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Great First U.K. Release For Cult US Classic
on 3 May 2012
The entire series of Dark Shadows has been available in the US for some time now, with a lavish complete series box set of all 1200+ episodes released this year. Of course due to the Tim Burton movie interest in the original show is high enough for Metrodome to release this budget set in Britain.
You might have already read about Dark Shadows' wonky sets, stiff acting, flubbed lines and so on and so on - it's the usual things that come out whenever the show is written about. However, read anything by a fan of the show or someone who likes it and you should also learn about the tremendous performances (Frid, Karlen et al), the imaginative and at the time unprecedented use of the supernatural in daytime television, and the wonderful atmosphere of the show. It's also unafraid to use literary inspirations for the plots, and go not just to the edge but gleefully over it.
Make no mistake, this is niche cult programming (not the 'cult' of Lost for example), and coming to it from a modern perspective the pacing (don't forget, it was one of many daytime soaps in America and is very talky, many episodes utilising only one plotline or small group of actors) takes some getting used to.
The thing is though, if you get into it and let the feel and ambition of it take over it is truly magnificent comfort fare, and the enthusiasm and creativity of the cast and crew carry it across its five year run. Dark Shadows was big enough at the time to inspire a Canadian attempt at the same type of thing (Strange Paradise, 1969-70) and two motion pictures. Since then conventions, novels, merchandise, a revival in 1991 (also out on DVD and worth checking out), 2004 (which never made it to air) and fan passion have kept it talked about and revisited.
To the DVD then: the first two discs are exactly the same as the first two discs of MPI's US Collection 1 release. You get a roughly 20 minute summary of the show up to the point Barnabas is introduced (so you know who is who and also what other plots are running), and then 20 episodes of the show. These are great episodes and where the show started to really strike out in a new direction. Disc 3 is where the extras are. They are made up from the extras on the US MPI releases but actually it's quite impressive that you get almost three hours of it, covering behind the scenes through to the dream sequences and more. The picture quality is the same as the American releases and so varies but is generally good. It's also especially remarkable that they could release the whole thing when British studios (the BBC being a big culprit) ended up wiping half their archives.
In summary, if you knew about the show and have never wanted to spend on the expensive US sets this is a fine release that you will enjoy. If you're new to the series and are curious to try it, you won't lose out at this price, even if you don't like it. If you do like it then you'll find plenty to enjoy here, and should you wish to dig further into it, there's still those other 1200 episodes to go.