In 1966 Dan Curtis began "Dark Shadows," a half-hour daytime show that has endured, much like "Star Trek," as a beloved genre classic among loyal fans. Initially following a young governess hired by a wealthy family at Collinsport, Maine, the series ratings started to dip as viewers lost interest, and creator Dan Curtis brazenly decided to introduce the inimitable Barnabas, a "reluctant" vampire with an obsessive past. The move from a Jane Eyre ambiance to more traditional horror terrain saved the series, and "Dark Shadows " ultimately came to its conclusion in 1971. By then, the show had helped pioneer - on its limited budget - a handful of camera tricks, and made the successful transition from black and white to colour. Though shot on videotape, the series was filmed as a live teleplay, so one take was pretty much what the cast and crew had to work with, allowing for some occasionally funny boo-boos.
In addition to a run on the Sci-Fi Channel, many episodes have appeared on VHS, but given the massive episode count, it's a daunting task to put the whole series on DVD (but do try, MPI!). Perhaps as a test release, MPI's disc offers a collection of retrospective documentaries and archival goodies to please fans, and give newcomers a taste of what 35 years of fussing is all about.
"Behind the Scenes" is the best of the docs, featuring many interviews with much of the cast members from 1991, and others from segments taken from the 70s and 80s (note poofy, windswept hairdos). There's plenty of segments from the TV series, and some amusing archival footage of the actors with fans (mostly teenage girls) flocking to the TV studio after a daily taping session.
"Nightmare and Dreams" is an odd inclusion, and more fluffy filler, since it's basically a montage of lengthy dream sequences from the show. The colour and black and white bits offer some humorous insight into the visual effects of early television technology, and the colour sequences (the show switched to colour in the summer of '67) are classic sixties psychedelia. Another 1999 offering is a visitation to the locations used in the first season, with actress Nancy Barrett narrating and touring the locales, giving a few tangible bits of filmic and local history. "Into the Shadows" unnecessarily repeats information already covered in the '91 documentary (though creator Dan Curtis details the casting of Jonathan Frid), and the show clips are mere padding to round out the short doc.
The DVD does have a diverse array of extras that should please fans and newcomers: original promo ads, theatrical trailers of the two movie spinoffs, non-series tv commercials with the show's actors, Jonathan Frid pitching for the New Jersey Network's pledge drive to keep the show on the air, and a Spanish-dubbed version of episode #289 from the first season. All the DVD contents have optional English and Spanish subtitles, including two flagrant pitches for a new novel, and series companion guide.
The disc is finally filled up with text pages covering the show's run, a photo montage (underscored by original music cues), and a text crawl, listing the actors in other genre film and tv projects.
The DVD's overall sound and picture quality is variable, given the diverse source materials and their respective age, and the sound editing in the 1991 doc is a bit rough. Chapter breaks, however, are non-existent, so you're pretty much forced to shuttle through sometimes lengthy program material, and accessing individual trailers or ads is an absolute headache.
© 2002 Mark R. Hasan