Crash Analysis: HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970)

Big bites out of cheese

Barnabas Collins is awakened once more…

Like the long-running Dark Shadows series in the mid to late sixties, this first feature film of the franchise brings together the bulk of the cast, including Jonathan Frid as the vampire people love to hate.

But the movie also brought out some of the worst of the series. No, it wasn’t the low budget sets or live action flubs – but the melodramatic cheesiness that always made me run away from the show.

Adding to the cheese factor: The old shoot during the day but try and make it look like night time shots, and the cliché ridden sounds of wolves and such – as well as the occasional rolling fog and cobwebs. Okay, I admit, I love the Gothic elements, but they could have been presented in a much more gripping fashion. Instead, the camera angles, lighting and coloring did little to make the scenes “pop.” The problem here may have been director Dan Curtis who started out with the television series in 1968 and had twenty episodes under his belt. He couldn’t seem to break away from the trappings of television to create a memorable feature experience.

There is a multitude of screaming women and men in this feature, though mostly women, and Barnabas certainly does wake up hungry as he pursues Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) in Collinsport, because she looks much like the woman of his dreams. Bites and blood abound, and it seems like everyone is injured and procuring a bandage – usually on the neck, of course – at some point.

Dick Smith, special effects make-up guru and Academy Award winner, did exceptional work when it comes to Barnabas’ appearance at one point (I don’t want to give away exactly what transpired). It was not only excellent for the time, but still holds up.

And Jonathan Frid held up. His Barnabas owned every scene. Too bad the rest of the cast failed to follow his lead, except for the always reliable John Karlen as Willie Loomis.

Dark Shadows fans will love it, and vampire aficionados can check it off their list, but it may not be worth the investment for other horror fanatics.

1.5 out of 5 stars

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