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Dark Side 155 BBC2 Horror Double Bills

The reason the Classic Horror Campaign was set up in the first place was not just to celebrate the old sci-fi, horror and monster movies we all love so much but to try and persuade BBC Television to revive their iconic BBC2 Saturday night horror double bill seasons of yesteryear. Our petition is still ongoing as are our on/off horror double bill film screenings, classic horror columns in both Shock Horror Magazine and Haunted: After Dark digital mag as well as our own retro monster magazine Space Monsters. Although we have published the full BBC2 horror double bill listings on this very site and waxed lyrical about those halcyon days spent glued to our television sets, The Darkside magazine has gone one better and dedicated their latest issue to those much-missed monster movie seasons with the definitive history of these legendary film screenings. Hammer authority and publisher Denis Meikle has done a superlative job with his extensive article and even name checks the Classic Horror Campaign along the way.

As well as the horror double bill coverage, The Darkside issue 155 is packed with so many articles, features, reviews and interviews I’m surprised it didn’t explode in a welter of blood, guts and retro gore when I first opened its pages at this year’s Film4 FrightFest! If you dare to look inside you’ll find a fascinating feature by John Hamilton on Tony Tenser’s Tigon Films, an interview with Psychomania star Nicky Henson, a look at the gore-soaked compendium film The ABC’s of Death and a whole lot more besides. Not only that, but this issue comes complete with a FREE Cult TV magazine which includes a competition to win £200 of DVDs from cult television specialists !

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I recently finished watching 160 episodes of Dark Shadows, a 60s gothic melodrama soap, set in the New England fishing town of Collinsport—a place haunted by secrets and the supernatural. I’m here to share my thoughts of this classic serial as a first-time viewer. I may be nearly 50 years late to the show, but I won’t be giving away spoilers, as I wouldn’t want someone telling me how certain things unfold—especially when the plots in Dark Shadows take their time to be told…

The theme music is both haunting and dramatic—and a perfect fit for the show. Each episode begins with a monologue over a moody image of the Collins house, which pretty much doesn’t tell you anything, but sets the tone and yanks the viewer from the pace of modernity, into the creeping gothic past. The plots largely centre on the Collins family in their mansion of a home and their relationships with the townsfolk.

The main plot I joined on (already episode a hundred-and-something) has the matriarch of the Collins family, Mrs Stoddard, being blackmailed by Jason Mcguire. She has a secret that could destroy her family—but just what is it? Jason Mcguire is a villain I found myself relishing my dislike for—he lays charm on with a trowel, and manipulates any situation or person he can for his own gain. He’s interesting to study though, as he is clearly as false as some of the set walls, but is unshakeable in his lies, and actually seems to believe his own deceptions. As can be expected, the price of Mcguire’s silence keeps on growing, as does the impact of his manipulation on Stoddard and her family—culminating in a wedding with an excellent cliff-hanger. We’re talking shoulder-pad-free Dynasty drama scale there. However, the Mcguire threat ends in a most unexpected way, when his plans threaten those of someone else. Another plot has been weaving its way in as this one draws to a close—a storm is coming to misty Collinsport, and the show will never be the same again.

Barnabas Collins—a cousin from England—arrives, and charms his way into the Collins family under his own agenda. His arrival instantly livens things up. Not with lots of action—it isn’t that kind of show, as it’s essentially a play set in a drawing room—but he brings ladles of menace. The previous villain, Mcguire, relied on his breezy charm and cheeky familiarity, and his threat was focussed upon the Collins’ family wealth. Whereas Barnabas uses well-refined manners, old-world politeness, and considered speech—all while cruising gracefully through scenes like a predator on the prowl, potentially a threat to anyone in his pursuit of his lost love. He’s the best thing to happen to the show at that point, and brings with it all the Dracula ingredients you could want. However, he carries many of the episodes, and while he is the danger in the midst of the other characters, he is somewhat neutered by his frequent threats and his lack of action, and as his motivations, background, and the dangers that he faces are explored, he becomes more of a sympathetic character—which is forward thinking, but does lessen the threat he is meant to instil.

From my limited experience of soaps I expect that Dark Shadows is the master of stringing a storyline out, but for all that the series lacks in pace and production values, it makes up for with atmosphere and charm. I think this has something to do with the production style of its day, as Dark Shadows is essentially a play (one that was staged daily when it originally aired) with five actors a show (they couldn’t afford more than five speaking parts per episode), and occasionally a character may get played by a different actor (with a useful voiceover over the titles to announce the fact), and the series were recorded as live; this is a show where the bloopers aren’t relegated to being a DVD extra, but are in the episodes themselves.

I would recommend checking Dark Shadows out, even it is just to pay homage to the show that paved the way for Twin Peaks, The Gates, American Horror Story and The Returned. A single episode rarely overstays its welcome, and I find that I’m not placing any unfair demands upon the show by expecting it to entertain me for hours on end through an episode fest. For the most enjoyment, I suggest watching Dark Shadows an episode at a time, on cold wintry evenings. Personally, I can’t wait for Netflix to load up the next 1100 episodes…

Article by Steve Merrifield

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