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House of Dark Shadows


By Tom BakerPublished about a month ago 3 min read
Jonathan Frid as the vampire Barnabas and Grayson Hall as Julia

"Dark Shadows," as almost everybody knows, was a short-lived though wildly successful cult gothic television soap opera that aired in the late sixties, getting canceled comfortably one year before this feature film was made. It was the immensely long and rambling saga of the Collins family, who were haunted by an endless variety of gothic horror tropes, from the iconic vampire Barnabas (played so excellently by the quintessential bloodsucker Jonathan Frid) to the green-skinned Frankensteinian Adam (Robert Rodan); to werewolves, ghosts, demons, witches, and what-have-you. "Shadows" danced all the gothic, Lovecraftian, Stokerian, and Poesque skeletons out of the closet, played with them awhile, got bored, and then put them back before moving on to a new story arc. Stephen King, in the pages of his horror monograph Danse Macabre, called it a "Mad Hatter's tea party." He was not far off.

The classic opening incantation, "My name is Victoria Winters..." heard in the first episode of the series, was delivered by documentary filmmaker Alexandra Moltke, (a school marmish young woman who, ironically enough, in real life hails from an aristocratic lineage), is not heard here, nor is Moltke's character present. However, all of the other actors and actresses from the series are here, in a truncated form of the most popular story arc, the one resurrecting the vampire Barnabas from his very long sleep.

Willie Loomis (John Karlen), the ne'er-do-well handyman or whatever, in a search for buried loot in the old Collins house (on the estate, it now stands abandoned) manages to bring Barnabas back to life, becoming a bitch for the undead old gent, who quickly introduces himself to the family at a masquerade ball.

Carolyn (Nancy Barrett), the daughter of Collins family scion Roger (Louis Edmonds), is turned into an undead, and buried in a stereotypically rainy graveside ceremony, but is soon spotted by Roger's young, troubled son David (David Henesy). Meanwhile, Dr. Julia Hoffman, (played by Grayson Hall, sporting big sixties hair and a haggard, tired visage), realizes that Barnabas is a vamp (by seeing he casts no reflection in a mirrored cigarette case, an old, hackneyed saw going back to at least the 1931 Dracula starring Bela Lugosi) offers to use her medical and scientific super genius to restore Barnabas's humanity. (Whatever that means to a sonofabitch as cruel as he.)

In the end, it's a lose-lose for all involved, and we get the specter of Barnabas transforming into some Dick Smith old-age makeup that makes him look like Granpa from the original Texas Chainsaw Massacre. In between, we have nice if rather conventionally spooky cinematography and dark underlit faces (what else?), and the same wonderfully atmospheric and haunting musical score that made the original "Dark Shadows" such a wonderful daily foray into the weirdly paranormal and occult.

The show introduced an entire generation to gothic horror tropes, including such underground luminaries as industrial noise maven and provocateur Boyd Rice. No less a personage than Johnny Depp has donned the Barnabas cloak, for better or for worse, and the series was revived for a short while in the nineties. Collector memorabilia in the form of paperbacks, puzzles, games, record albums, and what-have-you, are still a popular item. After all, very few shows run into over a thousand episodes, so there's a lot of story arcs to plumb.

The story of this movie is a rather condensed form of the most popular "Dark Shadows" era, and, as such will serve well anyone too busy to sit down and watch the show from start to finish (this would take awhile). I recently saw a selection of episodes in the six hundreds that began with the whole Adam plotline, the resurrection of his Bride of Frankenstein gal pal, Eve (Marie Wallace), the journey to the Gates of Hell by Demonoid silent screen villain Nicholas Blair (Humbert Astredo), and the haunting of David and his little girlfriend by the ghost of Quentin Collins, who calls them on the phone. (Ironic personally, because I also feel I've had a disembodied entity communicate with me in such a manner.)

I've seen numerous episodes of "Dark Shadows" over the decades, many, many of them, and never failed to delight. It's like a vast collection of tales all with the same setting, one that can be dipped into anywhere, and still manage to put a spell on you, as the old saying goes.

Until next time, pleasant dreams.

House of Dark Shadows (1970) can be viewed for free on YouTube

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About the Creator

Tom Baker

Author of Haunted Indianapolis, Indiana Ghost Folklore, Midwest Maniacs, Midwest UFOs and Beyond, Scary Urban Legends, 50 Famous Fables and Folk Tales, and Notorious Crimes of the Upper Midwest.: http://tombakerbooks.weebly.com

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  • Andrea Corwin 11 days ago

    I used to rush home from school to watch dark shadows! That stupid woman who would end every scene with her mouth hanging up and drove me insane. But I liked all the other characters Angelique, the witch & Barnabas. I can’t even remember all the characters names, but I watched it every Day? I think it was on?

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