He wasn't my first introduction to the night life, but he was the beginning of something more than horror, more than the excitement and shivery thrill I knew. He was dark, dangerous, emotional, and romantic as he sought to replace his lost love, create her anew. He was Barnabas Collins.
Disney World in Orlando held no real thrill for me. It was fun. It was different. It was a vacation. It was something to do until 4 p.m. when Dark Shadows came on television and he was what I wanted to see, to revel in, to share with my best friends, Butchy and Bobby.
We had been children together playing pirates and doing our best to escape the clutches of our younger brothers and sisters. On that vacation, we were teenagers together, sitting in rapt attention as Barnabas Collins terrorized Collinwood and Collinsport in secret while pretending to be a long lost cousin from England. I had little time to follow the story since my family was visiting theirs for a two weeks, but it was enough to get a taste for the macabre soap opera. I was nearly as upset leaving the dark doings at Collinwood as I was to say goodbye to Butchy and Bobby, but leave we must. Both boys offered a gift: "Call your PBS station at home and tell them you want Dark Shadows in your area," they said.
There was hope for me yet. I'd miss the boys. We would write and there would be other vacations, but there was only one Barnabas Collins.
I did write and the show finally arrived every day at 4 p.m., after school and before homework, and I wasn't alone. My sisters and brother and I sat rapt in front of the TV silent and breathless, and we weren't alone either. Mom rushed home from work every day just in time to catch the crashing waves and the spiraling Dark Shadows swirling in time to the haunting music. Mom ordered us to be silent and we stifled the urge to tell her to shut up so we could watch the show. Five days a week the Collins family, past and present, shared their secrets, crimes, and fears with us.
When Dad was posted back to Columbus, we had to once again leave Barnabas behind and begin writing and calling the station to get Dark Shadows in our new home. A few shows aired and then . . . nothing. It seemed we forgot the Collins family and their friends, but they waited patiently sending me signs, like the series of books based on the characters, that I found in a second hand bookstore, books I stuffed into my bag and eagerly carried home to devour in a matter of hours, wanting more. I haunted bookstores and Goodwill's meager bookshelves and snapped up every copy available until there were no more. No more books and no more show.
For decades I carried the memory of vampires, of Barnabas Collins the vampire, and all the shivery excitement of Dark Shadows, Frankenstein monsters, witches, demons, devils, werewolves, and ghosts, finding brief connections with other vampires, but not THE vampire, not Barnabas.
I have since found brief respite for my cravings on Netflix, rationing the series at two episodes a day, and now I have finished what was available. Once again, I shall have to save my pennies, skimp on necessities, and purchase the videos so I can have Barnabas all to myself. Those videos will not be shared with friends. Borrow The Lord of the Rings or the Jane Austen adaptations, but not Dark Shadows.
I've often wondered, as I watched the show again, what it was about Barnabas that made him so seductive, and seductive is the word. He wasn't handsome, not like Quentin Collins, or really elegant like Roger Collins, and yet there was something magnetic that pulled all the iron filings in me toward the north as though Barnabas was a lodestone. He was vicious and cruel, as have been many people I've known and loved and learned to avoid when the tendencies showed, as well as gentle and generous, although not without an agenda. Could it be his longing for a normal life, for everything that makes humans seductive for vampires? And I don't mean blood? Was it that tortured quality that infused even his murderous rages when faced with failure to achieve mortality that made him more sad than frightening?
Dracula may have started the vampire craze, but it was Barnabas that infused generations with the tortured vampire longing for his lost humanity. Anne Rice probably got the idea for Interview with the Vampire from watching Barnabas. There are elements of the Gothic soap opera in her books. Louis chose to become a vampire as he teetered on the edge of death, but Barnabas was given no such choice. He was cursed by a jealous witch determined to make him hers and destroy his betrothal to Josette, forcing Barnabas away from the light to exist in the shadows or lying chained in his coffin in a secret room in the Collins mausoleum.
While there is excitement and a certains seduction about Dracula, there is no angst and no remorse for the murders he commits or the lives he destroys. There seems at first to be no remorse for the murders and violence Barnabas commits at first, but underneath it all he is the embodiment of longing for lost love and living for a second chance.
The show is campy by current television standards, but the romance and doomed quality of lost love remains untapped and not reproducible, although the show has been remade twice. What was created in a simpler time remains an icon at the pinnacle of a growing heap of vampires longing to recapture their lost humanity that owe their existence to Barnabas Collins.
Barnabas Collins, now that was a vampire.