Dark Shadows from the Beginning: Introduction

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Some of my earliest life memories revolve around television, and episodes of Dark Shadows as they were originally first broadcast are among these. I was born on a Monday in 1966, on the day Dark Shadows was taping its thirty-sixth episode. So I remember roughly the last year of the show. Some episodes I can recall in particular, but overall my memory is of general impressions: the stained glass windows over the landing of the Collinwood foyer, the drawing room, Christopher Pennock’s big ball of orange hair, the contours around Joan Bennett’s mouth, a man with dark hair being walled up with brick, the fresh mortar spilling over some of the bricks as the man stoically looks upon the darkened inner wall of his prison. And, of course, that daily intro with the waves and the rolling Gothic letters and the unmistakable music throughout. Such an early familiarity with something becomes second nature. For instance, no matter how much time has passed, whenever you get a glimpse of those stained glass windows atop the Collinwood foyer, whether in color or black and white, it almost feels like going home.

 

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The earliest episode I can remember is when the man with the longish orange hair is in a room and he turns on the light to see a dark undulating phantom figure, and then to escape it he has to turn out the light and be in the dark with it. At such a young age that resonated with me, because in one’s room at night it was the dark that would instill such terrors and nightmares, and to be free of these images and feel safe again you would have to turn on the light. But in that episode on Dark Shadows, it was just the opposite. That always intrigued me, and is perhaps why the memory of watching that episode as it was first broadcast always stayed with me. When finally collecting the full series on DVD more than forty years later I was eager to revisit that episode, just so I could put a definite date on that very early life memory: It was March 17, 1970, a Tuesday, so now I know where I was and what I was doing on that afternoon in the first half of the four o’clock hour several months ahead of my fourth birthday.

 

But otherwise, having been so young at the time, Dark Shadows was mainly a visual experience, one that was overlayed by sound — atmosphere in a word. This is where Dark Shadows differs from other soap operas — the main ingredient is atmosphere. Because if story were everything, then Dark Shadows would be nothing. This was a show that continually rewrote its own history as it went along. If you’re looking for a show with story continuity, then you’re not looking for Dark Shadows. In the first year of the show, the viewer is told that Collinwood was built in the 1830s by Jeremiah Collins; but midway through the second year, the history of Collinwood is moved back to the 1700s and Jeremiah becomes a more peripheral character. But they could get away with things like that, when several million viewers hadn’t even been aware of the show’s existence in the first year.

 

The first year of Dark Shadows has always suffered from comparison. Popular culture, as well as a good many Dark Shadows fans, thinks of Dark Shadows as “the vampire soap opera.” Of course, there were many other elements that were added along the way, like witches and warlocks, a demonic entity who inhabited an underworld from whence such beings were let loose on the earth, a Frankenstein monster, werewolves, evil spirits that would possess children, time travel, zombies, a master race of invisible snake-like serpents, and more time travel. So with all these spectacular stories and beings playing out, on the chance that some fans are curious enough to rewind to the beginnings of Dark Shadows to see what was cooking in 1966 they tend to be disappointed because they find it too slow moving or they feel there is nothing happening at all — at least in comparison to the Dark Shadows to which they were first introduced, the spook show that stopped being a soap opera without really meaning to. Things just happened.

 

I only became familiar with the beginnings of Dark Shadows in 2012, while collecting the complete series on DVD. So there was no particular nostalgia connecting for me these episodes with younger years. I was able simply to take them at face value. What I saw, I liked. These early episodes have in spades the main ingredient that interests me as a Dark Shadows viewer — “A” for atmosphere.

 

Once I had all the Dark Shadows DVDs, I watched the whole series through three times. Toward the end of each run, I was always eager to get back to those “newly discovered” 1966 episodes, where the show would spend plenty of time in one of my favorite sets, the diner of the Collinsport Inn, where Burke Devlin would come in to place his various orders for breakfast and lunch while plotting to undermine the Collins family business empire.

 

Although in viewing the series all the way through I enjoyed every period of Dark Shadows, even parallel time 1841 (though it would require a few episodes to finally take to it), it would always be a relief to get off the edgy monster thrill ride and land back in the relatively sane and quiet summer of sixty-six and then watch as things would gradually unravel. Sometimes when watching these early episodes I think of things to come. Like when Matthew Morgan is atop the Old House pushing a heavy stone urn off the edge of the roof in the hope of hitting Victoria Winters with it, I think of Barnabas, the darkest, most lurid of Collins family secrets, lying chained in his coffin in a room of the Collins mausoleum that no present member of the family even knows about. It’s nighttime when Matthew tries killing Vicki, so Barnabas’ eyes would be open as he lies motionless, the cross affixed to the inside lid of his coffin rendering him unable to move, but just to awaken, for longer intervals in winter and shorter periods in summer, always being alive without really living, to die again each dawn without ever dying, a cycle of unending darkness intended to last throughout eternity.

 

It’s always interesting to see how Dark Shadows changes from its beginnings, how stories evolve over months and years, how a seemingly uneventful moment in a single episode can set the show on a new course. An elegant yet mysterious woman walks into a coffee shop only to leave town, as well as the earth, months later in a fury of flames. A personable stranger in the Blue Whale turns his head when a certain woman’s name is mentioned by customers in conversation at a nearby table; he has come to town with the secret intention of making Collinwood his home — he will fulfill that wish, but only by being murdered and then unceremoniously buried beneath the floor of the family mausoleum.

 

But to get to these highly fascinating moments, I’m going to have to write about each and every episode along the way. That means at some point I’m going to have to write at length about fountain pens. So, who knows, just as with Dark Shadows early on, this blog may be facing cancellation after thirteen weeks. Enjoying the viewing of these early episodes is one thing, but writing about each of them in depth is a whole other matter. Still, as Victoria Winters narrates at the beginning of the second episode: “But I’m here now and there’s no turning back.” This is Dark Shadows from the Beginning.

 

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Beginning Monday: Episode 1: “Next Stop, Collinsport!”

— Marc Masse

    (aka PrisoneroftheNight)

© 2017 Marc Masse and Dark Shadows

from the Beginning. All rights reserved.

Unauthorized use and/or duplication of

the content herein is a violation of the

terms and standards as set forth under

U.S. copyright law.

20 thoughts on “Dark Shadows from the Beginning: Introduction”

    1. Thanks, Count Catofi! There’s a hot pot of coffee in the diner. I think Vicki even left half a roast beef sandwich on the counter. It’s been sitting there a little over 50 years, but it’s still good. 🙂

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  1. Remember Wallace “Cousin Barnabas” McBride’s “Dark Shadows Diary” at The Collinsport Historical Society? He made all the way to episode 95 — a heroic effort! — before he could no longer bring himself to write one more word about Frank Garner. So, good luck with this.

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    1. Yes, I like the Dark Shadows Diary. I wonder why Cousin Barnabas stopped posting those — I figure maybe he ran out of things to say about those early shows. Toward the end he was stacking five episodes into a single post — that’s cheating! 🙂

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  2. Glad I found this early. I love this period. The first 210 and last ~200 episodes of Dark Shadows are the only ones I’ve seen through twice. I first saw the pre-Barnabas episodes in the early 00s when I bought a complete VHS collection of the “Collector’s Series” off eBay. One big box of Dark Shadows. It dragged a little, though less than reports would seem to indicate, but I actually enjoyed it more the second time through.

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  3. How great that you are doing this, since Danny seems bound and determined not to. (Can’t blame him…what he does is so great!) But I love this period… sure, it’s a different show entirely, yet wonderfully atmospheric and compelling in its own way. And I love the characterizations we see in these early episodes–Vicki before she became a guileless automaton, and was actually spirited and intelligent…Roger, being duplicitous and sinister and yet still likable… Elizabeth being creepy and majestic and powerful… Carolyn being rebellious and spoiled and sexy…. David being a devil child… their personalities virtually get wiped out once Barnabas appears. How great if all the characterizations had stayed in place once DS turned into a monster show… as much as I loved it, DS would have been a better show for it. Again, it’s so great that you are bringing these episodes back into the conversation!

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    1. Thanks, Will, and welcome! You know, I would have just been happy to read such a blog on the early episodes if Danny had indicated that he would do so, but ultimately one has to really want to. I have read other blogs on the beginnings of Dark Shadows and enjoyed them, but I suppose I’m doing this because none of the other blogs I’ve seen have captured that period of the show quite the way I would have liked. But that’s the great thing about blogging — each has their own point of view. Glad you are here, and you’ll find that your enthusiasm for this period of Dark Shadows will be warmly shared. There are a great many fun and humorous moments in the first year of episodes, and I intend to highlight each and every one of these to the fullest!

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  4. I don’t know how I missed the start of this blog! Great news. Congratulations. I’m looking forward to reading it as it goes along.

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    1. Thanks, Coda, and welcome! 🙂 Hope you find in this blog all that it’s meant to be — a celebration, an appreciation. I’m learning new things about these early shows as I go along — even in the last month since I started this.

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  5. Whew! I’m so happy that it’s actually happening!

    A different show entirely….humor in the writing…yeah,

    Time to get it out again.

    Cheers!

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  6. I’m a bit late to the party but glad to see this up and running!! Will definitely be reading (and commenting).

    I discovered Dark Shadows a bit differently than most people – which is to say, I started watching the show from episode 1 on (not at the time since I wasn’t born until 1971). Growing up in Canada, I had always heard of Dark Shadows and Barnabas, but had never actually seen an episode – we didn’t get the Sci Fi channel up here when it was airing the show in the 90s and I don’t think any of our PBS channels aired the show during the 80s. I knew of the 90s remake, but for whatever reason, never tuned in – probably too busy focusing on university.

    I had stumbled on the VHS tapes in stores, but not really knowing too much about the show, I casually avoided them, always thinking one day I should check them out. When they issued the early episodes on VHS in 1994 (I think) I thought – ah, now’s my chance! I read the back of the tapes and saw that we were still a ways away from Barnabas, but that didn’t bother me. I’ve always been the type of person that enjoys starting things from the beginning, and watching how things evolve – doesn’t matter if it’s books, TVs, comics or a movie series (I did the same thing with Doctor Who when a local station started airing the show from the start). So I bought that first tape and I really enjoyed it. I loved the atmosphere, the characters, the acting, the black and white, and of course Carolyn’s dancing. I was even creeped out a couple of times (the end of episode 4 comes to mind). I would watch one episode a night before going to bed, Monday to Friday – and proceed to buy a new tape every week.

    Funny thing is, shortly before the show switched to colour, I was unable to purchase any more tapes (can’t remember the reason) so I had to stop watching right when Julia discovered Barnabas’ secret. It would be many years before I would continue and watch the remainder of the series, and during that time, I rewatched that first year about 3 or 4 times, so for me, they hold a very special place and in a way, they are the “true” Dark Shadows.

    Anyway, my way of saying I’m looking forward to many enjoyable reads!

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  7. I just now found this! I’m so glad you decided to do this. I was 9 years old when Dark Shadows premiered, and I was there watching from the first episode. Some people complain that there wasn’t much happening during this period of the show, and it is definitely slow when compared to what comes later. Yet it did hook me from the very beginning. The spooky promos that ABC aired got me curious. I had no idea it was going to be a soap opera. I was surprised and a little unhappy when I realized on Day 1 that it was a soap opera. But I loved the atmosphere, the filmed location scenes, and especially Alexandra Moltke as Victoria Winters.

    It will be great to relive this through this blog. I will try to get caught up soon.

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    1. Ah, Bob, so glad you found your way here. I suppose I should thank John E. Comelately for his “shameless and unadulterated plug” the other day in Danny’s blog. 🙂

      I look forward to your insights, as someone having experienced Dark Shadows from day one as it was first broadcast.

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  8. Wow – this will be one amazing blog! Marc: (aka Prisoner) when I first read on the “Dark Shadows Every Day” blog that you were thinking about starting your own blog focusing on the early ’66 episodes, I was so excited! I am late in discovering your blog; did I miss the announcement? Anyway, I’m here now and I plan on staying for the duration. Thank you, thank you, thank you!!!

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    1. Hi, Carol, and welcome! 🙂

      There was no announcement, because I’m uncomfortable about self-promoting, particularly using someone else’s platform, like Danny’s blog which has earned its popularity after starting out with no commenters.

      I was surprised by the encouragement from fellow commenters over my mere casual mention of having the interest for starting a blog on the beginning episodes. But at that point I didn’t even know how to do a screenshot. Danny was very helpful in getting me started, providing useful advice, etc. — but I’d rather people just find this site by chance, so that its readership grows naturally. One or two others here have given a shout out on Danny’s blog, but I’d never do that myself — although I did refer one commenter there to click on my handle, but only because he mentioned me by name in regards to starting a blog on the early episodes, referencing my original comment that you mention above.

      You’re not really late. In fact, it’s just getting started. I’ve been discovering new and surprising things about these early episodes in just the last few months, so it’s been slow going, and will be for a while, at least until we get past episode 22.

      I’m glad you’re interested — these early episodes have been so underrated by so many for so long!

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  9. I’m way late for the party, but very glad this is here. I’d always felt that Dark Shadows is Barnabas Collins and that’s it, but a friend encouraged me to cycle back around and watch the first year, and I *loved* it. At times during the Barnabas years, I feel that an episode without Frid isn’t even worth watching, so I was astonished to find that I was riveted by a year of episodes without Frid. The writing was good and the characters had a lot of life; now I find myself very curious as to how, exactly, the tone changed as they moved on through the Barnabas years. Anyway, even though I’m way late, I look forward to reading what you’ve written and adding comments here and there.

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