Thursday, June 14, 2012

A Little Variety Is All That Saves Dark Shadows Volume 6 From The Scrap Pile!

The Good: Some directoral creativity, Story is progressing
The Bad: Medium issues, Still soap operatic, Much of the acting is poor.
The Basics: A disappointing five episodes of Dark Shadows, "Volume 6" at least includes some rare outdoors shots as the story limps forward.

Dark Shadows is a gothic horror soap opera and while many people recall it for its originality - it aired in the mid to late 1960s and was unlike anything else on television (sort of) - encountering it now, I am astonished more that it has the following it has and how it made it onto VHS (and now DVD) at all. Dark Shadows might be original for the level of mystery and the use of a creepy gothic setting for its stories, but it is still a soap opera and in many ways, it is a poor one at that. With "Volume 6," though, the creepy story actually advances some and the viewer is left feeling like they are not completely wasting their time.

However, it is tough to come to "Volume 6" straightaway. The video is a video (not a DVD) and as a result, it wears out quicker than the new dominant mediums and buyers might be buying a tape which is already brittle from age and heat. Beyond the obvious issues of VHS as a medium, "Volume 6" is plagued by some production difficulties, clunky acting and a story which is already in progress. Indeed, "Volume 6" picks up right where "Volume 5" (reviewed here!) ended and the story goes forward with minimal recapping. In other words, if you're not on board by now, the story isn't slowing down for you.

The video of Dark Shadows "Volume 6" contains episodes twenty-six through thirty, without any bonus features or additional programming to make the video a better value. Here is how the stories go:

Episode twenty-six finds Maggie disappeared and as soon as the doctor reveals her absence, Joe flees to the cemetery in hopes of finding her, leaving her father to fight with the doctor. Joe and Burke go hunting Willie on the hopes that he might be able to help them and they encounter Barnabas, who offers his help in finding Maggie. When the others leave, Maggie comes out, completely under the thrall of Barnabas! He gives Maggie a room and begins calling her Josette and he expresses his love for her.

The twenty-seventh episode has Victoria frantic over Maggie's disappearance and the local sheriff arrives with Burke to talk with her about her disappearance. As the sheriff deduces that Willie Loomis made the call to tell Victoria where to find Maggie the first time, Jason works to cover Willie's tracks. Still, Sheriff Patterson tracks down Willie at the old house and interrogates him. Meanwhile, the doctor, Victoria and Burke talk about Maggie and Victoria realizes that Maggie's symptoms were similar to Willie's! Jason hunts down Willie, threatens him in hopes that Willie will leave town and departs, getting a surprise when he does.

In the twenty-eighth episode, Carolyn and Victoria are feeling cooped up so they walk over to the old house. With a little arm twisting, Victoria convinces Carolyn to accompany her around the house. They find Josette's room and marvel at its femininity until Willie finds them. As they leave, they encounter Barnabas and Victoria interrogates him, suspecting a connection between the room, Josette and the story he told them during the storm.

In episode twenty-nine, Sam and Joe commiserate over the loss of Maggie. At the old house, Barnabas brings Maggie to dinner, calling her Josette the entire time. Willie waits on them and when Sam and Joe show up, Barnabas is forced to improvise. After secreting his "Josette" away, he bluffs the pair, while Willie takes care of Maggie.

Episode thirty opens with young David Collins going over to the old house to go look for Josette. David calls for Josette and makes it up to the room Barnabas has made up for Maggie before Barnabas finds him. After a protracted conversation, Barnabas convinces David that Josette is not there, despite what he thinks he saw through the window. Returning David to the house, Barnabas and Roger discuss the disappearance of Maggie.

Dark Shadows might sound interesting on the plot front from these synopses, but the truth is, they are clunky in their direction and often cringeworthy in the performances. Of note is Episode 27 which features one of the most fake fight scenes of all time as Jason McGuire beats Willie Loomis. The fight is so poorly filmed that while Jason does not look like he is even exerting himself, it is clear he also never makes contact with Willie!

What saves these clunky performances from the complete trash pile is that these episodes are mildly more visually interesting than the prior episodes I had watched. So, for example, Episode 28 features rare outdoor shots, which is not something that happens frequently on Dark Shadows. This makes it mildly more visually interesting, at the very least.

But, largely, this is a soap opera and viewers ought not to expect much more than a very basic black and white soap opera, save that the sets are neat and look vaguely castle-like. That, however, is nowhere near enough to use to recommend this video.

[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 works with Mitch Ryan, be sure to check out my reviews of:
The West Wing - Season 5
“The Icarus Factor”


For other television reviews, please check out my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing of all that I have reviewed!

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