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House of Dark Shadows(1970)
The story of vampire Barnabas Collins, the possible cure offered by Dr. Julia Hoffman, and his search for love amidst the horror.
For more about House of Dark Shadows and the House of Dark Shadows Blu-ray release, see House of Dark Shadows Blu-ray Review published by Jeffrey Kauffman on October 27, 2012 where this Blu-ray release scored 3.0 out of 5.
Starring: Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Roger Davis, Nancy Barrett, John Karlen
Director: Dan Curtis
» See full cast & crew
House of Dark Shadows Blu-ray Review
Cheesy, yes, but also fun and even scary at times.
Reviewed by Jeffrey Kauffman, October 27, 2012
One of my very earliest memories is of my maternal Grandmother coming out to spend several weeks with my family for what must have been the Christmas holiday season. I don't think I was even old enough to be going full time to school yet; I could conceivably have been in half day preschool or even kindergarten, but I clearly remember being home in the afternoons and Grandma insisting that any and all activity cease so that she could watch her "stories", meaning the plethora of daytime soap operas that used to fill the broadcast networks back in those days. One of those shows (I want to say it was either The Edge of Night or The Secret Storm) had a storyline that dealt with a little boy being kidnapped, something that I didn't take much heed of until a few days later when my Mother and one of my sisters brought me along to go Christmas shopping at a Sears store where not so coincidentally my father was the manager. My Mom and sister had to go back for something and told me to wait near the front of the store by the cafeteria, and as I stood there, I suddenly felt a woman behind me who began stroking my head and then said, "Oh, Paul, you're probably very tired, aren't you? Don't worry, we're going home soon."
Suddenly the images of that soap opera were swimming before my four or five year old eyes and I was absolutely convinced I was about to be kidnapped. I really didn't know how to react, but I knew I was in "my Dad's" store, that most of the salespeople knew me by sight, and I could probably raise quite a ruckus if necessary. But on a very real level, I was scared beyond belief and barely breathed, let alone moved. Just like that, the woman looked down and said, "Oh! Good heavens, you're not Paul," as if I needed that tidbit of information, and then I heard her (I literally had not moved an inch since the ordeal began, and wasn't about to at that point) talk to someone behind me, "Oh, that poor little boy, I thought he was Paul, he's probably scared out of his mind." You think? This little anecdote from my long ago memory may seem like it's neither here nor there, but it at least points out the visceral impact seemingly innocuous television story lines can have on kids. If a non-horror plot point like a kidnapping can create such an imaginary scenario in a child's mind, what could an actual horror story line do, which brings up a salient question with regard to Dark Shadows, the long running Gothic soap opera that ran for years on ABC in the late sixties and early seventies. This was a show that had a devoted younger fan base, and one has to wonder exactly what it was that drew kids and teens to this often frightening but frankly pretty campy (at least to modern day eyes) outing. Whatever the sociological and/or psychological reasons were for this phenomenon, they've obviously not changed much through the years, as the current obsession with the Twilight franchise makes absolutely clear. There's just something about vampires, werewolves and other boogie men (and women) that younger audiences find irresistible.
Dan Curtis had a long if not especially distinguished career as (mostly) a producer in television and feature films, and if he occasionally attempted to grab the brass ring of respectability with outings like The Winds of War, he was for the most part known for horror outings, and often fairly schlocky horror outings at that. But Curtis quite obviously had his finger to the pulse of what the American public wanted, at least with regard to Dark Shadows, still an iconic property to this day (as the 2012 remake so aptly proves). The afternoon soap opera had become a major sensation once Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) was introduced about a year into the show's run, and Curtis obviously saw there were more profits to be had if he adapted the series into a feature film enterprise. House of Dark Shadows revisits one of the major storylines of the television series, recasting a few events and opening things up in a relatively grander fashion than the television series was ever able to (although even the film didn't exactly have a stellar budget).
House of Dark Shadows revisits the television series arc that introduced vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) to the world of Collinsport. Barnabas is unleashed from his mausoleum prison when half-witted Collins handyman Willie (John Karlen) opens Barnabas' coffin thinking he'll uncover the long lost Collins family jewels. Barnabas not only makes Willie his slave, he soon ingratiates himself with the Collins clan, which includes grande dame Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Joan Bennett), Elizabeth's daughter Carolyn (Nancy Barrett) and Roger Collins (Louis Edmonds). Barnabas soon develops eyes for Collins governess Maggie (Kathryn Leigh Scott), whom he believes to be the reincarnation of his long lost (as in really long lostówe're talking centuries here) love Josette. In the meantime nosey old Carolyn has been turned into a vampire by Barnabas when she threatens to expose his secret to the Collins clan to keep him from pursuing Maggie.
A simultaneously running plot has family historian and doctor Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) also figuring out that Barnabas is a vampire, but her medical curiosity outweighs her better judgment and she tells Barnabas she can actually cure his condition with regular injections. Part of the running subtext throughout this enterprise (and indeed of the original Dark Shadows series) is that Barnabas is somehow irresistible to women. That turns out to be the case with Julia as well, and once Barnabas reveals his plans to wed Maggie, Julia turns on him, forcing Barnabas to reveal his true (several hundred year old) self. The fact that Jonathan Frid became something of a sex symbol during the broadcast of Dark Shadows is a mystery perhaps no straight man can ever unravel. He seems to be one of the ugliest, least obviously attractive men to ever anchor a television series, let alone a feature film, but girls at least did swoon back in the day, and the film, while unintentionally funny quite a bit of the time, does make it at least passingly credible that Barnabas holds a hypnotic sway over virtually every female who gazes into his fetid eyes.
There are parts of House of Dark Shadows that seem positively ripe for the Mystery Science Theater 3000 treatment, and it must be admitted that as my wife and I watched the film we more than once descended into snarky commentary as various women did stupid things that ended up costing them their blood supply. Watching stars like Joan Bennett and onetime Oscar nominee Grayson Hall trotting their wares in lo-fi films like this can be a little depressing, but Bennett is consigned largely to a cameo role, especially after Elizabeth becomes semi-catatonic as various people start dropping like flies around her. Hall on the other hand has to carry a lot of the dramatic (such as it is) momentum of the film. If she's not quite up to the campy Grand Guignol ambience that Curtis obviously reveled in, she gives it one hell of a shot and is always a lot of fun to watch.
House of Dark Shadows may in fact be most tempting to modern day audiences as a decided exercise in camp, but it does have several spooky sequences that are properly dark and dank and help to develop the shrouded Collins storyline quite well. Curtis was both ahead of his time and slightly behind the eight ball with regard to this film. The whole Dark Shadows phenomenon obviously presages all sorts of Gothic entertainments (like Twilight) that would later become mass market phenomena, but by the time House of Dark Shadows hit the big screen and was a rather surprising box office sensation, the television show was already beginning to falter, and by the time the film's follow up Night of Dark Shadows hit screens a year later, the television series had been axed. Of course its legacy continued (and continues) to linger, as a few people like Johnny Depp and Tim Burton can attest.
House of Dark Shadows Blu-ray, Video Quality
House of Dark Shadows is presented on Blu-ray courtesy of Warner Brothers with an AVC encoded 1080p transfer in 1.78:1. This is yet another catalog title many fans probably thought they'd never see in high definition, and the results are really quite surprisingly good, especially considering the less than blockbuster budget this film was afforded during its production. Colors are wonderfully saturated, including that "Hammer"-esque red blood that drips from various wounds and fangs throughout the film. Contrast is generally quite strong, though a lot of the darker segments (and there are many of them in the film) suffer from a lack of shadow detail and in a case or two outright crush. Fine detail is quite vivid in close-ups. The higher resolution of the Blu-ray really points out some of the pretty shoddy day for night photography, howeveró while things are shaded and dusky, there's very obvious bright blue sky in the background of several of these segments. On the other hand, Frid's old age makeup looks remarkably good and convincing.
House of Dark Shadows Blu-ray, Audio Quality
House of Dark Shadows features a lossless DTS-HD Master Audio Mono track that is fairly effective, though it's hobbled by an overly shallow sounding midrange and also has some synch problems from time to time that were probably inherent even in the theatrical exhibition. Fidelity is fine, though there is occasional minor distortion when things get overly noisy, as in some sequences featuring obviously looped screams.
House of Dark Shadows Blu-ray, Special Features and Extras
House of Dark Shadows Blu-ray, Overall Score and Recommendation
House of Dark Shadows is about as close to a Hammer horror title as American films came during this era. It's undeniably campy a lot of the time, but it's also creepy and surprisingly moody as well. The fact that in its day it was played entirely without irony may strike some modern day cynics as unbelievable, and even "true believers" may wonder how someone who looks like Jonathan Frid became such a sex symbol. This Blu-ray offers unexpectedly vivid video but some occasionally problematic audio. Overall, though, if you're in the right mood for some silly scares, House of Dark Shadows comes Recommended.
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House of Dark Shadows Blu-ray, News and Updates
• Warner Brings Dark Shadows Titles to Blu-ray - July 9, 2012
In the fall, Warner Home Entertainment will bring both House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows to Blu-ray. These cinematic spin-offs of the popular television soap opera further examine the supernatural happenings at the gothic Collinwood Mansion. The ...
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