How Dark Shadows Ruined The Vampire.

5 Sep

September 5, 2011

I just finished a Dark Shadows marathon. I watched 1,225 episodes, two original cast movies, and the 12 episode 90’s revival in just about a year and a half. On top of that I also listened to four modern Dark Shadows audio dramas and read both a series guide and six novels published as the show ran in the late 1960’s. Throw in the collection of comics by Gold Key and it is fair to say that yes, I know a little bit about Dark Shadows.

For those not in the know, Dark Shadows is a soap opera that ran from 1966 to 1971 on ABC. Unlike nearly every other daytime drama of the time, every episode exists, minus one, but that episode’s soundtrack survives so it is the most complete- by far- show of its type. Compare that to Doctor Who whose shows of that era have almost as many lost as there are still in existence.

The show was a dark and spooky half-hour drama (done on a tiny budget) that regularly featured ghosts, werewolves, time travel, witches, spiritual possession, mad scientists, Frankenstein-like creatures, parallel worlds, immortal Phoenixes, and vampires. And if you know the show there is one name that leapt to mind as soon as you saw “vampires,” Barnabas Collins. 

And he was not just any vampire. Dark Shadows is widely credited with the creation of the modern conflicted vampire. Barnabas Collins was turned into a vampire by a witch’s curse, and instead of destroying him, his father chained him in a coffin. 200 years later he was freed and met a doctor, Julia Hoffman, who cured him. Barnabas would revert back to vampirism a few times over the course of the series, but he was usually a tragic figure, hating what he had become, longing to be human again, and generally becoming the romantic hero of Dark Shadows.

And that is why I hate him.

Until Barnabas vampires were universally characterized as evil. Though Bram Stoker’s Dracula defined the modern vampire, with some help from a few Gothic forebears, the contemporary Twilight vampire and others of that immature ilk all descend from Barnabas Collins.

Take the classic vampire. To be concise I’ll skip the ancient creatures of mythology and proto-religion and move to the 18th Century.

The OED dates the first appearance of the word vampire in English from 1734, in a travelogue titled Travels of Three English Gentlemen. However, the word itself has roots going back to Eastern Europe as early as the 11th Century.

Vampires were usually reported as bloated in appearance, and ruddy, purplish, or dark in color; these characteristics were often attributed to the recent drinking of blood. Indeed, blood was often seen seeping from the mouth and nose when one was seen in its shroud or coffin, and vampires of the Balkans and Eastern Europe had a wide range of appearance ranging from nearly human to bloated rotting corpses.

None of them sparkled.

Gothic writers like Sheridan Le Fanu added beauty and sexuality, and Bram Stoker added class and refinement, but one thing remained constant: The vampire was a creature of unrepentant evil. And more importantly, he was always an animated corpse. Vampires are classically feared as revenants of evil beings, suicide victims, or witches, but they can also be created by a malevolent spirit possessing a corpse or by being bitten by a vampire. Vampires are distinctly creatures of the supernatural or demonic realm.

Dark Shadows was also one of the early (though not the first, Richard Matheson explored this theme too) depictions of vampires being cured through scientific methods, which is totally at odds with the “black magic” or demonic origins of the vampire. It was never really clear, nor did it really make sense, how a series of blood transfusions cured Barnabas Collins’ witch’s curse.

Teenage fiction is full of nobly conflicted vampires, utterly handsome, all needing the love of that one girl to turn him around. They are the rebellious bad boys who really aren’t that bad at all, deep down. Dark both in personality and looks (despite somehow also being pale) and brooding, they are the property now of the teen and adolescent.

And that is a damn shame because the vampire should be the boogey man in your closet who comes out not to whisk you into a fantasy world of delight but to rip your throat open and gorge himself on your blood as it sprays gristly crimson ichor across his face. And that face shouldn’t inspire love or lust, the vampire’s face should inspire extreme fear, panic, and revulsion, but most of all, it should be the last thing you see before you pass out or die.

Vampires are not handsome. They are repulsive and loathsome creatures whose breath reeks of the grave. They have moldy dirt under their fingernails from crawling out of the earth and their skin is more than pale and pasty, it is almost translucent, stretched over their body too tightly and their teeth seem long only because their gums have receded and withered. They are animated corpses.

Vampires are not charismatic. They are cunning like animals, like wolves. They do not throw elegant dinner parties. Like rats, a vampire may crawl on the ground through the mud to bite your ankle and in centuries past anyone asleep in a field kept his shoes on at night lest a vampire suck the blood out of their heels. No romantic embraces for them, for a vampire is past the point of love or romance. They are malevolent killers.


One of the great ironies of Dracula, and one of the great bits of Stoker’s writing (of which I otherwise have many faults) is that Count Dracula arrived in England on a ship called the Demeter. Demeter was the Greek goddess of the harvest, a life-bringer. Dracula brings only death.

I loved every minute of Dark Shadows, even the early episodes where there was little supernatural and the drama revolved around the threat to the Collins family shipyards. And I loved Barnabas Collins, even if he did single-handedly ruin the vampire genre for decades to come.


50 Responses to “How Dark Shadows Ruined The Vampire.”

  1. Mac of BIOnighT September 5, 2011 at 12:09 am #

    For a different look at vampires, watch “Near Dark” by Kathrine (wrong spelling, probably) Bigelow (music by Tangerine Dream, incidentally).

    For more classic vampires, check out this very nice net production

    Modern cutey cutey vampires are crap…


    • bmj2k September 5, 2011 at 12:17 am #

      Damn that looks good. I was hooked as soon as I heard the punk music but damn.

      From the link (blodandbonechina) I thought it was about Asian vampires, which are an interesting genre in and of themselves.


      • Mac of BIOnighT September 5, 2011 at 12:42 am #

        I couldn’t figure out the China bit either at first, but it soon became clear. Anyway, the series is cool and the episodes very short, so it’s easy to watch; personally, I enjoy it a lot.

        Oriental vampires… I can only mention again the 7 Golden Vampires (or whatever the English title is), awesome!


        • bmj2k September 5, 2011 at 12:45 am #

          That is the Englsih title! I love that film! But as good as it is, the films that actually come out of Asia are better. I don’t mind the subtitles either. TCM recently ran a night of Japanese ghost stories and they were fantastic.


          • Mac of BIOnighT September 5, 2011 at 1:07 am #

            I love oriental horros – The Ring trilogy is among my favorite films ever. I’ve never seen a Japanese movie about vampires, though – any titles you may suggest? Or did you mean the white-dressed, long-haired classic oriental ghost?


            • bmj2k September 5, 2011 at 1:13 am #

              I have no titles in mind but I have seen both pure vampire (set in medieval times) and the classical long-haired ghost films. The only title that sticks in my mind (I am not really that up on these films) is Kwaidan, which TCM may show again.


            • Erik September 20, 2011 at 3:46 pm #

              I suggest: “Thirst”, starring Kang-ho Song. It is a Korean vampire film. The gentlemen is a doctor who somehow becomes infected with a tainted transfusion. From there, things get rather nasty. Sometimes humourous; though rather good, I think. You can find it on I’m into Asian horror; but cannot think of a Japanese vampire film at the moment. Shall have to check around.



              • bmj2k September 20, 2011 at 5:55 pm #

                Shockingly, Netflix has that available for streaming. I just put it in my queue. Thanks!

                Here’s the description: When the smoke clears from a failed experiment to find a cure for a fatal disease, a devout priest finds himself forever changed. Specifically, he’s a vampire — but that isn’t the only thing that’s different. Now he’s also willing to commit adultery with the wife of his childhood friend, a sin he never would have considered before. Kang-ho Song, Ha-kyun Shin and Ok-bin Kim co-star in this horror offering from Korean director Chan-Wook Park. 2009, Graphic bloody violence, disturbing images, strong sexual content, nudity and language


  2. Thomas Stazyk September 5, 2011 at 12:17 am #

    I never thought of this before but you’re right. I remember seeing that show during summer vacations and thinking that Barnabas was really cool. And it’s a short leap from him to today’s GQ vampires.

    But speaking of GQ vampires, did you ever see the PBS Dracula with Louis Jordan as Dracula? It was totally faithful to Stoker’s book. Jordan was fantastic as Dracula and the rest of the cast was great too as I recall, especially Van Helsing who also played the priest in The Wild Geese with Richard Burton and Richard Harris (“Kill me Alan!”).

    Anyway, two of the most memorable scenes in that Dracula were when Van Helsing pulls a crucifix on Dracula and he just laughs (but is clearly not happy about it) and then at the end when he get’s the stake. It takes him a while to dissolve, even better than Christopher Lee in The Horror of Dracula.

    Thanks for the memories!


    • bmj2k September 5, 2011 at 12:26 am #

      NO, thank YOU for the memories! I always had a vague memory of that scene with Dracula laughing at the crucifix but had no clue what it was from. (Fred Saberhagen did something similar in a book but that was not it.) I have not seen that version in ages and now it is going to the top of my Netflix lsit if they have it.

      And don’t think I don’t like modern vampires. They can be sexy and alluring and still work for me as long as they are totally evil and animalistic when they have to be.

      For my money Christopher Lee is the Dracula who gets it totally right.


      • Thomas Stazyk September 5, 2011 at 12:34 am #

        I agree with you about Christopher Lee

        Here is Louis Jordan and the cross–at about 11:47


        • bmj2k September 5, 2011 at 12:48 am #

          Some nice quotes in that scene. “It always sounds more impressive in Latin.” “There is no blood in souls.” I just saw that Netflix does not have it so if it is all on youtube that’s where I’ll see it.


  3. Daniel September 5, 2011 at 1:24 am #

    Didn’t the series version of ” Highlander ” deal with vampires at least once ( Immortals, as vampires or something like that ) ?

    & consider the Wraith of the ” Stargate Atlantis ” series – Pale, otherworldly, & frightening looking, sucking life – energies from human victims in ” cullings ” – They were like extra – terrestrial vampires in a lot of ways.


    • bmj2k September 5, 2011 at 1:30 am #

      I can’t say, I never really got into the Highlander series (though I’ve seen all the movies.)

      But “space vampires” always makes me think of Buck Rogers, and I am ashamed to say it but this episode scared the heck out of me.


      • Daniel September 6, 2011 at 7:29 pm #

        That was one of the more outrageous episodes of a TV series that was ” 60’s Batman meets James Bond in a Star Wars / Galactica – type milieu “. They almost got the Nosferatu look down pretty well, though.

        As I said, consider SG : Atlantis’ ” Wraith ” species to be real space vampires – Pale blue, white – haired, energy – draining. Their ships were like something from an H.R. Giger design. Flying crypts.


        • bmj2k September 6, 2011 at 7:42 pm #

          I’ll take your word for the Wraiths. I never got into the Stargate franchise. I can’t say anything against it, I just never gave it a watch.

          I remember when Babylon 5 was in the works JMS told fans it would be nothing like that 80’s Buck Rogers and “no Gil Gerard” was a little bit of a rallying cry.


          • Thomas Stazyk September 6, 2011 at 7:46 pm #

            Bee dee bee dee beep!

            But I did like Colonel Deering’s uniform.


            • bmj2k September 6, 2011 at 7:55 pm #

              Yes, it was well-tailored…


            • Daniel September 6, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

              Buck Rogers’ series did have some HOT space – chicks.


              • bmj2k September 6, 2011 at 8:22 pm #


                • Daniel September 6, 2011 at 11:51 pm #

                  Even now, Erin Gray is still a lovely sight for the eyes…..


              • bmj2k September 6, 2011 at 8:24 pm #


                • Daniel September 6, 2011 at 11:53 pm #

                  Her outfits were extremely exotic. She even wore a headdress with bull horns.


          • Daniel September 6, 2011 at 8:09 pm #

            The Stargate franchise was pretty good, even though it kinda dragged out, at least Stargate SG1.

            Babylon 5 – ” No kids or robots ( Like Twiki or Muffet the Dagget ) “


            • bmj2k September 6, 2011 at 8:16 pm #

              It also showed me that Walter Koenig (Bester) could act.


              • Daniel September 6, 2011 at 8:23 pm #

                Bester & Chekov – One was a cold – blooded sadist & torturer, one was always on the wrong end of a phaserin’ or later getting a Ceti Alpha eel in his ear. Hard to believe that Walter Koenig played them both.


  4. JRD Skinner September 6, 2011 at 11:56 am #

    I’ve been terrible at keeping up with correspondence lately, but I agree with every point of this piece, (an essay so nice, I read it twice.)

    “They do not throw elegant dinner parties.”

    Damn right.


  5. Thomas Stazyk September 7, 2011 at 5:19 pm #

    Totally off point, but I was wondering if you’d heard about this movie–it could be soo good but I’m not getting my hopes up:


  6. The Hook September 9, 2011 at 2:52 pm #

    Dynamite Entertainment is adapting Dark Shadows to comic form. Hopefully they undo the damage you write so passionately about.


    • bmj2k September 9, 2011 at 5:41 pm #

      WHAT?!?!? First they bring back The Shadow and now Dark Shadows? Why did I pick now to drop comics?????
      At least Dynamite is good with the trades.


      • Daniel September 9, 2011 at 6:02 pm #

        Did you allow them to be thrown out ? Even worse, I disposed of most of mine ** myself ** after I turned 16, I think ( Raging teen hormones cause temporary insanity 😉 IMO ). Now rediscovering my favorite characters via the Internet & the occasional purchase of a graphic novel.

        Even Harlan Ellison regards comics as legitimate literature, as I may have mentioned earlier.


        • Mac of BIOnighT September 9, 2011 at 7:11 pm #

          They definitely are legitimate literature. But unfortunately, the laws of profit turn them into legitimate garbage as well. And at one point one must decide where to put his money and time, sad as some choices might be…


          • bmj2k September 9, 2011 at 7:17 pm #

            All very true.


          • Daniel September 9, 2011 at 8:11 pm #

            Harlan Ellison ( A writer I recommend HIGHLY ) would agree with you.
            I bought a graphic novel based on the Japanese manga / anime series ” BIG O “. One of the few worth keeping up with. Just IMO.


            • bmj2k September 9, 2011 at 9:15 pm #

              I hope resident expert Mac reads that. And I agree that a lot of manga is worth keeping up with, but I’m just not interested in starting in on it.


              • Mac of BIOnighT September 9, 2011 at 9:52 pm #

                Daniel, if you like the steampunk-like atmospheres of Big O, you might like the old OAV (original animated video, also OVA) series “Giant Robot,” from the manga by Mitsuteru Yokoyama (one of my very favorite manga-ka)

                Bmj2k, I see your point of view perfectly – there are a lot of great heavy metal bands out there, I’m just not interested in buying their records 😉


                • Daniel September 9, 2011 at 11:55 pm #

                  I also like ” Ghost in the Shell ” ( even though I thought the character of Motoko Kusanagi was a little too cold, & she looked androgynous ) & ” Cowboy Bebop ” – The styles are more natural than most anime & a little more nuances & subtext.


                  • Mac of BIOnighT September 10, 2011 at 12:22 am #

                    Please do yourself a big favor and watch Ghost in the Shell in Japanese with (good) subtitles – the American dubbing totally (and I do mean TOTALLY) destroyed it. I never heard such a sloppy adaptation and such completely lifeless and just plain wrong acting (if that can be called acting) :((

                    And if you want to do yourself another big favor, watch the series Neon Genesis Evangelion (same advice as above regarding dubbing). And avoid the films they made from it…


                    • Daniel September 10, 2011 at 2:08 am #

                      The series’ ( GitS : Stand – Alone Complex & GitS : 2nd Gig ) were pretty good. The GitS movie had very good special effects, but I thought the acting was half – hearted, flaccid ( ? ) & dull at best. The action scenes didn’t do a whole lot to redeem it.

                      Major Motoko looked like the love – child of Tasha Yar & Cmdr. Data ( If they could’ve produced children 😉 )


        • bmj2k September 9, 2011 at 7:14 pm #

          I had 32 short boxes before, 8 after. I sold a pretty good amount, gave a bunch away, and proudly dumped the rest of them in the recycler myself. My collection is now only comics that I enjoy or have great memories of. My collection is now around 80% 1970s and 80s and many are in lousy shape but the collection now means something to me. I did keep a couple of comics only because they are very valuable but that just makes sense.

          Harlan Ellison? A great free thinker. Ever read his introduction to the Doctor Who novels? (He wrote the intro not the story.)


          • Daniel September 9, 2011 at 7:59 pm #

            I just got rid of mine. Brain Damage. I did keep Crisis on Infinite Worlds, though it’s kinda dog – eared & faded, I have The Dark Knight Returns & Batman – Year One squirreled away in boxes ( I HOPE ). Also had a copy of a Batman issue with a story written by Harlan Ellison ” The Night of Thanks But No Thanks ” ( won it on eBay ).

            Love Harlan – He can piss you off but make you think. I had that book of Dr. Who stories w / his introduction. I also had a VHS copy of the original B & W episode ” Demon With a Glass Hand “. He became good friends with Robert Culp, & even wrote the role of Trent w / Culp in mind.

            I should clarify – ” Demon With A Glass Hand ” was an episode of the original ” Outer Limits “. A few channels still show the original. Sci – Fi ( I refuse to use the new name, ” SyFy “, most of the time because it sounds dumbed – down. ) carried episodes of the re – boot & may still.


            • bmj2k September 9, 2011 at 9:19 pm #

              I hope you don’t mind, I combined your last two comments just to keep it easy to follow.
              Years back I went to the Museum of TV and Radio here in NYC and what did I request? The best episode of The Abbott and Costello Show (Lou’s Birthday) and Demon with a Glass Hand.

              I still hate that Ellison never wrote the episode of B5 he promised JMS.

              And SyFy? I called it Spiffy for a long time. I hate that name.


              • Daniel September 10, 2011 at 12:02 am #

                That was a FANTASTIC ep. I might put the DVD on my Christmas ” shameless greed – gimme ” list.
                Harlan was going to call it ” Midnight in the Sunken Cathedral “, I think.

                Some people call it the Siffy Channel because in some European countries – So I hear – it’s a nickname for STD’s. 😉


  7. Penny Dreadful September 14, 2011 at 5:27 pm #

    You are forgetting ‘Varney the Vampire’ (which pre-dates Dracula) and the Universal film ‘Dracula’s Daughter’, both of which feature sympathetic vampires. Also, the notion of attempting to “cure” a vampire (which is always doomed to fail IMO – thus Barnabas always reverting) first appears in the Universal film ‘House of Dracula.’ Barnabas certainly popularized these ideas, but he was not the first sympathetic vampire. Also, bear in mind, no matter how tragic Barnabas was he always decided who lived and who died. He could kill without mercy and then make you feel bad for him in the next scene. Therein lies part of the brilliance of Jonathan Frid.


    • bmj2k September 14, 2011 at 6:07 pm #

      Didn’t forget Varney, (I did say I was skipping some things) but I look at him as a stepping stone toward Dracula, which changed the public’s perception. Varney was hugely popular but not a pop-culture game changer like Dracula. Varney was an amazingly popular story, Dracula was a cultural phenom. Ditto for House of Dracula to a lesser extent, especially since at that point in their history those films were more popular with kids than adults and generally considered less than A-features. You can find antecedents for every point I made but nothing that can come close to having the level of effect on vampire lore. As for Frid, I agreee with your points about his character but I give the credit to Dan Curtis, Sam Hall, and the rest of the the writers. Despite his rep, Frid wasn’t a great actor. Good, yes, great no. He flubbed more lines than anyone (except maybe Roger, who had less screen time) and what many people call his “dramtic pauses and line reads” were really just him having to read from the teleprompter. A lot of his lines were rushed or stumbled through.


      • bmj2k September 14, 2011 at 8:13 pm #

        And also, in the world of the Universal movies, they never really defined how Dracula became a vampire or how vampirism worked, so in that world it didn’t stretch your belief that a scientist could cure a vampire. In Dark Shadows it was very clearly shown, and reinforced over and over, that Barnabas was the victim of a witch’s curse. I don;t think it is plausable that a series of blood treatments could cure a witch’s curse. But even if it was done before, even if nothing in Dark Shadows was original, it was Dark Shadows that popularized it. Look at Star Wars. There is nothing original there but that first film revolutionized the entire sci-fi genre, not to mention movie-making in general.


  8. morlock13 March 22, 2016 at 6:27 pm #

    Finally! Someone who hates Barnabas Collins for some OTHER reason than NOT “loving” Dr. Julia Hoffman! At last!


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