If, as Dark Shadows fans, we can agree on anything, it should surely be our inability to agree about nothing. Over the last few days, the reactions to the new Dark Shadows movie trailer have run the gamut – from excitement to outrage and everything in between. Warner Bros have chosen a deliberately provocative approach for the marketing, concentrating on audience-friendly comic moments and jaunty crooning from Barry White. It's not subtle, but having now clocked up 3.5 million views on YouTube, it's undeniably doing the job.
Now, I love Dark Shadows in pretty much all its forms, even the ones you're not supposed to. Be it the Leviathans, with their incomprehensible agenda and ever-changing goals; the Dan Ross novels with their hairy-palmed leading man and Scooby-Doo mysteries; or even the Gold Key comics, which portrayed our vampire hero as a gangly-legged caveman brandishing his cane like a club... I don't care – I love them. I can enjoy each on their own merits, excesses and all. They’re special because they are Dark Shadows stories and I've found something to cherish in every one of them.
The original show was a genuine lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenon – a collision of luck, improvisation and hard work. There's nothing magical about its creation and, like the best happy accidents, the true secret of its success remains a mystery. Television of course has moved on, and the giddy hysteria of those primitive live-on-tape performances can never be recaptured. Short of making actors perform at gunpoint, it simply can't be done.
So Dark Shadows as we know and love it will forever be fleeting and lost. But even today, the characters and stories still burn brightly, and the possibilities of revisiting them are irresistible. However, times change, and Dark Shadows is no longer the bright new kid on the block. It might have pioneered its reluctant vampire, but it didn't trademark him. TV and film is now riddled with doleful bloodsuckers bemoaning their lot, so it’s understandable that the film’s producers have decided that Barnabas and the format need a new edge for the big screen.
For me, the most fascinating aspect of Tim Burton's Dark Shadows so far is the way in which its 1970s setting – incidental in the original – has now been incorporated as an integral part of the storyline. There's something both whimsical and sad about Barnabas fumbling to catch up with a world that is already long since gone. The idea of Barnabas as a man adrift and out of his time was something that the original series simply sidestepped. Having introduced him as a temporary villain, the producers kept their vampire at arm's length, leaving the story of his reactions to the modern world untold. However, the original Barnabas would certainly have experienced all those things – seeing a television for the first time, encountering modern slang or rock music – and drawing on that disorientation and culture shock is a valid new direction for the character. Some may condemn this as betrayal or sacrilege, but to my mind, it's a bold and exciting approach, absolutely in-keeping with the show's creative heritage.
It's easily forgotten, but Dark Shadows relied heavily on gleeful reinterpretations of existing works. Mary Shelley might have cried foul had she lived to see Frankenstein ripped-off for a Dark Shadows B-plot, but one doubts that thought troubled the show's writing staff. Arguably creator Dan Curtis' greatest skill was as an editor, and during the five years of the show he brazenly stole from any literary source that took his fancy, reworking the stories into Dark Shadows plots with gusto and keen instinct. Were they respectful adaptations that honoured their source texts? Not at all, but Dan understood the power of a good story and how to make the material work to his own ends.
What Tim Burton and his team have done is no different – they're simply taking hold of Dark Shadows and making it their own. It's a brave interpretation and I have high hopes. I'd like to think that the film will find some space between the jokes for a little more of the old show's romance and mystery, but if it isn't there, I shan't complain. I'm always surprised when people suggest the original episodes were never intentionally funny, because for this viewer, many of Dark Shadows' finest moments came when it dared the audience to laugh. The show’s occasional black humour often gave us glimpses of the characters at their most human and vulnerable, along with making Count Petofi such a memorable and disturbing villain.
The true measure of any classic is that it can withstand multiple interpretations, and I've no doubt that this will be the case for our little show. The new movie marks the fourth time the Dark Shadows story has been adapted for the screen, and each version has seen the situations and personalities evolve. It's a necessary and exciting part of the creative process, and most certainly not something to be feared. Good characters will always hold true in whatever dramatic situation they are placed in, and Dark Shadows boasts some of the very best.
In the meantime, our original show's reputation and legacy is assured. Having conquered every format from 8-Track to Netflix, Dark Shadows won't be erased from history by a two-hour film. The new movie will find an audience and, who knows, may even be lucky enough to be held dear by a fandom of its own in 40 years from now. And if that’s not to be, it will at least have made Barnabas and the world of Collinwood that little bit less obscure.