Before Happy Meals and methamphetamines became the norm, children of the late 1960s raced home after school to get their daily afternoon fix of a black and white soap opera. A soap opera!
Parents were either just as hooked or they forbade their kids to watch it. And not because it was empty trash rendering children into TV zombies.
It was campy. It was cheesy. It was melodramatic.
It was awesome.
My only excuse for not being an addict to this gothic soap opera and the vampire Barnabas Collins is that I was three years old at the time. I also managed to miss hearing about it when they reran it in the 1980s.
Did you catch that? They re-ran an afternoon soap opera in the 1980s. A soap opera!
I had never heard of Dark Shadows until last year while trolling the internet for information on the classic actress Joan Bennett, where I discovered she was on some soap opera called Dark Shadows, and where I discovered that a remake of the show was aired many years later, and where I discovered that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp were doing a movie and the next thing you know I’m adding it to my Netflix queue and watching it and thinking, Gawd, this show stinks. It’s awful. It’s horrible. It’s laughable. My husband pretty much thought the same thing.
That was five months ago.
Now we’re on episode 702.
When Netflix DVDs stopped after “Collection 8″ (300 something episodes), we began buying the DVDs.
Yes, Dark Shadows is melodramatic. Yes, the production quality is bad. Yes, the actors flub their lines. Yes, the special effects are hysterical. But dude! That’s just it.
Soap operas back then were filmed live to tape, so they shot everything in one take. And based on that alone, this show is incredible. What those guys pulled off was nothing short of amazing. The actors, true professionals with theater backgrounds, didn’t have the luxury of cracking up in front of the camera when they messed up. If someone forgot their line, or a set piece fell over, or a crew member’s arm was seen in the background closing a door, they kept going no matter what.
And the live special effects of this show! Like a rubber bat jiggling on a string, warily swooping in on their screaming victims to bite them on the neck! And the way a character will leave the “old house” at Collinwood and suddenly show up at Eagle Hill Cemetery in the next scene without tripping over camera cables or appearing out of breath from running between sets. And the plastic trees in the woods that wobble if anyone touches them. And the way Joan Bennett delivers her lines the same way, as if she’s reading off a list of grocery items.
And Nicholas Blair. Moustache-twirling, tie-the-girl-to-the-railroad-tracks Nicholas Blair.
The characters are either extremely irritating or ultimately charming. Or both. Barnabas Collins, the brooding Bela Lugosi-like vampire seemed so evil in the beginning, hell-bent on destroying his family and killing everyone in the quaint seaside town of Collinsport.
He also has this creepy obsession with Maggie Evans, a wholesome cheerful girl who he psychologically messes with to become his lover from the past.
And what. Is up. With those bangs?
But then you’re taken back in time (200 years) and you find out why he’s so evil and how he became a vampire and then you feel sorry for him. Poor Barnabas.
And then you’re on episode 702.
We watch it nearly every day and have managed to cram about two years worth of shows into five months. And then this weekend, for the first time, we saw the trailer for the Tim Burton / Johnny Depp version and I can’t tell if I’m going to like it or not. For one thing, it looks like a comedy.
You know how trailers always blow it by showing you the best lines so it’s a let down when you watch the movie because the trailer is as funny as it was going to get? The lines in this trailer are kind of hit and miss and the ones that are “hit” won’t be funny in the movie now because I already heard them and jokes are most often only funny once.
The classic example of this happened for me in the movie, When Harry Met Sally, when Meg Ryan faked an orgasm in the middle of a restaurant across the table from Billy Crystal. I saw that trailer a million times and when I finally saw the movie, I was perturbed by everyone else in the theatre when they laughed uproariously after the woman said, “I’ll have what she’s having.” It wasn’t funny after the 30th time hearing it. Why was everyone else laughing? IT WAS IN THE FREAKIN’ TRAILER, PEOPLE. IT’S NOT FUNNY ANY MORE. STOP LAUGHING, YOU FOOLS!
They’re called “spoilers” for a reason because it ruins the enjoyment and I think it’s wrong for people to laugh anyway just because they paid money and feel they deserve to have a good time.
Anyway, where the hell was I?…
Oh yes! Barnabas Collins. Dark Shadows. The original.
One thing I’ve noticed: nobody ever eats on this show, but boy, do they drink. And smoke. And take drugs. It’s like Mad Men over there. You’d think THAT would be the reason for parents to forbid their children from watching it, but no. It was the vampires.
I think there should be a drinking game for Dark Shadows because certain predictable themes appear so frequently. The rules are that whenever any one of the following occurs, you have to take a drink:
- Someone (usually having just poured themselves a brandy in the drawing room) says, “What’s wrong?” and the other person says, “Nothing.” (Both characters must be facing the camera when these lines are delivered.)
- The fog from the upcoming outdoor graveyard scene seeps into the current indoor scene.
- One character calls another character by his or her wrong name.
- Somebody slowly opens a coffin. A creaky coffin. Two drinks if a hand juts out to grab that someone’s throat.
- The cameraman can’t focus on his subject. Or stay on his subject. Or find his subject.
- Someone knocks on the door in the middle of the night.
- Someone says, “I can’t” and the other person declares, “You must!”
- Dr. Julia Hoffman gives someone a sedative, or someone says that Dr. Julia Hoffman has given someone a sedative.
- Someone goes missing in the woods on the Collins estate and they send out a search party.
I would advise limiting the number of episodes you watch in one night should you choose to play this game. Remember, friends don’t let friends watch too much Dark Shadows.
The Dark Shadows movie comes out May 11. According to my sources, the actors who played Barnabas Collins and Maggie Evans will appear in it, along with Christopher Lee and Alice Cooper. Fun stuff!
By the way…
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