The short version (click to embiggen):
The long version (spoilers abound, so beware):
I was dimly aware of the Dark Shadows soap opera in the 70s, but never watched it. I knew that it was simply chock-full of supernatural elements, and although possibly campy in the way that 70s soap operas tended to be, it wasn’t really played for laughs. So when the trailer for the new movie suggested that it was largely a dark comedy, I was unsurprised at the outpouring of displeasure from fans of the series.
Brothers and sisters, if this turkey had been a dark comedy, it would have been much better than what it actually turned out to be.
The trailer also indicates a more-or-less cohesive storyline: Vampire is cursed by witch, returns after 200 years to restore his family to prominence, amusingly encounters culture shock along the way. In reality, this was about six separate and only-tangentially related movies that were all trying to occupy the same space in direct contravention of physics. The result was a confusing tangle of storylines that left me not caring much about any of them.
The story begins with a prologue set in the late 1700s, with Barnabas Collins as the scion of a wealthy family in Maine who made their fortune in the fishing industry. He “spurns” (if politely stating that he can’t tell her he loves her “because that would be a lie” qualifies as “spurning”) a maid who happens to be a witch. She avenges herself by first dropping a gargoyle on his parents and then forcing the woman he does love to fling herself dramatically off a cliff. He throws himself after her, only to find himself still alive at the bottom, cursed by the witch to become a vampire. (It is not explored why this woman, who clearly has hella magical powers, is working as a chambermaid instead of ruling a small country somewhere.) She follows up by turning all of the townspeople against him, and they lock him in an iron coffin and bury him.
…and cut to the “present day” of 1972, to a young woman who is a dead ringer for Barnabas’ lost love–now there’s an unexpected and shocking development–riding alone on a train (as I understand it, this is how the original series began, so that’s a nice nod to the soap). She is practicing introducing herself, saying something along the lines of, “Pleased to meet you, my name is [something that I don’t recall].” Then she glances at a poster on the wall advertising ski vacations in Victoria, B.C., and reintroduces herself, “Pleased to meet you, my name is Victoria Winters.” Aha! She wishes to conceal her identity. A plot twist!…Which is lovely, but the reason she’s traveling is because she’s been hired as a governess by the Collins family, and since the woman who hired her specifically mentions her application in the very next scene, I’m wondering how she managed to get hired without ever supplying her name. This is the kind of, “Wha?” moment that is repeated throughout the movie.
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