Long before the Tim Burton movie was ever imagined, I had been aware of The Dark Shadows television series, but never gave much thought about watching it until someone whose horror
tastes I trust, let me borrow this DVD set of the 1991 NBC series which is the revival of the original from the late 60’s to 70’s. Apparently this series was originally meant to continue beyond the first season, however, news coverage of The Gulf War interrupted the show and it lost a lot of the momentum that it had going for it in it’s prime time television slot. From what I hear, fans of the show were outraged that NBC decided not to extend it to another season, and now I can understand their beef.
The very first thing I noticed right from the get-go, was the richly gothic
atmosphere, sprinkled with a good dash of 80’s ‘cheese’ vibe to it (even though it was 1991). At times I wondered how the actors were able to keep a straight face during a lot of the scenes that were, what seemed like, purposely done to be melo-dramatic.
The cast was absolutely terrific in this series. I can’t for the life of me think of any role I would have cast differently. I’m not going to get into discussing every single cast-member, but will point out what I thought were some memorable, stand-out performances.
The first one that comes to mind immediately is the classy actor, Ben Cross, who is perfect in the role of Barnabas Collins, the 200-year-old, tortured, vicious and at times funny, ladies man vampire. He did a great job conveying many different emotions in this role, and pulled it off completely. He even managed to be scary at times which is always a bonus.
Barbara Steele – plays a doctor as well as a countess in this show. At this point in time her age was beginning to show, but she lent a great deal of presence, and horror acumen to the series.
Joanna Going – maybe was too perfect for the role of the virginal, innocent character of Victoria Winters; like the rest of the cast, she also plays a second character; this one named, Josette. Despite having to fulfill the role of the sweet, damsel in distress, she also managed to exhude a lot of sexuality in both roles that she tackled with great ease and confidence.
I am really glad I watched this on DVD rather than when it first aired on TV. I would have hated watching only one episode per week. The story really grabbed me and pulled me in quickly, and I was hooked from that very first episode.
The time travel element this story introduced about half-way through the series, was well done, and the cast and writers did a superb job keeping the proper continuity going, never making any of the plot points confusing, and doing a solid job at keeping the audience captive. When any show makes it difficult for me to turn off and not immediately move on to the next episode, I know it has done a great job, and is a sure sign I’m enjoying the hell out of it.
Dark Shadows is not without its faults. Some of the dialogue is fairly hokey-sounding; a lot of the set-pieces and special effects look very dated now, but it is what still gives me that old 80’s horror nostalgic feeling I will always revel in, and as I mentioned earlier, yes, I know it is not an 80’s show, but had that same type of vibe going for it, in my view.
I had little to no interest in watching the recently released Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, Dark Shadows movie, but I’m more than a little curious to watch it now, as I would love to see how it compares to this under-appreciated 1991 TV series.
A major disappointment with this DVD- set I watched is that there were absolutely no extra features, aside from a preview of a Stephen King TV series ( the name of it escapes me at the moment).
I’m going to rate this show a solid 4/5.
I will have to give the actual DVD set a rating of 2.5/5. The transfer was decent, I suppose, although it was definitely altered from its original full-screen aspect ratio. The lack of extras in this set is what really drags the score down.
This one gets a strong recommendation from me, for any of my horror friends that enjoy a good, old-fashioned, gothic, supernatural tale, filled with a lot of atmosphere and nostalgic feel of some of the best 80’s horror productions from the past.
– J.P. Thorn