Saturday, November 24, 2012

All in the Family: Night of Dark Shadows

After the slaughter of the Collins family as we know it at the hands of the cousin from England, Collinwood is inherited by Quentin Collins – no, not the Quentin Collins who suffered the curse of the werewolf, but a moody painter from New York City. Elizabeth probably left the house to Roger or Carolyn in her will, and after a lengthy inheritance battle it probably should have gone to David who, if memory serves correct, was the lone Collins survivor at the end of House of Dark Shadows.

So much for continuity, and continuity, or the lack thereof, is what Night of Dark Shadows is all about. If you sat through the recent Warner’s DVD release of the 1971 follow up to House of Dark Shadows, you might have scratched your head a few times wondering why plot elements fit together like a puzzle without all the pieces.

Dark Shadows loyalists know this story well – the original cut of Night of Dark Shadows ran just over two hours. Director Dan Curtis was forced to trim the movie to a brisk 90 minutes just prior to release – allegedly with only 24 hours in which to do it.

Which is a shame because Night of Dark Shadows has a lot going for it. With gauzy dream sequences, rain drenched funerals, candelabras, cobwebs, and billowing curtains, Night of Dark Shadows plays out a peculiarly violent variation on the familiar gothic reincarnation drama.

No sooner has Quentin Collins arrived at Collinwood than he begins to experience nightmares and visions from the past. Creepy housekeeper Carlotta (played to the hilt by Grayson Hall) Drake informs Quentin that not only is he the reincarnation of scar-faced Charles Collins, but also that she is the reincarnation of Sarah Castle, a little girl who lived at Collinwood two hundred years before. It is through Carlotta that the spirits of the past are kept alive at Collinwood.

I’m still not sure how Gerard, the stuttering groundskeeper, fits into the picture. Is he the reincarnation of Charles Collins’ brother, Gabriel? Gabriel was married to Angelique who was having an affair with Charles, who was married to Laura (I think). I’m also not sure if Tracy, Quentin’s wife, is supposed to be the reincarnation of Laura or not, but when Quentin is possessed by Charles he is alternately smitten with her and on the verge of killing her. Implied marital rape and drowning by swimming pool ensue.

Then there are the neighbors, a husband and wife writing team who specialize in Gothic Romance novels who happen to pick up a painting of Charles Collins in New York and in the blink of an eye have pieced the whole thing together. It’s still pretty confusing, but I’ll blame the various plot holes on the cutting room floor.

Is Night of Dark Shadows an incomprehensible mess? Yes, indeed. Is it as bad as Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows? Heck, no. Nothing is that bad. Night of Dark Shadows as it exists may be a bloody mess of a plot. Night of Dark Shadows as it was meant to be might have been a more visceral nightmare for mature audiences. But only the restoration of 30 minutes of lostfootage can provide the answer. After years of restorative work, Warner Brothers in their infinite wisdom has only released the original theatrical cut to DVD so the public at large may never know the answer.

After House of Dark Shadows’ cinematic retread of the show, it’s refreshing to see Dan Curtis attempt an original storyline, something the 1990 revival series, an unaired 2004 pilot for a reboot for the WB, and the Burton/Depp fiasco failed to do. For Dark Shadows to carry on successfully past the original TV series’ five years’ worth of crackerjack Gothic soap opera storylines, I think future producers should consider creating new material “inspired” by the original series. With its forays back, forward, and sideways through time, the world of Collinwood had no boundaries. If the Collins family is to be revived for future generations, let’s start thinking outside the box.

Friday, November 9, 2012

Vampire Season: House of Dark Shadows

You know you really love a movie when you can watch it a thousand times and still find something new to appreciate. The VHS copy of House of Dark Shadows sits on the shelf next to about one year's worth of episodes of the TV show (whatever storyline I happen to be watching this year). Compared to the MPI volumes, the top of the cardboard box of HODS is covered in dust. It’s been awhile since I’ve watched it.

One of the most distinctive features of the movie I noticed when I watched the newly released Warner’s DVD this past week was how sleek and compact the screenplay is. Primary episode scribes Sam Hall and Gordon Russell distilled months of daily storyline into 95 minutes that combines characters and reduces story arcs to their lowest common denominator, something the Tim Burton adaptation failed to do.

Those not familiar with the television show may not fully grasp the familial relationships – Elizabeth owns Collinwood manor, Roger is her brother, David is Roger’s son, and Carolyn Elizabeth’s daughter – but it isn’t necessary to follow the storyline. We don’t even need twenty minutes of prologue telling us how Barnabas came to be cursed, who Josette is and why he plans to give governess Maggie Evans her music box.

Filmed in 1970 when old school vampires were at their cinematic peak (think Count Yorga and Christopher Lee’s Dracula popping up in A.D. 1972), Jonathan Frid’s suave, European cousin Barnabas is re-imagined with a visceral taste for blood not possible on afternoon television. The television Barnabas was a bit of a whiney-butt. After all, he is the grandfather of Anne Rice’s reluctant Louis and, whether we like it or not, great-grandfather to Stephanie Meyer’s glittery Edward., two reasons why I applaud House of Dark Shadows. This is a bosom-heaving, blood thirsty vampire movie to rival the best of Hammer Films, complete with savagely bitten throats and fonts of blood when the stakes are hammered home. It’s no wonder when I saw House of Dark Shadows at the theater in 1970 at age 11, the lobby was filled with whimpering grade-schoolers. Barnabas Collins is pee-your-pants scary. If you don’t believe me, watch what happens when Dr. Hoffman takes her revenge and Barnabas shows his true age.

Hyperactive storyline aside, free from the restraints of daytime studio video work, House of Dark Shadows features frenetic cinematography. The camera zooms, tracks, swirls, and sometimes makes the viewer sick with handheld moments. The transfer from film to DVD, while not perfect, at least presents the films murky, dark colors with more clarity, the reds more precise, than was ever possible with VHS. The cast, especially Frid, deliver fever-pitched performances, making this a classic vampire film to be reckoned with.

If you’re new to Dark Shadows (and if you follow this blog, I doubt that you are) and ready to dip your foot into the bloodbath, leave the Tim Burton/Johnny Depp debacle on the video shelf, and spend the night with this lusty demise of the Collins family as we know it.

And as always, fang me later.