Long before vampires were turned into sparkling emo teenagers, they were imbued with a sense of old-world romance and mystery.
And for a lot of people, that came from "Dark Shadows." This gothic soap opera had its cheesy moments here and there, but it had that rare quality of being addictive and entertaining even as it had vampires, ghosts and werewolves. Even better: it drips with traditional gothic atmosphere, with a young woman afloat in a dark, gloomy house filled with secrets.
Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke) arrives in Maine to be a governess to the reclusive Collins family, intending to find out about her past (since she seems to have some kind of connection to them... or something). Instead, she finds a big stew of weird -- the mansion of Collinswood apparently has ghosts and magic, as well as a vampire in the mausoleum.
Yes, Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) is in the mausoleum... and his entrance (and subsequent transformation into the primary character) is the point when the show went from "okay" to "awesome." From then on, the story unfolds into a long, complicated tangle of lost love, amnesia, time travel, witchcraft, MORE ghosts, reincarnation, golems, body-swapping sorcerers, the ancient Leviathans and a parallel universe -- all centered on the Collins family.
It's really quite hard to summarize the entire series, but suffice to say that "Dark Shadows" is a pretty delicious series -- it drips with romanticized gothic atmosphere, with plenty of classic tropes (vampires, ghosts, even a Frankenstein monster). And for a soap opera of any type -- be it supernatural or mundane -- it's actually very well written, with distinct plot arcs and ongoing plot threads.
The slowest part of the story is actually the beginning parts, which were fairly low on supernatural events and focused on Victoria. But once "Dark Shadows" embraced the supernatural, it blossoms like a black rose. Does it have cheezy moments? Yes, sometimes -- but unlike the cheeziness of a lot of vampire-themed TV/movies, there's a dignified, almost classical quality to "Dark Shadows."
And it has a pretty decent cast over all, with Lara Parker, David Selby and Grayson Hall as a few of the most prominent standouts. But the best one is undeniably Frid as Barnabas Collins -- his character was such an intriguing one that he not only became one of the primary characters, but evolved from a tortured villain into a selfless, heroic anti-hero.
As for the layout of this series, nobody is 100% sure at this time of the content, but if it does have 131 discs it almost certainly has the complete series, both with and without the vampire subplots. But don't expect any special extras, probably.
For people burned out on current vampire stuff, "Dark Shadows: The Complete Series" is a refreshingly classic look at vampire/supernatural soapiness. It might take awhile, but it's worth watching.