There’s a lot of anger out there surrounding the trailer and TV spots for the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp feature film adaptation of the ‘60s soap opera Dark Shadows and its comedic/Addams Family-like approach. And for anyone who grew up on that show, who enthusiastically proclaims “I used to run home from school every day to watch it,” that anger is understandable. Count me among their members, as I find myself filled with a mixture of annoyance, betrayal by the creative forces behind it who claim to be childhood fans as well, and frustration over the fact that if the film is a success and spawns sequels, it will be this version of Dark Shadows that will be alive in the public consciousness, pushing the original further back into the recesses of time.
Conversely I’m filled with the opposite emotion as well. To start with, I have no choice but to see this movie, experience what they’ve done and decide if I can reconcile myself with their approach (taking solace from the fact I’ve got the original series on DVD and will be getting House and Night of DS when they’re released). My internal conflict stems from the fact when I first discovered the show in the 1960s, I was also having my mind filled with various pop culture experiences for the first time. I simultaneously fell in love with James Bond, Superman, Batman, Star Trek and Planet of the Apes, among others, all of which I’ve continued to enjoy in different incarnations over the ensuing decades. More pertinent to this discussion, however, is that my pop culture passion was fueled by remnants of generations past, including the classic Universal horror films, Abbott & Costello, Laurel & Hardy, the Little Rascals and Jack Benny. Things that my parents and grandparents enjoyed, but today have largely vanished from the radar and are virtually unknown to the modern audience.
Even from my youth, there were shows like Leave it to Beaver, My Three Sons, The Brady Bunch, The Odd Couple and many others that I thought would never go away (there was a time when The Odd Couple aired in New York four times a day in syndication!), but to a large degree they have. They’re simply not aired as regularly as they once were and have become, like the others sited above, the property of others. Dark Shadows runs the same risk.
If you’ve attended a Dark Shadows Festival over the past couple of years, you can’t help but notice that attendance is way down. And while there are young people who attend, the majority of attendees are older, first generation fans. As a result, in another 10 years, DS has the potential to completely fade away, unless something happens to keep it going. This movie may be the only hope, as it is extremely unlikely that, with the rights sewn up by Warner Bros, there will be another Hollywood production that handles it in a serious manner. The future of Dark Shadows will, unfortunately, rise or fall based on this movie.
The hope is that the original will be able to live on concurrently; that there will be curiosity and active interest in various projects that are keeping that incarnation alive, whether it be the Big Finish audio dramas, the complete collection of episodes on DVD, Hermes Press’ reprints of the old Gold Key comics, Dynamite Entertainment’s current comic that features characters and an approach modeled on the original, or the Tor novels that are decidedly set in that universe. If not, then Dark Shadows – our Dark Shadows – will disappear forever, and that would be tragic for us, DS and future generations.