Tuesday, December 23, 2008

House of Dark Shadows – review

vhsDirected by: Dan Curtis

Release date: 1970

Contains spoilers

Regular readers will, I hope, have read my review of Dark Shadows – the revival, which was a 1990s remake of the original gothic soap opera – Dark Shadows – which ran from 1966 to 1971. Dan Curtis also made two films based upon the original soap, in the early 1970s, and this was the first.

I am guessing that this followed the Barnabas Collins (Jonathon Frid) story from the original soap pretty darn closely – it certainly had the same basic story and structure as the first half of the revival – with some notable differences, the main being that the entire Angélique story – the witch who plagued Barnabas to undeath – is not mentioned, nor does she return to haunt Barnabas as he returns from the grave in the 1970s. For those who are unaware of the general story however…

Willie grabbedWe are in Collinsport, Maine, at the house Collinwood were Maggie (Kathryn Leigh Scott) is governess of David Collins (David Henesy) a precocious little brat (incidentally his friendship with the ghost of Sarah Collins is expunged here). He has gone purposefully missing when Willie Loomis (John Karlen), handyman, decides that he has discovered the location of the missing Collins jewels. Refusing to look for the boy, thus losing his employment, he sneaks to the Collins crypt and finds a secret chamber. Within is a coffin that has been chained. He removes the chains, opens it and a hand grabs him.

Barnabas returnsDaphne (Lisa Richards) the Collins’ secretary is attacked and the police are baffled as she has two puncture wounds in her neck and has lost a lot of blood, though she survives. The next night another local is attacked in a similar fashion and this time killed. Meanwhile a visitor arrives at Collinwood, Barnabas Collins – just arrived from England. His resemblance to the portrait of his namesake – who left America and returned to England generations before – is remarkable. He has the family jewels, which he gives to clan matriarch Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard (Joan Bennett) and in turn the family allow him to move to the old house and restore it – with Willie who now works for him.

Of course, Barnabas Collins did not return to England. He was cursed as a vampire just before his marriage to Josette, who in turn committed suicide (as I mentioned the witchcraft aspects were expunged from this telling). His father could not bear to destroy him and so chained him into the coffin. In the present day Caroline (Nancy Barrett), Elizabeth’s daughter, visits Barnabas in the old house and becomes a victim of his unholy thirst as a result.

Kathryn Leigh Scott as MaggieThere is a party and Caroline, neck hidden below a scarf, is there but she is less than impressed with the attention Barnabas is giving to Maggie. The governess is due to leave Collinwood, she cannot cope with David any longer, but Barnabas has convinced her to stay. She is wearing a dress she found that belonged to Josette and is a spitting image of the woman. Barnabas believes her to be a reincarnation of his love. The reincarnation aspects are somewhat underplayed compared to the revival, just in the background, but we should remember that three years later Curtis would take those reincarnation concepts – as well as a musical box motif that appears here – and insert them firmly into the Dracula myth.

Caroline is deadA jealous Caroline threatens to tell Maggie what Barnabas is and he loses his temper with her. He attacks her and then has Willie help her home. She makes it into Collinwood but is found dead. She is quickly buried. Professor Stokes (Thayer David), friend of the family, realises it is a vampire attack and tells his theory to Dr Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) – though she is dismissive of the theory she admits that the wounds of the victims have a cell in them that she can’t explain.

David tries to convince the adultsThen David, out playing after the funeral, falls and knocks himself out. Thinking him in his room the family do not look for him and night has fallen by the time he regains consciousness. He hears a voice calling him and then sees Caroline. He runs and tells the family but they do not believe him. Stokes does however, he tries to get them to check the crypt but they refuse. Todd (Donald Briscoe), beloved of Caroline, does go to the crypt and is bitten for his trouble. The police set a curfew.

Hoffman notices a lack of reflectionBarnabas tells her she must not return to Collinwood but goes there himself. Dr Hoffman sees, or should I say doesn’t see, Barnabas in a mirror. Her shock is evident and yet she says nothing. By the time Barnabas reaches his home he finds Willie attacked by Caroline – though still alive – and she has gone in search of Todd who, in turn, has snuck out of the house.

cops are vampire huntingIt is common in vampire stories to have the authorities not believing in vampires and, if they eventually do, it takes a lot of persuasion. Not so in Dark Shadows. The police are out in force and they all carry crosses. They corner Caroline in a barn, feeding on Todd, herd her with the crosses and allow Stokes to stake her. You don’t see that on Cops!

Hoffman confronts Barnabas but tells him she thinks she might be able to cure him. The question is will she be able to, can she divorce her feelings for him from her professional ethics, will Stokes work out the truth and will Barnabas get his lost love?

vampires togetherLore wise we are in standard territory, sunlight kills as do stakes through the heart and silver bullets through the heart. Vampires have no reflection, but they do have eye mojo and voice mojo it seems. There is the cure aspect, which is centred on the odd cell, this is a major plot area but is not explored in any type of depth.

Barnabas agedThe film is gothic but does not drip with the melodrama that infested the revival (and, I assume, the original series). The reason for this seems to be twofold. Firstly the film is very much of its time – look wise, and whilst it is not a hard and fast rule, the early seventies look does not necessarily lend itself to melodrama. More importantly the film is succinct. It concentrates on a story, does not spin it out soap opera style and cuts away the excesses such as ghosts floating around, witches coming back and all the rest.

Jonathon Frid as BarnabasI was very taken by Frid’s performance as Barnabas. He was not exactly a handsome man but he carried an air about him that allowed one to believe he could seduce the women around him. John Karlen was good as Willie and though I didn’t feel anyone else stood out there weren’t really any bad performances. This is worthy of a 7 out of 10 and do watch till the end of the credits.

The imdb page is here.

Bonus Honourable Mention: Night of Dark Shadows

vhsThe second Dark Shadows film, from 1971 and directed by Dan Curtis, lost the presence of Jonathon Frid and the producers decided to take it on another route altogether. I guess that this had perhaps a lot more of the flavour of the original episodes of the soap opera as it is essentially a ghost story and is sans vampires – Barnabas was introduced some time into the early series and was meant to be in it for a short amount of time but the presence of the vampire consolidated the series’ popularity. I mention it mainly as it is part of the Dark Shadows legacy.

Tracy and QuentinIt features the new owner of Collinwood – through inheritance I assume though that is never made too clear – one Quentin Collins (David Selby). He arrives at the great hall with his wife Tracy (Kate Jackson). Interestingly Curtis decided to use some of the more famous Dark Shadows names out of context – Quentin is not the character from the series. Collinwood, and the surrounding area, also seem devoid of life in this production whereas they were rather bustling in House of Dark Shadows.

Styles and CarlottaAt the house is housekeeper Carlotta Drake (Grayson Hall, who was Dr Julia Hoffman in the previous film) and handyman Gerard Styles (James Storm). A pair of odd ducks, of that there can be no doubt. From the first day Quentin is fascinated by a portrait of Angelique Collins (Lara Parker) – not the same Angélique who cursed Barnabas into undeath. However she was married to one Gabriel Collins (Christopher Pennock).

horny ghostThe whole thing is a ghost story, with Angelique and her brother-in-law Charles Collins (also David Selby) having had an affair and she being accused of witchcraft by Charles’ wife (Diana Millay) and Gabriel. She is hung in the grounds but her spirit is kept alive through a little girl named Sarah (Monica Rich), who happens to be reincarnated as Carlotta. Angelique wants Charles/Quentin back but she is obviously a frisky ghost as, before Quentin’s arrival, she was grinding ectoplasmic bones with Styles, who is now jealous of Charles.

Oh the melodrama – for it does reek of it, which is surprising given that the first film had so little comparatively – and, of course from my point of view, no redeeming vampires.

Incidentally other actors to return, from the previous movie, into new roles within this were John Karlen, whose role in this as writer Alex Jenkins was not as fulfilling as his Willie Loomis role, Nancy Barrett, who stopped being vampire bait Caroline and became Claire who was wife and co-author to Alex , and Thayer David as Reverend Stack, the priest who hangs Angelique. The imdb page is here.

My thanks to both Vampi and Everlost, whose help was instrumental to this article being written.


Uranium Willy said...

I actually saw this at the cinema when it originally came out. I used to watch the TV show but regularly so I have never been sure who was who. It was a really atmospheric TV show however and this movie was a little popular that the time.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Cheers Bill. The show was never over here, as far as I know. I'd love to see it but with the number of DVD sets involved I think its unlikely.

The popularity might go up given that Johnny Depp is set to revive it again (2010?), as a movie, with him as Barnabas and potentially Burton at the helm.

Hope you and Ivy have a great Yule

fstclss said...

I think that the movie House of Dark Shadows inintentionally helped the cancellation of the television show. The soap opera which ran for five years, had a large following at the time and many of the viewers were children who ran home every day to watch it. The show had a lot of implied violence and even the vampire biting scenes were tame. When the movie came out, it was rated such that a parent had to accompany the child under a certain age to the film. The gore, blood, and violence was pumped up conciderably and many parents were shocked at what their children thought was entertainment. The show eeked on for another year after the release of the film. They had run out steam and started to rehash old plot lines. Even though the ratings were still high, the show was cancelled. A few months later Night of Dark Shadows debuted. The second movie suffered from 20 minutes of cuts the studio demanded to shorten the running time. Hopefully when the movie is finally relesed on dvd, the cut scenes (which have been found) will be placed back in so the movie makes more sense. The cut scenes from House have never been found, including a scene of young David pretending to hang himself in his closet to scare his governess.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Thanks for the info fstclss, fascinating addition. I'd like to see the cut scenes. The second film felt disjointed and, whilst for me the first film worked, the scene you describe with David pretending to hang himself sounds fabulously macabre

Zahir al Daoud said...

I tried to watch this show when I was a kid (there was a dragon of a grandmother to avoid). Truthfully, the film took off in a different direction than the series, mostly because (so I've read) of Dan Curtis' preferences. He evidently hated the idea of a sympathetic vampire, which in the series certainly describes Barnabas. Frid and the writers saw Barnabas as a complex figure, one beset with rage and self-loathing who later sought out some kind of redemption.

Mine was the great good fortune to see Frid on Broadway in ARSENIC AND OLD LACE, in which he toured. Quite a talented man, with a quiet but intense sense of humor.

Barnabas methinks might be the precursor of Louis, Nicholas Knight, Angel, Bill Compton, Edward Cullen et al.

Taliesin_ttlg said...

Hi Zahir, my thought (having seen the revival) is that the story was very similar twixt film and series - until the end. A thwarted Barnabas could show his vampiric complexities in film, whereas in series he need to remain the good guy.

Certainly I think you are right iro him being a precurser to those characters you mention