BARNABAS’ COLUMN #3: God VS Satan
“Maggie Evans, I anoint thee with the blood of the owl, the raven and the bat……”
– Humbert Allen Astredo as Nicholas Blair on DARK SHADOWS, 1968
The above quoted scene, in which the Satanic-looking Nicholas Blair (a superbly theatrical Humbert Allen Astredo) attempted to sacrifice perennial damsel in distress Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) on the Dark Altar (because he loved her!), raised many eyebrows when it first aired on DARK SHADOWS in 1968. In a similar scene a few weeks later, witch-turned-vampire Angelique (Lara Parker) lit some candles as she called upon the Dark Lord to “hear” her. Both characters were seen standing before the Gates of Hell, bargaining with a gentleman in a long, hooded robe.
Soon after, a church group stationed themselves at the entrance to Cunningham Junior High School in Brooklyn, New York, where I attended the 8th grade. The fliers they handed out assured us that the Lord was waiting to save us, and that DARK SHADOWS had led more people on a path to Satan than any show in TV history.
In several interviews over the years, DARK SHADOWS head writer Sam Hall assured viewers that Angelique and Nicholas brokered their deals not with Satan, but with one of his “assistants.” It was a failed attempt to placate religious groups who were concerned about “saving the children” from watching this evil show. Hall might have lost the argument, but he won the war: in 1968 DS’ ratings were soaring. The following year it was one of the USA’s most popular and talked about TV shows.
All of which raises a most interesting question: can a traditionally religious person enjoy a show like DARK SHADOWS? It was a question I faced many times growing up in an Orthodox Jewish household.
I discovered DARK SHADOWS in October 1967, about a week before the show’s brilliant time-trip to the year 1795 began. I was 11 years-old and this story mesmerized me. I recall being terrified by that dark and stormy night when Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) awoke in his coffin for the first time. I screamed in fear when Barnabas’ love, Josette, arose from her grave to meet with him one final time. The storyline included Victoria Winters’ lengthy trial for witchcraft (she was framed by Angelique), and this fascinated me. I had never before, or since, seen anything quite like DARK SHADOWS.
During that first winter of the Shadows, I was only able to watch four of the five episodes per week. Sabbath began early in the winter, and no television was permitted during. Imagine my relief the following spring when the Sabbath commenced a bit later, so I didn’t have to miss any of the shows.
Through it all, I had to fight for the “right” to watch my show. Why was I watching this ridiculous series which glorified evil when I could be doing more uplifting things like studying the Torah, asked my parents? I wasn’t alone. At Saturday morning Temple services, the other kids and I would sit in the back of the Sanctuary, discussing DARK SHADOWS. Our parents were horrified. Our Rabbi pointed at us and shook his head disapprovingly.
In April, 1968, we drove from Brooklyn to spend the Passover holiday with my Uncle Solomon and Aunt June and their kids in Rochester, NY. Uncle Sol was a Rabbi—we were practically heathens in comparison to his family.
“What channel is ABC on?” was the first thing I said upon our arrival. My cousins, all sporting their Yarmulkahs, watched DARK SHADOWS with me. A few weeks later, Aunt June told my mom that I had gotten her kids hooked on “that damn, stupid show”.
Many years later, I got together with my cousin Simcha when we were both living in Israel. He was in Jerusalem, studying to be a Rabbi. I had sworn off religion by then. I was living in Tel Aviv, hanging out on the beach, drinking Pina Coladas.
“Are you still into DARK SHADOWS?” he asked me. I laughed.
Then he told me something which truly startled me. In the 1970s, when DARK SHADOWS reruns aired on a Rochester TV station, he and his dad would watch it together, after which they studied Torah. He admitted that his father had begun to enjoy it! Through it all, both of them remained unwavering in their strict observances of Orthodox Judaic tradition.
What a breath of fresh air that conversation was. Let’s get real here: DARK SHADOWS is a fantasy, an entertainment. It’s great fun to watch, but it has absolutely nothing to do with real life. I find it hard to imagine that anyone other than the delusional and unbalanced could be lead on a path to Satan by it.
The dilemma to watch or not to watch DARK SHADOWS isn’t limited to Orthodox Jews. Devout Christian Karen Rushing, a longtime DS fan, shares her own view on the subject:
How I Came to Know And Love the Original DARK SHADOWS Daytime TV Soap Opera and the Impact It Still Has on My Life
by Karen Rushing
In 1967, at age 10, I had two experiences that changed my life. During that year, the Christian faith I had been raised in became my own, through my own decision to pursue a personal relationship with Jesus. Also, my life-long interest in all things fantasy—myths, fairy tales, etc—became a burning love for my newly discovered favorite TV show, DARK SHADOWS.
Though I’m grateful for a wonderfully loving and supportive family, my peers were a different story. For reasons I still don’t understand, I wasn’t just unpopular, I was strongly rejected, even to the point of being dragged across the asphalt ball court at recess. I had a few friends, but I didn’t fit in the world. That’s why both my new loves were important. My faith gave me confidence in a God who loved me no matter what other people thought of me. DARK SHADOWS taught me it was OK not to be like everyone else.
I was entranced by Barnabas Collins. He was man, monster and hero. His guilt and struggle with the monster within was evident in his actions, as was his love for his family and friends. “Barnabas” is a Biblical name, given to a New Testament man not at birth but because of his actions. It means “son of encouragement.” Barnabas Collins and so many other characters on my beloved show were sources of great encouragement to me. These characters experienced worse hardships than playground bullying—supernatural curses, for example—and still they worked at becoming better people and making a difference to their loved ones. They even went through time to change events and save lives.
Years ago, I found out that a sister-in-law was also a Christian DARK SHADOWS fan. We discussed how many people couldn’t understand how we could be both. We knew, though. Both the Bible and DARK SHADOWS taught us of timeless struggles: of good to defeat evil, of every person with his/her inner demons, and of learning to accept others who are different from ourselves as people of inestimable value.
DARK SHADOWS has affected my life in countless ways all these decades, from ringtones to family bedtime rituals. Suffice to say that, when I leave this world, I hope to be remembered as a true Christian and a true DARK SHADOWS fan.
Well said, Karen!
Until next month, enjoy your journey into the shadows, whatever that journey might mean to you.