I love a flying buttress, a gargoyle, a wispy ensemble with Endora eyeliner.
But it was the colors of Dark Shadows' props and sets that embedded themselves into my psyche like a Stearns County woodtick. Deep magenta, vibrant green, wild purple, that addictive shade of gold. And blue. Dark Shadows Blue.
Much of the clothing and decor used in Dark Shadows was sourced from New York department store Orbachs, including a massive order for taper candles of that hue – enough to set the scene for all of Dark Shadows’ 1,225 half hour episodes from 1966 to 1971.
Early on, it didn’t matter what color the candles were, or any of the other props, accessories, or apparel, as Dark Shadows initially screened in black and white. The first color episodes appeared in August 1967.
It tickles me that Dark Shadows Blue is similar to deer fly blue, a color it’s unwise to wear from May to July when outdoors in Stearns County, or while enjoying nature anywhere in Minnesota in the months of summer.
Every five years or so I watch the whole Dark Shadows series again (it’s currently screening on Amazon Prime).
This can take months from start to finish, but that’s fine by me.
Throughout, I find myself humming the foreboding Bob Colbert score, and admiring again the interior design, the fashions and, of course, the acting.
Many of the ensemble curated by director Dan Curtis were stage actors with dramatic accents and a penchant for sudden movements.
Performers playing or running away from vampires and werewolves need to be good at sudden movements, even if in those early days of TV the cameras also sometimes captured a fluff-covered microphone or a technician’s fingertips. Film editing was in its infancy then – the cameras rolled through scenes in single takes, bloopers and all.
The role of vampire Barnabas Collins made Canadian character actor Jonathan Frid famous. As co-star David Selby said, Frid played Barnabas as though he were performing King Lear. While Frid would likely have rather played Lear and other notable characters, his long stint as Barnabus made him an unlikely sex symbol, and brought him lifetime celebrity. He sometimes joked about his early ambition to become a North American Olivier, only to find fame as a bat.
Among the excellent cast joining Frid at the Collinwood mansion was Barnabas’s ally and hinted love interest Dr Julia Hoffman, played by Grayson Hall. They were a compelling duo, Frid in his vampiric signet ring which had been sourced from Woolworths, and Hall in her glamorous fashions from Orbachs framed by that face and that voice – sharp eyebrows, edgy 60s haircuts, and arch facial expressions. If you admired Hall in her Dark Shadows and other film, stage and TV performances, read the excellent memoir by R J Jamison.
Like Curtis and many of the Dark Shadows actors, no one expected the series to last as long as it did, requiring ever more outlandish storylines and the introduction of zombies, mummies, Frankenstein-like creatures, witchcraft, time travel, demonic possession, Leviathans, werewolves, and sundry hauntings.
In those early days we delighted in all of it, and the spinoff films which played at St Cloud’s downtown Paramount Theater.
Now a beautifully restored performing arts centre, back then the theater’s seating tiers included the balcony, which boys preferred so they could strategically aim spitballs, candy missiles, slops of pop and, on one memorable occasion, sprays of urine, at the innocents below.
An enduring lesson of those years is to never sit below a balcony in any sports or entertainment venue.
Decades hence, I still love the grand Dark Shadows color palette. I spot these colors most days in clothing, bed linens, eyeglass frames, furnishings, accessories of all kinds – even cars.
At a time of life when I am shedding possessions, I remain a sucker for all things Dark Shadows Blue. If I spot an item of that hue in a store, I avert my eyes, just as Barnabus had to when encountering a mirror or a cross. Otherwise I will leave that store clutching an impulse purchase and a drained Visa card.
But sometimes I succumb.
Lately I find my fingers poised over the email send button to correspond with artist Ericka Van Horn, Queen of the Adorably Mysterious. My draft message says yes Ericka, I will indeed buy two of your miniature gothic candelabras with candles in Dark Shadows Blue, known in Stearns County and other parts of Minnesota as deer fly blue. Commission your own at erickav.com
Dark Shadows Score
Bob Cobert was so masterful at scoring vampire television that he was later commissioned to compose the score to the 1972 TV movie The Night Stalker, which later spawned the cult series Kolchak: The Night Stalker.
Cobert excelled in the realm of game shows, too. He wrote the theme songs for Password, Blockbusters and The $25,000 Pyramid.
He composed the eerie score for the Dark Shadows TV series, as well as for tie-in films House of Dark Shadows (1970) and Night of Dark Shadows (1971). The song Quentin’s Theme earned Cobert a Grammy nomination for Best Instrumental Composition; he lost to John Barry’s theme for the film Midnight Cowboy.
And what of the Burton/Depp Dark Shadows film?
I can’t talk about it. The horror is still too fresh.