1970s Dark Shadows movies
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1970s Dark Shadows movies

by Billy Ingram

Dark ShadowsIt's a foregone conclusion that whenever a big screen adaptation of a TV show happens it's a disaster. Over and over we see the examples. But there was a string of motion pictures based on television shows that were as good or better than the original TV series.

They tended to be the very first television to movie 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).

The first McHale's Navy film was pretty good, the second not so great, but I would say they were on par with the sitcom. That's not really saying much but they were movies for kids.

Munster Go Home! was a dumbed down, God-awful, stretched thin episode of the CBS show (that had just been cancelled), relying too much on bad puns and childish slapstick. It might actually play better if you've never seen The Munsters before, the best gags were all too familiar from the TV production.

The first season of The Munsters represented some of the funniest television ever but the motion picture never aspired to that level of quality, in terms of the writing anyway. But it does sport the original cast (with a new Marilyn) in vivid color for the first time and featured a cool new dragster created by George Barris.

Say what you will about this mid-sixties primetime portrayal of the Dark Knight but if you liked the 1966 Batman TV show you'll love the movie of the same year.

But 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.

House of Dark Shadows movie posterThe 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 of Dark Shadows 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? Sadly, the film was a flop on all levels, absolutely dreadful and a stiff at the box office... it was so poorly received that the studio put a hold on any future projects with Johnny Depp and Tim Burton.

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.

The music by Robert Cobert was a major contributor to the overall creepiness of Dark Shadows and it is carried over nicely to the motion picture version. Some of the dialogue and camera set-ups are identical to the first Barnabas TV story arc but the house was different, by necessity. You can't shoot a motion picture on a TV soap opera set so the Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown, New York and the Lockwood-Mathews Mansion in Connecticut became the new Collins' mansions.

The feature film broke with the TV show's continuity in another key area in that almost everyone was left dead by the end credits.

Night of Dark Shadows motion picture Night of Dark Shadows I remember being 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 as 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 than the afternoon soap, obviously, 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.

Unlike the first Dark Shadows movie, which surprised everyone with strong box office receipts, Night of Dark Shadows wasn't as successful.

Dark Shadows comic bookWhy didn't Curtis do something more in the same bloody vein of the series and the first feature? Jonathan Frid didn't want to do it, he was terrified of being typecast.

Can you imagine not wanting to be the star of what could have been a lucrative film franchise? He should have instead been apprehensive about not working again; Jonathan Frid was rarely seen on TV or in movies after the ABC series left the air in March of 1971, two days before Night of Dark Shadows began filming.

The daytime soap had undergone a major change in the last months of its existence with Frid portraying perennial loser Bramwell Collins in a drab storyline that took place in the 1800s.

Gone were the vampires, werewolves, and fantastic characters, replaced instead by boring archetypes who were vaguely terrified of a room in the home, a worn out theme by then. I guess the network wanted to see if the show had any pull as a typical soap opera (set in the past?) without the bizarre plotlines before they pulled the plug.

A scene from the original Dark Shadows TV show:


The director's cut of Night of Dark Shadows was announced to be coming to DVD in 2012 (but I haven't seen it, just the theatrical version). I should give this motion picture another shot. Unlike House of Dark Shadows, 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.

An interview with series creator Dan Curtis:

Here's a Question & Answer period with Jonathan Frid, Barnabas Collins, from a 2009 Dark Shadows convention.


In 2004, a pilot for a new Dark Shadows series starring Marley Shelton as Victoria Winters and Alec Newman as Barnabas Collins was produced but never picked up.  

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