While the world awaits the new Tim Burton film with Johnny Depp, fans of the original cult t.v. series Dark Shadows know that audio dramas from Big Finish Productions have been coming out for years. Built upon the multiple storylines and intricate family history of the Collins, these dramas (available in CD format) build upon what has gone before.
And now Amber Benson will be stepping into a role originated by Joan Bennett. Benson–best known as both Tara from Buffy the Vampire Slayer and the ‘good’ vampire Lenore on Supernatural–has been cast as a young Judith Collins. This character, then middle-aged and bitter, first made her appearance in the 1897 story, in which Barnabas Collins traveled back in time to prevent the death of Quentin Collins whose ghost tormented the family in 1970. Judith was Quentin’s older sister. Now, in a tale called Dress Me in Dark Dreams Benson portrays a much younger version of the same character. The Big Finish website describes the upcoming story thus:
Collinwood in the nineteenth century is a lonely place. While her brothers experience the world, the young Judith Collins must stay and tend to her grandmother, Edith. Judith, though, has secret dreams of romance. She sees herself dancing in a beautiful dress with a dashing stranger. But the man of her dreams is becoming steadily more real. Soon Judith must fight for the man she loves. But should she, instead, have heeded the warning words of her bitter grandmother?
Ironically enough, the character of Judith at one point in the series did become the victim of a vampire, under whose influence she committed a terrible crime. Later, betrayed and almost driven mad by a man who married her for the Collins fortune, Judith took a grim and terrible revenge. “It was always a dream of mine to have a shot at the Dark Shadows blend of horror and romance,,” says writer Marty Ross, “and the characters of Judith and Edith, these two strong and impassioned women, offered all the inspiration a writer could want in terms of what I hope is complex, creepy but ultimately rather moving gothic drama.” Edith, portrayed as a young woman by Terry Crawford (reprising her role for Big Finish) in the 1840 storyline, was the elderly matriarch of Collinwood upon whom all depended when first introduced as Judith and Quentin’s grandmother.
“The story gives us a chance to delve into the history of one of my favourite characters from the show,” says series co-producer Joseph Lidster. “Judith is such a glorious creation but with Joan Bennett sadly no longer with us, it didn’t seem as though we’d be able to feature her in one of our Dramatic Readings. It was James Goss’s suggestion that we get Amber in to play her at an earlier age and it works beautifully.” Goss directs the drama, due out at the end of April 2012.
James Unsworth plays the third major character, a charming but sinister Redmond Van Buren. Also listed in the cast are Paris Campbell, David Johnson, Adenya Knight and Michael Salami as “Ballroom ghosts.”
The original television show Dark Shadows functioned in some ways as a repertory company, with nearly all the regulars playing multiple roles. Joan Bennett played Judith Collins but also Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer in the new movie) as well as Flora Collins (a gothic novelist from the 1840s) and even Naomi Collins, mother of brooding vampire Barnabas. Likewise Terry Crawford, who was Edith in 1840, first appeared as Beth Chavez in the 1897 story.
The sixty-minute audio drama Dress Me in Dark Dreams can be ordered from Big Finish at their website here. It marks the 24th story derived from Dark Shadows, nearly all of which include members of the original cast. Alec Newman, cast as Barnabas in the incomplete WB pilot, even reprises his role as the brooding vampire in one of the dramas.