In 1966 a new daytime soap opera hit the airwaves. Dark Shadows was the first, and possibly only of its a kind. A melodrama broadcast during the daylight hours about the creatures that go bump in the night.
The curious show ran until 1971 and developed a cult fan base that fell in love with the conflicted vampire at its core. Two movies followed with the original cast before the Dark Shadows finally disappeared. Interest never faded, though, and a revival followed and so did another movie. This is everything you need to know about the show to keep you safe when the lights go out!
It Started With A “Yawn”
Dan Curtis created Dark Shadows and envisioned a show about a newcomer to a creepy Maine town. The elements the show would become famous for like ghosts, vampires, and werewolves were never supposed to be the main attraction.
Then the reviews rolled in. Variety called Dark Shadows a “yawn.” Audiences stayed away, too. Ratings were less than ideal, forcing Curtis to go back to the drawing board to save his show. What he didn’t know was that what he would come up with would turn the show into an all-time classic.
Barnabas Collins To The Rescue
With his television show failing out of the gate Dan Curtis introduced a new character to stir the pot – a vampire with a tortured soul named Barnabas Collins. Collins was set for a three-month run that would culminate with him being staked in the heart.
Instead, the character became so popular plans were changed. He became a series regular and the ratings for the show grew by 62 percent, saving it from the network chopping block.
Jonathan Frid Became An Accidental Heart Throb
Jonathan Frid was cast as Barnabas Collins while he was in his 40s. The role of a lifetime turned him into a heartthrob and one of the most in-demand television actors of the 1960s.
Frid, who was admittedly uncomfortable in front of the camera, was forced into personal appearances. At one point the show was so popular he even judged a Miss America Vampire contest where the winner would receive a cameo appearance on the show.
The Production Budget Was Paper Thin
Because Dark Shadows was a daytime soap opera, it needed to air new episodes five days a week. To do this, it was given a weekly budget of $70,000. Safe to say, stretching that money over five episodes was much easier said than done.
To save money, camera operator Stuart Goodman began covering his lens with plastic wrap. He would take Vaseline and dab the edges, which created a “dreamlike” look for a minimal cost. And if a scene took place where a room was on fire, he’d light a bucket on fire in front of the camera.
Everyone Knew The Whole Show Was Ridiculous
Low budgets with no time to fix mistakes before shows aired meant one thing – the writing and acting on Dark Shadows was not very good. The show was a hit, but the cast, especially Jonathan Frid, had no illusions that the show was more than the sum of its parts.
Speaking with The Montreal Gazette in 1969, Frid revealed, “It’s the worst acting I’ve ever done. I blink too much, I’m not sharp or fast enough, I don’t have enough time to learn my lines … I can’t get angry with people who find the whole thing ridiculous because the scripts are ridiculous, the dialogue is absurd.”
Frid Couldn’t Talk With His Fangs On
One of the most difficult parts of playing Barnabas Collins for Jonathan Frid was wearing his fangs. When Collins needed to show his teeth, Frid wore a pair of fangs to sell his vampirism.
The problem was that when Frid had the fangs in, he could barely speak, “My words come out slushy when I wear them, so they have to cut away from me when I talk.” When the camera would cut away, he would spit the fangs out, speak, then stick them back in.
It Was Shot In Color In Its Second Season
After the first season of Dark Shadows ended, ABC decided to start shooting the show in color. In the process, it became the first soap opera for the network to be filmed this way.
The move could have had a devastating impact on the show. Shooting in black and white allowed for a German expressionist aesthetic that seemed atmospherically perfect. The turn to color made things more psychedelic and helped develop “televisuality,” an aesthetic that would become more prominent in the ’80s.
A Date With Frid Was Offered To Viewers
As if judging a beauty pageant for vampires wasn’t enough, producers of Dark Shadows went all out to bank on Jonathan Frid’s celebrity. At one point they even offered a date with the actor as part of a promotion. The advertisement for the date (which included dinner and a ride in a “beautiful car”) even promised that Frid wouldn’t bite!
To enter, contestants had to mail in an application with their contact information and their reason for wanting to meet Frid. They also had to include what they’d say to him on their date!
Fans Helped Save A Missing Episode
During its run Dark Shadows shot and aired 1225 episodes. When it came time to create a video release for the show, it was discovered that one of the episodes had gone missing.
The episode in question was number 1219, and in order to save it fans of the show stepped up in a big way. A fan’s audio recording of the show was used alongside production stills to help reconstruct the missing episode.
Dan Curtis Refused To Give Away Creative Control
As rating began to decline for Dark Shadows, show creator Dan Curtis refused to give up creative control to another writer or producer. At the same time, he also wanted to move onto other projects.
ABC canceled Dark Shadows, which aired its final episode on April 2, 1971. To fill the new hole in their schedule, the network debuted a new version of the classic game show Password. The show might have been over, but it wouldn’t take long for Curtis to get sucked back into the world he created.
House Of Dark Shadows Was Released In 1970
Riding high on the success of the show, Dan Curtis wrote and directed a feature-length version of Dark Shadows that was released in 1970. The movie, House of Dark Shadows had a bigger budget than the show, featured the main cast, and was released theatrically.
The movie followed the same plot as the show but shaped Barnabas Collins to be a villain instead of a conflicted protagonist. Reviews were mixed, but the movie proved to be a success.
Frid Did Not Return For Night Of Dark Shadows
A second Dark Shadows movie came out the same year the show ended in 1971. Night of Dark Shadows followed Quentin Collins, a young man who becomes possessed by the ghosts of his family’s past.
Jonathan Frid refused to return for the movie, forcing Dan Curtis to go with this plot. Originally he wanted the film to be about the revival of Barnabas Collins but he didn’t want to cast another actor in the iconic role.
Joseph Gordon-Levitt Starred In A Revival
NBC picked up where ABC left off in 1991, bringing Dark Shadows back to television as a primetime show. The revival starred many notable faces, including a 10-year-old Joseph Gordon-Levitt. The actor, of course, would go on to find fame in 500 Days of Summer and Inception.
The revival series received good reviews from critics, but ratings never impressed. After 13 episodes, the series was canceled. In 2004, the WB commissioned another revival pilot, but never gave a new series the greenlight.
Johnny Depp Became Barnabus Collins In 2012
In 2012 Dark Shadows once again found its way to the big screen. This time the budget was huge and the star power was incredible. Johnny Depp headlined the A-list cast as Barnabas Collins while Tim Burton brought his Gothic ideals to the director’s chair.
The movie was released to mixed reviews and performed poorly at the box-office. One of the biggest complaints was that the odd film looked pretty but lacked a plot. A planned sequel was scrapped after the movie failed to make an impact.
Mistakes Made It Into The Show
Another flaw of the shooting schedule for Dark Shadows was that there wasn’t enough time left to fix mistakes. That meant these gaffs ended up in the show for audiences to see. Some, like when Kate Jackson’s dress accidentally caught fire, fit in more than others, like when Jonathan Frid thought he was off-camera and started picking his nose.
Today, these mistakes are seen as part of the charm of the show. When they happened originally, we’re sure they were frustrating for everyone involved, though.
A Comic Book Picked Up Where The Series Left Off
After the show ended in 1971, a comic strip was launched carrying on the adventures of Barnabas Collins. The strip ran for one year and was noted for bearing surprisingly little resemblance to the show.
Even though it supposedly was a sequel to the series, Barnabas Collins was the only character who looked like himself when drawn. In 1972 the comic strip ended its run and has mostly been forgotten since then.
Owning Every Episode Requires A Lot Of Shelf Space
In order to own all 1225 episodes of Dark Shadows as physical copies, fans need a lot of shelf space. When the entire series was released on VHS it was a collection of 254 cassette tapes. That’s basically an entire wall.
In 2012, Dark Shadows was released on DVD in a coffin case containing 131 discs. Luckily today you can just watch the series digitally, which takes up way less shelf space.
Vampire Wasn’t Said For 400 Episodes
When Dark Shadows premiered, one word was never said – vampire. Instead of calling out Barnabas Collins for what he was, characters would say things like, “He’s one of the undead!”
According to IMDB, it took more than 400 episodes before a character used the “V” word. This is similar to how the word “zombie” is never said on The Walking Dead. Instead, they call them “walkers,” “biters,” or other colorful things.
Barnabas Was Supposed To Find A Cure
When Dark Shadows ended, one thing was left undone. Barnabas Collins was still a vampire. If the writers had been able to write the ending they intended, Collins would have found a cure for his vampirism.
One of the show’s writers revealed that Collins was supposed to marry his doctor and move to Asia. While there, he would discover a cure, ending his torture and giving him the happily ever after he so desperately longed for.
It Used More Sets Than Other Soaps
For its time, Dark Shadows was an incredibly ambitious television show. While most soap opera productions would use an average of 30 sets in a year, Curtis’ show would use 100.
Some of the show’s most famous sets include a crypt, the woods, mansion rooms, and a cemetery. The use of makeup effects on the show was also considered ambitious considering the budget of the show per week. This dedication to detail is one of the reasons the show has been named one of the greatest cult program of all-time.
It Started With No Supernatural Elements
When Dark Shadows debuted on June 27, 1966, there were no supernatural elements. It was a Gothic show about Victoria Winters, a woman who becomes the governess of a young boy in Collinsport.
When ratings needed to be improved, more supernatural elements found their way to the show, including the introduction of tortured vampire Barnabas Collins. Other monsters on the show included werewolves and ghosts. It was the introduction of the things that go bump in the night that saved the daytime soap opera.
The Lead Actress Was A Movie Star
Before making the leap to television in Dark Shadows, actress Joan Bennett was a movie star who had worked with some of the biggest names in the industry. Those names included Humphrey Bogart, Spencer Tracy, Edward Robinson, Bing Crosby, and Cary Grant.
According to Bennett, working on the show was harder than filming a movie, “One day’s work in this role is about the equal of three day’s work in Hollywood.”
Dan Curtis Also Created The Night Stalker
While Dark Shadows was a hit, it wasn’t the only iconic show that Dan Curtis created. When the soap opera ended, Curtis created The Night Stalker, which started as a television movie and set rating records.
Two years later, the movie was turned into a television series. The series only lasted one season, but multiple movies followed. In 2005, The Night Stalker was rebooted with Stuart Townsend in the lead role of Carl Kolchak.
The Idea Came To Curtis In A Dream
During an interview, Dan Curtis revealed that the idea for Dark Shadows originally came to him in a dream. He also admitted that the idea to add vampires and other monsters to the show was not his idea.
It was Curtis’ daughter who suggested he make the show scarier and less atmospheric. At her request, Curtis wrote a ghost into the show, followed by a phoenix. Shortly after he introduced Barnabas, who claimed to be a descendant of the Collins family until his real identity was discovered.
Jonathan Frid Had No Idea How To Play A Vampire
When Jonathan Frid was cast as Barnabas Collins he had no idea how to play a vampire. He came to the show as a trained Shakespearean actor, not a man-behind-the-makeup actor. And the worst part was that when he asked how he should play the role, no one could give him a clear answer.
In the end, Frid played up the unease of the character being forced to adjust to a new century and the hardships that would bring. His choice proved to be a smashing success, as his character became a permanent lead when his contract ended.
The Vampire As Hamlet
In modern storytelling, the conflicted vampire is not considered anything new. At the time Barnabas Collins was created, he was the first vampire to question his own being. As a result, he became known as “the vampire as Hamlet.”
This original take on the vampire was one of the reasons Collins became such a popular character. It also broadened the appeal of Dark Shadows to teenagers, horror fans, and young adults.
The Sire Of Barnabas
The more popular the character of Barnabas Collins became, the more questions fans had about his origins. Wanting to satisfy the fans, the writers on Dark Shadows introduced his sire, Angelique.
When she first arrived in the show, Angelique was a witch. She would later become a vampire, then a witch again. Played by Lara Parker, the character became massively popular with fans, just like the vampire she created was.
Quentin Collins Was Every Kind Of Monster
Rounding out the cast of monsters on Dark Shadows was Quentin Collins, played by David Selby. At various points in the show, Quentin was a ghost, a werewolf, a zombie, and Dorian Gray. His character, as with the introduction of others, helped improve ratings for the series.
To create the look of the character Selby he needed to have muttonchops, which were not very fashionable in the ’60s. To help the actor avoid having to grow his own, he was given prosthetic sideburns for the character.
Merchandising Followed The Show’s Success
At its peak of popularity, Dark Shadows proved to be so popular that Dan Curtis Productions began licensing it out for merchandising. One of the first items fans could buy were collectible cards.
A board game made by Milton Bradley was also produced. The game came with a complimentary set of fangs for the Barnabas Collins fans looking to have a little extra fun. A soundtrack for the show was also released that included cast recitations from David Selby and Jonathan Frid.
There Were Novels Published
For the fans looking to digest more stories about Dark Shadows when it wasn’t on the air, 33 novels were written. The books were published under the name Marilyn Ross but were actually written by accomplished author Daniel Ross.
When Ross took the job to start writing novels based on Dark Shadows, he chose to use his wife’s name instead of his own. His publisher believed that female fans would buy more books if they appeared to be written by a woman.
You Can Buy Barnabas’ Cane
One of the most defining features of Barnabas Collins was his black onyx ring and silver wolf’s head cane. Fans who want to own one of their own for a costume should have no problem finding one.
Replicas of the iconic cane have been available to purchase since the show first aired. It can be found in varying price ranges and quality. The same deals can be found for his ring, helping die-hard fans create the perfect Barnabas Collins costumes for Halloween!
Julia Hoffman Was Supposed To Be Julian
When writers for the show came up with the character of Julia Hoffman, they intended for her to be a him. The character was named Julian, which was misread by a producer, creating the gender swap.
And like Barnabas Collins, Hoffman was originally signed to a three-month contract and was going to be killed off. The character proved so popular, however, that writers and producers made the decision to keep her alive and make her a regular character.
The Cast Was Moved To New York To Film The Movie
When House of Dark Shadows began filming, Dan Curtis took his cast and moved them to upstate New York. During this time their characters did not appear on the television show, leaving audiences hungry for their return.
The movie itself was also darker than the show and felt more like a classic horror film. Critics gave it a lukewarm reception, but as you already know it was financially successful because a sequel was released a few years later.
David Selby And Lara Parker Led The Show While The Movie Filmed
During filming of House of Dark Shadows, weather delays increased the length of the shoot. While Jonathan Frid and Joan Bennett were away, David Selby and Lara Parker became the focus of the television show.
Luckily, both characters were immensely popular, so while fans waited for the return of Barnabas, they weren’t left without drama. This also meant that Selby and Parker were not featured in the movie at all.
Alex Stevens Was Always The Werewolf
Needing to save money meant that Dark Shadows needed to use sly casting tricks. One of the most clever of these that producers came up with was having stuntman Alex Stevens become a werewolf whenever they needed one.
It didn’t matter which character transformed into a werewolf, under the fur it was always Alex Stevens. Next time you watch the show, you’ll begin to notice how every werewolf tends to look exactly the same!
Jonathan Frid Appeared In The Most Episodes
Because Dark Shadows aired five days a week, not every actor appeared in every episode. Jonathan Frid was in the most episodes with 594. Grayson Hall was in the second most episodes with 475.
If Frid had been on the show since the very first episode, his number likely would be higher. His characters debuted eight months after the show, and he still appeared in nearly half of all the episodes produced.
Dan Curtis Created The Revival
In 1991, Dark Shadows was brought back to life by NBC as a prime time show. Dan Curtis, nearly 20 years removed from the original show, returned to create the new version. While critics enjoyed the show, it didn’t prove as popular with audiences.
Twelve episodes were shot and aired, but the show was canceled. Of course, it still managed to win an Emmy for its only season on the air, for hair-styling. Five years later, Curtis followed up the failed revival with the Trilogy of Terror II.
It’s Always Been Popular In Syndication
Even though Dark Shadows was canceled in 1971, it has continued to find new fans every year thanks to syndication. For many years, the SyFy Channel aired reruns twice a day. It has also been shown on PBS and other networks.
Fans of the 1991 revival haven’t been as lucky. With so few episodes produced, the revival series has never found a second following with fans. If history has anything to say about it yet, there’s still time.
Actors Found Continued Success After The Show Ended
Sometimes when a TV show ends, it can be devastating to an actor’s career. In the case of the Dark Shadows cast, this couldn’t have been further from the truth. The main cast all found continued work, most notably Kate Jackson, who was cast in Charlie’s Angels.
Harvey Lacey went on to perhaps the biggest success, winning an Emmy for his role on Cagney and Lacey. Kathryn Leigh Scott took her fame and started Pomegranate Press, a book publishing company.
Four Original Stars Made Cameos In The Movie
The 2012 Dark Shadows movie might not have been the most popular with fans, but it did have its merits. Most notably, four of the original stars of the show made cameos, giving the big budget adaptation their blessing.
Unfortunately, the movie failed to capture an audience and failed to make a profit during its theatrical run. The only question now is how will Dark Shadows be revived next? Another television show? Or maybe another movie?