Friday, December 28, 2012

Fading In And Out, Dark Shadows "Volume 18" Is A Decent Transition Arc.

The Good: Acting gets better, Plot is progressing, Moments of character
The Bad: Color and black and white keep changing, Medium issues, Technical issues.
The Basics: Better than most, Dark Shadows "Volume 18" is still more rooted in the soap operatic tradition than the supernatural, making it tough to recommend.

As one who did not live through the time, my knowledge of the transitions in television is somewhat limited to what I learned in school. As it happens, some of that was very much wrong. I had been taught that there was a pretty abrupt changeover between television being in black and white and color. This, as it turns out, is not a fact, as I learned while watching Dark Shadows Volume 18 on VHS. I was rather surprised when I sat down to watch the first episode on the video to see it even more grainy than before and back in black and white!

Dark Shadows, like many daytime programs, made a much more erratic transition to color. Arguably, this had more to so with having access to color film and processing elements than actually wanting to make the transition awkwardly. As it stands, two of the episodes on "Volume 18" are in black and white and the other three are in color (it goes about every other episode. That erratic coloring does not change the inability for me to recommend "Volume 18," but the series is getting better with this series of episodes (or else it is just wearing me down!).

"Volume 18" picks up where "Volume 17" (reviewed here!) left off and for those who have not seen the prior episodes, they are entering a story very much in progress. Dr. Hoffman has been keeping the vampire Barnabas Collins in check both by administering to him medically and by keeping Maggie Evans' memories of her abduction by him eliminated.

Episode two hundred ninety-five involves Maggie Evans' memory loss being baffled over by her father, Joe and Dr. Woodard. Dr. Hoffman effectively has Maggie hypnotized to forget the incident with Barnabas Collins and her subsequent time in the sanitarium. Dr. Woodard and Sam insist on taking Maggie back to Collinsport and Dr. Hoffman pumps Maggie with her cover story for being around Collinwood. But when Dr. Hoffman returns to extort Barnabas, Barnabas is reluctant to leave Maggie Evans alone!

In episode two hundred ninety-six, Maggie Evans awakens raring to get out and resume her life. With Joe and her father being more cautious, she is somewhat agitated. After a visit from Sarah, Maggie is convinced that the little girl is the key to recovering her memory and she sets her father on the task of finding her. But soon, Barnabas Collins comes over to test Hoffman's hypnotism. And Sam, trusting Barnabas, leaves Maggie in his care while he leaves on an errand!

Episode two hundred ninety-seven finds Maggie again waking up, having been unwittingly rescued by Sarah. Carolyn senses something dangerous coming and she learns that Burke is planning on buying the house that Victoria has fallen in love with. But while Victoria is visiting Maggie Evans, Elizabeth learns that the deed to the house is marked "not for sale," confounding her, Carolyn and Burke. And when Maggie has a breakthrough with Victoria, Dr. Hoffman once more reinforces the hypnotism, causing her to forget again!

In the two hundred ninety-eight episode, Victoria is visited by Barnabas Collins, who invites her to join him in the night. She politely declines, preparing for a date with Burke. While Dr. Hoffman admonishes Barnabas for his attempt, Victoria goes on a date with Burke and the two share their first kiss. All the while, Barnabas is watching and he plots as a result!

The two hundred ninety-ninth episode features Dr. Hoffman confronting Barnabas for being in Victoria's room the night before, after Victoria tells Dr. Hoffman about waking up and finding the music box open. Dr. Hoffman and Barnabas continue to keep one another in check, though Barnabas sends Willie out to spy on Victoria and Burke on their date. There, Willie witnesses Burke proposing to Victoria and he has the painful job of telling Barnabas what he saw and heard!

"Volume 18" features episodes that seem more traditionally those of a soap opera, though. There is the mind wiping and the proposal, with Burke and Victoria actually having a relationship in these episodes. Outside the conceit of Sarah disappearing, there is truly nothing supernatural in these five episodes. That said, there is the undertone of menace from Barnabas Collins.

But even that menace is muted as Dr. Hoffman's cure for him appears to be working, offering him the real chance to compete with Burke for Victoria's affections. Most of the medical stuff happens off-screen, but the producers of the show seemed to catch that Grayson Hall was a weak link in the prior set and they gave her a bit of time off.

What keeps Dark Shadows "Volume 18" below average? The content is probably more average than below, but the medium definitely brings it down. On VHS, these episodes of Dark Shadows look terribly grainy and they lack any bonus features that might inspire viewers to delve deeper into the series. As well, there are technical issues within the episodes. The girl playing Sarah looks at the camera while talking to Maggie Evans in an awkward moment and one of the scenes in the final episode on the tape begins halfway through a sentence with Barnabas responding to something Dr. Hoffman did not actually say!

But the acting, while getting better, is also terribly rooted in melodrama and on Dark Shadows "Volume 18" there are a slew of unnatural dialogue pauses. As well, far too much time is spent repeating information set up before commercials or following them (the commercials themselves are, of course, absent, only accenting the awkwardness of the writing). Finally, what knocked the video below average for me was a moment leading into the opening credits when the dramatic music peaked and I was absolutely convinced my cat, Brillo, was being tormented. That type of cheesy musical cue or sound effect makes Dark Shadows far more campy than legitimately disturbing or creepy.

For other Dark Shadows reviews, please visit:
Dark Shadows (2012 film)
Dark Shadows Collection 1
Dark Shadows Collection 2


For other television and movie reviews, please check out my Index Page on the subject for an organized listing!

© 2012, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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  1. There is something you have to know:
    Although 99% of the Dark Shadows episodes still exist, a large number of the Master Tapes are still lost. In order to complete the series for viewership, TPTB used kinescope B%W prints of those missing episodes. These episodes are rather blurry and grainy from the regular crop (Barnabas' debut episode previously only existed in kinescope, although they recently discovered the master tape). Many times in the color episodes, you will come to an episode that only exists in kinescope form.

    1. Absolutely fascinating!

      Thanks for sharing and for reading!

      (Fear not, I'm almost done with my critiques of "Dark Shadows" episodes!)