‘The House of Despair’
Written by Stuart Manning, directed by Gary Russell
Released: September 2006
Quentin Collins has returned to Collimsworth to reclaim his family legacy. He finds his home beguiled by some strange threat that has reduced much of the population to wandering lost souls. Reunited with Willy Loomis, Quentin finds that Collinswood is abandoned by his family with their headstones remaining as their only presence. The house is acursed, surrounded by blood-thirsty birds. Thinking that it’s his only chance, Quentin calls upon the ghost-witch Angelique for assistance. Risking the danger of summoning such a powerful and malevolent entity, Quentin finds that Angelique is necessary to investigate and defeat the evil force that has taken over Collinswood, a being called Strix.
I’m very unfamiliar with Dark Shadows but have been aware of its long legacy in cult entertainment for many moons. I first encountered the series by seeing a boardgame or novel in a second hand shop. I had no idea what it was but whenever I asked about it was met with an imitation of the spooky signature tune. The 1991 revival brought the program back to the fore in some ways, and the original series was re-run on Sci-Fi for a time. I have watched some of the early black and white episodes that are very high on concept and mood but so low on production values that it makes Mister Rogers look like Star Trek.
A daily soap based on an old radio show, Dark Shadows garnered an audience that rivaled everything scheduled against it. Young viewers were drawn to the series like moths to a flame. A strange house in a sea-side town where a family cursed throughout time barters and battles the supernatural forces of darkness, it must have been so weird and other-worldly to viewers at the time. It ran through four years and remains so impactful that it has even earned a big budget film directed by Tim Burton (though it looks more like a spoof than an actual adaptation). In fact, the movie has prompted more attention to the Big Finish productions as the proper way to honor the classic series.
Big Finish has brought its stable of incredible authors and high quality sound mastery in making something very new. It’s ideal for fans of the program and for those who are interested in it but uninterested in viewing the thousand plus programs of the original. Not a revision or a modernization, the Big Finish Dark Shadows builds on the work of the TV series, furthering the stories of the Collins family. I had expected that my lack of foreknowledge would be a major impediment for a newcomer like myself, but it really isn’t.
Despite the story starring mainly Quentin and Angelique, Barnabas Collins haunts much of the adventure like a ghost. Whenever his name is spoken, characters shiver with worry. Even the discovery of his signet ring is significant and stirs long forgotten feelings inside the spectral Angelique.
Quentin Collins is a very complicated character with a long history of bad decisions, life as a killer ghost, zombification and even spending time as a werewolf. Actor David Selby is in fine form returning to the role that he had played on screen and brings such authority and prowess to the production. Likewise Lara Parker is a delight as the wicked Angelique, a conniving creature like no other. The newcomer Andrew Collins has a hard road to travel in taking up the part of Barnabas Collins, which is even acknowledged in the script. I have faith that he’ll grow on listeners as time goes on.
The Dark Shadows series of Big Finish audios is incredibly entertaining and well worth an investigation. Available for download for a pittance (only $5) and in CD form, the first series consists of 4 parts and the second has been collected in a box set that has received rave reviews from fans. Alongside the full cast dramas, there are dramatic readings (much like the companion chronicles of Doctor Who). There must have been a temptation to just start over, but Big Finish made a bold decision in using the lavish (and often convoluted) history of the past in making Dark Shadows a program reborn.
Dark Shadows can be ordered directly from Big Finish.