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A lot or a little?
The parents' guide to what's in this TV show.
What parents need to know
Parents need to know that the vampires, witches, ghosts, and other supernatural characters on Dark Shadows probably aren't as scary as they remember from watching reruns of the 1960s soap opera on television. Also, it's much more serious than the silliness of the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp theatrical version. That said, there are shocks and possibly nightmare-inducing scenes, particularly when vampire Barnabas Collins is either stalking some young lovely or exacting revenge on his enemies. There is no gore or major violence onscreen, but the spooky goings on and strange music may still freak younger kids out, and characters do die. Romance and infidelity are central themes, though kissing is as much as we see. Some era-accurate smoking is visible onscreen as well. Tweens and teenagers will probably be more interested in the kitschy aspects of Dark Shadows. Fans of vampire fiction such as Twilight and The Vampire Diaries may also enjoy seeing the vintage vampire action that scared their young parents.
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What's the story?
Afternoon soap opera DARK SHADOWS was a struggling gothic snooze through most of its first season, featuring members of the neurotic and troubled Collins family in Collinsport, Maine. Things picked up when the show introduced Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), a vampire who had been imprisoned in his coffin for 200 years. Upon his accidental release, Collins sets about trying to seduce young women into his vampiric lifestyle and wreaking revenge upon his enemies, while being tormented by the spirit of his sister and the memory of his true love, to whom he was unfaithful. The rest of the Collins family (tries to cope with Barnabas' actions and their own love lives. Each half-hour episode typically ends with some kind of shock, i.e. the reappearance of a character thought dead.
Is it any good?
Kitschy, cheap-looking, glacially slow, and silly as it is, the show still holds some appeal, particularly for those who either remember watching Dark Shadows on afternoon TV reruns, or for modern fans of vampire myths. Dark Shadows was utterly unique in its era and timeslot. Afternoon soaps of the day usually featured good-looking doctors and nurses in life-and-death dramas, or melodramatic love affairs. This weird show, with its spooky music and horror-movie happenings, was about as freaky as it got in the 1960s, and for that reason alone it still has a following.
That being said, things move mightly slowly in Collinsport, and there's a lot more talking about what just happened, or what might happen, than actual happenings. As Barnabas Collins, actor Jonathan Frid is hammy, sensual, and still sometimes menacing. Young kids may get spooked by his antics; older ones will probably tee-hee at how restrained he is compared with more bloodthirsty modern vamps. Nonetheless, things pick up whenever he's onscreen, and his twisty story of obsession, betrayal, and revenge is the best thing the show has going for it. Oh, and the abundant kitsch, the many technical flubs, and the overall cheapness of the production, which will amuse media-savvy young viewers to no end.
Talk to your kids about ...
Families can talk about how soap operas have changed since the 1960s. Are there still soap operas on television? Have you ever seen one? Do you know why they were called soap operas? Who do you think such shows were meant to reach?
Barnabas Collins was one of the first vampires ever portrayed on television. How is he like other pop culture vampires, such as those in Twilight or The Vampire Diaries?
Why would a show want to have vampire, witch, or other supernatural characters? Do the supernatural characters on Dark Shadows act like people in some ways? What does the show gain by having characters who are immortal or who can do things that humans can't?
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