Dark Shadows: Fan Favorites / The Best of Barnabas

It’s de rigueur for the Collins clan of Dark Shadows, the long-running Gothic soap opera from the late 1960s and early 70s, and a cult sensation ever since. Because the TV show is due for a modern reboot as Tim Burton’s take hits the big screen on May 11, MPI Home Video is naturally mere weeks away from releasing a complete series set on DVD.

But aside from shut-ins, trust-fund babies and immortals, who has time for all 1,225 episodes, much less can part with $599.98? That’s why MPI also offers newbies and the 99 percenters a pair of single-disc compilations: Dark Shadows: Fan Favorites and Dark Shadows: The Best of Barnabas, each containing nine half-hour programs from anywhere among the five-year run, even when the live-to-tape show was broadcast in black and white.

While the Barnabas one focuses on stories that bring Jonathan Frid’s breakout character to the forefront, it’s not like he’s absent from Fan Favorites, either; to most fans of the series, he was the series. Still, Fan Favorites offers a little more variety — séances, ghosts, possessions, creepy kids, time travel, mutton chops, a painting that outdoes Dorian Gray — but remains awfully, ridiculously exposition-heavy.

The show is more fun to hear about than it actually is to watch. The acting is histrionic; the dialogue, near impenetrable; the action, more like inaction. And yet, there’s a strange pull at work with these Shadows; their very antiquated, chintzy nature operates on an odd level that rewards not attention, but a passive indifference. In other words, your head may explode trying to piece together the five Ws and one H of the plot, given the Whitman’s Sampler structure of these comps, but let it play in the background as you clean out your email, and every now and then, you’ll find yourself smiling at a goofy visual or a genuinely funny line: “He talks the way people do in books!”

Perhaps Burton’s assumed spoof take on the material isn’t such a bad direction after all. —Rod Lott


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