There is no question Dan Curtis’ serial Dark Shadows was one of the spookiest to be aired during the late 60s and early 70s. With simple effects and no CGI technology, the show was sophisticated for its time. Even with the “boo-boos” on almost every episode, viewers were able to suspend disbelieve and enter the world of Dark Shadows.
The serial is set in the fictional town of Collinsport, Maine, and the story revolved around the town founders, the Collins family. Dark Shadows is categorized as a gothic horror soap opera. Unlike shows today which mostly dwell on one specific supernatural - werewolves, vampires, ghosts, zombies and witches - Dark Shadows eventually included everything in the mix. This is one of the reasons the show is so spooky - viewers never know what to expect. Will it be a vampire this time or a witch’s spell or something much more sinister?
Adding to the spooky atmosphere, Collinsport is portrayed as a fishing village which adds to the fear factor for viewers. In a city, the idea of the supernatural is shrugged off, but in an isolated rural town located next to the unpredictable ocean, it can be downright spooky and very realistic. Widow’s Hill is a major focal point of the story and with its advantage point of looking over the roaring waves and remote beach, leads to a crescendo of fear.
The life of the Collins family also contributes to the scare factor. After all, what is a gothic horror soap opera without a notorious haunted castle? In this case, it is the historic home of the Collins family - Collinwood. The mansion spans several acres of land and has more than enough rooms for the family. Across the property are several cottages, a stable, a greenhouse and numerous other out buildings. Repeated throughout the soap opera is the haunting of the mansion by several ghosts, including but not limited to Josette Collins, Bill Malloy, Quentin Collins and Gerard Stiles.
Although the rural ocean front setting certainly contributes to the Collinsport charm, there is no question that Robert Cobert’s soundtrack is the most spine-chilling element of the drama. Even the introduction sequence portraying the crashing ocean waves and Collinwood are made supercilious by the soundtrack. It is the anticipation of a scary episode that makes Dark Shadows so terrifying. Then there is the well-thought out music inserted throughout the show and you have a very good reason why Dark Shadows is still considered one of the best gothic horror soap operas today.
The wonderful actors play several different roles during the series. The many different characters are very intriguing and contributed to the already creepy situation in Collinsport. In one episode you will see an actor portraying one character and then the same actor portraying a different character in another episode. There are sifts of time from the past to the future to a leap into parallel time. Then you have the numerous séances, the stairway into time, taro cards and the I-Ching – all leading to episodes of the supernatural. These memorable plot twists, combined with out of this world episodes, kept the show on the air for five years encompassing 1225 episodes. There are now several off-shoots from Dark Shadows, including a series of novels, comics/graphic novels, and audio dramas.
Most people today might find the old-fashioned approach to scare tactics a bit mundane considering the kind of graphics the TV industry has today. But, Dark Shadows is the kind of show that relies more on a well-written plot and suspense to work. Dark Shadows spooky atmosphere and storylines will keep you on the edge of your seat and keep you there until it ends.