Monday, July 2, 2012

10 Things I Didn't Know
About "Dark Shadows"



Mark this date on your calendar (preferably in blood red ink): Tuesday, July 3, 2012. That’s the day loyal fans of the original Dark Shadows television series regain our creative independence.

As of this writing, there is only one movie theater left in New York City still showing Tim Burton’s well-intentioned but creatively misguided feature film reboot of the 1960s supernatural soap. On Tuesday that changes. As talentless divorcee Katy Perry and the giraffe-necked, British Spider-Man stumble and swoop into theaters for the 6-day 4th of July “weekend,” the ersatz DARK SHADOWS will finally be re-chained in its cinematic coffin in the United States. And that will be that.

The film may occasionally haunt a few bargain basement matinees in outlying vistas but, in the words of time traveling governess Victoria Winters, our “uncertain and frightening journey” is about to come to a long-anticipated end.

It’s safe to say that most devotees of the original didn’t particularly care for Burton and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith’s “reimagining.” Personally, I enjoyed the homage to recently departed series star  Jonathan Frid that infused Johnny Depp’s performance as Barnabas, though I disliked the film itself.

But, here’s the good news: they didn’t burn the old tapes of the TV show. They still exist, and you can still watch them. And guess what? Thanks to the publicity generated by a big budget, major studio, summer blockbuster release ($227.4 million international gross so far!), the show we all love is now easier to enjoy than ever before.

To wit: a beautiful, full-series, 131-disc box set, currently in its second printing (available July 10) after the first one (autographed by Frid, just prior to his death) sold out; two well-curated “best of” compilations hosted by series stars Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie/Josette) and Lara Parker (Angelique); and 32 “value-priced,” 40-episode DVD sets for sale in big box retailers like Target. Plus, the first 40 shows (beginning with the unchaining of Barnabas) are now streaming on Amazon, Hulu and Netflix. (Yes, I know that Netflix used to offer more episodes to subscribers. But can you blame longtime rights holder MPI Home Video for wanting to sell their DVD sets during this window of huge publicity? I can’t.)

Even better, the interest generated in Collinsport and its spooky inhabitants has led to a boon in licensed products: action figures; model kits; costumes; new audio dramas; a comic book from Dynamite Entertainment; re-issues of two DS novels by Lara Parker; and a new book (Dark Shadows: Return to Collinwood) by Kathryn Leigh Scott. But the best of these “brand extensions” is Barnabas & Company: the Cast of the TV Classic Dark Shadows, a well-researched reference volume by Craig Hamrick and R.J. Jamison.

After three decades as a fan, I rarely hear or read things about Dark Shadows I don’t already know. But this thick publication – at 500+ pages, Professor Stokes could barely get a wooden stake through it – is riddled with veins of trivia that will delight longtime fans. Unlike other books on the series, Barnabas & Co is devoted almost entirely to the show’s talented troupe of actors, with obsessively footnoted chapters on 44 members of the core cast, many based upon personal interviews conducted by co-author Craig Hamrick (who passed away in 2006). Each contains a list of the characters the performer portrayed, the number of episodes in which he or she appeared, and an exhaustive listing of other film, TV and theater credits. In that regard, I believe this is the most detailed and complete summary of the careers of the Dark Shadows cast members, and such a thing is long overdue.

There are also shorter, but equally informative sections on 60 members of the supporting cast, also with characters, airdates and episode totals. Other highlights include a photo gallery, an extensive recounting of the program’s creative history, a list of fan conventions, a section on collectibles and ephemera, and a hilarious chapter simply entitled Nudity.

The following is a list of 10 previously unknown facts about Dark Shadows cast members I learned about from Barnabas & Company:

1. Oscar nominee Harvey Keitel appeared in two episodes in 1966 as a customer at the Blue Whale.
2. Humbert Allen Astredo (Nicholas Blair) got his start as a stand-up comedian.
3. Nancy Barrett (Carolyn Stoddard) was married to David Ford (Sam Evans) in 1967. She was twenty years his junior and the marriage lasted less than two years.
4. Donald Briscoe (Chris/Tom Jennings) once showed up for work in the midst of an acid trip and ‘ended up sitting in a trash can’ in the production office.
5. Mitchell Ryan (Burke Devlin #1) was fired due to a ‘drinking problem.’ “I was so drunk that year, I barely remember what it was about,” he told TV Guide in 1976.
6. Joan Bennett’s partner for the last two decades of her life was a cross-dresser. Joan knew, and was apparently okay with it. After three divorces and the near murder of her boyfriend by her husband, producer Walter Wanger, this was apparently no big deal.
7. Roger Davis (Jeff Clark) “interfered with the lighting and blocking of scenes, presumably so he could appear on camera more favorably.” About Davis, Joan Bennett once said, “He thinks that he’s Henry Fonda – except he has no talent.”
8. Diana Millay (Laura Collins) believes she has lived many past lives, including one as a phoenix – the supernatural creature she played on the show.
9. Thayer David (Professor Stokes) had a collection of “hundreds of monster movie model kits.” His mother kept them in his bedroom, which was maintained for nearly a decade after his unexpected death from a heart attack in 1978 at the age of 51. According to his nephew, the room was “off-limits” to other family members.
10. Alexandra Moltke (Victoria Winters) left the show when she was pregnant with her first child. Her son was born on June 27, 1969 – the third anniversary of the premiere of Dark Shadows. She was asked to return to the show, but insisted on playing a vampire or a witch. Her request was denied.

In closing, let me also strongly encourage you to buy the Blu-ray of the movie when it’s released, likely around Halloween. (Remember I said you have to buy it. I didn’t say you had to watch it.) If it sells well, Warner Bros. will be more likely to release HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS (1970) and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS (1971) on DVD or Blu-ray, perhaps even (in the case of NIGHT) with restored footage.

But remember, after all is said and done, Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS will likely turn a profit. That means a sequel is a distinct possibility. Now how’s that for a cliffhanger?

Will McKinley is a New York City-based writer, producer and classic film obsessive. He’s been a guest on Turner Classic Movies, Sirius Satellite Radio and the TCM podcast. Will has written for PBS and his byline has appeared more than 100 times in the pages of NYC alt weeklies like The Villager. He watched his first episode of "Dark Shadows" on April 12, 1982 and hasn't been the same since.


Frank Jay Gruber said...

I agree that Barnabas and Company is a terrific and essential book.

One other thing: Don't forget there are also 6 of "The Beginning" pre-Barnabas episode boxed sets out there, so the complete run comprises 32 boxed sets.

Anonymous said...

Buy the DVD of Seth hack Smith, Johnny Depity Doo, and Tim Burtoniac's hatchet job? Um... No. house/ night, yes. Those, according the Kathryn Leigh Scott, are definitely planned for a fall release. Thgose, i will part with money for. i spent my $7 on 90 minutes i wish I had back already, mainly to see if it was as bad as i thought it would be (worse) and to be able to say to sanctimonious Deppity-doos and Burtoniacs that, yes, i had indeed seen it; and it sucked even more than the trailers led me to believe it would. When you spend 90 minutes, mouth on the floor in shock, shaking your head again and again at each new travesty unveiled.... That's enough waste of time and money.

Cousin Barnabas said...

Great column, Will. I think someone could write another book about Roger Davis' misbehavior on set. I get the impression he was the Chevy Chase of the original Dark Shadows cast.

I don't think I was all that offended by the sensibilities of the new Dark Shadows movie, and some of the adjustments in character (especially combining Maggie and Vicky) were actually clever ideas. It was the script I objected to ... at least, the part of the script that made it to screen. I have a feeling there's LOTS of footage between Barnabas and Vicky that didn't survive editing. (But no amount of restored footage is going to salvage that clunky ending.)

The movie has enough going for it that I'm at least considering picking up the Blu-ray later this year. Hell, I bought the first volume of the Gold Key comics collection from Hermes Press, and those books are terrible.

Will McKinley said...

Frank - We made that correction. Thanks.

Anon - Trust me, I had a similar response to the film, though not as poetically expressed as yours. And KLS may be saying "they're planed for a fall release," but people have been saying this for a long time, and there is still no street date. Planned and "actually happening" are two very different things.

I still maintain that the fastest way to get the movies we love released is to line Warner Bros.'s pockets with money. If they believe there is additional profit to be generated from this, we'll get the movies. (And likely a sequel, with SPOLIER ALERT! "Carolyn the teenaged werewolf" as the lead.)

In the meantime, where the Hell can you see movies for $7 in 2012?! I need to move out of New York City.

Cousin Barnabas said...

I was at the HeroesCon in Charlotte, N.C., a few weeks back, and despite claims that the convention refuses to allow vendors to sell bootlegged merchandise, there was at least one table selling pirated DVDs. Among them were DVDs of House/Night of Dark Shadows, which were purchased by a guy standing next to me at the vendor's table.

I had mixed feelings about the experience.

Will McKinley said...

Cuz - The DS cast makes no bones about their dislike for Davis, even when he's present. I've seen Q&As at the Dark Shadows Festival where they essentially come right out and say it. And Roger just smiles. Or maybe that's his facelift? I'm not sure.

KaimanaStar said...

I had every intention of watching the new remuddled version in the theatre, but couldn't bring myself to go. I hope I can find a DVD release in Big Lots in the next few weeks. Wow, Jeff Davis takes a beating, LOL, was he the least liked person in the series? I do have a feeling there weren't many others, if any. It looked like they all had fun with it.

Karyn (Kay) Fry said...

I'll buy a copy of the new movie to see just one thing: Jonathan Frid's final performance. Even if all he did was walk through a door and say "good evening" it made it worth seeing.


Anonymous said...

I don't think everyone hated Roger Davis. He was good friends with Don Briscoe and reportedly got on well with Dan Curtis. Also Nancy Barrett and David Ford were reportedly friends. Other than that, I don't know. I've heard him say very nice things about some of the other actors at the Fests.....

I've also heard/read some negative things about many of the other actors and crew members. People are people...some get along, some don't.....

Artamus Sumatra said...

You can already buy House of Dark Shadows from Amazon, yea, it's a download, not as cool as having it on Blu-Ray. But even if that remains the only way to get it, I'd still prefer that to sending the wrong message to WB by purchasing Burton's steaming pile. I'm hoping they do release House and Night on Blu-ray, and that they both outsell the Burton/Depp version, THAT would send the RIGHT message to the studio. Then, maybe instead of a "Teenage Werewolf saves the Family fishing Business" sequel, we might see a proper reboot that restores respect to the Dark Shadows name.

J Cricket said...

Will, move to Jokelahoma (no, not a typo) and you too can watch afternoon showings for $7! And in one case, $7 too much! Yeah, i know things have been said. I'm hoping with such certainty she is correct. However, having heard from someone more in the know, who knows? He said before th film opened that they are still trying to find Grayson Hall soundalikes for the restoration. Who knows? I just cannot justify spending any more hard earned $$ on that stupefying piece of dreckity doo from deppity doo. They had gold in their hands and turned it into straw. Wish they'd Kept john August's script, it sounded like HE knew what he was doing....

Anonymous said...

Great article! Loved the stuff on Briscoe! LOL. Those were the days! As for the depp mess. No thanks. Haven't seen it. Never will. (Or any other movie depp or burton or that hyphenated hack writer ever make.) And, no, I won't be buying a copy. Warner will just have to do without my money. If they want money from me, they can release the REAL Dark Shadows movies and keep that crappy movie to themselves. Sorry. I feel pretty strongly about this. As far as I'm concerned depp/burton and company can all jump up my ass.

Anonymous said...

how are they going to make a sequel, when Collinwood manor was burned at the end of it?

dmontgomster said...

Make sure you don't blink or sneeze, otherwise you'll miss it. (I'm not kidding!) And none of our four beloved stars even had a single word to say. I also did spot KLS and DS over the shoulders of Michelle Pfeiffer when she was facing the camera talking in one of the party scenes, but otherwise, that was it in regards to our stars.

dmontgomster said...

I've also heard that Lara Parker is on good terms with him, but otherwise, all the other cast members do not seem to like him. Still, I wonder if it's just due to his personality and perhaps a bit of envy at his wealth; he is rather like the old Hollywood stars in that he put his money in real estate, designed and sold houses, and also started a profitable clothing company.

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