Here's What Happens When the Hot Vampire Steps Off the Screen and Writes Her Own Damned Book
by David-Elijah Nahmod
It's sort of a meta-memoir: Actress and author Lara Parker, best known for her portrayal of the semi-evil, lovesick witch Angelique on the classic horror-soap Dark Shadows, has released her newest novel, which is based on the series itself. Dark Shadows: Wolf Moon Rising is in fact the third novel in which Parker reveals new, previously untold tales in the life of her bewitchingly beautiful character.
Lara Parker was vamping before Kristen Stewart ever scowled at a camera
Dark Shadows premiered on ABC on June 27, 1966. From the beginning, it was notably different from competing daytime dramas. A Gothic romance loosely patterned after Charlotte Bronte's Jane Eyre, the series offered hints of the supernatural, but never delivered upon that promise. The ratings were low, and the show was nearly cancelled six months into its run.
But everything changed in April of 1967.
Viewers were introduced to Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), daytime TV's first bona fide bloodsucking vampire. Frid, a classically trained stage actor, played Barnabas as though he were playing Hamlet, often delivering melancholy speeches while thunder and lightning raged in the background. Viewers were mesmerized. The ratings soared, and Frid, already middle-aged, found himself an unlikely teen idol and sex symbol.
Six months later, Dark Shadows took viewers where no soap opera had ever gone before: to the 18th century. There, viewers met Angelique (Parker) and learned how their hero Barnabas had become one of the living dead. When Angelique, scorned by Barnabas, cursed him with eternal life and eternal loneliness, viewers wept for Barnabas.
"I thought I had arrived," Parker recalls with a smile. "I had an apartment in New York, a charge account at Saks, and a part on a TV show."
It was the young actress' television debut. For the next four years, Barnabas and Angelique fell in and out of love as they traveled through the centuries, often sparring in daytime TV's first co-dependent relationship. It was the role of a lifetime.
Parker chewed the scenery as she cast spells and conjured up demons, her hypnotic eyes glaring at the camera. She became a celebrity, with her own fan club, a personal invitation from Johnny Carson to appear on The Tonight Show, and mail from Christian groups urging her to repent. Parker was convinced that Angelique was only the beginning; she was sure that movie stardom was imminent.
It wasn't meant to be. She moved to Hollywood in 1971, and found herself relegated to supporting player status. "I worked a lot, made some nice money, bought a house, but I never became a star," she says.
Twenty years later, the phone stopped ringing. Undaunted, Parker went back to school and got her teaching certificate. She's been an English and creative writing teacher in the Los Angeles school system and at Santa Monica City College, yet Dark Shadows remained a part of her life. A regular attendee at annual Dark Shadows Festivals on both the West and East Coasts, Parker also gave interviews during the 1990s, when the series was released on VHS and rerun on the Syfy Channel. She began watching the old episodes again and realized that there were more Dark Shadows stories to be told.
In 1998, Harper Collins published Dark Shadows: Angelique's Descent, Parker's first novel. Filled with an intense sexuality that was missing from the more Victorian TV series, the book's print runs sold out. In Descent, Parker delved into Angelique's background as a voodoo practitioner, which was only hinted at on the tube.
"I thought a lot about Angelique," Parker says. "How she became a witch, what her motivations were. I started reading about the slave trade and sugar plantations in the Caribbean, where Angelique came from -- there was a lot of wonderful research to be done."
Parts of the book recounted scenes between Angelique and Barnabas that had been included on the TV storylines. "I used Daphne Dumarier's Rebecca as a model," she says. "I broke down the dialogue, the character descriptions, and the settings. For sequences that were seen on the screen, I described them and inserted dialogue. Angelique's Descent is very true to the TV show, but it's told from Angelique's point of view."
2006 saw the publication of Dark Shadows: The Salem Branch, in which Parker took her readers on a journey to Salem, Mass., circa 1692. There we learn about the life of Miranda Duval, who was Angelique in a previous life.
"Salem Branch was an exercise in writing," she says. "The 1692 storyline was my effort to be a more literary writer. I went for my Masters in creative writing and was encouraged by several well known writers."
Her newest book, Dark Shadows: Wolf Moon Rising, reveals a previously untold chapter in the life of Quentin Collins, the TV series' resident werewolf. Like his cousin Barnabas, Quentin has been cursed to live forever young and forever lonely. In Wolf Moon Rising, a 50-ish Quentin, who still appears to be in his mid-20s, returns to Collinwood, the old family mansion. The time is the Roaring Twenties, and Collinwood, as always, is rife with the supernatural.
"Dark Shadows: Wolf Moon Rising"
"I'm a writer for hire," Parker observes. "I mustn't wander too far from the Dark Shadows saga. The fans are important and I want them to be entertained. The fans have kept Dark Shadows alive all these years, they're the reason I'm writing these books."
Parker admits to being a little bit nervous about making personal appearances. "I'm basically a shy person," she says. "Which comes as a surprise to a lot of people."
She has nothing to fear. Dark Shadows remains a vibrant franchise with a sizable and intensely loyal fan base. Those fans include Borderlands Books owner Alan Beatts.
"As a pre-fixed rule we don't carry books that are media tie-ins," Beatts says. "We specifically made an exception for Lara Parker because I thought this was important. Dark Shadows was the first episodic supernatural TV show. It set the stage for many of the things which came later, like Night Stalker and Buffy. You can't understand where you are if you don't know where you've been."
Original Dark Shadows episodes are available for streaming on Hulu and Netflix, or on DVD through MPI Home Video.
Lara Parker reads from Dark Shadows: Wolf Moon Rising on Friday, Aug. 23 at 7 p.m. at Borderlands Books, 866 Valencia, S.F. Call 824-8203 or visit borderlands-books.com. Dark Shadows episodes are available for streaming on Hulu and Netflix.