Saturday, August 4, 2012

Shadows Dark, Darker, Darkest

(part one of three)

The Collins family, with their infamously paranormal history, presents quite the challenge to any historian.  Consider the following--what sources exist to give details regarding not only the vampires associated with this clan but also the ghosts, werewolves, witches and the like?
  • The original television series
  • The Gold Key comics
  • The Marilyn Ross novels released approximately the same time
  • The two feature motion pictures released in 1970 and 1971
  • The revival television nighttime drama in 1991
  • The Innovation Comics based upon the 1991 revival
  • The 2004 unfinished pilot for the WB (available only at certain Dark Shadows Festivals)
  • The various Big Finish Audio Dramas
  • The Dynamite Comics picking up where the story left off in 1971
  • The Tim Burton/Johnny Depp motion picture of 2012
What makes the above so very confusing is the blatant self-contradictions  in each and every version.  For example, when we first encounter the governess Victoria Winters as she arrived at the great house of Collinwood, the house itself is identified again and again as being somewhere around 150 years old.  Yet the flashback story revealed it to have been built more than twenty years earlier!  More, its builder was said to be Jeremiah Collins when it turned out to be his older brother Joshua.  And so on.

Trying to make the rest of the history fit into one coherent narrative makes for a knot of gordian purportions.  At least until one premise rears its head that makes all things much clearer...

There are not one, but three branches of the Collins family in New England.  Accept that, and it all begins to make a lot more sense.  Dan Curtis, Sam Hall and others who created the original daytime soap opera had access to quite a bit of material about this family.  At first, they picked out what they thought might make the best overall story.  Over time, this grew far too complicated and they settled more-or-less upon one.  Something very similar happened with other chroniclers, and continues to this day.

Here are the three branches...

The Collins of Collinsport, Massachusetts
When we see the original television show, the new Dynamite comics, or listen to the Big Finish audio dramas we learn of this branch.  Although initially identified as taking place in Maine, this family's history makes little or no sense if that were true.  During the 1790s Maine was a remote wilderness.  It beggars the imagination to believe anyone would build such a grand mansion as the Collinwood we see in such a remote spot.  It would be as if someone built a Disneyland in the middle of Siberia!  More, the history doesn't match.  There were no witch trials in Maine!  Nor was there any kind of easy transportation between Maine and Salem, such as would be needed for what we know of the history of the Collins family in the late 1600s.

So the Collinsport referred to herein almost can be found somewhere along Plum Island on the Massachusetts coast, effectively just off center from the very heart of the old Massachusetts Bay Colony.  This accounts quite neatly for Amadeus Collins in particular being a prominent judge who oversaw the trial of notorious Satanist Judah Zachary!

An excellent article exploring the surprising connections between the Collins family of Massachusetts and other supernatural aspects of the Wold Newton Universe can be found in The Great Old Ones And The Collins Family by Frank Schildiner.  The only point major addition I would make to his accounting would be the possible identification of "Barretstown" in one of the Innovation Dark Shadows comics with Innsmouth of terrible memory.  Note that this presumes the 1991 Revival and the comic books derived from it are a hodge-podge of details from the Massachusetts branch.

The Collins of Cabot Cove, Maine
Physically the most isolated of the all Collins family branches in New England, tales of this group of relatives make up the bulk of tales from the Ross novels and some of the Gold Key Comics.

We need to understand how chroniclers (rather like those of Dracula's soul-clones) changed names to somehow match the family introduced in the original television series.  Thus although each branch of the family included in its members a male vampire who used the (not unusual) expedient of pretending to be his own descendant, in fact these three undead were different people with different personalities and histories.  In Maine, this vampire was named Jonathan Collins and he became a vampire in the 1840s.  Of the three he would seem to have been the most scientifically bent, the most overtly womanizing in habit, and the most ruthless in his habit.  For all that, he wasn't truly evil, and more than once managed via medical means to (at least temporarily) alleviate his vampiric state.  By 1993 it seems this family no longer resided in the town, their mansion (the smallest of the three great estates) Collins House put up for sale when under an alias Jonathan purchased it.  Ironically enough, at this point when he'd diluted nearly all undead taints from his body, he was murdered--by having a stake driven through his heart (as seen in "The Legacy of Borbey House" on Murder She Wrote).

The Collins of Collinsgreen, New York
Although some details of this branch emerge in the Ross novels and Gold Key comics, the major source for details--garbled as they are--are all three motion pictures as well as the unfinished pilot for the WB network.

Central to our subject is Alexander Collins, the first known Collins vampire in the New World.  Much scholarship involving this man remains difficult because of efforts to conflate him with his cousin Barnabas Collins of Massachusetts.  But we do know he was changed into a vampire not as a result of thwarted love but as part of a curse placed upon the Collins family itself, almost certainly by some kind of Satanic coven.  Rather than destroy him, his immediate family chained up his coffin and buried it deep underground, no doubt hoping this would seal him away forever.  Alas, this was not to be.  When accidentally discovered and released in 1970 by a road crew, the now-insane young man whose bloodlust had grown quite out of control, slew several family members before being tracked down and staked in an abandoned monastery on a lake.  So he remained, immobile, for thirty years.  Then, would-be fortune hunters came across his skeleton and removed the stake.  More, one of them cut her hand and that blood revived the vampire.

He came to Collinsgreen in 2004 to find the little boy whose sister he'd turned into a vampire was now grown up, a wealthy and powerful figure with his own dark secrets--not least still struggling with a powerful witch whose spirit longed to take over the estate from the Collins family into which she'd married.

To be continued...

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