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House Of Dark Shadows, based on the very popular TV Gothic soap opera, follows the life (or is that AFTERlife) of Barnabas Collins. Recently unleashed from his coffin by local drunk, Willie Loomis, the vampire (Barnabas) goes on a killing spree, while at the same time charming his present day family members. In the process he meets local girl Maggie Evans and notices that she looks exactly like his deceased fiance Josette. Barnabas assumes that she is the reincarnation of Josette, and plans to make him his unholy bride for eternity. Written by
Nate Gardner <email@example.com>
"House of Dark Shadows" was filmed concurrently with the original Dark Shadows television series. During the time of filming, actors were written out of the TV series so that they would be available to shoot the movie. Kathryn Leigh Scott was absent from 30 episodes (986 to 1015); Jonathan Frid was absent from 28 episodes (983 to 1010); Grayson Hall was absent from 21 episodes (986 to 1006); John Karlen was absent from 21 episodes (990 to 1010); Nancy Barrett was absent from 20 episodes (991 to 1010): Louis Edmonds was absent from 17 episodes (991 to 1008); Don Briscoe was absent from 15 episodes (986 to 1000); Joan Bennett was absent from 15 episodes (991 to 1006); and David Henesy was absent from 9 episodes (993 to 1001). See more »
To begin with, my expectations for this vintage vampire flick one of two cinema spin-offs (but whose DVD release has been pending for several years now!) of the seemingly never-ending TV series (putting paid to the prospect of acquiring it on DVD and of which I knew next to nothing beforehand except for the name of the lead vampire!) were considerable given the cult status of the franchise (not forgetting my own impression of the other Dan Curtis work I'd watched thus far); incidentally, I don't think the more recent "Dark Shadows" incarnations have had much of an impact. Even so, I couldn't help feeling let down to some extent by the result since, while it's certainly well done in most respects and highly watchable (in spite of the over-familiar subject matter) there's nothing really outstanding about it either!
Vampirism is clearly one of the horror themes which has, pardon the pun, been done to death most over the years; yet, when handled with reasonable flair (though negated somewhat here by the full-frame presentation of the Laserdisc-sourced edition I watched amusingly reverting to a blue-screen for a split-second at one point, denoting the end of Side A!), it's able to retain all the fascination and chill-factor inherent within the subgenre. Incidentally, several vampire films made during this time utilized not always successfully a modern-day setting; this, however, was one of the more effective because the vast estate around which much of the events revolve plus the old-style look of the vampire himself (Jonathan Frid bearing a striking resemblance to Boris Karloff, with a bit of Harry Dean Stanton thrown in for good measure!) supplies the requisite Gothic touch in spades. As I said, it follows much the typical pattern of cinematic vampires: the undead Barnabas Collins obviously hides his true identity initially; he practically enslaves the man (John Karlen from DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS ) who re-awakens him (incidentally, it appears that the vampire was left chained inside his coffin for 200 years i.e. he wasn't killed in the traditional way beforehand!) without being turned into a vampire himself similarly, there's the usual illogicality in that some people become afflicted with just one bite while the heroine, conveniently, requires numerous 'sessions'!; Collins ensnares a couple of women throughout, one of whom is never seen again, but then incurs the jealousy of the other who's strong-willed and, therefore, more compelling than the lovely but rather bland heroine through his obsession with the latter, a girl who's ostensibly the reincarnation of the vampire's dead love (she's not actually a descendant of hers, but just happens to be working for the family!), etc.
A couple of novel (and interesting) ideas, then, involve the middle-aged female doctor played by Grayson Hall (she was excellent in the Tennessee Williams adaptation THE NIGHT OF THE IGUANA ). Falling for Collins herself, she attempts to use her knowledge to cure his affliction by which treatment he's able to withstand sunlight as well as diminish his blood craving; however, when he wants to speed up the process for the heroine's sake, the two fall out and he kills her, but turns soon after himself into a bald and wizened old man! Thayer David contributes another impressive turn as the family lawyer (like the rest of their various associates, he hardly ever seems to leave the premises!) who's actually the first to suspect of Frid's true nature. Unfortunately, while he had been played up as a formidable adversary for the vampire (despite his penchant for referring to him as the "living dead" and, having mentioned this, there's an inconsistency as well with the fact that vampires shouldn't but are often seen to cast reflections in a mirror!), David's then shown to have fallen victim to the curse himself off-screen which doesn't quite convince. I guess, though, that the purpose for this was two-fold: to upset audience expectations, but also to leave the gate open for a showdown in which hero who had barely featured in the plot until then! and vampire contend over the former's girlfriend and the latter's intended bride with a little help from the vampire's own slave (who happens to be smitten with the girl himself)! By the way, while veteran Hollywood actress Joan Bennett's role of family matriarch is given a prominent credit in the cast list, her participation is very small and even more disappointingly negligible!
All in all, the film is stylish and enjoyable with just the right balance of mood, thrills and even romance; while the sequel, which is to follow, NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS (1971) is said to be much inferior (not surprising given its compromised current form), I'm still looking forward to an open-minded preliminary appraisal of it. Accompanying the feature is a frenziedly-edited trailer which, delightfully typical of its time, also contains such campy narration as "House Of Dark Shadows where death is a way of life" and ending with "Come see how the vampires do it"!! For the record, after this Curtis mini-marathon, I'll be left with at least two more interesting made-for-TV horror efforts (both coincidentally broadcast in 1973) he was associated with the nth adaptation of Mary Shelley's FRANKENSTEIN and Oscar Wilde's almost-as-popular THE PICTURE OF DORIAN GRAY, both of which he only produced and are, happily, readily available on DVD...
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