Like a vampire rising from his coffin, "Dark Shadows" rises from its television grave on Sunday to haunt the airwaves again.

The gothic soap opera, which disappeared from ABC's daytime schedule in 1971, is returning as a prime-time series on NBC - vampires and all.And the new version is not a sequel to the original series; it's a remake. Same setting, same characters, same plot - even the same music.

It's the story of the Collins family, who live on the Collinwood estate in Collinsport, Maine. As Sunday's two-hour opener (8 p.m., Ch. 2) begins, Collinwood caretaker Willie Loomis goes looking for the long-lost family treasure, but his greed leads him to a chained-up coffin in the family crypt, which he opens in the mistaken belief it holds the jewels.

Big mistake. Instead of a treasure, Willie unleashes Barnabas Collins (Ben Cross), a 200-year-old vampire.

For "Dark Shadows" fans, this sounds very familiar. It's exactly the same tale told back in the '60s.

As a matter of fact, this is the second remake of the tale of the reluctant vampire. There was also a theatrical movie, "House of Dark Shadows," released in 1970.

Though few people remember this, "Dark Shadows" did not begin as a gothic horror story. When it debuted in 1966, it was a fairly straightforward daytime soap - and it bombed.

"We were on the verge of cancellation, so we brought in the horror aspects," said creator/producer/director Dan Curtis. "First a ghost, then a vampire. It sounded crazy, but it worked."

The vampire, Barnabas (played by Jonathan Frid) became an instant sensation. And that presented more problems, because Curtis had originally intended to kill him off.

"Frid's portrayal of Barnabas was an instant success," Curtis said. "He added humanity to his characterization and made Barnabas a tragic figure. Although he could have been only a menacing creature in the tradition of Dracula, Frid played Barnabas as a sympathetic man who is guilt-ridden by his need for blood and desires to be a normal human again."

As a matter of fact, Curtis sees "Dark Shadows" as a romantic fantasy, not a horror show.

"The supernatural elements, vampires and witches, added a layer of drama and intensity far beyond what a realistic daytime drama could offer," Curtis said. "A love affair with a vampire is not just another romance."

The new Barnabas, Cross (best known for "Chariots of Fire"), carries on the tradition of vampire-as-tragic-figure. Soon after his release, he meets governess Victoria Winters (Joanna Going), who is the spitting image of his long-dead true love, Josette du Pres.

Barnabas' greatest desire is to end his supernatural existence and regain the love he lost two centuries earlier.

Other members of the large cast include Jean Simmons as matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (played by Joan Bennett in the original), Roy Thinnes as Roger Collins and Barbara Steele as Dr. Julia Hoffman.

The new series will also do a bit of time traveling, just like the old one. In coming weeks, expect to be transported back to the late 18th century to learn the story behind Barnabas' curse.

And expect to see cast members playing their own ancestors and others who interacted with the Collins family.

While the new "Shadows" will hold to the traditions of the old series, there will be one major difference - Curtis has the money to do it right this time around. The weekly budget for the daytime show was about $90,000; the hourly budget is now about $1.2 million.

"The new `Dark Shadows' will retain all of the fun of the original series, but with a more elaborate look and sophisticated feel," Curtis said.

Much of the series is filmed on location at the Greystone Mansion in Beverly Hills. Constructed in the 1920s, it holds 55 roomsand 46,000 square feet - and the atmosphere is perfect for stately, lugubrious Collinwood.

The new series is also considerably more sexy (although nothing out of the norm for prime time) and more violent than the old one. When Barnabas attacks, there's blood all over the place.

Although Curtis is a natural to return to the series he created, it's also a somewhat unlikely career decision. He spent most of the 1980s producing and directing the Emmy Award-winning, epic miniseries "The Winds of War" and "War and Remembrance."

"It wasn't my idea. NBC has been after me for years," he said. "But I think it's a great story and will work all over again."

After two-hour installments on Sunday and Monday nights (8 p.m., Ch. 2), "Dark Shadows" becomes a weekly series on Fridays at 8 p.m.



Impressive troupe of regulars casts quite a shadow

Here's a quick look at the cast of "Dark Shadows":

Barnabas Collins (Ben Cross): Imprisoned in his coffin for two centuries, Barnabas is a reluctant vampire. He abhors his existence but cannot change it. He wishes to recapture the love he lost.

Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Jean Simmons): The matriarch of the Collins family and a widow, Elizabeth is cultured, refined and always proper. Her world is turned upside-down when the killings begin.

Victoria Winters (Joanna Going): The young governess to David Collins, she bears a striking resemblance to the late Josette du Pres - the love of Barnabas' life.

Dr. Julia Hoffman (Barbara Steele): Summoned to Collinsport to treat the victims, she begins treating Barnabas for vampirism. And she falls in love with him.

Willie Loomis (Jim Fyfe): The caretaker at Collinwood, Willie is unreliable, repulsive and often drunk. His treasure hunt nets him more than he bargains for.

Roger Collins (Roy Thinnes): Elizabeth's brother and David's father, he's a difficult and dangerous man.

Carolyn Stoddard (Barbara Blackburn): Elizabeth's daughter, she's beautiful and she knows it. She's willing to use her womanly wiles to get whatever she wants.

David Collins (Joseph Gordon-Levitt): Roger's son, he's a 10-year-old monster who's almost constantly hostile.

Sarah Collins (Veronica Lauren): Killed as a child two centuries ago, her ghost haunts Collinwood. She's Barnabas' sister and David's only friend.

Daphne Stoddard (Rebecca Staab): Elizabeth's niece and Joe's lover, she's one of Barnabas' first victims.

Joe Haskell (Michael T. Weiss): A fisherman and general good guy, he's madly in love with Daphne.

Professor Woodard (Stefan Gierasch): The only man in town who believes there's a vampire on the loose, his quest to prove Barnabas is the monster may prove to be his undoing.

Maggie Evans (Ely Pouget): Roger's secret lover, she helps her father run the local bar, the Blue Whale. She's also a dabbler in the occult.

Sam Evans (Eddie Jones): Maggie's father and owner of the Blue Whale, he's an old friend of the Collinses and becomes involved in the hunt for the vampire.