The recently released documentary Master of Dark Shadows is a loving look at the iconic ’60s TV series Dark Shadows, a Dan Curtis production, as every episode reminded us at the end. The film centers on the creator and the star of the show, Barnabas Collins, played by Jonathan Frid. The spooky soap opera centered on a reluctant vampire, in love and remorseful, and a powerful witch, in love and vindictive. But the documentary downplays the importance and magnetism of the witch Angélique, played by Lara Parker, whose love for Barnabas fueled the show. It’s her curse which turned him into a vampire in the first place. Parker’s Angélique is one of the most recognizable witches from the television age, up there with Elizabeth Montgomery’s Samantha on Bewitched.
While Samantha played up magic for laughs, Angélique was dead serious. Miranda DuVal, Angélique’s birth name as per Dark Shadows canon, was born in the West Indies of Martinique in the 1600s, though not necessarily 1666. She began studying witchcraft as a teenager. Curtis’s Night Stalker inspired The X-Files, and Angélique’s muse was a man in black. She worshipped a devil named Diabolos, said to be the father of Judah Zachery, the America warlock who taught her. She would later betray Judah to save her life when the Catholic Church denounced them as witches. Angélique mastered a wide spectrum of magic, including conjuration, necromancy and telepathic hypnosis. But she was a triple threat as far as the supernatural entities she got to exhibit, also appearing as a ghost and being turned into a vampire.
Just as Angélique was a pioneering strong woman character on ’60s TV, her magic was a first glimpse into the occult for many people. “Of course, Angélique was a role model to just about every teenage girl who was bitten by the pop-witchcraft bug in the ’60s,” Demons of the Flesh author Zeena, an icon in the real magical world of the sixties, told Den of Geek.
“Probably for many, Dark Shadows was a gateway-drug to becoming a budding occult explorer,” the interdisciplinary artist and world renowned tantric Buddhist mystic continues. “The ’60s were a weird window in time of occult explosion, where portals to dark mythologies could just open up to you through your prime-time TV screen, or daytime soaps as was the case with Dark Shadows. A manifestation of that particular Zeitgeist.”
Dark Shadows premiered in 1966, the same year as Star Trek. It was also the year The Process Church of the Final Judgment was founded by Mary Ann MacClean and Robert de Grimston in London, and the Church of Satan was established in San Francisco by Zeena’s father, who she famously renounced. “Many kids in that generation would immerse themselves for hours in pulp horror comics, or play with their Aurora monster model kits, or act out the witches, werewolves, sorcerers, monsters and satanists they’d watched in their favorite shows or movies,” Zeena says. “But then they’d always have to ‘snap out of it’ when it was time for dinner with the parents. But my life was total immersion in such themes constantly, with no baseline of ‘normal life’ to return to. So perhaps because of that, Dark Shadows seemed comparatively ordinary to me.”
Zeena was a literal poster child for the left hand path magical movement of the decade, photographed for promotion from the time of her baptism. “Being raised around so many glamour-conscious witches, Angelique wasn’t the inspiration to me that she was for others,” she says. “But I can certainly understand how a lot of ’60s kids would have been fascinated by that kind of a portrayal in daytime TV of this new kind of sexy, bitchy witch.”
As progressive a character as Angelique was, the magickal workings done by Dark Shadows‘ sorceress are probably no more effective than Granny’s on Beverly Hillbillies. The series painted magical work in the most superstitious ways. They were selling soap and sex, not spells and sorcery. “TV shows in those days had to be so quickly written with little time for research. If there was anything real behind the magic portrayed in that series, it would have mostly been accidental, through seeds of inspiration picked up from literary sources,” Zeena says. “The plots were clearly based on literature – Frankenstein, Dracula, Wuthering Heights, and even the (Christian) Bible, and so heavily influenced by the classic Universal and Hammer horror films.”
Master of Dark Shadows includes commentary from the actress who played Princess Asa Vajda and Katia Vajda in Mario Bava’s gothic horror directorial debut Black Sunday. However she wasn’t there to talk about the horror. “It was long after I’d left the Church of Satan that I’d had casual acquaintance with Barbara Steele through our mutual friend the film director Curtis Harrington,” Zeena says. “Steele was Dan Curtis’s co-producer for Winds of War and was also in the revival of Dark Shadows in the early ’90s. I learned that Dan Curtis really didn’t think much of the horror genre work he’d done, for which he’s so remembered. He was irritated if you thought of him as only a horror producer-director. He felt he should’ve been more acknowledged for his miniseries Winds of War or War and Remembrance. That’s what he was more interested in.”
Zeena lists her favorite Dan Curtis films as Trilogy of Terror, Burnt Offerings, The Night Stalker, and Bram Stoker’s Dracula with Jack Palance (1974), “which is clearly where Frances Ford Coppola got his idea for his film, even the exact same title, she says. “To me, the Curtis/Palance version is far superior to Coppola’s. And yes, Winds of War was also epic, in a fun way.”
While Zeena says she wasn’t a “huge fan of Dark Shadows,” she shared the experience of hundreds of thousands of young viewers, according to Master of Dark Shadows. “I watched it with my sister when she’d get home from school just in time to turn it on,” Zeena remembers. “To be honest, I didn’t really like it that much because it was such a mishmash of themes, and disparate types of horror characters that didn’t make sense being in the same story.”
Dark Shadows may not have fed Zeena’s magical growth, but one aspect influenced her greatly. “Aside from the Gothic glory of it all, albeit with perfect ’60s make-up and hair styles, or the flubbed lines and collapsing sets, what I enjoyed most about it was the music,” Zeena says. “The composer, Bob Corbert, worked on most of Dan Curtis’s films. His music left a lasting impression on me, which likely influenced my music for Radio Werewolf. Really, had it not been for Corbert’s music in Dark Shadows, the show would’ve been utterly abysmal. Anyone who watched the original broadcasts probably agree that the opening theme is what you anticipated most. The performances on their own just weren’t enough, without that music.”
Master of Dark Shadows is available across digital platforms and on DVD.
** Photo ©Zeena Schreck 1990 used with permission.