“I’m just glad to be here.”
Happy Thanksgiving, everyone! Thursday’s episode of Dark Shadows was pre-empted this week, so ABC could air football on Thanksgiving afternoon. I want the blog to keep the Monday-to-Friday rhythm of the original broadcast, so today, the normal blog entry is pre-empted by our own Thanksgiving treat.
Today, we’re going to do some time travel, fast-forwarding to the mysterious far-off year of 1991. It’s a Sunday night in January, and NBC is airing the prime-time remake of Dark Shadows. This first episode is a two-hour journey into the unknown, so let’s get started…
In 1991, NBC was right in the middle of their golden age, dominating Thursday nights with a slate of top-shelf sitcoms and dramas — The Cosby Show, Cheers, Seinfeld and L.A. Law. They had Matlock, Quantum Leap, The Golden Girls — a string of critically successful hit shows that made NBC the boutique network of the day.
Brandon Tartikoff, the president of NBC’s Entertainment Division, was 18 years old in 1967, and he remembered Dark Shadows. It was his idea to try a prime-time revival — he contacted the show’s creator, Dan Curtis, and convinced him to give it a shot.
Curtis always styled himself as the auteur of Dark Shadows, and it’s true that — as the creator and executive producer — he guided the show through its spectacular rise and gentle fall. But he never actually wrote any of the scripts, and he only directed a handful of episodes.
In fact, the two Dark Shadows movies that Curtis directed — House of Dark Shadows in 1970 and Night of Dark Shadows in 1971 — failed to capture the magic of the show in a pretty disastrous way.
But since then, he’d directed the popular 1983 miniseries The Winds of War, and he co-wrote and directed its 1988 sequel, War and Remembrance.
By 1991, Curtis felt that he was the best choice to co-write and direct the new Dark Shadows. He was incorrect.
And you can see why right from the opening sequence, which is an adorably clumsy attempt to recapture the magic of the past by literally re-shooting the same opening that they made in 1966.
It all starts with Victoria Winters, girl governess, traveling by train to her new job in Collinsport. Vicki looks out the window, and recites a paraphrase of the opening voiceover from episode 1.
She starts with “My name is Victoria Winters,” and ends with “a world I’ve never known, with people I’ve never met… people who tonight are still only vague shadows in my mind, but who will soon fill all the days and nights of my tomorrows.”
They also use the original show’s music, and the shots of the waves crashing on the rocks. In fact, it looks like if Curtis had his way, he would make exactly the same show, with all the same people — except the writers and directors, obviously, because he could do those jobs himself.
So we find the people — who tonight are only vague shadows — standing around in a bedroom, talking about David’s new governess.
Liz: It will feel odd, having a stranger in the house.
Mrs. Johnson: I’m sure you made the right decision.
Carolyn: You can say that again. I hope she brings a whip and a chair. That’s about the only thing I haven’t tried with David.
And holy cow — we’re a minute and a half in, and already we have a problem. Somebody told the girl who’s playing Carolyn that this is a night-time soap opera, and her approach is to say all of her lines with a breathy, slutty giggle.
The “whip and a chair” line sounds like David is one of her regular clients, rather than her 10-year-old cousin. Luckily, the audience doesn’t know how inappropriate that is, because nobody’s explained who David is, or what his relationship is to anyone else in the scene, and they’re not going to.
Apparently, we’re supposed to already know who all of these people are and how they’re related. But here comes Daphne, who’s something of a mystery.
Daphne: Aunt Elizabeth, there’s a folder with the household checks and estimated tax down in the study.
Liz: Thank God there’s one practical Collins in this world.
And that’s pretty much all we ever know about where Daphne fits in. She’s just another skinny white girl with long hair, like everyone else on the show.
As Mrs. Johnson prepares the room for the new governess, she finds a shoebox under the pillow.
“Ooh,” Carolyn moans. “I wouldn’t open that, unless someone has a shotgun handy.” She purses her lips into a pout as Liz opens the box — and finds a dead, bloody rat.
Carolyn strokes her hair. “David’s… welcome to Collinwood,” she breathes, with a barely-suppressed erotic thrill. “Poor Victoria Winters,” she sighs, smoldering.
Carolyn — stop coming on to your mother! Did Dan Curtis tell you to act this way? Show me in the script where the bad man touched you.
But “sexy” isn’t the only character type that Curtis is unfamiliar with; he also has a problem with “comedy relief”. Here’s the new Willie, played as a mentally delayed backwoods hillbilly. In this version, he works for the Collins family, apparently as their mentally delayed backwoods chauffeur.
Willie is in his little attic above the garage, swigging a bottle of moonshine, and struggling to read some kind of riddle. He has to sound out the hard words, which means: all of them.
Willie: Three grac-es spin high a-bove. The lion looks at… the dove.
When we see his desk, he’s got a copy of The Book of the Dead, but that rhyme turns out to be the secret riddle that tells you how to find a vampire chained in the Collins family mausoleum, so who knows where it’s supposed to come from.
By the way, there isn’t actually a book called The Book of the Dead, and if there was, it wouldn’t be a treasure map for people hunting 18th-century vampires in Maine. But never mind.
Willie’s in trouble, because he was supposed to go pick up the new governess at the train station. But he was busy researching Egyptian funerary rites or whatever, so Vicki is waiting for him at the Blue Whale.
By the time Willie gets to the bar, Vicki is at a cozy table chatting with Daphne, who lives at Collinwood, so why they need the drunk hillbilly to drive her up to the house is beyond me.
But at least the scene gives them the opportunity to throw a few more random short-tempered characters at us. I’m not going to bother to introduce them, because the show doesn’t, so why should I do all the hard work?
“Welcome to Collinwood!” Elizabeth says, as we crouch behind a nearby occasional table. Dan Curtis believes that you can put the camera almost anywhere — across the room, hanging from the ceiling, lurking around the corner — and the scene will take care of itself.
This scene is shot mostly at crotch-level, which I suppose is appropriate, because this is where Vicki meets Carolyn, who’s hanging around the house wearing a miniskirt and spike heels.
And then, just in case you were getting too comfortable, it concludes with a shot from the upstairs balcony, as seen from the point of view of nobody in particular. This is the shot where you first notice that Collinwood appears to have its own internal weather system. Today’s forecast is partly cloudy.
There’s a light mist in the kitchen as well, as Willie tells his aunt that he’s found out where the Collins jewels are hidden.
Willie: I figured it out! The stuff is in a secret room, in the family tomb!
Mrs. Johnson: I don’t want to hear any more of this.
Willie: I’m tellin’ ya! The jewels were buried by one ‘a them guys in them pictures out dere! It was durin’ the Revolution — that’s this big war we had, back in the 17 hunderds? Well, anyway, this guy Barnabas, and his old man, they buried the family jewels, to keep ’em safe!
I’m trying to reconstruct Willie’s accent as well as I can, but it’s difficult, because it appears to change from one sentence to the next. It sounds like he grew up on the border between Alabama and wherever Sylvester the Cat lives in Looney Tunes cartoons.
And so Willie Loomis — obeying the primal instincts that govern all Willie Loomises — follows the trail of the fog machine to the Collins mausoleum.
As we’ve discussed, the lion looks at the dove, so Willie pulls on a ring in a wall carving, and he finds the secret room and the chained coffin. Let the dark ritual of summoning begin.
Back at the house, Vicki and Carolyn walk upstairs, and we get our one and only glimpse of the portrait of Barnabas Collins, which is on screen in the background for less than five seconds.
Nobody pauses to look at the portrait or take any notice of it, so anyone in the audience who doesn’t say, “Hey, that’s Ben Cross” is going to miss it completely. Apparently, in 1991 they assumed that everyone had hair-trigger Ben Cross detectors.
Willie finally opens the chained coffin, and a hand shoots out to choke him, and oh my God the hand has a black ring, which would probably be significant if they’d let us get close enough to Barnabas’ portrait to notice the ring, and if it wasn’t so dark in this shot.
Meanwhile, David plays an incredibly tame trick on Vicki — hiding behind a curtain in her room, and screaming when she opens it. This is good for a momentary startle, but it’s not dead-rat-in-a-box good.
David is played by the only actor on the show that anyone would recognize these days, the pint-sized terror Joseph Gordon-Levitt. He was nine years old when he appeared on Dark Shadows, and this wasn’t even his first TV role — he’d already been on Family Ties and Murder, She Wrote. I believe that by this point he’d reached his full adult height.
In this version of the show, David — seen here from the point of view of his alarm clock — is a 24-hour unstoppable rage machine with no known problems. Everyone on the show is unfailingly kind and affectionate to him. This does not appear to make a difference one way or the other.
Meanwhile, somewhere near a runaway fog machine, Daphne Collins finishes a late-night accounting job at the Blue Whale. Apparently she just walks around doing everybody’s taxes; I’m not sure if that’s her job or if she just does it for kicks.
Anyway, she’s a blonde woman outside at night on a vampire show, so we may not have to worry about her career choices for very long.
Walking to her car, Daphne turns the corner and finds herself on what I’m pretty sure is the Wisteria Lane set. It seems to be a pretty lengthy hike from the Blue Whale to her car, which is surprising because the parking situation looks pretty relaxed from here.
Spooked by basically nothing, Daphne sprints to her car, but just as she reaches the car oh my God it’s the black ring that we didn’t see in the portrait or very clearly in the previous choking scene five minutes ago.
Instantly, a crowd gathers, and all I can think is, look at all those people who could have given her a ride home. But the Sheriff has some stoner zen wisdom to share with us.
Sheriff Patterson: Where did it all go.
EMT: Where did what go?
Patterson: Blood. I don’t see any blood around here. If she lost all that blood, where did it go.
The EMTs don’t have any answers, but he’s talking in a completely flat Dragnet style, and it’s possible that they don’t realize that he’s actually asking questions.
Daphne is still in serious condition by the time Liz and Carolyn get to the hospital. A doctor, Hiram — seen here from the point of view of Liz’s right shoulder blade — says that they’re pumping whole blood back into Daphne as fast as they can.
I don’t know who the doctor is supposed to be. They just keep throwing white people at the screen and expecting us to care.
Then it’s back to the mausoleum, where we find Willie still lying on the floor. At least if the Sheriff shows up, he won’t have to ask where did the blood go; it’s all over the place.
So Barnabas had to drink two whole people worth of blood tonight? This is going to get messy; I hope we have enough paper towels.
Whoever it is with the black ring steps over Willie and pulls on a ring set into the wall. A secret panel slides open, and — hey, Willie was right! They really did hide the Collins jewels in here. Or at least the Collins doubloons and assorted accessories, as seen in Pirates of the Caribbean.
I’m not jumping around, by the way — this is the actual pace of the episode, just one little scene after another. You get maybe three lines of dialogue per dramatic sting.
The sheriff checks in with Hiram, who’s examining Daphne’s blood under a microscope.
“You can stop looking for an animal,” the doctor says. “I’ve found traces of human saliva in the wound.” Great, so now we have to question all the humans. This could take forever.
Next, the Sheriff drives over to the house of somebody he refers to as “Professor”. We’re not really sure who this professor is, or what he’s a professor of, but he’s the guy you talk to when you don’t have any suspects and there’s human saliva in things.
Like most of the locations we see on the show, the professor’s house has mist blowing in from the other room. Is everybody running their humidifiers all day, or what? You don’t usually get foggy interiors like this.
Professor: You say the girl lost a great deal of blood. Exactly how much?
Patterson: Over two liters.
Professor: Almost half her blood volume! And your theory is, whoever did this took it with him.
Patterson: I know. It sounds crazy.
Professor: Not necessarily. There have been documented cases of unbalanced people who believe themselves to be vampires, and actually drank human blood.
Patterson: Two liters?
Sure, that’s like a Super Big Gulp. No problem.
The Sheriff — seen here from the point of view of the boom mic — gives the professor a full report of the incident. The professor says he’ll get on it right away.
Hey, I wonder how Vicki’s first day with David went? I thought Vicki was the main character of the show; it seems like we’ve forgotten her completely.
We’re now 27 minutes into this show, and so far Vicki has said exactly 21 sentences, which are as follows:
#1. That won’t be necessary.
#2. I’d like to go to Collinwood now, if that’s all right.
#3. I think it’ll be just fine.
#4. Thank you for all of your help.
#6. Thank you, Mrs. Stoddard.
#7. Oh, no; that’s no problem.
#8. I’m just glad to be here.
#9. That would be very nice.
#10. And David — is he asleep?
#12. David, my god.
#13. You certainly did.
#16. I’m not here to hurt you.
#17. All right, David.
#18. Let’s go to your room.
#19. David, I’m here to be your friend.
#20. Now go to sleep.
#21. I’ll see you in the morning.
That’s 94 words total, if you’re curious, or 3.5 words per minute.
But who needs character development when you’ve got weird point of view shots? All of a sudden, it’s night-time again, and a dark figure knocks on the door at Collinwood.
We see the rest of the scene from the unseen man’s point of view, as he introduces himself as Barnabas Collins, a cousin from England. Mrs. Johnson invites him / us / the Steadicam in.
While Mrs. Johnson is fetching Mrs. Stoddard, we look around the room for a bit, finally settling on the portrait for about three seconds.
Liz comes out to greet the visitor, and oh my God it’s the guy from the portrait that we didn’t get a very good look at and he’s probably wearing the black ring that we also didn’t really get a chance to see very clearly and by the way, seriously, why is it always foggy inside?
So here’s Barnabas meeting the family.
Liz: This is so extraordinary! We knew, of course, according to all the various journals, that the original Barnabas went to England in the 1700s, just after the election of John Adams.
Barnabas: A man he helped to elect, along with Thomas Jefferson as vice-president.
Liz brightens up, and says, “Yes!” as if only a legitimate Collins would know the name of John Adams’ vice-president.
Barnabas stands up and does his traditional party piece about how they built Collinwood.
Barnabas: Collinwood was first built in the moors near Lyme Regis, on the southwest coast of England. The truss and cherrywood railings were hand-carved in Germany, the marble floors cut from the finest Tuscan quarries in Carrara, the windows were purchased from the grandest baronial estates in Europe. It was all transported, piece by piece, on a sailing vessel to Boston, then dragged along this rocky coast by ox-drawn cart, to be reassembled here.
Which, obviously, makes exactly no sense at all. They tore down a house in England, and reassembled it here? It’s amazing they ever found the time to help elect John Adams, along with Thomas Jefferson as vice-president.
Barnabas wants to restore the Old House on the estate, which presumably was also transported piece-by-piece and dragged along this rocky coast at some point.
David — seen here from the perspective of Barnabas’ cufflinks — is not thrilled. He has a friend named Sarah who lives in the Old House. David and Barnabas have a staring contest, accompanied by some spooky theremin whines.
Vicki says, “David, it’s time for us to go upstairs. It’s nice to meet you, Mr. Collins,” so apparently her dialogue just isn’t going to get a lot better.
Gosh, still a lot left. This is way easier when the show is only 22 minutes long and is mostly just people opening and closing doors.
The next morning, Vicki goes to the stables, which by the way there are some, and look how long sweaters used to be in 1991.
Vicki finds Willie standing around in the stables with a bandage on his neck, and a whole new set of dumb expressions. I promise that I’m not deliberately trying to take weird-looking screenshots of Willie. He really does make faces like this pretty much non-stop.
They’ve decided for some reason that Willie is a suspect in Daphne’s attack. So they call the Sheriff, who decides for some reason to question him in the Collinwood kitchen, with the whole family standing around and interrupting every five seconds.
Willie is saved when Barnabas comes by to explain that he’s hired Willie to work on the Old House restoration. Ben Cross is actually doing a nice job as Barnabas — he’s very dignified and still — although most of his performance is eyebrow-related, and we spend a lot of our time looking all the way up his nose. This must be Dan Curtis’ sinus-cam.
Then there’s a little “fixing up the Old House” sequence, where David wanders off, and comes close to finding the IKEA coffin showroom in the basement. I think this model is the KNUTSTORP.
Next up: Another vamp attack, this time featuring a young blonde woman who walks outside on her own for more than six seconds. This one’s named Gloria.
Barnabas finds her in a crowded parking lot, which isn’t particularly stealthy. As soon as he starts feeding, Gloria’s boyfriend comes by, and Barnabas has to kill him, too. It’s a good thing they weren’t on a double date, or this could have gone on all night.
At this point, I have two questions for Barnabas, which are as follows: #1. How many people do you need to eat in an average week? #2. Why are you wearing that turtleneck?
But the serious question for the show is: How am I supposed to feel about this sequence? It’s really hard to tell what they’re going for at this point.
Is this supposed to be funny, scary, sexy, sad? Who am I supposed to root for? What is the purpose of this show?
And that’s the actual problem that I’m having with this remake. I don’t think that anybody involved in the production ever asked, “Wait a minute, why are we making a new Dark Shadows?” They just kept throwing scenes together until it turned into a TV show.
I mean, that’s how they made the original show, but for some reason, that doesn’t bother me. The original show feels authentically improvised — that was literally the best that they could do with the time, talent and resources available to them. But they’ve had 20 years to think about this remake, and I don’t think they’ve used that time very constructively.
For example: Here comes Dr. Julia Hoffman, a blood specialist / hypnotist / house guest who’s going to live at Collinwood and take care of Daphne, who basically seems fine at this point anyway.
And I can’t believe that I’m saying this, but we honestly don’t need Julia on this show. We already have so many doctor-professor-investigator characters crowding the screen that we literally can’t even fit them in a shot together.
In the original show, they brought in Julia because they’d finished the first cycle of Barnabas’ story — the abduction and escape of Maggie — and they didn’t want to just do the same thing over again with Vicki. So they introduce Julia, a mythopoetic trickster-figure who hits the storyline status quo like a neutron bomb. Only the buildings are left standing.
But in the remake, they’re introducing Julia because this is the part of the story where you introduce Julia. I guess what I’m saying is that there’s a reason why they’ve tried to remake the story of Dark Shadows four times — in 1970, 1991, 2004 and 2012 — and every single time, it’s been a disaster.
Every iteration, they say: okay, we’ve figured out the real core of the story; we’re going to cut out all the repetition and just keep the good stuff. Invariably, this means: Maggie and Vicki are the same person.
But maybe this story only works when you make it the way that they made it, just helplessly falling downstairs every weekday, and praying that they find something interesting at the bottom. Maybe this is a story that can only be told once. Just like life.
This episode drags on relentlessly for another thirty minutes, but from here on, it’s mostly Vicki and Barnabas staring at each other, and he keeps wearing turtlenecks. I can’t take it. I feel worn out and drained, although that’s usually how I feel about two-thirds of the way through Thanksgiving.
We’ll come back to the 1991 series for another episode, next time we’ve got a pre-emption. Christmas is coming, so you’ll find episode 2 nestled at the bottom of your stocking.
But tomorrow, we’re back to 1795, where there are witches and toy soldiers and big feathery hats, and people pretending to speak French, and theremin music. Thank goodness — civilization.
Tomorrow: A Woman Scorned.
Next pre-emption special: Time Travel, part 2: Blood, Sweat and Tears.
Note: Today’s entry includes extra jokes and sarcastic questions courtesy of my husband, Ed Kako, who watched this episode with me in 1991, because we’d just started dating and he didn’t know any better, and he watched it with me again this week, because he’s lovely.
— Danny Horn
37 thoughts on “Time Travel, part 1: Mist Opportunities”
Well, I have yet to see the 1991 remake and so far you’re not really selling it!
But I think you pointed out exactly what’s wrong with it (and the movies) – they all try to copy the original show – characters, story beats, plots – without taking into consideration the new format. A 90 minute movie – or a one hour weekly series – is very different to a daily 20 minute show which can afford to spend more time introducing characters and explore story ideas. Using the basic Barnabas story is fine, but you need to make it work within the framework you’re working with and yes, not make the assumption that people are familiar with the original version and will fill in the blanks as they go along (like in House of Dark Shadows). Ideally, Barnabas shouldn’t have shown up until the end of the pilot, to give the audience time to get to know the characters and the setting before – presumably – their lives get turned upside down. But of course, they would have been worried about people wondering where the vampire was.
Also, it sounds like this version shares similar problems with the Burton films in that it makes some of the characters “kooky” or weird. One of the things I like about the original show is that the characters are very grounded for the most part, especially the Collinses. Sure they have their quirks – and their secrets – but if you met them in real I don’t think they would strike you as freaks.
I was hoping to have a chance to discuss the 1991 DARK SHADOWS with you!
Curtis seems to mostly remake HODS and the early Barnabas storyline, which is highly problematic if your series protagonist is a psychopath monster. Am I supposed to root for him? Am I supposed to support his infatuation with the woman who looks like his dead girlfriend (and since they both arrive around the same time in the story, it’s one coincidence too many)?
At least HODS was intended to be a big-screen b-movie Dracula riff. The hero kills the evil monster at the end and walks off into the sunset (dawn?) with her. The 1991 series doesn’t have a romantic rival for Vicki (no Burke), which would be a basic bit of story construction.
The Collins family are all stock figures, which is the challenge with all the remakes. In 1967, Barnabas met characters we all knew. And even though they were settling into a dull period, there was at least tension (Jason McGuire’s blackmailing of Liz and her resulting strange behavior). A spooky kid is not sufficient tension.
This is why I point people to 1795, 1897, and 1840 — in those stories, where the displaced character meets characters new to us there are stories and character tensions for days. People are opposed to each other and have agendas and their own conflicting goals. It’s great to watch.
This is just lifeless fan-fic.
Even HODS opened with Maggie already the governess of Collinwood and debating leaving when Barnabas arrives and he later convinces her to stay.
The 1991 series opens with Vicki arriving at Collinwood, as if she’s going to be an active protagonist, as she was in the first episodes of the original series. She was a girl searching for her past. This is a woman with a crappy job she should just leave once people start getting killed at her place of business.
Barnabas choosing to “restore” the Old House has less weight when we’ve actually never seen it before. In 1967, the Old House was already established as a spooky, abandoned residence. It had a character of sorts.
Ultimately, things happen in the revival because that’s how they happened on the original series, without any of the narrative or character motivations. You can explain a scuzzy graverobber on the estate when he’s living there as the guest of the blackmailing antagonist. It’s hard to justify why this dental-hygiene challenged drunk is anywhere near Collinwood in 1991. His aunt works at Collinwood? No, Wilie’s presence would get her fired. She wouldn’t be able to get him a job.
Yeah, botching Vicki’s arrival is the weirdest narrative mistake that they make in two hours full of weird narrative mistakes. They have 17 regular characters in the pilot, not counting Gloria and her boyfriend, and they have a new fish-out-of-water main character who should be walking around introducing herself to everyone. That’s the most basic pilot-construction gimmick in the world, and it’s the whole point of having Vicki traveling to Collinsport in the first minute of the show. But she just goes to her bedroom, and stays there for pretty much the whole first hour. It’s baffling.
By the way, is there a Roger Collins in the 1991 series? Don’t see him in the pilot.
Yeah, Roger’s there — you can spot him lurking in the background of a couple of screenshots above. But he doesn’t say a single interesting thing in the whole two hours, so I didn’t have the opportunity to mention him. Ditto Joe, Maggie and Sam.
Wow. I am a diehard DS fan. I loved the 91 show. Ben Cross was fantastic. Did it have problems sure. But I loved it. I could buy B and A having a affair before Josette. lysette Anthony was a great A. She always kept her French accent too. I was in HS in 91 and the show had a big buzz. Every one was talking about it on Monday. It had great ratings until NBC moved it to Friday.
I definitely liked the second half of the season, when they went to 1795 — it felt like they figured out how to make a good show as they went along. We’ll get to those episodes sometime around 1969. 🙂
It seems like they were trying to cram 250+ episodes of the original DS into 2 hours. Either NBC felt that the audience wouldn’t have the patience to watch the show if they properly paced the storylines or they were already afraid of possible cancellation and wanted to cram in as many chills and thrills that they could to avoid this. I watched the show when it aired in 1991 (before the original series was available on DVD) and now after watching both again side by side can see how inferior the revival actually was.
DC has said he had to introduce characters fast because they only had a 12 episode commitment. Fun fact. NBC came back to DC and asked him to revive the show in 92 but he refused. Of course he tried to do a musical of DS in the late 90’s and wrote another DS pilot for Fox also. That was passed on to until the 2004 pilot was shot.
Only having 12 episodes isn’t a good reason to introduce too many characters. That’s a reason to include fewer characters, so they have some room to develop. The biggest time-waster in the pilot is the need to introduce the doctor, the professor and Julia, when all of them could be combined into one from the start.
When I watched the original series, I was surprised by Julia’s switch of allegiances. There was tension because it seemed like Dr. Hoffman was closing in on Barnabas in a way that no one else was and then it seems like Barnabas is going to kill her and then we find out that Julia’s prepared for it and… wants to help cure him. It was a major shock at the time.
The revival avoids that tension entirely with so much narrative compression.
Yes, you pointed out all the problems with the revival. That’s why I ended up trying to write my own version of the reboot (still in development). Dan Curtis started doing a retelling of HODS, forgetting that HODS ends up with most of the cast dead, Barnabas killed and beyond redemption, and what the Hell do we do for an encore?
Yes, Barnabas stated out as an out-and-out villain in the original, but they had time to flesh out characters (I want to correct when they say that Barnabas did not have any humanity, yes he did. Problem was that the human in him was Norman Bates…) And they had plenty of time for rebooting him. They should have realized when they started the new show that the weekly format they had no such luxuries. They had to make him somewhat sympathetic from the beginning.
As for the other characters, it was bad enough that the “normal” characters ended up being somehow spear carriers, but still, they had plenty of quirks. A new show might have stressed up more of those quirks (My version of the reboot would have David – when he finds Barnabas’ coffin – just rig an incendiary device to it instead of calling upon any adults. More in character for someone who sabotaged his father’s car).
And for God’s sake give Vicky something to do…
Vicki does nothing to advance the story — her showing up isn’t sufficent, as they might as well start with her already working as governess, like HODS did with Maggie.
I can’t stress enough that the original Barnabas storyline was impactful because a vampire suddenly showed up on an established daytime soap opera, that with few exceptions had adhered to the genre’s conventions for the past year. If you start with Barnabas — and this is HODS’s problem — you just have a horror movie or horror TV series. It is no longer innovative in context.
And the TV series rebooted itself to end up in a place where the psychopath murder is your friendly neighborhood vampire who travels back in time to save his cousin and who works with a mad scientist doctor to help cure a werewolf. If they had aspirations of an anti-hero Barnabas in the revival, I think Ben Cross might not have been ideal for it.
It also astounded me how the revival deflated drama at every possibility. In the TV series, Carolyn is the only person who believes David isn’t crazy and when she actually finds proof that he’s not, she’s attacked and put under the vampire’s power. In the revival, she just wanders into the house and is attacked. And the “dark” version of her is barely noticeable as different.
This was such a treat. Hilarious until it became heartbreaking. Another odd thing of the revival: Vicky and Maggie became one, as you noted, Danny, and then Maggie was actually someone interesting. Rather than leave her out, DC made her a psychic. I do agree with others that the second half is far superior.
I keep thinking that if Joel Crothers and Alexandra Moltke had not left, it might well have been Joe and Maggie who ended up carrying for the Leviathan child, instead of bringing in Megan and Philip Todd.
Come guys. There is a scene in episode 2 where B states how much being a vampire sucks and he wants to feel the sun again. He is sympathetic. He also refuses to bite Vicki.
The problem with B saying it is that it breaks the first rule of storytelling “Show, don’t tell”
Not wanting to be a vampire and resisting harming a woman he loves is not enough for me to make Barnabas sympathetic or, as Adriana said, anything more than Norman Bates with fangs. The TV series did this with Barnabas when Julia arrived — and his wanting to be cured was a surprise at the time, less so in 1991 after Anne Rice, but you still had a character who cared only about himself and who murdered people. It’s like a movie where the former hitman wants to settle down and grow roses. There’s usually still a Javert character whose goal is to bring him in.
Also, if Barnabas hates being a vampire, then why did he intentionally make his cousin one? It’s been shown that he can just kill his victims.
Toward the end of the series, they were moving toward Angelique as antagonist in the present day (she’d possessed Maggie). Maybe they would do something like the Dream Curse storyline when we see Barnabas behaving more humanely and less like a sociopath (attempting to save Jeff Clark, truly worrying about Roger and other family members).
Really. That is what BC is all about. He hates what he is. Ben Cross could be the monster and the romantic lead. He played BC more like Frank Langella did in 79’s Dracula. Also Matt Hall and Sam Hall wrote a lot of the 12 episodes. The show was just better then what everyone is saying. Look JF was BC but Ben Cross was not bad either. In fact I would rather have BC play B in the audio drama then Andrew Collins.
My first experience with Dark Shadows was the 1991 Version. Love it! Well it made me curious to explore the other incarnations, but this 1991 brief run will always be a dear and fun to watch on a rainy evening with wine. imaginary hat nod
This is hilarious! Yes, there are problems, and you point out a lot I hadn’t noticed before, but it doesn’t make me love it any less. This iteration was a nice try, and as you mention, no one has yet been able to do a good remake of Dark Shadows. I wonder if we’ll ever see that….
When DS is at its best, it is soap opera, sci-fi/fantasy, and multiple other genres all at once. I think the remakes suffer because they try to do just one. The Burton film was vampire comedy without the high drama of a soap opera. The 1991 remake had similar challenges. Because it mostly adapts HODS, it comes across as monster movie with “gothic romance” (though not a very good romance, because there’s no serious romantic rival).
1795/1897/1840 are all great storylines from the original series because of how well it captures all those elements I mentioned. Angelique is Erica Kane or Phyllis Summers but with magic powers. Yet, you also have stock characters from a Universal Horror movie.
Barnabas and Quentin specifically each made “heel face turns” that are unique to the soap opera form (well, pro wrestling, as well). Few other genres work this way. So, on a primetime TV series that wasn’t really a night time soap (compare the Collins family on the 1991 DS to the cast of DALLAS) a leading man who is a sociopathic killer is a potential problem and there’s less audience acceptance for the character to suddenly or slowly become good.
You are right. Series TV is not prone to “heel face turn” unless the turn happens in the pilot (as in Xena). That’s why I say that if you want a reboot you have to make Barnabas sympathetic FROM THE BEGINNING. You just don’t have the luxury of seeing him slowly change. And it has to be adept at mashing (again, Hercules and Xena were great at this) Unless you capture that form of lunacy, don’t bother…
(I am proud of having written a DS fan fiction which was a “Casablanca” riff, so that makes me something of an expert masher…)
Absolutely! Joss Whedon took a great risk by reverting Angel to his villainous former self (and having him kill a fan favorite character), but the character had the benefit of having established himself as a heroic prior to the change. Still, he needed to leave BUFFY and move on to his own show where he could “start from scratch,” so to speak.
Another thing to note is that often series with villain protagonists or roguish antiheroes are usually the best of a bad bunch — the “less murderous” mobster for instance. Or the surrounding characters are so obnoxious, we root for the villains in spite of ourselves (MELROSE PLACE). Neither was the case on the 1991 DARK SHADOWS.
DEXTER managed to pull off having a serial killer as its “hero” by having him target even worse serial killers. Despite kidnapping Maggie Evans, the 1967 Barnabas “only” killed Jason McGuire (thief) and Dave Woodard (and that was played up for great dramatic effect). The 1991 Barnabas exceeds that body count in the PILOT! The scene at the bar when he kills two innocent strangers is straight out of a horror film. After that point, am I really supposed to care that he’s “fallen” for Victoria?
The relationship with Willie is odd here, too. They start trying to model it after the 1968 human Barnabas/Willie relationship but Barnabas still beats the crap out of Willie like the HODS and 1967 Barnabas. Not only was the latter meant to underscore how evil the character is, the Willie of HODS and 1967 was depicted as far stronger than the 1991 Willie and someone who would stake Barnabas if he had the chance (and does in HODS).
What amazed me about this pilot is that they actually stuff a whole lot of stuff into it… and yet it drrrrraaaaaagggggggsssss. Perhaps because it all feels so… insincere. Like everyone’s just walking through what they know is a pale imitation of the original. Now, I will say that a few episodes in, things got MUCH better on just about every level.
I’ve long believed that what they should have done — and should do if another chance is given — is not do a remake, but rather something more in the vein (pun intended) of what Dallas did.
With Dallas, they basically said, “Okay, we’re going back to Southfork Ranch, and were going to see where life has taken these people in the years we were away.”
A few days ago, Danny astutely pointed out that at heart, Dark Shadows is about Collinswood as opposed to the people who live in it. I’ve always thought the remake should be about the current generations of this family occupying the house, and maybe extending into a bit of how their legacy has impacted Collinsport as a whole. I’d have made Caroline and David the modern Elizabeth and Roger, thus giving a nice feeling of history while at the same time not recreating exactly the original.
Twin Peaks did this amazing thing in the pilot. Everything about it sort of dripped foreboding. The townspeople all felt as if they just knew the worst possible thing could happen at any given moment. I’d start my version of Dark Shadows with David and Caroline being similar in that regard. Establish that the family has a horrible, some-say-cursed history, but that it’s all in the past. And then suddenly, David is visited by an all-too-familiar little girl named Sarah, who may or may not be a ghost, warning that darkness is about to descend upon the family again.
But I don’t think I’d dive into vampires. Its too expected. I’d instead, by the end of the pilot, take things in a different supernatural direction. In fact, instead of making this all about Barnabas, I think I’d go with a descendant of Angelique.
But I’m rambling…
What you’ve described is pretty much exactly what the Big Finish audios of Dark Shadows have done. They’ve moved the story on to the 1970s and 80s. With an adult David, some originals, like Quentin, Maggie and Angelique, and a bunch of original characters.
I concur, two years later. I’ve always thought a new DS should be a NEW DS, not a reboot. A continuation.
Just another quick comment..they really should have recreated the scene where Carolyn was introduced via dancing at the Blue Whale (this was in Episode 2 of the original series). That scene really defined the personality of the character and her ‘doomed’ relationship with Joe Haskell.
I have watched the revival exactly once. That was enough. For all the reasons you stated. Fortunately I don’t often look at my screen while “watching” TV, so I missed most of the bad camera work.
Failure #2 of 4. And Ben Cross starts his career as “King of the Reboots.” LOL
the ikea coffin showroom! you are hilarious!!!!
Vicki is utterly superfluous to the plot. We learn about the characters and their lives independently of her role in the story (even the David and Sarah thing comes up because Barnabas announces his intention to live in the Old House). Willie only goes in search of the Collins jewels because Roger was nasty to him one time too many, he’d even deciphered the riddle by the time he was admonished for being late to pick up Vicki.
There’s also a very heavy element of over-egging the pudding, even for a two hour pilot. We’re introduced to practically every major character but there’s no time to flesh them out. Unless the character is totally different (Willie), they’re essentially the character brief for their original series counter-parts. We also run through plot points like there’s no tomorrow, from Barnabas being released within and drinking within half an hour to Dr Hoffman getting involved. It’s like the cliffnotes of 210-300 without the soul.
I can see why Daphne is into Joe. Joel Cruthers had more personality though.
I’m surprised you didn’t mention that Barbara Steele, the queen of 60s Gothic horror movies, played Julia and a major star of the golden era of Hollywood, Jean Simmons, played Elizabeth.
This dialogue between Liz and Barnabas turned me off back in 1991 because I am such a history geek:
Liz: We knew, of course, according to all the various journals, that the original Barnabas went to England in the 1700s, just after the election of John Adams.
Barnabas: A man he helped to elect, along with Thomas Jefferson as vice-president.
I will get to what is wrong with this momentarily, but I want to say that I am willing to spot somebody a few historical errors, but this error – whether made by Dan Curtis, Steve Feke or both – was made because they were showing off. And they fell on their faces.
As Danny points out, they’re showing us that Barnabas knows who John Adams’ veep was. (There was, after all, no wikipedia in 1991.) Trouble is that the real Barnabas would have known that, before 1804, presidents did not have vice-presidential running mates. The Electoral College chose among the candidates for president, and whoever came in second became veep.
In other words, Adams and Jefferson were not running mates, they were rivals in both 1794 and 1800. Mudslinging rivals, in fact. Anyone who campaigned for Adams would not have campaigned for Jefferson, too. At least not in the same election year.
I have speculated in my comment on yesterday’s blog(?), that Barnabas’ father, Joshua, in the 1967 version of “1795,” sounds like a Jeffersonian Democratic-Republican, which would have put him on the winning side of history. By the early 1800s, the Federalists (e.g., Adams) were on their last legs, except in eastern Massachusetts and, for some reason, Washington County, Ohio – settled originally by pioneers from eastern Massachusetts, so I guess that was the reason. A lot of the politicians of that era do amazing about-faces, abandoning the Federalists and becoming the very Democratic-Republicans that they fought against in the previous election cycle.
I wonder if any of the original series’ cast saw any part of the 1991 series and, if so, what they thought of it
It is wacky to say that Collinwood was built in England and carted over, but I am down with that idea because I’ve been to Lyme Regis and I love that place. It’s also interesting in that Seaview Terrace, the mansion used for Collinwood in the original series, was built in Washington D.C. in 1907 — with some entire rooms imported from France — and moved to Newport in 1923.
The most amusing bit of all was that “the great house” was the last of the ornate “Summer Cottages” that the wealthy built in Rhode Island.
Barbara blackburn (carolyn) was a beautiful woman. She played the mischievous flirt quite well. I wish she had done more with her acting carreer .