Welcome, friends, to the annual Book Again Halloween column!
As next year will mark thirty years since our first such column, you may imagine it has become harder and harder to come up with much of anything that has not already been said about any of the seasons, and so it was that I found myself at a loss this year. What was there left to be said?
I clearly needed expert advice.
On posing the question to a local expert, I was told that the column should be about Ghosts. This expert then amended the admonition, and said it would be alright if I included other denizens of the dark, such as perhaps werewolves…
Now, it is an unbelievable thing that we are one year away from the 50th Anniversary of the start of the daytime serial Dark Shadows. The show began airing on ABC in June of 1966 in glorious black and white, and though it was somewhat novel for the time, being a delightfully eerier take on the other daytime "soap operas," it never found much of an audience, and had been close to cancellation a few times by the spring of '67, when they were about to pull the plug for good.
I remember my first encounter with the show. It was a Monday in December, the first day of Christmas vacation I believe, and I was channel flipping one solitary afternoon (an easy exercise in those happy days of seven stations)…
Suddenly I came upon something that look like nothing I had ever seen. It appeared to be just another Soap, with one very important difference.
As I watched, suddenly there were Ghosts -- ghosts coming out of the walls, floating and beckoning and moaning. They were calling to one apparently mad "Matthew," saying they had come for his "life"… Soon they vanished, Matthew collapsed in a chair, and some men came to rescue the tied-up girl (there has to be a tie-up girl in these things), and the episode ended with an extra creepy shock as they discovered that the reclining Matthew was, in fact, quite dead…
I was amazed, I was flabbergasted, and I tuned-in the next day to what I thought was the same show -- to no avail. No ghosts anywhere, and every Soap Opera was just another Soap Opera. I was unable to even determine the name of the show, and, disappointed, eventually put it out of my mind.
Dark Shadows had been inspired by a dream that producer Dan Curtis had in 1965, which led to the creation of this gothic twist to the traditional Daytime Soap.
As the show wasn't catching on quick enough after its first few months, they decided to get a little creepier, and began to work the occasional ghost into the storyline, culminating in the spectral parade I had accidentally stumbled upon. It was a regrettable coincidence that the episode I saw was the end of that tale, and there would be nothing more of an actual ghostly nature for a very long time.
The ghosts worked in the short term, but a couple of more conventional story lines followed that did little for the momentum, and by March of 1967 it was all but over -- ABC was questioning all its black & white programming as it prepared to complete its transition to "All Color," and Dark Shadows was going to go.
Well, the producers and writers knew it was all over, and, having nothing to lose, they figured they'd go out with a bang.
So they threw in a vampire.
As you may likely know, 175-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins was an instant hit, his face began to grace magazine covers everywhere, and Dark Shadows, which was not canceled, became a huge success, soon went Color, and stayed on the air for four more glorious years, bringing us, among other things, Barnabas' cousin Quentin -- a Werewolf.
Now, when they finally started to rerun the series, they omitted all the early episodes, and so it was not till around the year 2000 that I was able to actually see any of those pre-Barnabas shows which, to my knowledge, I had never seen.
And so it was, one solitary afternoon, that I was watching one of those never-seen early shows, and then --
As I watched, suddenly there were Ghosts -- ghosts coming out of the walls, floating and beckoning and moaning...