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MPI Home Video presents
Dark Shadows: The Beginning DVD Collection 1 (1966)

"These walls shouldn't be paneled, Vicki. They should be padded."
- Carolyn Stoddard (Nancy Barrett)

Review By: Mark Zimmer  
Published: August 27, 2007

Stars: Joan Bennett, Mitchall Ryan, Louis Edmonds, Nancy Barrett, Alexandra Moltke
Other Stars: Joseph Julian, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Conrad Bain, Joel Crothers, Frank Schofield, David Henesy, Mark Allen, George Mitchell, Michael Currie, Barnard Hughes
Director: Lela Swift, John Sedwick

MPAA Rating: Not Rated for (mild thematic material)
Run Time: 12h:31m:12s
Release Date: August 28, 2007
UPC: 030306780191
Genre: television

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

DVD Review

Little did those who were watching ABC-TV in the afternoon of June 27, 1966 realize that they were seeing what would become a cultural phenomenon and an indelible part of the late 1960s: the Gothic suspense/romance soap opera Dark Shadows, which a year later, in danger of cancellation would shift to a horror theme that would strike an immediate chord and make household names of Jonathan Frid and others. MPI, having completed the four-year horror run of the series (in 26 volumes, collect them all!), goes back to the start and lets us visit Collinsport from the very beginning, as hapless Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke) first headed towards Collinsport, Maine, hoping to find answers to her past and unsuspecting of the web she would find herself drawn into.

The set of four discs covers the first 35 episodes of the program, which would mean it will take six volumes to take us up to episode 209 and the introduction of vampire Barnabas Collins. Interestingly, time passes exceedingly slowly in this first set: the 35 episodes cover only the night that Victoria Winters arrives (with a brief flashback), and the two succeeding days. Considering the number of events that happen in these less than three days, one could hardly help but run out of Collinsport screaming.

Orphaned Victoria Winters knows nothing of her past other than a cryptic note of ten words that was left in a cardboard box with her twenty years earlier. Offered a job out of the blue by Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Joan Bennett) to act as governess to troubled nephew David Collins (David Henesey), at the train station Winters runs into a suspicious fellow, Burke Devlin (Mitchell Ryan), who understandably has a chip on his shoulder for having been railroaded into prison by Elizabeth's brother, Roger Collins (Louis Edmonds) ten years earlier. Now wealthy and looking for information on the Collins family, Devlin appears to pose a threat, although he also manages to charm Winters and Elizabeth's daughter Carolyn Stoddard (Nancy Barrett). Devlin and Roger also have some mysterious connection to alcoholic portrait painter Sam Evans (Mark Allen; played by David Ford in episode 35). Suspicious occurrences at the estate of Collinwood put Victoria on edge, but she's determined to try to find out why she was summoned and whether the Collins family has any connection with her past. The centerpiece of the set is a car wreck suffered by Roger that looks like it may be attempted murder, and the efforts of Roger to pin the blame on Devlin.

Even though many of these early episodes are focused on Vicki's past and the surrounding mystery, producer Dan Curtis would never quite get around to providing any answers, though it's worth noting that Moltke bears more than a little resemblance to a young Joan Bennett. Make of that what you will. There are quite a few interweaving threads from the very first episodes, including the suspicious disappearance of Roger's wife Laura (which would lead to the first truly supernatural story arc on the show some months later). The doomed Josette du Pres, who would later figure large in the history of Barnabas Collins, is referenced already in the first few episodes, though at this point it's only as an offhand story to generate the impression that the Collins family is seriously unstable. Right from the beginning, series staple Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott), here the hotel waitress, is right in the thick of things. It's fascinating just how much of Robert Cobert's amazing score was present right from these very early episodes as well, from the theremin and synthesizer-based suspense themes to the lame pop played on the jukebox at the Blue Whale (and would be heard there for the next five years as well).

In the first (presumably pilot) episode, the characters are all broadly-drawn caricatures. But once they're given an opportunity to expand, Elizabeth quickly becomes more than a cold matriarch, and Roger more than a guilty drunk. While Roger never shows a lot of range, Elizabeth quickly begins to demonstrate some warmth that comes and goes; she becomes more sympathetic after we learn more of her history and why she has never left her house over the last eighteen years. Moltke is stuck with a character who is always getting abused by most of the other characters (Maggie insults her as soon as she meets her), and can't seem to keep herself out of trouble. She's suitably innocent, however, which is the main thing her character calls for. One of the more intriguing characters is bad seed David, who is fueled with hatred and even though only nine has violent tendencies. He also has a nasty habit of framing people for criminal activity, which helps propel much of the action. He's a pathetic figure at moments, but overall thoroughly unlikeable and clearly Vicki will have her hands more than full in ensuing episodes. It's compelling viewing from the get-go, even if the ghosts are only figurative and not literal in this volume.

Rating for Style: B+
Rating for Substance: B


Image Transfer

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

Image Transfer Review: For a television series from 1966, on the whole this looks pretty darn good. The few exterior shots (mostly used in the first few episodes) look very dupey, but the black-and-white studio photography is suitably moody with solid greyscale and deep, dark shadows. Texture and detail is very good, especially after the first handful of episodes. You can see just how bad the acne scars are on the neck of Joel Crothers, playing Carolyn's boyfriend Joe Haskell, or make out the specials on the wall behind Maggie Evans, both of which previously were a blur on VHS. Occasionally highlights are blown out, but the source material is in excellent condition with only occasional speckling to detract. Even Roger's herringbone jackets come across without moiré, which is fairly startling. I wonder if MPI took the trouble to make HD transfers of these early episodes. Even on a large screen television it looks quite satisfactory, which was something they never would have contemplated in 1966.

Image Transfer Grade: B+


Audio Transfer

 LanguageRemote Access

Audio Transfer Review: The mono English track was intended for tiny TV speakers, so it's not something that is likely to inspire high-fidelity accusations. Foley effects such as ringing telephones have a nice clarity, however, and Cobert's score sounds very good indeed. Particularly notable are the suspense themes that include the quiet tap on a timpani, like a funeral march to the Collinsport cemetery. Dialogue is easily understandable and clean except for a few gaffes in the miking that are as good as they can sound. There are a few moments of crackle here and there, and a few isolated dropouts in episodes 30 and 31, but those are brief moments in a large set (and MPI does warn that the source materials occasionally have some issues).

Audio Transfer Grade: B-


Disc Extras

Full Motion menu with music
Scene Access with 35 cues and remote access
1 TV Spots/Teasers
3 Featurette(s)
Packaging: other
Picture Disc
4 Discs
1-Sided disc(s)
Layers: dual

Extra Extras:
  1. Episode guide booklet
  2. Episode 1 with original commercials
Extras Review: Alexandra Moltke (who still looks quite lovely 40 years later) comes out of retirement to provide a brief (2m:03s) introduction to the series, and to appear in two interviews totaling about 16 minutes, spread across Discs 2 and 3. There's not a lot of substance here, but she does have a few good anecdotes about life on the set. Paul Frees lends his most sinister tones to an original 1966 promo for the series. Perhaps the most fun of the extras is a repeat of Episode 1 on the last disc, complete with the vintage commercials that aired with it on June 27, 1966. Thrill to the astonishingly goofy soap and insect repellent commercials as well as a Forrest Tucker promo for F Troop that unaccountably never made its way onto those sets. Finally, a handy booklet provides a brief summary of each episode so you can refresh your memory of what's happening if you have to take a break between discs. While there's no "Play All" button, if you select an episode the disc will automatically play the remaining episodes on the DVD afterwards, so it's there in effect. There's only one chapter per episode, a bit stingy.

Extras Grade: C+


Final Comments

The classic series goes back to the beginning and MPI has done a lovely job with it. Some interviews with Alexandra Moltke are particularly welcome.


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