"Our tragedies often start before we are born." – Joan Bennett, in character as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard from Dark Shadows
Over 40 years ago, a no-good punk and would-be grave robber named Willie Loomis pried open a coffin, a hand reached out and grabbed him by the throat -- and a pop culture icon was born.
The hand in question belonged to Barnabas Collins, the only son of a fantastically wealthy New England shipping family. Cursed by the woman he had scorned, he had been transformed into something so shameful, so unspeakable, that his own father came to despise him. Unable to bring himself to slay his son, his father had chained him inside a coffin, where he remained for 172 years, until set free by the machinations of a witless fool. Thereafter it was his fate to roam the earth by night, in search of blood.
That, at any rate, was the theme of Dark Shadows, the immensely popular horror soap opera that ran from 1966 to 1971. There has never been another TV series like it.
Dark Shadows began, literally, as a dream. An up-and-coming producer named Dan Curtis had a dream about a young woman riding alone on a train. The woman in the dream became Victoria Winters (played by Alexandra Moltke). Abandoned as an infant, Victoria Winters grew up in a foundling home in Boston, never knowing a single thing about her family of origin. She had just been hired as a governess by the Collins family. The first episode began with a shot of her seated on the train, as she delivered the opening lines of the series in voice-over:
“My name is Victoria Winters. My journey is beginning, a journey that I hope will open the doors of life to me, and link my past with my future. A journey that will bring me to a strange and dark place, to the edge of the sea, high atop Widow's Hill, a house called Collinwood. A world I've never known, with people I've never met. People who tonight are still only shadows in my mind, but who will soon fill the days and nights of my tomorrows.”
The Collins family was portrayed as a once-great family that had been in decline for a long time. A family haunted by metaphorical ghosts of the past. A family with skeletons in their closets, one of which, it was broadly hinted, may be more than mere metaphor. However, originally there was no intention of incorporating any supernatural elements into the story line.
Arriving at Collinwood, Victoria Winters meets the Collins family. There’s the family matriarch, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Joan Bennett), whose husband disappeared almost immediately after they got married, eighteen years ago; her headstrong daughter Carolyn (Nancy Barrett); her brother Roger (Louis Edmonds); and Roger’s troubled young son David (David Henesy), with whose education Victoria has been entrusted. Dramatic tension was supplied by the lovable rogue Burke Devlin (played first by Mitchell Ryan, and later by Anthony George). Ten years ago, Burke and Roger were involved in a fatal automobile accident, and Burke ended up serving five years in prison for vehicular homicide. Although he was too drunk that night to be able to remember what happened, Burke has always believed that Roger was actually the driver and had Burke framed. Now a self-made millionaire, Burke is back in Collinsport and has vowed to destroy Roger Collins.
In other words, standard soap-opera stuff. Ratings were mediocre, and the sponsors threatened cancellation. The makers of the show decided that they may as well go out with a bang, so they introduced the character of Barnabas Collins via an ongoing story line. Dennis Patrick played Jason McGuire, the sort of erudite dirty rotten scoundrel that exists only in soap operas. He had blackmailed his way into the Collins household by threatening to reveal a terrible secret about Elizabeth. His sidekick, Willie Loomis (John Karlen), becomes fascinated by a portrait hanging in the foyer of a man dressed in the style of the eighteenth century. The housekeeper, Mrs. Johnson (Clarice Blackburn) tells Willie the man in the portrait is Barnabas Collins, a family member who emigrated to England in 1795 and died there. When she mentions the “legend” that the Collins family members were buried with their jewelry, Willie gets the bright idea to break into the Collins family mausoleum, where a most unpleasant surprise awaits him.
The next night, a mysterious stranger (who we see only from the back) arrives at Collinwood and introduces himself as Elizabeth’s cousin from England. Mrs. Johnson invites him in. The visitor (Jonathan Frid) enters the foyer and stands in front of the painting. For the first time we see his face, and we also see that he and the man in the portrait are one and the same. As the housekeeper goes to fetch Mrs. Collins, the stranger grins diabolically and calls after her, “Oh Madam – would you please tell her it’s -- Barnabas Collins?”
While Barnabas Collins may well be the most famous fictional vampire after Count Dracula, the word “vampire” was never uttered on the show until 200 episodes after his character was introduced. Barnabas had been chained inside a coffin for 172 years, and now he was up and walking around, and it was up to the viewers to deal with that, without any explanation.
Barnabas tells everyone he is the only living descendant of the original Barnabas Collins. The whole Collins family is delighted to meet this handsome, courtly stranger who claims to be one of them. Barnabas asks for and receives permission to move into the Old House, a dilapidated mansion on the Collinwood estate that was abandoned in 1795, the year Collinwood was built, and also the year Barnabas Collins was supposed to have gone to England. Barnabas uses his vampire powers to take control of Willie’s mind and enslave him. As a cover story, he tells everyone he has hired Willie to be his handyman, to restore the Old House to its glory days.
Barnabas kidnaps local waitress Maggie Evans (Katherine Leigh Scott), after first befriending her father Sam (David Ford). Barnabas tries to brainwash her into believing she is his long-lost love, Josette. The scheme fails miserably, and Barnabas decides to murder her. However, before he is able to carry out his plan, the ghost of Sarah Collins (Sharon Smyth), Barnabas’s sister who died in 1795 at the age of eleven, appears to Maggie and helps her to escape. Sam Evans finds his daughter on the beach below Widow’s Hill, after being informed of her whereabouts by Sarah.
Maggie has amnesia (conveniently for the writers) and is unable to remember anything about her disappearance. Aware that whoever kidnapped her is still at large, Maggie’s physician, the intrepid Dr. Woodward (played first by Robert Gerringer, and then by Peter Turgeon), enlists Sam and Maggie’s fiancé Joe Haskell (Joel Crothers) in a scheme to fake her death. Maggie is spirited away to a mental institution a hundred miles away, where Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) tries to unlock the secret of Maggie’s disappearance.
Julia’s investigations lead her to Collinwood, where she shows up posing as a historian writing a book about the Collins family. She quickly deduces that the Barnabas Collins of 1795 and the Barnabas Collins of 1967 are one and the same. She boldly confronts Barnabas and tells him she knows his secret. She adds that medical science can cure what she delicately refers to as his “condition.” Barnabas says “You begin to intrigue me” and invites her to the Old House to discuss matters further. But once there, he reveals his only reason for inviting her there was to silence her by killing her.
He begins to strangle her, but stops when she blurts out that Maggie Evans is still alive. “MAGGIE EVANS?” he roars in disbelief.
Julia tells him he has a choice. He can either kill her and wait for Maggie Evans to recover her memory, at which point his secret will be revealed to the entire world. Or, he can cooperate with her in search of a cure, and in return she will make sure that Maggie never recovers her memory. Reluctantly, he agrees.
Using her identity as a historian as a cover, Julia begins spending times at the Old House, administering a murkily-defined course of “treatments” to Barnabas for his “condition.” Soon it becomes obvious that Julia is in love with Barnabas, although their relationship was never consummated, even to the very end of the series. Meanwhile Barnabas has decided he wants to make Victoria Winters his Josette, but she is in love with Burke and engaged to marry him. Barnabas makes it clear that he has conflated Burke in his mind with his Uncle Jeremiah, his long-dead rival who stole Josette away from him. “He was the worst enemy I had,” he spits to Willie. Several times Barnabas finds himself alone with Victoria and prepares to bite her, but each time he finds himself unable to go through with it.
Sarah Collins helps Maggie Evans to escape from the mental institution and she appears back in Collinsport. (Rather implausibly, the FBI does not come crashing down upon Dr. Woodard’s little scheme like a ton of bricks.) Her memory of what happened to her is still gone. Dr. Hoffmann continues “treating” Maggie (while still pretending to be a historian writing a book about the Collins family). Her “treatments” consist of making sure Maggie never recovers the memory of what happened to her. Maggie, her father, and Joe Haskell all become increasingly suspicious of Dr. Hoffman, and they angrily terminate Maggie’s relationship with her.
David wanders off and gets trapped in the secret room in the Collins family mausoleum. Sarah Collins appears to him and helps him escape. He is found by Barnabas wandering in the cemetery. Barnabas interrogates him in a very intimidating fashion, trying to ascertain how much the boy knows, but before he can get very far the two are discovered by Burke. Barnabas and Burke safely return the boy to Collinwood, but then David begins having nightmares about Barnabas and becomes obsessed with the idea that Barnabas wants to kill him.
All this time Maggie is being kept under virtual house arrest by her father and Joe, who are fearful of her kidnapper’s return. In collaboration with Sheriff Patterson (played mostly by Dana Elcar, but by other actors as well), they come up with a plan to flush Maggie’s kidnapper out of the bushes: they will leak word that Maggie has recovered her memory. Meanwhile, the Sheriff will have his men stake out stake out the Evans home and wait for her kidnapper to return and try to finish her off.
Sheriff Patterson and Sam Evans go to the Blue Whale together. Pretending to be drunk, Sam Evans boasts loudly that Patterson and his men are on the verge of making an arrest in the case. Willie overhears them and reports back to Barnabas, who vows to murder Maggie. Willie tells Julia, who manages to dissuade Barnabas from his plan, at least for the moment. Meanwhile, Willie goes to the Evans home to warn Maggie. As a reward for his heroism, he is ambushed by the Sheriff’s deputies and shot in the back five times. He is rushed to the hospital in a coma where Dr. Woodard pronounces his chances of survival as zero. Later, Willie comes out of his coma, but (again, conveniently) he suffers from amnesia and has no memory of what happened, and he is shipped off to an institution for the criminally insane. Neither Barnabas nor Julia seems the least bit perturbed by this turn of events.
For most of the people in Collinsport, this seems to resolve the mystery of who kidnapped Maggie Evans, but not for Dr. Woodard. He comes to believe that the mysterious little girl named Sarah who keeps cropping up in connection with the case may hold the answers. His relentless probing leads him first to a face-to-face encounter with Sarah, and then to discover Julia’s notes regarding her treatment of Barnabas’s “condition.” For Julia this is the point of no return, the point at which she crosses over the line from accessory to kidnapping (after the fact) to premeditated murder. Before Woodard can tell anyone about what he has found, Julia prepares a lethal injection, which Barnabas administers to Woodard as she watches.
After Woodard’s funeral, a heartsick Julia tells Barnabas she wants to discontinue the attempt to change Barnabas back into a human being. “You couldn’t bear being human,” she tells him. “With humanity comes conscience. With conscience comes guilt. With guilt comes suffering. You couldn’t bear it.” But her orders her to go on.
The treatments go horribly wrong. Barnabas ages 172 years in a single night. Meanwhile, Carolyn has become worried about her younger cousin David’s increasingly strange behavior, his fear of Barnabas, and his obsession with his mysterious little friend Sarah, who eventually appears to Carolyn in her room and then vanishes. Determined to get to the bottom of all this, she rashly breaks into the Old House, where she encounters Barnabas in his 214-year-old incarnation. Barnabas bites her and drinks her blood, and his youth and vitality are restored. Barnabas casts his vampire spell on her, and she becomes his willing slave.
Barnabas informs Carolyn he has decided to do away with Julia. “There was a time,” he tells her wearily, “When I was as interested in my condition as she was. But no more.” By a variety of means, both natural and supernatural, Barnabas and Carolyn set out to gaslight Julia and drive her insane. Julia goes to the Collins family mausoleum and asks Sarah to appear to her. When she appears, Julia asks her if she will protect her from harm. Sarah vanishes without answering.
Julia goes to the Old House to confront Barnabas and tells him that Sarah has appeared to her. Enraged, he begins to strangle her. Then Sarah appears. Barnabas begs her to stay, but she tells him that she will never return unless he learns to be good.
Victoria receives news that Burke has died in a plane crash in Brasil. That same night Sarah appears to David and tells him that “those who were here before” have returned to Collinwood and want to destroy someone there. David asks her who they want to destroy but she vanishes without telling him. Elizabeth, Victoria, and Julia hear David crying out for Sarah and enter the room. David tells his aunt what has just happened. Of course, she doesn’t believe him, but then Julia speaks up and assures her that everything the boy is saying is true.
Julia manages to convince Elizabeth that Sarah is real, and the two women decide to conduct a séance to try to contact her. The others, with varying degrees of reluctance, go along. Carolyn and Barnabas concoct a scheme to sabotage their plans. When the séance begins, Carolyn begins speaking in the voice of Sarah, telling everybody to go away, that she doesn’t know a little boy named David. Then Victoria also begins speaking in the voice of Sarah. The candles go out, and when Barnabas turns on the lights they see that Victoria has disappeared.
Victoria finds herself standing in front of the Old House, but everything seems wrong, strange: the house appears as if it were brand new. Barnabas exits the house, dressed in the style of the eighteenth century. When Victoria addresses him by name, he gives her a puzzled look and asks her if they have met before. Victoria first believes this is all some sort of elaborate practical joke, then she thinks she is trapped in a nightmare, and finally comes to accept the realization that she has somehow managed to travel back in time to 1795.
Barnabas invites her in, and she meets the rest of his family, who remind her of the inhabitants of Collinwood of 1967 (and are played by the same actors). There’s his sister Sarah, his mother Naomi (played by Joan Bennett), his Uncle Jeremiah (played by Anthony George), his cousin Millicent (played by Nancy Barrett), and finally his father Joshua (played by Louis Edmonds) who agrees to hire Victoria as – a governess!
The casting of the same actors to play the residents of Collinsport in both 1967 and 1795 was an interesting device, and one that was never fully explained. Were the characters in 1967 supposed to be reincarnations of their counterparts in 1795? Or was the equivalence only in the mind of Victoria Winters? The question was never answered.
Victoria gets to watch the events that led to Barnabas’s undoing unfold.
Jeremiah Collins is only a few years older than Barnabas, and the two are less like uncle and nephew and more like brothers. Indeed, no brothers could surpass the devotion these two men show toward one another. Barnabas is a paragon of hard work, filial loyalty, and kindness. His compassion extends even to indentured servant Ben Stokes (Thayer David), who is dismissed by almost everyone else as a mindless brute. Barnabas sets out to teach Ben to read and write, and in one scene, he admonishes Ben to mind his p’s and q’s. “I don’t know why they put ‘em one right after the other [in the alphabet],” Ben grumbles good-naturedly. When Barnabas offers to let Ben work out his indenture with him instead of with his father Joshua, Ben’s eyes well up with tears of gratitude.
Barnabas is engaged to be married to Josette Dupres (played, naturally, by Katherine Leigh Scott), the beautiful heiress of the wealthiest family in Martinique. She has arrived in Collinsport, along with her father Andre (played, naturally, by David Ford), and her aunt Natalie (played, somewhat incongruously, by Grayson Hall). The marriage seems a match made in Heaven: the wealth and tradition of the Old World fusing with the vitality of the New. Indeed, it was men like Barnabas Collins who built the Yankee clippers that sailed all over the world in search of trade, and the two lovers’ future seems as boundless as the wide ocean.
Of course, a serpent must enter this Garden of Eden, in this case in the person of Josette’s handmaiden Angelique (Lara Parker), a vicious psychopath schooled in the arts of necromancy by the Dupres family’s black slaves (obviously, this was before the era of political correctness). Once, Barnabas had a fling with Angelique, an episode he would just as soon forget, but which for Angelique has morphed into a fatal attraction.
Angelique comes into Barnabas’s room late one night and professes her love for him. As gently as he can. Barnabas tells her it can never be. Enraged, the next day Angelique casts a spell over Barnabas. As he and Josette kiss, suddenly he begins choking. Jeremiah helps Barnabas to his room. The doctor is summoned, but he is unable to determine the cause of Barnabas’s distress. Angelique removes the curse just in time to save Barnabas’s life.
Next Angelique sets out to enslave Ben, to make him an instrument of her nefarious plans. She lures the simple man up to her room. He reaches for her, but she hands him a potion and tells him. “Drink this first.” He does, and Angelique tells him he no longer has a will of his own. She adds that if he ever opens his mouth to tell anyone, he will never speak again. She orders him to procure a spider web from the surrounding woods, as well as Jeremiah’s ring and a lock of Jeremiah’s hair. She uses these items to cast a spell over Josette, who enters Jeremiah’s room late at night and blurts out that she loves him. Then she runs from the room in tears.
Angelique prepares a love potion and orders Ben to give it to Jeremiah in his evening toddy. Josette goes out for a late night walk and meets Jeremiah, and the two begin kissing. Unknown to them, Natalie sees them and tells Andre. He angrily confronts Jeremiah, who gives the other man his word it will never happen again. Natalie and Andre tell Josette she must marry Barnabas immediately, and she agrees.
Barnabas, Andre, Natalie, and the minister all assemble in the drawing room, waiting for the wedding to begin, as Angelique serves them champagne. Andre goes upstairs to get his daughter, and then returns downstairs to tell everyone that Josette is missing, along with Jeremiah.
The two lovers enjoy a few hours of newlywedded bliss before they realize the awful truth of what they have done, and the even more awful truth that they no longer love each other. Nevertheless, they feel they have no choice but to return to the Collins home and tell everyone what they have done. Joshua is astounded by the news, but sees no alternative to accepting their marriage as a fait accompli.
Barnabas does. He steps forward and slaps Jeremiah across the face and challenges him to a duel.
The next day Jeremiah stops by Barnabas’s room and says, simply, “I’m sorry.”
“Then I have reason to hate you,” Barnabas snaps, “Because if you do not love her, then you have ruined all our lives for nothing.” Later in the day Barnabas and Jeremiah meet for a duel. Two shots are fired, and only one man is left standing.
Meanwhile, suspicion has been gathering over Victoria Winters like a storm cloud ever since her arrival because of the mysterious circumstances surrounding her appearance in Collinsport, the strange clothing she was wearing when she arrived, her complete refusal to talk about her origins, and her habit of blurting out remarks that soundly oddly like prophecies. The whole Collins family has been frightened and bewildered by recent events, and so Joshua’s sister Abigail (played by Clarice Blackburn) summons Reverend Trask (Jerry Lacy), the witch-hunter, to investigate.
The writers knew that the only way they could sustain dramatic tension was to give the Reverend Trask an uphill battle all the way. Trask, a supercilious little man, arrives at Collinwood to something less than a resounding welcome. Joshua, Barnabas, and Andre are all products of the enlightenment, without a superstitious bone in any of their bodies. They make no secret of their hatred for Trask, whom they regard as at best a fool and at worst a repulsive bully. Nevertheless, at Abigail’s insistence, Joshua reluctantly allows Trask into his home to carry out his “investigation.” Trask bullies and browbeats Victoria, then forcibly abducts her and takes her into the woods, where he ties her to a tree. Angelique overhears Trask say that if Victoria is a witch, the tree will be dead by morning.
When Barnabas hears what has happened, he and his friend, U.S. Navy Lieutenant Nathan Forbes (played by Joel Crothers) rescue Victoria and hide her in a safe place. Meanwhile, Angelique follows them, and once they leave she sets fire to the tree. The next day Trask finds the smoking embers.
Once more, Angelique offers herself to Barnabas. He tells her the truth – that he is still in love with Josette. Furious, Angelique leaves and vows to exact her revenge. She inserts pins into one of Sarah’s dolls, and the child becomes deathly ill. Barnabas comes to Angelique’s room looking for her doll, and he tells Angelique that Sarah is dying. Angelique offers to cure Sarah if Barnabas will promise to marry her. Desperate, Barnabas agrees. Angelique brews a special herbal tea for Sarah. She drinks it and recovers.
Angelique then reminds Barnabas of his promise. Barnabas is flabbergasted and clearly does not want to marry her. Tearfully, she releases him from his promise. Barnabas was raised always to be a man of honor, and he feels he cannot go back on his word. He asks her if she can accept him as he is, knowing that he will always love Josette. She says yes, and he agrees to marry her. That same day, Jeremiah finally dies of his wounds suffered in his duel with Barnabas. Joshua informs Andre that Jeremiah has left a sizeable estate to which Josette, as his widow, is entitled. It is decided that the Dupres family will move into the New House (the Collinwood of 1967) until the estate is settled.
Joshua offers Angelique ten thousand dollars in gold to go away, but when she refuses, he reluctantly gives his assent to the marriage, provided that first a decent interval is allowed to pass. Meanwhile Abigail has begun to suspect that Angelique is the one behind all the misfortunes which have befallen the Collins family as of late. “If I have anything to say about it, you will never marry Barnabas,” Abigail tells her. Angelique tells Barnabas that they must get married right away. Barnabas agrees reluctantly, but when he tells his father, the older man is furious and disowns his son and banishes him from his property. Later, Naomi tells Barnabas the deed to the Old House is in her name, and she signs the deed over to Barnabas as a wedding present.
Ben tells Barnabas he hopes that his marriage to Angelique will be the end of his troubles. When Barnabas suspiciously asks him what he means by that, Ben tells him it is just his way of wishing them happiness. He also tells Barnabas that he saw Trask snooping around the stables, where Victoria is now hidden. Ben asks Barnabas if he believes if Victoria is a witch. Barnabas says No. When Ben asks him why, he tells him that in the first place he doesn’t believe in witches, and in the second place he doesn’t believe Victoria would be capable of harming anybody. Barnabas then asks Ben if he believes Victoria is a witch. Ben answers No with such vehemence he raises Barnabas’s suspicions. When Barnabas asks him how he can be so sure, Ben gives him an evasive answer.
Barnabas instructs Ben to go get Victoria and bring her into the house. Barnabas assures Victoria he will not allow Trask to harm her. When Victoria asks him why he is being so kind to her, Barnabas replies, “I don’t like fanatics,” in a tone of voice that makes it clear he is not a man to be trifled with.
Victoria tells him that he needs to know the truth about her and says she has come from another time, from almost 200 years in the future. She tells him the reason she addressed him by name the day she arrived is because in 1967 she knows one of his descendants, also named Barnabas Collins, who looks just like him. “Do you believe me?” she asks.
Barnabas says quietly, “I don’t know.”
He tells her to go to her room and get some rest. With only his mother and his loyal friend Ben looking on, the minister pronounces Barnabas and Angelique man and wife. Angelique looks up at Barnabas and says, “I’m so happy.”
Barnabas says simply, “I’m glad you are.”
Angelique decides she needs to do away with Abigail, who seems dangerously close to guessing the identity of the real witch. She orders Ben to sneak into Abigail’s room and steal one of her hair ribbons so she can use it to cast a spell on her. Ben does as he is told, but he is caught in the act by Abigail. Ben tells her the witch made him do it. When Abigail asks him who the witch is, Ben begins choking.
Enraged, Joshua has Ben locked in a dungeon in the basement. Meanwhile, Abigail is clearly terrified. She goes to Joshua and demands he do something about it. Abigail and Joshua go to the Old House and demand that Trask be allowed to perform an exorcism. Angrily, Barnabas refuses, but Angelique sees an opportunity to kill two birds with one stone here – she can deflect suspicion away from herself and remove a potential romantic rival at the same time. She speaks up and tells Barnabas that no harm will come from letting Trask in to do the exorcism, and he reluctantly agrees.
Barnabas tells Victoria what is going to happen. She is clearly afraid, but Barnabas assures her he will protect her. He assures her that Trask will not even enter the house to perform the exorcism – the entire ceremony takes place at the threshold. All she has to do is stay in her room, and no harm can come to her.
Victoria thanks him profusely and tells him that his twentieth century “namesake” is a kind and gentle man, too. Barnabas asks her if the Collins family is free of these kinds of troubles in the twentieth century. Victoria tells him no. Barnabas grimaces when he hears this, and she gushes, “But they’re really good people.”
Barnabas says somberly, “That’s some consolation.”
Trask arrives and begins to perform the ritual. Meanwhile, in another part of the house, Angelique begins reciting an incantation, calling fire down upon the house. A fire breaks out in Victoria’s room. Standing outside the door of Angelique’s old room, Barnabas hears her chanting, “Heart of fire. Fire that burns in the heart of ice…”
“Angelique?” he calls, uncertainly, but then he is interrupted by Victoria’s screams. Victoria bolts from her room into the waiting arms of Trask. Barnabas first dashes upstairs to Victoria’s room, then goes outside, but he is too late – both Victoria and Trask are already gone.
Barnabas visits Victoria in prison and tells her she must tell him every detail about what happened. When she tells him that a fire broke out in her room during the exorcism, Barnabas informs her that he entered her room immediately after she fled. “There was no fire,” he tells her. “There was no evidence of fire.” He turns away from her, crestfallen. He had wanted so badly to believe her.
Speaking more to herself than to him, Victoria rambles on, “It was a cold fire, one that didn’t burn my hands,” That gets Barnabas’s attention. He remembers Angelique’s words: “Fire that burns in the heart of ice,” and now he knows who the real witch is.
Barnabas hires Judge Matigan, a prominent jurist, to defend Victoria Winters, and the two men meet with her. Matigan begins the interview by making it clear he doesn’t believe in witches. He reveals that he has long hated Trask and would love to expose him to the world as a fraud.
Matigan asks Victoria to tell him about her background. Victoria says she was brought up in a foundling home in Boston. Matigan presses her for more details, for the names of people who knew her before she came to Collinwood. Barnabas keeps interrupting Matigan, saying he doesn’t see why any of this is relevant, until finally Victoria blurts out the truth – that she is a visitor from the twentieth century. Matigan is shocked by her revelation. He isn’t sure whether he believes her or not, but he makes it clear that either way he cannot defend her and hastily excuses himself. Barnabas assures Victoria he will not abandon her and leaves.
After Barnabas leaves, the bailiff, Peter Bradford (Roger Davis), introduces himself to Victoria. In response to her question, he tells her he believes she is telling the truth, or at least what she believes is the truth. He says he has been studying law and offers to defend her if her case ever goes to trial.
Barnabas goes to Collinwood and tells Josette they will soon be together again. Just before he leaves, his mother informs him that a present has arrived, belatedly, for his ill-fated wedding – a portrait of Josette. Barnabas has the portrait displayed in the drawing room of the Old House. When Angelique sees this she is, naturally, furious. She begins sticking pins into Sarah’s doll, telling Barnabas that if he ever leaves her, she will kill Sarah. Enraged, Barnabas picks up a pistol and shoots her. Horrified, Angelique regards the blood seeping through the fabric of her dress, then cries out, “I set a curse on you Barnabas Collins! You will never rest Barnabas, and you will never be able to love anybody – for whoever loves you will die. This is my curse, and you will live with it through eternity.” The she collapses on the floor. Moments later, Barnabas succumbs to the curse and collapses alongside her.
Ben enters the house and carries Barnabas up to his room. Angelique comes to and recovers on her own quite nicely, while Barnabas is lost in a miasma of fever and pain. The doctor is summoned, and he diagnoses Barnabas with the plague. Joshua comes to visit. He apologizes and tells him his son he will recover, and they will make everything right again. Barnabas awakens and asks for Josette. She is summoned and they have their last talk, and then Barnabas dies.
Fearful of the public reaction should it be known that his son died of the plague, Joshua decides that everyone will be told that Barnabas went to England on business. The servants are summoned to dispose of the body, after first being sworn to secrecy. Angelique orders Ben to find out where Barnabas is entombed, and then to make a stake of holly, fourteen inches long, and then to bring it to her. He does so. Then he takes her to the mausoleum, and lets her into the secret room. She opens the coffin. Barnabas opens his eyes, then rises from his coffin and strangles Angelique to death.
Barnabas exits the secret room and finds Ben standing there. Ben promises Barnabas he will never tell a soul about what he knows. Later Ben encounters Barnabas outside the mausoleum again. His mouth spattered with blood, Barnabas informs him that he has just attacked a young girl in the village, and adds that he wishes he had let Angelique kill him. This is just the beginning of a series of attacks on the local women.
Barnabas returns to Collinwood. Sarah looks out the window and sees him. Barnabas flees, and Sarah goes running outside looking for him. She gets caught in a thunderstorm. Ben finds her and carries her back to the house, but she develops pneumonia. Barnabas enters her room while all the others are taking a break from the their bedside vigil and takes her in his arms. “She says, “Barnabas, I love you,” and dies in his arms. Barnabas realizes that Angelique’s prophecy has come true – “Whoever loves you will die.”
The next day, Joshua visits Victoria in prison and accuses her of murdering his daughter. When Victoria denies responsibility, Joshua icily informs her he will do everything in his power to see that she is burned at the stake.
That night, Naomi goes to the mausoleum to leave flowers on Sarah’s grave. From inside his crypt, Barnabas listens to his mother sobbing, unable to comfort her, until his father comes to take her home.
“Mother -- father – don’t go,” Barnabas murmurs softly.
Barnabas orders Ben to make a stake of holly and bring it to the mausoleum the next day and drive it through his heart. At first, Ben refuses, but finally agrees. He tells Barnabas that he will never forget him. Barnabas says he hopes people will remember the good in him. He further instructs Ben to sell his jewelry and help Victoria escape and take her as far away from Collinsport as he can get.
Ben returns to the mausoleum, stake in hand, but finds himself unable to kill his old friend. Barnabas opens and cried out, “Why have I been awakened to the summons of another night?” He sees Ben standing there and begins to strangle him, then demands to know why Ben has not followed his orders. Ben tells him he couldn’t go through with it. Barnabas says the human part of him hopes Josette will go away, but there is very little humanity left in him.
Meanwhile, the slick-talking Nathan Forbes has managed to convince the fabulously wealthy but stunningly naïve Millicent to marry him, but his plans are threatened by the arrival of his wife, Suki. The two meet at the Eagle Tavern, and Nathan offers her four hundred dollars to go away. She accepts his offer, but when she learns that he is engaged to marry the fabulously wealthy Millicent Collins, she decides to raise the stakes. She shows up at Collinwood unannounced, introducing herself to Millicent as Nathan’s sister, Suki Forbes. Once Melissa is out of earshot, Suki tells Nathan the price for her silence has just gone up, drastically. Reluctantly, Nathan agrees to meet her at the Old House so they can discuss the matter further.
Suki enters to Old House and encounters Barnabas, who is supposed to be in England. At first, Barnabas denies who he really is, then orders her to go away and never tell a soul that she has seen him. Suki is unfazed. She realizes that Barnabas clearly has something to hide, and not having any idea what that something is, she plops herself down on the couch insolently and tries to bargain with him.
Barnabas is in no mood to bargain. He wraps his hands around Suki’s throat and strangles her to death.
Barnabas goes to see Josette “one last time.” He tells her to go away and forget all about him. She tells him she will do that only if he will tell her he does not love her. Barnabas is unable to tell her that and gives her his ring.
The next night Josette goes to Widow’s Hill, to become Barnabas’s bride for all eternity, but once there, she sees a terrifying vision of herself as one of the living dead and flings herself over the cliff. Once again Angelique’s prophecy has come true. Barnabas returns to the mausoleum the next day and tells Ben what has happened. “She died hating me,” he laments.
Barnabas vows to bring Josette back to him. “I have made my own dark conquest of the grave. Hers will be next. This I swear!” He goes to Josette’s grave and pleads with her to come back to him. He hears her voice, begging him to let her rest, but he refuses. Finally, he returns to the Old House, and then Josette comes to him, her face obscured by a bridal veil. “Why did you disturb my rest?” she demands. “Force me to come back against my will?” Barnabas asks her if she still hates him. “I can fell neither love nor hate,” she replies, ominously. “I can feel nothing now. You willed me to come back. You will not do that again.” Then she lifts her veil to reveal a face horribly mangled by her fall. Barnabas screams.
Barnabas tells Ben he is going to move back into the Old House, to the place where he and Josette were happy, for a brief time. Ben sputters, “You want to get caught, don’t you?” Barnabas does not deny it.
Millicent finds Suki’s marriage license while going through her possessions, and tearfully breaks the engagement with Nathan. Joshua tells Nathan that if he ever again sets foot on his property, including the shipyard, he will be shot on sight. Nathan pleads with the older man, telling him that his duties require him to be at the shipyard. Joshua coldly informs the younger man that that is the Navy’s problem, not his.
Meanwhile, Victoria Winters is on trial for her life on charges of witchcraft. The trial is not going particularly well for Trask, until fate deals Victoria a stunning reversal of fortune. Aunt Abigail, never one to keep her nose out of other people’s business, decides to go snooping around the Old House. She witnesses Barnabas rising out of his coffin and dies of heart failure. The next day Abigail’s lifeless body is found in the woods. In court, Trask accuses Victoria of causing Abigail’s death. Peter objects, and the objection is sustained. The judge informs Trask that he cannot pursue this line of questioning without first establishing a motive.
Trask brokers a sleazy little deal between Joshua and Nathan: Joshua will refrain from informing the Navy of Nathan’s conduct unbecoming an officer and a gentleman, and Nathan will go to court and testify that Victoria told him she wanted to kill Abigail. Nathan gets on the witness stand and blatantly perjures himself.
Ben tells Barnabas what happened, and adds, “She doesn’t deserve to hang for somethin’ you did!” Barnabas tells Ben there is only one thing left to do: Ben must go to court and tell the whole truth about what happened. Ben is clearly terrified of Angelique’s wrath, but he screws up his courage and goes to court the next day and reveals everything: how Angelique enslaved him and made him an instrument of her nefarious plans, how she made Jeremiah and Josette fall in love with each other, how her schemes tore an entire family apart. Just as he is finished, Angelique assumes her corporeal form and saunters into the courtroom. Ben becomes hysterical, screaming, “She’s dead! I buried her!” Naturally, he is ejected from the courtroom, and his testimony is dismissed as the ravings of a madman.
Peter tries one last desperate ploy to try to save Victoria’s life. He puts her on the witness stand, and she tells the judges the whole truth: that she was born in 1946, that she came to work for the Collins family in 1966, and that one night she was inexplicably hurtled 172 years back into the past. On redirect, Trask elicits from her the fatal admission that on that night, she was taking part in a séance, an attempt to contact the spirits of the dead, and that she had participated in such activities before. Convicted by her own words, Victoria Winters is sentenced to hang by the neck until she is dead. When Barnabas hears the news, he vows that Trask will die.
Ben tries to talk Barnabas out of it. “I’ve seen as much killin’ as I kin stomach.” Where Barnabas is unmoved, Ben cries out, You ain’t got no feelin’s about anythin’ anymore!”
“Oh, I have feelings, Ben,” Barnabas replies. “I can hate.”
Barnabas orders Ben to procure a brass ring, “Big enough to shackle a man’s hands to,” and a load of bricks and mortar, and to bring everything to the basement of the Old House. Ben refuses and, understandably enough, goes into town and gets roaring drunk, but later he returns and agrees to help Barnabas.
Trask has a dream in which the spirit of Abigail instructs him to go to the Old House, to find “the secret of the witch.” He goes there, and finds Barnabas waiting for him. He chains Trask to the wall of an alcove and seals him in there with bricks. With only one last brick remaining to put in place, Barnabas holds up a candle and says, “Look at the light, Trask – let it burn itself into your mind so you will always remember what the light was like, long after I have consigned you to eternal darkness.” Then he slides the last brick into place.
Meanwhile, Nathan has discovered Barnabas’s terrible secret, and he decides to use it to his advantage. He enlists a local hoodlum, Noah Gifford, to help him. Late one night, as Millicent is strolling through the garden, Noah puts on a disguise and attacks her. Nathan, who conveniently was just passing by, hears Millicent’s screams and “rescues” her. Of course, Millicent falls in love with him all over again and asks him to stay.
Millicent tells Joshua and Naomi she is going to marry Nathan after all. Naturally, Joshua is furious and orders Nathan to leave. Nathan asks the older man if he can speak to him in private. He tells Joshua that he knows that Barnabas is still in Collinsport, and that he has seen him in the Old House. He offers to keep everything a secret if Joshua will assent to the marriage. Joshua goes to the Old House and encounters Barnabas just as he is emerging from his coffin. Barnabas tells him everything. Shaken, Joshua returns to Collinwood and reluctantly gives his assent. Then he returns to the Old House and tells Barnabas he must keep him confined inside the Tower to keep him from killing any more innocent people until he can find a way to lift the curse. “What is done can be undone,” the old man doggedly asserts. Joshua returns to Collinwood. When Naomi asks him where has was, he refuses to tell her.
Millicent, whose grasp on reality was always a bit tenuous to begin with, tells Naomi she has decided to sign over her entire fortune to her younger brother Daniel (played, of course, by David Henesy). When Naomi expresses her incredulity, Millicent informs her it’s okay – Nathan has already told her that he would love her even if she gave her entire fortune away.
Nathan and Millicent get married, and later that day Daniel casually mentions that Millicent has signed her entire fortune over to him. Nathan reacts by storming out of the house and getting drunk, but later he returns to Collinwood to continue his scheming ways. He begins a campaign to gaslight Millicent and drive her mad. When she tells him she sees a light in the tower, Nathan looks out the window and claims not to see anything. He instructs her to go to the Tower and see for herself. She goes to the Tower and encounters Barnabas, who bites her. This turns out to be enough to push the already fragile Millicent over the edge.
Naomi confronts Joshua about his increasingly secretive comings and goings. She knows perfectly well that something terrible is going on, and she demands he tell her what it is. Joshua tells her part of the truth – that the family is under a curse, and that he is doing everything he can to lift the curse. He also tells her he now knows that Victoria Winters is innocent. Naomi reminds him that she has been sentenced to hang the next evening. Joshua promises to try to save her. He visits the judge and begs him to order a stay of execution. The judge matter-of-factly tells Joshua that if he had testified as a character witness for Victoria at the trial, that might have tipped the scales in her favor, but that he will not re-open the case without a witness who can testify that someone else was the witch. Joshua visits Victoria in her cell and tells her, “It is pointless to say that I am sorry…but I am.” Then he leaves. Peter grabs a deputy’s gun and escapes with Victoria, who is shot in the scuffle. They flee to the Old House, where Ben takes them in and bandages Victoria’s wound.
Back at Collinwood, Daniel asks to see his sister. Nathan tells him he can’t. When Daniel asks too many questions, Nathan tells him menacingly that he is now Daniel’s guardian, and that he can make things very unpleasant for him if he chooses. Daniel goes over to the Old House and finds Victoria and Peter. He promises them he won’t tell a soul where they are. Ben hides Peter and Victoria in the secret room in the mausoleum. Victoria has a nightmare about Nathan trying to strangle Daniel. She tells Peter he must go to Collinwood to warn them. Reluctantly, he agrees.
Daniel returns to Collinwood and tells Nathan that he will ask Joshua and Naomi to legally adopt him. Desperate to retain his hold on the family fortune, Nathan enlists Noah to kidnap Daniel and murder him. Noah, more buffoon than villain, bungles everything and allows Daniel escape. Daniel makes his way to the mausoleum. Victoria hears his cries and lets him into the secret room.
Noah goes back to Collinwood and reports that Daniel has gotten away. Furious, Nathan orders him to find the boy. After he leaves, Naomi asks Nathan why he seems so unconcerned that Daniel has gone missing. Reluctantly, he agrees to go searching for the boy.
Daniel notices that Victoria has become feverish and insists that he must go back to Collinwood to get help for her. As he leaves, he encounters Noah, who grabs the boy and begins to strangle him. Victoria emerges from the mausoleum and shoots Noah dead. Victoria and Daniel hide in the secret room. Peter returns to the mausoleum and finds Noah’s dead body. Just then Nathan comes up and pulls out a gun and arrests him.
Daniel returns to Collinwood with Victoria, where Naomi agrees to hide her. The next morning, Daniel leaves to go to town to identify the body of the man who attacked him. When Nathan learns of this, he darkly warns her against involving the authorities. When she demands to know why, he tells her he knows a secret – that Barnabas is still alive, and that he is the Strangler. When Naomi accuses him of lying, he tell her to go to the Tower and see for herself. She goes there and sees Barnabas in his coffin.
Naomi arranges to have Daniel sent away to a safe place. She confronts Nathan and tells him that he was lying, that her son is dead. Nathan smugly suggests that she go back to the Tower that night and see if Barnabas is still there.
When night falls, Naomi leaves the house to find out if Nathan is telling the truth. Meanwhile Barnabas, hidden away in the Tower, feels helpless in the grip of his compulsion. He sends a psychic message to Millicent, ordering her to come to him. She meets him in the garden. Not knowing that his mother is watching, Barnabas opens his mouth to bite Millicent. Naomi screams.
Still numb from her discovery, Naomi composes a letter and addresses it to Joshua. Then she goes to Victoria and tells her that Joshua has arranged for her to be taken away tomorrow, and that he is doing everything in his power to procure Peter’s release. Victoria asks her if something is something is troubling her. Naomi denies it and advises Victoria not to worry about the present, but to live for the future.
After she leaves Nathan discovers Victoria and holds her at gunpoint. Victoria asks Nathan why he is doing this, since she has never done him any harm. Nathan cheerfully tells her he is only doing it for the reward money. Astounded, she asks him if Millicent’s fortune wasn’t enough for him. He replies that she signed away her fortune to young Daniel, and now Daniel is out of his reach. Nathan takes her away to collect his reward.
Naomi ingests a fatal does of poison. and then goes to see Barnabas one last time. He tells her everything. She says, “No matter what you’ve done, it doesn’t matter because I love you.”
Horrified, Barnabas cries, “Mother, please don’t say that!” She collapses in his arms and dies, as the prophecy comes true for the third time.
Joshua tells Barnabas he has learned a way to end the curse – a silver bullet, fired through his heart. He says he has instructed a servant to take a silver candelabra into town and have it melted down to make six silver bullets. Tomorrow he will fire those bullets into his son’s heart, and the curse will be ended. Barnabas tells his father that before the night is over he will kill Nathan. The older man tries to talk him out of it, but to no avail.
Nathan is in town, drinking and carousing with a young woman of no extraordinary fame. Barnabas appears to him, terrifying him. Nathan flees back to Collinwood and begs Joshua to protect him. Joshua wearily informs him there is nothing he can do and excuses himself. Barnabas returns to Collinwood to exact his revenge. The camera closes in on Barnabas’s face, contorted with rage – the last thing Nathan ever sees.
Early the next morning Joshua tells Barnabas he will tell everybody Nathan left town abruptly. The marriage to Millicent will be annulled. Joshua will adopt Daniel, and raise him as his own son. The family history will be re-written – Millicent never married, Barnabas went to England and spent the rest of his life there, and Jeremiah and Naomi died of natural causes. No one will ever know Angelique existed. They hear a rooster crowing, and Barnabas says he must go.
Barnabas makes two last requests – he asks his father to free Ben, and to try to save Victoria’s life. Joshua promises his son he will do these things. After sunrise he goes to the mausoleum and stands over his son’s body, but he finds himself unable to pull the trigger. He instructs Ben to place a silver crucifix on the inside lid of the coffin to prevent Barnabas from opening the coffin, and to chain the coffin shut. There Barnabas will remain entombed forever. Later in the day Joshua receives word from the Governor – his request for a stay of execution has been denied. Joshua gives Ben his freedom, pays him a large sum of money, and tells him to go as far away as he can.
Peter is brought to Victoria’s cell to say goodbye. He promises her that they will be together someday again. Victoria is led to the gallows and the rope is placed around her neck. The ladder is kicked out from under her – and Victoria Winters is rocketed back into the twentieth century.
In the view of many observers, this is the point at which the series “jumped the shark,” so to speak. In an ideal world, the producers would have been allowed to tell the story of Barnabas Collins, using vampirism as a metaphor for loneliness and alienation. But we all know that television, and particularly daytime soap operas, is all about filling up air time. The plotline became hopelessly convoluted, as the writers began tossing in every tired horror-movie cliché they could think of – a Frankenstein-type monster, a Bride-of-Frankenstein-type monster, a warlock, and several werewolves – not to mention Old Scratch himself. Angelique returned from the grave to torment Barnabas, as did Reverend Trask. So many monsters were flocking to Collinsport that Sheriff Patterson probably had to hire extra deputies to direct all that traffic.
The introduction of Quentin Collins and curse of the werewolf was a particularly egregious sign the series was running out of steam. In the first place, Quentin Collins and Barnabas Collins were, for all intents and purposes, the same character – the son of a fantastically wealthy New England shipping family who had been changed into a monster. More importantly, the series was at its best when the horror was implied. Jonathan Frid himself once said he always felt silly when he had to wear the plastic fangs. The true horror of Dark Shadows was simply this – Barnabas was forever looking people in the eyes and outrageously lying to them about who and what he was. Tossing a werewolf into this mix was like using a wrecking ball on a chessboard.
Finally the series did manage to get back on track, long enough to bring closure to the story of Victoria Winters. (For these last few appearance, the role of Victoria Winters was played first by Betsy Durkin, and then by Carolyn Groves, who managed to bring to the role the same sort of fresh-faced innocence that Alexandra Moltke once did.)
Barnabas finally has been cured of his affliction, and he still wants to marry Victoria. However, she has fallen in love with Jeff Clark (played by Roger Davis), a young man who has figured prominently in several of the aforementioned plotlines. Victoria and Jeff come to realize that Jeff is the reincarnation of Peter Bradford, come back to fulfill his promise to return for her. The two young lovers get married, but almost immediately afterwards Jeff/Peter says he feels himself being pulled back into his own time, and he vanishes as a horrified Victoria watches.
Barnabas visits Victoria and again asks her to marry him. She declines his offer, telling him she will always love Jeff. They say their final goodbyes to one another. Later, as Victoria waits alone in her room, Peter Bradford appears to her. He tells her that he was allowed to occupy the body of Jeff Clark only for a short while. Now he has returned to her for one last time, but he soon will have to go forever. She begs him to take her with him.
Downstairs Elizabeth tells Barnabas that she heard Victoria talking to a man in her room. Barnabas dashes upstairs and breaks into Victoria’s room just in time to watch the two lovers fade back into the past as he and Elizabeth watch, stunned.
An emotionally shattered Barnabas soldiers on, playing the role of the kindly old bachelor uncle to David and his young cousin Amy. But his plans to take the children on an outing to Boston are rudely interrupted. David snaps a picture of Barnabas and Carolyn, and when the picture is developed, the figure of a woman being hanged by the neck is clearly visible in the background. Barnabas and Julia go the cemetery at Eagle Hill and find the grave of Victoria Winters, bearing the legend, “Hanged as a witch in 1796.”
Barnabas recounts to Julia the events that took place the night his mother died. He tells her he must go back into the past and rescue Victoria. Julia urges him to reconsider. She asks him why he thinks he is going to be able to change anything. He tells her it is because he already knows everything that is going to happen. He says his biggest mistake was in killing Lieutenant Forbes. He now realizes that he should have forced him instead to sign a confession, detailing how his perjured testimony falsely convicted Victoria Winters.
Julia reminds Barnabas that if he goes back into the past he may change back into what he once was, or that he may even set in motion a cascade of events that would result in his own destruction. Barnabas tells her he is prepared to take all those risks. He calls upon the spirit of Peter Bradford to take him back into the past. Julia holds out her hand and cries out, “Barnabas!” and we see her vanish. Barnabas finds himself standing alone in the middle of the graveyard. The camera closes in as he opens his mouth and we see his fangs.
On what is to be the last night of Victoria’s life, Barnabas enters her cell and wakes her up. He tells her he has come back to rescue her. Victoria tells Barnabas, as gently as she can that there is another man. Unaware that this is the same Barnabas she knew in the twentieth century, she reminds him of the conversation they had when she told him she was a visitor from another time. She tells him she went back to her own time, but now she has returned to the eighteenth century because she prefers to be with the man she loves, even in death.
Barnabas asks her, “Why not be with him in life?” and repeats his promise to save her.
After departing, Barnabas extracts the confession from Forbes, and he and Ben turn Forbes over to the authorities. They manage to secure the release of Peter Bradford, who was falsely accused of killing Noah Gifford, but not of Victoria. The judge tells Barnabas there was too much other evidence against her. Afterwards, Barnabas and Ben are walking along the docks when they are accosted by a middle-aged streetwalker named Crystal Cabot. Barnabas orders Ben to return to Collinwood by himself, and then he murders Crystal. Afterwards, Barnabas returns to Collinwood and tells Ben ruefully he had forgotten what it was like to be the way he is now. Unaware of Barnabas’s sojourn in the twentieth century, Ben has no idea what Barnabas is talking about.
Ben reminds Barnabas that time is running out for Victoria. Barnabas angrily replies that he is well aware of that and retires to his father’s study to ponder a new course of action. As he does so, the body of Crystal Cabot materializes on the chair next to him. Barnabas bolts from the room and shouts for Ben. When they return to the study they find that Angelique has appeared in the dead woman’s place.
Angelique offers Barnabas a bargain: she will save Victoria, if Barnabas will marry her. Incredulous, Barnabas asks, “Do you realize I cannot even pretend to love you?” but soon agrees to her terms. Barnabas returns to Victoria and tells her the plan. He says that when she goes to the gallows, the hangman will offer her a mask. She is to refuse it. Angelique will be there, and she will cast a spell on Victoria and make her fall down and appear to be dead.
The appointed hour comes. Victoria is led to the gallows, but Angelique is nowhere in evidence. Barnabas shouts for her to come, but she does not appear. Once more, the ladder is kicked out from under her, and once more Victoria Winters is hanged.
Barnabas and Peter Bradford take the body back to Collinwood. The next night, Barnabas emerges from his coffin and grimly asks Ben, “Ready?”
“Aye Sir,” Ben replies crisply. Angelique appears to Barnabas once more and tells him that Victoria is still alive, under her spell. She tells him she will release only after they go away together. Barnabas tells her he does not believe her. Angelique informs him he has no choice – otherwise Victoria will suffer the most horrible death imaginable – she will be buried alive and wake up in her grave.
“No Angelique,” Barnabas roars, “It is you who will die the most horrible death imaginable.” He flings open the door and Ben bursts in with a torch and sets Angelique on fire. Angelique screams in agony as she burns to death.
At that moment Victoria wakes up. She and Peter say goodbye to Barnabas. Peter asks him, “How can I ever thank you?” Barnabas turns to Victoria and says, “The fact that you are alive is thanks enough.” Victoria tells Barnabas she will never forget him, and the two lovers depart.
At this point the series should have ended. Victoria Winters had found her destiny, and so had Barnabas – he had made the journey from complete selfishness and psychopathic behavior to complete self-sacrifice.
Unfortunately the series continued for another 560 episodes, featuring even more tired horror-movie clichés – more werewolves, a Jekyll-and-Hyde ripoff, armies of the living dead, Leviathans (a ripoff of H.P. Lovecraft’s Old Ones), and “parallel time” – a gimmick that allowed the writers to recycle the same characters and the same situations, with minor variations on the same themes. The series finally ground to a halt on April 2, 1971.
Jonathan Frid went on to play a bit part as a mute chauffeur in the 1973 film The Devil’s Daughter, and in 1974 he played the lead in the film Seizure (incidentally, the directorial debut of the young Oliver Stone). In 1986 he appeared on Broadway in a revival of Arsenic and Old Lace, and in 2010 he reprised the role of Barnabas Collins for the first time in almost forty years, in the audio drama Dark Shadows: The Night Whispers. But, for all intents and purposes, his acting career ended when the TV series did. No matter. The legacy he created will long endure.
Dark Shadows is the only other American soap opera from the 1960’s for which recordings of every episode were saved. All the other ones just went out into the airwaves and disappeared. Their makers knew perfectly well they were making a disposable product. Today, every one of the 1,225 episodes of Dark Shadows is available on DVD. No other American soap opera from the 1960’s can make that claim.
The explanation for the series’ lasting appeal, I believe, is this: the Collins family saga was an allegory for the story of every family. Stripped of its supernatural elements and of the trappings of wealth and power, the tale retains a simple yet powerful message: that the harmful effects of secrets and lies and betrayals in a family can reverberate for generations.
Jonathan Frid died on Friday the Thirteenth, April 2012, just a few weeks before the revival of Dark Shadows starring Johnny Depp was set to premiere. As for the revival, well, I won’t be watching it, because I don’t think I can make the required suspension of disbelief. The series was the product of a specific moment in history, and the notion of re-imagining it in the twenty-first century seems to me preposterous. Improbable though Victoria Winters’ trip back into the eighteenth century may have seemed to viewers, nobody seemed to have trouble imagining that if she could have made the journey, that she could have been seamlessly integrated into the Collinwood of that era. The residents of Collinsport in 1795 looked the same, had the same names, spoke the same language and shared a wealth of common cultural assumptions with their counterparts in 1967. In many ways our society has changed more in the past 40 years than in the previous 200.
In Memory of Jonathan Frid
All photos via Wikimedia Commons