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TV REVIEW : 'Dark Shadows' Takes a Bite Out of Prime Time


"Dark Shadows," a series about a blood-guzzler in the era of AIDS, is really science fiction. That grim reference aside, the two-part premiere of "Dark Shadows" is wonderful dumb fun.

From ABC came "Twin Peaks," now from NBC Twin Teeth, as Barnabas Collins, the vampire from daytime TV past, shows up in prime time almost as if--Ooooooh!--rising from the dead.

Airing at 9 p.m. Sunday and Monday on Channels 4, 36 and 39 before returning in its regular 9 p.m. Friday time slot, "Dark Shadows" has blood, bats, babes--everything! And in Ben Cross, as the elegant caped fangster himself, it has a grand Barnabas.

"Barnabas Collins from England, welcome to Collinwood," says Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Jean Simmons), the matriarch of this isolated manor house in the Maine village of Collinsport, home to infinite other Collinses, including Elizabeth's morose nephew, Roger Collins (Roy Thinnes), and his warped little kid, David Collins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt).

Actually, Barnabas has only told Elizabeth he's her long-lost relative from England. In truth, he's really a much older Barnabas, a 200-year-old vampire released from the family crypt.

Executive producer/director Dan Curtis, who produced the original "Dark Shadows" that ran on ABC in the 1960s, really outdoes himself for NBC, creating a lovingly trashy production that self-mockingly navigates the fine line separating fine farce and silliness. He has all the goods: the shadows and 40-watt lighting, characters who ward off vampires with their crosses (would stars of David work on Jewish vampires?) and a protagonist with bite.

There's a tragic, sympathetic side to Barnabas, who's at once driven to reduce all of Collinsport to living dead and miserable being "trapped within this dark, monstrous shell, compelled by desires I cannot control to commit acts that sadden and repulse me."

Hence, Part 2 finds the mysterious Dr. Julia Hoffman (Barbara Steele) feeding Barnabas her anti-vampirism serum in hopes of permanently suppressing his "malignant hunger." And yes, after a few treatments, he's a smiling, sun-seeking, poetry babbling, hopeless romantic. But will the serum be a lasting cure that Barnabas can really sink his teeth into?

If not that, maybe a good flossing. . . .

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