Thursday 16 August 2007

House of Dark Shadows (1970) Dan Curtis

As resurrected from my notes of October 2006...

I never saw the Dark Shadows TV series (unlike my wife who chased home from grade school every day to watch it), but I did see the second film, Night of Dark Shadows, with Kate Jackson. This was the first, and it features many of the key cast from the series including Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins, something that the second film couldn't claim. Nowadays we're used to Buffy the Vampire Slayer and all the supernatural series that followed in its wake, but back in 1966, Dark Shadows originated the concept. It was a gothic soap opera, highly unlike any other soap opera out there as lead character Barnabas was a vampire, and the rest of the cast were ghosts, werewolves, reincarnations or whatnot. All very strange stuff for a soap opera, but very popular indeed.

This film, made towards the end of the series, opens with some idiot called Willie Loomis who works for the Collins family discovering where the long lost family jewels are. He does indeed find them but also finds in the process the vampire Barnabas Collins who has been buried for a couple of hundred years in a chained coffin. Naturally he takes this opportunity to escape and nothing remains the same after that. He pretends to be a long lost relative from England, though of course he's the spitting image of the painting of his supposed ancestor that hangs in the house, and he moves into the old house at Collinswood.

The cast is a serious one. Jonathan Frid never did much else except play Barnabas, but names like Joan Bennett and Grayson Hall aren't minor figures in Hollywood. Some of the others though are obviously TV actors who are so wooden that they remind me of George Gaynes's character in Tootsie, but then again that was all about a television soap too. The story is cleverly done and there are some clever scares but all it appears very seventies indeed: the colour balance, the supposedly ethereal music, the blunt editing, the predictable camerawork that becomes very shaky when on the move.

At least this time my DVR recording from TCM didn't screw up two thirds of the way through, but I guess I don't have any more notes to make anyway. Suffice it to say that it apparently isn't that respectful to the threads of the TV series and so character motivations are changed to the degree of doing things that would never have been done. In other words, heresy. I don't know about any of that so it just seemed like an OK seventies vampire film. Nothing special. Move along.

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