Wednesday, February 11, 2015

Cult-TV Review: Dark Shadows (Episode 212)

In Dark Shadows episode 212, Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) -- a vampire -- returns for the first time in centuries to his home, Collinwood Mansion.  He meets Mrs. Stoddard, and tells her that his “roots” are there, and, “perhaps,” his “destiny" as well.

Stoddard is thrilled to meet a relative, a cousin from England, and welcomes Barnabas with open arms. He is grateful for her hospitality, meets Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke) and then goes to look at the grounds.  

Barnabas travels up to the old house on the hill, and there meets young David Collins (David Henesy), who tells Barnabas that the house is occupied by many ghosts. A portrait of Josette has eyes that seem to follow visitors and “the picture glows” even as the air around it “smells like jasmine.”

Barnabas seems to understood, and David recognizes that he is “sad,” and that he seems to “haunt” the rooms of the house, rather than merely walk through them…''

Jonathan Frid in the role of Barnabas Collins connected to a youthful generation in America on Dark Shadows (1966 - 1971), and it is easy to see why.  

Barnabas is both monster and man, a creature that inhabits the night and is haunted by his own behavior and choices.  Frid once described the character as being in “terrible agony” and noted that Barnabas was not unlike a heroin addict, driven to madness by a thirst beyond his ability to sate. He is a tragic figure, and in many ways, the first tragic TV vampire. 

That club later took on new members including Nick Knight, Angel, and Bill Compton.  They all owe something to Barnabas, and to Frid's portrayal of the noble monster.

This episode of the series introduces Barnabas as a primary driving force of the Dan Curtis afternoon soap opera. Almost immediately, Frid takes command of his environs, and the series transitions. The sets at Collinwood -- the mansion and so forth -- now seem truly to belong to Barnabas, an outsider and a man with secrets, 

Barnabas is also a man of regal bearing, and dignity…when he can maintain it, but given to flights of rage and anger. Somehow, Frid makes it all play as coherent.

There is very much the possibility that Frid would succumb to some of the more florid dialogue he is given  here, but instead, in this episode at least, the language assists him craft a character quickly. Barnabas seems all the more formal and mysterious, seeing visions of a world that no longer exists.

Frid has good focus too. At one point in the episode, the actor playing David badly flubs a line about oceans and sunsets, and Frid doesn’t react, nor miss a beat. His focus is laser-like.

The tragedy of Barnabas Collins begins to come to the forefront in this episode too. He states it well, describing how he turned into a creature that "even his father loathed."  But this episode of Dark Shadows is also important because Barnabas makes a choice that affects everyone at Collinwood.  He chooses to fight for what he wants, and what he feels he deserves.  He is going to return to the life he never had…but should have.

Shot in just one or two locations, and lasting only a half-hour, this Dark Shadows episode, moves faster than the other two I watched in recent weeks, and coheres because of Frid’s considerable gravitational pull.  He pulls the other actors -- and the audience too -- right into his performance.

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