Wednesday, July 18, 2012

Not Much Of A Story, But At Least It Goes Somewhere: Dark Shadows Volume 10!

The Good: Final episode actually goes somewhere.
The Bad: Generally meandering and stalled plot, No real character work, Acting issues, Medium issues.
The Basics: Another disappointing volume of Dark Shadows, "Volume 10" succeeds only in its final moments at bringing the audience back.

Time and again, I find myself surprised by what becomes a hit and what is passed by in the realm of television and movies. Dark Shadows was a cult hit that lasted for years at the same time when the original Star Trek was canceled twice. I'm not sure I'll ever truly understand that. Perhaps the difference was prime time versus daytime, but the sheer camp factor of Dark Shadows should have easily insured that a socially-relevant show like Star Trek remained on the air. Regardless, Dark Shadows survived and as a result, it now appears on VHS volumes like "Volume 10."

"Volume 10" of Dark Shadows is an especially dismal week (five episodes) of the television show and all that truly saves this video from the reviewing wrecking ball is that the last episode is actually full of movement and story progression and that makes it better than several of the preceding volumes. Unfortunately, outside that there is little that is in the supernatural horror vein and even less that is not painfully soap operatic in "Volume 10" of Dark Shadows. However, because the main plot is so slow in these episodes, it is very easy for new viewers to pick up and jump right in with the story.

"Volume 10" features episodes forty-six through fifty and is more like a soap opera than anything from science fiction or fantasy. This basically picks up right where “Volume 9” (reviewed here!) left off, with Maggie Evans captured and Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard being blackmailed by Jason McGuire.

In episode forty-six, Maggie Evans awakens in her prison to see a little girl outside her cell singing "London Bridge" eerily. The little girl does not respond to Maggie's pleas and walks off before Willie arrives. Willie brings Maggie food and laments how he would like to be able to help her, but is as powerless as she is to defeat Barnabas. As soon as Willie leaves, the creepy girl returns. Back at the main house, Victoria and Carolyn discuss Carolyn's plans with Buzz while David goes outside to swing and he encounters the creepy girl, Sarah, near the old house!

In the forty-seventh episode, Buzz arrives to visit Carolyn and is greeted coldly by Elizabeth. Elizabeth and Jason conspire to get rid of Buzz, but Jason finds Buzz if virtually impervious to bribery. This leaves Jason in a tenuous position with Elizabeth.

Episode forty-eight opens with Maggie in her prison calling out for the little girl and Sarah Collins appearing within her cell! She is heartened to think that there might be a way out of the secret room and Maggie tries to reason with Sarah, but becomes frustrated by the cryptic answers and circular logic the girl uses. Maggie becomes protective of the girl and traumatized again when she disappears abruptly. No one is more surprised than Barnabas Collins, who arrives to find Maggie singing Sarah's song. He once again offers Maggie the chance to live as his Josette. But, when Maggie reveals she has a "secret friend," Barnabas fears she has lost her mind and he decides he will have to kill her.

With episode forty-nine, Carolyn is in an accident and arrested, prompting Victoria and Elizabeth to debate about how best to help her. Elizabeth, having not left Collinwood in eighteen years, finds herself terrified to leave the house. Encouraged by Victoria, Elizabeth leaves Collinwood, but finds Carolyn angry at her at the police station. When Elizabeth stands up to Jason McGuire, it leaves her in tears and Victoria comforts her. In the process, Elizabeth finally confesses to Victoria.

Episode fifty finds Willie in pain as Maggie's last hours approach. Desperate to stop Barnabas Collins from killing Maggie, Willie refuses to let Maggie drink the poisoned drink Barnabas sent him down with. When Sarah appears to her with a riddle, Maggie tries desperately to reason her way out of the prison. Meanwhile, Sarah appears to Sam and tells him exactly where to find Maggie that night.

Dark Shadows seems much more like the average soap opera in these episodes. Indeed, I am sure in the history of All My Children or As The World Turns there have been people locked up and others who are blackmailing women to marry them for money. These five episodes seem annoyingly common as a result and they hold up poorly over multiple viewings making for a lowered value even on VHS.

Much of Dark Shadows was done in one take and as a result, these episodes include acting flubs, though none of them surround the child actors, most notably the girl playing Sarah Collins. Instead, adult actors seem frequently clunky or distracted and the gaffs are included in the primary programming making the tape seem more like a blooper reel at times than an actual broadcast episode. Similarly, the production quality is frequently terrible. Barnabas Collins lights much of the Old House with candles and they appear on these grainy videos as burn out spots in the black and white and this is unfortunately dated, if not outright campy.

What is the true death knell of these episodes is the fact that there is no real character development, save with Elizabeth finally leaving Collinwood. The main plot does not advance Maggie or even Barnabas's character and the result is a stiflingly dull sense that the plot is moving the characters, instead of the other way around.

On the plus side, the final episode does have movement and it is good. The stories both finally unhinge and Elizabeth moves toward reconciling with her daughter and Maggie Evans has her chance to escape thanks to a ghost. But the time spent building up to that is dead space.

And on VHS, the show looks terrible and the medium holds up poorly, especially as the tape ages. In other words, even for those still trapped on VCRs, there is little incentive to pick up "Volume 10" of Dark Shadows. Even for fans, it is tough to recommend these episodes, though there is a sense of rushing toward resolution finally and that makes it a closer call than most volumes of the series.

[For a much better value, check out Dark Shadows Volume 2 on DVD, reviewed here, as it has over forty episodes on the currently dominant medium!]

For other works featuring vampires, please check out my reviews of:
The Twilight Saga: Breaking Dawn, Part I
Blood & Chocolate


For other television reviews, be sure to check out the Television Review Index Page!
© 2012, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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  1. Is there a reason why you are reviewing the VHS?

    Also, any chance you will review the short-lived 1991 revival series? If so, MAJOR WARNING: On its original broadcast and its subsequent VHS release, the series filmed day-as-night but used special filters to convincingly portray it. However, the DVDs removed the filtered effect, so every night scene looks like it is in the middle of day!

  2. Old collection from my mother! :)

    I don't know that I will go beyond the 30th video, where her collection ends.

    Thanks for reading and thanks for the info!