Dark Shadows and Wolfman, Jonathan Frid and Benicio del Toro

Love and the Tragic Monster

I saw The Wolfman over the weekend, in spite of all the negative reviews the press and even some of my friends were giving it. I didn’t think it was that bad, even though its faults are glaring. I liked going back to the Victorian era for this kind of tale, as Victorians were more concerned with the beast within ourselves than we are – we worry less about our base passions and more about how we are being dehumanized by our technology. I also liked this movie because it was good to see Benicio del Toro playing a romantic role. I’d love to see more of him as a romantic hero. Who can resist those eyes?

But what The Wolfman really did for me was remind me of my first introduction to the Wolfman genre, which was in 1968 when I was glued to the tube at four thirty every afternoon, waiting for Dark Shadows to come on. Even at that young of an age my sister and I were electrified by Jonathan Frid, the actor who played Barnabas Collins.


Barnabas CollinsBarnabas Collins

In these days of digital media, pre-digital fan passion can be re-indulged, on DVD.  Or, if you are one of those people with long car commutes, on audio. Big Finish has a whole audio series which often feature the voices of the original actors and include extras like additional commentary. One of these episodes was written by my friend  D. Lynn Smith, “Dark Shadows: Echoes of Insanity,” released last August, starring the actors from the original Dark Shadows, Lara Parker (Angelique) and Johnny Karlan, (Willie) .
Here's the synopsis:

"I discovered your mind in the darkness and I knew we could help each other."

After being shot outside Maggie Evan's door, Willie Loomis is incarcerated at the Windcliff Institute. Fear and pain cloud his memory, until a golden angel appears and takes him on a journey through past exploits with his friend, Jason. With Jason now gone, Willie must face the evils of Collinwood alone, as he attempts to discover the truth about his old master, Barnabas Collins.

The legend continues in this hour-long dramatic reading, based on the classic ABC TV series, featuring haunting music and specially dramatised scenes.
I thought I was fairly unique in my life-long crush on vampire Barnabas Collins, until I found this entry on the blog “Celebrities in Disgrace.” “Celebrities in Disgrace is the brain child Elizabeth Searle,
who wrote the libretto for Tonya and Nancy:The Rock Opera which was produced in 2006. She also wrote the libretto for the expanded "Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera" which premiered in February of 2008. A new production is forthcoming in 2010. Tonya and Nancy: The Rock Opera is based on the Harding/Kerrigan skate scandal. Searle went on to write a book called Celebrities in Disgrace.

Imagine my joy when I stumbled on this entry about Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows; Susan Lilley says it all for me.

But is undying “movie-love” for Barnabas Collins only to be sated with watching the old episodes on DVD or listening to audio movies? Not at all. Executives at NBC wanted to tap into that hunger in little girls that were now grown up, and manage to revive the series briefly in 1991.
Victoria Winters/Josette was played by Joanna Going. I had auditioned Joanna for my thesis film, Union Square, when Joanna was working as a clerk in a vintage clothing store near the film school. Joanna would have had to use up her entire vacation to make the film and passed, leaving us to cast the lovely Jennifer Rose. But I had been very impressed by Joanna’s audition and was happy to see her career take off.

But the 1991 series was still not the end of Dark Shadows. Tim Burton (all my readers here already know about the book I wrote a book on Tim Burton’s films, right?) is going to make a movie based on the franchise, starring Johnny Depp, of course, who is also a fan of Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas Collins.

I know, I know, it will be a long wait. But while  you are waiting, go to New York and see the show at MoMA on Tim Burton. I especially recommend watching his earliest films there, as well as the always hysterical Stainboy webisodes. Stainboy is another one of those tragic monsters you wish you could just hug.