“She said Collinwood was like a perfect clock.”
And they’re off, out the door and down the path and away to Tarrytown, New York, to film House of Dark Shadows, an unwise reprise which revisits the past and destroys the future.
Vampire protagonist Barnabas Collins has been trapped in a chained coffin by Willie Loomis, a nice bit of dramatic loop-closing which is such a great metaphor for the decline of the show that you almost wish they’d just roll the credits and get it over with. As of this week, there’s exactly one year left in Dark Shadows, and the final year will end as it began, with six weeks of Jonathan Frid not playing Barnabas.
He’s heading upstate, along with about two-thirds of the cast, to appear in a feature-film presentation of his original storyline, but faster and grislier. Today’s episode aired on April Fool’s Day, but it turned out MGM wasn’t joking after all; they’re really handing over 750,000 American dollars to make a Dark Shadows movie.
But the TV show is still on the air five times a week, so to fill up the extra time, they’ve invited the audience to enter a parallel universe, where the main characters are Quentin, Angelique and whoever else is left behind after the exodus.
It’s premature to really get into the merits of the film, as well as some of its noticeable demerits; we’ll take care of that when everybody comes back. Right now, we ought to discuss the filming, and its impact on the show.
The 2009 Dark Shadows Movie Book says, “For the screenplay, Curtis turned to series writers Sam Hall and Gordon Russell. Naturally, members of the TV series cast would also appear in the film, reprising their roles.”
That second sentence is extremely peculiar, because there’s nothing “natural” about the idea that the TV cast would appear in the movie version. If we lived in a sensible universe, that sentence would be, “Naturally, members of the TV series cast were too busy making the TV series to appear in the film, so their roles were recast.”
That’s what they did with Doctor Who in 1965, when somebody decided to make a movie version of the Doctor’s first battle with the fiendish Daleks. They called it Dr. Who and the Daleks, and instead of using William Hartnell, the actor playing the Doctor on the show, they cast Peter Cushing and called the character Dr. Who, because that’s what normal people think he’s supposed to be called.
They could have cast the other TV regulars, if they’d wanted to. The actress who played Susan had left the show in late 1964, and the actors playing Ian and Barbara were free by late spring 1965. But they didn’t cast the TV actors, because it probably never occurred to them. The filmmakers cast a much younger girl to play Susan, they turned Barbara from a schoolteacher into Dr. Who’s niece, and made Ian her clumsy boyfriend. They even redesigned the Daleks, which is the one thing they could have easily kept consistent with the show.
But that’s the “natural” way to make a movie that’s based on a TV show, if the show’s still in daily production. You do it with other people. But the Dark Shadows team made House of Dark Shadows unnaturally, which is the only way they knew how.
In order to provide a smoother transition, they taped the last couple weeks out of order, so that they could include the main cast at the start of the Parallel Time story. They’re actually filming the last week of the Leviathan story next week, which explains a bit about why the Leviathan finale focuses so much on Jeb, Bruno, Nicholas and Sky, rather than Carolyn or Barnabas or anybody useful.
But they made sure that Barnabas, Julia, Carolyn, Maggie and Willie were all in yesterday’s episode, to establish that this is still Dark Shadows, before Collinwood empties out. Barnabas is gone now, and Julia and Maggie will be out by the end of the week. Liz, Roger, David, Carolyn and Willie have one more episode apiece, and then there’s three weeks with nobody from the movie cast except Sabrina, who has a minor role in the movie, and David, who gets time off for good behavior.
In the middle of the film shoot, the TV show actually shut down production completely for a week and a half, just burning through their backlog of episodes while they wait for the real cast to return. When they start taping again, they’ll only be a week ahead of broadcast, and they’ll stay in that range from now until the end of the show, which, as I said, is exactly one year from now.
So everyone’s packed their bags and gone to Lyndhurst, aka Lyndenhurst, aka Knoll, aka Paulding’s Folly, aka, for our purposes, Collinwood. It was built in 1838, with a limestone exterior quarried at the Sing Sing Correctional Facility, a maximum security prison. Railroad tycoon Jay Gould owned the mansion for a while, and in 1961, Gould’s daughter Anna gave it to the National Trust for Historic Preservation. Filming Dark Shadows movies is probably not what she had in mind.
Its hallways are narrow, I’m told, the windows small and sharply arched, and the ceilings fantastically peaked, vaulted and ornamented. The effect, according to my source, which is obviously Wikipedia, is at once gloomy, somber and highly romantic; the large, double-height art gallery provides a contrast of light and space. It sounds ghastly.
But Dan Curtis, the mad king of Dark Shadows, wanted to make a movie more than he wanted to make a TV show. At this point, he’d already made a hit show, mission accomplished. The passion and ambition that brought us Dark Shadows in the first place was now turning to other projects and other ideas. Plus, he had a thousand ideas for terrible gimmick shots, and he couldn’t wait to try them all out.
The grown-ups in the cast had all made movies before, especially Joan Bennett, but for the younger cast — Kathryn Leigh Scott, Nancy Barrett, John Karlen — this was how movies got made, in narrow hallways, with an insane director and a seriously abbreviated shooting schedule. MGM didn’t care what the movie was like, as long as it was cheap, and the only requirement was that it be made fast and under budget. This would have rattled another cast, but these were Dark Shadows people. They were used to producing ridiculous footage at top speed for no money.
In fact, the difficult part for the TV cast was how slow everything was on film. They did retakes. They had to stop for weather. They would sit around on chairs, wondering what was happening and why the camera wasn’t on. These people were used to doing all their acting in twenty-two minute sprints.
Kathryn Leigh Scott kept a diary of her experiences during the 30-day shoot, which is printed in The Dark Shadows Movie Book, and it provides a perfect window into the House of Dark Shadows shoot. The diary starts out with teeth clenched tight, determined to learn and be grateful for this opportunity, even though they have to spend the whole first day standing under a firehose, filming a funeral. It quickly turns into a litany of mostly-cheerful complaints — the portrait is rotten, the wedding dress is disappointing, she has to kiss Barnabas in old age makeup, and Roger Davis is impossible.
“Roger is impossible,” she writes. “He attempts to direct the scene, but Dan is having none of it. Yet he’s invited Roger to come back on the show to play my boyfriend. Why am I being punished?”
But the most revealing thing about the diary is what she doesn’t say — or, rather, when she doesn’t say it. She gets a good three pages out of day 1, a decent amount on days 2 and 3, and then by day 5, she writes twenty-seven words. There’s nothing for days 8 through 10, and an even longer gap between day 16 and day 28, when she realizes the shoot’s almost over and manages to write decent entries for the last couple days.
Kathryn Leigh Scott is the female lead in a feature film that she didn’t even audition for, and she’s already fed up with it by the end of the first week. That’s what happens when you spend a week in close quarters with Dan Curtis in manic auteur mode. Yes, the large, double-height art gallery provides a contrast of light and space, but you are no longer interested in appreciating it. You just want Roger Davis to leave you alone.
Oh, and then there were the dead bodies, which was another hassle. Here’s Dennis Patrick, from the Movie Book:
“There was a grave-diggers strike going on at the time, so all these bodies to be buried were piling up in one of the buildings where we were shooting. The cemetery hired non-union labor to remove and bury them late in the day. While we were shooting, we kept being interrupted by this procession of workers carrying corpses out. Dan had enough distractions and bellowed, ‘Can you do that later, please, it’s not like they’re going anywhere!'”
So how do you approach that, as a metaphor? Shooting this movie was actually disturbing the dead, and vice versa. I don’t know if that’s typical in the movie business, corpses piling up just off-camera, as everyone rolls their eyes and waits impatiently for the human remains to clear the shot.
I mean, it’s hardly fair. Dark Shadows characters have spent all this time saying Go back to your grave! and when you try to actually do it, they get all pissy about it.
And meanwhile, back at ABC Studio 16: Dark Shadows, sort of.
The Leviathan storyline was generally disappointing for a variety of reasons, but the main problem was that two of the three writers were busy working on a movie screenplay. They may have had time to craft a set of complex, interlocking story points that built on existing character relationships and led, step by step, to an emotional crescendo of hope and heartbreak, but if they did, it wasn’t enough, because the story was a mess.
For the new storyline in Parallel Time, the writers are back on the job, ready to write another amazing chapter of the continuing story, but now the actors are gone, which is a whole other problem. You can’t follow four months of no writers with two months of no actors. I mean, you can, they did, but you shouldn’t, and they didn’t, not for much longer.
It’s my contention that House of Dark Shadows kills the show, for several complex and interlocking reasons.
#1. Dan and the writers are basically awol during the Leviathan story, which starts to lose the audience.
#2. Dan and the main cast are gone during the Parallel Time story, which continues to lose the audience.
#3. Dan basically loses interest in the show in general. He’s making a movie now! When he’s done, paying attention to the TV show is going to feel like a step backwards. Dan has admitted that he didn’t really care about the show anymore, in the last six months it was on the air. The movie was released six months before the show ended. This is not a coincidence.
#4. The film itself is gloomy and somber, with small and sharply-arched windows. It raises Barnabas from the dead once again, in order to shove him back down into the dirt in an orgy of red paint and regret. Pretty much every character ends up brutally murdered, and once you’ve done that, how do you go back to Manhattan and pretend that nothing has changed?
It’s too much weight for the show to carry. They’ve been living on enthusiasm and adrenaline for four years, and they were bound to crash back to earth eventually. The movie provides them with an epic belly-flop which they never recover from, and at a certain point, you just have to stand aside and let the non-union grave-diggers play through.
Happy anti-birthday, Dark Shadows. Today is the first day of the end of your life.
Tomorrow: What We Know.
Also: Join me on my journey through House of Dark Shadows
with film critic David Edelstein:
House of Dark Shadows: Let’s Not Play Insane Games.
Dark Shadows bloopers to watch out for:
In the teaser, Daniel is supposed to break his comb in half with a dramatic snap, but it just bends and he has to figure out how to angrily bend a comb.
Quentin bobbles the first line of a scene with Maggie: “Hey, I’m sorry I lost my temper while Bruno…” Maggie looks up at him, clearly struggling not to laugh. He smiles. Maggie moves on, asking who Bruno is. Quentin says, “He’s someone I hope you never meet.” And then he chuckles, as he realizes his next line is accidentally appropriate: “The less said about him the better.”
In act 3, when it cuts to a shot of Maggie in the drawing room, you can hear Daniel running over from the previous set.
In Angelique’s room, Daniel closes the doors behind him, but they swing open. A moment later, you can see through the open doors; there’s a couple of folding chairs in the studio.
When Daniel says that Angelique will be back, Maggie cries, “Daniel, that’s impossible!” Daniel disagrees: “It is!” Maggie’s line was probably supposed to be “that’s not possible”.
Behind the Scenes:
When Angelique hums a tune at the end of the episode, it sounds to me like Marie Wallace’s voice. It’s the Brahms Lullaby — the “Lullaby and good night, with roses bedight” one. It sounds like something that she would have recorded as the ghost of Jenny, singing sweetly to baby Lenore in episode 811, but she didn’t sing Brahms in that episode, and I don’t know when she would. Anybody in the comments feel like tackling this?
As longtime readers know, I’m obsessed with the stuff in David’s room. Daniel’s bedroom is a remix, with the bed on the left side and the dresser on the right. There’s a painting of a sailboat over the bed, replacing the kite and the US map as wall decorations. David’s cool rock concert posters are on the right walls. There’s an occasional table that holds the ship in a bottle and a robot, and there’s another robot on the windowsill above them. On the shelves, there’s the cardboard girl protestor, some cars, a couple robots, and the green box with spots on it. Missing in action so far: the kite, the map, the sailboat, the dog protestor, the football player, the nutcracker soldier thing, the cat picture, the radiometer and the terrible globe.
Tomorrow: What We Know.
Also: Join me on my journey through House of Dark Shadows
with film critic David Edelstein:
House of Dark Shadows: Let’s Not Play Insane Games.
— Danny Horn
86 thoughts on “Episode 983: The Terror of Tarrytown”
It does sound a bit like Marie Wallace singing, but I’m pretty sure it’s Joan Bennett,
I agree that it’s Joan Bennett.
I was about to attempt to mount a robust defence for HoDS, but i fear i’ll be worn down into losing the battle over the coming months so i’ll keep my powder dry for now.
I’ll settle for saying that that Japanese poster art is mendmeltingly terrifying, and i medically need one of those on my wall.
I admitted to liking the Leviathan period without causing much disturbance so I can’t imagine your support of HoDS would be any different.
Actually there were a number of British films based on British sitcoms that starred the original TV casts. The “Are You Being Served?” film was based on a stage version that some of the actors had performed in while the show was between seasons.
The difference between the way Doctor Who, Quatermass and a few other British TV plays/serials adapted to the big screen and the likes of the Sweeney, various sitcoms was that with the former, they were remakes, adaptations aiming at an international audience who didn’t get the original TV shows, while with the sitcoms, they were sort of sequels (Dad’s Army is a reboot, but has most of the original cast – apart from Mrs. Pike who is recast) although some are set in different continuities, introducing events that the TV series don’t comply with -ie Mike gets married in Bless This House, Olive has a baby son in On the Buses…
Dark Shadows is somewhere in between.
In the context of this show and the 1960s, I would say it is in fact “natural” (or perhaps “necessary”) for the original cast to be in the movie. Having said that, I also admit this is unique–I don’t know if there had ever been a movie made from a soap opera, especially one still in production. So my comments do acknowledge that I’m doing a bit of apples/oranges comparison. I’m just going on memory, but there were at least a couple of US movies in the sixties that were made/released while the show was in production or right at the end of the show–I’m thinking of the Batman and Munsters (“Munster Go Home!”) movies. Both had the original casts (mostly; of course “Batman” had a new Catwoman, and “Munster” had yet a third Marilyn). Since the movies were obviously meant to exploit the popularity of the current shows, it seems the original cast would be necessary. These aren’t like the (US) TV-based movies we see today (which are reboots or remakes), usually made years, even decades, later. I don’t know exactly when “Batman” and “Munster” were filmed (I know I could look it up) in relation to the production of the TV show, but even though a typical 30-some episode season was more grueling than the 22-episode “full” seasons of today’s TV shows, there was a break in production when perhaps a quick and dirty movie could be made (unlike the daily DS). (I also know the “Munster” movie came out after the show was over, but barely.) Looking at it from a real-time audience member–that is, an 8-12-year-old kid who watched the shows on TV–and I would certainly have been a major demographic for these movies–I would have had significantly less interest in a movie of one of my current favorite TV shows with a different cast. There would have been only one “real” Barnabas to go see in the movie theater. Otherwise, forget it. (I know all this does not mitigate the insanity of making the movie in the first place.)
There are good things and bad things about HODS, and you’re welcome to comment on them anytime. 🙂 My current state of mind is that the bad outweighs the good, but I’ve usually found that things are different than I remember, and watching them in context often makes things more complicated.
As I’m saying in this post, I think that the experience of making HODS was extremely damaging to the show’s health, and made a big contribution to the cancellation a year later, but that would have been true whether the movie turned out to be unbelievably amazing or thoroughly despicable. The damage is being done at this end — taking the writers away from the Leviathan story, and the actors away from Parallel Time, and then people feeling exhausted and burned out by the whole experience.
Yes, hindsight on HODS has altered my thoughts too. I saw it in a local movie theater on a double bill with Night of Dark Shadows after the show was cancelled. I knew about Dark Shadows but I didn’t start watching it until the ill-fated last year. So without knowing what had come before I loved the series.
I didn’t see HODS until several years — at least six or seven — after its theatrical release. And, speaking only for myself, I found it utterly appalling. I liked the sets, actually. I found them an interesting “reimagining” fo the Collinwood estate. But it was the ONLY thing about the film I liked.
My feelings toward HoDS are probably different from a lot of other fans in that my approach to the show may be very different: i came to it very late (maybe five or six years ago, watching the show – but i’d been aware of it for a LOT longer), and my attraction to it was as a fan of monster movies, especially Hammer stuff that i grew up on: the idea of a TV show where the main characters were a vampire and a werewolf was what enticed me toward the show. So, i think in many ways HoDS was kind of how i’d imagined the show in my head as a kid, reading my nanna’s copies of “Barnabas, Quentin and the Mummy’s Curse” and so on – that sort of Hammer / Count Yorga early ’70s horror vibe.
So i suppose with regards to the TV show, i came into it as a monster fan adapting to a soap opera – whereas other fans have come to it from the opposite or other angles. I do totally get the points of how the making of the movie contributed to the winding down of the show, but at the same time i’m so glad it did get made. It’s the Dark Shadows my inner child wanted to see: and finally did on DVD 20 years later. Could have done with more werewolves, though.
And also, on a shallow note: has Maggie ever looked more lovely that those shots of her & Barnabas walking through the woods? D’aww.
Terrifyingly mind melting indeed!
It’s raining Barnabas!
(Hallelujah, it’s raining Barnabas!
I’m gonna go out,
I’m gonna let myself get
absolutely soaking wet!)
It sounds like Joan Bennett singing to me too.
“It’s my contention that House of Dark Shadows kills the show, for several complex and interlocking reasons.”
I think your points are valid, but I suggest an alternative reason for the end of the series —
Dark Shadows was a fad.
Fad? Fad? What is fad?! We don’t hear that word much anymore!
The 60s were fad central with a ton of short-lived pop products still remembered today despite having very brief lifespans: Batman, Star Trek TOS, Munsters, Addams Family, etc. on the TV side of things.
It seems to me Dark Shadows’ days were numbered regardless. The big audience came and gorged on the show and having drained it, moved on to the next thing.
That’s a good point, although I guess it’s hard to tell the difference between a fad and something that will stay popular, while you’re in the middle of it. I can think of a few examples of fads that stuck around — less popular than when it was at its height, but continuing on.
There are some kids’ media franchise related examples — Mickey Mouse, Superman, the Daleks, Miss Piggy, Pac-Man. And then there are shows that spiked in interest, and then slipped down from that spike — not as popular than it was, but sticking around, like Grey’s Anatomy, Friends, Star Trek (at various times), The Simpsons, General Hospital (with the Luke & Laura fad).
It’s an interesting question, whether Dark Shadows was doomed to be a short-lived fad, or whether it could have transitioned into a long-lived one like the Simpsons or Superman. One theme that’s going to come up in the blog over the next year is what they could have done to turn this into a show that would be sustainable long-term. I have a couple answers in mind, but I’m sure we’ll discover more as we go along.
Well, there’s fads and cult followings. Dark Shadows had a cult following in my opinion. And cult followings happen organically. Any time a studio,production company or network tries to create something for the purpose of creating a cult following, or even a fad for that matter, it fails. Cult followings can have longevity, fads rarely do. Looking forward to reading what you think DS could have done to be sustainable. I have a few ideas too.
Interesting examples you mention, Danny. FRIENDS peaked in popularity in its second season but it remained a monster hit for the rest of its run. DARK SHADOWS flamed out — somewhat like Ryan Murphy’s shows NIP/TUCK and GLEE.
THE SIMPSONS (which did survive a motion picture filmed simultaneously
Iike DS) and SOUTH PARK had the benefit of being cartoons, so it didn’t have to deal with Bart or Cartman’s actors getting tired of their roles.
Ellen Pompeo seems content to keep playing Meredith Grey, and the series has survived major cast changes.
DS had the problem of basically being the Barnabas Collins Show and Frid would soon throw in the towel (who could blame him? It was a grueling schedule). There was potential for Quentin to carry the show, but I’ve argued that they should have committed to that in 1897, keep Barnabas dead, and just not return to the “present day.” Selby playing other Quentin Collins who weren’t “our” Quentin Collins was as effective as Frid as Bramwell.
I am reticent to call DS a “fad,” though. As mentioned, there are lots of shows that spike in popularity and then fizzle out. But DS and BATMAN both endured in syndication and maintained an impressive level of fan interest. I am often surprised by the series that were tremendously popular that just vanished (WILL & GRACE, for example).
And comparing DS to STAR TREK, I wonder what might have happened if the films had been released a decade later, like TREK, though assembling the cast would be harder. And even if Frid were interested,he’d be almost 60 (tough for an ageless vampire).
“I am reticent to call DS a ‘fad,’ though.”
Agreed–but remember the Beatles were termed a fad, and their tracks are still charting. I think “fad” is a relic of the days when youth culture was taking over–everything, from DS to heavy metal, was considered a temporary detour until people returned to their senses and resumed listening to jazz and Broadway like normal, decent humans (and women stopped complaining about wages, etc.). Little did anyone know….
Popular entertainment is too tied in to profit to ever receive its proper due as culture. That is to say, something like DS is still, after all these years, seen primarily as a product to move CDs, to populate conventions, to serve as a book subject, etc. After all, we wouldn’t be discussing DS if it hadn’t hit it big in its afterlife. We might think we’d be, but realistically, no.
We, the fans, are in a minority in viewing it as art on any level. Media is money, and its products are relevant only so long as they retain their power to make a buck. Even long-lasting popular products like DS, The Beatles, Gilligan’s Island, etc. are forever on the verge of losing their ability to make money. Their relevance can be snuffed out in an instant. In that sense, they’re as ephemeral as any current piece of mass culture. Logically, no fad can last for decades (transitory things are here and gone, by definition), but it’s only quite recently we’ve had the technology to indefinitely extend the lives of products meant to air once or twice and then vanish, DS being the poster child for a product not even intended for reruns, let alone for perpetual reissue.
So, in a sense, it was and remains a “fad.” I’m describing a cultural attitude, of course–we properly see it as a thing of value, however campy. Ours is the outlier take, of course.
It was the “in” thing for a while during the Quentin 1897 storyline. Even girls at my school who hadn’t watched Barnabas knew Quentin from the record. Selby was undoubtedly a major draw. When 1897 ended, many seemed to lose interest fairly quickly so, yes, for them it could be called a fad. I imagine many girls literally grew out of it, graduated, and got jobs. For younger kids, new fads could take its place. Others of us, of course, never totally let go and for us it was a lot more than a passing fad.
I don’t doubt that the movie put unnecessary pressure on everyone and that was reflected in the show but even during its early stories, the show was very uneven. The Adam and Eve story is no better than Jeb in my opinion. The show had set itself up to be a surprising, thrill-a-minute ride and that cannot be sustained. All rollercoasters eventually stop. It’s inevitably a short ride, but it’s exciting fun and we want to get on it again. And cult status is born.
But DS HAS been sustainable in the same sense as Superman (at least Superman as a non-comics media subject). This blog is one example. People are still watching DS 50 years later, there have been a number of novels written over the years, there have been audio dramas recorded, there was a reboot series, there was a pilot for another reboot series, there was a recent movie (acknowledging that these reboots have had various levels of success and failure). That’s the same kind of sustainability we’re talking about regarding a property like Superman in some ways. Outside of the comics, the TV shows, movie series, and cartoons have not been one long, continuous ongoing series but a series of stops and starts, a series of “reboots” if you will. Granted, DS has hardly seen the widespread popularity of Superman franchises, but you can’t seem to put the final stake through its heart.
As a Connie Willis fan, Danny, I’m sure you’ve read Bellwether, which is entirely about fads and how they come to be!
Brilliant analysis once again. One has to wonder why they didn’t film more “inventory” scenes with the cast members who were off shooting HoDS. Even when they brought the PT characters the writers seemed to have lost interest in writing differently than their “real time” counterparts. Plus the Jekyll-Hyde storyline was an awful bore. I know that for the most part TV shows that ended rarely gave characters any kind of send-off but you’d think that with DS fan base Dan Curtis and the writers didn’t do more than they did knowing that the end was near.
What killed Dark Shadows was parents’ reaction to the gore in House of Dark Shadows. Because the movie was also playing at Drive-Ins, in many cases parents had to take their kids; so in the era of unsupervised TV viewing, the parents had no idea what their kids were watching and they thought the show was like the movie. This unforeseen response cost the show a full third of its audience.
And there’s also the point made in the post, to the effect of Dan Curtis wondering ‘Where do I go from here?’ It was inevitable. Dark Shadows unleashed in Curtis his childhood fascination with horror themes, but along the way he also took up movie making. Tellingly, after Dark Shadows he mainly made TV movies rather than TV shows — Kolchak: The Night Stalker was a spin-off of what had already been two TV movies.
Dark Shadows began because of Dan Curtis, and Dark Shadows ended because of Dan Curtis. But at least he had the temerity to push for 26 weeks at the outset, rather than the standard 13 weeks initially offered by ABC daytime executive Leonard Goldberg. Otherwise, the show would have been cancelled in September 1966, the master tapes wiped, and the only people today who would be talking about Dark Shadows would be Joan Bennett film fans bemoaning the loss of the original tapes and purchasing in the collector’s arena kinescope copies of the five or so known existing episodes.
It’s kind of like, what if the Beatles had stayed together until 1979 rather than 1969? Would their legacy have been the same? There would be a lot of lesser material over those extra years, a weaker overall cultural impact, fading eventually to irrelevance, and finally even degenerating into self-parody.
So, maybe Dark Shadows ended at just the right time.
Dan Curtis’ ego arguably was a great factor than his creativity. And he was damn lucky. Keeping the Dark Shadows videotapes and kinescopes may have been a combination of smarts and ego but he was lucky too that the show ended before ABC started destroying the videotapes of its soaps. They were lucky that Jonathan Frid was a bad study, and appeared nervous and vulnerable to an audience who took to this supposedly evil vampire. It was luck that someone left off the “n” on a script to make the name Julian appears as Julia and give the the idea to make Dr Hoffman a woman. But there was no luck in the 1991 revival. He basically made an extended version of the House of Dark Shadows, combined with a redux of the TV show and the first Iraq War pre-empted it
In reading the book “Remembering Jonathan Frid” Jonathan was dyslexic so it took him longer to memorize his lines. He was not a scholar in school and struggled in some subjects. I can identify with that. I am dyslexic, and it was very difficult for me in doing my doctoral studies. I had to read and re-read and struggle to focus my first year or so.
You make some good points, Prisoner. Chattanooga, TN only had HODS at the drive-in. I went with a friend and my parents and I was so disappointed because of how it veered so far from the original. I was expecting some sort of new adventure starring the characters I knew and loved. I haven’t watched it since, but I’d like to now–I think I’ll appreciate it more. I should have thought of it as a parallel time, as most fans do now. And you have some interesting speculations of our own world and how things might have been different.
Karen Q–My reaction to the film back in the day, exactly–such a deviation from the actual story, and no current characters (I wanted to see Chris; a friend told me the werewolf was in the flick. so imagine my disappointment). I’ve rewatched it two or three times over the years, and each time is a pain. It’s like a sketch for a movie, with all the gore added because Kmart had a sale on stage blood and Curtis wanted to get every last penny out of it.
I’m inclined to agree. From everything I’ve heard, Dan Curtis dominated the making of the show to such a degree that it could continue only as long as it absorbed his interest. Not that Lela Swift or someone else couldn’t have made a show with the same title, the same cast, etc, and made it well, but what made Dark Shadows irresistible to those who love it is something that was an excrescence of the personality of Dan Curtis, and it would have been a waste of time for anyone else to to try to keep all that stuff going.
Lyndhurst is pretty impressive in person. Last summer, after saving up for about 3 years, I was able to fly from GA to NY to the DS 50th anniversary fest. It was fantastic–but I digress. I went to Lyndhurst, but there had been some sort of misunderstanding, and they closed it to the public over an hour earlier than they were supposed to–they had a wedding there, I think. I still enjoyed walking around outside and taking pictures. It’s quite a piece of architecture.
I’m just happy that Seaview Terrace was bought by fans who are restoring it .https://www.facebook.com/SeaviewTerraceNewport/?fref=ts
Thanks for the link!
Collinwood, er, Seaview Terrace, has a lovely aura when snow-covered; I wish there’d been more seasons on DS. And I bet Louis Edmonds would have made a great Ebenezer Scrooge!
Does anyone know if Joel Crothers was approached about starring in the movie?
I doubt it. He had a contract with the CBS soap, Secret Storm, at the time and wasn’t available. I think this was also the case with Clarice Blackburn who was appearing on the same soap. That’s why she didn’t play Mrs. Johnson in HODS. Apparently her Secret Storm stint was done in time for the DS 1995 storyline.
Thanks. Guess Alexandra Moltke was too busy with her own life as well.
It’s kind of too bad that they didn’t get Alexandra to play Vicki. Then KLS could have stayed on the show and the Rebecca story might have stayed on track.
And in her interview which you can see on utube, stated the reason why she wasnt in HODS is because she was writing for OLTL and in the Secret Storm so she couldnt do everything.
There’s still about a year to bandy it about; but how would – or could – Dark Shadows have been able to hang on? Making the movie while the show was in production created far too much pressure on all those involved. Making the movie so different from the show was an even more serious error; Dan Curtis really should have thought that through better. He had a chance to bring in more viewers for the show, or even to have moved the franchise into the 1970s as a film series. Instead he drove away a large group of fans. I’ll guess that at the time, it all must have seemed a good idea, what with the popularity of the gore-filled Hammer films; and granted the ratings on the show had sagged a bit from the high-water days, but the fans were still camping outside the studio door, and the fan mail was still coming in. So he gambled on a chance to get DS to Hollywood (or at least get Dan Curtis to Hollywood). Kind of a shame that it didn’t work out. But on the other hand, if it had – if there had been a Curse Of Dark Shadows, and a Terror Of Dark Shadows, a Queen Of Dark Shadows, a Howling Of Dark Shadows, and a Return Of Dark Shadows; then spin-off series like Shadows II – Beyond The Darkness, and an animated Saturday morning kiddie cartoon, Barnabas And The Baleful Bunch, or Quentin’s Critters – Dark Shadows Squeezable Yogurt in Wolfberry and Blood Orange flavours – Barnabas Band-Aids – Angelique Shampoo – if it all had run on and on, more commercial and kitschy, a parody of what it started out to be, would we all have stayed with it? Maybe I’d have bought a bottle or two of Collinwood Cellars Chablis…
“Making the movie so different from the show was an even more serious error; Dan Curtis really should have thought that through better.” Amen. Then again, maybe Dan couldn’t remember the storyline. I heard him describe a completely different show during an interview when he was asked about DS. As if he had never watched it.
Besides the completely unnecessary changes to the main story, there’s the sparse dialogue, the underplaying of the actors (on a show famous for its overplaying!!), the nonexistent direction (it’s like Curtis thought he was shooting a home movie), and the utter fakeness of the violence. If you’re going to pile up the gore, do it with some skill.
Frid, of course, is the one actor NOT underplaying, which completely ruined his performance for me–that is to say, had an actual performance been possible with the script he’d been handed. Then there were the idiotic TV and radio promos–“See how the vampires (hiss) DO IT!!!!” A reflection of that sexually puerile era of pop culture (late ’60s/early ’70s), and not at all in keeping with the understated suggestions of sex in actual soaps, DS included.
Re Hammer gore, maybe, had they filmed this as a soap-into-movie, thereby showing some respect for the source, it might have played better. I guess all Curtis could think was, big screen, big sound, big gore (I’m guessing Kmart had a big sale on stage gore), and to hell with the TV origins, let alone the TV soap origins.
He pretty much told the show’s fans to take a hike, though he’s hardly the first producer to do so–movie adaptations of TV shows tend to flip off the fan base. It’s a status thing, movies being so very, very important, compared to TV. (Money=importance.)
The cultural leap between the ’60s and the ’70s is vast enough that I don’t think a successful series from the former decade could really thrive that long into the latter decade. Perhaps on just an aesthetic level, the fashions would be jarring — from MAD MEN to BRADY BUNCH.
Though of course, DS had the opportunity of simply “sitting out the 1970s” had it settled in 1897 permanently, for instance (always my preference).
Interesting question. From what I recall in reading those first few Pomegranate Press books it sounds like many of the people who worked on the show were getting worn out by Dark Shadows. Some openly were relieved when it was canceled. There was some discussion that the poorly received movies contributed to the drop in ratings. I think we can assume they didn’t help. Without the movie it’s hard to imagine the series not getting canned by ABC at some point in 1971 or 1972. The show still had SOME following and it turned out to have legs. It seems Dan Curtis just HAD to make DS movies. If he had waited until after the series ended he might not have gotten theatrical movie backing. But maybe in that era of “Movies of the Week” he might have been able to get some TV movie sequels.Higher budget than the soap, and without the gore that I think ruined HODS. I think the actors would have gone for it. The problem is what storyline could they pursue? When I was much younger I wrote some stories for myself about post-Dark Shadows adventures of Barnabas and Julia as amateur sleuths, uncovering the mysteries of Collinsport and finding new ones from the family history. Not unlike the Kolchak series.
I am in total agreement that the making of HODS is what killed Dark Shadows. As a latecomer to this phenomenon, I watched through the series from beginning to end, with little knowledge about the peripheral events of the time. I didn’t watch HODS at the point in the series when it would’ve been aired, so the quality of the film or how it was received had no bearing on how I perceived the show*. What I did perceive, oblivious to all these things, was that is was just so PAINFUL when the promising elements of parallel time were suddenly dropped like a hot potato when the players left to go to Tarrytown…and the show began to drag and play like a standard soap, in many respects. And then when our heroes returned, the damage to their plots was already done, or just they were just dropped and something new taken up. A great example for me, is SPOILER the potential wickedness of Hoffman…she was set up to seem like she was plotting something awful, and in cohoots with Angelique…then she suddenly went “on leave” (which in itself wouldn’t make sense if her dear Angelique appeared to be back), and when she returned there was no reference to her conspiring to do anything, and in any case they brought Julia over from normal time so they had to drop all the conspiring and wickedness. It was really disappointing. And let’s not even go into the torture of them mentioning Barnabas locked in his coffin (and showing a picture of it!) at the start of each episode, just to remind us that HE’S NOT THERE!
Really, for me, this is where the show really began to falter…although I agree that it was evident during the Leviathans where the writers had other things on their minds. But I think it could’ve recovered from this. But it couldn’t easily recover from having all the main characters away and not doing anything to compensate for that. Having said that. I did think the show was beginning to recover when it was cancelled. A lot of people say the Lottery room period was really horrible, but I don’t agree and saw that as positive steps towards what the show had once been. I think it was a shame it was cancelled when it was. I think the main problem they had at the end would’ve been to try to come up with something to do with 1971 – because they clearly didn’t have a plan. If that speedbump was surmounted, the show could’ve continued, in my opinion. But clearly Dan wasn’t interested, so not enough energy was put into solving these problems.
*actually it just occurred to me, I probably did, though it wasn’t intentional (I didn’t know when in the show it was released) – and I watched NODS as well. In any case, the theory about how parents perceived the film as gory doesn’t apply to me. My perceptions of the show faltering come solely from the content of the show itself. And to me, it was glaringly obvious on my first run through, though I had little notion that this was when the film was being made. I actually began to look up these details because of a sense of there being something very wrong.
I mean, who the fuck was Dameon Edwards and what the fuck did he ever have to do with anything?!?!? I know it’s getting ahead of myself and everything, but I’m sure you take my point. Introducing random stuff because you’re down on players and then doing nothing with it. OK, the show has always done this (the handkerchief of F McA C at Seaview? Betty Hanscomb? etc etc etc) and would do it again (Claude North, GTFO)…but this kind of got on my wick. Wasted opportunities. They even wasted opportunities to use the characters they had left eg Dameon seemed to have freak-out potential against Bruno, not to mention Angelique. Presumably Hoffman knew something about whatever his story was supposed to have been, and could be similarly harassed. And Quentin, and what about him trying to side up with Maggie…and blah blah blah.
F McA C? Flora?
Certainly could’ve been! But they never took this up, so we will never know for sure… (and none of Flora’s incarnations lived in that house…I guess they got rid of those sets)…
I saw HODS summer of 1970 when I was 10 years old. The line to buy tickets at the theatre was 20 – 30 yards long and it must have been a sellout. That was my first inkling of how popular Dark Shadows was. Once the movie started and the gore and blood started flowing people got up and left the theatre so it emptied out somewhat.
I understand that Jonathan Frid was supposed to have been in the sequel and refused to do it. Does anybody have any idea what they were going to do if he HAD agreed to another DS movie?
Maybe something faithful to the TV show? (Bada bing!)
My guess is Curtis would have remade HODS in true “Part 2” fashion, though how he’d revive Barnabas, who knows. But Barnabas had used up his life supply of overplaying in the first movie, so he had to say no.
It was to have been called Curse of Dark Shadows. But when interviewed many years later, Sam Hall couldn’t remember how the original script had played out, only that it had to be revised as Night of Dark Shadows.
Just a speculation, but you would think that “Curse” in the title implies a witch, and thus Angelique, and probably a glimpse into the origins of what made Barnabas a vampire, and so a big screen treatment of the 1795 story — which would have been the only way to go given that all the major present day characters, like Stokes and Julia and Roger and Carolyn and Willie, had been killed off in House of Dark Shadows, with the exception of Elizabeth and David, who kind of just disappear toward the end, with just Jeff and Maggie remaining.
So, it would have been HODS, Part 1, really!
That’s interesting. Thanks.
Not sure but I see why he didnt want to do NODS. I could see him being disgusted with the entire thing. However Bramwell was not the answer.
I saw HODS when it first came out in the theaters – I was 14. I still remember how shocked I was by the Christopher Lee level of blood & violence. I don’t remember any of us kids liking itthat much but we were grateful for anything Dark Shadows.
A friend told me the werewolf was in the film, and boy was I let down. At 13, I was shocked by the violence, too, though had it been accompanied by an actual, premeditated, fully scripted story, maybe I’d have forgiven it. I’ve read that they gutted most of the dialogue, which confirms in my mind that Curtis wanted to make the film as UN-soap opera as possible (soaps being dialogue-driven), by way of announcing his entry into the big time of cinema. As if he were symbolically casting off the show, to let Hollywood know he’s ready for a bigger and louder medium. Hilarious, then, that he found himself back on TV, and using videotape. I guess Winds of War was his revenge.
HODS is best regarded as an anti-soap. One which turned out to be an anti-movie. What a kick in the pants to us fans.
I keep thinking you could have a nifty murder mystery – as to “Who killed Roger Davis”? with the movie as background…
And, like Murder On The Orient Express, EVERYONE killed him. 🙂
Since I’m trashing HODS (such therapy), I must mention its music. I LOVED Cobert’s music, and I was very disappointed by the over-the-top movie soundtrack, with everything too loud and the audio too cavernous. Save for the badly-recorded title music, DS’ soundtrack was a model of superb audio engineering (as we can hear on the CD reissues); just beautifully balanced, with every detail clear as a bell. The HODS redos were murky, muddy, and dynamically on par with your average Led Zeppelin track. The movie soundtrack was like a cheap facsimile of the TV tapes.
There had already been the disappointment of that awful LP, with its hokey voiceovers and terrible soundtrack transfers (the Philips label seemed have a vendetta against sound). Even the jacket looked tacky. People paid money for that–it was immoral.
Another DS pet peeve: what’s the alternative to dark shadows? Light ones? Isn’t that kind of like Carl Sagan’s “all this vastness” for redundancy? (“Gosh, Clem, look at all that vastness!” “Yup, just see the size of it!”) Wholeness in its entirety; wet water; irrational craziness; awful horribleness.
Doing a movie of a TV show using the same characters wasn’t without precedent. Batman did it in 1966.
Of course the big difference was that Batman wasn’t shooting 5 days a week, 52 weeks a year. They were able to use the same actors during the break between seasons to shoot the movie. For DS, they had to interrupt the storyline to get the movie shot.
I suspect this was also the approach taken by the two “McHale’s Navy” feature films.
Actually the Batman movie was meant to be in theatres first as a promo for the TV series
With Batman, I think the idea was at first to do a movie, and then air the series, but they eventually decided to shoot the first season (a half season actually, it began filming in Oct. of ’65 and hit ABC in Jan. of ’66). Then they began the film immediately after they finished shooting the 1st. Season.
Another ’60 series that used the TV cast was The Munsters. “Munster Go Home” began filming right after the 2nd season had finished shooting.
Also, The Man from UNCLE released movies too, but they were 2 part episodes, with extra footage to add some mild sex and violence that they couldn’t show on 1960’s TV.
But, as everybody has said, none of these tried to do two things at once, like Dark Shadows did.
The BATMAN movie and HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS share another thing in common, I think: For years, they were perhaps the best access to the respective series. The movie could be aired on TV in full and easily stored on one VHS tape. The BATMAN TV series had rights issues preventing home video release until recently, and DS was never reliably aired in full on syndication until Sci-Fi and although released on home video in the late ’80s, it was at the time prohibitively expensive to collect the whole series.
It was the same with Doctor Who — the two Daleks movies were rerun constantly in the UK, while the show almost never aired reruns.
If Curtis wanted to go Hollywood and do films, I think it would have worked out better for him to turn over the reins of the show to Lela Swift, who seemed to know the show really well. Curtis could have gone on and done his ABC Movies of the Week (“The Night Stalker,” “The Night Strangler,” “Trilogy of Terror,” etc.) and the late-night ABC Wide World of Entertainment specials. He would have still gotten $$$ from owning DS, bout could have exercised his film-making muscle. As I’ve said before, I’d love to have seen what Henry Slesar, headwriter of “The Edge of Night” could have done with DS. True, he might have failed, but I think it would have been worth a try.
Sam Hall has stated in interviews that he thought the best way to continue the series was to kill Julia! The have a new character learn Barnabas’ secret and start the process over again. They really needed new writers though. DC did hand the reins to Lela Swift for 1840 & 1840 PT.
I’m also someone who likes the first movie much more than, it seems, many here. Since I started watching DS at age 5 and it went off the air when I was 8, tv broadcasts of the movie were the only video link we had to the original show for many years. I’ll save most of my pushbacks to when Danny reviews the movie itself, but just a couple of notes:
— the more violent approach was in keeping with where movies were at the time; a more tame approach might have disappointed non-fan moviegoers they were hoping to attract. Since the movie WAS a financial success and left the desire for a follow-up, I can’t take this approach as a mistake.
–the idea that the gore shocked parents, leading them to forbid their kids from continuing to watch the daytime show, is something I first remember seeing in Craig Hamrick’s book. But how much of that is just assumption? Is there even anecdotal evidence to back that up?
That the movie was a financial success has nothing to do with the issue of whether or not it was good or likeable. Those are entirely separate issues. As for the “non-fan moviegoers” the makers were trying to attract, what about the faithful DS watchers? We expected something consistent with the show we’d been watching for years. Being tossed under the bus for the sake of box office is not something fans like to experience, even if it’s standard procedure in the world of mass entertainment.
The issue Danny is discussing: was HODS worth the damage it did to the series’ quality and ratings? He’s presented a great deal of evidence that Curtis’ rushing to Hollywood in quest of profit doomed his little soap opera. I personally think Curtis was signaling to the Hollywood community that he was done with DS, that he was deliberately slighting the source.
We have to keep art and profit separate issues. Otherwise, debate over quality is pointless. Did HODS serve the fans? Ask the fans.
I actually agree with most of Danny’s initial comments (re the collateral damage of all the work needed to do the movie WHILE also making the daily show). However, debates about how “likeable” a movie is can be the ultimate in subjectivity; I was never aware of any groundswell of disappointment from fans back in the day re how the movie turned out (other than surprise how many current regulars got killed off!).
Of course “likeable” is subjective. And so is the question of whether or not Curtis’ approach to HODS was a “mistake.” Because what kind of “mistake” are we talking about? Artistic? Financial?
Interesting. Likeability is subjective, but you’re not aware of “any groundswell of disappointment from fans back in the day re how the movie turned out.” After labeling something as subjective, you proceed to treat it as factually verifiable. It can’t be both.
I’m asking us not to confuse quality or fidelity to artistic vision with box office success. The latter can be factually tested, the former cannot.
I’m not trying to belabor this–honestly!–but I’m merely saying I wasn’t aware of any backlash against the movie by fans in 1970 that cost the show viewership as a result. Now, as to Danny’s points about the hidden cost of doing the movie (overtaxing the writers and actors, not making the show their primary focus, etc), I agree wholeheartedly.
The film’s artistic merit can’t be measured by viewers gained or lost, or by number of tickets sold. I feel, as do many, that Curtis was wrong in so aggressively betraying the tone of the show. Two senses of “wrong” here–wrong artistically and wrong commercially. If we conflate the two, as I think we’re doing, the debate becomes pointless.
And “likeable” is an acceptable alternate spelling, fyi.
the ONLY spelling outside North America…
sorry, just noticed this – i wasn’t quoting re the spelling (it’s a comments section in a blog; who cares about spelling?); it was more about how we’re talking about whether the movie is “likeable” as if it’s a person.
While I can agree with the idea of “…in keeping with where movies were at the time…”, I think the financial success of HODS had more to do with fans paying for tickets, not non-fans (in the same way that the first Star Trek film profited). And if the idea was to attract non-fans, was that just for the film, or for the show’s sake too? The new viewer, coming from the theater and tuning into the ‘vampire soap opera’ would have been pretty disappointed… just as the fans who went to the theater expecting their TV show were.
Of course the film has a following, and please feel free to express reasons for that, as those who don’t like the film express theirs. This does seem to be an issue on which there are, how do I put it, varying opinions? Good thing there’s a Comments section!
I think Curtis was mainly concerned with satisfying a movie audience; you have to mold the material to the medium. Now, in Parallel Time World, if the movie had been an utter flop, Curtis might have re-dedicated himself to the show. But, since it was a success and offered the prospect of another movie, Curtis the Mad would continue to have his attentions divided.
Are we assuming the movie was a success because of the gore and the way it abandoned the style of the soap? Because we have no way of testing this. A DS-faithful HODS may have made just as much money.
We know it was a success financially, done the way it was done. I’m pointing out that, by that measure, we can’t prove that was the wrong way to approach it.
Well, I’ve done it! I’ve caught up with you all in Real Time – I just finished episode #983! I’m a DS newbie working my way through the entire series for the first time and you all have been exceptional tour guides. Danny’s blog is simply sensational and satisfying in just about every way so it’s no surprise it’s attracted such a smart, funny, and articulate group like yourselves. I plan to keep at my quick clip so I can finish the show before the blog does but I’ll do my own version of PT and keep a foot in both worlds…cheers!
I did the same thing a few weeks ago! Just like you, this has been my first tour of the strange and wonderful world of the Collins family, and my enjoyment of it has been very much enhanced by the blog posts by Danny and the informative comments by others. I can’t imagine watching the show without such great tour guides!
I’m in the same boat as you two! Just a little ahead chronologically. This blog certainly is a wonderful companion to the show.
Have you two seen the movies yet?
Apropos only of the fact that she has been mentioned often in this weblog,
I sadly note the passing of Mary Tyler Moore.
I’ve been following these comments with interest, and I wanted to put in my two cents. I like HODS because of its difference to the series, the darker vision of the vampire Barnabas that it presents. I only started watching the series a little over a year ago, so I have no educated opinion as to whether it was the movie that killed the series, or whether it was just a matter of Dan Curtis et al becoming weary of slogging through another story line. I loved the glimpses of evil that Barnabas showed in the early days of the show (his brutal treatment of Willie, the kidnapping of Maggie) and feel that it was a much more complex role than it later became. HODS was in a sense a return to those early days, before Barnabas became popular in the teen magazines and had to be sanitized and made more sympathetic and likable.
Jonathan really did not like being casted as a dark vampire and the way he was in HODS totally turned him off to anymore movies like that.
They were clearly trying to make a Hammer horror-style vampire picture. The biggest mistake was killing off all the characters the TV audience cared about. This also made it impossible to do any sequels (hence the bizarre NODS). In current TV, VAMPIRE DIARIES went down the same path. They would introduce interesting new characters and kill them off in a few episodes. At this point, as the show is about to wind down for good, every single person in the town is a vampire or werewolf or a hybrid of the two. Ho hum. I stopped watching a long time ago. Too much of a supernatural thing is not necessarily a good thing. TV DS worked best when the “normal” people at Collinwood were used as contrast to the weird stuff going on in the Old House. IMHO anyway. In a Hammer movie no one really cared about the characters–they were intended as vampire food from the beginning. But the Collins clan were like old friends and I, for one, hate seeing them picked off one by one. Barnabas is just too cold and evil for my taste, though I agree he plays better with an edge.
I’m not sure if I watched HoDS or not, or if I fell asleep partway thru it, but I never knew it was made during the Leviathan and PT story lines before. That makes a lot of things I observed while watching the show on SFC more sense.
So we’re barely a few days into a new storyline and already they’re falling back on old tricks they’ve used too many times before: David brow-beating Amy, the kids skulking around secret passages, David trying to scare Maggie off. Ho-hum.
I look at HODS as a self-contained entity. The fact that it takes liberties with the concept of the original show is immaterial to me.
As a DS “virgin” I haven’t seen HODS nor anything from the series after this point so I’m going into this fresh. I will watch the movie when it comes up in the timeline/posts.
I’m one that would’ve been highly disappointed if the “real” characters weren’t in the movies. In “Munster, Go Home” it was truly disappointing that not only did they have a different actress playing Marilyn, but she was red-headed to boot!