Wednesday, October 24, 2012

Sunshine and Dark Shadows

            I was thrilled in early 2012 when I heard Hollywood was making a movie out of the classic television series Dark Shadows. I was less than thrilled when I heard it was more of a spoof. Did they not understand what that show was?

           First hitting the airways in 1966, it became an after school obsession of my neighborhood buddies a few years later. I’d come home from school, hurry through homework and snacks and race down the street. We'd gather in the Florida room at Randy’s house (up north, it would be called a “den”). Lounging on pillows on the floor in front of the black and white television with curtains drawn to make the room as dark as possible, we’d sit riveted to the television as the show was broadcast. It was color by the time we were watching, but it aired in black and white until August of 1967.

Jonathan Frid, the original
Barnabas Collins
           Dark Shadows was a half hour series situated in a fictional northeast town. It had vampires, witches, you name it.  If the character or situation was anything approaching paranormal, eventually it showed up in the story line. The show was eerie and odd, with shadows (natch) and dramatic music. The characters were always creeping about threatening one another. Barnabas Collins was the big cheese. A two hundred year old vampire, he escaped a chained coffin to return home pretending to be a long-lost cousin. He came onto the scene about six months after the show started airing

The plot was as tangled as a European death knot, but once upon a time, I could actually explain events. The writers grabbed literally anything and threw it in the mix. The resulting stew bubbled in our imaginations causing us all to go to bed at night wide-eyed in the dark.

           I couldn’t tell you why we gathered at Randy’s house to watch it, but I know we never met anywhere else.  Every day when the show ended, Randy's mom would push us outside into the bright Florida sun, where we'd blink like we were denizens of the night ourselves. It's surprising we didn't screech when the light hit our skin. After debating that day's plot corkscrews, we slowly settled into kickball or tag, as if we were normal children, not the Dark Shadows addicts we were.

           The show ran until 1971. Shot live, mike booms occasionally appeared at the top of the screen and lines were often flubbed. We absolutely did not care. (I didn’t get this attached to another show until college when my sorority sisters and I would almost come to blows as we argued over General Hospital versus One Life to Live. We scheduled classes around that hour. The wedding of Luke and Laura meant a full house in the tv room that afternoon, but I digress...)

          If you have never seen the original Dark Shadows, I can promise you that it’ll appear hokey if you pick up the DVD collection to watch now. Special effects have moved so far beyond what they were in the sixties that what once appeared terrifying appears laughable. As for the movie, I suppose I'll have to see it eventually.

But for now, let me wallow in the remembered terror of the original creepy series watched in a dark room in the middle of the sunny Florida afternoons of my childhood. Nothing will ever feel quite the same. 

Perhaps it would make good watching this Halloween season if for nothing else but old time’s sake. Wonder if I can round up my old North Palm Beach gang for a Dark Shadows reunion. 

Randy? Is your Florida room still available?

Copyright (c) 2012 Ruth Hartman Berge
Photo at the beginning of this article from ctucenter.

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