LESLIE CRISS: Fans of original ‘Dark Shadows’ eagerly await May movie

By Leslie Criss/NEMS Daily Journal

“Following the Rumanian tradition, garlic is used in excess to keep the vampires away.”
– Calvin Trillin

“We ask only to be reassured about the noises in the cellar
And the window that should not have been open.” – T.S. Eliot

Way back in the summer of 1966, a new sort of show premiered on ABC. It came on in the early afternoon, but it was unlike any of the other soap operas watched by my grandmother and my mother.
Labeled a gothic soap opera, “Dark Shadows” was set in Maine in the mythical seaport of Collinsport, named after the Collins family, around which all the murder and mayhem revolved.
Now, when I say mayhem, I don’t mean the sort of stuff happening on all the other soap operas of the day – like adultery and baby swapping and bumping off a spouse or two.
“Dark Shadows” was well beyond that crassness.
In one 30-minute episode, we fans of “Dark Shadows” could look forward to anything from Barnabus Collins, a vampire, falling in love with Victoria Winters, a beautiful, young governess whose life is threatened by Angelique, a witch who loves Barnabus.
Before the show’s 1971 finale, we’d had the daylights scared out of us by ghosts, warlocks, zombies, werewolves and even a few odd human beings like Willie Loomis.
I was 9 years old when I became addicted to “Dark Shadows,” and when the summer of ’66 ended and school started, we mourned the fact we could no longer tune in because the show aired at 2:30 each afternoon. And, sadly, these were the days before VCRs allowed the recording of favorite shows for later viewing.
I became a member of the “Dark Shadows Fan Club” and received all manner of autographed photographs from cast members.
At Lizzie Horn Elementary School, my friends and I formed our own local “Dark Shadows” club and supported each other in our grieving during recess each day. Then we decided to get signatures to petition the ABC affiliate in Greenville to air our favorite show later in the day. We mailed a letter with about 5,000 signatures to the TV station and a month later, “Dark Shadows” moved from 2:30 to 3 p.m.
We fifth-graders celebrated the change while wishing it had been moved just a little later.
Still and yet, when the bell rang at 3 p.m. each afternoon, I’d walk as quickly as my legs would allow the five blocks to my Elm Street house where my sweet mama would have the TV on and tuned in to “Dark Shadows.” And I’d sit quietly and watch the final 15 minutes.
Several decades later, the Sci Fi network showed the original “Dark Shadows” and I tuned in, excited once again to see these freaky old friends who’d once scared me to death on weekday afternoons during my childhood.
When I read last year that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp were also fans of “Dark Shadows” when they were boys and they planned to make a movie, I was excited.
Some of the original cast members even had cameo roles in the movie that’s slated to be released May 11. One such cast member was Jonathan Frid, whom we all loved as Barnabus the vampire. Sadly, his small role in Burton’s film was to be his last. He died April 13.
I’ve seen a trailer and the movie looks funny rather than frightening. But I’ll see it anyway.
And remember a large part of my childhood.
leslie.criss@journalinc.com