Thursday, March 5, 2015

NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS presskit promotes a different movie

It's no secret that NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS fell victim to studio meddling. Yes, the script was often meandering and included enough endings to make Peter Jackson blush, but MGM's "solution" just aggravated the problem(s). The cut that was eventually released to theaters in the summer of 1971 sometimes didn't make sense, thanks to hasty edits made for no other reason than to shorten its running time.

But the marketing of NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS was a bigger clusterfuck than I'd guessed. The presskit distributed for the film wobbles back and forth between titles, referring to it as both NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS and its working title, CURSE OF DARK SHADOWS. Some pages in the presskit were revised to reflect the name change while others weren't.

(Note: I'm not sure when it was decided to change the film's title. It was referred to as CURSE in the press as early as May that year, and the film was released in August.)

Worse, there are sections of the press materials devoted to scenes that didn't appear in the final cut. It's not unusual for trailers to include unused footage, but it's bizarre that MGM would court this sort of elaborate confusion. It's not unusual for studios to fall out of love with a project (rumor has it HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS saved MGM from bankruptcy the year before) but the presskit for NoDS reads like homework that was completed at the last minute. Which it almost certainly wasn't, because of the references to scenes that were cut shortly before its release.

The Séance.
One of these scenes receives special attention in the presskit. In the film's climax, Quentin Collins (played by David Selby) conjures the spirit of the witch Angelique during a séance. Carlotta (the creepy housekeeper played by Grayson Hall) barges in, causing Quentin to lose consciousnesses. There's a confrontation, leading to Carlotta's fatal fall from the towers of Collinwood.

Carlotta's death was included in the final cut; the séance was not.  It was an important enough moment in the film for MGM to single out for attention in its marketing. Included in the 32-page presskit was not only a photo from the scene, but a section devoted to spiritualist Hans Holzer's "supervision" of the séance. Holzer would go on to greater acclaim by championing the bullshit "Indian Burial Ground" explanation for the so-called "Amityville Horror." Which is interesting to me, because I've got a theory that NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS was a direct inspiration for that hoax. They're essentially the same story.

The website Shadows on the Wall has a great gallery of press materials from NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS.


Unknown said...

I wonder if these deleted scenes still exist... if so, it could be possible to reconstruct the movie to be more like the original intent. I'm sure there would be enough interest in the film to make such a project worthwhile!

Unknown said...

The footage has been found, but the soundtrack was missing. The surviving cast members have since re-recorded their lost dialogue, but the studio that owns the film has shown no interest in restoring it.

Unknown said...

Here's a little bit of light that I can shine on this... During the production, an M-G-M publicist was present on set, in this case, the late Baird Searles, and he would have written all the articles, profiles, etc. that were included in the press kit. These was one article or feature written every day or so on-set, and then sent to media outlets, local and to wire services, with the hopes they would be picked up and run as an entertainment media story. Many were indeed picked up and run in local papers and the occasional hit in a bigger one. They offer a rare day by day glimpse of the goings-on, on-set, albeit with some hyperbole and tall-tale telling.

Then after shooting finished, the publicity department would assemble the presskits, choosing a selection of key articles, as well as selecting they key photo images for publicity- this would have been in May/early June a few months before the feature's August release.

Magazines and publications with long leads would get sent some exclusive images, or in some cases come in and choose alternates from the publicity office, so that every magazine wasn’t running the same few stills over and over. Articles and coverage in magazines would be locked in a couple of months before feature release, so when the film’s title was changed sometime during editing, it was after many articles had already been locked, photos set andit would have been too late to correct. It’s why some of those magazine articles can have exclusive rare shots of deleted scenes, and why you can occasionally find stills with a “Curse of Dark Shadows” title stamp on the back.

Once they decided to change the title, most likely in late May or June, the presskit documents were fixed, the photo titles fixed and the pressbooks created with the correct title art. The pressbooks would have been needed by early July to help book newspaper ads, so the title was clearly locked by then.

When the presskit and pressbook articles went out, even with the correct titles, the last minute re-cutting and loss of several sequences wouldn’t have been known to them- it didn’t happen until the last few days of July.

The kind if presskit pictured, shouldn’t have a mix of different titles, though. There
should be one with the Night… title and one with the Curse.. title, unless the contents were mixed from different presskits or it was leftover material in the publicity file drawer…

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