REVIEW: Dark Shadows – The House of Despair (audio drama)

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Dark Shadows, that ever-rising creation of Dan Curtis, the horror-soap that has spawned two television reboots (one unaired), two direct film adaptations, one forthcoming big-budget re-imagining by Tim Burton, as well as comics, novels, and albums, has spread its story broadly; the narrative, covering many, many generations of the cursed Collins family, seems as undying as the series’ most beloved character, Barnabas Collins. Though the Dark Shadows saga has been represented in many different formats, the most satisfying continuation may well be the Dark Shadows audio dramas by Big Finish Productions (also known for their prolific Dr. Who audio dramas).

Featuring many of the original cast members reprising their iconic roles, the audio productions by Big Finish are a lush return to Collinwood, vividly recreating the dark Gothic romance of Dark Shadows while embodying the ever-present horror. By creating fully-realized productions featuring excellent performances (by the original cast AND new additions), Big Finish has found a satisfying way to expand the Dark Shadows universe, and this welcome addition is alive and evident in the first entry into the audio drama canon, The House of Despair, starring original cast members David Selby, Lara Parker, John Karlen, Kathryn Leigh Scott, and newcomer Andrew Collins.

The House of Despair

Dark Shadows: The House of Despair

The House of Despair begins years after the original series ends, and finds the undying Quentin Collins (David Selby) returning to Collinsport, Maine, after a long absence. Quentin learns from Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott), now the owner of local pub The Blue Whale, that the town is suffering from a strange blight, and that much of the townspeople have gone missing. Returning to the estate at Collinwood with groundskeeper Willie Loomis (John Karlen – yes, Groundskeeper Willie), Quentin learns that a dark, demonic presence has taken up residence on the grounds, and that the remaining members of the Collins clan are also missing. Forced to reawaken, and join forces with, the witch Angelique (Lara Parker), Quentin and Willie attempt to drive the evil force out of Collinwood; this force ultimately controls the life force of Barnabas Collins (Andrew Collins, no relation).

The House of Despair moves at a brisk pace, breathing new life into some of Collinwood’s most famous residents. The acting is the highlight of the audio drama, with Selby making a welcome return as Quentin Collins. Kathryn Leigh Scott’s Maggie Evans isn’t given a terrible amount to do in this first entry into the audio saga (her character figures prominently in much of the rest of the series), but it’s nice to hear her back in the role. John Karlen’s performance as Willie is consistent as always, and the pathos felt towards the character is a testament to the connection between actor and role. Lara Parker returns to the role of Angelique with much gusto, relishing every opportunity to delight in her darker nature, while still exhibiting a certain vulnerability as a result of her obsession with Barnabas. Rounding out the cast is series newcomer Andrew Collins as Barnabas, stepping into the shoes (cape?) of the legendary Jonathan Frid. The change of actors is actually addressed in the plot, and the story supporting it works well. Collins’ portrayal of Barnabas seems more in line with Ben Cross’ revival series characterization, but ultimately manages to capture the essence of the tortured vampire.

David Selby

David Selby (Quentin Collins)

The House of Despair is a welcome addition to the Dark Shadows mythos, and the audio dramas by Big Finish productions are a great way to travel back to Collinsport, Maine, and immerse oneself in a world of witches, demons, and vampires. Accompanied by Robert Cobert’s original television series score, mixed with wonderful new music by Joseph Fox, The House of Despair is a rich and haunting story, filled with all of the things that made the original series so wonderful: rich storytelling, dense atmosphere, wonderful actors, and a true love for the world the show was striving to create.  For those wanting to relive the macabre magic of Dark Shadows, look no further than The House of Despair, and the rest of the Dark Shadows audio dramas by Big Finish Productions – the Collins Family awaits…

The House of Despair and the rest of the Dark Shadows audio dramas can be found at Big Finish, or from online media retailers (iTunes, Amazon, etc).

Rating: 4.5/5 ★★★★½ 

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About Nathan_E

Nathan Erdel is a screenwriter. He wrote Headless and some other stuff. He likes beer, metal, pizza, and horror. He has three cats and one wife.

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