Learning about how Dark Shadows developed has freed me a bit, I think. The stories between the original program, the novels, and the movies were never consistent. I’d made that most fundamental of Fundamentalist errors—I’d assumed there was only one story and it went in only one way. This helps explain, but not excuse, the Burton-Depp version of the story. In any case, now I can read the novels with minimal baggage. Understanding childhood is important if we survive long enough for it to haunt us. Barnabas, Quentin and the Body Snatchers is a departure, even for Marilyn Ross. Something critics sometimes overlook is just how literate the original, and subsequent, program was. Ross occasionally attempts to cash in on that without feeling tied to the story line.
This plot relies on the 1956 movie, Invasion of the Body Snatchers. Indeed, as a daily show Dark Shadows couldn’t really utilize a “monster of the week” format effectively (although it seems to have given the idea to those who later did). The novels, however, could draw on such cultural tropes. Both major releases of Body Snatchers (there was a remake after Dark Shadows ceased, in 1978) were considered terrifying by implication: how could you tell if someone took over the body of someone you know? Who could you even trust, if such a phenomenon were possible? Since such things aren’t common down here, it’s easier to suggest they come from outer space. So it is that this installment has the weird juxtaposition of a vampire and werewolf having to outsmart aliens who take over human bodies. Kind of an early monsters vs. aliens scenario.
Again, not to seek too much depth where it doesn’t naturally exist, this scenario raises interesting questions. How would terrestrial and extraterrestrial supernaturals interact? I’m not sure W. E. D. Ross was up to this kind of gothic-sci-fi mash-up. He was, after all, primarily a romance writer. (Although, a recent trip to a library book sale and used bookstore in the same day led to the realization that paranormal romance is a burgeoning field.) I recently read an article disputing the “willing suspension of belief” that is said to accompany such ventures. As an adult I know that these novels are what must be considered cheesy, quick, and formulaic ephemera. Still, I couldn’t help being pleased to see Barnabas and Quentin cooperating here. If aliens ever do decide to invade, we’ll need all the help we can get.