Audio - Dark Shadows:The House of Despair

The House of Despair

Susan Omand delves into the Dark Shadows again and listens to the full cast drama The House of Despair...

Quentin Collins is returning to Collinsport, to reclaim his birthright. On the train he talks to a stranger who warns him to stay away from Collinwood because of the “mad people” in there and tells him about rumours of disappearances, nothing Quentin hasn’t heard before. Once off the train he heads for the Collinsport Inn and speaks to the owner, Maggie Evans, who remembers him and is pleased to see him. The witch, Angelique, is also delighted that Quentin is back in town and a malicious voice states it will feast on him. Quentin learns from Maggie that Collinwood has been abandoned, his family has left and she suggests that he do the same. Above the noise of a large flock of birds, one of which hits a window, she tells Quentin to be careful because some of Collinsport's residents are wandering around at night like empty shells and have become known as ‘the lost’. But she is reluctant to say any more, closes up the Inn and tells him to find Willie Loomis. Willie finds Quentin instead and they go to the pub, the Blue Whale, where Willie explains about looking after Collinwood in the family’s absence and that people think he is mad. The pub’s owner Ed Griffin tells Quentin that doesn’t like him or his family, having worked on the Collins fishing fleet, when Susan, Ed’s wife, enters and demands to be let outside. Willie tells Quentin she is one of ‘the lost’ as Ed takes her back upstairs. Quentin and Ed argue about the current state of the town and then Quentin goes to Collinwood with a reluctant Willie where they find the mansion overrun with birds the same malicious voice as before says that the house belongs to it now. Quentin is certain the birds are an illusion but Willie still feels unsafe in the mansion so they decide retreat to Willie's cottage. Quentin decides he needs supernatural help in order to fight the power that has taken over Collinwood and decides to summon Angelique from the dead. After Quentin conducts a ritual over the bones of Angelique, her spirit appears and she agrees to help, but on her own terms.

So who is the evil voice that “owns” Collinwood and how does Angelique know it? Who are the “lost” and what is the story behind all the birds?

This is a full cast drama told in three small episodes, with theme music and teasers breaking up each part, and I’m not sure if this was a good idea or not. On one hand it made the drama feel more like radio drama episodes that didn’t all have to be listened to at once and also gave opportunity for a couple of cliff hangers and teasers to keep the interest in the story going. However, since I am used to the one or two hander audiobooks from Dark Shadows, I found it a little bit intrusive and that it broke the flow of listening. Having said that, and having listened to it twice now, I quite enjoyed the story, even though it wasn’t action packed or overly suspenseful, and it really helped to build up the character of Angelique and her relationship with Barnabas Collins for me. The richness of the sound design was beautifully done and more important than ever, because it was a cast drama and the story could only be told through dialogue and sound effects rather than narrative or description, and the acting of the whole cast was, as ever, of the highest quality. The writing of Stuart Manning makes allowances for the limitations of radio drama, so the story is simple enough to be easy to follow through dialogue alone with no visual cues and not a lot of action but is still engaging enough with interesting new characters added to the familiar voices, even if it wasn’t as spooky or thrilling as some Dark Shadows I have listened to.

This was a solid drama and, as the first of a few full cast Dark Shadows that I’ll be listening to, I’m sure that I will enjoy them as much as I do the Dark Shadows audiobooks themselves.

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