Dark Shadows

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Dark Shadows opening titles from the first episodes in 1966 used until August 10, 1967.

Dark Shadows is a cult TV soap opera that was airing weekdays on the ABC television network from June 27, 1966 to April 2, 1971. It added a gothic vampire story to the standard "soap" plots and stories, and it won a cult following that mirrored that of another long-running science fiction TV series, Doctor Who.

Brief synopsis

(Note that stories overlapped.)

Episodes numbers: Main plot line

(Classic Era, the Alexandra Moltke episodes)

1 – 126: Victoria Winters and Burke Devlin

123 – 192: Laura the Phoenix

193 – 275: Jason McGuire

202 – 365: Barnabas Collins (Color episodes begin with #295)

365 – 461: 1795

461 – 536: The Dream Curse

486 – 626: Adam

(Post-Moltke episodes)

627 – 700: The Werewolf

646 – 700: Quentin’s Ghost

700 – 884: 1897

885 – 980: The Leviathans

980 – 1060: Parallel Time

1061 – 1070: 1995

1070 – 1109: Gerard

(Post-Kathryn Leigh Scott episodes)

1110 – 1198: 1840

(Post-Virginia Vestoff episodes)

1198 – 1245: 1841 in Parallel Time

The series' beginnings

Template:Spoiler Originally conceived with a gothic twist on the usual afternoon soap, Dark Shadows ambled along during its first year, garnering a small following who were weary of the everyday love libations offered by the plethora of other soaps of the time. Set in the fictional small fishing village of Collinsport, Maine, the series revolved around the rich, powerful Collins family, owners of a fishing fleet and cannery. Dark Shadows developed several mysterious kernels during its initial seasons, which later germinated into the supernatural series that still attracts thousands of fans to yearly conventions. With the Vietnam War raging and racial discord commonplace on the early evening news, the show's original viewers were ready to escape the reality of their own situations and involve themselves in the remote and foreboding problems of this troubled family whose own Pandora's box seemed far removed from the social revolution going on outside their front door.

The original story bible, "Shadows on the Wall," came from the creative partnership of writer Art Wallace and television producer Dan Curtis. However, Art Wallace deserves the credit for establishing the Collins family and its mysterious relationship to the orphan Victoria Winters. When Vicki becomes the family governess at Collinwood, she becomes embroiled in a web of conspiracy, murder, and secrets -- highly reminiscent of the best Alfred Hitchcock pictures. The earliest plot involves Burke Devlin, an innocent man framed for a fatal drunk driving accident by the actual culprit, Roger Collins (Louis Edmonds). Once the best of friends, Roger and Burke became romantic rivals over Laura Murdoch (Diana Millay), who married Roger after Burke went to prison. Cleared of his dark past, Burke Devlin (played by Mitchell Ryan and briefly by Anthony George) later became Victoria's love interest. As portrayed by Alexandra Moltke, Victoria's relationship with the Collins family would never be fully resolved — although it is implied she may have been the illegitimate daughter of the family's matriarch, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (played throughout the series by actress Joan Bennett).

The use of "flashbacks," in which the scene shifted to some time in the past, was the single, most omnipresent element of the show. The first of these occurred in the episode that aired on July 10, 1967; on that date, the setting flashed back to 1949, and revealed that Elizabeth Collins Stoddard murdered (or so she thought at the time) her husband, Paul Stoddard (Carolyn's father), and ordered an accomplice to hide his body in the basement (this flashback was confined to this single episode only). The motive may have been that Paul Stoddard found out about the extramarital affair Elizabeth had that led to the birth of Victoria, but this was never explicitly stated.

As each mystery came to light in Collinsport, the producers struggled to hold the interest of its steadily declining audience. The show needed something to give it the added dimension that would set it apart. According to Dan Curtis, Executive Producer of the series, ABC was ready to drop the show because of faltering ratings. Acting on a suggestion from his children, and desperate to save the series, Curtis decided to cross the supernatural line, a bold move given the conventional nature of soap operas. A mysterious ancestor named Josette Collins thus became the Collins family's spectral guardian. (Josette is first introduced as a sobbing woman in the 37th episode, which aired on August 16, 1966). Later, she would be revealed as a ghost whose mortal shell died in either 1795 or 1830, depending on the variable continuity, which would later change as often as did the series writers.

In 1966, Josette saves Victoria Winters from a deranged killer, the caretaker Matthew Morgan (played by series stalwart Thayer David). Morgan had been driven to murder in order to protect the Collins family, but kidnaps Victoria when she discovers his secret. While hiding in the Old House (the first Collins estate, which features prominently in later stories), Matthew Morgan is confronted by Josette Collins, who summons other spirits to kill Morgan. This storyline encouraged Dan Curtis to involve more ghostly and supernatural aspects. In 1967, Laura Murdoch Collins returns to Collinsport after a lengthy separation from Roger, with the vowed intent of reclaiming nine-year-old David. Victoria enlists the help of a parapsychologist to investigate many strange events at Collinwood that coincide with Laura's arrival. Roger's wife is revealed to be an undying creature known as a phoenix, who plans to take David into the fire. With Josette's help, Victoria is able to rescue David before he burns with his mother, and life returns briefly to normal in Collinsport.

Although Laura the Phoenix would return to plague the Collinses, she would be overshadowed by the popularity of three characters debuting in 1967-68: the reluctant vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), the beautiful witch Angelique (Lara Parker), and the brooding Quentin Collins (David Selby).

Supernatural storylines (spoiler warning)

When the unscrupulous Jason McGuire (Dennis Patrick) returns to blackmail Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, his friend Willie Loomis (John Karlen) unwittingly releases the vampire Barnabas Collins from his chained coffin. Barnabas, upon awakening (and at first not realizing he was in the 1960s), is obsessed with finding the reincarnated Josette, his brother's wife whom he loved and lost in the past. The original timeline indicated this occurred around 1830. During one scene in the early Barnabas sequence, Victoria Winters places flowers on Josette's grave, which reckons the year of her death as 1822. However, the 1795 Flashback (which began on November 20, 1967) transported Victoria Winters to witness the events leading to Barnabas Collins' corruption.

Barnabas was supposed to marry Josette du Pres (Kathryn Leigh Scott), but instead he succumbed to the wiles of Josette's maid, Angelique, with whom he shared a dalliance in Martinique. Using her witchcraft, Angelique made Josette fall in love with and wed Barnabas' brother Jeremiah (whom Barnabas subsequently killed in a duel), and tricked Barnabas into marrying her; but soon Barnabas learned that Angelique was in fact a witch, and killed her. In revenge, Angelique sent a vampire bat to attack Barnabas, who then died and became a vampire; his father eventually chained him inside a coffin in the Collins family mausoleum. Meanwhile, Victoria Winters had been falsely accused of being the witch that caused all of these unfortunate events; she was tried and convicted of witchcraft, and hanged — however, instead of causing her death, the hanging catapulted her (and the show's setting) back into the present time in the episode that was carried on April 1, 1968. Events then followed one another in rapid succession: Barnabas would overcome his curse of undeath on April 8 with the help of two doctors — Eric Lang (Addison Powell) and Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall, whose husband Sam Hall was later hired to write scripts). Angelique returns on April 17 as Roger Collins' new wife (Roger had mysteriously disappeared in the present during the time the 1795 Flashback was airing) under the alias "Cassandra Blair;" it soon becomes clear that her true intent in reappearing is to return Barnabas to the ranks of the undead. She settles on a "dream curse" as the means to accomplish this. Perhaps the most elaborate sequence of the entire series, the dream curse dominated the story line starting on April 23, until July 12, when it appears to succeed; however on July 17 Barnabas is revived, and is found not to be a vampire again after all.

The series peaked with the ghostly return of Quentin Collins, whose own troubled past as a werewolf would be explored in the 1897 Flashback, which began airing on March 3, 1969 and continued until January 6, 1970. David Selby became a star overnight in this role, with the other principal actors taking different parts in what now amounted to a supernatural costume drama. In this sense, the show parallels the BBC series Doctor Who, although the latter show gradually abandoned historical shows in favor of science fiction and fantasy (Dark Shadows had switched from black and white to colour in 1967, and much of its gloomy, evocative atmosphere was lost in that transition).

On March 12, 1970, the concept of "parallel time" was introduced; the period setting did not change, but all of the characters acquired different names, different identities, and different relationships to one another. This sequence ended (on July 17) with a fire that destroyed the Great House at Collinwood (built in 1795 to replace the "Old House," which was abandoned during the pivotal events of that year after the Collins family came to believe the latter to be the source of all of their misfortune), which Barnabas and Dr. Hoffman escaped by moving forward in time, to 1995 (parallel time was used again during the 1840-41 Flashback, which began on September 25, 1970 and lasted until the show's final episode).

During the latter half of its run, Dark Shadows used, and sometimes abused, classic stories with wild abandon. Revisiting such literary masterpieces as Dracula, Frankenstein (and also The Bride of Frankenstein), The Wolf Man, Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, The Picture of Dorian Gray (applied to both Angelique and Quentin) and The Turn of the Screw, the series expanded and contracted these stories into an unusual and sometimes fascinating venue (for example, the creation of the Frankenstein-like character enabled Barnabas to escape vampirism on a permanent basis and was the reason the dream curse failed). No author of the macabre was exempt from inclusion in the masterful melding of subplots. Poe, Jackson, Wilde, Stoker, Shelley, Hawthorne, James, Lovecraft, and others were all explored, exploited and exposed in a history of the Collins family that would put any genealogist to shame. Small wonder then, that renowned horror writers Anne Rice and Stephen King have admitted to being Dark Shadows fans during their formative years.

Series production

Working within the restraints of the live on tape format -- with everything done in one take -- Dark Shadows exhibited extraordinary and sometimes truly masterful use of costuming and special effects. Plot expanding trips into the past or future via tape cut and splice became commonplace. These excursions created the opportunity for actors killed off in earlier sequences to return in the guise of characters from another era, resplendent in period clothing of exceptional detail. Seances held in the old mansion were often visited by ghostly apparitions of quivering ectoplasm. Dream sequences hypnotised the viewing audience with colorful psychedelic spectacles superimposed over ethereal, fog filled fantasies. Individuals of normal appearance were transformed into hideous creatures of the netherworld.

Keeping up with the demanding schedule of a daily half-hour show was sometimes evident in a minor verbal blooper or misplaced stagehand. Microphone boom shadows helped the program live up to its name. In retrospect however, the ability of the troupe of actors who participated in the development of this everchanging panorama of gothic visualizations was particularly commendable, especially considering a new script every day, a brief and demanding rehearsal schedule or the fact that many of the actors often appeared in nearly all of a day's taping. Also, Dark Shadows was not really different from most daytime dramas of its time when it came to bloopers like this.

Dark Shadows has the distiction of being one of the few classic television soap operas to have all of its episodes, except one, survive intact (although a handful of early episodes are available in syndication in 16MM kinescope format). For the one lost episode, only the original audio track survives (syndicated airings of this episode were reconstructed from this soundtrack and still pictures taken at the time of the episode's production). In fact, there is more scrutiny placed on this series in particular as it has been syndicated almost continuously since its first network run, while almost all soaps from this time period are either locked in a vault or lost forever, due to live broadcasts or the expensive cost of videotape at the time. Recently, however, original network master tapes to the series were discovered in an L.A. warehouse, so it is quite possible the master to the "lost" episode could be among them.

For many years, the show was syndicated on the Sci-Fi Network. The network stopped airing Dark Shadows in 2004.

MPI Home Video currently holds the home video rights to the series. All episodes are now available on VHS, and episodes on DVD are released on a sechedule that will result in the complete series on DVD in 2006.


Notable actors among the cast included Joan Bennett, Louis Edmonds, Jonathan Frid, Thayer David, Grayson Hall, David Selby, Kate Jackson, Roger Davis, child actress Denise Nickerson and Lara Parker. During the past thirty years, Dark Shadows has developed a large and loyal fan following. This is due largely to the willingness of former cast members to participate in several gatherings each year, notably the Dark Shadows Festival held alternately in California and New York and a Halloween fright fest centering around the mansion used in taping the stock outdoor footage. The mansion is located in Tarrytown, NY and is named "Lyndhurst". Both theatrical films, "House of Dark Shadows" and "Night of Dark Shadows" were shot primarily on location at the Lyndhurst estate.

The serial, though on the air for only five years, put enough of a dent in the audience of competitor soap The Secret Storm to eventually drive it off the air (both shows were usually scheduled opposite each other in the 4PM EST timeslot).

In 1991 a shortlived primetime remake was made by NBC, and ended with Victoria (played by Joanna Going) learning that Barnabas Collins (played by Ben Cross) was a 200-year old vampire ...something Victoria never knew in the original. Plans for another revival series have been bruited about in TV Guide.

In 2004 a pilot for a new WB network Dark Shadows series, starring Marley Shelton as Victoria Winters was written and shot, but it was never picked up.

In other media

There have been many Dark Shadows books, comic books, a comic strip, and even a View-Master reel.

Dark Shadows audio drama

Based on a stage play performed at a Dark Shadows convention, Return to Collinwood is an audio drama written by Jamison Selby & Jim Pierson, and starring David Selby, Kathryn Leigh Scott, John Carlin, Nancy Barrett, Laura Parker, Roger Davis, Marie Wallace, Christopher Pennock, Donna Wandrey, James Story and Terry Crawford. It provides a satisfying conclusion to the Dark Shadows saga and is available on CD.

External links


Dark Shadows Almanac, edited by Kathryn Leigh Scott & Jim Pierson, Pomegranate Press, 1995.