Dark Shadows on Home Video
DVD releases feature crisp video and extra collectibles
When Dark Shadows was recently taken off the Sci-Fi Channel's schedule, at least fans could console themselves with one fact: All of the episodes can be purchased on home video -- and hundreds are even available in amazingly crisp digital transfers on an ever-expanding series of DVDs.
I'll admit it, I'm a DVD junkie. As a longtime avid TV viewer, I still can't really comprehend the fact that DVD technology makes it possible to inexpensively own entire seasons of countless classic television series.
When I was a kid, we got three channels, and the only way to "record" a favorite show was to hold an audio tape recorder up to the speaker on the TV set, which I actually did, many times. (No, this wasn't pre-history -- just the late 1970s....) And today, not only do we have dozens of digital cable channels to pick from, we can also pop a disc in the DVD player and watch every episode of Absolutely Fabulous any time we want to! I know I'm a big dork, but I don't think any other technological development in the past 20 years has made me happier. :)
My video collection includes baby boomer faves like Green Acres, The Brady Bunch, and Gilligan's Island -- plus golden oldies I never even saw before they ended up in the bargain bin at Wal-Mart, including Mr. and Mrs. North, Burns & Allen, and Life With Elizabeth.
But because a generous fellow DS fan and good friend gave me his old set of VHS recordings of DS several years ago, I'd resisted buying the Dark Shadows DVDs. Then in February another friend who happens to be one of the cast members of DS, Marie Wallace, invited me over to watch some of the discs MPI had sent to her, featuring her "Crazy Jenny" episodes, and I was hooked. (Marie wanted me to show her how to create "screen captures" from the episodes, to post on her website and include in her new book. We did create some captures that evening, so keep an eye on her site; there should be some viewable there soon.) Of course I realized that night that I'd soon have to start adding some DS DVDs to my collection.
My DS VHS tapes were recorded off TV broadcasts when the show was airing on the New Jersey Network back in the early 1980s. As my friend Jeff Thompson purchased the MPI releases of those episodes, he sent me his old NJN versions -- because at that point, I'd only seen a few episodes, though I'd already written my first DS-related book. Those tapes have helped me research all my subsequent books, including Seeking Shadows (a trivia/puzzle book) and Barnabas & Company.
The tapes helped me learn a lot about the show, and I truly enjoyed watching them -- but because they had been recorded in a "long play" mode, to fit as many episodes as possible onto a tape, the quality was a little fuzzy. So, when Marie hit Play on her DVD deck, the crystal-clear images on the screen bowled both of us over. We could make out individual strands of synthetic hair in the wig that transformed her into wild-haired lunatic.
Of course, some of the episodes aren't perfect-looking. The DVD producers have wisely opted to mostly leave the shows in their original condition, so there are occasional technical glitches, color fluctuations, etc. But since TV sets have improved so much over the years, undoubtedly, this is the best these episodes have ever looked for home viewers.
The DVDs' animated menus are a lot of fun: We get a slightly different look than we've ever gotten at some spots like the Collins Crypt. Having visited the actual house where the exteriors of DS were filmed, I know that in real life, the building isn't far from its neighbors -- it is perched near a cliff overlooking the sea (hence the name, Seaview Terrace), but it's in a fairly densely populated area. However the animated Collinwood featured at the beginning of some of the DVDs looks just like we want to imagine it: The spooky house is isolated from other homes, and it sits at the edge of a dense and scary-looking forest.
The DVDs are being issued in sets of four discs with ten episodes each, plus bonus "extras," including insightful and sometimes amusing interviews with cast and crew members. Some of the interviews are pulled from the MPI archives, but others are being conducted specifically for this DVD series. In the photo below you can see Sam Hall being interviewed by Jim Pierson for an MPI release. (By the way, I'm currently working to produce a video extra for an upcoming release -- more info about that will appear here on DSO soon!)
Included in each DVD set is a collectible postcard featuring some familiar black-and-white publicity shots (as well as some that haven't been published anywhere before). And if you join MPI's video club, you can get some exclusive collectibles. Check out the MPI site for more information. Over the past decade or so, MPI has producing all sorts of great new DS collectibles. The newest is a Josette bobble-head figure (see photo below).
October 1989, MPI has been aggressively helping keep Dark Shadows alive. That month, they began releasing episodes on VHS. Tapes can be ordered from their website: www.mpimedia.com/darkshadows. All
1,225 episodes have been released. (One episode is "missing," but it was recreated, using stills and script narration.) To read about some of the other DS items MPI has released, click here.
The two feature
films, House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows have also been released on VHS, but they aren't even scheduled for DVD release yet. (MGM holds those rights, and a company spokesperson has said the DS movies will probably be released someday, but there are literally hundreds of MGM films in line before them.)