Directed by Various
Distributed by MPI Home Video
Those interested in the upcoming Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration Dark Shadows may want to check out the original source material first – Dan Curtis’ highly popular (and highly influential) 60’s soap opera of the same name. There is a seemingly endless wealth of media spawned from that series, from DVD box sets to comic books (both old and current), soundtracks, novels, and audio plays. You can even purchase all 1,225 episodes in a gigantic, coffin-shaped set that will set you back around half a grand. However, if you just want a quick overview of the original phenomenon, look no further than these two Greatest Episodes collections.
Both DVD sets (titled Fan Favorites and The Best of Barnabas) are relatively cheap and are a perfect way to sample the original “Dark Shadows” without needing to take out a loan or devote over 600 hours. Each release (reviewed together here, as separate writeups would undoubtedly be redundant) features nine episodes highlighting the various eras from throughout the show’s five-year run. The Best of Barnabas mostly focuses on, of course, Jonathan Frid’s vampiric antihero Barnabas Collins, while Fan Favorites gives a broader look at the overall show (though Barnabas fans will no doubt be satisfied with this release as well).
Storywise, newcomers to the land of “Dark Shadows” may find these sets a bit disjointed, as the episodes rarely connect with one another. Fortunately, each disc gives the option of introductions for every episode (given by either Lara Parker or Kathryn Leigh Scott, both veteran cast members), each of which manages to set the stage and place each episode in context with the larger tales being told. While it may not be the most ideal way to view these stories, one should be able to keep up fairly easily.
The picture quality on each disc ranges from surprisingly good to quite awful, with most episodes falling somewhere in-between. It’s much the same with the audio, with some of the dialogue coming across as either too soft or almost distressingly hot (to the point of distortion, occasionally). Still, it’s nice to be able view these episodes at all so I’ll keep my complaints about the presentation to a minimum.
As far as the bonus features? Well, this is more than a letdown. Aside from the individual episode introductions, all we get are what amount to nicely produced ads for various other “Dark Shadows” products, including books from both Parker and Scott. With the amount of material that must be available, it’s a shame that these discs were left at, essentially, bare-bones level. Further special features might have gone a long way toward converting viewers merely interested in the show into fans in their own right.
Still, if you have yet to visit Collinsport, Maine, or if you simply find the upcoming big-screen remake enticing, it’ll be more than worth your time to check out these sets.
As a side note, I would like to express this reviewer’s sadness at Jonathan Frid’s recent passing. Frid was a wonderful actor with incredible presence and created in Barnabas Collins one of the most indelible, iconic antiheroes in all of television. Rest in peace, sir.
3 out of 5
1/2 out of 5