Ignore the For Sale sign at Collinwood Estates; the price is ridiculously low for a reason.
Flubbed lines, unintentional boom mike appearances, and my favorite — a Barnabas faint that’s so carefully done it looks like he’s laying down to take a nap. Dark Shadows: Fan Favorites is so bad it’s good, and I love it!
The late Jonathan Frid stars as the elegant Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows, a series which lurked onto ABC daytime television in the late 1960s. Barnabas is the patriarch (of sorts) for a show where time travel, séances, vampires, and werewolves are as normal an occurrence as eating and breathing. With six full seasons and over 1200 episodes, this Fan Favorites collection of nine installments is hardly representative of such a large body of work. However, there is enough here to give you a sense of the utter insanity that awaited fans each and every weekday afternoon.
Dark Shadows is the epitome of cheesiness, there are so many hammy performances and bizarre story lines that you not only have to suspend disbelief but common sense as well. Then again, the show is so much fun I didn’t mind setting aside logic, if for no other reason than seeing who’ll screw up a line or looking for some random crew member or unintentional prop to mysteriously float into frame. In one scene, Barnabas and Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) are desperately worried about a relative who has been in his werewolf form for too long; they’re not worried he’s a werewolf, just that he hasn’t switched back. In any case, as the two discuss what to do next, Hall completely forgets her line, the merciless camera staying tight on her face as obvious desperation sets in. Then, very skillfully, Frid feeds her that forgotten line and, like an old pro, Hall moves on like nothing happened. Classic!
These story arcs are far from masterpieces, but come on, how can you resist vampires traveling in time, kids possessed by dead relatives, or actors in atrocious makeup that’s practically falling off their faces? It’s too bad to be true. Don’t get me wrong, I’m not knocking Dark Shadows. There is a sincerity amongst the actors that endears them to audiences and has for over 40 years. Obviously, filming a daily serial as if it were a stage play is no easy task, and I admire them for their efforts. These were thespians from a different time, long before anyone ever heard of Erica Kane or Luke and Laura.
My one complaint about Dark Shadows: Fan Favorites is that only one of the episodes has Barnabas in the iconic vampire mode we’ve come to love. Most of the time we see him in civies, sans cape, traveling from one time period to the next, attempting to solve one family crisis after another. I would’ve loved to have seen more of him in the role that defined his career, but that just means I need to get my hands on Dark Shadows: The Best of Barnabas or one of MPI’s many volume releases, so I can see him in all his fanged glory. I many not be able to shell out $400 for the complete series box set, but I can start saving my pennies, ’cause baby ya gotta have some Barnabas in your life.
Dark Shadows: Fan Favorites is presented in standard definition 1.33:1 full frame, in both black & white (early episodes) and color. These installments aren’t restored, so they still have that nostalgic, ’70s green hue. The Dolby 2.0 Stereo mix suffers from shows to show, the voice levels being frequently too soft or so loud they sound distorted, and occasionally you can make out background noises from off camera, but these quirks only add to the charm of the show.
There’s not much in the way of extras. We have the option of watching episode introductions by actress Kathryn Leigh Scott who plays Maggie Evans and Josette DuPres; her summaries helping set up what came just before and filling in the blanks on other important plot points. We also get a short infomercial from Kathryn Leigh Scott and he co-star Lara Parker (she played Angelique) hawking their various Dark Shadows-related wares.
I have a vague recollection of my mother watching the series when I was a small child, but seeing Dark Shadows today only reinforces why so many people were hooked on the lives of the people who lived at the Collinwood Estate.
Not Guilty; this is a good kind of cheese!
Dark Shadows: Fan Favorites (DVD)
2012, MPI, 210 minutes, NR (1966)
VIDEO: 1.33:1 AUDIO: Dolby Digital 2.0 Stereo (English) SUBTITLES: None
EXTRAS: Introduction, Informercial ACCOMPLICES: IMDB