There was a time when vampires were creatures of darkness, always craving for blood, always feared, always up to no good. They were tragic figures, most of the times, but this didn’t mean anything when they were out on the prowl. They obtained whatever they wanted (it doesn’t matter if it was revenge or the affection of a woman), and they weren’t very nice when doing it.
It was the age of Bela Lugosi – an actor who became famous for portraying such creatures.
But, as said, vampires also had another side other than their maleficence. Even from 1922’s Nosferatu we caught a glimpse of how they wanted something else than the dark of the night and the company of the wolves. Later on, this idea (of them wanting the life of the living) was propagated and became a mock rather than anything else. Their romanticization transformed them into laughable caricatures.
This wasn’t, however, the case of Barnabas Collins. He was cruel, he took no prisoners. He killed, he brainwashed, he enslaved, and all across several centuries. He lacked the (strange) moral codes adopted by the most recent romantic vampires – but he did get you on his side, making you feel for him and his tragic persona.
And he had several characteristics that can be found in more recent vampire flicks – he did have a long-lasting love that set off the tragedies in his life (Josette), but he fancied other women as well. So he was an incurable romantic after all.
But then again he had no anxiety problems like you can see in the most recent times. He didn’t kill just the bad people and he had no problems whatsoever in doing exactly what he wanted, whether it was something we perceive as being bad or being good. He was above the rest of the world and his morals or his motives laid only within him.
We, as humans, could have never understood him entirely. We could have empathized, but only to a certain degree.
In a way, Barnabas opened the road towards different types of interpretation of the myth of the vampires. But in another way he opened a Pandora’s Box – our TV screens and our cinemas were then filled with creatures that wanted us to understand them completely, even if some of their actions were beyond our comprehension.
Dark Shadows, with its Barnabas Collins, wasn’t just a soap-opera, it was a character study. And the best thing about this was that the character was true to its mythological roots.