Before the pandemic, I had a minor surgery, but one that laid me up for a month, to my astonishment. Confined to laying on my side, I couldn't easily read and so I was stick with the pleasures of streaming video, which led me to the old Gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows. I watched it throughout my recovery, and, outsode of work hours, followed it through the next few months. Then, I was lured by Amazon into buying the complete series on DVD. Yes, the infamous "Coffin Set." Now, this may seem daft, but that's just because it is.
But when the series came, I fired up the first episode, to see the new introduction by Alexandra Moltke, and to test the quality of my purchase. In doing so, I found that the quality was very high, and found myself drawn into theses first episodes all over again.
So a few thoughts. First, the series uses its paltry budget extremely well; the main Collinwood sets are handsome and convincing, and the stratgic use of location filming at Seaview Terrace in these first epsiodes really cements Collinwood in the viewer's mind--it's as much a presence as is Shirley Jackson's Hill House. It also looks lived in, a place that has been inhabited for centuries in a way that the locales for the 1991 revival and the 1970 film House of Dark Shadows don't measure up to, beautiful as they are.
The first episode introduces Victoria Winters, a foundling seeking her identity, traveling to Collinsport Maine to take a job with the Collins family as a companion/governess. A fellow traveler on the train from New York, Burke Devlin (Mitchell Ryan who gives her a ride in his chauffered car to the hotel where she can get a taxi. We also meet Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott), the tough-talking hardboiled blonde, Eve Arden-type waitress at the coffee shop. She's kind to Victoria, still waiting for her taxi,but urges her to get back to NY. The episode ends with Victoria's arrival at Collinwood, and Elizabeth letting her in.
In the second episode, we meet Elizabeth's daughter, Carolyn (Nancy Barrett) who humiliates her nice guy boyfriend Joe Haskell (Joel Crothers) to dance with the local skels (to use NYC-talk). Carolyn is presented as seeking distraction, recklessly dancing with anyone, until Joe throws a punch, and Devlin orders him to take her home. Devlin tries to use their spat as a chance to bribe Joe to spy on the Collins family for him. Joe demurs. Episodes 3 and 4 focus on the rest of this night, especially Roger's increasingly edgy efforts to pump Victoria for information regarding Burke Devlin. He's hiding his terror of the man well, but it's costing him. He vacillates between charm and panicked frustration. Edmonds is awfully good. As is Bennett, quietly playing the piano in the gloomy sitting room, her head quietly drooping as the notes fade.
When we first see Victoria and Elizabeth togther, the similarity is striking--Victoria's hunt for her identity, and the fact that the checks that paid the Foundling Home in which she was raised are postmarked from only 50 miles away from Collinsport raises the thought that they are mother and daughter. (We so often think of Victoria as a governess that we forget that her time with Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (a regal Joan Bennett) is as much a part of her job as educating the appalling brat David. (Roger Collins has his issues, but his snide exhortations to Victoria to "give him a good kick" have considerable justification (albeit not good child-rearing even in 1966).
Despite David's nasty efforts to scare her off (much smaller, and thus more credible, than the Grand Guignol he attempts in the revival or HODS) Roger's apology, Carolyn's friendship, and Elizabeth's quiet need, plus her own desire to know, impel her to stay.
The show is an extraordinary achievement thus far, and in this slowly unfolding plot the actors have a chance to make their marks. The core cast is extremely good--Bennett brings all her years of film acting to the small scree, Edmonds is a superb general utility player, finding character notes and comic moments in the blandest lines, and Barrett makes a strong impression. Moltke is more gentle, more tentative--with a strong backbone when challenged.