My name is Victoria Winters.
My journey is beginning. A
journey that I hope will open the doors of life to me and link my past
future. A journey that will bring me to
a strange and dark place... to the edge of the sea... high atop Widow's
Hill to a house
called Collinwood. - The opening to the
first episode of Dark Shadows.
With a high-profile Tim Burton/Johnny Depp movie version of
the classic gothic daytime soap opera Dark
Shadows scheduled to be released in a couple of months, MPI has
release the entire series in one impressive boxed set.
They really went all out on this release,
crafting an eye-catching coffin-shaped case to hold the series and
some very nice extras inside. It's also
the most massive DVD collection that I can recall.
The set contains an astounding 1,225 episodes
that span 131 discs (including several DVDs devoted to extras). If that's not enough, the price is incredibly
reasonable. Oh yeah, and it's a limited
edition limited to only 2500 copies. (Note:
According to the studio's rep, the
limited edition is sold out at the distributor level.
MPI is creating new sets, but they are not
going to include the signed Jonathon Frid photo and will not be
numbered.) This is easily one of the
coolest releases of the
I have very fond memories of watching Dark Shadows
when it originally aired way back in the late
60's. Sometimes my stay-at-home mother
(which was the rule rather than the exception back in those days) would
walk to the store (only rich people had two cars) or take the bus
do some shopping and she'd get a neighbor to watch me for an hour or
two. One older lady would turn on her
as she called soap operas, in the late afternoon and I'd be bored me to
tears. Except when Dark
Shadows came on. I'd be
playing with my Matchbox cars or Lincoln Logs on the floor off to the
the TV, but when I heard Victoria Winter's voice introducing the show
to pay attention. This wasn't any normal
soap opera involving doctors having affairs; it was populated with
werewolves, and most importantly, a vampire!
I'd pretend to play but I'd really be waiting for Barnabas
undead star of the show to make his appearance.
Once he did, I'd run behind the couch, only occasionally peaking
see if he was still on the screen. Once
he'd left, my sitter would give the all-clear sign and I'd come out
the safety of our vampire-proof living room furniture.
It was bone-chilling excitement that you can
only really have when you're 5 or 6 years old.
I hadn't really seen the show since then. I
had caught a couple of episodes over the
years on the Sci-Fi Channel a decade ago and rented the first DVD from
original release but didn't get a chance to watch the whole thing. This is just the sort of cult show that I
often enjoy, so when MPI announced that they were releasing the entire
on in one gigantic collection I knew that this was my chance to finally
into the show.
The series was one of the earliest creations of TV
producer/director Dan Curtis, a man who definitely left his mark on the
screen. Nominated for four Emmy Awards
(he would win one), Curtis was the man behind the two critically
budget mini-series, The Winds of War
and War and Remembrance, both based
on best-selling books by Herman Wouk. He
probably best remembered for his made-for-TV horror films including Bram Stoker's Dracula, The Norliss Tapes (about
a man who
discovers a group of vampires), Frankenstein, and the fun Trilogy
of Terror. In 1972
he also produced the most widely watched TV movie up to
in history: The Night Stalker (which
was followed by a sequel, The Night Strangler, which
directed, and a TV series based on the films that he was not involved
Before all that however, he sold the idea of Dark Shadows to
ABC. Reportedly based on a nightmare he
had, the show was a daytime soap opera, but a totally unique one that
like anything that had come before it.
Soap operas are nearly extinct now but they used to rule
daytime television with the most popular ones making more money than
prime-time series, often several times their production costs. They aired daily with several storylines
running concurrently. Any one plot would
move rather slowly so that fans wouldn't be lost if they happened to
day, but with multiple threads to follow there was always enough to
viewers interested. They usually
revolved around the day-to-day lives of several well-to-do families
attractive people who all live intricate lives.
Their love affairs, ethical dilemmas, financial difficulties,
infidelities, and hidden pasts that are threatened to be revealed are
for the never-ending saga. When one plot
line is wrapped up, three others are still going strong ensuring that
isn't a good place to stop watching.
Dark Shadows took
this framework and gave it a good twist, making something new and very
What's it all
The show is set in the fictional fishing town of Collinsport,
and is centered on the town's richest family, the Collins.
They own the cannery and fishing fleet that
employs most of the townsfolk and live in their ancestral estate,
set atop Widow's Hill (so named because when a ship would be lost at
wife's of the men on board would go to the peak, the highest point in
to watch for a sail to appear on the horizon.)
The house is currently inhabited by Elizabeth Collins Stoddard
star Joan Bennett), who hasn't left the house in 18 years, her
daughter Carolyn Stoddard (Nancy Barrett), and her brother Roger
Edmonds), and his young son, David (David Henesy).
In the first episode Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke), an
orphan who grew up in a "foundling home" in New York City arrives in Collinsport
a job in Collinwood as David's nanny. It
was a bit strange, the orphanage received a letter requesting her by
neither she, nor anyone at the orphanage knows how or why they
her. As far as Victoria is concerned, this might be
to her past. The only clues she has
about her origin are the note that was found with her ("Her name is Victoria. I
care of her.") and that $50 comes to the home in an envelope every
with her name on it postmarked Bangor,
Maine, a town near
Collinsport. Maybe someone at Collinwood
knows something about her, and that's why they hired her.
The first episodes include a plot involving Burke Devlin,
who arrives on the same train as Victoria
after a 10 year absence from his home town.
He's spent time in jail, and Roger is terrified when he hears
man has returned. Was Burke really
guilty of the crime he went to jail for?
Also, Carolyn wants to leave Collinsport but when her boyfriend,
Haskell (Joel Crothers), proposes she turns him down although she
she loves him.
Sounds like a typical soap opera, doesn't it? The
difference is that Collinwood is
haunted. It's a gothic show with a dark
atmosphere, something not associated with daytime television especially
1966. While the paranormal elements come
more to the forefront as the show goes on, even in the early
there's a feeling of foreboding that runs counter to what you'd expect. In the first episode everyone that Victoria meets warns her to stay away from
to go back to New York. That same evening, Roger discovers her out by
the cliffs and tells her the story of the people who have committed
throwing themselves off the cliffs onto the jagged rocks below, and
some people say the noise they hear isn't caused by the wind, but it's
moans of the sobbing widows waiting in vain for their husbands. Then there are the mysterious events that
occur around the house: a cup is heard
to break in an unoccupied room, a door that was shut is found open, and
says that he talks to people that no one can see. The
show evokes a feeling more of Wuthering Heights
than General Hospital.
At first there are just suggestions of otherworldly
visitors, but before too long all doubt is removed and viewers at home
there is a ghost that inhabits Collinwood.
Things grow more mystical from there and in episode 210 the
famous character finally arrives: Barnabas
Collins (Jonathan Frid).
It came about because of a con artist named Willie Loomis
(John Karlen). While at Collinwood he
hears some of the tales from the Collins family's past, including the
that Naomi Collins was buried in the Collins family mausoleum wearing
her jewelry. That's a prize that's too
good to pass up, so he sneaks into the tomb one evening and finds the
coffin. He can't get the concrete lid
off however, so the crook rigs up a block and tackle to a fixture and
so accidently triggers a secret switch.
A doorway opens up and inside is another coffin, this one bound
iron chains. He cuts off the locks and
opens it up, and a hand reaches out from inside and grabs his throat.
The following evening a new visitor arrives at Collinwood,
Barnabas Collins, a relative from England who looks identical
portrait hanging in the old house of a man who bears the same name. But that Barnabas was born 200 years ago,
they couldn't be the same person... except they are.
That's because Barnabas Collins is a vampire.
Originally slated to be in the show for a dozen or so weeks,
Barnabas was a huge success and the ratings soared.
So he stayed and became an integral part of
When the show was first released on DVD, MPI started with
the introduction of Barnabas, skipping the first 209 episodes (after
of the series was released they went back and put out the first section
show as Dark Shadows: The Beginning).
It's easy to see why. While the
early episodes are good, the show
really starts to take off once the vampire makes his appearance. Then things really get interesting.
I was surprised at how well the show plays today. Director
David Lynch once said that "mystery
is like a magnet" and that's exactly what this show does to pull
the story. There are a lot of
unexplained and strange events that are sprinkled evenly throughout the
and just as soon as the answer to one is given another one pops up. It's not typical soap opera mysteries either
concerning who the father of a baby is or whether someone has committed
crime. Yes, there are some plots like
that. The stories involving Carolyn's
love life aren't as engaging as the others, but the nice thing about
is that there are always a couple of concurrent plots.
When the show is at its best, the writers
would twist the plot around in unexpected ways sending people back in
to travel to parallel dimensions creating some unique mysteries that
the viewers guessing, and coming back for more each day.
The show also has the look of an old Universal horror
movie. The sets are bathed in shadows
and the lighting is generally dark, effectively creating an atmosphere
makes the program feel spooky and creepy.
They definitely made the most of the small budget and were able
what should have been a bland set evoke a creaky old mansion.
One thing to realize is that the pace of the program is
rather slow, especially when compared to current shows, but that just
the gothic feel of the program. The fact
that the plot doesn't reveal itself at a break-neck speed makes it at
eerie and atmospheric. Viewers have time to ponder what's going to
and to wonder what's really going on in the spooky old house.
It's also important to remember the show's origins when
viewing it. It was made on a tight budget
and at a grueling pace. They filmed five
days a week and, according to one of the interviews with a cast member
as an extra, the cast would get the script the night before they
episode. That means they'd rehearse and
record an episode during the day, get the next day's script, go home
to be ready to put the episode down the following morning.
To make matters worse they used a 'live to
tape' method of shooting, which basically means that they record what
in front of the cameras with no retakes unless something drastic
happens. The upshot to all of this is that
nothing slick or polished about the show.
If lines are flubbed or a boom mic's shadow is in the picture,
broadcast that way. While this will
definitely (and understandably) turn off some viewers, I really liked
feel it created. Like the early
adventures of Doctor Who, another
show I really enjoy, the occasional goofs give Dark Shadows
a lot of charm and make it special. In
both shows, the stories, characters, and
actors are able to rise above the meager production values and make
that's better than you'd expect just looking at a clip.
So is it worth the
With a retail price of just two pennies shy of $600, the
collection is going to set you back some serious money but it's
amazingly good deal. (It can currently
be ordered for less than $425 including shipping from Amazon which
makes it a
steal.) The series was originally
released in 32 4-disc collections that retailed for $59.98 each. Getting the whole set that way (and a lot of
fans did) would shrink your bank account by over $1900!
Careful bargain hunters that were patient
could sometimes find various volumes for around $25 each, but that
total $800 and would take a lot of time and effort.
Getting the entire series for less than $0.50
an episode (and the extras for free!) is quite a bargain... even more so
realize the street price is significantly less.
When you compare this show to other TV series the deal
becomes even more apparent. (Hey, I love
crunching numbers so you'll forgive me if I indulge myself a bit. All prices are retail prices per episode for
SD DVDs. The complete series price is
used unless specified.) From the highs
of shows like Breaking Bad Season 4 which
runs $4.31/episode and The Sopranos
($3.25) to sitcoms like Seinfeld
($1.39) or Friends ($0.85) Dark Shadows
is very favorable. Even classic TV like I Dream of Jeanie ($1.39), The
Munsters ($1.00) and Combat
($1.97) are significantly more expensive.
And only one of these collections
(I Dream of Jeanie) has unique
packaging or a signed photo of the star.
Any way you look at it, even at the high cost, this is a
As mentioned earlier, this set contains the complete Dark Shadows
TV series, 1,225 episodes. The shows
themselves are on the first 126 discs with the last 5 DVDs reserved for
features. While I do not have the
original releases to compare with this set, I'm certain the content on
discs is exactly the same. The extras
that are included on the DVDs with the episodes correspond to the ones
with the original releases and the menus haven't been changed. (The menu on disc 25, for example, proclaims
that it's disc one.) The DVDs are housed
in 22 single-width six-disc cases. These
are housed in custom coffin shaped box (with metal hinges no less!) and
the spines of the cases from the
image of Barnabas lying in his casket.
It's a very nice effect. The
first pressing of this set is a limited edition of only 2500.
Note: There are also two 'best of' single-disc collections being
released at the same time: Fan Favorites and The Best of
Barnabas. These are at a much lower price point, natually,
but they aren't nearly as satisfying. You can read my reviews of
those sets too: Fan
Favorites - The
Best of Barnabas.
It's pretty amazing that all of these episodes still exist
(save one, #1219, that has been reconstructed from the audio track,
photos, and the opening and closing of the episodes surrounding it).
full frame video hasn't been restored it doesn't look too bad at all. Due to the sheer number of episodes the cost
and the time that it would take to do even a rudimentary cleanup pushes
outside of the realm of the realistic.
As it is, the black and white (for the early episodes) and color
(later on) full frame image is a bit soft, details tend to get lost in
areas, and there is some print damage.
The spots and scratches aren't very bad, and they never become a
distraction, but they are present. Some
of the installments only exist as Kinetoscopes (where they filmed the
a TV screen) and these naturally lack the detail that the others have
there's only a few that are like that.
If you go into the show with realistic expectations for an
show from the 60's, chances are you won't be disappointed.
The show comes with the original mono soundtrack which, like
the video, hasn't been cleaned up.
There's some hiss in the background and while some episodes
than others, none of them that I screened had horrible audio. The extraneous sounds were never distracting
and dialog was always easy to hear.
There are no subtitles.
Wow! There's a lot of
stuff here. Aside from the cool coffin
box itself, the set contains a signed picture of Jonathan Frid who
Barnabas Collins. It's an actual signed
image, not just a reproduction, which is pretty cool.
There's also an invaluable 96-page booklet
listing all of the episodes with a brief synopsis as well as detailing
disc each installment is located. The
booklet is filled with photos from the show, it's not just page after
On the discs themselves there are well over 100 interviews
with actors and people associated with the show sprinkled throughout
collection. The ones that I had a chance
to hear were generally short but interesting and well worth watching. In addition, the final five discs are devoted
to bonus features: There's a 25th
Anniversary Special, footage from a 1991 convention where the cast
celebrate the show, a 30th Anniversary retrospective, Dark Shadows Tribute, and a reel of the
scariest moments from the show.
But that's just scratching the surface. There
are promos used to advertise the show,
a discussion with Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis on his work before
the show made
him famous, a retrospective on Hollywood movie star Joan Bennett who
Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, footage of the cast rehearsing the show,
and outtakes, vintage interviews with various members of the cast from
shows back when the show was on the air, commercials for Dark Shadows
merchandise, a behind-the-scenes featurette, a overview of the events
show that took place before Barnabas arrived (for those who want to
when the vampire arrives), a look at the locations used in the show, an
in Spanish, and much more! There are
hours and hours worth of bonus material included with the set, so
say that once you've gotten through the 457 hours of the program
still have a lot left to watch.
The only things that are really missing are the two feature
films, House of Dark Shadows (1970)
and Night of Dark Shadows (1971).
I'm sure there's a rights issue and there's
so much here, both quality and quantity, that their omission isn't a
I was expecting this to be a nice set, but it significantly
exceeded my expectations. The main draw
is the show itself. Dark
Shadows is oddly addictive, with a gothic atmosphere that
works better than it should and some intriguing mysteries the like of
daytime television had never seen before and hasn't since.
The set itself is spectacular: 131
DVDs housed in a coffin shaped box with
copious extras, a nice program guide, and a signed photo of the man who
the show's most famous character, Barnabas Collins.
This is one of the most impressive
collections to have been released in a long time and easily earns the DVDTalk
Collector Series rating.