Spoiler Alert: This analysis of Dark Shadows assumes familiarity with the series and does contain all kinds of suspense-wreckers.
Dark Shadows was a daytime soap opera that aired on ABC from 1966 to 1971. It began as a conventional soap opera with only ina hint of the occult. The writers and producers of this series relied heavily on classical literary themes. Throughout the series, the writers borrow from Oscar Wilde, H.P. Lovecraft, Mary Shelley, Shirley Jackson, Henry James, Edgar Allan Poe and a long list of others, which you can read about at this Wikia article.
The series creator and producer, Dan Curtis, has said that the idea for the series came to him in a dream of a young women riding a train, which is what is seen in the opening scene, in which Victoria Winters has been hired as a governess by the Collins family of mysterious Collinsport, Maine, a fictional town situated not far from Bangor. The train is taking her into an adventure – a young woman’s adventure, which is very much like Jane Eyre’s adventure in the novel of the same name by Charlotte Bronte.
But, there is another theme, a much older fictional story used in this series, which has to do with a curse placed upon a man and his descendants by a woman. It is the theme of the Biblical Garden of Eden story. This is the central theme underlying the best years of this series, which are those in which the character Barnabas Collins, the vampire, was introduced. It is not listed in the Wikia article I linked to above, perhaps because it is such an ancient theme, one that is taken for granted, and one that is not believed (especially by men) to be fiction, but is taken as the god’s honest truth for it was written, it is said by the believers, by the hand of God Himself – woman as temptress, responsible for the downfall of the first man and all his descendants. She is to blame, never the man, who would be good and not a seducing, murdering vampire, except for her going about the world tempting him to do evil all the time. She, not he, is the cause of all misery.
This part of the series does not begin right away. In the beginning, there was a young woman from an orphanage, Victoria Winters, who accepted a job offer from a mysterious family, one heretofore unknown to her. Ever in search of her true heritage, lonely and without any connection to anyone else in the world just like all the other children in the orphanage, she set out on a train in hopes of reconnecting with some sort of family. She came to find the only family she would ever know. Although, the boy she is assigned as governess to is odd and perhaps even dangerous. He leads her down dark, forbidden corridors, locks her in rooms with spiders and ghosts, and is suspected, at one point, of attempting to kill his own father. But, this is her only sense of connection and so it is easy to see why she stays on in this place. Like many women, she stays because she has no where else in the world to go.
I loved the first season of this series, although, by the end of it, its audience of mostly young women – not a highly desirable advertising demographic back in the 1960s, as they are today – was waning and the writers and producer were desperate to save the show. It was their desperation that led to the introduction of the vampire character, Barnabas Collins, played by a Shakespearean theater actor from Ontario named Jonathan Frid.
I have the feeling that the writers never really knew what they were doing right or wrong. They never really understood the appeal of the show, itself, and many times the actors have expressed their own amazement at the extremes of passion the show inspired in its dedicated fan base. They knew the show was unusual and they were part of something very remarkable, but they never really understood why it worked, either. This fact became a problem for the writers by the end of the series because they didn’t just run out of literary themes to borrow, they completely lost their grip on what made this show so appealing. My diagnosis is that this show finally died, in 1971, of testosterone poisoning. They had too many male characters fighting with each other over nothing and major, very popular female characters, playing damsels in distress wondering when their heroes, the newcomer males who became the primary characters, would return home to sweep them off their feet. This is not what their primarily female audience wanted to see and this is why the show finally died a slow death as the audience waned year after year.
But, in the first year, there was a very good balance of characters and a strong focus on the lives of the female characters. The male characters were secondary, especially to the intrepid, highly intelligent, very likable heroine, Victoria Winters. Even now – and, in fact, it is actually worse now – it is difficult to find a television program that centers on a female character and treats her with some respect. In the first season of the show, this series had four such female characters: Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke Isles, a blue-blood from Sweden); Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott); Carolyn Stoddard (Nancy Barrett); and Mrs. Stoddard (Joan Bennett, a legendary actress of the silver screen).
Dark Shadows Before the Arrival of Barnabas Collins
Even before the series took off, it was very good and quite different from other programs in its class because of its infusion of metaphysical ideas, even though they were only hinted at in a Radcliffian way, at first. There were doors that seemed to open and close by themselves, which might be explained by an old house that has settled. There were strange murmurings in the corridors, which were explained away by the residents as the noises made by old houses with creaking floorboards and loose mortar. There were voices on the wind at Widows Hill, which was the residents joked about to mask their discomfort.
What made the show good throughout most of its life is that it seems clear that someone behind the scenes had a genuine interest in the occult. It’s a feeling I’ve had about only a very few other television shows (or movies, for that matter) I’ve seen. Dark Shadows seems to have laid the groundwork for these other programs during the 1970s, which some people call the Satanic years because there were so many shows with occult themes – many of which were remarkably good and make modern television programming look extremely pathetic and simple-minded by contrast. One of those old series was Kolchak: The Night Stalker (1974-1975). It is my opinion that whoever wrote that series had a serious interest in the occult. Some people have called it the predecessor of the X-files, but it was, in fact, much better and took the occult much more seriously. (I hated the X-files!) There was a weekly series of made-for-television movies whose themes frequently explored the occult and Satanism, as well. It was called “The ABC Movie of the Week.” One of the films in that series, The Devil’s Daughter (1973), featured Jonathan Frid.
Another fascinating aspect of Dark Shadows, which makes it more interesting than most television programming, is that it was usually filmed in one straight shot, one roll of the camera, without stopping. It cost the studio a large sum every time the cameras had to be stopped and re-started. For this reason, despite any mistakes, mis-speaking of lines, forgotten lines, tripping, flies in the room crawling on the actors’ faces, loud crashing objects, crew members and sometimes actors accidentally walking into a scene, inexplicable shadows created by microphones and lighting equipment, the microphones themselves appearing in some shots, very bad – hilariously bad! – special effects, and so on, the cameras kept on rolling.
Many of the actors came from the live stage. The cast of Dark Shadows was much more like a live theater troupe than a television soap opera cast. As I watch this show, even so many years later and in black and white, I still have the feeling that I am watching a live theatrical production of the kind that is performed off Broadway in New York City. Furthermore, there was very little editing done before the program ran live on air, usually within a few hours, within a day, or at most within a week of the original filming of the episode.
Dark Shadows, also, differs from almost anything else that’s ever run on television because unlike Leave It to Beaver or Happy Days, it showed, as horror often does, a more realistic view of life. The characters are all troubled in some way or another. Most are victims of fate. They are often constrained by the social order and by the limitation of their status within it. Most of all, the characters are aware of a reality that differs from that presented in the world outside of the town of Collinsport. The center of this activity is, of course, Collinwood, the manor house, its other old structures, its grounds and, naturally, the old family cemetery.
From the beginning, Dark Shadows, hints at secrets, at the idea that we are not being told the truth about important matters. There are many mysteries surrounding the characters. The first mystery revolves around Victoria Winters, who presents a sharp contrast to Carolyn Stoddard, not only in her serious, conservative manner of dress but in her personality, which is often somber. Vickie never laughs quite as gaily as Carolyn does. Vickie has always had to earn her way, unlike Carolyn. There is a stark contrast between this lonely girl with no known family and the Collins family, who revel in their legacy and their heritage. Many early episodes involve her trying to discover her parentage, which she feels certain is connected with Collinwood.
Back in the 1960s and 1970s and, in fact, until the popular commercial availability of the video cassette recorder (VCR), whenever something played on television, you had better pay attention because you may never see it, again. Many fans who missed Episode 97, wondered about the true identity of Victoria Winters, so much so that after the series had ended, Joan Bennett made a video telling fans of the show, as Mrs. Stoddard, “Indeed, Victoria Winters was my daughter.”
It was in Episode 97 that we began to piece together that Mrs. Stoddard was impregnated by a butler at the manor named B. Hanscom. This would have happened before she married Mr. Stoddard, who was the father of her daughter Carolynn. She might have been quite young when this happened. We are left to guess about that. Her brother had been away at school during this time and the baby girl was sent off to a foundling home. In the years afterward, Mrs.Stoddard sent her a little money every month before she invited her to come and be the governess to David.
Now, this may seem very cruel and, of course, it is, but it is a reflection of how life really was for women not long ago. In fact, I know people that something very similar to this happened to. If a young girl was impregnated, there was no possibility of abortion, and she was forced to bear the child in secrecy and then it would be sent to an orphanage or put up for adoption.
We never know what happened to B. Hanscom, only that a relative of his from a painting which looks a lot like Victoria Winters, left town and was not heard from, again. It is possible that the butler, having raped a young member of the household, went on the lamb or perhaps he was dealt with in some other way. We don’t know and this storyline, itself, is so scandalous that it is only hinted at in Episode 97. The scandalousness of it is further enhanced by the elevated social status of the Collins family. The family still derives its income from a fishing and canning business and such a scandal might have proved disastrous for the family business and their reputation.
Many other mysteries surround Mrs. Stoddard. She rarely leaves the house and she has not left the property in 18 years. Her daughter Carolyn is probably a little under 18-years old when the series begins. We learn that her father ran off and left her and her mother when Carolyn was a newborn.
Mrs. Elizabeth Stoddard
Mrs. Stoddard is the most powerful character of all in this first season. (In the years afterward and especially in its last seasons, the show takes a lot of twists and turns, for instance, exploring less occult and more sci-fi tyes of themes, and introducing many new characters by the end of the series. By that time, the male characters are the most powerful, also, the most cruel and inhuman.)
Mrs. Stoddard is well-respected and has the ability to inspire great loyalty in the men who work for her, especially Bill Malloy, who is the manager of the Collins cannery and fishing fleet and Matthew, the groundskeeper. Both of these men are so loyal to her, in fact, that they would kill just to protect her from mental distress. When an enemy of the family turns up and tries to buy the workers in the Collins’ cannery, the men who work there refuse on the grounds that Mrs. Stoddard has provided them with steady, well-paid work for so long. Their loyalty stems from self-interest surrounding finances, but it is, also, suggested by Carolyn that Mr. Malloy might have a secret crush on her mother.
Mrs. Stoddard is the beneficiary of a fortunate birth in a fortunate time in which she is able to inherit her family’s wealth alongside her brother, Roger (played by Louis Edmonds). She may have inherited the greater part of the family’s fortune along with the responsibilities of running the family business since she seems to be a little older and more responsible than her brother. It is she who owns the house and the grounds and Collinwood. It is she who runs the business and provides her brother, who squandered his fortune, with both a job and a place to live. She wields the most power in the house and has the final say in all business and financial matters concerning the family’s assets.
But there are problems that go along with living in the “house on the hill,” which is coveted by almost every friend or foe of the family. There is a combination of respect and resentment toward Mrs. Stoddard from the townsfolk. Both Mrs. Stoddard and her daughter, Carolyn, are subject to predators and con men. In Mrs. Stoddards’ case, she has been conned by a team of con men involving her husband and his friend, Jason McGuire, who has been blackmailing her for years. When he comes back to town and tries to force her into a marriage against her will, we finally learn the truth along with Mrs. Stoddard, who for 18 years feared leaving the grounds because she had been convinced that she murdered her abusive husband and buried in a room in the cellar. But, there is no body in the cellar and her husband was never dead.
Carolyn Stoddard is probably my favorite character in this first year. One of the reasons I like this character so much is because she is truly dynamic. She is young and has to grow up fast because of the goings on at Collinwood, which are both mundane and metaphysical in nature. Carolyn is very isolated. She has no social equal in Collinsport. She and her mother have been the subject of ridicule by Carolyn’s childhood peers, who laughed at the witch who never leaves the creepy, old haunted house on the hill.
Carolyn’s singular social status is a gilded cage. Although, Collinwood is no palace. It’s more like a large, ornate, Gothic-style tomb. It is dark, cold, and foreboding. Young, vivacious, golden-haired Carolyn, the contemporary teen, is a contrast to the stagnant timelessness and decay of Collinwood. When the series begins she is a mirror contrast to her secret half-sister, Victoria Winters, who dresses plainly, much like a librarian, and as suits her station as the governess to Roger’s son, David. Carolyn giggles like a common teenager. Her wardrobe vacillates between conservative classical styles and contemporary teen-aged styles with peg-leg pants, striped shirts, and sneakers.
The only “action” (a popular variety show followed Dark Shadows in 1966, called “Where the Action Is,” which featured acts like Hermans Hermits, Dick Clark, and Paul Revere and the Raiders) in Collinsport for young people is at the Blue Whale, a local watering hole featuring trademark rock ‘n’ roll music and a dance floor.
I don’t know what bars and taverns were like back in the 1960s in New England. In my time and in my part of the country, bars are not frequented by decent folks. (This may be regional. My grandfather was a tavern-owner and I was told that this fact may have been the source of some very nasty and perverse town rumors about me when I was a child. In very religious areas of the country like where I live, bars, taverns and the people who frequent them are looked down upon as sinners.) In the early episodes, we often see Carolyn dancing with men at the Blue Whale, often while her boyfriend, Joe, looks on in exasperation.
From the beginning Carolyn seems a little angry to me. Although, this character can certainly be read all kinds of different ways, which makes her all the more interesting. For instance, Joe and Burke Devlin describe her attitude as being one of “the belle of the ball.” Burke, a man old enough to be her father, seems to take some sort of satisfaction in taking her down a few notches in his quest for revenge against his rival Roger Collins and the entire Collins family.
Joe is frustrated that Carolyn won’t behave the way he thinks she should. Mrs. Stoddard wants Carolyn to marry Joe and he, also, seems to have nuptial intentions. Joe is favored by Mrs. Stoddard because, although he is a have-not, he is a hard worker with ambitions of buying his own fishing boat. It’s interesting that with all the Collins’ money, her mother never once suggests that she go away to study for a career, perhaps to take over the family business, at a nice university. Of course, if Carolyn went away to school, we wouldn’t have this interesting set of story lines surrounding her.
Like other fictional stories, the plot(s) relies on circumstances and actions that most sensible people would find a logical way around, but if we did without these things, all of which are a tutorial in how to complicate your life, then we wouldn’t have an interesting story. Examples of silly plot devices, which are a lesson in how not to live your life if you want to avoid complications, include basic things, such as, not:
- Answering the door to anyone and everyone who knocks, without even bothering to inquire who it is
- Answering the telephone every single time it rings
- Accepting rides from men you barely know, don’t know at all, or whom you know well enough to know that they are hostile to your interests
- Accepting invitations to the hotel rooms of men who fit any of the above descriptions and/or, also, have a criminal record
- Visiting crumbling, apparently abandoned structures, especially alone at night
- Visiting men, known or unknown to you, in a wide variety of other potentially deadly circumstances
- Talking to the cops – ever
The women of Collinsport rarely, if ever, hesitate to do any of these things. They, also, fail to arm themselves in any way, no matter how frightened they become. Although, on, at least, two occasions Carolyn does threaten a couple of potential rapists with Uncle Roger’s revolver, which is kept in a drawer in the Drawing Room that is easily accessible by anyone.
If Carolyn is resistant to an eligible young suitor of her own age, she has very good reasons. After all, she is is young, has experienced nothing of what the world has to offer, and she is the daughter of a mother who was abandoned by her own husband, so she has a good reason to be leery of men. So, does her mother. Despite this, Mrs. Stoddard tries to push Carolyn together with Joe. She tells her that marrying Joe is an opportunity to escape this dark tomb, which is her ancestral home – but, to what? What would Carolyn’s life have been like had she married poor, but ambitious and very blue-collar Joe?
Carolyn’s status and station in life, not to mention her lifestyle, would probably suffer quite a bit, if she married Joe. It’s easy to picture her living in a modest house with plaid, cotton curtains in the kitchen, standing over a hot stove, looking frumpy and frazzled while Joe is off conquering the world in his fishing boat and taking accolades from his buddies for having landed the rich shrew, the blonde whore in the haunted house on the hill, who is simultaneously coveted, envied, and hated. There is still a lingering suspicion that Joe is a gold-digger, too. By marrying Carolyn, he would improve his station in life and, eventually, his finances to a very great degree. He would, also, be privy to the privilege and power the Collins family enjoys in the city founded by their own ancestors.
He would gain and she would lose by this union, as is traditionally the case for women in marriage. This must be in her mind, these images and these suspicions, along with all the whisperings from the have-nots in the town, which go on behind her back, but which she is yet acutely, unceasingly aware of. This is why I see Carolyn as angry. She has a good reason to be angry, anyway. Behind the facade of well-learned upper-class, long-suffering smiles and careless, girlish giggles, these things seem to be on her mind.
So, she resists Joe in rebellion against her mother and her mother’s ways. Instead, she embraces an enemy of the family, Burke Devlin, a man old enough to be her father, who spent five years in prison for manslaughter. But, Devlin isn’t a realistic suitor and, therefore, presents no real threat to her future. Devlin is both worldly and wealthy – unlike young, poor, uneducated Joe who knows only his trade.
Carolyn romanticizes Burke Devlin until she realizes that he really is trying to use her to harm her family. This reaches fever pitch when David’s mother, Laura, a witch who has a relationship to the mythical phoenix, returns to take him away. We learn that Burke Devlin may be David’s biological father, rather than Roger. Burke Devlin throws Carolyn over for Laura, but Carolyn doesn’t really begin to change until her mother becomes gravely ill with a condition the allopaths cannot diagnose or treat. At this point, Carolyn is must assume her mother’s responsibilities over the family’s assets.
Even Uncle Roger is forced to acknowledge her supremacy in the house as her mother’s heir. She decides to employ a parapsychologist, who uses a seance in order to learn the truth of her mother’s illness, which is, of course, the result of black magic perpetrated by Laura.
When Laura dies, Mrs. Stoddard recovers, but Carolyn is much different for this experience. She is changed in ways that Burke Devlin and Joe clearly do not understand, only seeing her in the ways the men see women, as objects devoid of individuality or humanity which are to be used as a means to an end. Devlin used Carolyn and Joe tried to – and in the next season when we go back in time, we see what Joe’s character is probably really like beneath the facade. He is, in fact, a gold-digger.
After this experience, Carolyn seems to lose her interest in men. From that point forward, we see that she understands how she is perceived by them and realizes the limitations of any relationship she might have with them, with the exceptions of the males in her immediate family – Uncle Roger and Cousin David. The only time she displays any interest in men is when she is trying to impress a point upon her mother or to obtain information, in which case, she uses her appearance and innuendo to manipulate the men by means of their mental weaknesses. In another instance, she is attacked by the vampire and becomes his unwilling servant.
Carolyn Stoddard may be the closest thing to a radical feminist in this show. Mrs Stoddard is a very powerful woman, but she still trusts men far too much, as evidenced by her faith in Joe. On the other hand, Carolyn sees the writing on the wall after what happened with Burke Devlin, who lied to her and used her, almost to the peril of her mother’s death. She is never the same after this experience. She is a quick learner. It would be good for all of us if we could study men so quickly and come to this conclusion at a young age.
Maggie Evans is the first friend Victoria Winters made when she got off the train at Collinsport. Maggie works in the diner at the only (apparently) hotel in town. She serves up coffee, pie and gossip and may be seen as a mirror contrast to Carolyn Stoddard. Maggie, Carolyn and Vickie Winters are all about the same age. But, Maggie and Carolyn are never really friends, mostly because they never really cross paths with each other since they are in two very opposite social classes.
Maggie is a have-not from the town, whose mother is dead and whose father is a guilt-ridden, alcoholic, impoverished artist. Their relationship represents a role reversal in which she is more the parent and he is more like a child. They live in a simple, modest home. When Maggie is done working at the diner, she has to come home and prepare dinner for her Pop.
When Joe can’t land Carolyn, Maggie is his natural source of solace. Although, she has a good-heart, generally, she still assigns some unkind characteristics to Carolyn Stoddard and the entire Collins family. The source of this seems to be envy, since she does not really know Carolyn or her family.
Joe and Maggie are a much more likely match. Maggie can even recite all the different types of ships that sail on the high seas and she seems like a girl who bathes with plain soap and water and wears cotton dresses and sensible shoes. She is pretty, but not glamorous. She’s the kind of girl men marry, whereas Carolyn is the kind of girl men fuck and fuck over. This contrast between the two is very easy to spot.
A similar contrast between Carolyn and Vickie seems to exist, too, and eventually it is solid, practical Vickie that Burke Devlin proposes marriage to.
Overall, what I love about this series, especially this first year, is the focus on the female characters, especially the three younger ones. There is, also, the almost constant dark, moodiness of the show, which is only briefly relieved by the rock ‘n’ roll music at the Blue Whale. Despite all the horrors, there is something reassuring about it. It is some how gratifying to know that other people, perhaps these writers, do not see the world through rose-tinted glasses.
To illustrate why I think this show is so comforting, consider what I said in my previous post about supposedly wholesome family shows treating evil actions by men as comedy. In Happy Days when two men terrorize women in their bedrooms in the middle of the night, it’s humor. In Dark Shadows, when a man enters a woman’s bedroom with ill-intent, it is taken as a serious offence. Other people are concerned. Even men appear concerned and show compassion toward the victim instead of treating the event as a joke. It’s a fact that men enter women’s bedrooms with bad intentions while we are sleeping, but, at least, in Dark Shadows the men are sorry, they feel remorse, or they are punished and it is seen as a horrible act by others, rather than something light-hearted, not to be taken seriously. When the women on this show are terrorized by men and monsters (often the same thing), it is treated as a serious problem.
Despite how good this show was, it was beginning to lose its audience, and in an effort to save it from cancellation, they decided to introduce a vampire into the story. Originally, this story line was only going to last for about 10 weeks, but the television-viewing public loved Barnabas Collins, and perhaps Jonathan Frid as that character. This not only saved Dark Shadows from oblivion, but it turned the show into a modern pop cultural phenomenon.
To fill in the gaps regarding the story lines of the show, see: https://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/Dark_Shadows_(televised_storylines)
Barnabas, while protecting his own interests, brings to an end many of the problems plaguing Mrs. Stoddard, including the intrusion of Jason McGuire’s sleazy friend, Willy Loomis, and he, also, unwittingly avenges her against her blackmailer, McGuire.
He becomes fixated on Maggie Evans, who is a dead ringer for his 18th century bride, Josette. He bites her, abducts her, and holds her captive in a prison cell in the basement of the Old House. The episodes depicting Maggie’s imprisonment as Barnabas Collins are metaphoric to domestic abuse commonly experienced by women at the hands of ordinary men. Barnabas insists on her learning her place as his bride. He takes away her identity by dictating her hairstyle and her clothing and tries to convince her that she is someone else, a person with a different name: Josette Collins. (When this is done to prisoners of war, it’s called “brainwashing.”) When she resists, he tortures her. He threatens his servant, Loomis, when he tries to intercede on her behalf to keep him from killing her. When Maggie finally escapes, Barnabas calls her back to him and holds her captive, again, this time insistent that he will kill her if she does not conform to his ideals of how she should look and behave. (This is exactly how men treat women, especially women who look like the women in porn because we are expected to behave in specific ways that men expect from us, but which are not natural to female human beings. When we do not meet these expectations, they become violent and punishing.)
This is all a metaphor to marriage and the domestic abuse that commonly takes place in it in which women lose their identities, forget their former selves, their friends, and even their family as they become imprisoned and isolated by the men who claim, as Barnabas does, to love their victims. Women who fail to conform to the man’s expectations are brutalized until they are dead or lose control of their own minds. Attempts at escape fail because the abuser is never far behind and the victim is mentally and physically weakened, often through repeated rapes (metaphorically, the draining of her blood), which destroy her life force, which is the seat of the lower will (this is the physical aspect of the will as opposed to the mental will), rendering her unable to get power over her legs.This is a literal feeling that is experienced by victims after rape, which render us unable to run from our attackers. We are paralyzed not only by fear of further violence, but by this loss of energy, a condition not recognized by Western medicine, but understood in other systems of medicine (including American Indian and Chinese medicine).
When Loomis, now Barnabas’ unwilling servant, tries to warn Maggie, he is accused of entering her bedroom to harm her. He is arrested and physically and mentally incapacitated for a while. Eventually, Maggie Evans is driven mad by Barnabas and ends up in a sanitarium.
A psychiatric doctor, Julia Hoffman, tries to help her, however, she falls under Barnabas Collins’ spell, too. In brief, this story line, in which Barnabas repeatedly strangles Julia and eventually tries to kill her, yet Julia insists that he can be cured of his vampirism, illustrates women’s relentless faith in the possibility of redemption for men, despite the fact that they are attacking, abusing, and trying to kill us (and, in many cases, succeeding at this). Julia sticks by Barnabas, believing in his humanity despite every monstrous thing he does, every murder he commits, and every threat he poses to her own life. Julia might be considered as an example of a liberal feminist because she believes that if only the evil influences were removed from men (e.g. the white man’s racial oppression, the Jewish manipulation, the influence of porn, the influence of violent video games, and so on with excuses ad nauseam), they could be human, they could learn not to rape and kill women and girls. As a scientist and doctor, she is trained to look at the facts – or supposed to be, anyway – yet, she repeatedly ignores the evidence and all the facts where Barnabas is concerned.
The vampire’s thirst for blood is a metaphor for sex, according to Dark Shadows writer, Joseph Caldwell. But, this is only a man’s perspective because for the female victims of this “sex,” who are unwilling, who must be tricked, cornered and trapped, placed in a trance, essentially drugged by the vampire’s bite, and who, if they survive the attack, are rendered weak and unable to act normally, under their own power, this is not “sex,” at all – it is rape. So, the vampire is a metaphor, instead, for the rapist. His blood drinking is a metaphor for his theft of women’s life force by means of rape. This may be why vampire movies, and horror movies, in general are almost therapeutic for victims of rape and other forms of male violence. Watching them is a way of coping with real-life horror, which is far, far worse than anything these writers could dream up in their fictional worlds. But, you can see how this horrific male violence against women is trivialized by men, in the words of one of the writers, himself – it’s sex. It is representative of eroticism rather than unspeakable – literally unspeakable – deadly, every day, as common as oxygen, male violence against women and girls. The vampire, like the rapist, has some control over who he attacks and when he attacks them. He only attacks when he knows he’s likely to get away with it. He seeks out the most vulnerable victims and those with whom he has developed a sick obsession. The vampire is a stalker, a pre-meditated sexual predator. He has the power to drive his victims insane or, at least, to make them appear crazy. The vampire, like the rapist, destroys his victims lives, murdering their spirits without completely killing their bodies. The rapist, like the vampire, appears as a gentleman, sometimes he’s a member of your own family – at the very least he appears normal and you never know he’s a vampire until that moment when he first tries to kill you. Furthermore, if you try to tell anyone that he is, in fact, a vampire (or a rapist), no one will believe you. They never do until maybe after there is a long trail of bloody victims and it’s far too late.
Still liberal feminists, like Dr. Hoffman, believe in redemption for metaphoric vampires. Julia gives up her paid work, her entire career, in fact, to help Barnabas, to serve him at her own expense and at great risk of physical danger (Barnabas is a classic domestic abuser), to redeem him, to gain his love (an illusion, since he’s a demon in the flesh), to cure him, to make him like herself, to mold him in her own image of humanity and compassion. So, she protects him. She lies for him. She covers up his crimes. She works side by side with him, imagining that he is or could be her equal and, all the while, he is only using her for his own secret, evil motivations. Is this not the very picture of a liberal feminist?!
The story of the return of Barnabas Collins from the grave is the subject of, at least, two movies, one of which I recommend and the other I cannot. The movie, House of Dark Shadows (1970), reprised this story line pretty faithfully, although more succinctly and more graphically. Some horror fans say that this was the best vampire movie of the 1970s. I wouldn’t go that far (I have other favorites – one obscure one, but I like it better, is called “The Vampire,” which starred Richard Lynch), but I definitely recommend it. Fairly recently (2012), there was an unfortunate remake by Tim Burton, starring Johnny Depp, called simply “Dark Shadows,” which I cannot recommend, unless you just want an excuse to throw things at your television screen. In the video, below, the vampire movie reviewer, Maven of the Eventide, explains everything that went stupidly wrong with this film. It’s far better than the movie, itself:
Genesis: The Return to the Year 1795
This is the final major story line of the series that I will address in this post. There are many more, but this one explains the mysterious legacy of the Collins family, its ghosts, the family vampire, and other unusual occurrences surrounding them. It is a revelation of the genesis of the vampire.
This story line is initiated by a seance, which is being held in the drawing room of the manor at Collinwood with the aim of contacting the spirit of a little 8-year old girl in period clothing, who first appears to play with David. She is soon seen by other members of the household. They believe that Sarah may be able to provide them with information about the strange things that are going on.
Every time a seance is held at Collinwood – and they hold quite a few, which is absolutely delightful! – it seems that Victoria Winters has some kind of classic trance mediumship experience. In one instance, the spirit of Josette speaks through her in her native French language, even though Vickie does not speak French. On another occasion, she experiences what Josette Collins experienced emotionally and visually the night she went over the edge of the cliff at Widow’s Hill.
On this occasion, something more surprising happens: Vickie goes into a trance and collapses. When she is roused, we see that it is no longer Victoria Winters sitting at the table, but another woman who is from another time, as evidenced by the fact that she is wearing period clothing. In the present time, Victoria Winters is only gone for only a few minutes. But, she has traveled back in time to to Collinwood in the year 1795 and what takes place then encompasses a long series of thrilling episodes – in my opinion, the very best of the entire series.
Victoria Winters has traded places with the 18th century governess for the little girl, Sarah. When she arrives at the door of the Old House, she is dressed in contemporary 1967 clothing and carrying a large book, which contains the modern record of the Collin’s family history. She is greeted by Jeremiah Collins, who looks just like her recently deceased fiance, Burke Devlin (now played for some time by a different actor, Anthony George).
When she arrives in 1785, we see that all of the actors are playing characters that are either complementary to or in contrast to their 20th century ones. For instance, Louis Edmonds (Uncle Roger) is now playing the role of the stern and powerful old family patriarch, Joshua Collins, whose portrait is hung over the mantle in the drawing room. We see that Joan Bennet (Mrs.Elizabeth Stoddard) is playing the role of Joshua’s demure, powerless wife. Although Barnabas Collins is the original Barnabas, he is their son. He is betrothed to Josette duPres (Cathryn Scott Leigh, who plays Maggie Evans in the 20th century), a titled French noblewoman, whose arrival with her entourage is anxiously awaited.
On this same day, they are, also, expecting the new governess, however, when Victoria Winters arrives at the door, confused and wearing strange clothing, she is quickly accused by Abigail Winters (Clarice Blackburn, who played the Collin’s housemaid, previously), the sister of Joshua and Jeremiah Collins, of being a witch. It is she who calls in the terrifying witch finder, Reverend Trask (played by Jerry Lacy, who previously played a 20th century lawyer), who terrorizes Vickie by tying her to a tree to determine whether or not she is a witch. Afterward, she is imprisoned and put on trial for witchcraft.
In fact, many strange things are happening at Collinwood, which are, indeed, the work of a witch, however, it not Victoria Winters, but Angelique Bouchard (Lara Parker), who is the servant of Josette duPres, a member of her entourage who all arrived on the same day as Vickie. Angelique is the poor daughter of a Voodoo priestess from the island of Martinique.
Soon after the arrival of the entourage, we see a revelatory scene between Angelique and Barnabas, in which we learn that during the course of his courtship of Josette, which began at Martinique, he toyed with the affections of the servant girl. While Josette is a woman of a class, at least, equal to his own (she is titled, however, and this is controversial, especially to these American revolutionaries), he is tempted, perhaps by the power imbalance, itself, to seduce Angelique. Men tend to do these things when they think they can get away with them and they choose situations in which there is a great power imbalance. The power imbalance seems to be some sort of aphrodisiac!
He wants to keep this indiscretion between the two of them. Above all, he does not want Josette to find out. Naturally, Angelique is upset by being used and cast aside. But, far from being the powerless servant girl Barnabas thought she was, she turns out to be in possession of a very powerful occult knowledge and force.
If Barnabas had chosen to have an illicit affair with a common, powerless servant, then there would be no story here. She would have gone away quietly, without any other options. But, Angelique is resolute and determined to get what Barnabas promised her. She wants to be his wife. So, she begins to manipulate the residents and other guests of Collinswood by means of witchcraft.
In his own mind, his mistake was not so much deceiving a servant girl, but deceiving one who turned out to be a witch! This idea is repeated quite often by him. He blames Angelique for cursing him to become a vampire, so that whoever he loves he must kill. He never once blames himself for his own unethical actions against her. He only blames her and, in fact, everyone in this story who knows the secret of the curse blames Angelique. Furthermore, Angelique only placed this terrible curse on him after he shot and mortally wounded her! Still, he rages at Angelique, never seeing his own role in his downfall.
After Barnabas is bitten by a bat, initiating the vampire curse, he falls ill and doctors suspect it is the plague. His father Joshua insists on keeping his death a secret and he is placed in a coffin in a secret room of the family mausoleum. It is falsely written in the family history that Barnabas went away to England. It turns out that many things written in the history are wrong.
During the course of this story line, a rogue soldier named Nathan Forbes (Joel Crothers, who played Joe) courts Millicent Collins (Nancy Barrett who plays Carolyn Stoddard), who is a wealthy heiress. Millie marries the fortune-hunter, Forbes, but before she does, she signs all her wealth over to her younger brother Daniel (David Henesy, who played Cousin David). When Forbes learns about this he drives her insane and plans to kill Daniel in an effort to gain control of her fortune.
Soon after, Barnabas Collins goes on a rampage, murdering and terrorizing into insanity the members of his own family before his father finally chains him into his coffin in the secret room of the mausoleum. Only Joshua and David survive to become the roots of the modern Collins family tree.
Simultaneously, Victoria Winters is still on trial for witchcraft. Despite the best efforts of her defense team, she is unable to successfully defend herself against Reverend Trask’s charges and is hanged. At the moment of her death, her spirit is transported back to modern day Collinsport and the original governess is hanged in her place.
This story line is a kind of Garden of Eden theme telling the origins of man/vampire, in which Angelique represents a forbidden temptation, woman, who is the cause of all of mankind’s suffering. It is a spin on one of men’s oldest surviving works of fiction, Genesis.
The results of this original work of horror fiction, Genesis, are the centuries of men’s witch hunts against women and women’s culture, women’s science, women’s medicine, women’s ways, and women’s power.
Witchcraft and the women who practice it are a threat to the order of things, to men’s power, to the status quo, to man’s laws, and his conceptions of the world.
Being called a witch, being accused of sexual desires (even as children) and sexual offences, are matters that still hang over all our heads. Men are not sorry for the horrors they perpetrate against women. Furthermore, anytime men choose, they could begin the witch hunts, again. If a repeat of the so-called “Burning Times,” sounded far-fetched 20 years ago (and it did to me), it sounds much more plausible today. You need only look at the words of white supremacists online to see how much they hate white women, how they accuse us the same way they did centuries ago, to see how this happened in the past and how it could happen, again. Even as the white male entertains thoughts of reparations for black men, some of whom he enslaved long ago, he never gives one thought to the horrors he continues, to this very day, to perpetrate against the women who gave him life.
This last story line is not so much metaphorical as it is absolutely straightforward in its revelations of man’s inhumanity to woman and his continuing accusations against us along with his perpetual fear of our power and of what we will do to him once we get the upper hand. There will be Hell to pay – just as Barnabas paid for his crimes against the original woman of this story, Angelique, who set the rest of the family’s strange legacy in motion.
Was Angelique a Feminist?
The character, Angelique, possessed great strength and she was one of the most popular characters on the show. She was loved by many young girls in the mid-sixties, when feminism was experiencing a strong resurgence, who wished they had her power. Angelique had the power to confront and defeat men and, in fact, anyone else who got in her way. But, the character was not a feminist one by a long shot.
What makes Angelique a non-feminist is her obsession with a man, Barnabas. If she had used her power for herself, to better herself, to attain independence from men, then she could be seen as a feminist. But, Angelique was the opposite. She was both the temptress and the scapegoat, neither of which are positions of power.
As I pointed out in a previous post on the subject of witches in movies, it is almost always the case that women with power must use it to help men. Those who do this are the good witches like Samantha Stevens of Bewitched. But, those who use their power for their own ends, even when such use is perfectly justified, are the bad witches. Bad witches must be punished – they must die or they must be sent to an insane asylum. Angelique is an example of a particularly bad witch who is driven, not by a desire for power of self-improvement, but by the sexual desire for a man.
Could it be that Angelique wanted to marry Barnabas, which she did in the 1795 story line, in order to attain a position of social status? But, why does a witch need social status? Furthermore, if she wanted to attain such status, could she not find a way to achieve this without involving an obsession with the male form? I can think of half-a-dozen possibilities for doing so in a matter of seconds, all of which might have made a good storyline, but would not have suited this or any other fictional story written by men, to suit the ends of men, because it involves women doing things that do not revolve around men.
Men simply cannot stand this idea. That is why Angelique is not a feminist. She would never have been written as a feminist because in order for that to happen, she would have had to have a life and ambitions that revolved around something that wasn’t a man.
According to Lara Parker, in the video below, some young women in the 1960s seemed to be confused about what feminism is and mistook Angelique for a feminist role model. It’s safe to say that many – perhaps most – women (and virtually all men) are now more confused than ever about what it means to be a feminist. If Angelique could be considered a feminist, at all, she would have to be a liberal feminist (liberal feminists are far more liberal than they are feminist!) although they are no more feminist than Angelique because, like this character, they concentrate their efforts on changing men, on re-training men not to be rapists/monsters/vampires, on trying to re-socialize men and re-make them in their own image. Liberal feminists are nominative feminists only. It is easy to see how Angelique might be considered one of them, except that she was subject to a male power. She had a male overlord, who gave her the powers she had to do evil. Therefore, Angelique fails the test completely and could not really be considered any kind of feminist because, not only is she obsessed with a man, she is unable to act independently, under any power of her own.
Director, Lela Swift, discusses the supernatural themes of the show and the vampire’s mystique:
Three favorite cast members, Edmonds, Scott, and Frid, appear on Good Morning American to discuss Dark Shadows in 1987:
Television tropes in Dark Shadows: http://tvtropes.org/pmwiki/pmwiki.php/Series/DarkShadows