04 October 2011

Dark Shadows: Collection 12

Dark Shadows Collection 12 Packs a Whallop!
By Kristin Battestella

October is here! So naturally, I’m neck deep into more Dark Shadows viewing.  Collection 12 returns to 1796, increases the Victorian hauntings, tosses in tormented werewolves, and still provides great spooky and suspense.

Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) suspects Victoria Winters (Carolyn Groves) needs his help in the past, and returns to 1796 to confront the witch Angelique (Lara Parker) while Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) and handyman Willie Loomis (John Karlen) fear for Barnabas’ return to vampirism.  David Collins (David Henesy) and Amy Jennings (Denise Nickerson), meanwhile, are becoming more and more possessed by the ghosts of Quentin Collins (David Selby) and Beth Chavez (Terry Crawford)- despite the help of governess Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) and Professor Elliot Stokes (Thayer David).  Unfortunately, Chris Jennings (Don Briscoe) is also of little help to his sister, as he is struggling to hide his werewolf secret from Carolyn Stoddard (Nancy Barrett).  Carolyn, however, can’t accept the death of her mother Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Joan Bennett) and insists she has been buried alive. 

Even with star Joan Bennett’s written in ‘buried alive’ break, these 40 episodes ending 1968 and steamrolling into 1969 pack a lot! The ongoing hauntings of Quentin Collins and Beth Chavez take a bit of a backseat early on here so the final wrap can happen with Victoria Winters and Peter Bradford’s return to 1796. Joe Haskell (Joel Crothers) is also finally exited off to Wyncliff Sanitarium as part of the meandering werewolf storyline.  On its own, Chris Jennings’ werewolf torment might be a good plot.  Unfortunately, it’s secondary to the ghosts for the first two discs of Collection 12 and can be over the top with lots of screaming and wolfy flipping out.  Naturally, soap viewers understand the need to rotate plots and keep alternating foils brewing.  However, the werewolf plot gets dumped for the hauntings, which are in turn dumped for the 1796 revisit.  It can be confusing to newcomers or perhaps even annoying when several episodes pass without your favorite players. Having said that, Collection 12 actually feels like a great introduction set.   Yes, we are jumping in media res with an apparently deceased matriarch, two ghostly foils, and maniacal werewolf plots; but it’s early enough into these going forward plans to enjoy the brewing mystery and delight in the twists of the big 1897 time travel and how all the storylines will come together in Collection 13. Almost every episode here has a great, climaxing ending keeping audiences old and new biting their nails- especially for the conclusion of each disc. The editing, music, and suspense are perfect to longtime viewers who know what is to happen and still superior to today’s unimaginative slice and dice horror.  

The 1796 flashback narrated by Jonathan Frid is also a nice touch before the 18th century reprisal and rescue of Victoria Winters.  Though paired down to its sweet climax, it’s lovely to see the players done up again in their 18th century personas.  Seeing that vengeful vampire Barnabas conflicted with his future self is treat- and it’s always fun to see Lara Parker in her original Angelique incarnation, too. 1796 looks sweet indeed, but Carolyn Groves is eh at best and at worst no Alexandra Moltke.  The intensity and suspense in the 1796 history works because we want Barnabas to succeed in his time traveling mission, not because we really like the ho-hum Vicky.  And man, Barnabas ends up in charge of Collinwood just as everything goes awry!  He’s not bad as head of the 1969 house, but his obsession with Victoria Winters supersedes all to open Collection 12. Frid’s wonderful as the disturbed man in love, and the irony and understanding of the ex-vamp pursuing the current wolfy doesn’t escape Barnabas.  Poor Barnabas, with a past like his and he’s stuck dealing with one supernatural problem after another! Grayson Hall is of course not only a fun Natalie du Pres in 1796, but Julia Hoffman is the she-doctor of all trades once again. Brandy for a werewolf attack! And yet we believe Julia’s logic even in the fantastic thanks to her no nonsense intelligence and unrequited attention for Barnabas.  Thayer David is also lovely as both Professor Stokes- so serious in the unexplained- and as compassionate 1796 servant Ben Stokes. The Professor’s always ready with the psychics and the séances, so occultly badass without ever being told the full extend of the demented at Collinwood.

David Henesy and Denise Nickerson are also very entertaining to watch as the increasingly disturbed David Collins and Amy Jennings. Though it sounds strange, it is a joy seeing these kids both confused and scared by the paranormal and yet also the wicked cohorts of poltergeists.  We fear for them entering the unknown while at the same time becoming more and more creeped out as their possession reaches its pinnacle. Kathryn Leigh Scott’s golly gee naïveté as Maggie Evans also works here as the unaware replacement for a favored governess in a spooky house.  Naturally, David Selby earns a great ghostly reveal on Collection 12 Disc 2. Though by this set it’s almost commonplace now to have Quentin as a troublesome behind the scenes figure; he is a silent, of the past, menacing imposition wherever he goes and to whomever he frighteningly appears.  Terry Crawford, however, looks a little too aristocratic to be the ghostly servant Beth Chavez with her silent but spooky, all lacy white stature! Her twists are dynamite for those who don’t know the true connections between the ghost and werewolf storylines just yet, and I think a dream sequence Beth earns speaking rights before the ghost of Quentin.  But oh his laughter! That music!

Keeping it real against the ghostly menace is the always fanatical Clarice Blackburn as Mrs. Johnson.  It’s amazing she’s survived in this house as long as she has!  Louis Edmunds doesn’t appear much in Collection 12, but his heartbroken Joshua in the 1796 flashback is as perfect as his ever disbelieving Roger Collins.  It’s wonderful how his usual scoff at the bizarre of Collinwood suddenly changes tunes. Nancy Barrett is also lovely as both a Carolyn in mourning and as the potential romance for Chris Jennings.  They make a cute couple- unlike some other very odd Dark Shadows pairings.  Don Briscoe plays Jennings well- of course we feel for the tormented nice guy who just happens to harbor an evil secret. Stuntman Alex Stevens is also a lot of fun as Jennings’ action werewolf alter ego.  I’ve mentioned before that I’m no fan of Roger Davis in any of his incarnations.  Unfortunately, in Collection 12 his Peter Bradford and Ned Stuart OTT selves both hold up the ongoing Quentin plots. Oh, it’s just such a big yawner that slows everything dooowwwn because Stuart has to spend half his time assuring people he isn’t Jeff Clark! Thankfully, Joan Bennett’s return for Disc 2 lies amid some great wolfy intensity and peril.  Guest player Abe Vigoda as aged silversmith Ezra Braithwaite also helps put an awesome, thrilling, even cinematic end to Disc 3.  As we near Episodes 690-691, everything finally comes to the hilt and it’s so, so sweet. 

Despite those problematic camera discolorings, jumping tapes, and random mike and camera appearances, Collinwood looks great!  The return to 1796 costumes are wonderful, and even the sixties styles look sweet.  Amy’s little clothes are really cute- although I don’t know about David’s sweaters! Jonathan Frid, of course, looks sharp in any era, and the Victorian hints of frocks and lace add an extra touch of period panache.  Julia Hoffman’s suits are also of the time professional yet still feminine and classy for today as well.  The candles, sound effects, séances, cemeteries, and smoke and mirrors treats do wonders for atmosphere and mood-even with Styrofoam tombstones, plastic trees, and hokey wolf makeup. Oh, those blue sheets and that dang afghan!  Of course, the sound between the screams, music, and poor microphones can be a little uneven, and Episode 683 is a black and white kinescope copy that somehow adds to the creepy atmosphere with its black edges and even freakier visual effects.

Longtime fans will delight in the extra interviews with Jonathan Frid and Denise Nickerson, but new fans can also jump in for the myriad of macabre action on Collection 12.  Super youngins’ might be scared or impressionable, yes.  However, those looking for more than today’s tame vamps can find whatever horror their looking for here.  Dark Shadows is a massive show to get into, yes, but the individual Collection Sets are packaged just right for quick pick and choose viewing.  Return to Collinwood again with Collection 12 this October or anytime of year.


Real Queen of Horror said...

I never heard of this before but I'd love to check it out.

Kristin Battestella said...

Never heard of Dark Shadows? Gasp! Must see if you like hokey old horror.

Kev D. said...

I have to say, the kid is selling it pretty hard. That's the most scared anyone has ever looked.

Kristin Battestella said...

Yes Kevin! Even with the potential for sixties over the top and annoyance in horror from the kids they really do an excellent job- and most of the time its with thin air, too.

Thanks for stopping by!