Saturday, June 9, 2012

An Especially Soap Opera-y Collection, Dark Shadows Volume 5 Completely Disappoints!

The Good: I've got nothing on this one; sense of mood?
The Bad: No character development, Light on plot, Terrible acting, Technical problems, Medium issues.
The Basics: Arguably one of the worst five episode weeks of Dark Shadows, "Volume 5" is a complete bust on VHS!

In the history of the soap opera, one would be stretched to find a show where every week was a great week. In fact, with my generally low opinion of the soap opera medium, it would be hard to believe that every major soap opera has weeks where the show is entirely adequate television. In the case of Dark Shadows, one of the few soap operas which made it onto VHS and now DVD, some weeks were better than others. Unfortunately for fans, the week of episodes encapsulated on Dark Shadows Volume 5 was arguably one of the worst.

With "Volume 5," the show takes a turn into the droll. This is a week which ends essentially where it begins with not much happening in between, save the viewer being teased. Maggie Evans rolls around, the doctor looks perplexed, the technical merits of the show are particularly campy and poorly done. This is a week when one suspects the writers were bored, the actors were tired and the people working the camera equipment just didn't care to check anything.

This is, however, very much a soap opera and as a result, it picks up right where Volume 4 (reviewed here!) left off. Sadly, this is week of storytelling which serves more to make explicit what has been implicit up to this point, as opposed to actually giving the viewer new information.

The video of Dark Shadows "Volume 5" contains episodes twenty-one through twenty-five, without any bonus features or additional programming to make the video a better value. Here is how the stories go:

Episode twenty-one begins with Maggie at her home, wounded with a bite to her neck. Her father becomes suspicious by the way Maggie reacts as the dogs outside bay. The doctor finally arrives and gives Maggie a once-over, concludes that she has lost a lot of blood and he orders a transfusion. The doctor concludes Maggie was sleepwalking and he leaves Sam to stand guard over his daughter, but he falls asleep as the dogs start baying again and Maggie rises to go to them!

In episode twenty-two, Joe visits Maggie in the morning and informs her of her sleepwalk attempt. As Joe tries to console her, Maggie becomes agitated and dumps him. This forces Joe to call on Victoria to try to help with watching Maggie. Victoria rushes out, despite Jason's attempts to keep her, on the cusp of a storm which is sweeping over the ocean toward Collinsport. Jason confronts Willie and is surprised Willie might have actually helped Maggie out. While keeping watch over Victoria, the storm comes in and Maggie becomes more agitated.

The twenty-third episode finds Victoria continuing her vigil with an increasingly annoyed Maggie, who keeps trying to escape her room. When the door breaks open from the storm, a figure appears and disappears in the doorway and Maggie is even more traumatized. Victoria returns to Collinwood and keeps Carolyn company during the storm. While there, the two are stalked by the same mysterious figure and soon Barnabas arrives and keeps the pair company. Barnabas tells Maggie and Carolyn the story of Josette Collins' violent suicide as the climax to an old Collins family love story. Jason returns to Collinwood to confront Barnabas and he tries to put a wedge between Barnabas and Willie.

In episode twenty-four, Barnabas beats Willie Loomis for calling to alert everyone to Maggie's location in the cemetery and he tasks Willie with dealing with Jason Mcguire. With the storm finally breaking, Maggie wakes up feeling better and day comes, even as Barnabas is unable to get her back. After the doctor checks in on Maggie, Victoria visits and Maggie begs the other woman to not leave her alone. But as night falls, the dogs return while Sam is painting for Barnabas and Maggie pushes Victoria away once again.

The twenty-fifth episode opens with Victoria being locked out of Maggie's room and Burke arriving to break in. The doctor arrives to reveal that Maggie has lost a lot of blood again through the wounds on her neck. Maggie awakens with her friends surrounding her to describe her experiences as a terrible nightmare and the doctor becomes increasingly concerned about her. As the night goes on, Sam and Joe wait outside Maggie's hospital room, preparing themselves for Maggie to die. And when Maggie stops breathing, the nurse rushes out to get the doctor and the two return to discover that Maggie has disappeared!

Dark Shadows, especially the episodes on "Volume 5" have a very soap opera feel to them and the interplay between Joe and Maggie seems especially canned and generically melodramatic. Moreover, actors in these episodes seem to be continually forgetting their lines, cutting off abruptly or cutting into statements other characters are making. Instead of being haunting like many of the other videos, this volume seems particularly laughable, which certainly was not the intent of the creators.

In black and white on VHS, Dark Shadows Volume 5 also suffers from a grainy appearance and there are no bonus features. Anyone still tied to this outdated medium would do well to avoid this volume; it doesn't matter how soon the medium wears out, it is hard to imagine anyone getting their money's worth out of this tape, the episodes are so poorly done.

In a series on the verge of being incredibly original, sometimes Dark Shadows took a turn to all of the worst conceits of the soap opera. "Volume 5" is a video where the show does just that. The episodes are melodramatic, the performances are campy and the plot goes nowhere, though the music swells leading into the next commercial. Even fans can safely pass this one by until the next, better episodes, become available!

[For a much better value, check out Dark Shadows Volume 1 on DVD, reviewed here, as it has over forty episodes on the currently dominant medium!]

For other campy television shows, please check out my reviews of:
V: The Television Series


For other television reviews, be sure to check out my Movie Review Index Page for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.

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