Friday, March 15, 2013

Dark Shadows Volume 21: A Hunt In Intrigue Is Still Campy!

The Good: Plot progresses fairly well
The Bad: Very lame special effects, Medium issues, Clunky acting, Light on character development.
The Basics: One of the better volumes of Dark Shadows, with "Volume 21" things happen on the gothic soap opera as Barnabas Collins begins to make some serious moves!

As my free time winds down, I am baffled at what I still do for my blog. After all, it did not take long for me to realize that Dark Shadows, which is billed as a supernatural soap opera from the 1960s is actually far more the soap opera at times than the supernatural story I would be interested in. Yet, I continue to watch the tapes, like "Volume 21" in order to provide useful reviews for readers. With "Volume 21" it is less the thankless job that it might seem - watching Dark Shadows - but it is still not quite enough to recommend the five episodes on the video.

Dark Shadows on "Volume 21" suffers from being a story very much in process, though it is a video tape where the plot, rather fortunately, progresses. Even so, it is riddled with problems, from the acting to technical issues that involve the changeover of the series from black and white film to color. The result is that "Volume 21" seems both campy and dated, but it has the advantage that it does go somewhere. This video, with the five episodes 310 - 314, follows on the heels of "Volume 20" (reviewed here!) and focuses on Barnabas Collins and his plans to turn Victoria Winters when David Collins, her charge, goes missing. "Volume 21" picks up there with the plot in the middle of an arc.

In episode three hundred ten, David is hiding near Barnabas's coffin when Barnabas and Willie arrive. When they do not find Sarah there, Barnabas and Willie leave, inadvertently sealing David inside. As Carolyn and Joe search desperately for David, Barnabas finds Victoria in a weakened state. And as Willie tries to throw the search party off the scent of David, Barnabas consoles Victoria, revealing his true nature.

Episode three hundred eleven finds David still missing and Victoria inadvertently rescued by Carolyn and Joe. As the search widens for David, Barnabas resists pressures to let anyone search the Old House. But, when the Sheriff arrives, Joe gets to search the Old House. As Barnabas stalls from letting them search the basement, an unlikely turn of events prevents him from being revealed!

The three hundred twelfth episode has David still trapped and Joe playing a hunch. When Roger returns from a trip to discover his son missing, he chews out Victoria for failing at her duties as his governess. Joe convinces Roger to accompany him to the graveyard, hoping to find David there. At the graveyard, the groundskeeper hears David calling from inside the mausoleum he is trapped in and he freaks out, attempting to scare away Joe and Roger.

In episode three hundred thirteen, Dr. Hoffman and Maggie resurface with everyone convinced that Sarah is the key to finding David. As Willie encounters Sarah, Maggie reveals to Dr. Woodard that Hoffman is not doing much of anything to help her recover her memories. Sarah insists on finding David before visiting Barnabas and when Willie presses her to come with him, she disappears on him.

Episode three hundred fourteen’s events come to a head with Dr. Hoffman threatening Barnabas with a withholding of his treatments. Barnabas threatens her and Willie in his cool, collected way and he goes off in search of David. Sarah finally appears to David inside the crypt to help him escape. Unfortunately, as David escapes, Barnabas makes his way to the crypt!

On "Volume 21," Dark Shadows is technically clunky. As the directors and producers got used to color film, they often bleed out the image and the colors come out in almost psychedelic arrays. But simple special effects, like a blue screen shot in episode one hundred thirteen are terrible and obvious with the image looking like exactly what it is: an image with people superimposed in front of a different image.

On the acting and directing front, the episodes are simplistic and often bad. The actors are forced to repeat a lot of information, setting up dramatic pauses before nonexistent commercial breaks after which they frequently repeat lines. And because this is a supernatural story, characters disappear and reappear, most notably Sarah Collins. Unfortunately for viewers, the sophistication of Dark Shadows is almost entirely lacking, as the show was largely shot in one take, and effects like Sarah Collins disappearing were clearly done with the camera panning off the character and having the actor back out of frame. Sadly, this is made all too clear in the fourth episode on this video as actress Sharon Smyth is seen backing away from her costar to get out of frame because the camera operator did not pan off her completely!

On video, the episodes of Dark Shadows on "Volume 21" are presented with no bonus features and the film stock is quite grainy. Because it is a VHS tape, there is an increased likelihood that the video one buys will degrade quickly, so it is a terrible investment and most fans of Dark Shadows would do far better to pick up the DVDs, which have a medium benefit and are also nicer in that the digital remastering of the episodes cleaned up the film stock some, which makes the shaky acting, melodramatic deliveries and plodding plots much easier to watch!

For other works involving vampires, please check out my reviews of:
The Twilight Saga
Underworld: Rise Of The Lycans
Blood And Chocolate


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

© 2013, 2010 W.L. Swarts. May not be reprinted without permission.
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  1. Is this when Roger Collins says "Some of my Incestors...Incestors?...Ancestors"? You got to give credit to Louis Edmonds' ability to make an accidental 'actor-screwed-up' line flub sound like a natural 'character-slips-his-tongue' mistake.
    Considering how twisted the Collins Family Tree will get, perhaps Roger isn't as mistaken with that word.

    1. It might be . . . it's been a while! Thanks for reading and thanks for the comment!