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* Mostly black, white and cyan

The forces of good and evil battle for the souls - and the lives of men and women in this View-Master version of ABC's popular television serial - Dark Shadows.

Within the great house of Collinwood an unspeakably evil experiment hatched in another world is being conducted. Upon its success or failure depend the lives, the sanity, and the very souls of those cast in the role of victims as well as those guilty of the ultimate blasphemy - usurping the role of the Creator.

Most tragic of the victims is Barnabas Collins, a man of good will forced to commit - or attempt to commit - crimes which revolt his true self, and to watch helplessly while the greatest of human emotions - love - is twisted into evil forms.

The episode ends, but not the tale, for as long as men and women live there will be dark shadows.

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Images copyright Dan Curtis Productions


By Graeme Cree, pictures by Linda Cree

Have you ever tuned into a soap opera that you've never seen before and tried to make sense of it? Viewmaster manages to successfully transfer this pleasurable experience from the small screen to the even-smaller screen in their adaptation of Dark Shadows. In a stunning coup, they even manage to impart the same feeling of confusion to both newcomers and long-time viewers alike.

When it came time to adapt Dark Shadows to Viewmaster format, it was plain that Viewmaster's regular formula of adapting a single episode of a show would not work. In a soap opera, where a storyline might be spread over 50 or more hours of film, rather than 30 - 60 minutes, not enough would happen in any one episode to make it work as a stand-alone product. It was decided instead to take highlights from a series of episodes. Since Viewmaster had to take their own pictures anyway (existing film could not be converted to 3-D slides), they could have recreated virtually any sequence in the show's then-2-year-run that they wanted, but decided (no doubt for both financial and marketing reasons) to just adapt the shows that were on the air at the time so as to have a sequence that was as fresh in the audience's mind as possible. This is actually a good idea, since so much had to be chopped out that the Viewmaster presentation actually makes no sense whatsoever standing on its own, and so needs the memories of the reader to fill in the blanks.

Unfortunately, many plot details are not only omitted, but actually altered from what was presented on the television show. Why was this? To make it more comprehensible to the nouveau reader? No, not really. Much of it still makes no sense even after the alteration. It appears in many cases that the prime effect of the changes is, not to make the story comprehensible, but to reduce the amount of space that it takes to say something incomprehensible!

In one sense, this makes sense. If you're going to make no sense, at least try to keep it brief. The problem is that by altering details presented onscreen, it can really bollix the poor reader attempting to supplement the missing information from his own memory. The newcomer is still barraged with a slew of names of people who are never introduced, doing things for reasons that are never explained. And the oldcomer thinks he knows what's happening, only to keep being hit by cases where it turns out he doesn't.

Joke shamelessly stolen from Ghostbusters

Viewmaster's solution to this problem was to increase the Melodrama Factor tenfold. Granted, Dark Shadows has always leaned a bit towards the melodramatic anyway, but it's nothing compared to this. To illustrate, let's say this Twinkie represents the normal amount of melodrama in an average Dark Shadows episode. In the Viewmaster version, it would be a Twinkie 35 feet long, weighing approximately 600 pounds. Everything everyone says and does is said and done with the same seriousness as if they were discussing dropping a bomb on Hiroshima. The idea being that people will get so wrapped up in the emotional intensity of the moment that they'll fail to notice that what's actually being said makes no sense (a favorite trick of attorneys, politicians and salesmen).

To make things even more confusing, Viewmaster shows us neither the beginning nor the end of a story. Nor even the middle. Instead, it picks up in the home stretch of a long running storyline, but doesn't quite make it to the end.

The Viewmaster Dark Shadows covers a portion of the "Adam Story", one of the show's longest-running storylines, which had begun in Episode 461, and continued through Episode 636. So where did Viewmaster choose to pick it up? Episode 605, of course. Over 80% of the way through. And continued through Episode 629, but cut it short before you could at least see what happened to Adam. But this is not as bad as it sounds, as the Viewmaster version really isn't about him anyway. Instead it just touches on a half dozen plots and subplots without really explaining or resolving any of them.

It would be possible to explain everything in advance so that it would make sense, but what would be the fun of that? Instead, let's forget everything we know about this show (if anything), go into the whole thing cold, and see how it comes across. Take a deep breath now...

See Viewmaster condense 24 half hour episodes into 21 slides... if you dare!

Also check out Viewmaster Presents Star Trek

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