22 June 1999 | Gothick
A legend never dies!
To its fans, Dark Shadows was and remains the best fantasy television series ever produced for an American network. Its status as the best resulted from the chance interaction of a team of brilliant actors, writers, directors and producers who together made magic every afternoon at 4 pm out of what were often very unpromising materials. As the comment from a new teenaged viewer on this page shows, the show's appeal continues to draw in a new audience 30 years after its original broadcast.
Barnabas Collins, the pivotal character of the "vulnerable vampire," has become a part of postmodern folklore. The influence of Barnabas as a character and a concept has been widely seen, from Anne Rice's vampire novels to such recent cult series as Forever Knight and Buffy the Vampire Slayer. The central drama of Dark Shadows--a doctor in unrequited love with her vampire patient, whom she was trying to cure--was intriguingly reprised in the Canadian series Forever Knight, with Geraint Wyn-Davies and Catherine Disher taking on the roles originally played by Jonathan Frid and Grayson Hall.
Dark Shadows boasted perhaps the most impressive cast (in terms of sheer ability) ever assembled for an American daytime series. Actress Joan Bennett who played the matriarch provided a link with the world of film noir and Forties Gothic cinema upon which the style and mood of the series so clearly played. Jonathan Frid, Thayer David, the extraordinary Grayson Hall (probably the first instance of an Oscar nominated thesp taking a role in a soap opera), Nancy Barrett, Louis Edmonds, and John Karlen, all of whom had distinguished themselves both on and off Broadway, routinely turned in sterling performances with a minimum of rehearsal time. The show's initial realism gave way after a year or so to the "Dark Shadows school of acting"--a highly theatrical, dramatically stylised manner of putting the mood of a scene across with stunning effect. Among the newcomers who shone most strongly were Lara Parker (who enacted another variant of vindictive unrequited love as the witch Angelique), Alexandra Moltke as perennially clueless governess Victoria Winters, Don Briscoe as doomed werewolf Chris Jennings, and David Selby as roguish cousin Quentin Collins. One striking feature of the production was the use of multiple time periods and, ultimately, parallel time streams which allowed the actors to portray a wide variety of roles (Nancy Barrett and Thayer David each ended up playing some half a dozen sharply differentiated characters).
The New York production setting favored the occasional introduction of such veteran character actors as Anita Bolster, Cavada Humphrey, Abe Vigoda, and others in cameo spots. Young actors just starting out such as Harvey Keitel, David Groh, Kate Jackson, Virginia Vestoff, and Marsha Mason found brief or steady work on the series. Vestoff did a tour de force as the ruthless Samantha Collins at the same time (1970) as she was performing nightly in the hit musical 1776.
Derided by some, misunderstood by many, beloved by its legions of fans, Dark Shadows will never die!