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Dark Shadows: Best of Barnabas

MPI Home Video // Unrated // April 10, 2012
List Price: $14.98 [Buy now and save at Amazon]

Review by John Sinnott | posted April 6, 2012 | E-mail the Author
The Collection:
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 decided to release the entire series in one impressive boxed set [read my review here] as well as two single-disc collections featuring some of the best episodes from the series.  This disc is The Best of Barnabas, with some of the star vampire's greatest moments.  The other disc, Fan Favorites, is reviewed here. 

This compilation has nine episodes, taken from various times in the series.  If you don't have a pretty good understanding of the show, the characters, and the various plot that occurred over the 1225 episodes you'll have a bit of trouble figuring out just what's going on.  Yes, Barnabas is in all of them, but they take place in different times, and even different universes, so things can get a bit confusing if you're not pretty familiar with the show.
The episodes included in this collection are:
Episode 221:  Soon after arriving in Collinsport, Barnabas goes to the local diner where he meets Maggie Evans, the waitress.  The new visitor takes an unusual interest in the young lady, and later, when she's at home, she feels like someone's watching her.
Episode 349:  After Julia gives Barnabas her treatment, he starts to revert to his true age.  Getting weaker, he knows that he has to have blood to survive, and the only person around is Victoria Winters.
Episode 418:  Back in 1795, Barnabas vows not to see his true love, Josette for fear of biting her, but Angelique conspires to bring the two together.

Episode 535:  Barnabas undergoes Angelique's dream ordeal and is attacked!
Episode 703:  Now the story has traveled back to 1897 and Barnabas introduces himself to the current residents of Collinwood as a cousin from England, but Quentin Collins isn't so sure about the new visitor.
Episode 718:  Still in 1897 Quentin attempts to cast a voodoo spell on Barnabas.
Episode 915:  The Leviathans have Josette, and are using her to control Barnabas.
Episode 982:  Now we zip over to the parallel dimension.  Loomis chains Barnabas into his coffin.
Episode 1133:  This time the show is taking place in 1840 (confused yet?) and Angelique uses a voodoo doll on Roxanne to wound her, possibly fatally.

The problem with this collection, and with the other one too, is that it doesn't really give you a feel for the show.  Presenting nine assorted episodes from various parts in the series, the narrative jumps around so much that it's hard to get a handle for what's going on.  There's not time for the viewers to get to know the characters.  More importantly people only get a small taste of the mysteries that are the show's strongest point.  Being a 5-day-a-week soap opera, the series moved slowly and no one episode can really bring new viewers up to speed, and even if one of these did succeed in catching someone's imagination, the next episode jumps somewhere else in the series with a different set of problems and often characters.  It's a nice attempt to introduce people to the show, but it doesn't quite work.
The DVD:

There are nine half-hour episodes on a single disc.  It comes in a clear case with the episode list on the inside of the cover.  The first printings of the collection feature a slipcover.
Though the 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 it outside of the realm of the realistic.  As it is, the image is a bit soft, details tend to get lost in dark 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 image on a TV screen) and these naturally lack the detail that the others have but there's only a few that are like that.  If you go into the show with realistic expectations for an unrestored 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 sound better 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.
There are introductions to each episode by Lara Parker who played Angelique, but they're not as effective as they could be.  Running only about half a minute each, she doesn't really set up the situation or relate the events leading up to the episode as much as tell viewers, in general terms, what happens in the episode they're about to watch.
In addition there are some commercials for current Dark Shadows merchandise and web sites devoted to the show. 
Final Thoughts:
If you've seen the show in the past and just want to refresh your memory or revisit some of the high points, then this collection is for you.  Otherwise, I can't really recommend it.  These nine episodes don't really give you an accurate feel for what Dark Shadows is like.  If anything, I think it would discourage potential viewers since there are so many different plot lines that are touched upon in these almost random episodes.  It's almost like giving someone your favorite chapters from the Harry Potter series.  If they don't know what's going on already, they'll just be confused.  Instead I'd save up for the magnificent complete series collection.
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