REVIEW: Dark Shadows – The Revival

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With Tim Burton’s film adaptation/re-imaging of Dark Shadows hitting theaters, I thought it would be appropriate to see the first “remake” of this property, the appropriately named Dark Shadows: The Revival (or simply, as the title card indicates, Dark Shadows). Yes, before the big screen adaptation (well, after, if you consider the two films spawned by the original series, House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows), Dan Curtis’ horror-soap was remade in 1991 as an hour-long drama, alongside shows like Law & Order and Twin Peaks.

I’ll let that sink in – yes, once upon a time, both Dark Shadows & Twin Peaks were in the prime-time line-up. Mmmm, that’s good TV. Twin Peaks suffered an early death in two short seasons, and, just as tragically, Dark Shadows was cancelled after one short season.

Though keeping the same characters (mostly) and the same situations (mostly), Dark Shadows made some notable changes in its revival form. It was “sexied-up” for the 90’s, and the soap-opera tropes of the original series were dropped to allow for a tone that was more akin to hour-long dramas, but keeping the supernatural tone and Gothic feel. The revival also sped up the original series’ pacing, coving a great deal of the original plotlines in a much faster timeframe; the original told its stories over a span of weeks, sometimes months, or even years – the revival series, in some cases, covered as much information in the span of a single episode! This is really more of a testament to the flexibility of the material than a comment on the value of either method of storytelling – yet, at this faster pace, Dark Shadows still boiled with as much atmosphere as it did action.

(minor Dark Shadows spoilers below)

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The Cast of Dark Shadows: The Revival

In this modern adaptation, Victoria Winters (Joanna Going) still travels to Collinsport, Maine, in order to serve as governess to the Collins Family. Headed by matriarch Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard (Jean Simmons – no, not Gene Simmons), the Collins’ are a great family whose success has become tarnished by years of scandal and tragedy. Like the original series, the family house, Collinwood, is home to Roger Collins (Roy Thinnes), brother to Elizabeth, his troubled son David (Joseph Gordon-Levitt), and Elizabeth’s adult daughter Carolyn (Barbara Blackburn).  Recently, David has started to see ghosts, and the family’s handman Willie Loomis (Jim Fyfe) has been snooping around the Old House on the Collins’ land, secretly searching for the family’s legendary missing treasures. In his search, Willie accidentally frees Barnabas Collins (Ben Cross), an ancestor to the Collins’ who was turned into a vampire by a vengeful witch, Angelique (Lysette Anthony), and chained in a coffin. Once freed, Barnabas returns to the family claiming to be a cousin from England, aiming to become head of the family, and possibly end his vampirism with the help of Julia Hoffman (Barbara Steele).

In this new, streamlined Dark Shadows, it is Victoria Winters, not waitress Maggie Evans, who is revealed to be the reincarnation of Barnabas’ love, Josette. Victoria Winter’s origins do not serve as a plot point, and within six episodes, she is sent to a parallel time. This, like Dr. Hoffman’s blood transfusions and Angelique’s return, are all storylines from the original series, but they come at a lightning fast pace, resulting in a series that is probably more satisfactory to a general audience. This is not to say that the revival series is better than the original, but it becomes something a bit different, and, for those unfamiliar with the original series, much more action driven. Sadly, due to its early cancellation, none of the storylines ever come to a conclusion (much like the original), making the viewing of Dark Shadows: The Revival, a frustrating experience.

While the storytelling is improved by way of streamlining the plot, the acting in Dark Shadows: The Revival is a mixed bag. Ben Cross’ turn as Barnabas is much different that that of predecessor Jonathan Frid; Cross’ Barnabas is a bit more like Frank Langella’s portrayal of Count Dracula, a vampire who is tormented by loss and a yearning for humanity, yet is still prone to animalistic rage and monstrous acts. While the characterization works, Cross just doesn’t look how I want Barnabas to look, and at times, his portrayal of Barnabas’ vampire bloodlust, comes off corny – he simply growls and hisses at the camera, and at times it becomes a little funny. Yes, the original show was campy, but sometimes, this becomes cheesy. Ultimately, though, Cross’s Barnabas is more sexy and dynamic than Frid’s gentleman monster (but that definitely doesn’t mean better).

Other characters succeed or fail to varying degrees, but all still turn in enjoyable performances. Joanna Goings’ Victoria is less the naive orphan than a woman of action who happens to get caught up in a romantic relationship with a debonair vampire. Jean Simmons’ Elizabeth continues the grace and dignity of the Collins’ matriarch, but lacks the turmoil of Joan Bennett’s original portrayal. A young Joseph Gordon-Levitt makes for a darker, but less likable, David, and Jim Fyfe’s portrayal of Willie is overtly Renfield, unlike the slightly more complex portrayal of the character on the original series. Rounding out the cast is horror icon Barbara Steele as Dr. Hoffman, who’s strange, Udo Kier-like appearance is only outdone by the nearly farcical French accent she performs when playing another character in the parallel timeline. While the performances bordered on broad and outlandish at times, the result was still true to the vibe of the original; the revival is different, but it still lives in the world of Dark Shadows.

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Dark Shadows: The Revival

Preempted by the Gulf War, Dark Shadows: The Revival lasted only one season, and is readily available as a 2-disc collection on DVD. The thirteen episodes of the series are a sometimes cheesy, but ultimately lavish re-envisioning of the property, and remains an enjoyable entry in the Dark Shadows canon despite its abrupt, unsatisfactory ending. The power of the revival comes from its streamlined approach, tying many of the expansive plots into one intertwined narrative. Though the story isn’t given a chance to truly go anywhere, Dark Shadows: The Revival is worth viewing, and continues to show the immortality of Dan Curtis’ classic creation.

(PS. Also of note is another attempt at a television revival of Dark Shadows, produced in 2004 by the WB Network. Starring Marley Shelton (Grindhouse), Alexander Gould (Weeds), and Alec Newman (the Dune miniseries) as Barnabas, this re-reinterpretation never made it past episode one, and that pilot remains unaired and unseen by most.)

 

Rating: 3.5/5 ★★★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.

Other posts in this series:

  1. MUSIC REVIEW: The Original Music from ABC-TV's Dark Shadows (May 9, 2012)
  2. REVIEW: Dark Shadows - The Revival (May 8, 2012)
  3. Review: Dark Shadows: The Complete Original Series (May 7, 2012)
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