Dark Shadows - DVD Collection 2
D V D   R E V I E W   B Y   J O E   P E T T I T   J R .

Success did good things for Dark Shadows and the proof can be found in MPI Home Video's Dark Shadows DVD Collection 2. (This four-disc set contains 40 episodes and continues MPI's effort to release the entire run of the show -- starting with Barnabas' appearance -- on DVD.) Everyone involved with the show, from the writers and actors to the technicians, was aware that they had a devoted audience for the first time. Major efforts were taken to refine the elements that made for addictive daytime drama. With the major exception of the episodes that center on Maggie Evans' imprisonment in Barnabas Collins' dungeon, accelerated pacing is the primary improvement to the show. Comparing disc one of the set to disc four highlights the show's evolution during this brief period.

On disc one (episodes 251 - 260), long sequences occur in a dungeon cell with Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) begging Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) for mercy while she loses her mind. Variations to this scene involve her begging Willie Loomis (John Karlen) to help her escape. Little doses of this kind of material go a long way, but the viewer is force-fed extended sequences that go on and on. Scott was not a mature enough actress to express the subtle mental anguish that the scenes called for, much less carry it on for any great length. Meanwhile Jonathan Frid still had trouble memorizing his daily lines. The scenes with both of them interacting, Frid struggling with his lines while Scott whines and simpers, drag on uncomfortably. It's like watching a community theater group struggle though a particularly painful performance. You anxiously wish that they would suddenly "get" the concept of pacing. Some of the blame has to be laid on the writers though, who should have provided juicier material for the actors to work with. The ongoing elliptic arguments between Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Joan Bennett) and Jason McGuire (Dennis Patrick) seem a breath of fresh air compared to the stale doings in the Old House.

In contrast, on disc four (episodes 281-290), the show finally assumes its identity and provides suitable substantiation for its cult status. The scenes run tighter through a combination of sharper acting, crisper writing, and more authoritative directing. The writers no longer alternate between two tired story lines but experiment with four or five levels of story. Most surprisingly, Alexandra Moltke blossoms as a performer during these episodes. Previously her work had been rather one-dimensional. But given the success of the show, the newly energized cast, and the progressively weirder storylines, it's not surprising that Moltke was inspired to prove herself capable of stepping outside the range of her goody two-shoes character. As Victoria Winters falls prey to her obsession with Josette Collins, her dreamy interest draws the attentions of Barnabas Collins, constantly on the prowl for his Josette replacement. The scenes where the two discuss her fascination with Josette take on a creepy sexual undertone, providing one of the few instances where the creators actually explore an authentic aspect of the lore -- the vampire's seductive power. Vicki steps outside of her "pathological naïveté" (a term Moltke uses during an interview -- one of the DVD set's extras -- to describe Vicki's girlish innocence) to tentatively explore her blooming womanly urges. Her obsession with Josette Collins not only stems from her orphan longings for a family history but also signifies her growth into womanhood. Josette looms as a beacon from the shores of the past, her presence shining as the archetype of the woman Vicki yearns to be. The fact that Josette uses Vicki as her contact during the séance lends further credence to the theory that Vicki is actually the illegitimate daughter of Elizabeth Stoddard and thus a member of the Collins family. Considering the dedication to family ancestry that seems to be inborn within each Collins, it would certainly be bad form for Josette to choose someone from outside her family, over her own flesh and blood, to serve as her mouthpiece.

By the end of the last disc, lines are still flubbed, technical gaffes still occur, and the teleprompter functions as an obvious tool for some of the performers, most notably new cast member Grayson Hall. The constant sky gazing and the smug looks that she uses to give definition to Dr. Julia Hoffman's character, serve mainly as a cover for her forgetfulness as she desperately tries to remember her dialogue or as she scans the set for help from the teleprompter.

MPI Home Video's presentation of the Dark Shadows DVD Collection 2 is standard fare for the company. No hullabaloo, just the 40 episodes, digitally remastered, a collector's postcard of Barnabas Collins, and four interviews, this time with creator/executive producer Dan Curtis and cast members Nancy Barrett, Dennis Patrick, and Alexandra Moltke. The only "bombshell" revelation comes during Alexandra Moltke's interview. After she left the show to have her baby, she was asked to return. Tired of playing Vicky as sweet and innocent, Moltke stipulated she would only return to the show if an evil spirit could possess Vicky. Her request was turned down. The producers felt Vicky was the moral center of the show and viewers wouldn't take to her being sullied by an evil spirit. It's a quaint reminder of the different standards that existed during the 1960s. Contemporary producers would jump at the idea, that is, if they hadn't pitched it first themselves during story sessions.

It will be interesting to see how the continued success of the show and the move to color affected the evolution of the show. (Look to DVD Collection 3 for the show's shift to color, starting with episode 295.) As the course of the program winds further into the realm of the supernatural, maybe Barnabas (and the writers) will remember that he actually possesses supernatural powers because HE'S A VAMPIRE! Often referred to by fans as a "reluctant vampire," Barnabas comes off more like a forgetful vampire. He never has to feed and he always forgets about his powers -- such as the shape shifting and mind linking/control abilities he exhibited in earlier episodes. In general, he doesn't exhibit ANY standard vampire characteristics found in the lore. He even kills Jason McGuire by strangling him, not by drinking his blood! Maybe an explanation for this will appear in later episodes. In any case, this viewer has definitely been bitten and will be found lurking in the shadows, eagerly anticipating the next installment.

Dark Shadows, DVD Collection 2, is now available from MPI Home Video. This four-disc set packages together episodes 251 thru 290 (June 12, 1967 through August 4, 1967). During these episodes, Maggie endures imprisonment by Barnabas; David meets a girl named Sarah in the woods; the wedding date approaches for Liz Collins Stoddard and Jason McGuire; Sheriff Patterson searches the basement room at Collinwood; Barnabas hosts a costume party; Victoria Winters becomes obsessed with Josette; and Dr. Julia Hoffman treats Maggie for memory loss and investigates Barnabas. This set includes short interviews with series creator/executive producer Dan Curtis and actors Alexandra Moltke, Nancy Barrett, and Dennis Patrick. Suggested retail price: $59.98 each. For more information, check out the MPI Home Video Web site. Running time: 14 hours. Black and white.


Photos courtesy of MPI Home Video.