"My name is Victoria Winters..." These simple words still send a thrill up the spines of a generation of Americans. It was the opening line of every one of 1225 episodes of Dark Shadows from 1966 to 1971, and in two movies and a short-lived primetime series in 1991. Late last month Dan Curtis, the man who brought us those words and the amazing stories that went with them, died in his Brentwood home at the age of 78.
Curtis was primarily a television producer and director who started out with a successful golf program and used it as a launching point for a television production company that hit its first big success with the off-beat supernatural soap opera Dark Shadows in 1966. Every day Dark Shadows presented an installment in the story of the Collins family of Collinsport, Maine. In some ways they were your typical wealthy, troubled and scandalous soap opera family, except that their troubles were with werewolves, vampires, mad scientists, vengeful witches and time-travellers.
Curtis created memorable characters and had a real knack for inspired casting, including the chilling Shakespearean actor Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins, aging silent movie ingénue Joan Bennett as matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, former Playboy bunny Kathryn Leigh Scott as heroine Maggie Evans, beautiful European aristocrat Alexandra Moltke as Victoria Winters, the creepily sexy Lara Parker as Angelique and New England natives David Selby and Thayer David in major roles. Dark Shadows was all about atmosphere, and Curtis did a remarkable job of bringing the story of a decadent family in coastal New England to life on a very limited budget.
When I was a kid in the 1960s both of my parents worked, so after a long bus ride home after school I got to spend a couple of hours in the care of a maid who had very little interest in entertaining children. I ended up seated at the TV starting at 4 o'clock, just in time for Dark Shadows, and it became an important formative influence in my youth. It was through the imagination of Dan Curtis that I was introduced to the world of horror and the supernatural, which encouraged me to seek out the sources of the ideas he was drawing on, which in those days meant becoming a very active reader, discovering Stoker, Le Fanu, de Maupassant, Poe, Dunsany, Lovecraft, Machen and the other classics of paranormal literature. Dark Shadows was the starting point for a voyage of imagination which was immensely rewarding.