In The Dark Shadows Companion, Lara Parker (Angelique) remembers her first day on the show. One of the show’s blossoming new stars, Kathryn Leigh Scott (who played Barnabas Collins’ first obsession Maggie Evans and her historical doppleganger Josette Du Pres) reassured Parker, saying ‘You won’t get to perfect your art on this show, but you will sure be able to develop your technique.’”
The first year of the show had certainly run Scott through a crash course in extremes. Of course, Maggie Evans’ character famously evolves overnight from the first episode’s tough-talking redhead that works at the diner into an approachable girl-next-door whose darkest shadows initially come from dealing with her benevolent alcoholic father, artist Sam Evans. By the time she meets the witch Angelique, Scott is playing a French aristocrat in love with a sweet, deferential (but quietly progressive) young American businessman, the mortal Barnabas Collins.
Scott’s most dramatic transformations begin with episode 221, when Maggie Evans becomes the first female character on which Barnabas feeds. Like Dracula’s Lucy Westenra, Evans’ personality spins wildly from her familiar wholesome self into a creature sometimes more frightening than Barnabas himself.
Victoria Winter’s introduction to episode 227 delivers a tall order for Scott’s performance—“Evil reaches deeply into man’s soul, turning his heart to stone, transforming him into a vile monstrosity, and it is horrible to observe this process in an innocent….” Scott’s Maggie rises to the challenge, creating some of the show’s scariest moments. When she doesn’t seem possessed, she’s bone-deep tired, looking like a child prematurely aged, and often lapsing into confused rambling and miserable cries and moans. When the vampire’s influence fully overtakes her, she rages at her boyfriend, Joe, (seeming coiled, ready to strike) and shouts “If you don’t leave now, I’ll never speak to you again.” When Joe leaves, she reveals the slightest trace of a satisfied smile.
Two scenes follow in which she wanders the graveyard, being drawn through the night by Barnabas. Her sunken eyes stare vacantly, calling to mind the chilling undead in Jacques Tourneur’s I Walked with a Zombie. Later, screaming at Dr. Woodard as he tries to give her a transfusion (“Don’t take his blood!”), she forecasts Regan in The Exorcist, the groundbreaking work of horror yet five years away.
In some ways, Kathryn Leigh Scott’s performance as Maggie Evans is as crucial to those landmark Barnabas Collins episodes, the episodes that saved Dark Shadows form early cancellation, as Jonathan Frid’s performance. Grounded in her seemingly essential good nature, Maggie Evans’ mercurial explosiveness and multi-colored passions play the perfect foil to Barnabas Collin’s quiet nobility and fixed misery.
In her wonderful 2011 fantasy novel, Dark Passages, Scott collapses her own history to have the actress playing Margie on the Passages show simultaneously moonlighting as a Playboy Bunny and keeping secret her true identity as the cast’s one true vampire. She befriends the show’s vampire star, Ian Fletcher, and they help each other out of one tough spot after another. Metaphorically, it feels just right. Together, Frid and Scott were an important team. They not only helped save Dark Shadows—their early work together set the bar high for the many chills to come.