Written by James Goss, Directed by Joseph Lidster
In which 21-year-old Judith Collins (Benson) chafes at waiting hand and foot on her aged grandmother Edith (Crawford) and yearns for more out of life – a desire which might be granted when Judith discovers a ballroom in Collinwood’s West Wing that was sealed off for good reason…
With Joan Bennett having passed away in 1990, it seemed as if any hopes of her Dark Shadows characters being realized on audio died with her. However, James Goss had the smart idea of presenting Judith Collins as a younger woman and perhaps explaining how she became the stern spinster of the 1897 Flashback.
Having Amber Benson portray the younger Judith rather pleasingly unites the Dark Shadows universe with Buffy the Vampire Slayer, but the script does Benson few favours. Judith claims that her heart is full of boldness, but we get little indication of this in Benson’s performance. With Judith falling under the spell of Redmond van Buren (Unsworth) – the spirit of a charming young man who exists within the ballroom’s mirrors – Benson has to act bewitched, bothered and bewildered, which is never the easiest thing for the best of actors to do at the best of times. And worse, most of the confrontational scenes with “Grandmama” Edith fall flat, possibly because the two actresses were recording their parts at opposite ends of the United States – although still able to hear each other’s performances through a Skype connection – and thus don’t “spark” off each other in the same way they might have done otherwise.
A heavily visual story, Dress Me In Dark Dreams suffers from “show, not tell syndrome” at times, but I don’t really see how this could’ve been avoided. Also, the sound effects applied to James Unsworth’s voice make him difficult to understand at times, especially if one is using less-than-optimal listening equipment. Despite these issues, it’s still nice to learn the history of a previously unrecorded time at Collinwood and more of enigmatic Edith’s back-story. Who knows? Perhaps one day we’ll even learn how she survived being murdered by her husband in 1840…
Verdict: Although it shares more than a few plot elements with the much-derided Star Trek: The Next Generation episode Sub Rosa, at least this supernatural romance is firmly in the genre where it belongs. 6/10
John S. Hall