ANDY FISH

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Saturday, May 19, 2012

The Curse of Dark Shadows

Bad is what makes Dark Shadows good.

I used to watch Dark Shadows on reruns at 11pm on Friday nights on Channel 56 in Boston with my cronies-- and if I remember correctly we thought it was both boring and scary, but we'd watch it anyway.

Recently, we started watching the DVDs of the show starting with the 1897 flashback-- ironically (or perhaps intentionally) 1897 is the year DRACULA was published so to set the storyline for reluctant vampire Barnabas Collins then seems appropriate.

Now, on to the sentence that will cause me to be chased down the street by the legions of Dark Shadows fans wielding torches like in a Frankenstein film;  I cannot believe how bad this show is.

When I saw the trailer for the new Depp/Burton DARK SHADOWS I groaned-- I was looking forward to a more serious spooky adaption of the film, although in hindsight that never seemed likely.  The trailer makes it look more Austin Powers man out of time look at how wacky the 70s are than gothic soap, but I'll leave my thoughts on the film to another post after I've seen it.

The Show:  Running for five seasons and something like 1300 episodes then re-running in syndication unlike any other daytime soap opera it has garnered legions of fans-- and the emphasis is on fanatical if you read the reviews on Amazon.

People really dig this show and all I can do is shake my head-- now understand that I'm committed to watching all of the 1897 sequence-- which I think equates to something like SIXTEEN Discs-- that's a heck of a lot of episodes and I DO dig the show-- but I dig it the same way I do PLAN 9 FROM OUTER SPACE or MYSTERY SCIENCE THEATER (when it works)-- I like watching bad movies and being amazed that someone yelled 'print' after the take they got.

With DARK SHADOWS you have just the perfect storm-- shot at a breakneck schedule and filmed virtually live from 330-4 weekdays it's a wonder they ever got the camera's to focus on the right object in a scene-- and believe me there are PLENTY of times they don't.

Things fall over on the set, doors slide open when they aren't supposed to, crew walk into shots, boom mikes are often dropped into a scene and most of all characters flub their lines like the local drama club is doing a presentation of OKLAHOMA on parent's night.

Star Jonathan Frid is one of the worst offenders-- and I love it.

BARNABAS- Go back to the house, and tell them you saw nothing here!
DIRK- Okay, I'll go back but what should I tell them?
BARNABAS- Tell them you saw nothing!

Lead actress Joan Bennet is stunningly bad-- she had a wide variety of facial expressions ranging from bored to bored and confused.

David Selby as Quentin Collins is possibly the hammiest actor I've ever seen-- and most of it is probably not his fault-- he's given dialogue and motivation that hardly makes any sense and often contradicts what he said in an earlier episode-- sometimes in the same episode.

Characters are introduced, given a major storyline and then we don't see them again.  When Reverend Trask happens upon the Collins house in the middle of a Zombie Crisis with the recently murdered Quentin who has taken possession of 10 year old Jameson he basically introduces himself to Barnabas and Joan Bennet and takes over the house, fixing the possession in the span of a half and episode.

The 1897 storyline is a prime example-- let me see if I can give you a taste-- there may be spoilers here;

In the present day (1969) David Collins is possessed by the ghost of Quentin Collins, an ancestor of Barnabas Collins who had some bad things happen to him, and therefore he's an angry ghost.

David goes into a coma and Barnabas does the only logical thing, he goes to the visiting professor of all things occult studies to get sent back in time to stop this from happening, how he stops it from happening seems to be a lot more difficult than the dilemma of going back in time which I would have thought would have been the real struggle here.

Luckily, the professor has a bunch of paint stirrers you get at Home Depot in China some of which have white lines painted on them, all one has to do is toss the sticks on a table and then concentrate and WHAM-- you'll be back in time.

So much for the hard part.

Barnabas goes back to 1897 where he finds himself once again a vampire and chained in his coffin in Collinwood-- apparently he wasn't a vampire any longer in 1969 but that's what happens when you come into a show at episode 700.

Barnabas gets free pretty quickly, thanks to a thieving Gypsy who happens by thinking there are hidden jewels in his coffin, and soon the Gypsy and his wife are working for Barnabas who will start his plan to stop Quentin as soon as he figures out what that plan is.

Barnabas might just be the luckiest vampire on the planet because not only has Quentin been away from Collinwood for sometime, he actually came back pretty much on the day Barney got out of his earth box.  The two cousins meet for the first time and like many of my own family reunions it ends with one pulling a sword on the other one and threatening to kill him-- only no it's not Barnabas getting ready to kill Quentin which would possibly prevent him from possessing David back in 1969, but Quentin who gets the drop on Barnabas convinced he's come to Collinwood to take advantage of GrandMaMa Collins who lays on her death bed waiting for her other grandson Edward to come home so she can tell him the family secret that gets passed down from generation to generation and then die.

It all ends well, though, with Barnabas and Quentin becoming as friendly as possible at Collinwood-- where the norm seems to be to greet fellow residents with anger and shouting.

20 or so episodes later, Barnabas is distracted by Maggie Evans or Rachel or whoever the actress is playing who is a reincarnation of his lost love Josette and he seems to forget about his mission to stop Quentin and save David who surely must have died by now way back in 1969.

Kathryn Leigh Scott as Maggie, Josette and any other character they need to be a possible love interest for Barnabas is leagues above everyone else-- she and the actress who play the little sister are easily the best on the show-- any episode with them is better.

All of this bad-- so good-- but when you read the reviews on Amazon you'd think you're watching the daytime TV version of Citizen Kane.

What you have is bad writing, bad acting, cheap sets and plots and characterization that have no continuity and make little sense which all adds up to a very entertaining show-- but nowhere near the classic status it has achieved.

Bad is bad folks, and it speaks volumes about why mediocre melodrama's like TWILIGHT are so popular.