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Soap operas have never quite been my cup of tea. The extreme drama and over the top storylines are even too much for an old movie buff like myself to handle. Every character has so much baggage that it’s hard to keep up with them. Then ten more characters come into the scene with romance, murder, infidelity, children, and so many other things that it makes my head spin. It isn’t like I’ve never given soap operas a chance because I’ve watched my fair share here and there, but none ever did enough to keep me as an avid viewer. Now if maybe some vampires, werewolves, ghosts, witches, zombies, and other horror icons found their way into the mix then perhaps we’ve got something.
Dark Shadows is a series that I knew nothing about and needed to bone up on before jumping into a series of episodes well into the hundreds. The series aired from 1966 to 1971 and apparently had over twelve hundred episodes during that span. The biggest streaks of popularity for the show came when an immortal vampire named Barnabas Collins entered the picture. Here in Volume Five are some of the episodes that happened before the vampire’s flight into town and what went down with a group of people who saw collections of episodes devoted to one particular person at a time. Volume Five focuses on the return of one Laura Collins.
Laura had disappeared for ten years and now was back to Collinwood in search of her son David. The rest of the Collins’ family is in complete disarray after she comes into the picture and does whatever she can to take over custody of her son. Laura wants David to come along with her and never break free from her side. Things continue to get even stranger when everyone learns of Laura’s odd obsession with the mythological Phoenix bird. Little did they know that Laura actually has a direct connection to the Phoenix which leads to even more confusion for them all. It would be simple just to make Laura leave, but she put a trance over Elizabeth Collinwood while she slept allowing her to stick around. Before long, Roger Collins takes matters into his own hands and brings in psychic Dr. Peter Guthrie to figure out why all the odd happenings are going on. They soon learn through the investigation a horrifying piece of evidence…a woman resembling Laura and going by the same name has disappeared from a tomb in Phoenix, Arizona.
My good God almighty that sounds extremely confusing when reading it again, but it is also very accurate. Dark Shadows is in itself a soap opera but of the gothic variety, and making the dramatic baggage a lot more fun and easier to endure. The basic soap opera story is there with someone returning claiming they deserve custody of their son and the family not wanting to give it. Later on strange things begin happening leading to suspicions from anybody and everybody about whomever they happen to see before them. The big difference is that the paranormal is thrown into the mix taking the nonsense and making it so intriguing.
It is quite phenomenal that I had never actually heard of Dark Shadows before considering my love of all things that are horror. This collection of episodes is only a taste of what apparently would come in later years with more supernatural stuff and figures showing their heads. There are a great number of characters in the series besides the few mentioned in the summary above, but you’ll get to know them as the episodes roll on. Which brings me to something else that makes Dark Shadows so good, and that’s the unnecessary need for continuity to understand what is going on. I knew nothing about the characters before episode 144, but who they are and what they’re like quickly became evident. This is a great series and now I’m on the verge of wondering just what happens next.
Disc One: – Episodes 144 – 152
Disc Two: – Episodes 153 – 161
Disc Three: – Episodes 162 – 170
Disc Four: – Episodes 171 – 178
The episodes are shown in Full Screen format and look very passable considering they are forty years old. The black and white transfer has some grain here and there, but nothing too bad.
The episodes are heard in Dolby Digital 2.0 Mono Sound and this actually could have used some sprucing up. All sound comes from one speaker and a lot of buzzing and hissing is evident throughout each episode. Every bit of dialogue can be heard clear enough, but you’ve got to expect this sound not to be perfect.
Interviews – Actress Diana Millay, writers Ron Sproat and Malcolm Marmorstein, and author/horror expert Leonard Wolf sit down for separate interviews. Each is pretty good and gives a nice look at what they thought about not only the different episodes, but what the series brought about as a whole.
Dark Shadows is what all soap operas should be like and it’s quite the shame that more today don’t follow its lead. I mean, it’s not like they don’t have enough material to work with so they can figure out what went right. Over twelve hundred episodes can’t mean the series sucked. This volume is merely a taste of what the rest of the series undoubtedly offers in way of good times, creepy moments, and undeniably strange situations. Volumes one through four are next on my list of DVDs that must be in my collection and soon. The interviews are rather fun even if they are the only special feature included here, but you get thirty-five entire episodes jam packed into this set. That alone is enough to make you want to pick it up. For those that are sick of Days Of Our Lives, The Young & The Restless, and even the absurdity of Passions; a new type of soap opera is available to you all. And just think, it’s only forty years old.
MPI Home Video presents Dark Shadows: The Beginning – Collection 5. Created by: Dan Curtis. Starring: Joan Bennett, Louis Edmonds, Nancy Barrett, Mitchell Ryan, David Henesy, Kathryn Leigh Scott, and many more. Running time: 690 minutes on 4 discs. Rating: Not Rated. Released on DVD: July 29, 2008. Available at Amazon.com