24 July 2013

Dark Shadows: Collection 14

Dark Shadows Collection 14 Gets Hairy and Heavy
By Kristin Battestella

The gothic sixties soap opera Dark Shadows adds even more vampires, werewolves, curses, ghosts, and paranormal panache to its DVD Collection 14 as the 1897 timeline moves along with toppers and twists.  

 The mysterious Laura Collins (Diana Millay) returns to Collinwood determined to take her children Jamison (David Henesy) and Nora (Denise Nickerson) away from Reverend Trask’s (Jerry Lacey) boarding school. Her former lover Quentin Collins (David Selby), however, has other occult plans for her. Barnabas Collins – who has traveled back in time and is once again a vampire – also battles Laura with the help of gypsies Magda (Grayson Hall) and Sandor (Thayer David). Unfortunately, his unraveling of Quentin’s secrets has deadly consequences, and Barnabas must help family matriarch Judith (Joan Bennett) in the past to save the Collins’ future.   

These plot summaries keep getting tougher thanks to increasingly lengthy, intricate, spoilery turns here in the still somewhat early leg of the long 1897 flashback. Collection 14 opens with children in peril in Episode 736 and continues with the wolfy foreplay thru 775. Characters occasionally line drop David Collins, the 1969 reasons for the time travel, and advance the connections with dreams and prophecy, but the 1897 action interweaves itself well enough to forget the then-present. These storylines are well interconnected, one doesn’t dominate over the others, and the smaller ensemble tackles several plots at once. Of course, this wouldn’t be Dark Shadows without bloopers and flubs, and the 1796/97 inconsistencies with the past phoenix storyline may feel like a retread or an unnecessary sidetrack. This unique, fiery story does have its entertaining purposes, however. The pace flows well from episode to episode – something is always happening, the quick half hours feel like real time events, and each night we follow as these quality twists unfold. Collection 14 piles on a lot for Disc 1 alone, but first time viewers unaware of what happens next will be on the edge of their seats for surprise character connections, reveals, and curses adding to the murder, ghosts, blackmail, and poisons on Disc 2. Great suspense, hysterics, guilt, and a solid cliffhanger to end each episode make for a sweet resolution to the phoenix storyline on Disc 3, and major lycanthrope strides, vampires, and gypsy twists round out Disc 4. Audiences will certainly have favorites or prefer some storyline aspects more than others, but Collection 14 wonderfully layers and builds Dark Shadows’ all around paranormal world with vampires, bats, werewolves, doppelgangers, and more.

Poor Barnabas Collins, stuck in a foreign time and dealing with ghosts, wolf investigations, and vampire victims all at the same time – his flub, “My cousin, Uncle Jeremiah…” is certainly understandable! Jonathan Frid keeps Barnabas on form whether he’s going head to head with Laura Collins, keeping it teethy and sensual, or fearful of failing the future and being caught as a vampire. He has e’sHHHeehto beat that sunrise! The supernatural ages and time hopping irony isn’t lost between Barnabas and Laura, and there’s a lovely little poetic, sympathetic turn with the crazy Jenny and Barnabas pairing. It’s great to see our anti-hero vamp and ex-ghost Quentin begrudgingly working together, too. We feel for Barnabas’ difficulty, yet it’s still a touch too creepy when he’s hypnotizing the kids. Further keeping it juicy as always is Lara Parker as Barnabas’ witchy nemesis Angelique. She’s always ready to throw a wrench into things for Barnabas or be his unlikely ally as needed. Parker doesn’t appear much on Collection 14, but Angelique has some great chemistry with Quentin and it’s a real paranormal treat to see her and Laura go head to head!  

Well, Magda is still greedy as ever, and Grayson Hall hams it up, thrusting gypsy fun into each Collins’ face as the familial twists deepen. Though these motifs are stereotypical and dated, the gypsy curses and talismans make for fitting old world flair and superstitions. The lycanthrope angles and gypsy ties aren’t revealed all at once, and Magda’s attitude and anger change to regret once she realizes who will be affected by her curses. Likewise, Thayer David’s Sandor is the perfect cute couple companion to Magda as her bemusing scaredy cat sidekick and Barnabas’ helper foil. Episode 749 brings the first mention of David’s second 1897 character and oft-aliased Count Petofi, but we won’t see him until Collection 15.

Boy can David Selby scream! The impish Quentin is oh so suave, calculating, and full of love to hate charm as he causes trouble in every way possible. That laugh, his music, the angry relationship with Magda, and the illicit, rough love with Beth. He and Barnabas uneasily dance around each other’s secrets while Quentin remains both clever and suspicious yet stupid with women and paranoid, “Stop staring at me as if I were some kind of exhibit!” Despite his previous haunting twistedness and further wicked ways in 1897, it’s simply lovely to follow Quentin’s journey – for he knows his bad deeds are catching up to him. His romance with Beth is troubled, full of arguments and action both tense and tender, yet somewhere along the line, even Quentin earns the audience’s sympathy. Terry Crawford as Beth and Marie Wallace as Jenny also have lovely but difficult conflicts and role reversals. They are friends – although one is a servant and there’s betrayal all around – and it’s great to their pentagrams, dolls connections, and a young Ezra Braithwaite tie into the previous 1969 plotline. Marie Wallace has to be doubly over the top as this gothic sixties soap’s resident crazy person, but now she’s not annoying at all. In fact, her lack of understanding of the undead is bittersweet and tragic, and Jenny’s events cap off Disc 1 and set and Dark Shadows’ past werewolves in motion for Disc 2.

Collection 14 opens with quality scares for David Henesy as Jamison and Denise Nickerson as Nora, but the children spend more time being referred to on Disc 2 thanks to Jamison being locked in a closet for most of that time! Henesy’s delivery is sincere, with emotion, confusion, and fear as needed, and Nickerson uses her expressive cherub face for great moments on Disc 3. It’s sad how the adults paranormally tug and pull the children for their own gains, and perhaps Diana Millay as Laura with her campy phoenix sun god rites and rituals is the biggest culprit. Her passive aggressive maternal issues do however make for a unique plot full of Egyptian mythos. There’s great chemistry in her hate with Quentin, too, but Roger Davis is once again too icky as Laura’s henchman and Collins’ overseer Dirk Wilkins. He’s so lame, annoying, heavy breathing, and up in Laura’s face. Despite his big twists to end Disc 4, the fast forward button always tempts me whenever he’s onscreen! 

I confess, I didn’t miss Kathryn Leigh Scott and her sporadic appearances as meek Rachel Drummond on Disc 2, and Don Briscoe as Tim Shaw is also a touch too dry and noble amid all this Victorian dirt. It takes some good old-fashioned shades of 19th century Manchurian Candidate brainwashing for him to get interesting! Jerry Lacey and his juicy Reverend Trask use both of them to feed his oh so deliciously shady ways – from cruelty at the school to intentions on Judith Collins and more implied salaciousness. I’d rather meet the werewolf in the woods instead of Trask! Clarice Blackburn doesn’t appear until late on Disc 3 as Minerva Trask, but Quentin quickly manipulates the perfectly annoying Mrs. and her bad marriage while seemingly devout but latently vampy Nancy Barrett as daughter Charity Trask moans, “Oh Barnabas, please! Make me happy!” The suggestive camera cuts away from the vampire bite and returns when she buttons up her collar in a perfectly subtle acknowledgement of her righteous yet totally hypocritical style.

Barrett, Louis Edmunds, and Joan Bennett each briefly appear as their original 1969 characters in Episode 767, but Edmunds’ Edward Collins is once again so serious and worried about the family honor. His plans to save the family grow more elaborate as he is forced to defend Quentin and become the reluctant werewolf hunter and supernatural expert. We don’t see frumpy Judith much on Collection 14, but her witty words battle with Quentin, harshness towards Beth, and bitchiness over the gypsies wonderfully contrast her rapport with Barnabas. Judith wants someone to trust but can she really trust this creepy cousin? Humbert Allen Astredo’s Evan Handley is also slick as ever; his woefully inaccurate rituals and pentagrams make for some dang sure entertainment and suspense, and that topper on Episode 761! His and Trask’s mutual blackmailing alliance is a treat, too, and when John Karlen returns as Carl Collins to conclude Collection 14, well… psychics, murder, and Victorian dance hall style follows.

Spooky sets, period music, and cheap decorations certainly keep Dark Shadows loaded with gothic mood. On form but sometimes slightly off music cues accent the bizarre dream sequences, cool crypts, candles, and wobbly Styrofoam tombstones. These hokey designs and effects capture the fun, camp atmosphere, and wolf howls, ominous knocks on the door, voiceovers, eerie lighting, and suspense pacing tie everything together. So what if Alex Stevens’ stunt wolf is finely dressed and a foot shorter than the always bloodied and shredded Quentin – every woman wears a blue and green dress at some point, too. I think they bought that ugly fabric wholesale! The contemporary viewer can forgive the mistakes or enjoy a drinking game party for every boom mike or erroneous shadow because Dark Shadows comes together so effectively. Retrospective interviews on Collection 14 featuring David Selby, Kathryn Leigh Scott, publicist James Butler, and executive Leonard Goldberg recall the sixties teen phenomenon, fan mail, associated publishing endeavors, and how the legacy of Dark Shadows lives on. Damn straight!

 Well played, action-packed half hours keep Dark Shadows DVD Collection 14 intense and ambitious. Every episode cliffhanger makes the invaluable play all video option both a blessing and a curse. One can easily be swept up in almost 4 hours straight viewing!  The complex characters, storytelling twists, torment, and paranormal layers do everything they are supposed to do here, and I’m already digging in to Collection 15!

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