As I mentioned earlier, my mother had no idea that DARK SHADOWS had been filmed in the Sixties. I found this out only years after the show’s syndication in Louisville had expired. I was mentioning the show being dated, and she was totally puzzled. As far as she knew, Jonathan Frid was her age. My mother was a woman with a lot of drive, and she spent 1966-1971 in graduate school and helping to start a successful community college. Yes, she caught the occasional big movie and was incredibly well-read, but a late afternoon soap was just not on the radar.
She was always well-dressed, but managed to be both chic without being a slave to trends. I mention all of this because I think to her, the fashions seemed normal. Guys in her social sphere (academics or nearly-retired lawyers) were not always ditching their old suits. Their hair tended toward the shaggy. And the show often had period pieces, making costumes the norm. Real costumes, I mean. I mention this because, as I’ll explore later, the show had nothing to do with the Sixties. That’s yet another place where Burton failed to catch the show’s “weird vibe,” as he liked to put it.
She also didn’t give a flip about special effects, boom mikes, or wobbly tombstones. They were just irrelevant to her. I think she saw them; it was just that they really didn’t matter compared to the story.
Anyway, when you’re sixteen-eighteen, hanging with mom is the last thing on the agenda. But the show was on at eleven pm, and during the summer it was hard to avoid her. I lived in teenaged angst that she’d say something disruptive when it was on, so I kinda dreaded it. But I quickly realized that she was really into the show. My mother was keenly intelligent, and watching her enjoy the storyline became a great pleasure. She had an Auntie Mame quality, so she kept her appreciation of the characters light; we never sat around discussing motifs or anything. But she dug it. I think the sense of wounded fear mixed with a reluctant capacity for power is what is really appealing about Barnabas, and she responded to that.
Our only tiff regarding the show was over a set of muttonchops I grew when I was seventeen. And I’m proud that that was our tiff. A real top-of-the-lungs bangeroo, as only parents and teenagers can have. I had wanted ‘chops forever. At least since a 1982 copy of Fangoria did a story on the show and had a picture of the zombified Quentin… a mysterious character I figured I’d never get a chance to see, given the rarity of the show. By the time I was seventeen, another station had picked up the show. Quentin was everything I’d hoped, and more, so I took the plunge. And dashing ‘chops, they were. She assumed they’d go in time for the school year to start. I felt otherwise. The fight was hilarious. Ludicrous. I think I defied her simply because the subject and our feelings on it were so absurd. I even invoked a rare phone call to my father in California, rousing him from a deep sleep (you can imagine how much later it was in Louisville), to weigh in. The ‘chops stayed for quite some time, but just as a matter of principle. I have had them off and on ever since, but am wary that hipsters have now adopted them.