This week we brush up on our Collins family history in anticipation of Tim Burton's DARK SHADOWS. First up: Barnabas Collins' first cinematic outing.
On Friday we'll get to see Tim Burton's interpretation of the 1960s soap opera Dark Shadows. Though I imagine it's all hands on deck this week at Warner Brothers to get a Justice League movie up and running, I'm sure someone over there is fretting over what's going to happen to Burton's film in the wake of The Avengers' explosive opening weekend. Perhaps the huge lines I witnessed for Earth's Mightiest Heroes last night means everyone will have seen it by May 11, giving this quirky looking remake a fighting chance? Maybe?
In the meantime, let's look back at the first attempt to bring Dark Shadows to the big screen. House of Dark Shadows was filmed and released in 1970 while the daily soap was still on the air (an unusual move, give or take an X-Files). Show creator Dan Curtis wrote the cast of the film out of the TV show for a spell so they could head to the Tarrytown/Sleepy Hollow region of the Hudson Valley in New York to retell the resurrection of Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) for the big screen. It's a seriously pared down version of events: Angelique, the side piece/witch who put the vampire curse on Barnabas on the TV show (and upcoming film) is mentioned only in passing, and then not even by name. The series' original ingenue, Vicki Winters, is absent, her role melded into the character of Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott), the Collins family governess who looks a whole lot like Barnabas' lost love Josette. John Karlen is back on Willie Loomis duty, serving as the Renfield of the piece, and Grayson Hall reprises her role as Dr. Julia Hoffman, Barnabas' blood specialist/unrequited love.
The rest of the series cast is present, seemingly out of fan expectation; almost no one has anything to do but get either murdered or turned into vampires. (Spoiler: they all eventually do.) Barnabas Collins, often cited as the first "sympathetic vampire" in pop culture, takes a step back here into more of a walking pestilence a la Bram Stoker's original vision of Dracula, unleashing a veritable plague of vampirism onto his descendants. The gore is ramped up (marginally; the movie is still a PG), and as you can see in the trailer, the marketing played up a sexual kink that was absent from the show and isn't all that prevalent in the film (though I suspect Burton's film won't delve into the incestuous relationship between Barnabas and his cousin Carolyn, who's presented in this film as his stalker/willing blood donor).
It's a dreary experience compared to the live-on-tape energy of the TV series, and the actors all seem either bored or tired. Frid made no bones at the time about the fact that he hated doing the film, and shortly afterward he informed Dan Curtis he didn't want to play Barnabas anymore. Aside from some fun make-up courtesy of Dick Smith and some trippy 70s sound design, the film (Dan Curtis' directorial feature debut) is unimaginatively presented and mostly misses the point of what made the TV series appointment television for kids of the era.
But as a kid in the 80s who was constantly frustrated by the series' spotty syndication runs, I never got to see the whole series, and when Channel 9 in Secaucus would run the movie, it offered some kind of closure. Though it never made it to DVD, House of Dark Shadows is available on Amazon Instant, and the new film has prompted movement on a high definition remaster, which will probably hit home video shelves to coincide with the Blu-ray release of Burton's film.