Dark Shadows (2004) Unaired Pilot

In 2004, the WB network gave Dan Curtis the opportunity to revive Dark Shadows in true WB fashion with a hip, young cast. From The Television Horrors of Dan Curtis

"Ever since the short-lived 1991 revival, Curtis had been seeking a way to reincarnate the show. He had considered a theatrical film, a nighttime TV series, a daytime series, an animated series, and even a Broadway musical (with music by Robert Cobert and Rupert Holmes)."

Sadly, the dream of a DS Broadway musical was never realized, and this rough cut of Curtis' final attempt to resurrect the show was rejected by WB executives, which they later regretted. 

A train bearing Victoria Winters travels along the coastline as the requisite voiceover begins. 

My name is Victoria Winters. It's October 31st. The date didn't even register when the train tickets arrived. Hundreds of years ago, we put on costumes to scare away evil spirits. Between our 24 hour science channels and the invention of Prozac, you'd think we'd be past all that by now, but maybe we'll always be afraid of the dark. I've been hired to tutor a troubled boy, but I keep feeling like that's only the beginning of my journey. I'm hoping that somehow, out of the darkness, I'll finally find the answers to the mysteries of my own past. 

As Vicki concludes her introduction, she sees a small child in a devil's costume banging on the door to the next car, claiming it's stuck and he's trapped in between the trains. She attempts to open the door as the child becomes more frantic, suddenly transforming into a snarling visage of the living dead. She snaps back to consciousness in her seat with a gasp, apologizing to another passenger seated nearby, who replies, "Don't worry. They can't hurt you." 

Victoria arrives in the colorful town of Collinsport and finds she has no cell phone service. She treks through the rain to find a rare phone booth, but drops her coins before she can make a call. 

She is startled by a bespectacled Willie Loomis, who drives her back to Collinwood.

She receives an effusive greeting from Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, who welcomes her to Collinwood. Roger descends the staircase with a glass of brandy in hand and Elizabeth introduces him. Victoria tells him she saw his photo in Forbes. 

Willie barges through the group with Victoria's luggage, and Roger tells Willie's sister to show Miss Winters to her room. Vicki asks if she can meet David, but Roger tells her they can discuss his son's lesson plan over breakfast. 

Willie returns to his quarters where his girlfriend, Kelly, is kissing his third place trophy. They start getting frisky on the bed, which is covered in notes. He asks what all the stuff is and she tells him the documents were written by Professor Stokes, who had a theory that the Collins family stashed away a fortune in gold just after the Revolutionary War. Willie thinks they probably spent it years ago, but she believes she found some coded entries in correspondences which suggest that the gold is hidden in the family mausoleum. She coerces him into going with her to find out.

Victoria wakes to the sound of dripping water and sees that water is pooling on the floor under the bathroom door. She opens the door to see the bathtub overflowing and finds what appears to be David's lifeless corpse lying in the tub. 

He suddenly sits up and screams, causing her to fall backward and hit her head. He shouts, "I hope you die!" and runs off. She follows him to his room and tells him they can be friends or enemies, but that she's there for the duration. She says she's not afraid of him and he tells her she should be. 

Willie and Kelly break into the dank mausoleum. They find the lion's head watching the dove, and Kelly cuts herself while trying to pull down on it. Willie successfully pulls the lever down and opens the door to the secret room. They find a chained coffin strewn with garlic and Willie uses a crowbar to break the chains. They lift the lid off and find a well preserved corpse. 

Willie is freaked out, but Kelly is determined to search the coffin for gold. As she holds the flashlight, blood drips from her wounded hand onto the corpse's face.

Willie calls to her from another part of the room, indicating he's found the treasure as the corpse draws breath.

Kelly breaks open a door in the wall, causing a large cache of gold coins to cascade out as the corpse grabs Willie. She sees what's happening and tries to fend off the attack, but as he holds Willie down with one hand, he holds her by the throat in the other.

He draws Kelly's body toward his waiting fangs, draining her to a dry husk, as Willie screams and cries.

Victoria is sitting up in bed, wondering if she has the strength to help David. She wanders the halls and comes across Carolyn, seated in the hallway. She asks Vicki how much they told her about David and his imaginary friend, Sarah, as she recounts the time he drained all the blood from a squirrel. Vicki says he's not the boogey man. Carolyn tells her she's going into town, but offers to give her the grand tour in the morning if she hasn't fled in a cold panic.

Carolyn meets up with Joe on his boat for some hanky panky. She says she wants to get away with him, but he tells her his life is in Collinsport. She says she's afraid she'll turn out to be crazy like her mom if she stays. He says she's stronger than she thinks. 

As she makes her way to her car, she notices a leaf drop from the tree overhead, and looks up to see what appears to be a form, but dismisses it. It begins to move as she turns away. As she goes to unlock her car, she sees more leaves fall, and then two hands grasp her by the shoulders, pulling her screaming up into the tree. 

The next morning, Victoria joins Elizabeth for breakfast and asks her for information about David's mother. She tells Vicki that David's mother was institutionalized several years ago. The phone rings and the maid suddenly bursts in the room saying it's the police and it's about Carolyn.

Roger and Elizabeth arrive at the hospital and meet Joe outside the treatment room where medical staff are working on Carolyn. He tells them Dr. Hoffman thinks she may have had some kind of fall. The medical staff rush her out of the room on a gurney. Sheriff Patterson approaches and asks Julia how she is. He says he's had animal control looking for tracks but they haven't found anything. Roger asks her what's going on, and she informs him that tests show the saliva found in her wound is human. 

Barnabas arrives at Collinwood and Elizabeth notes how he resembles the portrait hanging over the mantel and that he even bears the same name as his ancestor. He says that he's in from England and decided it was time to reclaim his heritage, asking if he can restore the Old House. 

David suddenly comes tearing into the room screaming, with Vicki hot on his heels. Roger introduces them both. Barnabas and Vicki gaze into each others eyes for an uncomfortable length of time. She asks if they've met before and he tells her he would have remembered. David says that Barnabas will ruin the Old House and frighten Sarah away. He runs off and Vicki apologizes, leaving the room. Barnabas asks again for permission to stay at the Old House. 

Barnabas stares at Victoria's neck while she sleeps. He leans in to take a bite, asking for forgiveness, but throws his head back and screams. Her eyes fly open, but he's nowhere in sight. 

She goes to the terrace, but somehow misses seeing him clinging to the wall above her window like a fly. He says Josette's name, and a bloody tear streaks down his cheek.

Kelly's body is discovered in the water down by the docks. Sheriff Patterson and Julia note that she has the same marks on her neck as Carolyn Stoddard. 

David wakes in his bed to hear his mother calling to him, asking him to help her. He follows the sound of her voice to the woods outside. He goes to where a dagger is stuck in the ground and begins to dig with his bare hands. He uncovers a skull and hears his mother say it's hurting her, asking him to take it away. He pulls the dagger out, and a woman appears before him. He realizes it's not his mother and asks if she's alive. She says not the way he thinks, but that she'll love him all the same, and she embraces him. 

He runs into the house screaming, rousing the entire family. He says she was in the old cemetery and he holds up the dagger saying she had it. Roger demands to know where he got it, but he proceeds to freak out, clinging to Roger, who screams at David to knock it off. He yells at Vicki to get him back to bed and goes upstairs while Elizabeth screams that David needs him.

In the hospital, Carolyn sits on the edge of the bed as Joe sleeps in a chair. She goes to the window and removes her throat bandage. She says, "Come back. Please. Come back."

Vicki goes to wake David at three in the afternoon, but sees him running outside as she goes to lift the sheets on his bed. He's holding the dagger as she calls him to come back. He keeps running toward the Old House. She follows in her car. He runs into the Old House calling for Sarah. Vicki follows him in and calls to him. He begins to descend the stairs to the cellar, raising the dagger. Willie catches him and brings him back upstairs. 

She asks David what he was doing and he says he was looking for Sarah. Willie escorts them out and Vicki comments on his hot new look, noting that he's lost his glasses. He says he's felt stronger since meeting Barnabas. She asks him to tell Barnabas she's sorry, and that she's amazed by the progress in the house. Barnabas appears and asks why she's amazed. She apologizes for the intrusion, but he says he was about to call on her because he's found something in the house that may intrigue her. David says he wants to go and Barnabas tells Willie to take him back.

He takes Vicki to Josette's room and leads her to her portrait, noting that the resemblance is striking. He says her name was Josette duPrés and that she was engaged to the first Barnabas Collins. He says there was a time the house was filled with light and love, as she opens a music box. He tells her the first Barnabas Collins gave the music box to Josette when he proposed, but that Josette died before they could be married. 

Before she leaves, she shows him the dagger David found near the old cemetery, asking if it means anything to him. He asks if David said anything else, and she tells him that he said something about a woman with dark eyes and hair of fire. He kisses her hand and tells her he's glad she came, and as they move in close to kiss, Willie pops in the room and interrupts them.

Vicki leaves and Barnabas holds the dagger up to Willie. He says it's been in her heart all these years and they buried her with it. Willie asks what he's talking about. He says her name was Angelique, and she is the devil incarnate.

As Vicki is driving home, she hears a woman's voice whispering, "Stay away" and "He'll never love you." A woman in a red dress appears in the middle of the road in front of her and she slams into her. The woman's body falls onto the hood and her head goes through the windshield in front of Vicki. As she comes to a stop, she reaches out to the woman, who lifts her head and says, "He's mine!" Vicki screams.

Our thoughts:

Christine: I enjoyed this pilot episode and would have liked to have seen more episodes. 

John: Sadly it suffers from the mid-2000s emphasis on teen dramas... when they even try to make Willie Loomis into a heartthrob, you know you're in trouble. The casting was a bit too hipster for my tastes.

Christine: It certainly was lavish and beautifully filmed. Vicki's arrival in Collinsport reminded me of Suzy Bannion's arrival in Dario Argento's Suspiria, though it's hard to tell if it was intended to be brightly colored, or if it was the deteriorating video quality that had many scenes drenched in bright red. 

John: Yeah, it's hard to believe the finished show would be bathed in primary colors the way this version plays, but that's not purely an artifact of the late generation source that's available. But for what it's worth — it's no Suspiria

Christine: My favorite scene was the resurrection of Barnabas. His desiccated corpse being revived by Kelly's blood seemed to be inspired by Black Sunday, and was a nice change from the standard hand reaching up out of the coffin to grasp Willie's throat. I especially liked the horrific effect of Kelly being drained dry, with the blood dripping from her nose getting sucked back up while Barnabas was feasting on her. That's some powerful suction! 

John: That was a great scene. As cool as it was to see a different introduction for Barnabas, his ghastly appearance was sadly fleeting, and he too soon turned up as the next pretty-boy. Though I was surprised that Barnabas chose to off the pretty young girl, and kept Willie to be his manservant. I got the sense in the original and revival series that the only reason Willie earned the role was because he was alone when he discovered Barnabas' coffin. I also feel that Alec Numan lacked the worldliness and gravitas that Jonathan Frid, and even Ben Cross, who I was never a big fan of, brought to their respective Barnabases.

Christine: While it was clear there was going to be some sort of jump scare at the end, I was not expecting Angelique to appear as one of the Evil Dead. With the original series finding much of its inspiration from horror movies and gothic tales from the past, it seems likely that these references to modern day horror movies were intended, and it would have been interesting to see how that would have played out in the series had it continued. 

John: I also liked the way Angelique was introduced, though it probably wasn't a good sign that they felt the need to throw so much into the pilot. I felt the casting was generally uninspired (aside from Martin Donovan, who I thought was a good choice for Roger), but it is interesting to note that Carolyn was played by future Oscar winner — Jessica Chastain! And while the memorable cues of Robert Cobert were sorely missed, one can't truly judge the show's score, as the version of the pilot that's available obviously used a temp track, featuring Christopher (Hellraiser) Young's theme to Jennifer 8 in the opening. And it was particularly odd to hear the ice cream truck music from John Carpenter's Assault on Precinct 13 coming out of Josette's music box!

Christine: Since this was a rough cut, the music score and special effects were not completed, though I suspect if Dan Curtis had his way, he would have had Bob Cobert provide the score. Initially, Rob Bowman, who had directed 2 episodes of the 1991 series, was enlisted to direct, but he was replaced by P.J. Hogan, who differed from Curtis on his vision for the show. Perhaps in some parallel time this change in direction did not occur and the series was picked up for an extended run, thereby preventing Tim Burton's 2012 nightmare from ever being realized. If someone knows where to find the door to that parallel time, please let us all in on the secret. 


D.Wor said...

Hmm... not sure why feedproxy at google felt the need to send me this update. "An Easter surprise!" I guess I was supposed to be "excited". Most of what I see here is a total lack of joy and maybe some vague interest.

I wonder why anyone promotes entertainment these days. Hardly anyone adores or even loves any of it.

Jeff Baker said...

i agree with your comments on this! A young, hunky Barnabas and Willie? Naaaah! The original with the worn-out looking versions of the family make the people in this extraordinary story look like ordinary folks. Thanks so much for posting this!

Jeff Baker said...

Again, thanks for this blog! Here's an extra for you, I don't know if you know about it: an adaption of a plot for an unfinished "Dark Shadows" paperback by "Marilyn Ross." (Keep in mind: in the world of the DS paperbacks, Barnabas was never sealed-up in his coffin and has been prowling the world for centuries.) This was linked to a Wikapedia page. http://www.darkshadowsonline.com/victoria/secret_story.html

John Scoleri said...

Thanks for sharing this, Jeff! I had not heard of this one before. In an article by David Brown on the book series I published back in 2001, he included the synopsis to another unwritten Dan Ross DARK SHADOWS novel (Barnabas, Quentin and the Mad Ghoul). That one is reprinted in this volume: https://www.amazon.com/bare%E2%80%A2bones-Best-Peter-Enfantino/dp/1700079220

Grant said...

I've never seen this beyond these photos, of course, but the phrase "hunky Willie Loomis" suddenly made me think of Jonathan Haze in NOT OF THIS EARTH. He plays the "Renfield" / "Willie Loomis" to Paul Birch's vampire character, but whether it goes well with the character, he somehow has a kind of "hunky" look too.