House of Dark Shadows (Dan Curtis, 1970)

House of Dark Shadows

So, a historic event happened last Tuesday.

That’s right, House of Dark Shadows aired on Turner Classic Movies.

Forget to set your DVR? It’s okay. I set my DVR and I’m never, ever going to erase it until it is released on a Blu-Ray/DVD Combo pack combined with Night of Dark Shadows, inundated with cast & crew commentary, deleted scenes, and behind-the-scenes documentaries. (Get on that, MPI.) Plus, you are all invited to a House of Dark Shadows party…

  • What? House of Dark Shadows P-A-R-T-Y!!
  • When? Anytime you’re in the mood to let the greatest vampire of all-time tell you how much you remind him of his long-lost love from the 18th century. (He’ll give you a really cool music box.)
  • Where? The Old House, of course!
  • Why? Because Barnabas Collins is simply irresistible.

I watched the film again for the first time in about ten years, and I finally got an interrupted night of sleep sans nightmares, so I think I’m finally ready to write about it.

I first saw House of Dark Shadows when I was in middle school, and what I remember most about it is blood–lots of blood–and the slew of nightmares that followed. It is considerably more graphic than the original series, and it is definitely a scary movie, mostly because this is something that could really happen. Or at least I think so.

House of Dark Shadows is essentially an adaptation of a handful of the television show’s original stories–the resurrection of Barnabas Collins, his pursuit of Maggie Evans, and Dr. Julia Hoffman’s efforts to cure him of his vampirism. There are several differences, however, most notably the number of people who discover Barnabas’s secret and Collinwood’s doorbell upgrade. There are also a few plot holes–for example, how is it possible for Barnabas to acclimate to the 20th century so quickly? When we see him attack his first victim, he knows, without question, how to open a car door.

Overall, it is a good adaptation of the show’s central story, but watching the initial 200 or so episodes of the show is ultimately more satisfying because of the detail involved. The character of Angelique, so fundamental to understanding Barnabas’s story and his curse, is unfortunately absent. (David Selby is also sorely missing from the film, but we forgive him because somebody had to carry the show, which was being filmed simultaneously, while Jonathan Frid was away. A belated happy birthday to Selby, who turned 71 yesterday!) It will be interesting to see how Tim Burton’s film adapts the same story.

Barnabas Collins, House of Dark Shadows

Makeup artist Dick Smith used the same bald head appliance he had created for Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man for the aged Barnabas Collins in order to save time and money.

Turner Classic Movies was airing the film as part of a tribute to makeup artist Dick Smith, who was awarded an Honorary Academy Award in 2011. (His impressive credits include, in addition to House of Dark Shadows and the Dark Shadows television series, Little Big Man, the first two Godfather films, and Taxi Driver.)

Jonathan Frid should have one of those. Definitely.