Tuesday, January 31, 2012

Barnabas Collins takes the scenic route

In 1968, ABC and Dan Curtis Productions sent Jonathan Frid on a promotional tour of the country. It wasn't entirely a happy experience for Frid, who was required to stay in character as Barnabas Collins for these events. The tour was also dotted with fan misbehavior, with local law enforcement having to intervene on several occasions on behalf of the Dark Shadows tour.

Dark Shadows jumps to the big screen (take 1)

The marketing machine for the new Dark Shadows film appears to be suffering lethargy this year. It's almost February and we have neither a poster nor a trailer for the film, but back in 1970 the first Dark Shadows film was everywhere. Rumor has it the movie saved MGM from bankruptcy that year, though the final gross for House of Dark Shadows is still a mystery.

The newspaper clipping above talks about the film's hectic shooting schedule, its impact on the Tarrytown, N.Y., community (where it was shot) and the negative impact that Gomer Pyle USMC had on Dark Shadows ratings.

Joan Bennett talks Dark Shadows

An  interesting, though brief, interview with Joan Bennett, who explains her decision to appear on a daytime drama. Bennett was initially the show's big draw but the dynamics of Dark Shadows were turned upside down after the introduction of Barnabas Collins.

Monday, January 30, 2012

Dark Shadows and Famous Monsters

Dark Shadows was on the cover of Famous Monsters of Filmland four times during its run, twice for the television show and two more times for the feature films House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows. These pages are pretty typical of Forry Ackerman's publication, full of bad puns and unabashed love.

Jonathan Frid in "Dial M for Murder"


 Darkness Falls, an apparently defunct Dark Shadows website (it  hasn't been updated since 2009) has a collection of magazine clippings dating back to the television show's original run. Marketing for the show was far from sophisticated, but producers were acutely aware of the youthful following that Dark Shadows had acquired. This issue features the sort of usual copy geared for teens, but also includes photos of Jonathan Frid participating in a stage production of Dial M for Murder.

Sunday, January 29, 2012

Portrait: Professor Timothy Eliot Stokes

Artwork from the Dark Shadows Concordance 1840 publication of one of my favorite characters from the show, Professor Timothy Stokes.

Joe Dante reviews DARK SHADOWS in 1971

House of Frankenstein, July 1971

By Joe Dante

TV Guide critic Cleveland Amory (both of him) opined that DARK SHADOWS is the all-time worst presentation '"in the history of entertainment." This reveals Mr. Amory's lack of familiarity with his subject, since everybody's aware that Bert I Gordon's VILLAGE OF THE GlANTS is the worst thing in the history of entertainment!

The fact is that DARK SHADOWS, a video- taped daily ABC-TV serial, is an oasis in the wasteland of TV's daytime mental retardation. Produced and created by Dan Curtis, who was responsible for the fine DR. JEKYLL & MR. HYDE special with Jack Palance, DS is soap-opera styled but with the accent on suspense and terror rather than the usual socio-sexual hang-ups.

Beginning in 1966 as a Gothic-type mystery serial aimed at teenage girls, it followed the misfortunes of pretty Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke) after taking a job as at the forbidding Collinswood estate in isolated Collinsport, New England, overseen by high-strung Elizabeth Stoddard (Joan Bennett), and being frightened by the expected transparently "unexplainable" events. This formula proved unrewarding, and the show was going nowhere when a 175-year-old vampire named Barnabas Collins, played by Jonathan Frid, was introduced experimentally. The character caught on and Curtis was quick to shift the emphasis from mystery to the supernatural, as Karloff's NBC THRILLER series had done a few years before much to its success.

Since then the program has been merchandising itself into a major industry, including an endless string Of paperback novels, one-shot publications, coloring books, record albums, and now, the boxoffice movie success, HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS.

The show itself has become a compendium of horror movie clichés, brought to a boil by concentrating all the mostly culled from old Universal pictures, upon one family. DS's characters have suffered more shocks and horrors than three generations Of Universal contract players; yet whenever the supernatural rears its shaggy head, they react as if it were intruding on an uneventful existence in Scarsdale.

Thus we have Barnabas, himself a reformed vampire who has been killed and revived at least a number of times, participating in various magical and monster-making experiments, shifting back and forth in time innumerable occasions, watched a friend turn into a werewolf, and seen Mrs. Stoddard return alive and unharmed from entombment alive after six weeks, greeting every occult plot twist with puzzlement and the inevitable “… it can't be possible!"

Such things contribute to the pleasantly redundant quality of the soap opera form, stretching each development into weeks or even months, enabling viewers to pick up on the story even after missing huge chunks. It took Barnabas six weeks to figure out that little David Collins (David Henesy) was under control of an evil spirit from the grave, forcing him to do his bidding like the time it made the boy string a wire across the staircase, tripping and half-killing his father— a neat trick for the kiddies at home to try. Of course, wise professor Stokes (Thayer David) knew what was going on at the outset, but, as usual, nobody paid much attention.

Along the way, Barnabas has been transformed into the show's hero, and frankly Frid makes a better, more persuasive hero than a vampire, battling in true Van Helsing style against the various powers of Evil, his vampiric past endowing him with a somewhat anti-hero cast. Frid manages to imbue the character with some dignity and even depth in the face of what is obviously limited rehearsal time.

Miss Moltke, who made no secret of her distress at her clichéd role (Honestly, Victoria is durnb”) , was written out some time ago by having her character disappear into the past, the heroine role assumed by both Nancy Barrett and Kathryn Leigh Scott. The nature of the program allows actors to be "killed" and return from time as ghosts, which at least provides a sort of job security.

Visually DARK SHADOWS is the best TV serial yet aired. The lighting and use of color are excellent, and the sheer number and variety of sets must set a opera record. The budget apparently doesn't allow for re-taping, so every fluff, camera misdirection, visible crew-member and production error left in, endowing the show with some of the excitement and human interest which made live TV so much fun back in the dear, dead Fifties. Nothing arouses audience empathy more than the sight of a harried actor groping for forgotten lines while trying to steal a discreet glimpse of the cue card.

Despite the occasional mistakes, or maybe because of them, DS is highly enjoyable. The entire cast has been able and often better than the material, and the directors frequently work out some stylish effects and nice touches.

The writers have borrowed liberally from DRACULA, FRANKENSTEIN, BRIDE OF
THE INNOCENTS, among others, giving the an affecting sub—classical Old/New  quality.

All concerned seem to be having a time, even when confused, and the fun is contagious.

Maybe not to Cleveland Amory, but to your COF reviewer at least. And, these days, who else can you trust?

Dark Shadows in TV Guide, 1969

Courtesy on the Inside the Old House fanzine, here's a column by Cleveland Armory from a Feb. 1, 1969 issue of Dark Shadows. I like the part where he singles out two children for ridicule. What an asshole.

Saturday, January 28, 2012

The Ballad of Barnabas Collins

The Ballad of Barnabas Collins by the Von Hoffman Orchestra, from the album Monster University Pajama Party. The work of artist/writer/musician Mike Hoffman, the album also features the track Dark Shadows.

Hoffman also has a few Dark Shadows-themed prints for sale at his website.
Get the Barnabas Collins print here, and the Julia Hoffman print here.

Fanzine ad: Shadows of the Night

Started in 1987, Shadows of the Night ran for approximately 10 years and was the official publication of the Pittsburgh Dark Shadows Fan Club.

Friday, January 27, 2012

Portrait: Barnabas Collins

Art by Warren Oddsson
From the 1840 Concordance book, published in 1987.

House of Dark Shadows poster gallery

House of Dark Shadows was released to theaters during the final days of the television show. As you can see, its advertising campaign was surprisingly ... salacious. The movie was much more violent than its television counterpart (and has since been described as an "American giallo") but still stayed well within the rules of what a PG film allowed at the time. Let's hope the Tim Burton film recycles the tagline from the first poster directly below.

Rumor has it that both House of Dark Shadows and the uncut Night of Dark Shadows are coming to DVD and Bluray later this year. In the meantime, it appears the only place you can currently watch a legal digital version of the film is here at Amazon.

Lil' Barnabas

Above is a photo of 11-year-old Steve Mavronis, taken in Halloween of 1970. Steve and his family wisely steered clear of the creepy-in-the-wrong-way Halloween costume created by Ben Cooper, choosing instead to create something more screen-accurate. Here's what he had to say about the costume:
"My late mom Florence and I were big fans from the original black and white Dark Shadows soap opera series until it ended in color. We used to watch it together. There was a Halloween day in elementary school and my mom made me the costume from scratch and did the makeup too. I was a big hit in 5th grade, LOL. Decades before the Twilight movies, Dark Shadows was very popular back in the day."

Review: Dark Shadows #1

The creators of the new Dark Shadows comic book faced the kinds of obstacles I wouldn't wish on any creator.

When Hollywood translates comics for film, it usually means eviscerating decades worth of storylines to create a coherent, if not always compelling, narrative. It makes for a leaner product, for sure, but it also loses many of the character details that made the original story special in the first place. Exhibit A.

Ironically, the new Dark Shadows comic has the same problem. The original series tallied more than a thousand episodes and has been off the air for 40 years. It had a cast of characters almost as large as The Simpsons, not to mention divergent timelines and hundreds of years of backstory. Also, the show's primary characters were entirely absent from Dark Shadows' last story arc, leaving creators no momentum on which they could build. And it had the bizarre problem of have to translate a daily serial into a monthly serial, a process that promises to significantly slow the story's pace.

The obvious solution would be to toss out all that continuity and start fresh. I'm delighted to say the creators of the new comic, much like the creators of the original show, have taken the path of most resistance by extending the show's existing continuity. 

Spoilers follow.

The comic begins with a subtle nod to the show's opening. Narration from Dr. Julia Hoffman welcomes us to Collinwood and begins to slow process of both introducing the characters for new readers, informing longtime fans of what has happened since we last saw them. We quickly learn that Roger Collins is nursing a secret, Carolyn's rebellious streak is again emerging following the death of her husband, Jeb Hawkes, and that David has taken to playing with fire (and that last item should raise a red flag or two.)

Naturally, the story quickly moves to the show's most compelling character, Barnabas Collins, who is once again under the vampire's curse. Barnabas has been having nightmares about Angelique, wisely taking no comfort in her most recent "death." And his dreams aren't the only ill omens about Angelique's return. Hoffman falls under the thrall of a maybe-not-that-mysterious power after discovering a statue of Angelique on the grounds of Collinwood. And the words "SHE APPROACHES" are found scrawled on the walls of the manor.

Roger, as always, is quick to point out his deficiencies as a parent by blaming the bloody scrawl on David. And Carolyn gets some surprising (and welcome) character moments with the bartender at the Blue Whale. It appears that the series is going to take a few pointers from the late Dark Shadows writer Sam Hall, who created an outline for where the television series might have gone had it not been cancelled. Hall speculated that Carolyn would become a paranormal investigator and the new comic is taking every opportunity to highlight her newfound psychic abilities.

Either way, it's great that the comic can take a moment, however brief, to let the characters do something other than react to conflict (at least, react in a non-physical way.)

The issues ends on a curious note, as Hoffman finds Barnabas slouched over Carolyn, who appears to have been attached by a vampire.

Anyone who has ever read a comic based on a licensed property can attest that they usually suck (no pun intended.)  Marvel interpreted Indiana Jones as a wise-cracking, chatty adventurer who had more in common with Spider-Man than the quiet presence that he was in the movies. And the Dark Horse Star Wars comics have spent almost 20 years playing games of cosmic one-upsmanship, leading to books that feel little like the movies. Even the Buffy the Vampire Slayer comic wandered so far afield that it alienated a lot of fans ... and it was written by the show's creators.

Writer Stuart Manning understands that it's important to let Dark Shadows be itself. The dialogue is amazingly idiosyncratic to the characters and makes the art almost redundant. There's no sign of the budget-busting set pieces that made the Buffy comic such a chore to read. Coupled with the art and coloring, the new Dark Shadows comic truly feels like Dark Shadows.

I hate to end this little critique with a grade-school summation, but the first episode issue of Dark Shadows was so much more than I could have hoped for. When mainstream comic companies routinely trash decades of continuity and good will, it's stunning to see a book that panders so earnestly to fans. I have no idea what people new to Dark Shadows will make of this series. It's not that I don't care (the comic needs all the readers it can get) but readership is not really my problem. The book delivered for me.

(Note: Dynamite Entertainment is one of the few comic companies that allows readers to order directly from them. You can catch up back issues of Dark Shadows by clicking here.)
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