HTF Review: Dark Shadows: The Revival - The Complete Series

Discussion in 'TV on DVD and Blu-ray' started by Jason Perez, Nov 18, 2005.

  1. Jason Perez

    Jason Perez Second Unit

    Jul 6, 2003
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    Dark Shadows: The Revival – The Complete Series

    Studio: MGM
    Year: 1991
    Rated: Not Rated
    Running Time: 9 Hours 52 Minutes
    Aspect Ratio: Anamorphic Widescreen (1.78:1)
    Subtitles: None
    Audio: English – Dolby Surround

    Release Date:
    Now Available

    Before receiving this set, I had never seen an episode of the short-lived Dark Shadows: The Revival series, so I knew nothing about it – a rarity for someone who has watched entirely too much TV over the years [​IMG] ! That being said, its premise – a soap-opera-like serial with elements of gothic horror mixed in – sure appealed to me! Interestingly enough, a friend stopped by a couple days after the set arrived, and upon seeing it, the excited chap informed me that it was an update of sorts on a drama that ran for five seasons, which I later confirmed (it ran from 1966-1971). Though I cannot speak to the “old” show, I thought the dozen episodes in this set were entertaining enough to be worth viewing, if only once, but my opinion seems to be in the minority since they failed to replicate their predecessor’s success.

    I do not want to get ahead of myself though, so let’s take a step backwards, and take a look at the story behind Dark Shadows: The Revival. Basically, the series gets going when a lovely lass by the name of Victoria Winters (Joanna Going) moves to majestic Colinwood Manor, in the quaint New England town of Collinsport. There, she is set to take on the task of tutoring young David Collins (Joseph Gordon Levitt), of the wealthy family the town is named for.

    After settling in, Victoria meets an interesting and mysterious member of the family named Barnabas Collins (Ben Cross), who claims to have just arrived in town. Ms. Winters is intrigued by Barnabas, and decides she wants to get to know the handsome fellow better, unaware that he harbors a dangerous secret – he is a vampire! Like any good soap opera, however, things unfold slowly, and there has to be romantic tension, so Victoria is given some competition for Barnabas’ affection. In this case, her competitor is a striking, intelligent physician named Julia Hoffman (Barbara Steele), who has learned Barnabas’ dark secret and pledged to aid him in finding a cure!

    The tale of these complex characters and their romantic aspirations begins unfolding, but viewers are thrown a wicked curveball midway through this first (and last) season, as the plot shifts suddenly backwards in time to the late eighteenth century. It all happens after the residents of the manor conduct a séance, which somehow causes Victoria to be transported back to the year 1790. At this point, characters from the town’s distant past emerge (though many of the same actors remain to play them), but their actions are of interest because they will impact the characters that viewers became acquainted with in the preceding episodes.

    Perhaps this will not surprise you, but the core of the earlier period’s storyline involves the romantic escapades of Barnabas Collins in his pre-vampire days, specifically his relationship with two more very different women – the lucky devil! This time, the two lovelies vying for his attention are Josette Du Pres (Joanna Going, doing double duty) and a beautiful but dangerous witch named Angelique (Lysette Anthony). As mentioned earlier, the interactions between these characters are important because of the consequences that they could have on the love triangle of Barnabas is entangled in two centuries down the road between Victoria Winters and the good doctor Hoffman!

    Well that is a basic outline of what the show is all about, so the questions that remain are: Is it worth our time to see who Barnabas will end up with, and whether or not he will be “cured” of his curse? For my money, although Dark Shadows: The Revival is undeniably dated, especially with respect to the not-so-special effects, melodramatic dialogue, and over-the-top performances, its camp value and horror elements made it a moderately fun watch! That being said, there are still issues potential viewers should be aware of before plunking down their cash:

    First of all, the show does not have a true conclusion, as it was abruptly terminated after the 12 episodes contained in this set. This is not a problem exclusive to this series, of course, as almost all cancelled shows leave fans with lots of loose ends, but since the show never made it to lucky number 13, its lack of a payoff left me disappointed nonetheless. Moreover, though these dozen episodes were somewhat entertaining, I found that this fact seriously diminished the replay value I perceived this series’ episodes to have.

    Secondly, and I admit I have not had a chance to confirm this, but my friend who knew a little about Dark Shadows: The Revival mentioned that it borrows rather liberally from the original series that inspired it, particularly during the first half of its twelve episodes. If this were indeed true, I would imagine people familiar with the series that aired during the 1960s would find it troublesome, as they would already have a very good idea of what was going to transpire in subsequent episodes! In my opinion, this type of uninspired “updating” defeats the purpose of serial drama, and keeping viewers familiar with the previous series (likely a large segment of the initial audience for Dark Shadows: The Revival) off-balance might have given the show more staying power.

    Another quibble I had involved the program’s special effects, which are nothing short of hokey by current standards. To be sure, it is not exactly fair to bash the show excessively for this, because the creators did the best they could with their budget and the available methodologies, but there were instances where the quality (or lack thereof) of the effects detracted from the story, which is never a good thing. A notable example that comes to mind is how utterly cheap-looking the vampire teeth and contact lenses were - you can get better stuff at a Halloween costume shop!

    Those complaints aside, the show did have some positive aspects, such as the fact that the Barnabas character is not all bad, as vampires go, which is a departure from the way the creature is typically depicted. Specifically, although Barnabas does take the lives of the living to sustain his own unnaturally long life, he is also continually searching for a way to become “normal” again. While the character was still not interesting enough to carry the show, the depth given to this particular bloodsucker was notable, and Ben Cross infused enough power and mystique into the role to occasionally rise above the inane dialogue he was given to speak.

    Some of Cross’ colleagues also did good work on the show, including Joanna Going, who was wonderful as both Victoria Winters and Josette Du Pres. Perhaps the most impressive aspect of her performance(s) is how she effortlessly created two very different women onscreen. The beautiful Barbara Steele (Dr. Hoffman) also excelled in her role, thus creating the appropriate sense of romantic tension.

    In general, most of the other cast members are not given an opportunity to make a lasting impression on viewers – they simply lack the screen time, play poorly written charcters, or are not given anything particularly interesting to do. The exceptions to this are Lysette Anthony (as Angelique) and Roy Thinnes (as Reverend Trask), both of whom steal a scene or two after the show transitions into the past. Ms. Anthony is particularly wicked and sensuous, making for a great witch, and Mr. Thinnes, who also plays Roger Collins, is just as terrific as an evil priest, a role that allows him to be delightfully over-the-top!

    Well friends, to warp things up, I will reiterate that Dark Shadows: The Revival is worth a look if the thought of watching a soap opera with darker, horror themes appeals to you. Unfortunately, in my estimation, its replay value is minimal, since the show is dated and there is no resolution to the stories told within these 12 episodes. For these reasons, I suggest a rental for all but those who are already hardcore fans of the show, who most likely already have it sitting proudly on their DVD shelves by now.

    Oh no! The powers that be at MGM appear to have made a decision here that will undoubtedly have Dark Shadows: The Revival fans and OAR proponents miffed, as the original full frame image has been cropped to create a widescreen (1.78:1) image! To me, this disturbing alteration of the source material is disrespectful to both the show’s creators and its fans. I also have to imagine that cropping the image will creates a scenario in which some of the images will look wrong to those really familiar with the material, thus detracting from the viewing experience.

    Moving on to address other aspects of the transfer, a fair amount of grain is evident throughout these episodes, and colors have a slightly flat and uninspiring appearance as well. Black level is also little better than average, and the image typically has a soft appearance to it, so do not expect anything in the way of background detail that is any sharper than Barnabas’ phony vampire teeth. Lastly, there are occasions were whites appear to bloom slightly, and just about all of the foggy/misty shots contained quite a bit of noise.

    On the whole, although I have no idea how it looked when originally broadcast or issued on other home video formats, these transfers for Dark Shadows: The Revival simply do not look that great, and leave doubts in my mind that the source material was cleaned up at all. And since the aspect ratio was tinkered with, I would have to imagine that fans of the series are going to be left wanting in the visuals department!

    No, they will not tax your sound system too much, but the Dolby Surround mixes sound good for a low budget, fourteen-year-old television show! In particular, dialogue is rendered cleanly (although the highs sounded like they were a rolled off just touch), and both effects and the cheesy music exhibited a fair amount of dynamic range and fidelity. Not great, but a step up from the image transfer!


    Though this should probably be expected for a show that was quickly canclled, this DVD set contains some ugly, static menus and no bonus features of any sort.

    Promotional Materials
    There is a preview of Stephen King Presents Kingdom Hospital on disc three.


    (on a five-point scale)
    Episodes: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Video: [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Audio: [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG] [​IMG]
    Overall: [​IMG] [​IMG]

    If you have been waiting with bated breath for Dark Shadows: The Revival, I am sorry to be the one to disappoint you – it is a release worth purchasing by only true fans. The reason I say this is that while the show does offer something different from your average romantic serial, I cannot imagine developing a strong desire to revisit these episodes a second time because there is no payoff to them and the series is undeniably dated. There is also no value-added material at all on board, and the image transfer is undoubtedly going to have fans confused, angry, or both, due to the cropping done to create a widescreen presentation and the lack of a visual overhaul.

    Although the episodes were somewhat fun to check out once, in the final analysis, only those Dark Shadows: The Revival fans willing to overlook the set’s shortcomings to have the series on DVD need apply, for all of the reasons outlined above. Those truly familiar with the series (this is the HTF, so I am sure there are a few of you) may be able to expound on this further, and I urge you to do so. Anyone unfamiliar with, or less fanatical about, the series should definitely rent or borrow this set first, to see if it would make a worthy addition to their library.

    Stay tuned…
  2. Steve Phillips

    Steve Phillips Screenwriter

    Jan 18, 2002
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    Not only has the aspect ratio been tampered with, but the day for night tinting seems to have been accidentally left off, so scenes that are set at night seem to take place in daylight.

    In addition, the much longer, expanded pilot and slightly longer versions of a couple of later episodes which were released on VHS are *not* on this set.

    Based on these three glaring errors, I think many fans will be holding on to the VHS versions or NBC recordings rather than purchasing this set.

    As for the cliffhanger ending; just watch the original daytime version and you'll see where the story would have likely went. The remake copied the old series very closely overall.
  3. John_S

    John_S Stunt Coordinator

    Mar 16, 2004
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    Thanks for the fine review Jason. I purchased this set and really enjoyed it- though all of the stated problems are certainly valid. What I remembered from the original run of the show was Joanna Going and Lysette Anthony--- they're both so darned attractive!!! :b

    Though I was originally on the fence due to the aspect ratio situation, I'm glad I purchased it.

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