Dark Shadows

 

     It’s late October. Full moons and ghostly beings abound. I’m harkened back to a time in my early childhood when all things were possible: the days of the 1966 horror-infused soap opera Dark Shadows.

     I would make any excuse to cut my after-school play time short so I could catch the latest episodes that aired late afternoons on Monday through Friday. I still can hear the echoes of my mother’s voice saying, “You should be outside playing.” In those days I would much rather spend time indoors with my television friends. My neighbors were considered normal compared to the characters of Dark Shadows. There were psychic gypsies, nannies with secrets, serial killers and blood-thirsty vampires. And those were just the people living next door to me. (I’m only half joking. The neighborhood where I grew up could never be summarized in a newspaper column. You’ll have to wait for the book to come out to read that story.)

     It’s no wonder my fertile imagination gravitated to the gothic world of Dark Shadows. There was something oddly comforting about cozying up to the warm glow of a television set on a gray winter afternoon with a steaming cup of Nestles hot cocoa and a handful of Chips Ahoy cookies. I was hooked on my daily dose of supernatural in my living room. I was looking for strange occurrences around every corner. And sometimes I found them. I enjoyed the thrill of believing in mysterious forces tinkering with our daily lives when something happened that couldn’t be explained.

     Dark Shadows storyline began in contemporary 1960’s America. It was a soap opera first, full of melodramatic cliff hangers (sometimes literally). Things took a bizarre turn with the introduction of Barnabas Collins. Actor Jonathan Frid struck gold with his portrayal of the scene stealing, scenery chewing, tormented vampire who returned to his family in Collinsport, Maine after being “away” for 200 years. Cursed by the evil witch Angelique, Barnabas spent subsequent episodes trying to adjust to life in modern times without anyone discovering he was really from the 1800’s. And a vampire. Add this to this his soul-wrenching search for the reincarnation of his long lost love Josette, and you’ve got all the ingredients of compelling afternoon television.

     When I got older, I appreciated Dark Shadows for other reasons. The campiness of the storyline was lost on me as a child. I took everything so seriously Upon rewatching some of the early episodes thanks to the miracle of YouTube, I realized the show had a very limited budget. Special effects that looked so real to me as a child were now laughable: boom microphones swinging through scenes being filmed, cardboard gravestones wobbling back and forth as actors bumped into the props, misspoken dialog that I could have written better at age twelve. The show’s producer, Dan Curtis, went on to create some of my favorite mid-seventies televsion, including Kolchak: The Night Stalker with Darren McGavin and the ever-popular Trilogy of Terror with Karen Black.

     Back then, it was fun to think I might encounter a werewolf when my parents told me to take out the trash barrels at night, or be followed home by a vampire if I was late for supper, or encounter a ghostly visitor in my haunted attic. No matter how much I wanted to believe, in the back of my mind I knew monsters didn’t exist. Unfortunately, today the monsters in our world are all too real.

     So cue the high-pitched organ music of the show’s eerie theme song. I’m going to heat up my Nestles Quick and grab a handful of Chips Ahoy cookies. Dark Shadows, take me away.

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