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MPI Networks presents
Dark Shadows: Special Edition (1991/1999)

"So you say, why has it lived all these years? Because we always built our stories around that relationship, that he wants his true love from 300 years ago."
- Producer Dan Curtis

Review By: Mark Zimmer   
Published: July 26, 2000

Stars: Jonathan Frid, Lara Parker, Nancy Barret, David Selby, Joan Bennett
Other Stars: Kathryn Leigh Scott, Grayson Hall, Louis Edmonds, Alexandra Moltke, Marie Wallace, Donna Wandrey, Diana Millay, Roger Davis, Dan Curtis, Jerry Lacy, Kate Jackson
Director: Various

Manufacturer: DVSS
MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (violence, gore)
Run Time: 03h:06m:42s
Release Date: September 21, 1999
UPC: 030306740225
Genre: television

Image Transfer
Audio Transfer
B+ BB+C+ C+

DVD Review

Dan Curtis has a lot to answer for. I remember when I was just a youngster, how I would run home from the school bus to catch the closing minutes of his now-classic soap opera Dark Shadows late in its original run. After it was done, I would make my mom recount in full detail what I had missed, as well as the resolution to last episode's cliffhanger. Nothing thrilled me more than the latest antics of reluctant vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) and the other supernatural creatures that populated the show. I'm pretty sure that this is the program that got me hooked on horror movies.

MPI here repackages the 1991 documentary Dark Shadows Behind the Scenes with three new features, giving the Dark Shadows fan plenty of background information and loads of old film clips from the program.

Dark Shadows: Behind the Scenes

This program almost entirely consists of interview clips with the cast and crew, intercut with footage from the program featuring the characters back then. Most of the living cast makes an appearance; we also get period interviews with Joan Bennett, David Selby and Kate Jackson, the latter two apparently being unavailable for a modern interview. Dan Curtis reminisces about how the show came to be, and how it nearly left the air when he decided to go all-out with the supernatural, being a Gothic romance during its first half-year on the air. It's nice to see the cast again (including Alexandra Moltke, who played Victoria Winters, the governess thrown into the supernatural nest of evil at Collinwood). Highly informative and nicely put together,

Dark Shadows: Nightmares and Dreams

Less interesting is this second program, which is an assemblage of clips of various dream and nightmare sequences from the series. No narration or any clue as to what's going on is provided. The novice viewer is likely to be bored and confused. The presentation begins with the "dream curse" that the witch Angelique (Lara Parker) places on Barnabas, in probably the most truly frightening sequence of the entire series. From this high spot, we meander off into other unconnected and seemingly random dream sequences. Although it was pleasing to see all these clips from the show, I was relieved to have this portion of the program over; it's easily the weakest part of the disc.

Dark Shadows on Location

This all-too-brief program, hosted by Nancy Barrett (who played Carolyn Stoddard among many other roles on the show), visits the places that were used for location footage on the program. These include Essex, Connecticut, which doubled for the town of Collinsport, the bar which served as the Blue Whale on the series, and the mansion at Newport R.I. which was the creepy house Collinwood. Unfortunately, the Old House where Barnabas supposedly dwelt burned down during the series' original run, but some photos of it are included as well. I would have like some interviews with the crew as to how various places were selected, and more footage of the locations and the seacoast.

Inside the Shadows

Here we have another assemblage of interview footage and clips from the series, except the participants are noticeably older than in the first documentary. Dan Curtis covers much of the same ground as in that other program, which is somewhat disappointing. There obviously had to be more to tell that wasn't duplicative. The update is nice, however.

Dark Shadows (Spanish), Episode #289

As a novelty more than anything, the producers of the disc give us the Spanish-language version of the episode where Dr. Julia Hoffman (the late Grayson Hall) first discovers that Barnabas Collins is in fact a vampire. Oddly enough, some of the music seems to be different from the English-language version, such as the Josette's Music Box theme. There are subtitles provided, so the viewer can follow the action.

These programs are really directed at the Dark Shadows fan; there are many unexplained references that would surely confuse and frustrate the novice viewer of Dark Shadows. For those familiar with the program, the disc is a very pleasing look back at the series, remember with obvious affection by all of its participants.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

Aspect Ratio1.33:1 - Full Frame
Original Aspect Ratioyes

Image Transfer Review: The modern-day interview segments are all clear and sharp. The series clips are, as one might expect, of widely varying quality. The early shows were shot live and exist today only in smeary, overly contrasted black & white kinescopes. When the show moved to color, it was shot on videotape which was apparently of marginal quality. By the last two years of the show, however, about 1970-1971, the picture quality is excellent indeed, with bright and vibrant colors and rich blacks. The limitations of the source material on the early programs is painfully obvious. But this is as good as it gets. Based on what I see here, I'm very much looking forward to MPI's inevitable release of the series on DVD.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access
MonoEnglish (Spanish on episode 289)no

Audio Transfer Review: Again, there are obvious limitations to the source material. The program is presented in 2.0 mono. The eerie music of Robert Cobert comes through nicely, as do the interview segments. The taped programs suffer from limited range and clipping when the volume gets too high. The Spanish episode has a persistent and annoying electronic buzz running throughout it. Overall, an acceptable presentation (except on the Spanish episode) of 30+ year old television material shot cheaply on a daily basis.

Audio Transfer Grade: C+


Disc Extras

Animated menu with music
Subtitles/Captions in English with remote access
Cast and Crew Filmographies
4 TV Spots/Teasers
Production Notes
Packaging: Amaray
1 Disc
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: single

Extra Extras:
  1. Commercials featuring members of the cast
  2. Photo gallery
Extras Review: With this type of disc, it's difficult to tell what's programming and what's extras. In addition to the programs listed above, there are TV spots for the films House of Dark Shadows (with the immortal line, "Come see how the vampires do it") and Night of Dark Shadows. We get two promo spots for the series during its original run, and four mid-90's spots featuring Jonathan Frid asking for donations to New Jersey Network, which was re-running the series. There are also some amusing commercials featuring other members of the cast and for the Barnabas Collins game from Milton Bradley.

A photo gallery is provided, set to music from the show. Instead of still photos, the producers of the disc run the photos live and zoom in and out and pan across them. I would have preferred that they be kept in still format and that the viewer be allowed to look at them as long as he wants. There is a brief text history of the program, and a feature entitled Outside the Shadows, which is a filmography limited to horror material which the cast has starred in.

The entire disc is subtitled. Even the ads at the end of the program where Lara Parker and Kathryn Leigh Scott are hawking their various books and tapes are subtitled! The subtitles include a few amusing gaffes as well. When Louis Edmonds refers to the "chromakey" process, the subtitler must have been confused because it comes out "chromicy". When Victoria Winters says, "Thank you for showing me the cannery," the subtitles say "Thank you for showing me the canary." Birds, cans, what's the difference. Other than these lapses, the subtitling throughout is a definite plus.

The menu design is unfortunate. Even though we have two programs of nearly an hour each, there is no chaptering and no scene selection available. This is ridiculous with programs of this length, and lowers the grade from B to C+. Even arbitrary divisions would have been useful.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

Devotees of the Dark Shadows series will definitely want to own this content-packed disc. Those who haven't seen it will want to catch a lengthy run of the program on the Sci-Fi Channel or elsewhere before diving into this DVD. While there are some problems with the source material, many of the film clips look surprisingly good. Okay, MPI, bring on the series, 10 or 20 episodes to the disc! But don't forget to chapter them!!!!


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