Having recently purchased a collection of Dark Shadow comics from the 1960’s, I’ve decided to take a critical eye towards the show that spawned it. The brainchild of producer Dan Curtis, the series made its debut in 1966. At first focusing on purely gothic standards, the series quickly embraced the supernatural with the introduction of vampire Barnabas Collins. That particular debut is still a way off, however, so let’s wind back the clock to the first episode.
“Episode 1.” Dark Shadows. ABC. Various stations. 27 June 1966.
We open with Victoria Winters onboard a train to the remote area of Collinsport, Maine. Through flashbacks we learn a little bit about her. To wit, she’s orphan from New York City and she is traveling to accept the job of governess to the Collins family. Also on board is a man named Burke Devlin, who stares intensely at everyone.
Getting off the train, Victoria goes through a greeting standard to most characters in a Universal horror film. She can find no taxi, and the locals do everything short of crossing themselves whenever she mentions the Collins family. Devlin is kind enough to give her a ride to the local inn, but he is rather insistent that she board the next train to New York. He refuses to say why, however, and grows angry at the innkeeper apparently recognizing him.
From there it’s more of the same. Victoria has dinner in the local diner, where the waitress Maggie Evens good naturally insults her, before pleading with her to leave town. Devlin, meanwhile, is meeting with a private eye at the local (and implied only) watering hole. He’s hired the man to gather information on the Collins family, and it’s through this we are given the run down. The family is old, rich, and extremely eccentric.
We are then introduced to two members of the Collins clan: Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and her brother Roger Collins. Elizabeth is the one who insists on a nanny for Roger’s son David, but Roger does everything short of mocking her to her face and decrying her ‘bringing in outsiders’. Roger seems to handle most of the money and the family’s business, while Elizabeth hasn’t left the sprawling Collins estate in over eighteen years.
We end with Victoria finally making her way to the dark old house and being welcomed inside by a grim Elizabeth.
As far as introductions go, you could do worse. Curtis does hit the viewer over the head with how the Collins family is hiding something, but the performances of the actors are muted. An effect which works, as if everyone chewed the scenery this would easily turn into a comedy. As it stands, and this might have been effective in 1966, we are shown a creepy house and a few slightly less creepy interiors. We are told, however, of mysterious and strange goings-on. Although if the residents don’t want people to investigate, why do they constantly bring up staying away from various points, then refuse to explain why they brought it up in the first place?
Questions raised: Why exactly is Victoria hired? Who is Devlin and does he actually hail from Collinsport?