October 28, 2008

Return to the Old House

Dark Shadows is as close to American television, I think, as Doctor Who was to British television - a reviled art form given a Gothic makeover which has low-budget charms, but which pilfered from well-known literary sources and captured the imaginations of a generation. (It also inspired a series of spin-off audios from Big Finish) It was the brainchild of the late Dan Curtis, and is (in my opinion) a sorely under appreciated gem.

In fact, Dark Shadows was given a slight beefing up in 1991 similar to Doctor Who's 2005 revival. However, events (including the first Gulf War) brought it to a premature conclusion. In fact, the first time I caught the revival, I wasn't too pleased, thinking that it depended way too much on prior storylines (pulling mostly from the introduction of Barnabas Collins and the 1795 flashback).

But watching it in the relative distance of time, I have to say...it actually holds up a lot better than I expected. Not only does it (thankfully) throw in some creative curve balls (including a heckuva season/series ending cliffhanger), but really builds upon the past of DS...the same way that Davies built on Who in 2005. It's much sexier, sharper, and quite frankly, tells a lot of story in 13 episodes.

Much of it is, quite frankly, bringing the sexy back to essentially a night time soap opera - for a television show coming out of the whole AIDS scare, there's quite a lot of sexy. Enough sexy with both the men and the ladies, almost to the point of becoming a 21st century bodice ripper. With vampires. Did I mention how sexy this series was?

But much of it is the way the scripts reflect not only a changing time, but a changing emphasis and drama. Let's take Barnabas' recollection of the death of his fiance, Josette du Pres. Jonathan Frid's recollection is a poetic recitation, and the performance has multiple nuance - Barnabas doesn't want to remember the tragic events, but feels compelled to recite the tale. Ben Cross' performance is less verbal, and more facial - there's a cut to a look as he's remembering that is silent, but speaks volumes.

And that's what helps make the 1991 revival of Dark Shadows sparkle - it uses much more modern television techniques to make it accessible to a modern audience...and it takes enough chances with its source material to make it a different creature. This Halloween, whether you're single, attached, or have a fake Facebook significant other, watch the revival of Dark Shadows. You'll be glad you did.

P.S. Did I mention it was sexy?

Very highly recommended

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