Sunday, October 19, 2014

Third Annual October Scares, Week Three: A "Dark Shadows" Double Feature

The 3rd annual Eclectic Avenue October Scares-fest continues with a look at producer-director Dan Curtis’ two Dark Shadows movies. The TV series, which ran from 1966-71, was one of the first to bring supernatural stories into a daytime soap opera.  For most of its first year, it dealt with more Gothic themed elements, as it told the story of the Collins family of Maine, and their new governess, Victoria Winters. But then vampire Barnabas Collins was introduced, and the series took a turn towards the fantastic. The show went on to feature stories of witches, ghosts, werewolves & even time travel. It was one of the most popular soaps on television for most of its run. It has been revived as a short-lived prime-time series in 1991, and in 2012 as a feature film directed by Tim Burton and starring Johnny Depp. Creator Dan Curtis (who’s also responsible for the classic TV horror tales The Night Stalker (1972) & Trilogy of Terror (1975), also produced & directed two theatrical films based on the series, one of which was released while the show was still on the air (a rarity at the time, before the current trend of creating big screen films films based on TV series):

House of Dark Shadows (1970) – The first film based on the series concerns vampire Barnabas Collins, who is resurrected after 175 years when his coffin is opened by Willie Loomis, the Collins family handyman, who’s searching for hidden treasure. Barnabas poses as a cousin visiting from England, and interacts with the family. He meets Maggie Evans, who is young David Collins’ governess, and is startled to see she bears a resemblance to his long lost love, Josette. He hatches a plan to cure himself of his vampiric curse, and claim Maggie as his own. But it won’t be as easy as he thinks to escape his past, and fate has different plans for Barnabas & the Collins family.

Filmed while the TV show was still in active production, the movie features most of the main cast reprising their small screen roles, in an altered & updated version of the storyline that introduced Barnabas. It’s a well-directed & atmospheric film, and is more graphic than the series. There are some truly terrifying moments, and the movie works as an old-fashioned vampire story. In fact, it feels a bit like a Hammer Films version of the series. The movie was a huge success during its original release, and it prompted MGM to green light a sequel.

Night of Dark Shadows (1971) – The original idea for the sequel was to bring back Barnabas, but by the time things got rolling, the TV series had ended its run, and Frid declined to return to the role. A new story was written featuring Collins family heir Quentin (David Selby) and his fiancé Tracy, who move into his family home. They meet a mysterious Mrs. Danvers-like housekeeper named Carlotta who intrigues Quentin with stories of the Collins family history. He’s drawn to her tales of his ancestor Charles and his love affair with a mysterious woman named Angelique, who was burned as a witch. Suddenly Quentin starts acting strangely, almost as if he’s possessed. It seems that Angelique’s spirit is still around…and she has plans for Quentin. This tale of ghosts, witchcraft & supernatural terror features many veterans of the TV series (Selby, Kate Jackson, John Karlen, Grayson Hall, Nancy Barrett) but the standout here is Lara Parker who is equal parts alluring, eerie & frightening as the beautiful but vengeful Angelique. Night of Dark Shadows may be slightly more accessible to non-fans. This film doesn't require as much familiarity with the series as House of Dark Shadows to fully enjoy the story.

The movie is an effective thriller, but there are some plot elements that aren’t fully fleshed out. This is due to the fact Dan Curtis was forced to cut over 30 minutes from the film prior to its release at the request of MGM. Still, this is an enjoyable tale of the otherworldly, and its fun to see TV stalwarts like Selby, Jackson & Karlen in earlier roles. Both Dark Shadows films are worth a look for fans of 70s horror, and are available on Blu-ray & DVD, as well as for online viewing. Here are links to the trailers for House of Dark Shadows: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=C6MmU3krHnE and Night of Dark Shadows: http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=DSiRN23Fdy4.

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