Today’s audiences likely associate Dark Shadows only with the 2012 Tim Burton-directed adaptation in which Johnny Depp starred as quirky, pigment-deprived, centuries-old vampire Barnabas Collins. However, for those souls who came of age during the Vietnam War, ABC’s original 1966-1971 horror soap opera represented a rare, groundbreaking, supernatural-centric gem in daytime television that not only fixated on ghosts and monsters, but humanized them in a compelling manner.
Dark Shadows – just as another watershed 1960s show Star Trek did – recently celebrated its 50th anniversary and remains a cross-generational phenomenon that lives on through two contemporaneous films, subsequent decades of re-runs (notably on Syfy, née Sci-Fi Channel), a 1991 NBC revival event series, a 2004 reboot pilot for The WB and, of course, the aforementioned 2012 film.
With that recent eerie anniversary and Blastr celebrating 31 Days of Halloween in October, we decided to provide a quick guide to the key storylines of the original Dark Shadows soap opera and its 1,245 episodes.
Victoria Winters stirs the Collinwood pot
Episode 1 – 127, June 27, 1966 – December 20, 1966
Victoria Winters (Alexandre Moltke) arrives via train at the small coastal fishing town of Collinsport, Maine. With an agenda to find answers about her mysterious past as an orphan, she accepted a position with the town’s eponymous Collins family to live in their immense estate called Collinwood as governess to young David Collins. The Collins family consists of the aristocratic widower Roger Collins, his young son David, the family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard and her young adult daughter Carolyn Stoddard.
While, in soap opera fashion, Victoria’s origin endeavor ultimately leads to a dead end, she finds herself in the middle of family drama with the concurrent arrival of a mysterious man named Burke Devlin, who dates her while carrying out vengeful machinations against the Collins family, notably Roger. Additionally, during Victoria’s awkward attempts to bond with her young charge David, she is introduced to the benevolent spirit of Josette Collins, who aids her after being kidnapped by murderer Matthew Morgan.
Stop! Or my mom will shoot… flames
Episode 123 – 192, December 14, 1966 – March 21, 1967
Fortune seemingly smiled upon little David Collins when his mother Laura (Diana Millay) – missing for 10 tears – shows up in Collinsport, looking to reconnect with the spirit-stalking scamp. However, the circumstances behind her return seem more than a bit fishy, especially when Victoria finds a 200-year-old painting in a crypt belonging to one “Laura Murdock Stockbridge” bearing an uncanny resemblance to David’s resurfaced mama. Also, local artist Sam Evans is involuntarily compelled to craft a painting with Laura and David being engulfed in flames.
Well, it turns out that Laura is not just David’s mother, but a powerful and immortal phoenix who – like the mythical fire bird – burns up at a certain point in time, only to be reborn from her ashes. However, Laura’s intent for this life cycle is to burn up with David under the belief that they will both be reborn! It’s up to Victoria to stop that insane instance of maternal immolation.
Vampire Barnabas Collins: Unchained, bloodthirsty and extremely polite
Episode 205 – 290, April 7, 1967 – August 4, 1967
Unwelcome Collinwood houseguest Willie Loomis is transfixed on a portrait in the foyer of the Collins’s 18th century ancestor Barnabas, specifically the fancy jewels he’s sporting, leading to an ill-conceived grave-robbing attempt at the old family mausoleum. However, hitting a switch in the crypt leading to a secret room, he finds a chained coffin and unwittingly unleashes a dark family secret onto the town in vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid). With a single bite, Willie becomes Barnabas’s slave.
While ingratiating himself to the Collins family with the lie of being a cordial cousin from England, Barnabas leaves a trail of blood-drained bodies across town under the cover of night. However, he eventually encounters waitress Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott), who is the spitting image of his lost love Josette. Thus, Barnabas kidnaps Maggie with the intent of using his powers create a new Josette. However, his plan is meeting some resistance, especially from a conscience-heavy Willie and the ghost of Barnabas’s young sister Sarah.
Dr. Julia Hoffman dangles a cure for Barnabas
Episode 291 – 365, August 7, 1967 – November 17, 1967
Barnabas’s scheme with a traumatized Maggie attracts the attention of a local psychologist with hematological background named Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall), who stays at Collinwood under the lie of being a historian. While Julia quickly discovers Barnabas’s sins, she develops an attraction to him, leading her to morally-questionable actions like using hypnosis to wipe Maggie’s memory of her whole ordeal and enabling the murder of medical colleague Dr. Dave Woodard to protect the secret.
Firmly in cahoots with vampire Barnabas, Julia attempts using science to cure his supernatural curse with an experimental plasma-based formula. However, the injections have a side-effect, making Barnabas look his age… of nearly 200 years. Thus, Julia temporarily becomes a target of Barnabas’s wrath, even after his uber-geriatric crisis is resolved after draining another victim. However, the ghostly reappearance of Barnabas’s young sister Sarah eventually guilts Barnabas into turning over a new leaf of benevolence.
1795: Wicked witchcraft
Episode 365 – 466, November 17, 1967 – April 8, 1968
A séance with the Collins family reaching out to the ghost of young Sarah sends Victoria back in time to the year 1795, swapping her with the Collins’s would-be governess of that era. There, Victoria meets the Collins clan of 1795 who live in the old family estate and sport familiar faces, notably with a young, non-vampire Barnabas.
Things get chaotic when Barnabas’s lovely fiancée Josette DuPres arrives from Martinique with her servant Angelique (Lara Parker). Victoria soon discovers that illnesses and a tragic rift between Barnabas and his uncle Jeremiah over Josette are tied to Angelique, who is a witch and Barnabas’s scorned former fling. Her vindictive supernatural schemes cost Barnabas his love with Josette and inflict him with the vampire curse, causing him to leave several victims until his father Joshua chains him inside his coffin to hide the family’s shame.
Additionally, Victoria’s knowledge of future events peg her as the witch and she’s put on trial. Oddly, she still finds solace in the ordeal with her lawyer Peter Bradford. While Victoria eventually gets back to the present, her time-displaced relationship with Peter later leads to her exit from the series.
Adam makes Collinsport his grim Garden of Eden
Episode 466 – 636, April 8, 1968 – December 2, 1968
Shifting back to 1968, Barnabas and Julia are still pursuing a scientific cure for his vampirism, leading them to Dr. Eric Lang, who has a new approach that would essentially drain the curse. The catch, however, is that Lang is a quasi-Dr. Frankenstein with designs to reanimate a large, scarred, cobbled corpse, which would hypothetically absorb the vampire curse without any ill effect.
While Barnabas is finally cured of his vampirism, Lang’s experiment comes alive, sporting the mind of a child in the body of a giant, super-strong man with the Biblical name Adam (Robert Rodan). However, Adam’s mental capacity grows rapidly and his awkward, creepy attempts to woo Carolyn lead to heartbreak, making him volatile; bad news for Barnabas, who would again become a vampire if Adam is killed. Ultimately, after Lang is killed, Adam forces Julia and Barnabas to redo the experiment and make him a mate. While they are successful, Adam's “Eve” was also imbued with the soul of a murderer with sadistic machinations in mind.
Angelique arrives in 1968 on Nicholas Blair’s demonic leash
Episode 477 – 634, April 23, 1968 – November 27, 1968
Barnabas’s life as a human and a certified good guy is disrupted when Roger comes back to Collinwood with his new wife Cassandra Blair, who is clearly Angelique resurfaced in the present. While feigning ignorance to a perturbed Barnabas, her plot becomes apparent, initiating the Dream Curse, a shared dream passed from person-to-person, designed to land on Barnabas and return his vampirism; a scheme that ultimately fails due to his connection to Adam.
However, Angelique is joined by an overseer from Hell in her ersatz-sibling Nicholas Blair (Humbert Allen Astredo). After her failures, Nicholas deals Angelique the ironic punishment of becoming enslaved as a vampire herself. Later, Angelique's attempt to kill Adam in her continued revenge scheme against Barnabas disrupts Nicholas’s plan to use Adam and the sinister Eve as progenitors of a new race that would conquer the world, resulting in hellacious consequences for the schemers by their devilish master.
Chris Jennings’s werewolf curse puts a damper on his love life
Episode 627 – 700, November 19, 1968 – February 28, 1969
Chris Jennings (Don Briscoe) arrives in town with his young sister Amy, investigating the death of his identical twin brother Tom, who was turned into a vampire by Angelique and later staked by Barnabas. Stowing Amy at Collinwood, Chris begins dating Carolyn. However, this brother has a supernatural secret of his own, since he turns into a ravenous werewolf every full moon and his old measure of chaining himself to a radiator no longer works.
With the reports of attacks on local denizens piling up, Barnabas and Julia investigate and eventually discover Chris’s secret. Since the werewolf transformations are worsening, Barnabas helps Chris by keeping him inside the secret mausoleum room during full moons. Yet, Chris’s personal life crumbles with Carolyn getting closer to his secret and an old flame traumatized by his lycanthropic deeds resurfacing; something compounded by the fact that his curse is starting to randomly surface even without a full moon!
The Ghost of Quentin Collins becomes a bad influence on children
Episode 639 – 700, December 5, 1968 – February 28, 1969
Young David Collins and his new playmate Amy Jennings stumble onto a walled-up room in Collinwood’s west wing containing a skeleton and dust-covered late-19th century relics, notably an old phone that suddenly rings. Answering the fateful call opens David and Amy to the vengeful spirit of family ancestor Quentin Collins (David Selby). While the ghost’s motives seem mysterious, marked by the sound of wistful gramophone music whenever he's near, it becomes apparent that he’s not a friendly spirit; notably when the ghost of a servant woman named Beth starts appearing alongside him, ominously lamenting Quentin’s actions.
However, the game Quentin plays with the children begins to cause harm to the residents of Collinwood and it contains a mysterious connection to Chris Jennings’s werewolf curse. Eventually, Barnabas, Julia and Professor Timothy Stokes (a descendant of Barnabas’s 1790’s-era servant Ben Stokes,) unsuccessfully attempt to exorcise Quentin, leaving David presumably dead and ultimately forcing the Collins family to abandon the estate while Quentin cackles triumphantly!
1897: Gypsies, vamps & thieves
Episode 700 – 885, February 28, 1969 – November 14, 1969
To unlock the mystery of Quentin’s ghost and prevent tragedy, Barnabas uses ancient Chinese I Ching meditation, projecting his astral form back into his own body in 1897 – that’s still a vampire chained up in a coffin. In a familiar scenario, Barnabas makes a bite-slave of gypsy Sandor Rakosi who lives in the Old House with his wife Magda and soon introduces himself to the clan at Collinwood, again as a cousin from England.
There, Barnabas meets Quentin Collins, who, rather than a creepy ghost, is a sarcastic, brandy-sipping, world-travelling playboy. However, the skeletons from Quentin’s closet manifest with his crazy, stabby wife Jenny, who the family keeps locked in a tower room, an illicit affair with maid (and would-be ghost) Beth and much more. However, after Quentin accidentally strangles Jenny to death during a struggle, Magda –Jenny’s sister – places a gypsy curse of the werewolf on Quentin, revealing a familial connection to Chris Jennings.
While Barnabas helps Quentin similarly, Angelique shows up stirring up trouble in signature form. Compounding that, an evil warlock named Count Petofi and his search for a missing magic hand intertwines with the time-bending efforts to save Quentin from his ghostly fate.
The Leviathans plot global domination… out of an antique shop
Episode 886 – 980, November 14, 1969 – March 27, 1970
Barnabas is brought back to 1969 against his will by ancient beings who pre-date humanity called the Leviathans. Using mysterious powers, they force Barnabas to do their bidding, delivering a peculiar box that enthralls a local antique shop-owning young couple; a gift that instantly grants them a baby to raise, who grows insanely quick, ultimately into a full-grown adult and sinister messiah named Jeb Hawkes (Christopher Pennock). The Leviathan objective is simple: Enslave all of mankind.
Jeb eventually romances Carolyn; something relevant to the Leviathans’ goals involving a disgraceful deal made by her suddenly resurfaced father Paul Stoddard. However, Barnabas breaks free of his enslavement, only to be turned back into a vampire as punishment. The Leviathan tentacles take hold of everyone, even Angelique, who secretly resurfaced living a normal life, married to a man who, unbeknownst to her, is a Leviathan loyalist. Fortunately, a new ally emerges in Quentin Collins; alive and rendered immortal due to a magical Dorian-Gray-like painting that also absorbed his werewolf curse.
1970 Parallel Time: Stranger Things are upside down
Episode 969 – 1060, March 12, 1970 – July 17, 1970
A section of Collinwood’s east wing is revealed to be a portal to an alternate timeline, sending a curious Barnabas into a completely different version of the great house in which Quentin is the widowered master of the house to a recently deceased Angelique. In an ironic reversal, vampire Barnabas is (temporarily) captured at cross-point in his crypt by this timeline’s Willie Loomis, a famous author who wrote a biography about a non-vampire Barnabas Collins with designs to entrap the vampire and sap him for blood-bountiful book ideas.
However, the late Angelique doesn’t stay dead, swapping places with a twin sister named Alexis. While this version – aided by Timothy Stokes, her evil father in this timeline – has no ancient beef with Barnabas, they eventually cross swords over a young woman with psychic abilities (who Barnabas fancies,) named Roxanne Drew who is being used as an unwilling source of life energy. Eventually, Prime Julia enters the fray, saving Barnabas from her own evil doppelganger and helps him thwart Angelique’s plot.
The Ghost of Gerard Stiles tanks the market value of Collinwood
Episode 1061 – 1109, July 20, 1970 – September 24, 1970
After escaping Parallel 1970, Barnabas and Julia find Collinwood in shambles, learning they’ve been sent to the future in 1995 after a calamity destroyed the great house, leaving the Collins family scattered and few. It is revealed that a group of ghosts from the early 19th century led by Gerard Stiles (James Storm) instigated this back in 1970. Armed with future knowledge from an aged Carolyn, Barnabas and Julia use a mysterious staircase into time, returning to 1970.
Once back, the duo investigates the circumstances that led to Gerard Stiles becoming a malevolent real-estate-wrecking spirit. Gerard manifests along with ghostly children Tad and Carrie and ghostly governess Daphne (who beguiles Quentin,) and everyone is forced to stand by helplessly while the prophecies occur. Ultimately, Gerard’s ghost carries out the destruction by summoning a horde of zombies straight from their graves to overrun and destroy the great house and kidnap Barnabas. However, Julia uses the stairway into time to escape.
1840: Time-travelling stairs and a headless warlock
Episode 1110 – 1198, September 25, 1970 – January 27, 1971
Julia’s staircase escape takes her back in time to 1840. Her immediate move of resuscitating an entombed vampire Barnabas initially gets violent, since he doesn’t know her. With the help of an aged Ben Stokes, the irate, bloodthirsty Barnabas is delayed long enough for his future counterpart to I Ching into his 1840 body. Together, they immerse themselves amongst the most caustic and cutthroat Collins family dynamic yet, rife with greed, deceit and murder.
At Collinwood, they meet a gold-digging houseguest in mariner Gerard Stiles, who had been wooing Samantha Collins, the woman of the house and wife of his friend in the lost-at-sea Quentin Collins I (who later resurfaces and constructs the Stairway into Time). However, when a macabre trinket in the disembodied head of a 17th century warlock named Judah Zachary is brought to the house, it possesses Gerard, using him in a plot to destroy the Collins family. Eventually, Angelique arrives as "Valerie Collins" to help in this fight, since Judah caused her own tragic origin story.
1841 Parallel Time: A soft reboot and a sudden series curtain call
Episode 1186 – 1245, January 11, 1971 – April 2, 1971
Barnabas’s ordeal in 1840 leads to a controversial flip-flopping Prime Timeline crescendo. (#Bangelique anyone?) Thus, with little context and without the benefit of its key characters, the show abruptly switches to a different timeline with all new characters, though still played by the same cast.
In a version of 1841 where Barnabas Collins never became a vampire, the fate-driven, would-be romance of the late Barnabas’s son Bramwell Collins (Jonathan Frid) and his childhood sweetheart Catherine Harridge (Lara Parker) becomes the centerpiece. However, the romance is complicated by Catherine’s engagement to Bramwell’s brother Morgan Collins (Keith Prentice).
Despite the simple love dilemma, this version of the Collins clan hides a dark secret in a family curse instigated by the murderous actions of Brutus Collins in the 17th century. Under threat of a plague, a lottery must be held every generation to determine which family member will essentially be sacrificed by being locked in a room cursed by Brutus’s deeds from which all have emerged either dead or insane. Indeed, the occasion is quickly approaching and circumstances eventually size-up the star-crossed Bramwell and Catherine to face the family’s literal demons.