American Gothic: Dark Shadows

photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

Actor Jonathan Frid as Dark Shadows’ vampire Barnabas Collins, photo courtesy of Wikimedia Commons

My fascination with all things creepy began early in life. While I was still in elementary school, fourth or fifth grade, I’d rush home each day to watch the next installment of Dark Shadows. I’m sure I’m not the only fan of Charlaine Harris and other vampire-themed novels who was first bitten by the bug, so to speak, watching Victoria Winters and Barnabas Collins.

Last spring my husband found DVDs of the show when he was browsing through a catalog of books and videos. Remembering how I had talked about loving the series, he was thoughtful enough to point it out to me. Now, he probably wishes he hadn’t. We promptly ordered the first episodes, and I was astonished to discover that Barnabus, the vampire, doesn’t appear until six months into the series. It was a wonderful treat to sit down and watch THE VERY FIRST episode of Dark Shadows! Of course, like potato chips, one was never enough, and I found myself begging to watch a couple of them every evening, although my husband soon wanted a change in the menu.

I’m delighted to report that the series is every bit as good as I remember. In fact, even better. As an aspiring writer of the mysterious, I’ve spent some time over the last few years studying the mechanics of plotting and suspense, and Dark Shadows offers a good deal of instruction for anyone interested in crafting their own kind of creepy.

halloween background

Gothic landscape (purchase from istock)

What was it that drew me and so many others to the series? The atmospheric black-and-white shot of the breaking tide that cuts to the huge, gloomy pile of Collinswood Manor looming on the cliffs above, accompanied by actress Alexandra Moltke ‘s perfectly pitched voiceover: “My name is Victoria Winters…” that opens each show sounds all the Gothic themes that appeal to something deep and primal within our collective psyche. As do the mysteries surrounding the Collins family for whom Victoria has come to work. As do vampires and secrets.

Not everyone’s cup of tea. But for those of us who can’t get enough of things that go bump in the night, who enjoy a vicarious frisson, this series made the perfect introduction to the pleasures that can be found in exploring the darkness and shadows that lurk within the human condition.

How do you account for this fascination with the dark, the world of shadows, the supernatural, the unknown? And what are your favorite spooky treats (books, TV, or movies)?

17 Comments

  1. erinfarwell said,

    October 18, 2013 at 9:41 am

    hello fellow guppy – I grew up on a farm and had lots of chores to do. Still, my older sister and I had a deal with our mom that when we got off the bus, we could watch Dark Shadows before starting our jobs. My older sister would send me upstairs each day to get her pillow so she could hug it during the scary parts. Love Dark Shadows.

    • Nancy Adams said,

      October 18, 2013 at 11:16 am

      Hey Erin,

      Love your story about your sister’s pillow! Yup, it was Dark Shadows first thing, before homework or anything else. Glad to know you’re a fellow fan.

      Thanks for stopping by!

  2. Stuff Jeff Reads said,

    October 18, 2013 at 11:34 am

    LOVED Dark Shadows as a kid, and also rushed home every day after school to watch it. I had the Barnabas Collins Dark Shadows board game as a kind (where you gather bones to build your glow-in-the-dark skeleton). Wish I still had it. Saw one on eBay – out of my price range.

  3. Shari said,

    October 18, 2013 at 2:13 pm

    Nancy, saw this on the Guppies list.
    I adored Dark Shadows, though it scared the daylights out of me! I’d watch with a friend who lived down the street from me. After the show, we’d walk exactly halfway to her house and then we’d both tear off home – too afraid to go far alone! When I watch now I see the walls of the sets shake when doors close, but back then it all felt so terribly and deliciously real.

    • October 18, 2013 at 3:04 pm

      Even now, I love the way the camera focuses on those doors–they really knew how to ratchet up the suspense!

      I figured there had to be other Guppies who were DS fans. Thanks for stopping by.

  4. Suzanne Adair said,

    October 18, 2013 at 3:57 pm

    I also enjoyed “Dark Shadows” when I was a kid. The show is kinda camp now, but Angelique was my second TV model for a villainous character. Every time I need to tighten the tension in my fiction with a shot of horror, I reach into memories of what I experienced while watching the show.

    Watching “Dark Shadows” after school was a ritual for an entire generation of kids, part of the cultural foundation of growing up in the 1960s. But we had plenty to choose from on TV, didn’t we? Also influential to me was “Star Trek.” Khan was my third TV model for villainy.

    • October 18, 2013 at 4:24 pm

      Oh yes, Angelique was really something! Even though I haven’t seen any episodes with her for decades, just mentioning her name evokes a very specific kind of villainy for me.

      I really liked Star Trek, too, though I didn’t watch it with the same obsession. Still love the Star Trek universe (at least the Gene Roddenbery iterations). Great ideals and role models.

      Thanks for joining me down memory lane!

  5. Kathleen Resch said,

    October 18, 2013 at 10:32 pm

    We’ve been holding Dark Shadows conventions since the 70s, and over the years almost every actor and most of the technical people involved with the show have attended at least one event. Our next convention will be next July, date TBD, in Tarrytown, NY.
    darkshadowsfestival.com

  6. Kathleen Resch said,

    October 18, 2013 at 10:34 pm

    PS, the date will be determined within the next couple of days.

  7. kaye george said,

    October 19, 2013 at 9:18 pm

    I guess I’m the senior here. I was all grown up when this show was on, hubby was overseas in the military and I worked civilian for the Army. A co-worker and I were avid fans. If she had to miss it, I would memorize all the lines and tell them to her at lunch the next day, and vice versa. I will admit that my favorite times were when they messed up their lines, or the scenery fell apart. I thought it was campy.

    • Nancy Adams said,

      October 20, 2013 at 10:34 am

      The DVD of the first episodes cautions that the film (or whatever you’d call it) is the unedited original so there will be some technical glitches. The last one we watched had a spot of jiggly camera.

      But what I really like are the voiceovers as the credits roll at the end of each episode, advertising shows called “Where the Action is” and “Where the Fun is.” LOL. Talk about “and now for something completely different…”

      Thanks for stopping by!

  8. October 31, 2013 at 1:44 pm

    […] primed to love all things spooky by my infatuation with Dark Shadows, it was only natural that a few years later, as I was entering my teens, I became a huge fan of […]

  9. October 30, 2014 at 2:05 pm

    […] holiday-themed stories featuring Saint Nick. I’ve always loved Halloween (I grew up watching Dark Shadows and reading Edgar Allan Poe) and I love cats, so writing a Halloween story that featured a black […]


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