Yesterday marked the 45th anniversary of Dark Shadows. As I watched episodes 561-567 last night I began thinking about how much the show has influenced me. Dark Shadows had everything—romance, horror, fantasy, science fiction and adventure filled those candle-lit hallways and misty graveyards. Barnabas Collins (portrayed by Jonathan Frid) was my vampire, a tortured Byronic gentleman with a tragic past and a complex personality. He was introduced as a temporary character, but he soon saved the show from cancellation, and it’s easy to see why. Barnabas wasn’t a two-dimensional monster. He was an intriguing character who terrified and enchanted the audience. He always kept me emotionally engaged. I wanted to stop him when he tried to bite Maggie Evans, but then I grieved with him when he begged his lost love Josette du Pres to appear to him as she had appeared to young David Collins. Flubbed lines, crew members stumbling into shots, flies buzzing around the set, and the persistent boom mic shadows couldn’t distract me.
Yet as much as I loved Barnabas, Quentin Collins (David Selby) was my favorite character. He got to do everything—he existed in many different time periods and got to be a ghost, a werewolf, a time traveler, a sorcerer and occultist, an inventor, a temporally displaced amnesiac, a victim of body-swapping, a zombie (just the once), the perfect incarnation of the nineteenth-century rake, and even a supremely brooding version of Dorian Gray. His character alone shows how diverse the show truly was. I was about fifteen when I first watched the entire storyline involving Quentin’s first appearance, a retelling of The Turn of the Screw in which he tries to possess David. I willingly confess I often turned all the lights on as I made my way up to my bedroom some nights. I felt the same way after watching the franchise’s second movie, Night of Dark Shadows, an intoxicating blend of themes from Daphne du Maurier’s Rebecca and H. P. Lovecraft’s The Case of Charles Dexter Ward. Quentin has stayed with me like no other fictional character ever has. I even vetoed “Here Comes to Bride” to walk down the aisle to Quentin’s theme song, “Shadows of the Night,” which I also—in case you hadn’t made the connection—named my blog after.
I could go on and on about the amazing men (and women) of Dark Shadows—and I may eventually do so—but that’s not my point today. Whether I’m writing horror, romance, science fiction or urban fantasy, my mind wanders to Dark Shadows. Most of the characters on the show were both three-dimensional and identifiable (even the villains, most of the time). Even if I haven’t watched a storyline in years the mention of most names brings memories flooding back. Dark Shadows drew on classic literature, supernatural lore, and Dan Curtis’s “what kind of mischief can we get into next” attitude. I don’t get upset about celebrity deaths too often, but I simply couldn’t keep from crying when he passed away in 2006. Dark Shadows inspired me in so many ways. I genuinely doubt my imagination would have developed the same way if not for this show. I was lucky to discover it on VHS beginning in 1989. Most daytime serials never get syndication, let alone release in any other format. Many of them have even been lost forever. I believe Dark Shadows was lucky, but I also think it deserved to endure. Now, if can’t get over wobbly sets and actors stumbling on lines every now and then while the boom mic comes into shot, you may want to just wait for the upcoming movie. However, if you actually care about great characters and storytelling, I highly recommend this personal favorite.
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