So you want Dr. Freex
to show his age some more, eh? You want him to tell you how he used
to run breathlessly
home from school to watch the daily dose of Dark Shadows on TV,
thanks to the local station that delayed the broadcast one hour just
for little monsters like himself? How, when this movie was released,
all Dr. Freex' little friends went to go see it, but Dr. Freex did not?
How he begged his mother to take him when it finally showed up at the
drive-in theater, and she finally relented, but parked waaaaaaaay back,
next to the snack bar, so they wouldn't have to walk far to the restroom,
and the young Freex' deteriorating eyesight made the murky screen even
Tough luck. I'm not gonna.
Dark Shadows was
a bona fide phenomena, spawning novels, comic books, games, bubble gum
cards... you name it. It was only slightly less pervasive than the Batman
craze. I remember the series creeped the hell out of me at times, and
I had a few sleepless nights courtesy of producer/ ubermensch Dan
So I was kind of interested
when Dark Shadows started being released on videotape. Nice to
revisit the old haunts, as it were. Guess what? You can't go home again.
Dark Shadows was,
first and foremost, a soap opera. My wife claims that
she only has to watch an episode of her soap every three or four months
to keep abreast of the storyline. This is probably true, as the soap
by nature unfolds very slowly, and gives the viewer a powerful dose
of recap every episode. This does not make for very compelling extended
viewing. A friend (a big DS fan) says he likes to watch them
one episode per day, just like God intended. All very well and good,
if you bought the tape, but what if you just rented the damn thing?
So, as a compromise,
let's just watch the movie. It's not that long, and unlike the soap,
The plot (as if you needed a recap)
involves the rapidly decaying Collinwood clan (now the Collins-Stoddards).
Handyman Willy Loomis (John Karlen), searching for the Missing Collins
Jewels, unchains a coffin and out pops Barnabas Collins (Johnathan Frid),
professional vampire, who proceeds to take over "the old house"
under the guise of a distant relative. He turns Carolyn Stoddard (Nancy
Barrett) into a vampire, but then falls in love with the governess,
Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott), who appears to be the reincarnation
of Barnabas' old love, Josette (so you see, Bram Stoker's Dracula
totally stole its plot from House of Dark Shadows!) (It
sure as hell didn't steal it from Stoker's novel, but that's a rant
for another time).
Carolyn doesn't take too kindly to
Barnabas' affection for Maggie, but things are getting a tad dull, so
Carolyn tries to put the bite on brother David (David Henesy), and gets
staked for her trouble by Van Helsing manque Prof. Stokes (Thayer
David). MEANWHILE, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall), isolates an odd
bacteria in Barnabas' body and starts a treatment that eventually allows
him to venture outside during the day, and to slowly cure his vampirism.
Then she get jealous of Maggie, slips Barnabas a mickey that
makes him grow very old (Dick Smith Little Big Man old), causing
him to kill her, attack Maggie, turn almost everyone else into vampires....
Well, there's not a whole
lot of people left standing after the end of House of Dark Shadows,
making a sequel practically impossible. So, of course, they made Night
of Dark Shadows, employing a few actors they had not killed, like
Kate Jackson and an un-lycanthropic David Selby. And of course, Lara
Parker's famous Angelique. By this time, the Dark Shadows phenom
was largely over, and after Curtis was forced to cut a disastrous 45
minutes from the director's cut, most of it involving Angelique....
the movie, and Dark Shadows itself, ungracefully expired.
So how is House of
Dark Shadows? Pretty dreadful, actually. This baby was rushed, and
it shows. A beautiful mansion was found to fill in as Collinswood, and
this of course brought with it new problems; on the sets built for the
TV series, moving a wall to allow camera movement and setups was no
problem . This isn't practical in a real house (on a nothing budget),
so the solution was to have practically every shot hand-held.
I can tolerate Shakycam on reality-based TV shows like Law and Order
or NYPD Blue, but in a gothic movie it seems terribly inelegant,
jarring, and out of place. There was a lot of hand held work going round
in 1970, which is probably another thing we have to blame on the French
New Wave. But I digress.
The movie employs quite
a bit of shorthand, relying on the fact that anyone watching this was
familiar enough with the characters that they could get away with the
sketchiest of development. Who the heck are the beefcake boyfriends
of Maggie and Carolyn (Roger Davis and Donald Briscoe, respectively)?
Daphne? Who's Daphne? And just what the hell is Professor Stokes a professor
of, that he should so instantly and wholeheartedly believe in vampires?
Personally, I find it hard to believe
that Johnathan Frid was ever considered sexy, but many fans will loudly
proclaim me wrong. There's no denying he's a capable actor, however,
even though the movie Barnabas is far less sympathetic than the TV
incarnation. Grayson Hall is much, much twitchier than I remember
her. Nancy Barrett is a standout as the vampiric Carolyn; but frankly,
of all the characters, I think John Karlen comes off best as the Renfield
wannabe, Willy, who seems to be the only one showing actual human
emotions in all of this.