Everyone in Miss Rothgib’s 2nd grade class knew the legend.
If you weren’t asleep when the clock struck midnight,Barnabas Collins would come through your wall. No-one knew for sure what would happen but it wouldn’t be good.Sure, he was constantly depressed but he still was a vampire and he could still rip your throat out.We were seven, we weren’t stupid.
Barnabas Collins was the most popular vampire,albeit the only vampire,in daytime back then.In fact "Dark Shadows" didn’t become a big hit until the character of Barnabas was introduced.
"Dark Shadows" was a combination of a serial drama and "Creature Features." There were vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts and conflict. It was the first and only gothic soap opera. Sure "Passions" had some supernatural elements but it wasn’t scary.
The show centered on the Collins family (both past and present)who lived in their family home of Collinswood in the town of Collinsport.I think the writers were penalized if they used too many different surnames.Since the stories involved Collins family members from various decades,they came up with an easy way to go back in time-use a portal in the attic. See how easy time travel can be, Mr. H.G. Wells?
I loved "Dark Shadows" and would rush home from school, to make sure I was seated in front of the TV at 4pm.It was super scary but good scary. The minute I heard the theme music,I immediately got goose-bumps.
For some reason, the characters and actors who played them imprinted on my memory. I have an almost savant like ability to remember the character name and the actor.Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins, Grayson Hall as Dr. Julia Hoffman and Lara Parker as the evil witch, Angelique, I can place them any time anywhere and they are forever those characters. John Karlan, aka Willie Loomis (you have to say his full character name always) also played Lacy’s husband on "Cagney and Lacy" but he was always Willie Loomis to me. I’m pretty sure I was the only one in the theatre while watching “The Social Network” who gasped and whispered to my friend that David Selby aka Quentin Collins was one of the lawyers.
Quentin was my favorite character, as he was the tortured werewolf.He didn’t want to be one, I swear. One time he attacked somebody so badly that their face looked like a roast all bound up with bloody string.He could barely look at his own self in the mirror after that. It is not easy being wolfen.
I wanted Angelique, the blonde witch to be my mother. Truthfully, it wasn’t that much of a stretch,my mother is blonde. Although my mother can't appear among the flames in a fireplace, she has an uncanny ability to know when I have contraband food items. Witchy!
In a few weeks a big screen version of "Dark Shadows" is coming out directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins. It definitely is a comedy and one that obviously doesn’t take itself seriously.
Many fans,( my contemporaries I suspect)have got their cloaks in a knot over this movie, saying that was wrong to mess with such an iconic story. The IMDB message board is loaded with irrate fans complaining. Um have seen "Dark Shadows" through an adult’s eyes? I have and trust me the series has not held up. There are literally no production values:the flats of the set visibly shake, the acting is bad and the writing is worse.I seem to remember a skeleton on a string- yes that bad. Some material is OK to redo,sometimes it turns out better than the original.
But back then "Dark Shadows" could scare the pants off me. If it got too frightening,I would simply switch off the TV and go set the table.I’d act as if it wasn’t that the show scared me but that I had chores to do.
One night my friend Donna Tuttle and I decided to test the "midnight Barnabas Collins visit" theory. She spent the night and we stayed up until midnight. It wasn’t easy. Is it midnight yet? No it is only 8:30.Is it midnight yet? No it is only 8:45 and so on. When nothing happened at the horror hour,we figured we had done something wrong. We still believed in the Shadows legend but for some reason Barnabas Collins must have been otherwise engaged. We were off his bat radar.
Months later, I awoke in the middle of the night to find a strange man dressed all in black at the foot of my bed.I knew instinctively that he may have once been a man but that he was one no longer. He was a ghost. Appearing as if he was an old timey undertakers complete with a stove-pipe hat, he seemed very calm. Not feeling scared, I was curious why he was there? Was it to punish me? I had been asleep at midnight that night.
I closed my eyes, thinking that when I opened them he would be gone. He wasn’t, he was still there, standing saying nothing. Actually it was kind of boring. I expected my ghosts to be malicious or in agony, that’s how they were on "Dark Shadows."I decided that I would just pretend there wasn’t an undertaker staring at me and go back to sleep. "Dark Shadows" had inured me to ghosties.
When I woke up the next morning, my friend the life-mourner was gone. My Dad told me that my grandfather had passed way during the night.It wasn’t my Grandfather who had been standing in front of me. My ghostly visitation had been a stranger, possibly come to let me know my Grandfather would be OK. I don’t know. I just know I did not imagine it.
I personally can’t wait for "Dark Shadows" the movie to come out. And if Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins wants to come out of the wall at midnight, he has an open invitation.
- Glendale, California, United States
- September 29
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