Friday, December 28, 2012

Movement Comes To Dark Shadows With "Volume 17," A Legitimately Supernatural Soap Opera Volume

The Good: Plot progresses well, Moments of character
The Bad: Absolutely abysmal acting by one prominent actress, Medium issues, Plot repetition.
The Basics: Another substandard collection of soap operatic television on a dead medium, Dark Shadows Volume 17 is a flop that actually progresses the plot.

As I continue to work my way through the gothic horror soap opera Dark Shadows, I find myself continually amazed by how the show never seems to find its balance. When the plot finally begins to go somewhere, the acting seems to take a turn for the worse and that is especially true on "Volume 17" of the series on VHS. On that volume, the plot actually rockets forward, but it is still problematic because the show was very much preoccupied with setting up the commercials and recapping following the commercials.

Unfortunately, at the same time, actress Grayson Hall is given far more to do as Dr. Hoffman. Hall won Daytime Emmys and it was clearly not for her work on Dark Shadows. Hall's deliveries are frequently painfully awkward as the actress stops in the middle of a delivery and regroups for her lines. This is very true on "Volume 17" and several of her scenes with Jonathan Frid, who plays Barnabas Collins, are actually painful to watch as a result.

"Volume 17" picks up where "Volume 16" (reviewed here!) left off and for those who have not seen the prior episodes, they are entering a story very much in progress. With Dr. Hoffman intellectually duking it out with Barnabas Collins, the psychiatrist is in certain danger. "Volume 17" includes episodes 290 through 294 of the supernatural soap opera and it is notable pretty much only for the fact that on this video, the show makes an abrupt transition into color.

Episode two hundred ninety finds Dr. Hoffman confronting Barnabas Collins. Having come to kill her, Barnabas interrogates Dr. Hoffman, who reveals that her true mission at Collinwood is to cure Barnabas of his undead nature. Barnabas is intrigued and he lures Dr. Hoffman back to the Old House where he prepares to kill her there instead. But Dr. Hoffman has one more ace up her sleeve!

In episode two hundred ninety-one, Dr. Woodard arrives at Collinwood to interrogate Dr. Hoffman on her treatment of Maggie Evans and after much finagling, she convinces him that her method is going to be the best course of treatment for Maggie. Meanwhile, David Collins finds Sarah Collins and tells her of Maggie's death, only to be told Maggie Evans is not dead at all. David brings Sarah back to Collinwood, but the girl disappears before entering the threshold. And when Victoria prepares to go out with Burke Devlin, they make a strange discovery.

Episode two hundred ninety-two finds Willie preparing a room for Dr. Hoffman and worrying about Barnabas being exposed by her. Burke Devlin pays a visit to Victoria, who has become enamored with an old house elsewhere in Collinsport. Volunteering to take her there to look at it, Burke is surprised by the arrival of Barnabas Collins. While Victoria prepares for the evening out, Burke squares off with Barnabas.

In episode two hundred ninety-three, Sarah Collins appears at the sanitarium to aid Maggie Evans. There, she helps Maggie fool a nurse and Maggie Evans escapes! Meanwhile, Barnabas, Victoria and Burke visit the old house Victoria is enchanted by and Barnabas finds an antique in it for her. When the trio returns to the Blue Whale, they are shocked when Maggie Evans wanders in!

Episode two hundred ninety-four has the show making the transition to color! Unfortunately, as Maggie Evans threatens to expose Barnabas Collins, she is remanded to the care of Dr. Hoffman and Hoffman uses her hypnotism to help Maggie forget she was ever abducted!

The addition of color does not help Dark Shadows become any less campy. Instead, the show looks remarkably bad for actors like Grayson Hall whose make-up is not designed for color and her complexion takes on a gross, greasy quality. Similarly, with color, Barnabas Collins is more waxy than actually pale and for a vampire character, that is an unfortunate oversight on the production department's part.

The real problem with these episodes is not that they look mediocre in color, but rather the fact that the acting is so frequently disappointing. Only Jonathan Frid seems to credibly deliver his lines as Barnabas Collins and he creates a memorable and menacing character as a result. Surrounded as he is, though, by frequently stammering performers, Frid stands out and on "Volume 17" one has the unfortunate impression that he is surrounded by lesser talents.

Ultimately, "Volume 17" is a mediocre collection of episodes on a dead medium. The DVD version of these five episodes has them cleaned up (at least as much as they could) and given that that is a much less fragile medium than VHS tape, that represents a far better value for those buying the series. Still, for fans of the series, this is a better week of the show as there are at least two huge plot points which will resonate for many episodes to come.

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


For other television reviews, please 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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  1. Well, some of the fault was due to the inexperience with color. They weren't quite ready yet (note Victoria's red dress; photographs well in B&W, but in color, ew). This also marks the end of all exterior footage. For the remainder of its run, all outside scenes will either be staged or portrayed as a freeze-frame photo.

    Just how far is it from the sanitarium to the Blue Whale for Maggie to get there? Perhaps Sarah has teleportation powers...

    1. Thanks for the info! I had a feeling there were some great behind the scenes stories; I try to judge the material as it appears, rather than for the process/behind-the-scenes stuff.

      Thanks so much for reading!