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Volume 3, Issue 1

The Journal of Bloglandia
The Dark Shadows Issue

“As a little girl in the early ’70s, I would come home from school every day and turn on the TV to watch reruns of what we called ‘Barnabas Collins,’ the show about the vampire.”

And 40 years later, she watched it all again from the very beginning. It started as a brief blog experiment: watch and review the earliest episodes of the 1960s soap opera Dark Shadows before the arrival of vampire Barnabas Collins… but then it kept going. In the end, Kathryn L. Ramage watched the entire series of more than 1200 episodes and wrote about the experience. This book presents the highlights of those reviews.

Where to buy: Amazon (eligible for free shipping). Not available in eBook format.
The Wapshott Press, publisher of Storylandia, is now an Amazon Charity. Yay! So if you could please choose Wapshott Press as your charity when you’re shopping at Amazon, it will help us a lot. Here’s the link to make Wapshott Press your charity, and you only have to register once.


Sample pages

Where to buy: Amazon (eligible for free shipping). Not available in eBook format.

The Wapshott Press, publisher of Storylandia, is now an Amazon Charity. Yay! So if you could please choose Wapshott Press as your charity when you’re shopping at Amazon, it will help us a lot. Here’s the link to make Wapshott Press your charity, and you only have to register once.

Help the Wapshott Press publish books that should be published! The Wapshott Press, publisher of Storylandia, is now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Tax deductible donations can be made here: Wapshott Press Donations and thank you so much for your support! (PS. Paypal takes zero commissions from your donation to the Wapshott Press.)

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Dark Shadows

The Beginning

As a little girl in the early ’70s, I would come home from school every day and turn on the TV to watch reruns of what we called “Barnabas Collins,” the show about the vampire.

I don’t recall very much about the show itself, however, except that one featured character named Maggie was played by an actress named Kathryn Leigh Scott—a name I am unlikely ever to forget or misspell. Nor can I say that I gave the show much thought in the last 40 years, until the first 200 episodes of Dark Shadows from 1966 and ’67, before the appearance of Barnabas Collins, became available on DVD in the wake of that very silly film remake. I thought I’d rent the first two sets of disks from Netflix and give it a look.

The first episode begins promisingly with a nighttime view of a Gothic house on a hill and a woman speaking in voiceover, at once evoking both The Haunting and Rebecca. When the young woman speaking is introduced, her story also seems vaguely Jane Eyre-ish.

Her name is Victoria Winters (as she will announce at the beginning of every subsequent episode). She was abandoned as an infant and has grown up in a New York orphanage. The only clues she has to her background are a note that was left with her as a baby, bearing her first name, and anonymous envelopes containing money for her care which have been sent regularly from Bangor, Maine, over the past eighteen years.

Vicky has just received a job offer from a woman named Elizabeth Collins Stoddard of Collinsport to be a governess to her nine-year-old nephew.

Vicky has never heard of the Collinses or Collinsport. She has no idea how Mrs. Collins Stoddard has come to know about her, but Collinsport is only 50 miles from Bangor. Vicky has accepted the job in hopes of solving the mystery of her past. We meet her on a train headed for the little coastal town.

On the train with Vicky is another passenger, the massively square-jawed Burke Devlin. The two do not meet each other until they’ve arrived at the Collinsport station and Burke offers Vicky a lift to the hotel in town. He tries to present an air of mystery about himself and his relationship to Collinsport, but soon abandons that pose after the first people he meets at the Collinsport Inn recognize him and remark on how long it’s been since they’ve seen him.

Also at the inn coffee shop, Vicky meets the waitress Maggie Evans, who warns her against going to Collinwood, the neo-Gothic house on the hill we saw at the beginning of the show and home of the Collins family. But Vicky is determined. Her taxi arrives and she’s off to her new home.

Vicky’s first evening at Collinwood takes up several episodes, during which we get acquainted with the Collinses:

Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, head of the family and owner of Collinwood as well as the local fishing cannery. Mrs. Collins Stoddard’s husband disappeared 18 years ago and she hasn’t set foot off the grounds of Collinwood since.

Elizabeth’s daughter, 18-year-old Carolyn. Carolyn is a vivacious and self-centered girl, engaged to a boy named Joe who works at the cannery—although she doesn’t seem very keen on marrying him once she gets a look at Burke’s manly jaw. She and Vicky quickly become friends.

Elizabeth’s snitty younger brother Roger. Carolyn calls him charming and “a dreamboat,” but I don’t see it. Roger’s wife Laura is apparently mentally ill and living in a sanitarium somewhere.

Roger’s creepy son David, whom Vicky has been hired to teach. David’s first words to Vicky are “I hate you!” David also claims to see dead people—specifically, the ghosts of the Widows who haunt the house. The cliff near the house is named Widows Hill, and it’s a famous place for suicides.

We saw a little of Elizabeth and Roger back at the very beginning, while Vicky was still on the train. Elizabeth was looking forward to the new governess’s arrival, while Roger was against her coming.

While Elizabeth is very kind and welcoming to Vicky from her arrival, Roger remains hostile and suspicious toward the newcomer. Both, curiously, give vague and contradictory answers to Vicky’s question as to how they knew about her.

During these first episodes, we also pick up a little family history. The Collinses have been prominent in the area since the late 1600s. They founded the town and built Collinwood in the 1830s. There are some family portraits in the drawing room and we get a few names; Barnabas is not among them. Since the 1800s, the family has fallen into decay, like most of the house. They live in only a few rooms and keep no servants except for a cranky caretaker named Matthew who is fiercely loyal to Elizabeth.

After this promising beginning, a great deal of the next 20 or so episodes is taken up with Burke’s subplot, which I find rather tedious. However, since it plays a major part in the initial storyline and other plots are built up out of it, I might as well go into it now.

Ten years ago, Burke Devlin was convicted of manslaughter for a drunken hit-and-run accident; he spent five years in prison and then wandered the world and made a fortune for himself. Although his memories of the accident are vague, he maintains that he wasn’t driving the car and that Roger was responsible not only for the accident, but perjured himself to ensure that Burke was convicted for a crime he committed himself. Laura, who later married Roger, was Burke’s girlfriend at the time. Burke has returned to his old hometown in quest of revenge against Roger specifically and the Collins family in general.

Roger gets into one of his snits when he hears that Burke is back in town; he behaves like a man threatened. So does Maggie’s father Sam, a drunken artist who seems to know more about the accident than is good for him.

After Burke pays a call at Collinwood at Carolyn’s behest, Roger has another car accident—his brakes have been tampered with. The family immediately suspects Burke, but it soon becomes obvious to the viewer that little David has not only tried to kill his father, but is trying to frame Vicky for it. This storyline plays out like a grisly and over-long After School Special. Will David tell the truth before an innocent person (Burke, not Vicky) is accused?

If this storyline were all there was to watch, I would’ve given up early on. But interspersed with the story are some intriguing fragments of the sort of thing I chose to watch Dark Shadows for.

One wing of the house is shut up, but sometimes the locked door swings creakily open. So do other doors around the house. A dark figure is glimpsed one night in the front hall. Unexplained thumps and bangs are sometimes heard, and a cup left on the front hall table is mysteriously smashed.

Most of this might be attributed to David up to mischief, but what about the sound of a woman sobbing that awakens Vicky at night and sends her exploring the darkened house? And what’s behind that locked door in the cellar that both Mrs. Collins Stoddard and Matthew are adamant that Vicky keep away from?

At this early point, I could see why they eventually brought a vampire into the story to liven things up. Some of the characters were definitely begging for a good bite to the jugular vein. It wasn’t until about episode No. 40 that things began to get interesting.

Amid innumerable conversations about what Burke Devlin could be up to, Bill Malloy, the manager of the Collins cannery, drops by the studio/cottage of drunken artist Sam Evans and learns something that absolutely astonishes him. The viewer doesn’t get to hear what secret Sam has revealed, but it upsets Malloy so much that he goes out to get just as drunk as Sam and wanders around Collinsport making vague, distracted remarks about what he now knows.

During his ramblings, he meets Burke and offers him a proposition: Mr. Malloy doesn’t care what happens to Roger—Roger can get whatever’s coming to him—but he feels protective of Mrs. Collins Stoddard and her daughter Carolyn. If he can help to clear Burke of the manslaughter charge that sent him to prison, will Burke go away and leave the rest of the family alone? Burke agrees.

Malloy then calls on Mrs. Collins Stoddard at Collinwood to warn her about this horrible information he’s about to make public, but he doesn’t tell her exactly what it is. He also invites Burke, Roger, and Sam to meet with him at his office at the cannery that evening.

The three men are all at the office waiting at the appointed time… but Malloy never arrives. He was last seen leaving his home about half an hour earlier, but disappeared somewhere on the walk to the cannery.

One night soon afterwards, while Carolyn and Vicky are walking around the grounds of Collinwood near the cliffs, they see what looks like a man’s body washed up on the rocks below. They rush back to the house, where Roger snidely dismisses the idea that they saw any such thing. Elizabeth Collins Stoddard sends Matthew out to investigate.

The handyman first reports that it was only a bunch of seaweed that appeared to be a human body through a trick of the moonlight, but later he admits to his employer that it was, in fact, the missing Mr. Malloy. He had lied and pushed the body back into the water to keep police and reporters from bothering her with prying questions.

Elizabeth, not afraid of being bothered in this way, immediately calls the police herself. A search begins and Malloy’s body is eventually retrieved farther down the coast. The police discover some suspicious injuries on his head that may not have been caused by the rocks.

We have a murder mystery!

Roger Collins is obviously the one who benefits most from Malloy’s death. Too obviously, I’m sorry to say. Sam Evans is another good suspect, since he’s implicated in the terrible secret that he and Roger have been keeping. The police also question Burke in spite of his insistence that he had the best reason to want Malloy to remain alive. Burke initiates his own private inquiries, and via the unwitting Carolyn, installs Malloy’s former housekeeper at Collinwood so that she can spy on Roger and gather evidence against him. Both Burke and the housekeeper, Mrs. Johnson, are certain that Roger is the murderer.

One curious sidelight of the investigation is the interest young David Collins takes in it. He studies local tidal currents to figure out where Malloy first went into the ocean and where he was therefore probably killed. He also spends time gazing into a crystal ball that Burke sent him for his birthday.

Before Malloy’s body was even discovered, David had emerged from one session of crystal-gazing with the announcement that Roger had murdered the missing man!

Burke and David have been on friendly terms since that whole who-tampered-with-Roger’s-brakes incident. Throughout the series so far, there have been hints that the boy is actually Burke’s son and not Roger’s; the way both men treat David suggests that they believe it might be true.

Unrelated to all of this, the first indisputably supernatural event of the series occurs around the 50th episode.

Vicky and Carolyn hear a banging noise one night and, like all young ladies who live in big, spooky, dark houses, go downstairs in their nightgowns to investigate.

They find a large book concerning the Collins family history lying on the drawing-room floor with no indication of how it came to be there. They return it to the table where it usually sits and go back to bed.

After the two girls have left, the book opens by itself and the pages turn to an illustration of one Josette Collins, a lady of the family who threw herself off Widows’ Hill more than a century ago.

Where to buy: Amazon (eligible for free shipping). Not available in eBook format.

The Wapshott Press, publisher of Storylandia, is now an Amazon Charity. Yay! So if you could please choose Wapshott Press as your charity when you’re shopping at Amazon, it will help us a lot. Here’s the link to make Wapshott Press your charity, and you only have to register once.

Help the Wapshott Press publish books that should be published! The Wapshott Press, publisher of Storylandia, is now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Tax deductible donations can be made here: Wapshott Press Donations and thank you so much for your support! (PS. Paypal takes zero commissions from your donation to the Wapshott Press.)

The Wapshott Press is now a 501(c)(3) nonprofit. Please donate to the Wapshott Press Thank you so much for your support. All donations are tax deductible. (We prefer to use PayPal for online donations because they give us all a break on their fees for charitable donations. And during the winter holidays, they match each donation dollar for dollar.)