We’ve been watching the original Dark Shadows on Netflix Instant View. (No, were not hip enough to have known that Depp and Burton were doing a remake. Found that out later as I looked for links. It was truly just a desire to relive childhood memories.) As the vampire Barnabas Collins made his entrance into the action over ten or so twenty-minute segments, I became quite preoccupied with his politeness. Something about the totality of it–its comprehensiveness. Obviously, he wants to be accepted into the family at Collinswood and not arouse suspicion. It pays for him to be on his best behavior. Soon enough he will be making some pretty significant requests of folks, so it’s not to his advantage to upset anyone. Charm is his skeleton key. But there’s more to it, I think. The character Maggie, already under a certain amount of hypnotic influence, notes how his “old world” manners seem linked to a profound sense of loneliness and isolation. What she doesn’t know this early on, of course, is the true nature of this separateness and the true depth of it.
I am struck by how this simple soap managed to create something dark and palpable through such rudimentary and minimal means. I found myself nodding along with Barnabas as he spoke in various scenes to various characters he wished to charm and influence. I, too, was appreciating what was at stake as he reached out from a position of absolute separateness. I was in the game, and there was not one special effect to lure me along through its magic. Barnabas is nothing but what he can say, and he gets nothing except through what he can say, so he must say it in a very precise way. The script at times even has him discriminating properly between the uses of who and whom. What we are witnessing is Vampire Minimalism crafted wholly through language. Sure, soon enough there will be teeth and biting and fluids, and we know something is afoot behind the veneer, but the essence of the vampire is in the words. As if seizing upon a spoken politeness that is palpably archaic, or dead, he extends a powerful reach into the world of the living with its unsuspecting casualness and neglect and its trivial cares. His banishment from us and his appetite for us are expressed in his strange, antique precision.