Monday, June 18, 2012

Dark Shadows is a Dan Curtis Production

The new Dark Shadows flick has come and mercifully gone, and I am able to clearly understand now why I hated it.  That parody lacked most of what made the original so wonderful: elegance, class, romance, and a surreal quality that will endure long past the tragic 2012 footnote of the same name.

I was little more than a year old when the Gothic daytime drama premiered in 1966, and would have been six when it ended its original run on the Alphabet Network.  But from a very early age, Dark Shadows was an indelible part of my youth. I watched the show routinely in the afternoon with aunts, uncles, and my wonderful grandmother, the late, great Bernice Norris -- and just as often suffered nightmares as a result.  One recurring bad dream found me hiding beneath a table in the front parlor as my relatives, all turned into vampires, marched past, searching for me. The dreams grew so bad that at one point, my mother forbade me watching the show. Not that I obeyed.  Not that she had room to make such demands on my babysitters, for on Halloween nights, she put the Dark Shadows soundtrack on the record player and Robert Cobert's haunting score was broadcast down our rural country road, terrifying trick-or-treaters and further imprinting that magical and mysterious world created by Dan Curtis upon my psyche.

The older sister of my best friend growing up in the big woods of Windham, New Hampshire (a realm very much like Curtis's remote Collinsport, Maine) would wander the meadows and forests calling out to Barnabus Collins, the cursed vampire played with such panache by Jonathan Frid.  Like her, Barnabus became my first crush; in the summer of 1978, when local ABC affiliate Channel 9 out of Manchester, NH began broadcasting repeats of Dark Shadows every afternoon at 4:30 following The Edge of Night, I whispered his name, too, and got swept up into the first time travel storyline, which found Victoria Winters traveling back to witness the original events in 1795 that led to Barnabus's curse at the hands of jealous witch Angelique and the loss of his one true love, Josette DuPres (played by the inimitable Kathryn Leigh Scott).  The show's impact upon me deepened when, that same summer, an uncle gave me his complete collection of Dark Shadows paperbacks, penned by Marilyn Ross, those wonderful books (which still occupy a place of honor on the shelves in my Writing Room) filled with Gothic elegance, subtle erotic passion, and melancholy for the past.

A brooding manor with a circle tower and rooms and wings sealed off, filled with heirlooms draped in cobwebs and family secrets.  Another, abandoned deep in the woods -- "The Old House," as it came to be known.  Ancient crypts, unrequited desire, and handsome, tragic anti-heroes, one a vampire, another doomed to transform into a werewolf when the moon rose full, became the territory my young imagination wandered daily.  And also where my pen went when, at fifteen, I discovered a much bigger world through writing.

I loved the 1991 NBC remake starring Ben Cross in the role of Barnabus, with Joanna Going as both Victoria Winters and Josette, but alas that series was not to stay around past an abbreviated season. And so, in the summer of 1992, spurred on by a jealous, fellow writer who delighted in trying to squelch my creativity (until I put an end to both his efforts and our relationship), I penned my own tribute to that dreamlike world, a collection of Gothic romance stories and one novella for gay male readers, Ghost Kisses.  My first book, it sold on its initial attempt to a storied company that had also published works by such greats
as Tennessee Williams and Allen Ginsberg. For several weeks that next winter, publisher Winston Leyland phoned me to say that my small book was vastly different from the 500 other manuscripts submitted to him over the course of every year and that he was thrilled to offer me a contract. Following its release, a regular reader of Leyland Publication books would tell Winston that he and his lover took turns reading the stories to one another at night in bed, which I found wonderfully uplifting then and still do nearly twenty years later.

And I still love Dark Shadows, and likely always shall.  But the real deal, not Johnny Depp's version, which didn't utilize a single marvelous trill from the Robert Cobert soundtrack beyond a bit of rattling bones, and either forgot or intentionally overlooked all that made the original so unforgettable: that flicker of light, love, and hope within the gloom.

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