Sunday, April 9, 2017
TV VAMPIRE HITS 50
So deeply did he sink his teeth into the role, he was asked to appear at the birthday party for President Nixon's daughter.
Fifty years ago, April 18, 1967, Jonathan Frid made his debut appearance as Barnabas Collins in the daytime TV show Dark Shadows. The show became a hit only in response to a last-ditch attempt to save flagging ratings. Producer Dan Curtis had nothing to lose when he followed his daughter's advice and turned Barnabas into a vampire in a black-and-white world redolent with all things Gothic.
The cult-favorite show, vastly aided by strong theme music, revolves around an upper-class Maine family, the Collins', whose matriarch, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, hasn't left the sprawling Collinwood mansion in twenty years.
Initially, the show focuses on a young woman, Victoria Winters, who travels by train to Collinsport in order to work as a governess at the mansion. David, the boy to whom Victoria is governess, is the son of Roger Collins, brother of Elizabeth. But things change over time.
Sundry other characters abound, the most memorable one being the highly stylized-looking cane-carrying sideways bangs-sporting vampire ever to hit the daytime TV world.
In the show's five-year run (1966 - 1971), it went from black-and-white to color, and back in time...twice. Other characters include a psychiatrist, a Gypsy fortune-teller, a werewolf, an evil reverend, a witch, a ghost, and a phoenix, to name a few.
After the show's cancelation, Dan Curtis produced of Trilogy of Terror (1975), featuring Karen Black in the lead role of three different tales of the macabre. He also made two feature-length Dark Shadows films, although not very accurate to the original material.
The opening image from the original Scooby-Doo intro is pure Collinwood Mansion exterior. And like that cartoon, the action in the mansion originally took a page from Ann Radcliffe, suggesting Gothicism through atmosphere. As the show progressed, however, it transformed into a stage filled with actual monsters in the Monk Lewis tradition.
There is a certain character to the datedness of the late-'60s soap opera. With five new shows to shoot every week, the stars had very little time to prepare for scenes primarily composed of dialogue.
An excellent reboot of the show in the 1990s stars Ben Cross from Chariots of Fire as Barnabas and Joanna Going as Victoria. An equally impressive version stars Johnny Depp in the Tim Burton motion picture.
Look for episodes online on YouTube, Hulu, and Daily Motion.