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Sounds of Dark Shadows

The UK based Big Finish Productions has successfully done what many thought impossible: they revived Dark Shadows, with original cast members reprising their legendary 1960s roles.

As with all things, Dark Shadows should be viewed in the context of the time and place in which it was produced. Today, the daytime soap opera's under rehearsed-cast and primitive special effects are easy to laugh at. But when Dark Shadows first aired during the late 1960s, it was a groundbreaking sensation.

Dark Shadows redefined the boundaries of daytime drama. Beyond the fact the fact that other soaps would never have considered doing storylines about vampires, werewolves, witches and time travel, Dark Shadows was the first of these shows which offered lavish, elegantly appointed sets, and a full orchestral score.
 
Dark Shadows' central character, Barnabas Collins, was a tragic figure who captured the hearts of viewers. Barnabas loathed his vampiric affliction--actor Jonathan Frid played these scenes with the blood and thunder he'd learned on the Shakespearian stage. Other storylines, such as the genuinely frightening “Haunting of Collinwood” from late 1968, borrowed liberally from Henry James' classic ghost story “The Turn on the Screw.”
 
When Dark Shadows ended its network run on
April 2, 1971, it was a television legend. It rose from the dead again and again. Reruns appeared on local television stations in the mid-1970s, on PBS in the 80s, then on VHS and finally DVD. Dark Shadows was also a staple on the Sci-Fi Channel for 10 years beginning in 1992, the year after NBC offered a short lived prime time remake.
 
Dark Shadows simply won't die. As Tim Burton and Johnny Depp prepare a big screen version for a possible 2011 release (the series was also filmed twice by MGM in the early 70s) Big Finish Productions now offers a seemingly endless series of brand new Dark Shadows audio dramas, released on CD to an eager listening audience.
 
Stuart Manning, a "second generation" Dark Shadows fan who lives in
London, is the guiding force behind the audio dramas.
 
"I discovered the show in the mid-1990s, when it began playing on the UK Sci-Fi Channel," says Manning. "The mixture of Gothic visuals and soapy dilemmas had me hooked pretty much immediately. The sets, the music, the actors--it was like nothing else I'd ever seen."
 
"I'm not a big horror fan, honestly. As a child, I liked spooky things, but not necessarily being scared. Charles Addams cartoons & cobwebby haunted houses always fired up my imagination far more than the monsters inside them. Dark Shadows was creepy, but rarely genuinely horrific."
 
Manning's comment offers insight into the show's enduring popularity: its diverse audience. Classic horror fans, who might otherwise not watch a soap, and soap fans alike, plus lovers of classic romance, were all enthralled by the mysteries of Dark Shadows.
 
It was Manning, who toils as a web designer, who came up with the idea of reviving Dark Shadows for the CD market. "I was working for Big Finish as a designer on their Doctor Who CDs and thought that Dark Shadows was a good potential property for audio. Happily, the bosses at Big Finish agreed, and Dan Curtis Productions were interested in licensing some audio, so we were in business."
 
Currently, Big Finish is releasing a new Dark Shadows drama almost every month—and sales have been brisk. Some of the dramas, like the recent, and grandly fun “Final Judgment,” offer original tales set in the Dark Shadows universe. Others, like “Curse of the Pharaoh,” go back to the TV show and resolve the remaining loose ends from the TV run.
 
In “Final Judgment,” Kathryn Leigh Scott and Lara Parker return as the ill-fated Josette and the evil witch Angelique. In 1795, it was the jealous Angelique who cursed Barnabas Collins with vampirism when he spurned her love. That curse led to Josette's horrific death--she threw herself off the cliffs of Widow's Hill rather than join her beloved Barnabas in his coffin. On the CD, Josette and Angelique are in hell. Angelique is on trial for her crimes--Josette is the prosecutor! It's a silly but fun story. The actors, still close friends after all these years, know their characters well, having played them in dozens & dozens of TV episodes. They dive into the melodramatic script with gusto, inviting the audience to join in the good time they're clearly having.
 
“Curse of the Pharaoh” returns to the TV show's somewhat confusing “Leviathan” story from 1970. Based on the writings of HP Lovecraft, the “Leviathan” tale was never properly resolved and remains, to this day, the least favorite storyline among the fan base. But when Carolyn Stoddard (a returning Nancy Barrett) meets the famed Egyptologist Dr. Gretchen Warwick (DS cast member Marie Wallace playing a brand new character), the Leviathan people are revealed to have their roots in ancient
Egypt. After forty years, the story is given a proper ending, thanks to Big Finish Productions!
 
Stuart Manning professes to have a preference for the dramas that tell new stories. "Dark Shadows was, first and foremost, a soap opera, and the business of a soap isn't to dwell on the past," he says. "The most exciting aspect of continuing the show on audio is the potential to tell new stories and take our characters into uncharted territory. We always need to look forward."
 
Manning reports that it's full steam ahead for more audio dramas for the large Dark Shadows fan base, an audience that's expected to explode when the Burton/Depp film is released.
 
"We're in the middle of a mammoth production block right now, which will make up nine releases across 2010," reports Manning. "It's a very exciting time for Dark Shadows, and I think we've assembled a great range of stories and voices. There's still plenty to come."
 
The Dark Shadows Audio Dramas can be found at Amazon.com or by visiting www.BigFinish.com
 
by David Alex Nahmod






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