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Dark Shadows

DVD Review: Dark Shadows - The Original TV Series (The Barnabas Collins Episodes) / Director: Various / Teleplay: Various / Starring: Jonathan Frid / Release Date: Out Now

As anybody reading this will know, Dark Shadows is the latest big screen collaboration between director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp. It’s well known that the film is rooted in a TV series from the 1960s. Sadly, we in the UK were never given the opportunity to see any of the original series - until now.

Making its debut in this country on a tie-in DVD set, Dark Shadows is easily one of the quirkiest, yet compulsive classic series I’ve seen in a very long time. It is literally a daytime soap, cheaply made, with no budget for vehicles (notice how cars are heard approaching, but never seen) no location filming; all the action seen here is on a handful of flimsily built sets, and seemingly no money for retakes, judging by the number of blown lines we hear and the staggering frequency that the TV cameras or boom mikes cast obvious shadows (yes, dark ones) on the faces of the cast.

I know, I know - so far it sounds like something that Starburst wouldn’t normally touch with a barge pole - but, and here’s what makes the concept compulsive; it’s a daytime soap with gothic horror at its black heart. Admittedly, there are no graphic stakings, or attacks or anything of the like on display - this was daytime TV in 1966, but the theremin music, the opening pessimistic narration by the Victoria Winters character and the absurdly melodramatic story lines featuring vampires (naturally), plus ghosts, and a phoenix woman who is reborn in flame every hundred years are irresistible - Emmerdale was never like this.

Despite its title, I stress this is not the whole series, but merely the 20-odd black and white episodes comprising the story arc that introduced the Barnabas Collins character (Jonathan Frid) which were broadcast daily in April 1966. (There is an astounding complete box set featuring all 1225 episodes on 133 discs, but that’s only a region one release).

Despite only scratching the surface of Dark Shadows’ rich, five year history, this three disc set is well worth a look, featuring a comprehensive whistle stop "the story up to now" feature to help the viewer make sense of these episodes within the context of what has gone before.

The set is rounded off with a disc of special features that give a good insight to this show. There is a detailed history of the series, featuring interviews with the cast. There’s a feature on the series’ darker moments, a visit to the set of the Collins residence and a bonus interview with actor Jonathan Frid.

All of which makes me hungry to see more episodes released.

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