Wednesday, August 1, 2012

Plots Move, Characters Twist, But Still Dark Shadows Volume 13 Is Less Paranormal Than Melodramatic.

The Good: The plots progress and character actions move them.
The Bad: Medium issues, Terrible acting, Plots are very soap operatic.
The Basics: While Dark Shadows Volume 13 is not as bad as some of the soap opera's prior installments, it is still not worth buying, especially on VHS.

These days, I find it takes quite a bit for me to rate a Dark Shadows VHS tape higher than one star. The reason for that is simple; in the current plotline of Dark Shadows episodes I am reviewing, I have found the series to be less original and engaging and more and more melodramatic like the worst soap operas are. For sure, the 1960s were still finding the conceits of the soap opera genre, but some of the basic plots - abductions, forced weddings, etc. - were standards even then. At the toss of the coin, Dark Shadows Volume 13, which is very much a soap operatic week of the series (as opposed to a supernatural week) had just enough going for it to give a two-star rating to. This might not be a ringing endorsement, but for discriminating readers and fans of the show, it is worth noting that - soap operatic as it may be - this week of the series is not as horrible as some of the weeks.

Dark Shadows" was a soap opera in the 1960s which garnered a cult following which fell in love with it. Despite its campy qualities, a second series of the show was done and there was a revival special as well as current attempts to bring the series back. But, despite the fact that the show had supernatural characters like the vampire Barnabas Collins, Dark Shadows was largely a soap opera. In Volume 13 on VHS Dark Shadows is more a soap opera than anything else but at least the story progresses and the series seems to be going somewhere.

Volume 13 is a week of Dark Shadows episodes where the story largely neglects the supernatural and instead focuses on a very standard soap opera plot: the blackmail marriage. In this case, Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard has been manipulated by Jason McGuire and the result is not terribly inspired, but it does have the consequences of McGuire's blackmails and the resolution to a very drawn out plot.

"Volume 13" features episodes sixty-one through sixty-five and is more like a soap opera than anything from science fiction or fantasy. This basically picks up right where “Volume 12” (reviewed here!) left off, with Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard stopping her wedding to Jason McGuire and exposing the truth about their mutual past.

Episode sixty-one has Elizabeth stopping her wedding to rob Jason of his power over her by confessing to her first husband's murder. Following her confession and the judge running out, Elizabeth relates the complete tale of the night she murdered Paul Stoddard. When Paul tries to take Elizabeth's fortune and walk out on her, Elizabeth accidentally kills him while trying to walk out on her. Jason McGuire arrives and helps Elizabeth out by burying the body.

In episode sixty-two, Jason challenges the assemblage to prove that Elizabeth's confession is the truth. Elizabeth calls the sheriff to confess and Jason runs out. While Roger and Burke hunt down Jason, the sheriff arrives. Elizabeth allows the sheriff and Burke to dig up Paul's body, despite Jason's insistence that there is no body there to find!

Episode sixty-three has Burke and Sheriff Patterson digging up a box in the basement which is supposed to contain Paul Stoddard's body and they are shocked to break the box open to discover there is nothing in the box. Patterson gives Jason McGuire until sundown to leave Collinsport forever.

In the sixty-fourth episode, Jason McGuire hides out, trying to break into the Old House. Inside, Barnabas Collins reveals that he is ready to proceed with developing the next Josette. Willie Loomis asks him questions about who it might be and is given the cold shoulder by Barnabas. Jason finds Willie and extorts him for some of Barnabas's jewels so he can leave town in the black. Willie provides him with only a single ring, which leads Jason to break into the Old House.

Episode sixty-five has Carolyn returning to Elizabeth, who is bedridden with guilt waiting for her to come home. Carolyn learns the full truth, that Paul Stoddard's death may have been faked by Jason, and forgives Elizabeth. Jason is caught by Willie in the Old House. While Willie begs Jason to leave, Jason will have none of it.

"Volume 13" has nothing superlative and on VHS, it looks remarkably bad. The videos were not retouched and as such possess a grainy quality. Beyond that, the plot progresses, even if it is predictable and degenerates into a chase.

What knocks "Volume 13" up is the fact that the plot moves because of the character elements, not just a contrived nature of plot needing to move. Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard finally takes control of her own destiny and the result makes one feel like they are actually watching a strong female character. In the flashback sequences, the viewer finally sees what happened in the Elizabeth/Jason backstory and this is useful for exploring how trapped Elizabeth felt for so long.

Joan Bennett does a fair job as Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard and she plays strong very well. Nancy Barrett is more stiff and Dennis Patrick makes a decent exit as Jason McGuire. In these episodes, Patrick actually works out well, though his character is still utterly unlikable. Dark Shadows was basically shot in one-take each episode, so when the actors make mistakes, like looking at the wrong cameras, they are kept in.

The result is a soap opera that plays like a soap opera ought to. The viewer cares about the characters and the acting is not homogeneously bad. Instead, this video flops because the presentation is erratic and dated and the viewer quickly becomes tired of how much information is repeated. Still, Dark Shadows fans will want to watch this once, if not a second time.

[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 supernatural stories with soap opera qualities, please check out my reviews of:
Blood And Chocolate


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

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