One of my favourite things in the world is the 1960s TV series Dark Shadows. I just love it. This is the story of my relationship with the show and my ongoing quest to watch all 1,225 episodes.

Credits

The first episode of Dark Shadows I watched was the introduction of Barnabas Collins, the vampire. Though in a way he had been in the show since the beginning…

The matriarch of the Collins family, Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard, has a problem with unwanted houseguests, the extremely dodgy Jason Maguire and his lowlife pal Willie Loomis. She can’t ask them to leave because Jason is blackmailing her. Eighteen years previously he helped Liz cover up the murder of her husband, Paul Stoddard. He’s buried in the basement of stately Collinwood, the family seat. Liz hasn’t left Collinwood since that night eighteen years ago.

Liz was played by Joan Bennett, who was the star of Dark Shadows. A massive film star in the 1940s and 50s, she appeared in half a dozen Fritz Lang pictures, Max Ophuls’ The Reckless Moment with James Mason, and was Mrs Spencer Tracy in the original version of Father of The Bride. Her character is the heart of Dark Shadows, and gave the show a real sense of drama and purpose.

The loathsome Willie Loomis hears a story about Collins family members traditionally being buried with all their jewelry, and is particularly taken with the portrait of Barnabas Collins, who lived in the house in the 18th Century. He decides to find his tomb and rob his grave. Willie is played by a very young John Karlen, who would go on to play Harvey in Cagney and Lacey.  

Willie finds a secret room in the family mausoleum, containing a coffin sealed up with chains. He came for some jewels, and ends up the victim of a 200 year old vampire!

Blimey!

I was blown away by all of this when I first watched it. The next few episodes you find out that this is the original Barnabas Collins who supposedly went to England in 1795. Cursed to be a vampire, his own father chained him up in the coffin and he has been there, fully conscious, ever since. This immediately makes him a sympathetic monster, and audiences went crazy for him almost overnight. But how would the presence of a guilt ridden 200 year old vampire affect the balance of the show?

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