and he indoctrinates almost all the residents of Collinswood in short order. But when the Leviathan Oberon commands Barnabas to kill Julia Hoffman, he realizes he's had enough. Can Barnabas find a way to escape from their grip? Do they really hold his true love Josette captive?

And what of the two mysterious strangers who suddenly arrive in Collinsport? One calls herself Olivia Corey, but looks astonishingly like Amanda Harris from 1897. Also back in town is Quentin Collins, but he seems think his name is Grant Douglas for some odd reason. They both disturb Julia, who recognizes the pair of lovers from her time travels in the turn of the century. Can they possibly lead her to Charles Delaware Tate, the painter who helped Quentin with the werewolf curse? Julia desperately wants to help Chris Jennings; maybe these two hold the key.

Legend has it that series executive producer and creator Dan Curtis dragged his head writers to an afternoon screening of The Dunwich Horror, a movie based on an H.P. Lovecraft story. He was very excited to try out a Lovecraft plot on the show, and had even picked the rather ambitious Cthulu Mythos as the story he wanted to transpose to Collinsport. Barnabas could be made the head villain of the piece, and he imagined it would be a chance to really plunge the show into a new realm of creepy, full of demons out to take over the world one soul at a time. There would be a messiah figure, and maybe one of the characters could fall in love with him. The problem was that Lovecraft's work is often about mood and psychological terror, and Dark Shadows had to reach and stretch to even get close to what they were all envisioning. They had to find new ways to approach the show, and began experimenting with absurd dream sequences and dark character arcs that made mincemeat out of beloved cast members. Once the ratings began to slip, the writers and producers took an "everything and the kitchen sink" approach that fractured the story into strange directions.

Barnabas was evil, and fans weren't too happy with his battles with his partner Dr. Julia Hoffman. An episode was quickly created to explain why the Leviathans had such a hold over the reformed vampire, and the whole "we've got Josette" element was added into episode number 915. Also interesting to note is the presence of Marsha Mason (The Goodbye Girl), taking the role of "vampire hooker" in the episode—her only Dark Shadows appearance. Note also a visual gaffe at the end of that show, where we see Marsha still standing behind Barnabas before the credits roll (she was supposed to have disappeared back to the shadowy Leviathan realm).

Fans were also taken aback by the timing of the story. Here it was Christmastime in 1969, and suddenly Dark Shadows seemed to be mocking the Christian faith with its story about a child being born to resurrect a race of banished snake demons by collecting souls and creating a child. There was a Bible (of sorts) that young David Collins is seen reading from quite often in this set, with prophecies of what will happen as the "End of Days" approaches. Lovecraft seemed obsessed with a vision of the Antichrist in many of his works, and this one seemed a little threatening to fans. You could almost accuse them of aping The Omen were it not for the fact that this arc on Dark Shadows was aired years before that movie was even conceived. Maybe they were all just a little too sacrilegious and ahead of their time.

Then more elements were layered in, probably in hopes of recapturing the audience. We had Paul Stoddard returning to Collinwood (played by Dennis Patrick who had been seen as "Jason McGuire" a couple hundred episodes back). There was the whole return of Quentin and Amanda (David Selby and Broadway actress Donna McKechnie), meant to tie up some loose ends from the previous plot. Chris Jennings and Sabrina Stuart continued with their problems (more loose ends, dating back even before the whole 1895 plot). And most dazzling, there was the return of Angelique (Lara Parker) and Nicholas Blair (Humbert Allen Astredo). Angelique appeared with a new wealthy husband in tow, Skye Rumson (played by Geoffery Scott). There was an awful lot of cast and plot thrown into a show that clocks in at about 22 minutes without the commercials.

I can see why people would find the story disturbing, but I certainly don't belong in the camp that says the show "jumped the shark" because of the Leviathans. Sure, it wasn't as Gothic and classic as past plots; it was Dark Shadows trying to do something new and different. The shows move at a nice clip, and the disorientation never lasts long. The acting is still top-notch and ham-fisted in turn; the plot moves from eerie to silly as well. The producers made a brilliant move by not showing the true form of the Leviathan messiah when he is locked in his room. The people at Dark Shadows always knew that our imaginations were better than any special effect they could create with their meager budget and technical limitations. Today it would be a CGI nightmare, but I like the quaint design of never seeing much. It was a dark period for most of the characters, but I find it a nice contrast to the loopiness that ensued with the protracted "Hand of Petofi" plot seen in previous volumes. Any plot that brings in Lara Davis as Angelique is worth it in my book, and I loved her here. There is also something patently unique to the series—the idea that evil is charming, sexy, and cruel.

And who would be the "sexy beast" leader of the Leviathans? Chris Pennock had originally tried out for the role of put-upon shopkeeper Phillip Todd, but the producers decided he needed to be the man to seduce everyone over to the dark side, Jeb Hawkes (the fully-grown incarnation of evil). Chris had graduated from New York's American Academy of Dramatic Arts, and was mainly a stage actor when he was noticed by Dark Shadows producers while on Broadway in A Patriot For Me. Chris eventually appeared in 126 episodes, and is first seen late in this collection in episode 935. Pennock appeared in several soaps, and worked opposite Jessica Lange in 1980's Frances. He's also a uniquely talented visual artist. If you go to his website (see the ACCOMPLICES section), you can see some of his artwork from a series of comic books based on his time in Dark Shadows.

The transfers on Dark Shadows DVD Collection 18 are some of the strongest MPI has delivered. All the episodes are taken from original video masters, and now and then you notice some video noise or interference from their age. Scratches always pop up on the opening title sequence, but usually once we're in the actual episode it looks amazingly crystal clear. Colors are very well balanced, and the whole set is in great condition. There is a standard 2.0 mono track, which is fine for a soap from 1969.

We get the usual four interviews, but it seems this batch was produced exclusively for MPI's release of the DVDs. Kathryn Leigh Scott shares her thoughts on the series (this time as a blonde, indicating her sequence is more recent than in previous volumes) on Disc One. Christopher Pennock is found on the second disc, and boy, is he a hoot and a half. Somebody must have poured some espresso down his throat before going on camera, because he is beyond animated while talking about his stint on Dark Shadows. Up next is Geoffery Scott, who played Skye Rumson. He talks about how fast-paced the work was on the show. Finally we have Michael Logan, who is a soap opera historian for TV Guide. He gives you some nice history of the show, and differentiates it from the traditional soap opera.

Dark Shadows DVD Collection 18 continues MPI's grand tradition of providing us the supernatural soap in the best condition it could be in. They do outstanding work with their preservation of the series; this set looks to be one of their best efforts to date. The storyline is a little challenging, because we're in the Leviathans science fiction plot, but I found it to be nice and creepy, with the requisite amount of the ham and cheese for which Dark Shadows is so famous.

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Scales of Justice

Judgment: 91

Perp Profile

Studio: MPI
Video Formats:
• Full Frame
Audio Formats:
• Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono (English)
• None
Running Time: 840 Minutes
Release Year: 1969
MPAA Rating: Not Rated
• Classic
• Horror
• Television

Distinguishing Marks

• Interviews with Actors Kathryn Leigh Scott, Christopher Pennock, and Geoffery Scott, and Writer Michael Logan

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