Friday, March 21, 2014

The Lurid, Sexualized 1970s Dark Shadows Movies

Whenever a big screen adaptation of a TV show is released it's a disaster, for decades that's been the case. Dark Shadows with Johnny Depp being a prime example. But there was a string of motion pictures based on television shows that were as good or better than the originals. They tended to be the very first such adaptations - McHale's Navy (1964), McHale's Navy Joins the Air Force (1965), Munster Go Home! (1964), Batman (1966), and House of Dark Shadows (1970).

For me, House of Dark Shadows stands as the most effective TV adaptation to the big screen until Star Trek II the Wrath of Khan came along in 1982.

The daytime soap opera Dark Shadows struggled to find an audience before Jonathan Frid joined the cast as Barnabas Collins. This happened in 1967 just after Batman ignited in primetime; both Frid and Adam West became instant pop icons. Perhaps it was the success of the Batman movie that prompted MGM to green light a film version of Dark Shadows four years later.

The motion pictures House of Dark Shadows from 1970 and the sequel Night of Dark Shadows from 1971 finally appeared on DVD in 2012. Interest in the Johnny Depp film version briefly made the series super hot again. Who would have thought this daily soap opera would rise again after the failed primetime revival in 1991?

House of Dark Shadows is a faithful re-telling of the origin of Barnabas Collins straight from the soap opera plotline, only far more gruesome and bloody. Creator and producer Dan Curtis constructed a rock solid scenario so a blood curdling time was had by all. There are many creepy moments and genuine chills in this gothic tale of a vampire released after more than a century in captivity, consumed with a longing to romantically reconnect with his long-buried past.

Night of Dark Shadows, on the other hand, was schlocky and seemingly meant to go straight to the Drive-In circuit, the equivalent in 1971 of going direct to DVD. Like the television series, part of the film takes place in the past but there's no Barnabas - instead Quentin Collins (David Selby) is the center of attention, a silly prat possessed and in love with the ghost of Angelique.

Most of the cast of House of Dark Shadows returned except Jonathan Frid and Joan Bennett (Elizabeth Collins Stoddard). I guess she stayed dead after the last movie. Actors who played supporting characters that were offed in the first film were reincarnated with different identities in Night of Dark Shadows - but then that was a common thread on the TV show as well. This movie was a great deal more violent and overtly sexual that the previous, but not the least bit scary. I was left totally confused by the whole tawdry affair, being a fan of the show and seeing familiar characters in so murky a setting.

The director's cut of Night of Dark Shadows was announced in 2012 but I never saw it released, just the theatrical version. Night was directed by Dan Curtis but MGM forced him to rush cut over 35 minutes from his finished film. This might account for the lack of cohesion.

 Read more about the 1970s Dark Shadows movies!