A look back at Dark Shadows

The big screen version of Dark Shadows, directed by Tim Burton, is hitting theaters on May 11. The former show is a fond memory for many who grew up in the 60’s, and made watching it their afternoon ritual. 

Vampires are still very popular with the Twilight series, but Dark Shadows ain’t no Twilight. In fact, Dark Shadows is a perfect vehicle for Burton’s gothic retro sensibilities, and it’s great to see the series get the big screen treatment.

Not to mention Johnny Depp, who plays head vampire Barnabas Collins, is also bringing Kolchak, another great horror show, back in a big screen treatment as well, and the Dark Shadows screenplay was written by Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter.


Both Dark Shadows and Kolchak were created by Dan Curtis, who also produced the Winds of War and War and Remembrance mini-series.

Dark Shadows ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971, and it basically launched Curtis’s career as a TV producer. As recalled in the book The Night Stalker Companion by Mark Dawidziak, when Dark Shadows hit TV screens on June 27, 1966, it was a regular soap, and its ratings weren’t exactly stellar.


Before the show could have gone down the toilet, Curtis’s kids told him to make the show scary. “Why not?,” Curtis figured. “I’ve got nothing to lose. So I put a ghost on, and when the ghost appeared, the ratings jumped.”

Then in April 1967, Barnabas Collins was unearthed. “I wanted to see how far I could go on the show into the supernatural,” Curtis continued. “I figured there was nothing more bizarre than a vampire.” With Collins, Dark Shadows was finally a big hit.


“It really caught the imagination of the audience,” Curtis said. “Dark Shadows came from my mind as the way I remembered classic horror films that were around when I was a kid… It was that same haunting quality we were after.”

Like Boris Karloff, Jonathan Frid, who played Barnabas Collins, had a mid-forties career launch, and there was also Dark Shadows merchandise like baseball cards, comic books, games, and Viewmaster reels, among other kitschy items.


Dark Shadows finally came to an end on April 2, 1971 with 1,225 episodes. Of course, It’s gratifying to see that Dark Shadows will get a modern resurgance, and to those unfamiliar with this wonderful show, as well as Kolchak, here’s hoping that many of today’s generation will find them both wonderful new discoveries when they hit the big screen.