Monday, June 25, 2012

More Soap Opera Than Supernatural, Dark Shadows Volume 8 Disappoints.

The Good: Story is going somewhere, Last frames move things along.
The Bad: Clunky acting, Disappointing storyline, Medium issues
The Basics: Another disappointing outing in Dark Shadows, “Volume 8” has five substandard episodes of the gothic soap opera.

For those who are unfamiliar with Dark Shadows (I was until recently), the mid-1960s show was a soap opera and it earned kudos and a cult following for its originality. The deal with Dark Shadows is that the show was given a supernatural twist and a gothic setting in the dreary Collinwood mansion and port of Collinsport. It was a gothic horror soap opera and what many fans forget about the series is that it was a soap opera. In fact, sometimes, that’s pretty much all the show was and it was a very blasé soap opera at that. Take, for example, Dark Shadows “Volume 8.” “Volume 8” is plagued by episodes that are saddled with tying up plot threads which had less to do with Barnabas Collins and were tied to the roots of the series as a soap opera before it truly became a show involving the supernatural.

For those unfamiliar with Dark Shadows, “Volume 8” is a tough place to start. The story is in full swing and it picks up where “Volume 7” (reviewed here!) left off and it is a tough sell for newbies. Even so, “Volume 8” is stronger on some of the acting as some of the performers, most notably Jonathan Frid (Barnabas Collins), have a more clear idea of who their characters are and what motivates them.

The video of Dark Shadows "Volume 8" contains episodes thirty-six through forty, without any bonus features or additional programming to make the video a better value. Here is how the stories go:

Episode thirty-six opens with Elizabeth being visited by the family lawyer, whom she gets advice from on divorcing her missing husband. As she prepares for the possibility of having to marry Jason, Roger arrives and encourages her to divorce her absent husband and stay unmarried afterward. Elizabeth feels trapped and soon Carolyn and Victoria commiserate on what is going in. Carolyn becomes determined to discover what is in the secret room in Collinwood and this puts her in conflict with her mother, who has the key.

Sam being told that Maggie was probably kidnapped and possibly killed opens the thirty-seventh episode. Burke arrives to try to help Sam get through and Sam decides to go finish the portrait of Barnabas. Willie tries to get rid of Sam as quickly as possible, but Maggie sneaks down and steals her father's pipe. After Sam leaves, Willie convinces Maggie to get back to her room and stay there. But Maggie feels a pull to return the pipe and in the process is seen by Sam.

Episode thirty-eight has Barnabas recovering Maggie while Sam tries to convince the police that he actually saw Maggie. For leaving the house, Barnabas punishes Maggie by sealing her in a coffin and Willie rescues her and tries to convince her to be obedient. While Maggie resists becoming Josette, Sam searches for her. And Maggie casts off her conditioning and recalls her true identity.

In the thirty-ninth episode, has Carolyn determined to get into the secret room and enlisting Roger to help her with the endeavor. But Jason McGuire hears her plan and goes to Elizabeth to premptively get into the secret room and hide the evidence that would incriminate her in the murder of her husband. That done, Jason and Elizabeth take the other three down to the basement and they find nothing.

Episode forty opens with Maggie Evans fighting for control of her mind. Maggie plays at being Josette as Barnabas has Willie make her a coffin of her own and gives his Josette a necklace. Willie, however, figures out Maggie is just faking playing along with Barnabas's wishes and when she tries to conspire with him, Willie turns on her. Delivered to Barnabas, Maggie prepares to kill him, but instead learns his true nature!

One of the few things that saves “Volume 8” from the scrap pile is that episode 40 actually reveals who and what Barnabas Collins is. At long last the supposition ends and viewers had a good idea what to expect from the series and it was a wonderful and creepy revelation. However, it is in the last frames of the episode (which is why I’m not making it explicit here) and it is a long way to get to the point where it is revealed. In other words, these five episodes are long and feel that way.

Despite some actors getting into the swing of their characters better, Dark Shadows is hampered by the fact that the characters are written with a sense of melodrama that often is completely unrealistic. The actors do what they can with the roles, but when they are given parts that have them looking away in a theatrical sense or stumbling over their lines about minutia around Collinwood, it is clear that the problems originate at the script level.

“Volume 8” is presented on VHS and as the medium ages, it becomes far less of a value than it could be. Be sure you trust the source you are buying from, if you insist on buying it at all. This is bound to be enjoyed more by fans of soap operas than those looking for something original, scary or truly supernatural.

[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 supernatural television, please check out my reviews of:
Fringe - Season 3


For other television reviews, be sure to visit my Television Review Index Page for an organized listing of all the shows, seasons and episodes I have reviewed!

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