Tim Burton’s film of the 1960s gothic soap opera was not the second, the third or even the seventh such adaptation. In fact, it counts as the tenth! Apart from the original t.v. series, no less than three comic book versions have been produced (one, from Dynamite, even matching up Barnabas Collins with Vampirella!), an Off Off Broadway play, a series of audio dramas and two previous major motion pictures!
I would argue the sheer complexity of the basic storyline as well as the number of characters make for a continuing series rather than a one-shot motion picture. Twice before this was tried. In 2004 an unfinished pilot for the WB collapsed for a variety of reasons (not least panic on the part of executives). But in 1991 a full blown nighttime show had its way for half a season.
But the tale of the secret-haunted Collins family with their mansion atop Widow’s Hill, and their revived vampire ancestor Barnabas still seems to have lots of potential. What seems to me a big problem has been awkward attempts at remaining “faithful.” While to some extent one understands, looking at re-imaginings such as Ian McKellan’s Richard III, the British updating of Conan Doyle’s famous Sherlock or the much mourned new Battlestar Galactica shows a better way. Use the original as a springboard into something fresh, a retelling that works on its own.
So keep Collinwood on the rugged coast of Maine. Barnabas is the iconic figure of the piece, but really explore his situation and personality more fully. Interestingly enough, that actually harkens back to the original more faithfully than subsequent remakes! Barnabas when first introduced was intended as a villain! But the writers and actor Jonathan Frid decided to give him more depth–and the rest is history! Perhaps that is the direction to go, making him the clear antagonist of the series rather than its obvious hero. A sympathetic villain, of sorts. When first met in the 1960s, the man was pretty clearly insane and went on to murder lots of nice characters while committing the equivalent of soul-rape on others. That kind of thing ignites passion in an audience!
Likewise, make the rest of the cast interesting, even compelling in their own right! Towards that end, we should never ever be afraid to mix things up! A few things to avoid–whatever else Victoria Winters might be, she must never EVER be the reincarnation of Josette DuPres. In fact, even having her resemble Barnabas’ long lost love cheapens the whole story, turning it into a retread. For that matter, giving her some job other than the old-fashioned-task of Governess would probably be an improvement. How about an historian researching the Collins family? Or make her a teacher at the local community college, with her students including the younger generation of the Collins family! She might be romantically involved with some one–from Sheriff Patterson to Joe Haskell to Carolyn Stoddard! We do not live nor watch television in 1970 anymore. This story needs to take place in enough of the present for us to recognize it and to care. Even if we rarely hear about the world outside Collinsport, we the audience live in the real world. We need a connection.
Which is not to say a new Dark Shadows should become anything like a retread of True Blood. We already have one of those! Just as making it all about a bunch of angst-driven teenagers a la The Vampire Diaries again makes it nothing but a copy.
So apart from shaking things up (how about making Roger Collins a great and troubled man rather than a semi-alcoholic wastrel? Give Liz a love interest! Make Julia a genuine vampire hunter and Barnabas sworn enemy! Make Angelique the hero!), here are some other suggestions:
Horror! Vampires and ghosts and werewolves can be characters, no problem with that. But they are in a real sense also monsters, and should terrify! Several vampire stories in the last few decades portray them as humans subject to demonic possession, losing control of themselves in horrific bloodlust. Sounds like a good model to me! If the bite of a vampire is addictive, delve into that idea! It has a horror all its own. Look at drug addicts in real life. Look at pathetic creatures such as Renfield in Dracula or Gollum in Lord of the Rings. Now imagine Barnabas doing that to someone we like!
Complexity! In the original series, lots of the characters turned out to be murderers in one way or another. Even the so-called heroes like Julia Hoffman or Liz Stoddard. Don’t shun from that, and treat it realistically. In real life, actual killers often find themselves reeling from the trauma. Look at war veterans! Use that as a source of the drama, the conflict and story. Don’t feel limited to homicide, though. Even failure to be there for a beloved friend can stir up drama–as long as one doesn’t repeat the same meme over and over again.
Lighten up sometimes. A little bit of humor clears the palate, as in particular Buffy showed. Unremitting gloom and gothic atmosphere makes for something of a monotonous diet. Some humor, some fun, makes for a better long-term story. Sometimes a tricky balance to maintain, but demonstrably possible!
What about you? Suppose a new t.v. reboot of Dark Shadows were to make its way onto our screens. What would you like to see in such a show?