Review of Dark Shadows: The House of Despair

SFFaudio Audio Drama Review

Horror Audio Drama - Dark Shadows: The House Of DespairDark Shadows: The House Of Despair
By Stuart Manning, Directed by Gary Russell; Performed by a full cast
1 CD – 72 Minutes [AUDIO DRAMA]
Publisher: Big Finish
Published: September 2006
ISBN: 1844352439
Themes: / Horror / Birds / Lost Souls / Witchcraft / Ghosts / Immortality /

After years of wandering the world, Quentin Collins is coming home. But the Collinwood that awaits him is no longer the sanctuary he remembers. As the town of Collinsport hides in fear from otherworldly powers, Quentin vows to unite old friends and reclaim his birthright.

Dark Shadows was one of those lightning-in-a-bottle phenomenons. Modern audiences look at it now and don’t get what audiences of the late 1960s saw in it, or why so many of its fans can’t let it go today. Without its Vietnam era frame of reference, the show seems to have little or no appeal. It isn’t scary by today’s standards. It’s not intentionally funny. Buffy it ain’t.

One can’t help but wonder, then, if there’s any point in attempting an original cast resurrection. So many of the mainstays are no longer living, and the show’s biggest star, Jonathan “Barnabas” Frid, is retired at age 82. With four original series stars in the leads, however, Big Finish productions has achieved a nostalgic romp with a modern storytelling style, intelligent and psychological, dripping with atmosphere, which should satisfy fans of the one-of-a-kind soap opera and modern audiophiles both.

David Selby makes a creditable transition from the Sixties anti-hero that was Quentin Collins, recovering lycanthrope, into a strong leading man. He returns to his ancestral home at age 130-something to find it deserted, overtaken by a supernatural presence who just might be the hidden Big Bad from Hitchcock’s The Birds. Enlisting the aid of the witch Angelique, he sets out to re-establish his dynasty as the new Collins family patriarch.

Selby’s eternal tongue in cheek awareness of his character’s failings serves him well. Lara Parker, forty years later, is still enthralling as the beautiful, horrific Angelique. To the writer’s credit, she maintains her darker side, an ally, but still a potential villain. Kathryn Leigh Scott has a voice made for audio drama, and brings dignity to the long-suffering Maggie Evans, who, after all this time, still hasn’t figured out that her friends the Collinses are not quite human. John Karlen returns as servant Willie Loomis, now “Mad Willie.” As always, he brings life and sympathy to a weak and even sleazy role. Newcomer Andrew Collins is well-cast in his part, which shan’t be revealed herein. The original Robert Colbert Dark Shadows score is blended nicely with original music.

During my listening, the background effects balance was sometimes a little off, obscuring the voices. It’s important to remember, though, that it’s nearly impossible to get the balance right for every sound system out there. I listened on a rental-car stereo. As an audio theater producer myself, (who’s also been chastised in a review for effects balance) I’m the first to say that it’s a lot to ask of an editor to create something artful and make it work for the most pedestrian sound system. For an optimal listening experience, grab some headphones. This is the first of four existing titles in a series, with more promised for the future.

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