Worth mentioning is one rather inspired practice Dark Shadows used in order to keep their show changing while also using familiar to fans, recognizable year after year was to change their names and identities during those parallel/ time travel ventures. Notable actors among the long-running regular cast included Joan Bennett (1966-71), Louis Edmonds (1966-71), Alexandra Moltke (1966-68), Kathryn Lee Scott (1966-70), Clarice Blackburn (1966-70), Thayer David (1966-71), Grayson Hall (1967-71), John Karlen (1967-71), Lara Parker (1967-71), Roger Davis (1967-70), David Henesy (1966-70), Denise Nickerson (1968-70). Kate Jackson (1970-71), Dana Elcar (1966-67), Diana Millay (1966-67, 1969) Conrad Bain (1966. 1968), Abe Vigoda (1969), and Marsha Mason (1970).
Lord knows the show had a huge fan base in the late 60's to early 70's span in which it ran 5 days a week, month after month and year after year; I was among those ranks, trying to get home in time to catch the show or at least a portion of it each day after school in a time before the VCR. It was a fan base strong enough that publications such as 16 Magazine and Tiger Beat, popular teen-zines of the times, were practically running a story featuring some member of the cast every month along with the David Cassidys, Bobby Shermans and David Souls of the era. Jonathan Frid, a well cast, middle aged Shakespearian actor, was promoted by the teen mags as a heartthrob along with David Selby. Oh, there were lots of episodes where the show dragged along, nothing much happening past ham-handed acting with lots of too long periods building to action- hey, it ran five days EVERY WEEK, they had to fill some of that air time as best they could. Was it over the top, Gothic camp at times? Absolutely, and as a kid I loved every minute of it. Who ever heard of the kind of the promotional tie-ins DS had in the world of the soap opera? This reviewer himself can recall having owned dozens of paperback books, trading cards with nasty gum in the package, posters, a board game, and a record album or two with the Dark Shadows logo adorning the product. As I understand it the soundtrack album is still one of the all time best sellers in its genre. For cryin' out loud, the vehicle was popular enough to have spawned two theatrical films (which would be great to see finally make their way to the DVD format) and 1991 (along the same time period of the first Gulf War, preempting some episodes) saw a short lived, quickly canceled revival of the series with new actors in a prime time TV slot.
Dark Shadows introduced me and likely many other viewers to the talents of director and producer Dan Curtis, God bless him; after Dark Shadows he gave us the also innovative ABC-TV movie "The Night Stalker", introducing the world to one Carl Kolchak and furthering his adventures in the movie sequel "The Night Strangler" as well as a short lived "Kolchak: The Night Stalker" television series in which to enjoy more Curtis creepiness. He frequently worked with horror/sci-fi writer Richard Matheson, who gave us some wonderful works of his own over a period of decades, among them personal favorites such as "I Am Legend" (the novel which was turned into "The Omega Man" with Charlton Heston) and "Bid Time Return" (the novel title for cult favorite "Somewhere In Time"). Curtis was also at the helm for the groundbreaking miniseries "The Winds Of War" which garnered 4 Emmy nominations. Both Dan and his wife died in March this year, his wife passing only 20 days before him. As I understand it he spent the last few years of his life overseeing the release of the entire Dark Shadows series on DVD, which has to be one of the reasons the sets boast a fair degree of quality given their 35 year old daytime television vintage.
Unfortunately by this point in the series, things had gotten pretty zany; let's face it, when you have Jonathan Frid NOT playing Barnabas in a storyline, you know you've hit a wall. it seems as if the five year run had depleted the writers' well of ethereal creepiness from which they could draw. At what was probably the shows' peak the door had been opened to implement time travel to both the past and future as well as parallel time to the show; that premise seemed to be one upon which the show would draw again and again, usually making a many month run from it each time. We had seen vampires, werewolves, ghosts, witches, warlocks, Leviathans, a Phoenix (which it is mentioned was a plotline that likely saved the show early on), zombies, a man-made monster (Adam) ala' the Frankenstein monster , spirit possession, reincarnation, I-Ching, and heaven knows what else. The creative demands of writing five episodes each week for five years sounds impossible; if anything, the creative team is to be applauded for being as innovative as they were for so long.
The particular episodes of Collection 26 are numbers 1227 - 1245, and are a continuance of the 1841 Parallel Time storyline. James Forsythe's spirit revels why he placed a curse on the Collins family in 1680; because of this curse, a member of the Collins lineage must spend the night in a mysterious room and not only survive but also be sane in order for the curse to be broken. Bramwell Collins (Jonathan Frid) returns, hoping to marry Catherine Harridge (played by Kate Jackson), but she instead marries Morgan Collins- unaware she is pregnant with Bramwell's child. Enraged upon learning that Bramwell and Catherine have taken up their romance again, Morgan tries to kill the two by locking them into the mysterious room-but they survive and break the curse forever, finally laying to rest the evil spirits at Collinwood forevermore.
Personally, growing up there were a number of interesting Dark Shadows storylines that appealed to me far more than the one these final episodes bring to the viewer; the 1987 time travel period in which Quentin (David Selby, virtually becoming an overnight sensation) is introduced to the show, the 1791 storyline giving us the origin of Barnabas becoming a vampire, and the first parallel time sequence come to mind. Sadly the show fairly limped to the finish line, evidenced by these last chapters. There are a number of good reasons to pick this one up, however. The Dark Shadows completists will want the collection for obvious reasons- it makes the end of the set, even though MPI reportedly will now begin releasing the first 200+ shows of the series, those aired before the introduction of Barnabas. In my opinion what sets this set apart from the others is what the producers have done having only 19 episodes to release; they used 2 discs of the 4 disc set space to give the fans several hours of nifty Dark Shadows extras.
Dark Shadows Tribute- Coming in at just over an hour, this 30th anniversary documentary is a joy to watch; with interviews from many of the cast members apparently given at a convention during the Clinton presidential years, we get to listen to several familiar actors giving their takes on the experience of being a part of the Dark Shadows legacy. Virtually all the main cast members (and a few who went on to make bigger names post-DS) are represented here in one form or another, and quite often in tandem; Louis Edmonds, David Selby, John Karlen, Kate Jackson, Denise Nickerson (whom this reviewer had a monstrous crush on in his childhood years watching the show), Donna Wandrey, and Conrad Bain show themselves to be both personable and grateful for the notoriety that being a part of Dark Shadows has afforded them. Incidentally, both Kathryn Leigh-Scott and Lara Parker must have Dorian Gray-type pictures in a closet somewhere; 30 years after the shows' cancellation they are still vibrant, strikingly beautiful women. There are period excerpts from both the Mike Douglass Show with Joan Bennett, and the Merv Griffin Show interviewing an engaging Jonathan Frid. Grayson Hall is represented here both by her DS writer/husband Sam Hall as well as older footage. Trailers for both theatrical films are also shown, as well as bits of footage spanning the years of the TV show, and a bit of discussion with Sam Hall on how the sequel had to be rewritten because of Frid's refusal to participate. This extra alone is probably worth the price of the set and should be a treat for any Dark Shadows fan.
Scariest Moments From Dark Shadows- About 30 minutes in length, tons of excerpts from the show with lots of creepy(and campy, goofy)scenes.
The Best Of Barnabas- Also at 30 minutes, plenty of footage of Jonathan Frid as the quintessential Barnabas!
Dark Shadows 25th Anniversary Special- The cast reunites for the 1991 Dark Shadows Festival fan convention. Includes series highlights. Much like the Tribute documentary, at around 40 minutes.
The Making Of The Return To Collinwood- Comes in at around 20 minutes; original series actors talk about performing their characters again for the first time in decades, this time in the form of an audiobook type story.
Dan Curtis- before The Shadows- The late creator and executive producer discusses his show business background.
The Mistress Of Collinwood- Joan Bennett- Colleagues fondly recall the former movie star who came to the soap and played Elizabeth Collins Stoddard.
A Fan Remembers- Jay Nass reflects on his New York childhood visiting the Dark Shadows studio. Includes home movies.
1970 Dark Shadows Rehearsal & Pretape Segments with Lara Parker
1984 Dark Shadows PBS Promos with Jonathan Frid
1969 ABC-TV Promotional Announcements
The Beginning- A preview of the earliest Dark Shadows episodes before the arrival of Barnabas; definitely a smart promo for upcoming MPI Dark Shadows releases.
Dark Shadows Vampires & Ghosts
Movie Trailers- Vintage film previews featuring Dark Shadows actors.
Dark Shadows Collection 26 is a 4 disc set, attractively packaged in an oversized DVD case with four disc holders. Also in the case is an insert and a post card. There is 12 1/2 hours of material here, so settle in and get comfortable.
Aspect ratio here is 1.33:1 fullscreen, preserving the original manner in which the show was broadcast. Given the material with which to work, you're bound to see problems; when DS was on the air the probability of future syndication might have been considered, but not eventual archival mediums such as videotape and DVD. You'll see occasional tape glitches, lines, smearing, haze, some dirt and shadowy instances here and there. In spite of this, the video quality is actually pretty good, all things taken into account. Colors are rich and well represented and while by no means razor sharp the picture is adequate. This is footage from a daytime soap thats now going on forty years old, folks. It'll do.
The audio here is Dolby Digital Stereo, a track which seems to brave some of the shortcomings of the 60's medium. There are occasional compression as well as mixing problems, but for the most part its clear and easy to understand.
If you're a Dark Shadows fanatic, you're likely to buy this just to make the claim that you have it; the set contains the series' final episodes, and as such is a landmark in the history of the show. This is a swan song that isn't really a swan song; MPI will still be releasing the first 200 plus pre-Barnabas episodes to adoring DS fans, likely with the same time cycle they're used thus far. When I was a kid, Dark Shadows was creepy, fun television to watch several times each and every week. Thirty-five years later its even more fun to watch. What's here for the more casual viewer? Alot, actually. It is significant that these are the last episodes that were aired, and our last look at a great cast, but what really sets this set apart from the previous installments is the plethora of Dark Shadows extras MPI has added. For that reason alone I highly recommend this set above many of the Dark Shadows Collections that came before it.