Operation Backlog Completion 2024
Oct 102022

It’s a rare occasion – today’s blog post is a review of something other than a video game.

You see, yesterday I finished watching Dark Shadows.

Dark Shadows is a soap opera that ran from 1966 to 1971. It took a dramatic turn in 1967, when, facing cancellation, the writers introduced a vampire in a last-ditch effort to save the show.

That vampire, Barnabas Collins, not only saved Dark Shadows and triggered a permanent shift into dealing with overtly supernatural storylines, but also had a dramatic influence on sympathetic vampires in popular culture from then on.

Its been ten years since I started watching Dark Shadows, after having heard stories about it from my mom and grandmother.

We started from the introduction of Barnabas, and the show was so entertaining that it wasn’t long before I picked up the complete series (which comes in the lovely coffin-shaped box picture above).

And now we’ve reached the end.

How do I review a show with over 1000 episodes? Reviewing individual story arcs would probably make more sense for the sorts of reviews I usually do, but for now I want to talk about the show as a whole. Dark Shadows is a strange, magical phenomenon.

Being a daily soap opera, it’s a show that sometimes feels like the world’s longest NaNoWriMo project, as if the writers were desperately making things up as they went, but at other times produces scenes so compelling, I can only dream my writing will have the same effect someday. It’s a show that rarely had time to reshoot scenes, so mistakes and mishaps are left intact, yet that often adds a sense of endearing earnestness to the characters.

It’s a show where just because a character is dead doesn’t mean they have to be gone, and even a character who is gone forever might still have their actor appear in a new role. It’s a show where you can go to the past or a parallel timeline and see faces you know in new roles as a new supernatural threat rears its head.

I watched Barnabas go from a villain to an antihero to a hero and everything in between. I watched Julia go from a Van Helsing stand-in to one of the most important characters on the show. I watched characters come and go, and sometimes stick around to become new members of the core cast.

1795, 1897; these trips into the past showed just how much potential Dark Shadows had, with the ability to introduce a cast of mostly-new characters played by the same actors and pull you into their storylines as thoroughly as anything in the present.

There are certainly times when Dark Shadows flounders a bit – although I actually quite liked the infamous Leviathan plotline and its take on H.P. Lovecraft, the conclusion of that story arc was definitely a struggle.

Click for Dark Shadows Leviathan storyline spoilers
The writers clearly wanted to kill off Jeb, but it seemed like they couldn’t figure out how to do it. Destroying the box means Jeb will disappear too! But no! He’s holding onto his existence through sheer force of will. But wait, a ghost is going to kill him out of revenge! But no! Angelique stopped the ghost. But wait! She only stopped him so she can kill Jeb herself. Now he can spend episode after episode running from the shadow curse. But no! She’s seen reason and tells him how to remove the curse. He transfers the curse to Nicholas and now he’s fine. But wait! Nicholas sends Sky Rumson to kill him in revenge!

Unlike a lot of fans, I thoroughly enjoyed the Leviathans, but that span of episodes where the writers kept trying to kill Jeb was one of the most painful stretches to watch for me.

(Though Barnabas killing Sky afterwards was a fantastic Barnabas scene that really shows how sinister he can be even as one of the good guys.)

Even when it struggled, it always got back on its feet again. 1970 Parallel Time was a terrific blend of a supernatural murder mystery with other elements like their take on Jekyll & Hyde, and everything leading up to 1840 had me more invested than I had been in hundreds of episodes. Partway through the 1840 plotline, I found myself wondering how the show could possibly be near the end when it still was so good.

(Granted, there are parts of the 1840 plotline that make no sense, but it was fun and had some truly entertaining villains. It’s also the closest we’ll ever get to Barnabas Collins: Ace Attorney.)

Then came the final plot arc, an abrupt shift into 1841 Parallel Time that felt like an attempt at a soft reboot, the sole time we were given a new cast of characters without even a single character from the main timeline to follow. And for me, it didn’t work. The characters were less interesting, the episodes felt repetitive, and they somehow didn’t manage to make either the curse or the love triangle (quadrangle?) compelling, despite being a show that had thrived on curses and love triangles for years.

But even then, there were still glimmers of brilliance. It makes me think that, if the show hadn’t been cancelled, they might have been able to get on their feet again after all.

I love Dark Shadows. It’s hard to believe that this journey is finally over. And it isn’t, really. I mentioned starting from Barnabas’s introduction, which means I never saw those early 200-some episodes. It might be fun to see where it all began, especially since some parts were referenced later.

And then there are audio dramas and books and all the other ways the saga of Dark Shadows has continued in the years since.

Dark Shadows had to be included in this year’s Celebrating All Things Spooky. It’s too close to my heart for me not to mention it. So if you love gothic horror, and if the idea of a supernatural soap opera appeals to you, or if you’ve always heard about the original Dark Shadows but never checked it out, you really should. If the complete series in its coffin-shaped box is too much to start with (understandable), then I’d recommend Dark Shadows DVD Collection 1, which begins with episode 210 and the introduction of Barnabas (yes, it’s such a turning point for the show that Collection 1 starts there).

Alternately, if you’re not as obsessed with having physical media as I am, the entire series is also available through Prime Video. Season 1 also starts with episode 210. The pre-Barnabas episodes are also on Prime, but under the title Dark Shadows: The Beginning.

And whether you’re a longtime fan or just got into the show, please come talk to me about Dark Shadows! I haven’t mentioned it often on the blog, but it’s one of my favorite topics and biggest inspirations. And if you did want to see individual reviews of the Dark Shadows storylines, that’s something I’d definitely consider.

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  9 Responses to “Celebrating All Things Spooky: Dark Shadows”

  1. I had a friend mention to me that they were watching this show sometime ago. The 1000+ episode run seemed daunting to me before, along with the 200 or so episodes before the supernatural elements kick in. After blowing through 600+ episodes of One Piece though, I think I could give this show a shot.

    Given the long run time and age of the show, do you think it had other effects on popular culture and media? I couldn’t help but think of shows like Buffy, Charmed and Supernatural when you were describing some aspects of the show and was wondering if they could’ve been influenced by Dark Shadows.

    I’d also love to hear your opinion on the movie.

    • Definitely daunting, but worth it!

      I think it did have a notable effect on popular culture like that. The DVDs include a lot of interviews, and some of the interviews were with people who study horror in media and things like that, and they talked a lot about how influential Dark Shadows was, especially when it came to the idea of a sympathetic vampire.

      One thing that especially stands out to me is that Dark Shadows might be the reason so many Dracula adaptations have gone with the idea that Dracula thinks Lucy or Mina is the reincarnation of his wife, something that was never in the original novel at all – but is similar to a plotline in Dark Shadows, and the creator of Dark Shadows reused the idea when he made a Dracula movie adaptation in 1974.

      Now when it comes to the movie… if you mean the 2012 movie, I hated it. When I first saw it, I’d only seen a little bit of the show, and I thought the movie was okay but not too funny. The more I watched of the show, the more I disliked the movie for getting almost every character completely wrong.

  2. It’s funny because I never heard of Dark Shadows until speaking with you and knowing you’ve watched it for so many years. It does make me wonder how much of an influence it has had on modern vampire shows, such as What We Do in the Shadows (which, based on your descriptions of this show, may scratch that Dark Shadows itch with more modern humor, episodic shenanigans that do sometimes include curses and love triangles, and multiple vampires).

    So I should definitely start by watching the 2012 Dark Shadows movie starring Johnny Depp, right? 😀

    • I’ve heard of What We Do in the Shadows, though I’ve never seen it. Maybe I’ll look into it. It sounds like more of a comedic take on things, and perhaps with more supernatural beings in general. (You could never have multiple vampires around on Dark Shadows for long, because someone would ultimately start killing people and need to be destroyed, or possibly cured.)

      You should definitely not start by watching the 2012 Dark Shadows movie, but if you do, you will know no more than you do now about what to expect from the original Dark Shadows aside from some character names.

      • Yes, What We Do in the Shadows is a more comedic take on things and has a lot more supernatural beings. But it’s very fun and well-done, and some of the best episodes are ones where the supernatural characters are failing to use their powers to get past normal human problems, like reading emails or attending a neighbor’s Super Bowl party or how to polity decline human food that they absolutely cannot eat. Highly recommend either giving it a try, or watching the 2014 movie of the same name that was the source for the TV show, but with a different cast of characters.

        • Despite generally having a lot of ordinary humans caught up in supernatural events, Dark Shadows did have its share of supernatural beings as it adapted as many classic horror stories as possible.

          Sounds interesting. I’ll consider giving it a try sometime.

  3. Over 1000 episodes? Is this the One Piece of TV shows? :O jeez

  4. […] October, I reached the end of Dark Shadows, the gothic soap opera that ran from 1966 to […]

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