11 February 2017

Dark Shadows: Collection 16

Dark Shadows Collection 16 Steamrolls Forward
by Kristin Battestella

The macabre soap opera Dark Shadows continues its DVD Collection 16 deep into the 1897 storyline with another forty episodes of cliffhangers, time travel, possessions, prophecies, and vendettas.

Time traveling vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) is re-entombed in his coffin by the warlock Count Petofi (Thayer David), who is intent on escaping Madga Rakosi's (Grayson Hall) gypsy vengeance in 1897 by traveling to the future with werewolf Quentin Collins (David Selby) – the concerned uncle of young Jamison (David Henesy), who is possessed by 1969's David Collins. Unfortunately, the witch Angelique (Lara Parker) has other marital plans for Quentin, leaving the possessed Charity Trask (Nancy Barrett), jealous maid Beth Chavez (Terry Crawford), and painter Charles Delaware Tate's (Roger Davis) perfect women come to life Amanda Harris (Donna McKechnie) with broken-hearted, violent, and trigger happy threats to the Collins Family future.

Disc 1 begins where Collection 15 left off with disruptions to the time traveling answers and Collins children past and present at risk. Numerous players know what's happening – the vampires, paradoxes, and possessions are no longer secret – raising the battle of wills with all manner of supernatural then and now. Who in Collinsport doesn't have a paranormal problem? Visions part truth and part deceptions create an entertaining yet eerie mix of who is who, past or present, and living or dead blending together. Characters learning of their own suicides from their future ghosts is wild stuff, but the fantastic is handled with sincerity, earnest, and sophistication. A lot is happening at once, but vampires can't help from the coffin and the werewolf can't be called upon for heroics during the full moon. Vicious murders push the daytime television envelope while hooded executioners provide well done suspense. Most of the cast is involved in multiple stories, and the supernatural tangents intersect with new connections and surprises. Is it convoluted at times? Yes. Preposterous? Absolutely! However, Dark Shadows sticks with its own mechanics, allowing for unreliable I Ching attempts and garbled future messages while the mystical paintings, gypsy angst, and possession puzzles maintain an impressive complexity. Action scenes and paranormal visuals balance the traditional two shot soap opera conversations, and mini cliffhangers keep the extensive 1897 tales moving. Dark Shadows doesn't toil over one event – something critical happens every half hour thanks to interesting tricks, unique spells, and a spooky variety not seen elsewhere. It's tough to summarize all the fake talismans, man created women, and ghostly abductions, but references to the 1969 present recall the time travel goals and lay the 1897 exit groundwork. The cast has a good time with some of the crazy dialogue – even as they try not to laugh at the infamous flubs and teleprompter glances. It's dynamite when characters who haven't met do so, and emotional anchors swell as the fantastics go for broke. The alternating plots are interwoven well, and the opening narrations provide the essentials when the heavy finales don't repeat the more outrageous turmoil, poisons, or you know, sword wielding suspense. 

Dark Shadows puts its own paranormal spin on the usual soap opera greed, and cutaway kisses or cameras framed by the brass bed suggest more saucy. Everyone is at each other's throats, and the tense atmosphere builds as coming and going characters go over the cliff – literally. Gunpoint confrontations and murder confessions escalate as witches counter warlocks, and the vampire's tricks don't always work, either. More gypsy vendettas and skeletons from the future add to the rolling paranormal problems – possessions are solved but there's a real time full moon amid prophetic harbingers and death dates. Enemies sit together and have a brandy, waiting for who will blink first, and the villainous malice or dangers to the timeline are felt with magical gifts given and taken away. The audience isn't always sure how The Collins Family is going to get out of the latest enemy's enemy is my friend ruthlessness, creating great viewer immersion. Watch one episode of Dark Shadows and you're hooked by the countdowns and deadly engagements. The self-aware characters wonder what kind of newspapers headlines they would make, and the bright red blood remains soap opera shocking alongside a witch hypnotizing a man to write a suicide note and put the pistol to his temple. Twisted! Astral projections go awry, and one wouldn't think there is anywhere left to go so deep into these 1897 plots. However, letters written in 1897 are read in 1969 just in the nick of time, and Dark Shadows spends several episodes in its present, bringing the ominous facts full circle with ghosts, bloody flashbacks, and jealous women. Certainly, there are inconsistencies with dates and alternate or negated timelines – after all, the fly by night production never expected to be seen again much less with today's finite detail. Fortunately, the interference, rejections, redemption, and big supernatural toppers on Collection 16 make it easy to overlook any trivialities. The fatal prophecies come together as new players knock on Collinwood's door on Disc 3, and intense zooms accent the suspense, dark romanticism, and dying for love morose. I get so caught up in it all, at times I forget to take review notes!

Deadlines approach, and the old grandfather clock sounds the hour as the guns are fired, creating great television timing on top of the scorned women angst. Mystical bargains and curses bought or sold with Oscar Wilde flair trap the afflicted and layer the intense deliveries as we are preternaturally parallel and watching both 1969 times and 1897 stories at once. Episode 839 would seem to resolve the ghosts and fatal pasts with all is well second chances and onscreen questions asked and satisfactorily answered. However, more werewolf troubles and bodily possessions then and now remain. On Dark Shadows, most people accept rather than balk at the supernatural, so nobody ever goes to the authorities over some cyanide or disembodied bodies. Train tickets and packed suitcases don't mean anyone can escape out of Dodge, either. Stolen portraits, late messages, and all aboard whistles add suspense in Episode 850 alongside Dark Shadows' hallmark dream sequences. Series star Jonathan Frid is absent on Disc 2 before being withheld again on Disc 4 of Collection 16, and there are also several episodes with no pre-Barnabas cast members – proving Dark Shadows has enough ensemble merit and storytelling integrity without relying on its established laurels. This is a huge cast, and it's not uncommon for even significant players to be excused with legitimate if zany reasons. The assorted threats behind each door of the I Ching gone wrong may seem repetitive like the earlier Dream Curse refrains, but these deadly Rube Goldbergs and bloody surprises aren't boring or laughable frights. The Kitty Soames reincarnation identity crisis, however, is redundant. If she isn't helping or hindering the Petofi plot, then she is an unnecessary disservice to the I Ching exit potential. 1897 didn't have to take this upcoming 1796 detour on Collection 17, and Dark Shadows should have returned directly to the 1969 werewolf story to begin the dreaded Leviathan tale on a better foot. Though slightly obvious, the switcharoos over the final three episodes on Collection 16 use magic rings and a diabolical touch for a wild finish. The 1897 tangent isn't over yet, as unknown prices must be paid. 

Too many people know his vampire secrets, and Jonathan Frid's poor Barnabas Collins is trying to keep the present family alive by jeopardizing those in his current past. He bluffs at gunpoint, but Barnabas can't argue with the sunrise. He's trapped in his coffin and stripped of his powers, lamenting how his condition impedes him, however the good guy vampire also misuses his talents when necessary. Fortunately, Barnabas is chuffed when future communiques assure all is well, and more daytime cures from Julia can help him finish his mission while romancing Kitty Soames. Of course, Lara Parker's “perennial bad penny” Angelique will have none of that, although she is unflustered to hear her 1968 Cassandra Collins nom de plum – admitting she was there, or rather, will be. Some of her fiery prayers and amulets repeat the Laura Collins Phoenix feelings, however her voodoo effigies remain campy fun. Angelique uses her powers to aide the family, but wants to marry Quentin for some good Collins standing. While he detests her and she only likes him, Angelique suggests he learn to love her as his jailer. She enjoys telling Beth about the impending nuptials, and Julia is reluctant to accept her help. Although Angelique is right that loving Barnabas leads to nothing but misery – not like that's her fault or anything! Early on Collection 16, Grayson Hall's Madga Rakosi is left out to pasture by Count Petofi with undead gypsies and big soap opera slaps. An entire episode dedicated to her running around in circles and hiding in the fake woods is bemusingly over the top, but Madga's outspoken sassy can't work if she's bewitched into being unable to say Petofi's name. It's a pity to retire Madga, but Hall's beloved 1969 Doctor Julia Hoffman returns to Dark Shadows half way through Collection 16. She makes big decisions when Barnabas is in trouble and risks returning to the haunted Collinwood for answers before tripping into 1897 herself. No, those sixties fashions won't stand out, not at all! Despite wishing to return to the future with Barnabas, Julia gets the period substitutes for his transfusions. Unfortunately, Petofi coerces and tests her apparently impervious abilities before threatening Kathryn Leigh Scott's Kitty Soames. Unlike Scott's earlier 1897 do-gooder Rachel Drummond – who was also said to resemble Josette yet there's no mention of Kitty resembling Rachel – Kitty is a gold digger with upscale Victorian mourning style and her sights set on Edward Collins' money. Until she meets Barnabas, that is.

His own ghost comes back to haunt David Selby's Quentin Collins, and it's excellent to see a character originally so terrifying to children become the tormented anti hero we're rooting for against Petofi's dire criss cross. Quentin cares for Beth, but pushes her away as he drowns his sorrows with brandy and gramophone music, writing a goodbye note rather than enduring another werewolf night. Fortunately, his mysterious portrait proves helpful against the lycanthrope curse in Episode 832, leaving him free for Petofi to use his loyalty to Barnabas against him. He refuses to believe predictions on his falling out with Jamison and doesn't always trust Julia's plans. Quentin may act like he doesn't care about his family, but he wants to do good and grows conflicted when playing both sides or setting up Barnabas. However, it is hysterical when he must wrangle the knife wielding Charity without spilling his drink! The Quentin we met at the start of 1897 would have enjoyed marrying Angelique – or at the very least, wouldn't mind conquering her. But now, he merely agrees to keep their arrangement reluctantly pleasant. Selby of course, spends some time delivering Petofi's clipped cruelty late on Collection 16, leaving him not as careful over his portrait as he should be – plots that will certainly affect Dark Shadows in the future. It's great fun to see Quentin and Amanda meet as well. One miracle night without stunt werewolf Alex Stevens and Quentin is back to being a wolf on the make. It must be the real sideburns! Thankfully, he's aware he deserves no time with girls who would be dead if they met his other, more hairy, fangful face. Quentin makes plans to run away with Amanda, telling her he now needs happy lyrics for Shadows in the Night to remind him of her. Oh smooth, Quentin, smooth. 

The Hand of Count Petofi is back in place on Thayer David's villain as the chess player blackmails and possesses. The bug glasses and harsh up close shots make viewers want to withdraw from his shady presence, but David keeps Petofi wonderfully camp and manipulative. He holds everyone's secrets and gives people a taste of his gifts, ever so suave as he tells them what they want to hear. Petofi uses that killer hand and gives frightful, mystical visions while sitting in his rocking chair. His social calls are an excuse to recount his list of evil deeds – he has one god and his name is Petofi – but there are limits to his skills and his magic isn't always as he intended. Petofi has his own powerful enemies – he's on borrowed time and resolute in escaping to the future. He spills drinks and puffs smoke when frazzled by his fear and hatred of gypsies but remains proud to have no ill dreams over the hundreds he's killed. Petofi wants everyone to act out their scene as he has planned, telling people when their part to play in the drama is over or to change as he chooses. He enjoys putting the triumph of his subjects just within reach as they threaten to kill him in their idle foolishness. Of course, Thayer David also appears the ghost of Sandor Rakosi in two episodes alongside double duty as that 1969 realist so in the dark about the Collins' secrets Professor Stokes. The multi-talented David juggles these personas wonderfully before finally, desperately trying to prove he is Quentin Collins in Count Petofi's body – but more on that in Collection 17.

Nancy Barrett's Charity Trask sees Quentin for what he is – she's scared and admits it, growing bold, gaining confidence, and speaking her mind until Petofi literally takes away her voice. It's a shocking scene when Dark Shadows essentially kills off Charity to permanently replace her with Pansy Faye's personality. It's a terrible, bleak violation making her song bittersweet with sad psychic manipulations and discussions on madness versus possession. However, Pansy remains blissfully ignorant in some ways, providing a lighthearted sassy and can can fun – now that is a hot pink boa! As Pansy, she stands up to Trask, hitting home the crazy, mad Alice style and performance within a performance by Barrett. The jealous, violent Pansy is easily triggered and her superimposed visions and voiceover prophecies are chilling. She moves out and gets a job at The Blue Whale, but Terry Crawford as former maid Beth Chavez is still hanging on at Collinwood. She wants to runaway – even packs her lovely green dresses – but can she escape her predestined ghostly fate? Beth fears death but she's tired of suicide talk, betrayals, and living in other people's lives with their wills held over her. Unfortunately, Beth says her own life is worth little and makes her anguish over Quentin worse by allying with Petofi. She snaps, too, going gun crazy with predicted revelations. Despite some differences from the original haunting storyline, it's wild to see history repeating itself, for the first time, again – something that only makes sense on Dark Shadows. Newcomer Donna McKechnie's Amanda Harris begins in cahoots with Tim Shaw's entrapment games, but the two years young perfect woman inadvertently created by Charles Delaware Tate's painting is soon disgusted by Trask and Shaw's abuses. Amanda's reveals come early on Collection 16, making room for her involvement in almost every plot. She wants money, safety, and man stability, but Amanda remains trapped by Shaw, a messenger to Petofi, pursued by Trask, and owned by Tate. Each wants her to belong to him, molding her for himself, and Amanda is indeed not quite her own person – until she falls in love with Quentin Collins perhaps. She wants to be somebody, a real person who's really loved not just an unnatural figment of someone else's imagination. It's an honest, relatable circumstance despite the fantastics, and Amanda's final fate later on Collection 18 is one of the things I always remember from first watching Dark Shadows reruns as a kid. 

With some magical artistry courtesy of Count Petofi, Roger Davis' Charles Delaware Tate paints Quentin's Dorian Gray portrait. Tate's conflicted about his gifts – worrying over the how and why rather than being grateful – but I am still not a fan of Davis' cranky, sarcastic delivery and over the top manhandling with his props. The stalling, Shatner-esque flubs may match the reluctant artist attitude, but his touchy feely lack of chemistry with Amanda is unlikable and his selfish need to tell her everything about her existence is plain cruel. Tate holds her past over her, entering Collinwood or people's private rooms demanding ownership of his creation, and he's eager to marry Amanda just to test if she knows how to love. Gross! Disc 3 sags when his plot is at the forefront, and I don't miss his fifth wheel when the character is absent. Fortunately, Tate learns his lesson, taking several seats thanks to Petofi and a set trashing row with Quentin, breakaway glass and all. Likewise, Don Briscoe's greedy and power hungry Tim Shaw uses Amanda as revenge on Trask with verbal insults and more implied. Shaw intends to use Tate's abilities for himself, shoehorning his way into plots we've already seen after having served his purpose. His reach is long, but that magically indestructible confession is rightfully coming back to haunt Jerry Lacy's ruthless Reverend Trask. He is more than ready to sit in the courting chair with his hand on Amanda's shoulder while discussing the firmness of his faith, and the camera zooms in on his glee as he waxes on resisting one's weaknesses. He claims the paranormal is merely demons and uses his godly prayers to justify his personal nasty. Despite his insistence that the devil is everywhere in his house, Trask worries about everyone's brandy habits before facing the vampires and werewolves under his nose – and he doesn't have much time to help his possessed daughter Charity. Ironically, Trask proves weak willed and easily hypnotized by Angelique, but he gains the upper hand after walking in on the chained up Quentin: “I won't ask why...you've manacled yourself...”

Not only is Humbert Allen Astredo's black magic lawyer Evan Handley unseen on Collection 16, but Dark Shadows matriarch Joan Bennett is also absent as the committed Judith Collins Trask. Although Paul Michael's King Johnny Romano is brief, his vengeful presence, imposing interrogations, underhanded taunts, and wicked knife play haunt Count Petofi throughout Collection 16 – unlike Michael Stroka as Petofi's “dear boy” Aristede. He says he's not afraid but Aristede shouts for “His Excellency” and views Beth as the competition. He grows upset at Julia suggesting Petofi isn't as great as he thinks he is and gets slapped around for failing the Count. Fortunately, Aristede enjoys roughing up Petofi when theit situation is reversed late on Collection 16, and he comes in handy for stabbing gypsies in the back. Petofi says Aristede has no love of culture but he keeps him on for his torturous, violent revelry. Hmm.... Young Denise Nickerson only appears briefly on Collection 16 as both Amy Jennings – critical in discovering a secret letter in 1969 – and Nora Collins – a messenger from Quentin caught by Trask. However, David Henesy's Jamison is used as a channel to his 1969 counterpart David Collins. He recalls how Quentin's ghost tormented David and returns to normal in Episode 836 with terrible snippets of his Petofi possessions. All the paranormal on Dark Shadows, yet it is the simple innocence and betrayal of a child that anchors the first half of Collection 16. Louis Edmunds appears quickly as Roger Collins before resuming his 1897 mantle as the bewitched into being a butler Edward Collins. Once cured of his subservient mentality, Edward immediately returns to his angry pursuit of Barnabas in an unlikely alliance with Petofi. He argues with Trask over the family bills and remains a non-believer even when all the spectacular on Dark Shadows is spelled out for him. Edward interferes with crucial I Ching trances, calling such hocus pocus the reason for the family's suffering, but ultimately he admits that in his zeal to stop their pains, he hasn't really been the best at being his brothers' keeper. Now that's an understatement! 

Despite fake greenery and AstroTurf underfoot, phantom winds, storms, smoke, and real fire keep the atmosphere well in hand – forgiving the primitive designs with tense, lights out spooky. The stone mill facades are wobbly yet remain tricked out with fine settees, four poster beds, blue candles, and gas or early electric lamps. While there are gowns with fine period silhouettes and colorful if stereotypical Romani designs, other costumes are garish pink and green with tacky embellishments and the 1969 orange striped ties are terrible. The Hand of Count Petofi also remains crusty even when reattached, however that gruesome matches the sickly green spotlights, ghoulish faces, and bloody red fangs. While the superimposed ghosts and disembodied effects are blue screen obvious literally rough around the edges, such shocks are doubly effective as both an audience surprise and a character fright. Creaking coffins, slamming doors, banging windows, wolf howls, and ominous voiceovers are on point with Bob Cobert's music – even if the sounds miss their cue. It's simply hysterical when angry men try to break a brandy glass in their bare hand but can't – and the crackling sound effect happens anyway! It wouldn't be Dark Shadows without innate tape hiccups, bloopers, onscreen crew members, equipment gaffes, or bulky cameras unable to get out of the frame fast enough. The teleporting afghan guest stars along with that intrusive Collinsport Fly while chained coffins are easily locked or speedily broken as needed. It takes one scene cutaway to dig a grave, drop the body, and refill the fake dirt just by removing one's jacket, and speedy Beth can run the miles from Petofi's Mill to Collinwood by seamlessly exiting one door and entering the next. Although Pansy's song can be tiring, the anachronistic dressings amid quick 1969 and 1897 furniture turnarounds are bemusing. Despite its production flaws, Dark Shadows also has well done artistic shots with intercut filming, mirror asides, strategic zooms, and psychedelic spins accenting that quintessential time travel trippy. 

After re-watching through other Dark Shadows sets, it was surprisingly easy to return for a Collection 16 marathon. I started with two episodes at a time before devouring a disc a night! Though opening at a good introductory moment, the multiple stories here so comparatively close to the timeline's end make Collection 16 not exactly the best place to jump into 1897. Delightful supernatural twists with paranormal hindrances spearhead each episode, and a crazy cliffhanger leads directly to next set. Like one potato chip, there's just no stopping after Dark Shadows DVD Collection 16.


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