After escaping from Collinwood in the alternate dimension just as it was burning down around them, Barnabas Collins and Julia Hoffman discover that they haven’t returned home after all. They now find themselves in a long abandoned and decayed Collinwood in 1995.
Ah, the music, paintings, beautiful people of the 1990s. What will they be like? Will there be flying cars and robot servants? Daily flights to our bases on the Moon?
Actually, the show’s writers wisely decide that life in a small coastal town probably wouldn’t change all that much in 25 years no matter what astonishing technological marvels and sociopolitical upheavals might have developed in the world outside. Aside from the mod clothing of some of the characters, Dark Shadows has always seemed somewhat old-fashioned and isolated from what was going on elsewhere during the late 1960s. Futuristic special effects wouldn’t have been in their budget anyway.
Julia and Barnabas have discovered that whatever disaster befell Collinwood, it happened in 1970. David Collins was killed, and the now elderly Mrs. Johnson informs them that the rest of the family has gone away.
No, that’s not quite true. Carolyn is still there, in her mid-40s now and living in the cottage on the estate. Nancy Barrett is given the opportunity to play a different kind of crazy–not Millicent’s fragile, broken psyche, nor Charity’s / Pansy’s split personality, but a frowsy, defensive recluse who seems like she should be living with about 400 cats. Carolyn has no cats, but she does have dark secrets she refuses to share with Barnabas and Julia.
Julia goes into the town records office to do some research and see if she can find out what happened to the Collinses. The office isn’t online yet, although I’m sure that by 1995 the Collinsport Chamber of Commerce has launched a small, simple website to try and bring in tourists.
By chatting with a man who works there, Julia learns that the ruins of Collinwood are considered haunted and dangerous. A woman who ventured inside not too long ago was killed by something that fell or was pushed down on her from the landing above.
Julia also learns that another old friend who’s still around is the aged Professor Stokes. When Stokes first sees that she’s back, he tries to warn her off. He was on a trip to Europe when the disaster occurred so he wasn’t a direct witness to events, but he does know that the family didn’t go away, as Mrs. Johnson claims; they vanished one night. Carolyn was the only person found inside the house, in no mental condition to talk about what happened. Quentin was found wandering the woods, also out of his mind. He’s been kept in a nearby hospital for the last 25 years, although he’s just escaped.
Stokes wants Julia and Barnabas to stop poking around and leave Collinsport immediately, before something horrible happens to them too.
But of course she and Barnabas go straight back to the ruined Collinwood to see for themselves that the place is indeed haunted. They sense an evil presence and observe winds blowing through the house. Julia nearly gets killed by a bust falling from the upstairs landing, just like that other woman.
They also see a few ghosts:
- A cruel-looking young man in early 1800s clothes glowers in through the windows. He looks like he’s about to pose for one of those scowling busts of Beethoven like the one Schroeder always kept on his piano.
- A young woman played by Kate Jackson* in a circa-1840 magenta dress makes a silent appearance and hands Barnabas a note that obscurely says “She will die”.
- The ghosts of David and a blonde girl whom Barnabas and Julia don’t recognize are all dressed up for a 1970 junior-high prom, but the ghost-kids perform a courtly-style dance from about 150 years earlier in the garden.
What the two don’t see is a glowy blue thing–an entity or dimensional portal or who knows what–that appears in the drawing room while they’re exploring upstairs. I strongly suspect that this thing has something to do with the Collinses’ mysterious disappearance.
When Carolyn enters the house, she shows them a playroom full of toys in the west wing that Barnabas has never seen or heard of before. Unlike the rest of the house, this room has not fallen into decay. There may be ghosts here too; a birthday card is discovered written by someone called Carrie to someone named Tad. Whether or not “Carrie” is short for Carolyn remains to be seen, but who is Tad? Barnabas has no idea.
“Something incredible is going on here,” says the vampire who just came back from an alternate dimension.
Even though Collinwood is in ruins after years of neglect, the old Collins house is in pretty good condition and only looks a little more cobwebby than it was when Barnabas last lived there. He and Julia settle in while they try to solve the mystery.
Quentin shows up and attempts to destroy that painting that keeps him looking so young even though he’s currently about 130. He puts up some fierce competition against Carolyn for Who’s the Craziest Collins, and babbles to Julia and Barnabas about someone called Daphne.
Daphne, it emerges, is the name of the ghost in the magenta dress. The Scowly Evil-Beethoven ghost is named Gerard. These two are working together, while the blonde ghost-girl with David is a more helpful and kindly spirit.
Daphne’s note to Barnabas remains cryptic. Does it refer to Dr. Hoffman? That falling bust, presumably knocked over by Gerard, did nearly kill her. But there are other candidates. Mrs. Johnson starts to tell Julia and Barnabas what she knows, when Gerard glowers at her through a window; she shuts up and runs out of the house, and is found dead soon afterwards in the woods (I thought at first that she was merely catatonic when they discovered her body, since she continued to blink).
Next, Carolyn makes up her mind to talk. She sends a note asking Barnabas to meet her in the drawing room and settles down to write out a list of things that happened before the disaster occurred–a lunar eclipse, an unfinished horoscope, the destruction of a place called Rose Cottage–but when Barnabas gets there, she’s also dead.
Her body disappears from the drawing room and turns up later in the playroom, laid out as if for her funeral. This is more of Gerard’s evil work.
Since people who know anything about the disaster keep dropping dead, Julia and Barnabas are now reluctant to press Professor Stokes and Quentin for more information. In fact, Quentin decides that he’d prefer to go back to that nice, safe asylum than stay at Collinwood any longer.
In addition, Gerard has gained some sort of hold over Julia. She struggles and protests against his unspoken commands, but he forces her to betray Barnabas to the Collinsport chief of police, who is investigating Carolyn’s death and is more suspicious of this new stranger in town claiming to be a Collins than of the evil ghost Barnabas keeps trying to tell him about.
Barnabas evades the danger with the aid of the blonde ghost-girl. He forgives Julia once he hears about Gerard’s influence over her, but both realize that they’re fighting against powers they still don’t understand. The thing to do is give up in 1995 and try to get back to 1970 to stop these horrific events from unfolding in the first place.
The blonde ghost-girl helps out again by showing them a door in the attic. When they go through it and down a flight of stairs, they come out in a hallway in the empty west wing of a not-yet-dilapidated Collinwood.
Blondie is there too, only she isn’t a ghost yet. Her first words when she sees them are “Who are you?”
When they ask who she is, she tells them that she’s Hallie Stokes, the professor’s niece, and has been invited to stay at Collinwood for the summer.
Barnabas and Julia are finally home again in 1970. It’s August 3–the same date as the fire at alt-Collinwood, even though they’ve spent a week in 1995. For this reason, currently sane Quentin is at first disinclined to believe their story about a trip to the future and prefers to think their experience was some kind of hallucination or illusion created by the alternate-reality-shifting room.
When Quentin hears about the playroom, he and Barnabas go to its location in the west wing. The room behind that door is a much smaller linen closet, and Quentin says that’s what it’s always been. There isn’t even enough space to put a playroom in without knocking out an exterior wall.
Elizabeth Collins Stoddard is also reluctant to believe that anything disastrous is about to happen to her family; everything has been so nice and quiet since Barnabas and Julia left (she doesn’t imply cause and effect). No one Barnabas asks has ever heard of Rose Cottage.
A perusal of the Collins family history book and a quick visit to the graveyard–where all Dark Shadows research should begin–turns up information about Daphne Harridge. She was a governess at Collinwood and died in 1841 at the age of 23. Gerard Stiles is buried near her; he died in 1841 as well. “In Darkness Did He Live and Die,” Gerard’s tombstone proclaims. It’s funny that neither Julia nor Barnabas noticed these two graves before; they are right next to the grave of Tom the Vampire.
I have a feeling that another time-travel trip to 1841 is coming up.
While Julia and Barnabas conduct their investigation into the past lives of these two ghosts, the upcoming evil begins encroaching on Collinwood. Hallie, who is a sensitive child, and Carolyn both have the feeling that someone is watching them. David rudely dismisses their feelings, in spite of the fact that he’s been seeing dead people since we first met him and the girls’ claims of sensing a ghostly presence should be just an ordinary Tuesday afternoon at Collinwood for him.
Daphne also makes silent appearances, bringing the two children 1840s clothing belonging to the children she once looked after, and giving an armload of lilacs to Quentin. On the night of the lunar eclipse, she shows David and Hallie the location of the playroom–it’s there now, precisely where the linen closet was.
Neither Quentin nor the children tell anybody about the strange things that are happening to them. Barnabas and Julia suspect that something is going on at Collinwood, but they don’t know that Daphne and Gerard are already there.
*I knew she was going to show up eventually, since she was in that Dark Shadows movie I reviewed. That was so long ago, I didn’t know who David Selby, who played Charles/Quentin, was; looking at the cast list on IMDB, I can see that there were quite a lot of actors in that movie I hadn’t yet seen on the series, but who were featured later. I should rent that again once I’ve finished watching the show and have another look at it in light of what I’ve seen on Dark Shadows since.
In an interview at the end of the DVD, Kate Jackson says that this was her first acting job fresh out of the Academy of Dramatic Arts, and that she didn’t have a single line for her first 5 weeks on the show.