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Monday, February 13, 2012

House of Dark Shadows (1970) review


Jonathan Frid (Barnabus Collins), Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie Evans), Roger Davis (Jeff Clark), Grayson Hall (Dr. Julia Hoffman)

Directed by Dan Curtis

The Short Version: Popular cinematic adaptation of Dan Curtis' groundbreaking Gothic soap opera featuring ghouls, ghosts, werewolves and vampires not the least of which was the wildly popular character, Barnabus Collins. This film is more of a compact version of the 1,225 episode series run and a right entertaining, cliffhanger packed terror tale in its own right. Those interested in exploring the TV show may find this a useful primer before digging up the DVD collections of the classic horror daytime soap opera series.


While searching for the Collins family treasure, Willie the groundskeeper is led to the family crypt. Instead of finding a wealth of jewels, he instead finds Barnabus Collins, confined within his coffin for over 150 years. Making Willie his slave, Barnabus discovers the governess of Collinwood bears a shocking resemblance to his lost love, Josette. As bodies mount and the police close in, doctor Julia Hoffman uncovers a serum from the blood of Barnabus's victims that could lead to a cure for vampirism. Falling in love with him upon curing him of his thirst for blood, Barnabus has no desire to let go his love for Maggie, the living image of his long dead Josette.

 The massively popular soap opera (1966-1971) is transformed into a major motion picture with some added blood and gore that wouldn't have passed the TV censors at the time. The storyline is essentially the TV series condensed into a 100 minute time frame. At times, the film appears to be stitched together from multiple episodes due to some choppy editing noticeable from some jarring cuts in the musical score. Even so, it isn't choppy in its narrative, although it does seem to leap around quite a bit branching off into various subplots leading up to a Hammeresque showdown inside a ramshackle monastery saturated with fog.

The typical vampire movie tropes are trotted out here such as the tiresome plot device of the bloodsucker spying a woman who reminds him of a lost love and the desire to make her his undead bride. For a nice change of pace, we get a subplot regarding a female scientist who develops a serum to cure the lovelorn, but murderous Barnabus and change him back into a mortal. Of course, with this being a horror oriented soap opera, there's plenty of betrayals, flashing fangs, broken and staked hearts to go around. Award winning make up artist Dick Smith (THE EXORCIST) contributed his hands to this picture with some choice bloody stakings and an impressive old age look for our lead vampire towards the end.

HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS has some striking sequences (mainly its ending) and some others recall certain moments from other horror pictures of the undead variety. The staking of Carolyn by Professor Stokes and the police is reminiscent of the famous scene from Hammer's DRACULA, PRINCE OF DARKNESS (1966). It's just as harrowing, if a bit more grim. It lacks the powerful resonance of James Bernard's musical cues, but it's an eye opening scene just the same. A modern setting was also shared by a runaway independent hit by the name of COUNT YORGA, VAMPIRE (1970); a film which this DARK SHADOWS big screen adaptation resembles in some ways.

 Dan Curis himself would carry on the tradition of a modern day bloodsucker with his TV movie THE NIGHT STALKER (1972) prior to producing the short lived series of the same name. With the success of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, a sequel was called for that was originally to continue where this film left off. With the series cancellation in 1971, Jonathan Frid was approached to appear in this second feature that same year, but declined. Instead of passing the fangs onto a new actor, an entirely new story was constructed which didn't go over too well with the public. The films failure ended any further movies, but the series continued in syndication with all 1,225 episodes being aired over the years. A newer version of the series was launched in the 90s, but it failed to catch on with the public.

 I've only ever seen bits and pieces of certain episodes of the original DARK SHADOWS television series, but my first exposure was to a Dark Shadows joke book that belonged to a family member. It had the iconic image of a fang flashing Barnabus Collins fixed within his devilish dog headed cane on the cover. This little book was filled with harmless jokes about various creatures of the night featured on the show and many concerning the lead vampire.

Oddly enough considering his age, Canadian born Jonathan Frid became a major heartthrob from appearing on the series after a few dozen shows had already aired becoming an instant sensation almost immediately. Unlike anything that had been seen at the time, this type of program hasn't been replicated in the form of a daytime soap opera since, or amassed the sort of cult fanbase this series has over the years. While this 100+ minute movie isn't representative of the wide expanse of the TV series, it's a great starting point for those seeking to discover what all the screaming was about regarding the horrors living in and around Collinsport, Maine.

 ***NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS is now on DVD via Warner Home Video***


Franco Macabro said...

This sounds great, I've always wanted to check it out. Let's hope that witht his new Dark Shadows movie, we finally get this one on DVD.

Last halloween I went on a Dan Curtis binge and saw a couple of his movies...Dead of Night and Burnt Offerings, he has a unique old school style that I enjoyed.

Unknown said...

Man I remember watching the tv shows when I was the kid. I loved all screw ups. The movie was well done compared to the tv show.

venoms5 said...

@ Fran: I think I read somewhere a DVD release was planned for both the DARK SHADOWS movies. I agree about Curtis' style. He was really good at establishing an atmosphere of dread in his TV movies. You've been busy, Fran. Will try to catch up with you today!

@ Max: It's been years since I saw some of these episodes and I wasn't even born when the show was alive and well, lol.

Unknown said...

Lucky you...
I watched them after school.
Yes..yes Max is Old.

venoms5 said...

I hear ya! I'm gettin' there, myself, Max. Old that is!

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