Vampire Barnabas Collins is accidentally released from his centuries-long confinement at his family's estate in Maine. He targets his clueless descendants who live there now and pursues Maggie, the incarnation of his lost love.
Young David Collins has gone missing from his home on the Collinwood Estate. While others try to find him - he in reality playing a prank in just hiding - incidents occur not only on the estate but in town, where some have been victimized by some unknown creature who has left a pair of puncture wounds in their neck. Those that have not survived have literally been drained of their blood by the creature. Following the start of these incidents, a long lost relative of the Collins from England, Barnabas Collins, arrives at the estate, the rest of the family knowing he being who he says he is by the uncanny resemblance to his namesake, who lived approximately one century ago and whose portrait hangs in the main house. Barnabas decides to stay in fixing up the old house on the estate with the help of Willie Loomis, who had just been fired by the family patriarch, Roger Collins. Barnabas' decision is strengthened when he finds a reason to stay in being able to complete something he was ...Written by
When Barnabas reaches for the handle of Daphne's car door, and when soon after when he stalks Maggie in the Old House, he is wearing the same period garb as when released from his coffin, as well as an ankle-length cloak. But when stalking Daphne in the woods prior to attacking, he's clearly wearing contemporary shoes and pants, and a much shorter cloak. See more »
Professor T. Eliot Stokes:
If I told the police that the creature they're looking for lives by night, and sleeps in a coffin by day... they might question my sanity.
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SPOILER: There is a scene during the closing credits: Barnabas turns into a bat and flies away. See more »
The preview version of the film included a scene where young David Collins pretends to hang himself. No copies of this footage are known to exist. 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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