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I’m sure that like me, you’re all obsessed with watching crappy TV movies from the 70s and 80s, like the voodoo tinged Patrick Duffy vehicle Cry For The Strangers, possessed JCB on a rampage epic Killdozer, or the immortal William Shatner haunted house on a plane extravaganza Horror at 37,000 Feet.

After the seeming demise of my beloved B-Movies.com, my new favourite website is Veoh. It’s a wonderland of choice films, TV and all kinds of videos, from The Cabinet of Dr Caligari to Reefer Madness. Worth a breeze any day of the week my friends!

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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. 

This is a clip of the pivotal episode where scumbag Willie Loomis accidentally releases the vampire Barnabas Collins from his captivity. The spooky sixties vibe of the show in all it’s glory!

I watched the 40 episodes of that first DVD boxset three times. I just fell in love with this mental horror soap opera, and made the decision that, however long it took and how difficult it would be, I was going to watch every single episode. Which is where the problems started. Well not exactly problems…

The DVDs are only available in America, though the discs themselves are region-free. Twice now I’ve been stung by the ‘extra tenner and no-one gets hurt’ tax those gangsters at Customs add. They were bloody expensive enough to begin with!

Dark Shadows is almost unknown in Britain, at the recent Inverness Comics Expo a grand total of one person recognized my Dark Shadows T-shirt. ( it was The Beano’s Kev F Sutherland, fact fans!).

I kept going on and on about this 40 year old TV show that no-one had ever heard of. The whole world was full of wrong except me! My first attempt to join the massive online Dark Shadows fandom was disastrous. Five minutes of surfing and I accidentally saw spoilers for episodes I hadn’t seen yet. And soaps thrive on shock endings, so I had to keep away. I don’t even look at the Dark Shadows wikipedia entry these days!

Salvation was at hand though. I lent the first DVD to my friend Paul Scott, and he was as enthusiastic about it as I was. He watches every DVD after me now, and it’s great to have someone to discuss it with. Even now after a couple of years of this we’re barely a third of the way through the marathon, at Episode 457. It’s been quite a ride so far, but the show’s golden years still await us…

Major Crimes Unit 

The last ever episode of The Wire is on TV in America this weekend. It brings to an end five seasons of some of the boldest, most exciting and thoughtful television I have ever seen. Many people think it’s the greatest TV show of all time, I would find that difficult to argue with. When it’s finished I honestly believe that The Wire should be the first TV series to win a Nobel Prize.

It’s far more than merely a crime drama. It’s the most compelling portrait of modern American society in any medium. And while it highlights all of the social problems Baltimore faces, it does so with such a sympathetic ear you can’t help but love these people, from both sides of the legal divide. You get a sense of the community of this city and it’s people that would make Ken Loach feel like an amateur. Of all the places in America I’ve yet to visit, Baltimore is top of the list.

My Man Bubbles 

One of the most memorable characters is drug addict Bubbles, played by Andre Royo. It’s simply one of the greatest screen performances of all time. Bubs’ chaotic, self destructive life is about as glamorous as Amy Winehouse on a bad day. But you just can’t help being on his side. I’m trying to be spoiler free, but he has a scene near the end of Season 4 that just broke my heart. I’m emotional just thinking about it.

Bubs is just one of dozens of unforgettable characters though. I could easily go on all day about Lester, Prez, Kima, Stringer Bell, Omar, Snoop, Prop Joe, or many others. I also hope I haven’t made the show sound grim and depressing, because it’s not. It’s inspiring, and thought provoking, and laugh out loud hilarious too.

Farewell to The Wire. Thank you to everyone involved, from the bottom of my heart. We can only hope to see something as good again one day. But I kind of doubt it.

All in The Game…

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?

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.

 Barnabas

Part One (of probably quite a few!)

 At the Bristol Comics Expo in 2004 I bought a shedload of cheap (and mostly rubbish) comics from one of the dealers. One of them was Dark Shadows no. 1 by Innovation Comics. I bought it mostly because by then the painted covers and licensed comics Innovation used to publish were making me feel nostalgic for my early days as a comic fan. It’s a truly rubbish comic, but in the back was an article about the original TV series (the comic itself is based on a 90s remake) which was pretty interesting. I began to get more and more intrigued by the show. The very idea of a daytime soap opera about vampires, witches and werewolves seemed crazy but somehow inspired. So one day I took a chance and bought the first DVD collection off eBay, hoping for the best…

 After a few episodes I started to realise it was something special. The beautiful 60s black and white cinematography and amazing Gothic sets,  coupled with the haunting theme tune and incidental music, soon had me hooked. The character and sheer drama of it, and the bloody audacity to do a soap opera about a 200 year old vampire. It’s like they made it just for me, I remember thinking. I was a hopeless Dark Shadows addict within a few days!

 The DVDs actually start at episode 210 (I’ll explain later) but contain a 15 minute segment giving the story so far. Orphan girl Victoria Winters gets a job as a Governess to the wealthy and mysterious Collins family, so influential the town of Collinsport, Maine is named for them. There she gets caught in the middle of a feud between the Collins family and the debonair Burke Devlin, who has served time in prison for a crime he didn’t commit. Then she encounters the supernatural entity that is Roger Collins’ ex-wife, and is kidnapped by crazy Matthew Morgan, only to be rescued by a ghost, all at the same time as trying to discover details about her mysterious past.

It was one nutty ride, but not a great success on original transmission. With cancellation looming, creator Dan Curtis and his team decided to change perspective. The supernatural elements of the show had until that point been relatively low-key compared to the more traditional soapy storylines. All of that was to change, however, with the introduction in episode 210 of Barnabas Collins, the vampire…