Friday, May 11, 2012

My mother and Dark Shadows

Posted By on 05.11.12 at 11:30 AM

Jonathan Frid and Grayson Hall in the original Dark Shadows
  • Jonathan Frid and Grayson Hall in the original Dark Shadows
For years my mother and I battled over whether I'd be allowed to watch Dark Shadows, the supernatural soap opera that ran on ABC from 1966 to '72. She probably thought it would scare me, but we were also devout Catholics and she disapproved of anything with occult themes. (I won't even go into what happened when she caught me and my cousin playing vampire with the crucifix I got for my first communion.) She finally caved when I was eight or nine, but to my disappointment, the show was actually pretty dull. Like any soap opera, it would play out the string endlessly before anything remotely exciting would happen. I wanted to see someone get ripped apart by a werewolf or Barnabas Collins get a stake pounded through his heart. Instead it was just talk, talk, talk. It was worse than going to Mass!

Many years later, channel-surfing after midnight, I happened upon the movie spinoff House of Dark Shadows (1970) and found it to be ghoulish good fun; it was followed by Night of Dark Shadows (1971), which was OK but missing Barnabas. (Needless to say, my mother wouldn't let me see these either once she got a load of the gory and sexually suggestive posters.) In the late 80s and 90s the series came out on video, and as I recall the episodes were pretty well chosen because I got hooked. Or maybe I just had a greater attention span than I did at nine.

Now there's a big-screen remake of Dark Shadows by Tim Burton, who's five years older than I am and who's spent most of his career putting his big, fat fingerprints all over my dearest childhood loves—Batman, Bela Lugosi, Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. He has a lot of fun with Dark Shadows, but his fun is actually no fun at all, because the original series is only fun when you take it seriously. In fact, my only satisfaction in seeing Burton's movie was that I didn't have to get my mother's permission. If only I could go back in time, I might have won the argument much sooner: "You know, I'm going to need to watch this for work." That would have fixed her little red wagon. Just for that, no flowers this year!

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