Dark Shadows: Pursuing and Protecting the Family Jewels

Anyone who has seen Tim Burton’s 2012 version of Dark Shadows will have noticed that it seems to deploy humor over horror. As a fan of the classic DS, I cringed when I first saw the trailers. And yet, while at first I was highly skeptical about this move – maybe even a little heartbroken – as I began to think through Burton’s decisions, I started to be able to imagine reasons for them. And they have to do with the abundance of puns and innuendoes underlying Dan Curtis’ show.

Working with this idea, I offer for your consideration some thoughts on a prominent DS trope teeming with double meaning: “Pursuing and Protecting the Family Jewels,” which in some ways acts as the unspoken framing device for the episodes chronicling the triangulated relationship between Barnabus, Willie Loomis, and Jason McGuire.

Episode 210 is famous in Dark Shadows history because in its final scene, Barnabus Collins – or, at least, his arm – emerges from the coffin for the first time. The episode actually focuses on Elizabeth Stoddard’s desire to rid Collinwood of Willie and Jason, who it has been established are undesirables. Jason is, at the time, tolerated only because he is blackmailing Elizabeth, and Willie by extension. Both of the men have a history of crime, deception, and violence. Shortly before Episode 210, Willie and Burke Devlin, the show’s alpha male, get into a bar fight, and afterward Burke insists that he leave town. Rather than cower away, Willie instead fixates on the portrait of Barnabus that hangs in the foyer at Collinwood and plans his next move: to recover the jewels that are supposedly buried with him.

There’s more to this story, however. Episode 210 includes a litany of suggestive descriptions of Jason and Willie that identify Willie as an outsider and a threat, except where Jason is concerned. To take but two examples from this single episode, Willie is described as “curious” and – in Jason’s words – “my poor, misunderstood friend.” Elizabeth allows viewers to fill in the blanks themselves when she ominously refers to him as “a man like your friend, Willie.” This is not the first time that someone refers to Willie in conversation with Jason as “your friend,” and in the following episode Mrs. Johnson says the two are “all but inseparable.” In a still later episode when Willie faints from blood loss, Elizabeth refers to Jason’s “disgusting concern” for Willie. Jason and Willie are thieves and swindlers, yes, but it seems that these are not the only reasons for wanting them ejected from Collinwood. The suggestion of a homosexual relationship between Jason and Willie looms large as Willie enters the Collins mausoleum where he first discovers Barnabus Collins. Mrs. Johnson later explains to Jason that Willie has expressed to her an interest in stories about the family’s past and, in particular, in the family jewels; she also, however unintentionally, informs Jason that Willie ‘has something on the side.’

It is Roger Collins who hints at the greater significance of the family jewels most clearly. In their first meeting, Roger and Barnabus toast the Collins family, whereupon Roger notices the ring on Barnabus’s finger. Barnabus then says “Joshua Collins took great pride in his jewelry. It was almost a part of his personality,” gesturing toward the Collins pedigree and his obvious place in it. To Roger, the ring is the signal to him that Barnabus is one of his own. The family jewel grants Barnabus immediate access to the power associated with the Collins name; and because it confirms his wealth and ancestral lineage, it also safeguards him from accusations of deviancy.

When Willie meets Barnabus, his relationship with both Jason and power changes significantly. As a thief, Willie is drawn to the family jewels because of their monetary value. But there is a notably sadomasochistic undertone to the interactions between Barnabus and Willie from the start. Before opening Barnabus’ coffin, Willie as a character is aggressive when he feels affronted and amused when he perceives that Jason is – in the language of episode 210 – “going to get rough” with him. The first time we see Willie after he has discovered Barnabus, he stumbles into the Blue Whale, clearly traumatized, and apologizes to Burke for the trouble he’s caused. When Jason enters the scene and notes that Willie isn’t “the kind that takes a beating and does nothing about it” he highlights the new relationship that Willie has to power. We know what Jason doesn’t: Barnabus, possessor of the family jewels, has with his vampire bite made Willie his servant. The potency of the Collins bloodline turns a dominant man into a submissive one. And these are, of course, the very same family jewels that Jason will eventually die in pursuit of.


  1. Sharon says:

    Willy was stalking Vicky in a sexually crass and threatening way. And didn’t he also have a girlfriend at one time (that ended badly)? Not so gay. Jason was his criminal mentor and was almost a paternal figure for Willy, though neither trusted the other. They were transients and they had been working aboard freighters. I think that’s where they met. Can’t men have a close relationship without it being sexual? This wasn’t TRUE BLOOD. Sheesh.

    • MWH says:

      All excellent points. If the reviewer wishes to ponder how Willie may have been using a different kind of relationship to compensate for his troubled past with women, I wish they would come out and state this.

  2. MaryMRevis says:

    A very thoughtfully done article. You’ve given readers/fans A LOT to consider my friend!

  3. L.A. Wood says:

    When Willie Loomis found the secret room in the family mausoleum, and Barnabas Collins, it was a classic way to discover the vampire! Dark Shadows has remained my all-time favorite from 1967 when I first began watching the tv classic.

    There was no hint at an alleged “homosexual relation” between Willie Loomis and Jason–never a hint at any such thing! That is mere speculation by other homies who wish it so. Don’t ruin the best classic of all time in this genre with feeble nonsense!

    You can watch the original DS tv series on Netflix, and I think on Hulu.com. The 1991 version, a nine-part series, was also par excellent!

    Although my own gothic vampire novels portrayed the original actors (in my own mind) as the characters in Forever Endless Night and Escape the Endless Night, they cannot compare to the magnificent Dark Shadows series!

    L.A. Wood

  4. Professor Stokes says:

    Anyone who spells Barnabas “Barnabus” cannot be a serious enough fan to make an intelligent hypothesis!

  5. Any idea why I get all the posts suggesting I comment on the facebook page for Dark Shadows but there is no comment option? I have liked the page.

  6. Charlene MacKenzie says:

    I’ve the VHS tape “The Resurection Of Barnabas Collins.” In that scene his heirloom ring is on his left forefinger. Yet, in the painting on the foyer wall and in subsequent episodes, Barnabas’ ring in on his right forefinger. Has anybody caught this finger switching?

    • Michele M says:

      Yeah, I noticed he switches hands with the ring pretty frequently. I assume it had to do with which hand was going to be more prominent in a particular scene. Got to have the ring in the scene after all!

    • ginnyf73 says:

      i noticed that as well with the ring switch, but if you watched HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, the ring is on the right hand. that’s what made the bloopers fun to watch. and forget about this “special” relationship between Jason and Willie. SHEESH! why do people read more into it than they should??

    • Katie K says:

      Yeah, I noticed that when I started watching the old episodes on Netflix. One day, left hand, next day, right hand. It started to be a thing with me – which hand would it be on today!

    • Joe says:

      I have noticed the finger switching throughout the series. It would seem that they loved getting it into camera whenever they could, which of course meant the occasional switch. Then again I have read a rumor that Jonathan Frid himself would switch it because it irritated his finger.

  7. Dramalady says:

    You’re not the first to come up with idea. Saramonster has two hilarious videos on Youtube called Dark Shadows of the Closet.
    I don’t think the writers intended them to be gay. Some of the dialogue could have been better worded. I agree with Sharon that Jason is more of a father figure. Now, two guys living alone together at the Old House, that’s different. Especially when they use words like master and slave.
    One more thing, do not ever misspell Barnabas’ again.

    • Cynthia Anne Womack says:

      Very interesting article and comments. Here we have more evidence of how a well-crafted,well-performed series can so touch its viewers that it is discussed years later. Its virtues and flaws will be the stuff of enjoyment and eisegesis for years to come. Barnabus for Barnabas can be forgiven but heaven forfend we see a mention of “Kwyntyn”.

  8. of-cour.se says:

    An outstanding share! I’ve just forwarded this onto a colleague who has been doing a little research on this. And he actually bought me lunch simply because I discovered it for him… lol. So let me reword this…. Thanks for the meal!! But yeah, thanks for spending time to talk about this matter here on your internet site.

  9. Tammy says:

    I think the new movie and Tim Burton gave a lot of attention to details. Many of which I hadn’t picked up on watching it growing up. I didn’t watch the series from beginning to end, may have missed some episodes in the middle, and it was so long ago, I’ve forgotten much of it. Maybe some day I’ll get the whole set and go over the whole thing. But in some instances in the new movie, where people think it was humorous, was just a little quirky or campy. I don’t think they made it wanting people to belly laugh at it. Just little gestures that any normal person might perceive after being kept in a box for almost 200years. I thought the new movie brought a new perspective to the series, and of course can’t cover the ground a 5 year series did, but I loved the new movie and hope Tim and Johnny will consider doing some followup sequels. With the reception some older viewers are giving it, they may decide to just let things be, but they grabbed some new viewers along the way, and even a lot of old viewers very much enjoyed their version. Fingers crossed they’ll bring us more and can cover some other plots that they had to leave out the first time around. :)

  10. Daniel Scott Kilbreth says:

    I find it interesting that, in the original Dark Shadows, it is made very clear that Willie’s bite wounds are on his arm, which I have always seen as a deliberate and not very subtle assurance to the audience that Barnabas would never be so intimate with a man as to bite him on the neck. In the 1990′s mini-series (or whatever it was), Willie is seen lying on the floor of the secret room with neck wounds, and we later see Barnabas feed on Gloria’s boyfriend’s neck. I wonder if in the 1960′s a male on male neck bite (hickey) would’ve made it past the network censors? Which begs the question: was the bat that bit Barnabas male or female?

    • Phill Boehm says:

      At the end of each of the DVD’s of the original series, someone associated with the series discusses experiences they had throughout the run of the series. I believe it was during an interview with Dan Curtis that he revealed exactly what you suspected. It would have been deemed unacceptable to allow a male vampire to bite a male victim in the neck. That is why Dan Curtis opted to have Barnabas bite Willie in the arm. In future episodes he would bite female victims in the neck, and when Anqelique was turned into a vampire by Nicholas Blair, she bit her male victim, Joe Haskell, in the neck as well.

    • Dan says:

      You are correct in Willie’s bite marks on his arm. I too agree about man to man bites on the neck not being to acceptable not only to the censors, but the audience of the 60′s. However, in the introduction of the 1840 Storyline, after (BARNABAS), and Julia return from 1995, Roxanne Drew is a Vampire and does bite Maggie Evans on the neck. Now how is it acceptable for a female on female bite on the neck, and not male on male?

  11. Bibi says:

    First: thank you for correcting the postings misspelling of Barnabas. Second: I have been a fan of Dark Shadows since it premiered and own every episode I in fact purchased the set in the coffin. Third: I am so sick to death of everything being homosexualized it is beyond nauseating.

  12. Paula Kate Meserole says:

    Spell check: It is Barnabas, B-a-r-n-a-b-a-s.

    Not Barnabus

  13. Paula Kate Meserole says:

    I was disappointed in the movie. Johnny Depp has the depth and the knowledge of the character Barnabas Collins and would have been fabulous in a serious treatment of Dark Shadows.
    I bought the ticket to the Burton film out of respect for the original show and the original movies that came afterward.
    Unfortunately however the Burton film came off more like Barnabas Collins meets Edward Scissorhands at the Nightmare before Christmas.

  14. I’d personally like to see Johnny Depp (who has the license actually, he hired Tim to do the movie with him) to do a TV Miniseries and flip it all around again (It’s Dark Shadows, that’s what happens).
    Though I might never get what I want, which is Jeremy Irons as Barnabas, i’d like to see one where Barnabas arrives, perhaps shortly after Vicky, and he’s an enigma. He gets Willie, reads his mind, and sets about trying to deal with ‘issues’ before introducing himself, but, lastly, after sightings of someone who looks like the portrait and disappearances (such as Jason McGuire) he introduces himself as Cousin from England so he can get the old house and really get to work. I liked the movie, but, even as Dan showed, there’s always another angle.

  15. James Mannan says:

    On one of the MPI DS dvd’s there is an interview with John Karlen (Willie Loomis) where he says just that – the writers wrote him bitten on the arm because they didn’t want the suggestions of male-on-male intimacy (or possibly standards and practices made them change it – that wasn’t completely clear.) I don’t believe they had such peevishness about it by the time of the House of Dark Shadows movie. Barnabas had bitten nearly everyone by the end of the movie, and all on the neck.

  16. Tina says:

    The movie SUCKED.

  17. Tina says:

    TAhe movie SUCKED!

  18. Cindy Fecher says:

    First of all…IT’S “BARNABAS”…not ‘BUS’!!!!! Second of all, Sharon (the first comment) nailed it. There were no homosexual overtones…..! Father/son and criminal/criminal, yes. Many examples of both men being interested in women.

  19. Dank Shadows says:

    Before Tim Burton’s version, the Webseries “Dank Shadows” (dankshadows.com).

  20. HB says:

    While I usually think that picking on typos and misspellings in an article is petty, the misspelling of Barnabas is one of the few that gets my goat. The name is often misspelled and he is generally thought of as the lead character in the series. There are forgettable misspellings, but misspelling the lead character’s name calls into question the credibility of the entire article. All you have to remember is A.. the only vowel is A. As I once saw in the DS newsgroup:



    Got it now? Good :)

  21. Erica says:

    Good grief. When you can spell the lead character’s name correctly, then I might consider what you have to say.

    The movie sucked. You can analyze the old episodes all you like, but that one fact will never change.

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