The Paper Trail of Dark Shadows!
By Kurt Kuersteiner (© Monsterwax Monster Trading Cards) for The Wrapper Magazine
One of the best shows I never saw growing up was Dark Shadows. Even as a kid, I knew it was great, because of the wonderfully eerie music it featured in the opening sequence as giant waves crashed against a rocky shoreline. A show with an introduction like that had to be good! Unfortunately, that's as much of the series as I was allowed to watch. Once the opening theme played, my mother would promptly turn off the TV. (It was obviously a bad influence.) So I was left to imagine the rest of the show on my own.
There was quite a buzz on the streets about Dark Shadows. My classmates would often fill me in on plot lines, or at least describe the various monsters to me. There was Barnabas Collins, the guilt ridden vampire. Angelique, the witch that turned him into a blood sucking prisoner of darkness. Adam, a man put together from the dead body parts. Quentin Collins, a ghost who became a werewolf. Jay Hawkes, a Lovecraftian monster from another dimension who came to our realm in human form. Nicholas Blair, a warlock determined to unleash an army of Satan's soldiers on an unsuspecting world. Oh yeah, and there was also a bunch of sexy ladies floating in and out of the stories.
How my parents managed to prevent me from seeing the show throughout childhood is a marvel worthy of merit. Dark Shadows was, after all, the longest running horror program in television history. It lasted a whopping six years and 1,200 episodes! By the time I was a teenager, I had temporarily forgotten about the series. Then years later at the library, I noticed a tape of the early episodes. I checked one out just to see what all the fuss was about. I was floored. The series was GREAT! The characters were 3-dimensional, the plots were full of twists and in addition to all that, there was the gothic ghost story angle.
Just as entertaining were all the mistakes. The show's limited time and money allowed only one take of most scenes, including ones with bloopers. Barnabus would flub lines, stage hands could sometimes be seen behind the set, props would fall down. It was often hilarious, yet the characters still kept straight faces and eyes wide open with fear. (They were probably terrified by all the accidents.)
Thank heaven (or hell?) that they saved the series on tape. In fact, it's lucky the show survived its first season in 1966. It was creamed in the ratings and was close to cancellation. There was plenty of gothic atmosphere but nothing supernatural going on at that point. Then producer Dan Curtis resorted to desperate gimmicks. You know, the type of thing most shows start doing just before they get canceled. They marry the main characters in Get Smart, or Battlestar Gallatica actually reaches Earth, or the Six Million Dollar Man teams up with a Bionic Boy. In the case of Curtis, he introduced a vampire in the script for three weeks. He figured he could always drive a stake through its heart if the audience didn't buy it. But buy it they did, along with the products advertised during the show. Dark Shadows became an overnight success with 15 million viewers, 90% of them teenagers. (Is that a vampire bite or a pair of pimples?)
The inevitable merchandising followed. Items included comic books, paperbacks, lunch boxes, game boards, viewmaster slides, and best of all, gum cards. Philly Gum was the company with the license and they produced four separate Dark Shadows products. The first two were regular trading card sets. Series one came out in 1968 with pink boarders. This set has so many "touched up" photographs, its almost painful to look at. Every picture of Barnabas has his teeth strongly outlined to make sure NOBODY misses the fact that he's a vampire. But like other "so bad they're good" monster cards (think Terror Monster) it kinda adds to the charm. The backs are photo-puzzle backs. This short cut, along with the absence of any captions, leaves the impression that the producers either didn't know what the photos were about or didn't care. Also missing from the set are any images of the werewolf Quentin. (Most likely his character had yet to debut on the show.) This set is usually between $250-$300 and is difficult to find in strong NearMint.
Series two came out in 1969. The improvements are dramatic. The borders are green and wavy, giving it a "spooky" look. Dialog captions are included in pink text boxes, providing a splash of a second color. The photographs are clear and not retouched. Quentin is featured prominently, appearing several times in full werewolf make-up. Unfortunately, the backs still form a large photo puzzle, but 4 out of 5 ain't bad. This set usually sells $50 to $100 more than series one and tends to be in better condition. If I had to choose between the two sets, series 2 wins paws down!
Also released in 1969 were Philly packs of Dark Shadows Giant Pinups. These were mini-posters of 16 different black & white photos from the series. They measured 9 1/2" x 18 1/2". These are cool to collect but tough to display on account of their odd size. However, their elongated shape does fit well inside a coffin. Each poster runs between $4 - $5.
Perhaps the smarmiest of the Philly products was the Quentin postcards released 1969. These were a series of 12 different postcards of actor David Selby. The 5 x 7 inch images are clear and in full color. They were geared for the young women who had fallen in love with the dog-faced boy. One image includes a girl's silhouette in white where moonstruck fans could cut and paste their photo next to David's. Isn't that dreamy?! The set price is around $65 smackers.
Dark Shadows also produced two full length motion pictures, House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows. The first one (1970) was pretty good. But the 2nd one (1971) lacked both Barnabas and the true Collinswood spirit.
Like a typical vampire, Dark Shadows would not stay dead. The series resurrected itself again in the 1990s with a different cast. Although some people say it was great, the ratings were not, and the studio suits wasted no time replacing it with something more frightening like Jerry Springer & co.
In 1993, Imagine Inc. produced a 62 card set on the series (not the new show but the old one). This set featured golden frames painted on the fronts surrounding full color photos. The images are nice and the back graphic is neat for a change. But once again, no serious attempt was made to utilize the back text. Only the actors and characters names are provided with no explanation of the plot being offered. This set is usually $10 to $15. There are also three autograph cards ($5 each) and three different promos available (usually $1 - $2 each). A send-away checklist was advertised but may not have actually been produced.
The fact companies continue to manufacture tapes and card series for Dark Shadows is testament to the timeless entertainment this program affords. If you haven't seen this series yet, I suggest you haunt your local library and find the videos. Then you'll enjoy these wonderfully spooky cards like any die-hard fan.
Bizarre coincidence: I chipped a tooth chewing on a stick of petrified gum as a kid. I can't remember if Topps or Philly was to blame since this was before lawyers made lawsuits into lotteries. But if it was Philly, then it was definitely Dark Shadows because that's the only set they made that I collected. The weird part is that the damaged tooth... was a fang. (Eerie music, anyone?)
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