Friday, January 28, 2011

Johnny Depp Prepares for Barnabas

British tabloid newspaper The Sun claims that Johnny Depp has embarked on a weight loss regime as he prepares for his role as Barnabas. The newspaper reports that the actor is keen to "look as gaunt as possible" and hopes to get his weight down to 10 stone (140 lbs) with a diet of green tea and low fructose fruit before filming begins in April. To read the full article, click here.

Thursday, January 27, 2011

Jonathan Frid Announces Movie Involvement

Original Barnabas actor Jonathan Frid has announced via his official website that he will be involved in Tim Burton's upcoming Dark Shadows feature film. Jonathan writes:

"I will be participating, in a modest way, in the world of Dark Shadows starring Johnny Depp, produced largely in England. I look forward to this invitation to reflect in some way on this new storyline of Dark Shadows."

It's currently unclear if the actor will make a cameo appearance in the film, or instead contribute in some other way. To follow Jonathan's latest updates, visit his website by clicking here.

40 Years Ago, Saying Goodbye

40 years ago today, episode 1198 of Dark Shadows aired on ABC-TV and viewers saw their final glimpses of Barnabas and Julia as they returned to the present day. The show would continue for another couple of months, but for much of the audience, this was the end of Dark Shadows as they knew it. By now, Barnabas and Julia's exploits were the heart and soul of the stories and without them, the 1841 Parallel Time episodes that followed all too often felt like the exploits of strangers. Despite Jonathan Frid's best efforts, for most of the viewers, Bramwell Collins must have just seemed like an imposter.

Though cancellation was by no means certain at this point, there seems to be a sense of the series winding down. Returning to 1971 from their adventures in 1840, Barnabas, Julia and Professor Stokes are relieved to discover they've succeeded in changing history and that Collinwood is saved. For once, it's a genuine happy ending, as Elizabeth informs them that the family has enjoyed a happy winter.

Even better, they're late for an important event – Roger's giving a speech at the local historical centre – and they must hurry along to join the rest of the household. Amidst the regular melodrama of the Dark Shadows world, something as simple as the Collins family enjoying a night out seems every bit as weird and wonderful as any of the show's ghosts and vampires. It's a lovely note to end on – our once-troubled cast of characters united, happy, and looking to the future. What a pity we don't get to tag along too.

Having promised to catch Elizabeth up, the last word, of course, goes to Barnabas and Julia. "We'll never forget any of them, Barnabas," says Julia, reflecting on those they lost in 1840. "Never," agrees Barnabas.

And off they go, fading away.

Episode 1198 is included on Dark Shadows DVD Collection 25, available from

Monday, January 24, 2011

Win a Signed Audio Script

It's competition time again, and up for grabs is an original production script from the Dark Shadows audio drama Clothes of Sand.

The story featured Kathryn Leigh Scott as Maggie with Alec Newman as the mysterious Sandman, and both actors have signed the title page. Alec previously played Barnabas in the 2004 Dark Shadows pilot, and has since recorded several audio dramas for Big Finish. For your chance to win, just answer this simple question:

What was the name of the medical institution Maggie Evans was sent to after being kidnapped by Barnabas?

Send your answer, along with your name and postal address to before February 28. Clothes of Sand can be purchased on CD by clicking here.

Friday, January 21, 2011

Tim Burton Begins Location Hunt?

Some potentially interesting news about the new Dark Shadows movie has surfaced online, which suggests that location scouting is currently taking place on the south coast of England. Illfracombe People reports that director Tim Burton paid a visit to the village of Ilfracombe, Devon by helicopter on Tuesday January 18 to look at locations for an upcoming project, believed to be Dark Shadows.

Burton has filmed in the south west of England before, shooting sequences for Alice in Wonderland in Cornwall. Though unconfirmed officially, the piece reports that Burton has recently looked at a number of locations in North Devon, including the fishing town of Clovelly (pictured right). To read the full article, click here.

Wednesday, January 19, 2011

Movie Production Designer Announced

Rick Heinrichs has been confirmed as the production designer of the new Dark Shadows feature film, as pre-production gets underway. The Oscar-winning designer's previous credits include several collaborations with director Tim Burton, including Batman Returns and Sleepy Hollow. His most recent assignments have been The Wolfman and the upcoming Captain America movie.

Heinrichs has also previously worked with Colleen Atwood, who will be overseeing the costume design for Dark Shadows. Together, they have created visuals for Lemony Snicket's A Series of Unfortunate Events, Planet of the Apes and Tim Burton's glorious gothic horror Sleepy Hollow.

Tuesday, January 18, 2011

The Revival Series: 20 Years On

This week marks 20 years since the Dark Shadows revival series aired on NBC. Across 12 episodes, a new cast recreated the original stories with lavish production values and a brooding nighttime sensibility. Scheduling headaches and Gulf War pre-emptions saw the show cancelled after one brief season, but now seems like a good time to look back at Dark Shadows' first stab at reincarnation.

The feature-length pilot opens with a sweeping helicopter shot of Victoria's train moving along the coast and a beautiful new version of the original theme music. It has a genuine sense of wonder. So far, so good. In truth, while the focus of the stories is placed on Barnabas, Joanna Going as Victoria Winters is really the show's star. 20 years hindsight saw the character given little revision, but the performance alone makes Victoria seem contemporary and intelligent. As Barnabas, Ben Cross maintains the character's aristocratic air, but gives him a more sour demeanor than Jonathan Frid ever displayed. In his vampire form, Barnabas is now prone to randomly hissing like an alarmed cat. During these sequences, Ben Cross stares through his day-glo contact lenses pleadingly, as if hoping for a reprieve.

At the time of production, series creator Dan Curtis spoke of his desire to remake
Dark Shadows as he'd always intended it, and it's this mandate of worthiness that sets the tone for the early episodes. Unfortunately, though well-intentioned, the results are often cold and forbidding. Much of the pilot features characters earnestly delivering lines at distance across the (admittedly lavish) scenery. What should be intimate conversations are instead conducted from distances of up to 20 feet. It's great for showing off the sets, but little else. As a result, the Collins brood remain faraway, both emotionally and geographically.

An early scene of Elizabeth, Carolyn and Daphne exchanging casual chit-chat sounds like it's been fed through the Google language translator. "Well, at least there's one practical Collins," smiles Elizabeth thinly, in what's presumably meant to be a witty aside. You wouldn't want to stuck next to her at a party. What's missing is any sense of humour. Compare the first scene of Elizabeth and Roger bickering with its 1960s counterpart and the modern version seems spare and lacking. Whereas Louis Edmonds and Joan Bennett had instant rivalry and fruity put-downs to chew over, Roy Thinnes and Jean Simmons are left with a series of terse asides. Despite the actors' best efforts, they just sound bored with one another.

Things pick up considerably with the arrival of eminent blood specialist Dr. Julia Hoffman, played with tremendous gusto by Barbara Steele. With her arch, idiosyncratic manner and wonderful expressive face, she's a fine successor to Grayson Hall, juggling the melodrama and cool conviction of the character perfectly. Stylistically she feels like a reassuring lost link to the original Dark Shadows cast and as such, is simply brilliant. Of the rest of the actors, Jim Fyfe's version of Willie makes an impact, with the character re-imagined as light relief, shuffling through the episodes like a greasy court jester. He's an amusing presence, but with his comedy rotten teeth, Willie feels like he belongs to a different show.

Though this was a 1990s production, visually the 80s rule supreme, with high-teased hairdos and funky knitwear at every turn. For Victoria to succeed in gaining the viewer's sympathy while hiding beneath tousled ringlets and an oversized fisherman's sweater is nothing short of an acting triumph. Transformed into a vampire, Daphne Collins gains a terrifying posthumous perm. Even Barnabas isn't spared, uneasily decked out in a variety of vile turtleneck sweaters tucked in at the waist.

The gothic tone isn't helped by the production filming Maine on the west coast. The art department rise to the challenge with set dressing and buckets of dry ice, but in the blazing Californian sunshine, the effect looks more like a steaming mangrove swamp than any misty New England backwater. The decision to use the Greystone mansion for both Collinwood and the Old House becomes visually confusing, and an all-too-obvious miniature model is pressed into service for establishing shots.

So the styling might not always convince, but one area where the show does excel is with Bob Cobert's music score. Returning to his original compositions, he builds on the established
Dark Shadows sound with lush orchestration, adding an operatic, romantic quality absent on the original show. Contributing everything from soaring strings to unsettling synthesised soundscapes, he is this show's unsung hero. It's criminal that it didn't win him an Emmy.

Midway through the run, Victoria is flung back in time to the year 1790, and it's here that the revival really hits its stride. Up until now, the writers mostly recycled chunks of House of Dark Shadows (in some cases recreated shot-for-shot, line-for-line), but with no shorthand template for the flashback, the plots are forced to become more freeform and organic. Most crucially, the show finally finds the confidence to be funny, and for doing so, suddenly the characters feel so much more real. The actors, too, seem invigorated by this new direction, playing their 18th century counterparts with genuine grandeur.

Among the stand-out contributors here is Joanna Going, who succeeds in making Josette duPres and Victoria Winters such naturally distinct characters that the viewer soon stops noticing the dual role when they share scenes. Adding to the fun is Lysette Anthony's arrival as the witch Angelique. Forever on the cusp of being upstaged by her own heaving bosom, this incarnation is an altogether lustier character, projecting blatant desire and thick French vowels. She might lack the cool ambiguity of Lara Parker's interpretation but, in fairness, the restructured story never requires her to be truly sympathetic.

Sprinting through its retelling of Barnabas' origins at a rate of knots, our anti-hero is quickly dispatched to rise as a vampire. Now impeccably powdered and coiffed, Barnabas' undead form is possibly more New Romantic than romantic lead. Surrounded by soft-focus candles and mist, he stages what looks like a re-enactment of the video for Total Eclipse of the Heart in an attempt to woo Josette for eternity. It doesn't end well.

By the final episode, the plotlines are racing across two time periods like a period version of
24 and the cast are clearly having a whale of a time. Best of all, Ben Cross truly excels as Barnabas. His character is now almost written as a supernatural James Bond, saving the day with a ready quip – and astonishingly it really works. Vainly trying to spare his poisonous aunt Abigail from his bloodlust, Barnabas only succeeds in terrifying her. "Why do you never listen?" he bellows in exasperation, as he sinks his fangs into her throat. It's a brilliant scene – funny and scary all at once.

Meanwhile, awaiting the gallows, Victoria realises that Angelique has lured her back in time as part of an epic plan to write the entire Collins family out of history, and that the Barnabas of 1790 is the same man she knows in the present. What follows is a genuine thrill ride, as a doomed cast of characters race around to save the day. By the time we reach the closing cliffhanger, this show finally feels authentically like
Dark Shadows.

The lesson learned is that any future producer makes
Dark Shadows tasteful at their peril – its heart and soul are rooted in melodrama and theatre, not filmic understatement. The 1991 revival had a slow start, but within a dozen episodes it definitely found its feet. It's great that it concluded on its best episode, and a pity that a second season never materialized. It could have been something very special indeed.

The complete Revival Series can be purchased on DVD by clicking

Friday, January 14, 2011

David Selby Appearance

Los Angeles' New Beverly Cinema is to host a special presentation of David Selby's (Quentin) 1974 movie The Super Cops. After the screening, David will be discussing the film onstage alongside screenwriter Lorenzo Semple Jr., moderated by Edgar Wright, director of Shaun of the Dead and Scott Pilgrim vs. the World. The event takes place on January 19, and tickets can be purchased online by clicking here.

David will also be appearing alongside a host of Dark Shadows stars at The Hollywood Show, a collector's convention taking place at Burbank's Airport Marriott Hotel from February 12-14. David will be signing merchandise alongside Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie), Lara Parker (Angelique), Jerry Lacy (Trask) and Chris Pennock (Jeb). For more information, click here.

20 January Update: David will now not not be appearing at the Hollywood Show.

Wednesday, January 12, 2011

Third Classic Comics Collection

Dark Shadows: The Complete Collection Volume 3 has been confirmed for publication on June 14. The 224-page hardcover cover book includes issues 14-21 of the classic Gold Key Dark Shadows comic book, digitally restored with bonus content.

Amazon are accepting orders for the book, which is offered at a 30% discount. To pre-order, click here. Volume 2 is on out on February 11 and can be ordered by clicking here.

News in Brief

  • Christopher Pennock (Jeb) is about to star shooting Four Horsemen, a new independent film. The Idyllwild Film Festival recently presented Chris with their Lifetime Achievement Award.
  • Several Dark Shadows personnel are featured in Horror Hound magazine's recent countdown of the Greatest Names in Horror of the last 100 years. At 22 is Dick Smith, whose pioneering make-up aged Barnabas for television and the big screen; at 30 is series creator Dan Curtis; at 63, actress Barbara Steele (1991 Julia), and finally at 84, Jonathan Frid (Barnabas).
  • House of Dark Shadows is featured in the new book Top 100 Horror Movies. The Dark Shadows spin-off receives a full-colour photo spread and can be ordered by clicking here.
  • Diana Millay's (Laura) guest appearance on Boris Karloff's Thriller is now available on DVD in the show's complete series box set. To order it from Amazon, click here.

Tuesday, January 11, 2011

New Audio Dramas for 2011

Big Finish Productions have confirmed that a third series of Dark Shadows Dramatic Readings will be released in the summer, featuring original cast members performing all-new audio dramas. The six CDs will be available from May to July.

May's stories are The Blind Painter, starring Roger Davis as Charles Delaware Tate with Nicola Bryant, and The Death Mask starring Jerry Lacy as Tony Peterson and Lara Parker as Cassandra Collins. June sees the release of The Creeping Fog and The Lost Girl. The series concludes in July with The Poisoned Soul, starring Nancy Barrett as Charity Trask and Pansy Faye and The Carrion Queen, starring Jerry Lacy as Gregory Trask and Lara Parker as Angelique.

For more information and to pre-order online, click here.

Monday, January 10, 2011

Retro Big Finish

A while back I had the idea of reinterpreting some of the recent Big Finish audio dramas in the style of the 1960s Paperback Library Dark Shadows novels. I love those old covers, with their unmistakeable olive green 'gold' jackets and brash, flowery typography. Back when I was first discovering Dark Shadows, those musty books offered a distinctive oval window into the world of Collinwood. I was fascinated by the glimpses of the studio sets and the supporting cast they featured alongside Barnabas and Quentin in the cover photographs. Like a snapshot of a faraway place, those mysterious graphics sum up Dark Shadows in a very potent way for me even now.

But that's enough nostalgia. So, from a more innocent time, here are some alternative versions of The Night Whispers and London's Burning.

Thursday, January 6, 2011

Half Price DVD Sale

Amazon are holding another Dark Shadows DVD promotion, with the entire range of episodic box sets reduced to half price. Each four-disc set contains up to 40 episodes, with bonus interviews and other features on selected sets. The sale runs for a limited time. Here are individual ordering links for the sets:

Dark Shadows: The Beginning (pre-Barnabas episodes): Collection 1, Collection 2, Collection 3, Collection 4, Collection 5, Collection 6

Wednesday, January 5, 2011

Josette's Lost Music

Over the years, several readers have written in asking about the original theme used for Josette's music box during the early Barnabas episodes in 1967. This track was taken from a library record published by Warner/Chappell, and so is one of the few music cues on Dark Shadows not written by regular composer Robert Cobert.

By 1968, when the show had moved onto its 1795 flashback, to save paying for an additional music source, the melody was replaced by a new piece by Cobert, which remained in use for the rest of the series, bar a couple of accidental appearances of the original track during the dream curse storyline.

So, the burning question, where does the original piece come from? Well, it's a composition by prolific Canadian composer Robert Farnon, whose long career included collaborations with Frank Sinatra and Tony Bennett, along with hundreds of pieces for light entertainment and television. The 'Josette' track can be located thanks to its prominent appearance in an early episode of The Prisoner, Dance of the Dead; The actual cue is a single stanza which lasts for less than 30 seconds, so for Dark Shadows, a repeated edit was created to bring up the running time.

If you want to complete your Dark Shadows music collection, there's good news – this elusive track can be purchased from the UK iTunes store under its original title, Drumdramatics No. 2 (1-4), which is available here. Enjoy!

Monday, January 3, 2011

Into 2011

Happy New Year! In 2011, Dark Shadows celebrates its milestone 45th Anniversary with the production of a brand new movie adaptation from director Tim Burton, starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins. In recent months, the site's traffic has risen steadily as the new project has begun to receive more media coverage, so a belated hello to all our new readers.

For fans of Johnny Depp and Johnny Depp who've yet to experience Dark Shadows, the main site has plenty of information on the show. If you're interested in a proper taster, The Curse of the Vampire DVD condenses some of Barnabas' key storylines, and the 1991 Dark Shadows Revival Series DVD offers a big budget primetime remake in 12 episodes.

For Dark Shadows fans unfamiliar with the collaborations of Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, Sleepy Hollow is a vivid Gothic fantasy based on the classic Washington Irving ghost story, and more recently, the pair reunited to work on Sweeney Todd, a glorious morbid adaptation of the Broadway horror musical. Both productions come highly recommended and can be ordered on DVD by clicking on the hyperlinked titles.

Meanwhile, the classic show lives on in new audio stories, a forthcoming comic book series, plus classic comic strip reprints from Hermes Press and action figures from Spectre Toys. Whether you're one of the original generation who ran home from school to catch the intrigue at Collinwood or a more recent convert, this site will be here to keep you updated on the latest developments from the world of Dark Shadows.

Sunday, January 2, 2011

News Catch-up

  • ShadowGram reports that a new series of Dark Shadows comic books are in the works, featuring new stories continuing on from the original series.
  • David Selby (Quentin) is to appear in a new LA Theatre Works production of Dracula, produced in radio play format. The staged reading takes place in Brentwood, Los Angeles from May 19-22. For more information, click here.
  • Condolences go out to Christopher Pennock (Jeb) on the recent death of his mother Gabriella, who passed away on December 17.
  • Marsha Mason (Audrey) is profiled in recent piece the Los Angeles Times, which touches upon her brief stint on Dark Shadows as a vampiric servant of the Leviathans. To read the feature, click here.

2011 Dark Shadows Festival

The 2011 Dark Shadows Festival has been confirmed to take place from August 19-21 in the New York City area. This year's event celebrates the 45th Anniversary of Dark Shadows, with special guests Jonathan Frid (Barnabas) and David Selby (Quentin).

The exact venue and registration details should be announced in the coming months, along with the full guest list. For more information on the Dark Shadows Festival, visit the official website by clicking here.