This week’s Halloween treat combines two great tastes that taste great together — witches and vampires! Because we have a witchy woman who curses the man who spurns her, and he becomes a vampire (c’mon, who hasn’t felt like throwing a little curse action?). Let’s look at Dark Shadows: The Vampire’s Curse, which is a 2009 compilation about all the spooky backstory for Barnabas Collins and how he became a vampire in 1795 at the hands of the dissatisfied witch Angelique Bouchard. Barnabas would then be awakened in 1967 to participate in the soap opera that was the lives of his descendants in the TV show Dark Shadows, which aired from 1966-1971. Sorry if that doesn’t make any sense, but just go with the flow. Essentially, it was a late-’60s soap opera that threw in a vampire and a bunch of spooky stuff, and ratings shot through the roof (and yes, there were TV revivals in the late ’90s / early 2000s, plus a 2012 movie with Johnny Depp, but we’re not going there).
The original Dark Shadows was campy and kooky and great fun in that way that vampire shows should be, IMNSHO. Either vampire movies/shows should be cuttingly, icily cool and serious, or they need to be aware of a certain preposterousness of their existence and play into the cliches. Dark Shadows was the latter, lovingly so. The best soap operas also understand the trappings of their genre and use them well, and adding a supernatural element is the crowning glory of soap operatic awesome.
Barnabas Collins (played by Jonathan Frid) doesn’t get a lot of credit for being a very influential vampire character, but he may have advanced the ‘vampire lover’ trope earlier than anyone in mainstream media. Previous screen vampires, such as Bela Lugosi’s Dracula, were elegantly evil at best — a weirdly seductive figure, but not a byronic boyfriend. Barnabas’ main storylines revolved around his lost true love (Josette) and his jealous spurned lover (Angelique). Plus he hooked up with other mortal ladies along the way. He was a serious vampire lothario!
Angelique Bouchard (played by Lara Parker) is a constant antagonist to Barnabas, but occasionally his ally and even his wife. With her witchcraft, she can control spirits, move objects, even travel through time. While she is obsessed with Barnabas, she still takes other lovers for fun and for spite. This is a soap opera after all, and bed-hopping is required. Amongst the romance and back-stabbing, stories played riffs on gothic literature with allusions to Frankenstein, Jane Eyre, Edgar Allen Poe, and Wuthering Heights, and H.P. Lovecraft for some legit horror ambiance.
Hilarious coincidence that in the season 3 episode of Outlander, “Freedom & Whisky,” 1960s Scots fellow Roger is watching Dark Shadows. I knew I liked that guy for some reason!
Are you a fan of this spooky soap opera too?