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Monsters in the Afternoon: Collecting ‘Dark Shadows’ Memorabilia

by James Burrell (05/08/12).

Jonathan Frid portrayed the 200-year-old vampire in the 1966-71 gothic soap opera, “Dark Shadows.” Johnny Depp has reprised the role for Tim Burton’s new feature film adaptation of the cult series.

Mention the words “soap opera” and many people will think of tales involving attractive, globe-trotting couples, steamy romantic trysts, back-stabbing family members and wealthy socialites. Very rarely would monsters, the supernatural and occult enter into the picture. But that’s precisely what happened with the 1966-71 gothic daytime drama “Dark Shadows.”

As far removed from other shows like “General Hospital” and “Days of Our Lives” as one could get, “Dark Shadows” ditched the practice of utilizing such typical soap opera figures as the benevolent doctor, remorseless businessman or doting wife in favor of such supernatural beings as werewolves, witches, warlocks, ghosts, demons, zombies, a Frankenstein monster-like person and most significantly, an anguished 200-year-old vampire named Barnabas Collins (portrayed by the late Canadian stage actor, Jonathan Frid), who would become the program’s most beloved character.

The creation of prolific writer/producer/director Dan Curtis (who would later be known for such classic ’70s made-for-TV horror films as “The Night Stalker,” “Trilogy of Terror” and “Dead of Night”), “Dark Shadows” not only featured eerie creatures in its roster of main characters and a spooky old mansion named Collinwood as its main setting, but the show also delved into mysticism and the occult by featuring storylines that included séances, reincarnation, time-travel and parallel universes. A phenomenal hit with children and teens—many of whom would hurry home from school as to not miss any of the creepy, monster-filled action—the program at one point attracted an audience of close to 20 million people. Ending a five year run in June 1971, the series managed to amass not only 1,225 half-hour episodes, but also led to a pair of feature films: 1970’s “House of Dark Shadows” and 1971’s “Night of Dark Shadows,” which, in addition to Frid, also featured such cast members from the TV show as Joan Bennett, Grayson Hall, Louis Edmonds, Kathryn Leigh Scott, John Karlen, Nancy Barrett, David Selby, Lara Parker and Kate Jackson.

The program, which has remained in the public consciousness due to syndicated repeats on television in the 1970s and ’80s and yearly fan-run conventions in the U.S., also spawned a short-lived remake series in 1991 starring British actor Ben Cross (“Chariots of Fire”) as Barnabas. And now, director Tim Burton has crafted a new feature film adaptation starring Hollywood star Johnny Deep in the role of the reluctant vampire. Also helping the add to the mystique of “Dark Shadows” is the mountain of merchandise released in conjunction with the show’s original TV broadcast—everything from record albums to View-Master reels to music boxes—as well as numerous other items that have continued to be produced to this day.

Various “Dark Shadows” comic books released by Gold Key. From L-R, No. 7. November 1970; No. 11. November 1971; and No. 35, February 1976.

Three “Dark Shadows” paperback tie-in novels, published by Paperback Library from August, 1968 to February, 1970. The average value for titles in this line is $5-$10 each.

The 1991 remake of “Dark Shadows” spawned a short-lived comic book by Innovation. Here are three volumes, published in 1992 and '93. Value: $5 each approx.

Incredibly popular with fans were the nearly three dozen paperback tie-in novels for the show written by Marilyn Ross (in reality, the pen name for author Dan Ross, who used his wife’s name). Featuring gold colored covers with both illustrated and photo images, 32 books were published by Paperback Library between 1966 and 1971. Curiously, none of the books—comprised of such titles as “Victoria Winters,“ “The Curse of Collinwood” and “The Phantom and Barnabas Collins” —were actually based on episodes from the show; rather, they were original adventures merely inspired by characters and story lines from the series. Only one title (an adaptation for “House of Dark Shadows”) stayed relatively true to what was seen on the screen. A joke book, “Barnabas Collins in a Funny Vein” was also published, as was a photo-book (filled with candid shots of Jonathan Frid) and a novelty cookbook, “The Dark Shadows Cookbook” (released by Ace Books). Values average from $5-$10 each, with the photo album and cookbook going for considerably more.

A “Dark Shadows” Barnabas Collins costume ring released by Elope in 2011. Value: $7 approx.

A “Dark Shadows” Original Soundtrack LP, released by Phillips in 1969. The album came with a poster of stars Jonathan Frid and David Selby. Value: $15-$25 approx.

A promotional Barnabas Collins bobble-head figure released by MPI Home Video. Value: $25.

In October of 1968, Gold Key Comics began publishing a line of “Dark Shadows” comic books. While the interior artwork was not very successful at capturing the likenesses of the show’s performers, the covers often featured fantastic color publicity photos or beautifully rendered illustrations, and two issues (#1 and # 3) even included large pin-up posters. With issues published approximately every four months, 35 issues would see print by the time the series wrapped in early 1976. A lengthy 144 page story digest magazine was also published by Gold Key in 1970.

Also released in 1968 was the first of two sets of 66 black-and-white photo trading cards. Manufactured by the Philadelphia Chewing Gum Corp., and retailing for 5 cents apiece, the first set consisted mainly of shots of Barnabas and were framed by a pink border. The second set, which was released in 1969 and featured a green border, showcased not only Barnabas, but also the program’s second-most popular character, the brooding ghost/zombie/werewolf Quentin Collins (Selby). Of particular note was an accompanying mail-order promotion that gave kids the chance to buy their very own black and gold Barnabas ring by sending in 50 cents and five of the trading card wrappers. The faux onyx ring is now a much desired item, and can sell for hundreds of dollars.

The Barnabas Collins Dark Shadows Game, released by Milton Bradley in 1969. Value: $45-$65 approx.

Another popular item from 1968 is the The Dark Shadows Game, manufactured by Whitman. Featuring a (rather flimsy) paper game board, four cardboard playing pieces (depicting an empty grave, howling wolf, a grandfather clock and a burning candle), a deck of cards and a bonus “wallet photo” of a fanged Barnabas, players were required to complete the journey through the game board’s peril-ridden path. The following year saw The Barnabas Collins Dark Shadows Game, courtesy of Milton Bradley. Comprised of a 9½-inch-long Barnabas Collins casket, cardboard scaffolds, a spinner, tiny wooden stakes and little plastic bones, up to four players could construct their own glow-in-the-dark skeletons on the scaffolds by pulling bones from the miniature coffin. A bonus pair of “Barnabas fangs” were also included, but as they were easily lost, they’re seldom still found with the game nowadays. In opened, used condition, both games can usually be bought for roughly $45 to $65 each; when found in sealed, mint condition, however, they can fetch amounts of $200 or more apiece.

A reissue of the MPC Dark Shadows Barnabas Vampire Van plastic model kit, released by Round2 in 2011. Value: $25.

A number of other “Dark Shadows” items would be released in 1969, including a Halloween costume and mask from Ben Cooper, two 1,200-piece jigsaw puzzles from Whitman and a set of three “Horror Head Pillows,” comprised of Barnabas, Quentin in his werewolf state and a stereotypical ugly witch by Centsable Toys. Particularly memorable though was a soundtrack record and a set of three plastic model kits. Released on the Philips label, the album featured the series’ creepily atmospheric musical score by composer Bob Cobert, as well as numerous spoken-word pieces recited by stars Frid and Selby. An 11-by-22-inch double-sided poster of both actors was also included with the LP. A best-seller with sales into the millions, the album spent 19 weeks on Billboard’s Hot 100 chart. The model kits were manufactured by Model Products Corporation (MPC) and would consist of the Vampire Van—a hot rod-styled hearse, complete with mini Barnabas and coffin; as well as 8-inch figural releases of Barnabas and werewolf Chris Jennings, which came complete with optional glow-in-the-dark parts, bases and accessories like rats, bats, trees and lizards.

Eight-inch figures of Barnabas Collins and werewolf Chris Jennings, released by Spectre Toys in 2010. A figure of witch Angélique Bouchard was also produced.

In 1970, a company called Paul Randolph Associates released one of the most sought-after “Dark Shadows” collectibles: a plastic replica of character Josette duPres’ music box. Heard many times throughout the series and first feature film, the box’s lovely theme often reflected Barnabas’ longing for Josette, his long-dead fiancée who met an untimely end just before they were to be married. Available briefly through mail order, the box did not enjoy the widespread distribution of other “Dark Shadows” products sold in stores, and as a result, is now one of the rarest pieces of memorabilia from the show. However, a reissue of the box was made in 1996 by MPI Home Video and though also long sold out, can still be frequently be found on eBay for around $140-$200.

While few other items would be produced during the ’70s and ‘80s, the 1990s saw the release of new “Dark Shadows” merchandise to fans. The 1991 prime-time revival series prompted a few collectibles to be produced: namely a short-lived comic book line from Innovation; a 12-inch resin model kit of Ben Cross’ Barnabas from Action Kits International; and two watches from Abbelare. A number of classic series-oriented items were also released throughout the 1990s and 2000s, including episodes on VHS and DVD, numerous reference and “making-of” books, music CDs, novels, bobble-head figures, highly-detailed dolls and more.

Various examples of “Dark Shadows” on home video: Season 1 DVD set (MPI Home Video); “House of Dark Shadows” VHS tape (MGM UA Home Video); and “Special Edition” DVD (MPI Home Video).

With interest in “Dark Shadows” heating up again due to Tim Burton’s new film, a number of other collectibles have been made available in recent months, including Halloween costume items from Elope; the reissues of the 1969 MPC plastic model kits by Round 2; a new comic book series from Dynamite Entertainment; and even the release of the show’s entire 1,225 episodes (plus bonus documentaries, interviews, bloopers and more) in a large, coffin-shaped box from MPI Home Video.

Johnny Depp as vampire Barnabas Collins, and the rest of the cast of Tim Burton’s new film version of “Dark Shadows.” The movie opens Friday, May 11.

Spooky, imaginative, unusual, creative and downright bizarre. They’re all apt words when describing “Dark Shadows” and its cast of creepy characters. Whether you’re a long-time fan or have just recently discovered the series, hopefully you’ve enjoyed this look at a few of the collectibles this unique, hauntingly strange television series has inspired throughout the years.

James Burrell writes about film, pop culture and collectibles for a variety of publications and online sites, including Rue Morgue and Canuxploitation! A life-long collector of vintage science-fiction, fantasy and monster-themed toys and movie memorabilia, he resides in Toronto, Canada.

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