phantom limb /ˈfan(t)əm’lim/ n. an often painful sensation of the presence of a limb that has been amputated.
Welcome to Phantom Limbs, a recurring feature which will take a look at intended yet unproduced horror sequels and remakes – extensions to genre films we love, appendages to horror franchises that we adore – that were sadly lopped off before making it beyond the planning stages. Here, we will be chatting with the creators of these unmade extremities to gain their unique insight into these follow-ups that never were, with the discussions standing as hopefully illuminating but undoubtedly painful reminders of what might have been.
This time out, we’re taking a trip to Collinsport, Maine to shine a light on Dark Shadows: Reincarnation, the intended television series sequel to Dan Curtis’ original 1960s soap phenomenon. Initially developed by The CW and announced in September 2019, Reincarnation was unceremoniously dropped late last year, much to the dismay of longtime fans.
Joining us to talk about this project is writer/executive producer Mark B. Perry, who will take us through its origins, tease the story it would have told, and discuss why there’s still hope for this particular iteration of the long-running franchise.
“I’m a first-generation fan,” Mr. Perry begins, detailing the beginnings of his relationship with Dark Shadows. “True story. I discovered the show on April 17th, 1967, when I was walking through the den and my sister was watching something on our little black and white TV. There was a guy taking some chains off of a coffin and lifting the lid with a maniacal look on his face, and a hand grabbed him by the throat. I nearly jumped and said, ‘What’s this?!’
“My sister said, ‘Oh, it’s something called Dark Shadows.’ And I was hooked from then on. So I came in at the time that a lot of people who discovered the show after its initial run came in, because that’s where they typically started with syndication. That episode. Then in the 80s, as I was an aspiring TV writer and trying to get something going, Star Trek: The Next Generation came along.
“Even though I’m not really into the science fiction side of things, I thought ‘Oh my God, we need to do that for Dark Shadows. We need a continuation of the original show.’ At that point, it had been off the air for a little over fifteen years or so.
“I was naïve. I started writing something as a reboot of the show, then I looked up and said, ‘I don’t have the rights.’ And for whatever reason, I didn’t pursue the rights. But that’s where it really started, with Star Trek: The Next Generation, and wanting to do the same thing for Dark Shadows.”
Cut to over two and a half decades later. “It was back in 2014, I think. I started rewatching the show and I thought, ‘You know what? This still needs to be done.’ I contacted my agent and asked them to find out who had the rights. For whatever reason, I never got an answer for the longest time. Even three years later, I was told that they were still looking, and I didn’t understand why it would be so difficult to track down who owns the rights. But anyway, it was kind of what I call a ‘comedy of terrors’ before I finally found out that it was Amasia Entertainment who had the rights.
“It came about because Tracy Mercer, my brilliant producing partner at Amasia along with Michael Helfant and Bradley Gallo, is a fan of the show as well. Her father had introduced it to her on VHS cassette, and she was working as a producer on a show, Madam Secretary. Tracy Curtis, who is one of Dan Curtis’ daughters, was working as an editor on that show. The two of them became friends, but it never came up that Dan Curtis was Tracy Curtis’ father until one day they were talking, and Tracy Mercer was blown away. They started talking and said, ‘We really should do something with Dark Shadows and honor our fathers’ legacies.’
“So they’re on that path. Meanwhile, I’m developing a pitch unaware that they have already been talking about this. I developed a pitch and a concept, and I got a meeting with Tracy Mercer, and I had put together a whole flip book of images that I Photoshopped. It was a very long pitch. I went in and I pitched, and it was so much fun because Tracy was just … she was clapping at one point.
“She was very, very excited about my take on how to resurrect the series for a modern audience. After that, she said that they were negotiating a deal with Warner Brothers, and that it would take some time. Once that was done, she wanted me to pitch to Tracy Curtis.”
Though Perry had initially considered pitching the series as either Collinwood or Collinsport to distance the project from Tim Burton’s poorly received 2012 big screen remake, he ultimately decided to keep the brand name in place, albeit with an evocative subtitle. “I decided that I liked the ring of Star Trek: The Next Generation. I started thinking, ‘Well, reincarnation. That’s what this really is, and that was a huge part of the original show.’ So the idea for Dark Shadows: Reincarnation stayed with me.
“Anyway, I went in to pitch the Amasia team. This was Tracy Mercer, Michael Helfant – who also is a ‘run-home-from-schooler’, first-generation Dark Shadows fan like me – and Bradley Gallo, some of the other folks there on their team, and Tracy Curtis.
“I brought my little flip book in, and I did my dog and pony show. The room was very receptive, but Tracy Curtis was kind of just looking at me, and listening, and looking at the images. When I was done, the room applauded, which is the first time I’d ever been applauded after I’d pitched. We talked, they asked questions, and even the younger people who weren’t familiar with the original show, they got that this is basically a show about a family with supernatural issues. Finally, Tracy Mercer turned to Tracy Curtis and said, ‘Tracy, you’re quiet.’ And Tracy said she was feeling emotional. She said that she really believed her father would love what I had come up with. Which, I thought, ‘If this never happens, it was worth it for this moment.’
“I will tell you, too … when we reached the point where I had answered their questions and it was time for me to leave so they could talk about me, Tracy Curtis told me that she really felt like her dad was smiling down at us. And if he had been there, he would have thrown his arm around my shoulder and said, ‘Good job, kiddo.’ I thought, ‘Well, that’s high praise. I’ll take that.’ I especially liked that somebody called me ‘kiddo’ after all these years!”
Once his pitch had been approved by the team, Perry moved along to the next hurdle: “So we went in and pitched to Warner Brothers. They liked it, and wanted to develop it. We then took it out and we pitched it all over town, and sold it in the room at NBC.
“I’d pitched to them, and part of the pitch was me saying that I even know what the last image of the final episode is when we finally get there in 2032 or ’33, kind of making a joke. I said, ‘If you want to know what it is, you have to buy the show.’ Then during the Q&A, Cara Dellaverson, who was the primary person we were pitching to, she said, ‘Okay, what’s the final image?’ I said, ‘Well, you gotta buy the show.’ And she said, ‘I’m buying the show. What’s the final image?’
“I laughed. Then I looked at my team, and they were looking at me and nodding like, ‘Yeah, that just happened.’ So I told her, we went out to lunch, and we called Tracy Curtis to tell her that we had sold it in the room at NBC.
“She laughed and said, ‘Today’s my Dad’s birthday.’ Which I thought, ‘Okay, there’s something going on here that’s kind of cool.’ So then we had some more pitches on the books, and we pitched at The CW. We pitched to Gaye Hirsch and her team there, and they were very receptive as well. They really liked it, and ended up buying it. So we were in a competitive situation, because Warner Brothers and The CW are all part of the same company.
“And, The CW has a good track record with genre and supernatural stuff, and they tend to let shows stay on the air for awhile. So we thought that was a good place to be. We developed it there, and got the script to where everybody was happy with it.
“Then, in anticipation of an impending writers’ strike, The CW picked up their entire schedule except for one show, which was Supernatural, because it was finished. So there was very little real estate on their schedule, and we unfortunately did not make the cut. From my understanding, they really just didn’t have room for it at that time.
“Since then, I’ve used the time to sort of redevelop the script closer to the version that I originally wanted to do, taking out some of the CW elements that we had added to make it more friendly for their audience. So now we have another script, and we are getting ready to go back out with it again. I can say this – I would have been proud of the one that went onto The CW, and they were great to develop with. They had really good, smart notes. But I’m happier with the version that we have now, because it feels much more Dark Shadows to me.”
So what exactly would Mr. Perry’s approach to the story have been, beyond taking inspiration from Star Trek: The Next Generation? “Well, I even say as part of my pitch, there have been two previous attempts to reboot the show for television, and they both failed for different reasons. I mean, the ’91 show, which I actually liked, was kind of a victim of scheduling. It couldn’t really catch an audience, and it got canceled. But I also feel like, and what I say in my pitch, is they both made the same grievous mistake of simply trying to remake the old show with the same old characters in the same old storylines, rather than expanding the Dark Shadows mythology to create an entire unique universe, the way Star Trek has done.
“So that’s my approach to this. We are present day, whatever that ends up being. Whether it’s 2022, ’23, whatever it is when we finally get on the air. But we are definitely a present day continuation. Everything that happened on the original show, mostly, is canon. As you know as a fan, canon changed within the show while it was around.
“There’s my favorite quote in one of the episodes. ‘You know, Barnabas, the Collins family history is not famous for its accuracy.’ I seize upon that and I say, ‘Yes, that’s true.’ I’m actually on my second rewatch of all 1,225 episodes now. You know, Josette was originally the first Mrs. Collins, and her ghost haunted the house. Then all of that was changed. There’s the famous story that even the writers couldn’t keep up with it, and would sometimes have to go out to the kids who were waiting to get autographs outside of the studio and ask them what had happened before.
“I mean, back then I don’t think anybody conceived that anyone would ever see those shows again after they aired Monday through Friday, and certainly wouldn’t be picking them apart and examining every storyline from every angle. But what I’m doing is, I’m taking established canon from the original series, and really the original series only. I’ve never embraced the fandom of it all. I’d never been to a convention, until recently. I didn’t read fan fiction. I haven’t listened to the audio plays, which I know a lot of people are big fans. I have some of the Marilyn Ross books, but even as a kid, I never read them. I just mostly liked to look at the covers.
“So I’m really going back to the source material, because I want it to be respectful. I believe it needs to be treated with the same reverence that’s been given to Star Trek by the people who’ve been entrusted with that franchise by the Gene Roddenberry Estate. I feel like I’ve been entrusted by the Dan Curtis Estate, and I have an obligation to the spirit of the show, as well as to the fans of the show, to do something that’s not completely a deviation from what Dark Shadows is.”
As the reworked version of the show is still a viable property, Mr. Perry is understandably wary of detailing much of Reincarnation’s story. Nevertheless, he does provide some tantalizing bits about its setup. “The protagonist is a young woman in her twenties. In the very first minute of the pilot, she discovers that the woman that she thought was her aunt was really her biological mother, and that her biological mother was a bloodline Collins.
“This young woman finds out the life-changing news that she is a bloodline relative of this wealthy, mysterious family in Maine. Because her biological mother, who vanished three years ago, has now been declared legally dead, our protagonist has inherited half of the estate of Collinwood. And her mother…is Victoria Winters.”
This should come as delightful news to longtime fans, as Victoria was the original protagonist of the 60s show, having been introduced in its opening moments on a train bound for Collinsport. Perry notes here that history would have repeated itself, finding his own lead introduced in a similar manner. “Yes, she’s headed to Collinsport on a train in the opening.
“The search for her is … she wants to know what happened to her mother, why her mother kept this information from her for her entire life to the point of not even letting her know that she was her mother, but letting her believe that she was an aunt who she adored but rarely saw. So part of the emotional drive is for her to find what happened to her mother, very similar to Victoria Winters, who came to Collinwood looking for answers about her own parentage.”
And the name of Reincarnation’s lead? “The name of the character right now is Tori Danvers. Tori, short for ‘Victoria’. In the pilot, when someone says it’s kind of unusual for a mother to name their daughter after themselves, she explains that ‘Victoria’ was the only thing that Victoria Winters ever got from her biological mother. She was abandoned with a note that said, ‘Her name is Victoria. I cannot take care of her.’ So the only thing she ever got from her mother was her name, and she wanted her daughter to have it as well.’ Danvers’ is an adopted name, and of course I’m winking to Rebecca.”
Even with a new character leading this tale, one wonders if any familiar faces from the original series might have made an appearance, given that some of its actors are still with us. “I will tell you this, the plan for the first season is to have a couple of legacy characters from the original show. I’m not going to tell you who they are, though! But that is the plan. That is the way the script is written, which I think provides continuity. But what’s important is, the focus of the show is going to be on the 2020s, and the next generation of the Collins family. Though it’s probably two generations by now. The focus of the show is going to be on that, but the legacy characters are crucial to the storytelling, and also to the legitimacy of the show.”
Beyond knowing how the show will end and what its final image will be, Perry notes that he not only has an overall plan for Reincarnation, but that there may be room to expand the franchise in other directions. “I do have a plan going forward, and I really do know how I want to end the show. It would put an ending to the show, except … there’s also the potential for planted spin-offs in every season of the show.
“It’s entirely possible, for example, that we might meet the heretofore unspoken of Southern branch of the Collins family, who live in a gloomy mansion in Savannah, Georgia or something. There’s any number of ways to go to keep it going. But our lead character in the main series Reincarnation, she has a specific drive, and I would like to see her achieve her goal.”
In closing out our conversation, Perry notes that the future for Dark Shadows is looking bright, even for the initial setback. “We are hopeful. I can’t give specifics, but we are hopeful. We remain committed to resurrecting Dark Shadows. As I said in another article, I think when the show first got picked up – I’m not trying to fill Dan Curtis’ shoes. I just want to bring them into the present day, that’s all.”
Very special thanks to Mark B. Perry for his time and insights.