It all started with a dream. A woman on a train on her way to a place unfamiliar and strange to her with the voiceover narration beginning with the words; “My name is Victoria Winters.” The understated beginning (from a dream by producer/creator Dan Curtis) of the cult T.V. series Dark Shadows which started out as a soap opera with gothic elements and morphed into something different, darker and some people insist, gayer.
Remembered today as “the show with the vampire in it,” way before Twilight, Forever Knight or even Lestat and co., Dark Shadows added supernatural elements in a “what the hey” attitude as the show was in danger of cancellation. The ghostly plotlines, blended in with gothic romance in the saga of the Collins family of Collinsport, Maine made the show talked-about and a hit. And then came Barnabas Collins, played by Jonathan Frid, supposedly a distant cousin from England, who turned out to be a vampire freed from nearly two hundred years imprisonment in the family crypt. In a plotline literally lifted from Dracula, Barnabas was a menace who was obsessed with finding a replacement for his long-dead fiancée, and was fated to be discovered and staked and that would be the end of that.
Instead, the blend of horror and pathos made the guilt-ridden Barnabas a smash hit and he became the series’ central figure, becoming as much a cultural symbol of the 1960’s as the Beatles, Batman or Snoopy. And LGBT viewers were among those who could identify with a story of unattainable, even forbidden love. Fantasy figures, whether overtly gay or not, have always been a touchstone for readers/viewers who felt like “the other.”
In the years since, the revelations that several of the cast members were gay has added to the affection LGBT fans feel for the show. And the show’s influence is evident; today’s paranormal fiction boom is treading the dark pathways that Dark Shadows stalked over fifty years before. And unlike the supposed free-love 1960’s, today’s fiction has no problem with openly LGBT characters. (Remember, through much of the 1960’s, married characters on T.V. series were still sleeping in separate beds!)
And yet, I feel, there is more to the classic Dark Shadows’ appeal than either fantasy or romance; When Barnabas Collins and Dr. Julia Hoffman travel into an alternate future (the 1990’s!) towards the end of the series’ run, they aren’t doing it to save the world but to protect friends and family. An underlying sweetness beneath the shadows, the cobwebs and the shivers.
Draw those you love close and watch this classic in any of its sporadic cable appearances.
Jeff Baker blogs about writing, reading (and watching) sci-fi and horror and other sundry matters around the Thirteenth of each month. He has most recently been published in QSF’s “Renewal,” and also blogs and posts fiction at http://authorjeffbaker.com. He appears on Facebook as Jeff Baker, Author. He lives in Wichita, Kansas with his husband Darryl Thompson.