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Friday, October 05, 2012

Dark Shadows

I'll be the first one to admit that the year 2012 has been a bit of a bore in the world of film.

Certainly, there have been some runaway hits this year with “The Hunger Games”, the end of the “Twilight” series, brand new Batman and Spider-Man films, and “The Avengers”. But for the most part, it's been a year that has been lacking in creativity.

I mean, seriously, do we really need to re-release every single past movie in 3D? “Titanic” and “Finding Nemo” were just fine without it, thank you. And who came up with the brilliant idea to turn the board game “Battleship” into a movie? What next, “Connect Four : The Musical”? And, don't even get me started on my rant about “Magic Mike”.

I think that's largely why I have avoided movie theaters this year. For one, they can get rather pricey (I still cringe every time I have to pay $10 for a soda and buttered popcorn), but for another, there's really nothing out there that I really want to actively go out and see. I mean, I do like super hero films as much as the next guy, but I'm the type of person who would rather wait for the movie to come out on DVD. I'm not a fan of “The Hunger Games”, and for the life of me can't understand why it is so popular...but anyone who really knows me also knows that I tend to get into popular things when they no longer are popular (which is why I played a Super Nintendo well into 2003).

And, well...I can't say that I am a fan of the “Twilight” series either...though part of the reason why could be because I am not a 14-year-old girl.

(Not that I am implying that the film is only suitable for just 14-year-old's a movie for all audiences...but I did see an awful lot of teenagers standing in line for the first movie when I saw photos of the premiere in various cities all over the world. Just saying.)

In fact, the one movie that I really DID want to go and see this year only had a limited engagement in my hometown (I live in a fairly small community), and by the time I did get a day off from work to see it, the film had already packed up and moved on. I was miffed.

That movie was the film “Dark Shadows”, which was released on May 11, 2012. The movie starred Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer, and was directed by Tim Burton. Although the movie did get mixed reviews from film critics, it did manage to make over $236 million at the box office.

As a huge fan of Tim Burton (he seriously has not made one film that I hate), and who really likes Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer, seeing them all in the same movie was similar to opening up a present on Christmas morning. Unfortunately, I had to wait until the movie was released on DVD before I could watch it. But you know something, the movie was worth the wait, as I loved the whole thing from start to finish.

Just to summarize the plot of the film, Johnny Depp plays the role of Barnabas Collins, a man who has been turned into a vampire by an evil witch (Eva Green) in a fit of jealousy after he falls in love with Josette du Pres (Bella Heathcote). He is imprisoned in a coffin for almost two hundred years before being set free in the year 1972. There, he makes his way back to the family manor to find it inhabited by the reclusive Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Pfeiffer). It's a dark tale filled with comedic moments, and we get to see Barnabas adjust to a brand new world, while coming face to face with his past.

Now, “Dark Shadows” was a great movie...but considering that today is Friday, I'm sure most of you are wondering why I have decided to open this blog entry with a brief description of a movie.

Would you believe that the movie was based on a television show of the same name that began airing 45 years earlier?

It's true. In fact, the movie “Dark Shadows” reunited four of the show's cast members on screen. Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Selby, Lara Parker, and Jonathan Frid all made cameos in the film. In fact, for Frid, the appearance ended up being his last on-screen appearance, as he died one month before the film opened, on April 14, 2012.

In fact, Frid ended up playing the very role that Johnny Depp played on that television program. But, I'm getting ahead of myself here.

Today's blog subject is “Dark Shadows” the television soap opera. The show aired on ABC from June 27, 1966 to April 2, 1971. Although the classification of the series was considered to be a soap opera, it was far unlike any other soap opera that has ever aired on television.

You see, “Dark Shadows” featured werewolves, vampires, zombies, plotlines that involved time-travel, witches, warlocks...even a parallel universe! The show ran for a little over twelve hundred episodes, and only lasted five years on the air. However, the show produced more episodes of content than most other science-fiction themed programs including “Star Trek” and “Doctor Who”. And until “Passions” came along in 1999, it was the longest-running daytime drama that had elements of the supernatural, ghosts, and witches.

So, how did “Dark Shadows” begin? Let's take a trip back in time to 1965, when show creator Dan Curtis had a bizarre dream one night. It was a dream of a young woman who was on a train going to some unknown destination. He told his wife of his dream and she believed that he had a wonderful idea for a new program. He decided to pitch his idea to ABC television executives who liked the idea enough to greenlight the production, and Curtis went to work hiring crew members.

The first person that Curtis hired was a man named Art Wallace. Curtis may have dreamt the dream that inspired the show idea, but he needed somebody to write a story based on the dream. So Wallace created the official show bible which was originally titled “Shadows on the Wall”. The title was later changed to “Dark Shadows” shortly before the show went on the air.

And the way that “Dark Shadows” began took place right off where Curtis' dream left off. A young orphan named Victoria Winters traveled by train to the town of Collinsport, Maine in an effort to discover more about her past. Once she arrives in town, she discovers that the town has a few secrets of its own...specifically at the very residence where she takes on a job.

With the story drafted, Curtis was responsible for finding the young actress to assume the role of Victoria. He ended up casting then unknown actress Alexandra Moltke, who was just nineteen at the time. Other actors and actresses who were cast in the show during the original casting process included Joan Bennett as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, Louis Edmonds as Henry Collins (brother of Elizabeth), Nancy Barrett as Carolyn Stoddard (Elizabeth's rebellious daughter), and child actor David Henesy was cast as the youngest member of the Collins family, David Collins.

At the same time that the casting was being done, the crew was being hired as well. With Dan Curtis taking on the dual roles of creator and executive producer, Robert Costello was hired as a line producer, Robert Cobert created the musical score, Sy Thomashoff was responsible for the elaborate and dark sets on the show, and directing duties were shared between Lela Swift, John Sedgewick, and Henry Kaplan.

When “Dark Shadows” first began airing, it didn't exactly get off to a great start. At first, critics seemed bored by the show because of the fact that it seemed to focus so much on Alexandra Moltke, and because the show's storylines seemed to progress very slowly. But one thing that some people who watched the first episodes of the series noticed was that the first episode of the series seemed to mimic that of the popular television series “Peyton Place”. In fact, there were several examples of past literary works that were brought onto “Dark Shadows”, as several of the show's plotlines loosely followed the plots of these works. Some of these sources for plot inspiration included Jane Eyre, The Crucible, The Cask of Amontillado, The Pit and the Pendulum, The Tell-Tale Heart, The Lottery, Rebecca, The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde, Nicholas Nickleby, Frankenstein, and The Picture of Dorian Grey.

It wasn't until 1967 that “Dark Shadows” began to attract attention from fans. Part of the reason why was due to the addition of Barnabas Collins...and with Barnabas' arrival came the decision to change the plots of “Dark Shadows” into more supernatural and macabre storylines that challenged the realism and romance that was present in other competing shows that aired at the time. But another reason why the show did so well was because of the time slot. Except for a brief period between the spring of 1967 and the summer of 1968, the show would air in the 4 in the afternoon time slot. At that time of the day, many junior high and high school students were home from school, and while their mothers (and grandmothers) were getting dinner ready, and doing household chores at that time, the kids would often take control of the television, choosing to watch “Dark Shadows”.

And for a while, “Dark Shadows” was one of ABC's most popular daytime dramas. It even ended up being one of the most watched shows during its time slot, beating CBS' “House Party” and NBC's “Match Game”.

Believe it or not, “Dark Shadows” ended up beating the brand new soap opera “One Life To Live” in the ratings when that show debuted in 1968!

And certainly, some of the show's earliest storylines were unlike anything that anyone had ever seen on daytime television, and as characters were fleshed out, the storylines became more and more addicting. From Victoria's arrival, to Burke Devlin seeking out revenge against the Collins family, to Elizabeth being blackmailed, to Barnabas' arrival, to Maggie's kidnapping, to a really strange plot involving a woman named Laura who was an immortal Phoenix who almost ended up killing David after bursting into flames! It seemed as though there was no limit to how dark and mysterious the show could get. By the end of the 1960s, “Dark Shadows” had become a cult hit and developed a strong following.

But as the sixties turned into the seventies, things started to go downhill.

It all started with a very unpopular storyline that began airing in 1970. For about six weeks, most of the main cast of the show were unavailable for the show as they were too busy filming the film “House of Dark Shadows”, and as a result, it caused the ratings to drop from a 7.3 to a 5.3. That's quite a stunning drop.

The introduction of a new soap opera, “Somerset” (which was actually a spin-off of “Another World”) also hurt “Dark Shadows”, as it aired in the same time slot on NBC, which also caused ratings to drop on ABC. Ironically, “Somerset” only lasted a grand total of three years...two years shorter than “Dark Shadows”.

By early 1971, the writing was soon on the wall for the future of “Dark Shadows”. Because the world was just entering a recession, ABC was looking for ways in which they could slash their budget, and decided to purge a few of their programs to save money. And, unfortunately for fans of “Dark Shadows”, the program was one of the first to be given the axe in 1971 due to its high production cost, and the fact that at that time, the 18-35 demographic were virtually ignored when it came to advertising for products during daytime television (and since “Dark Shadows” was made for that 18-35 demographic, network executives felt they could axe the program without compromising their revenues for advertising).

Despite outrage from fans, as well as a letter writing campaign, “Dark Shadows” aired its final episode on April 2, 1971...and because of the abruptness of the cancellation, a lot of unanswered questions were present, such as the parentage of Victoria Winters, for example.

It has been 41 years since “Dark Shadows” aired its final episode, and it still has a cult following today. There were a couple of attempts to reintroduce the series in 1991 and 2004, but nothing amounted to either attempt. And surprisingly enough, with the exception of one episode, all of the episodes of “Dark Shadows” are intact.

There was also a short-lived “Dark Shadows” comic that ran from 1971 to 1972, and of course, we have the 2012 film starring Johnny Depp.

In a way, I almost am sorry that I was born too late to appreciate this show when it originally aired...because if the movie version even remotely resembled the television series, I would probably have enjoyed it very much.

Do any of you remember “Dark Shadows”? Was it worth watching?

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