Friday, August 21, 2015

Famous Monsters enters HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, 1970

Famous Monsters and the 1970s made for an awkward pairing. Traditionally, horror movies were considered to be kids fare, but the implementation of the Motion Picture Association of America's ratings system in 1968 immediately changed the playing field. Overnight, horror movies became more bleak, sensational and violent ... none of which were a good fit for the corny stylings of Forrest J. Ackerman. HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS underscored cinema's rapid change in tone. All you need to see is the rare image below of Kathryn Leigh Scott wearing a wound appliance on her neck (courtesy of the late Dick Smith!) A few years earlier, vampire wounds were the kind of thing you could fix with Band-Aids. At the start of the '70s, though, vampire attacks began to look like the work of animals. I don't fully agree with Jonathan Frid's criticisms of the HoDS's violent tendencies, but I absolutely understand them.

Below is the HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS feature from Famous Monsters #82 in 1970, as well as a collection of the Nancy Barrett-heavy images that accompanied it.

Have your garlic & cross ready! 
You're about to enter the HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS

Above, a vengeful Barnabas strangles Julia Hoffman for putting a spider on his bed & scaring him out of 175 years growth.

Through the fog-shrouded mountains of an eerie countryside, a lonely train makes its treacherous way toward an unknown destination.

Aboard the train, a pretty young girl stares down at the mysterious letter in her hand. She has been hired as a governess for a family she does not know. Suddenly, with a hiss of brakes, the train pulls into a station. The girl steps out onto a deserted platform, her feet bathed to the ankles in the thick mist that surrounds everything.

Sound like the opening scene to a horror film? It wasn't. It was only a dream.

When producer Dan Curtis awoke from this weird dream, he recognized the potential it had for a television series. It was from the seeds of this fantasy that DARK SHADOWS, one of TV's most successful daytime serials, was born. Together with writers Sam Hall & Gordon Russell, Curtis wove his tale of mystery that was destined to have daytime audiences spellbound for years.

They envisioned a proud old New England family, the Collins family, whose family tree passes through many generations. Their stately mansion, Collinwood, and the surrounding grounds, provide the setting for a tale of horror unlike any before told on daytime television.

For one year the series plodded along adding Gothic touches to the typical soap opera plot entanglements. Producer Curtis, not satisfied, came up with another idea.


The role of Barnabas Collins was created almost on a whim, to add spice to a series that was sorely lacking. Barnabas, a 175-year-old vampire, was scheduled to be a part of the series for only six weeks. But audience reaction to his role was so immediate and favorable that Barnabas stayed on in Collinwood and is still enjoying great popularity among soap opera viewers around the country.

Jonathan Frid, the actor who really sunk his teeth into the role of Barnabas, has become the first vampire matinee idol, whose fame & fan mail have reached tremendous heights. He saw the role of the vampire as more than just an inhuman monster, lusting for the life blood of the living. Rather, he chose to portray Barnabas much as he would any tortured man who had a skeleton in his closet. In this particular case, the skeleton just happens to be vampirism.

With the success of the soap opera increasing by leaps & bounds, producer Dan Curtis decided to make still another innovation for the daytime serial. He decided to make it into a 'full-length feature motion picture.

The result, HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, is currently being released around the country. It is Curtis's first theatrical film, although he was nominated for an Emmy award for a film he made especially for television: THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE, which starred Jack Palance as the Doctor who finds himself with double trouble.

Some years back, when THE MAN FROM U.N.C.L.E. was in its heyday, that series released episodes that had been on TV to movie theatres, padding them with a little extra footage. This is not the case with HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS. The film is more than just a physically enlarged version of the soap opera. It is a completely different film with a climax that may well shock devotee's of the serial.

"Messy, messy, messy!" says Willie (John Karlen) as he helps Carolyn after her attack by Barnabas.
HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS was filmed entirely on location, in and around three ancient and sinister mansions within striking distance of New York City. Another unique aspect of the film is its plot, which has its roots buried deep in Gothic tales of love & death. Its relationships are a bit more complicated than the usual girl-meets-monster, boy-saves-girl horror film. casting a dark shadow

All of the actors who have made DARK SHADOWS what it is today were called upon to repeat their roles for the movie. Since they have been playing these same parts for years, each is most uniquely qualified to bring his particular characterization to the screen.

Joan Bennett portrays Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, matriarch of the ill-fated Collins clan (on the TV show, Miss Bennett also played Naomi Collins in the 18th century episodes, Judith Collins in the 19th).

Jonathan Frid continues his famous role as Barnabas Collins, the victim of circumstances who has been cursed by a witch and forced to spend 175 years searching for blood as a vampire.

Grayson Hall, as Dr. Julia Hoffman, has the bad fortune to fall in love with Barnabas with tragic results.

Kathryn Leigh Scott is the perfect heroine as Maggie Evans. Softly pretty & prettily soft, she is the kind of girl meant to be carried off and then rescued.

Roger Davis takes on the romantic lead as Jeff Clark, the young artist who rescues the heroine. Strong jawed & steely-eyed, he is a man of both action & sensitivity.

Rounding out the cast is Nancy Barrett, Donald Briscoe, David Henesy, Thayer David and Louis Edmonds.

In Collinwood, a stately old mansion in Maine, live Roger Collins (Louis Edmonds) , his son David (David Henesy), his sister Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Joan Bennett) and her daughter Carolyn (Nancy Barrett).

One stormy night events are unleashed which plunge them into a nightmare of the supernatural and drastically change their lives. Willie (John Karlen), a handyman, enters the Collins' crypt, searching for the lost family jewels. In a secret vault he finds a chained coffin, which he opens.

Soon after, a stranger enters Collinwood, claiming to be a cousin from England. The family accepts Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), due to his amazing resemblance to an 18th century portrait of the original Barnabas. He moves into and restores the Old House, a dwelling on the grounds where the "first" Barnabas had lived.

Shortly after he is settled, there are several mysterious deaths in the neighborhood, culminating in that of Carolyn after a costume party, Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall), a doctor, and Eliot Stokes (Thayer David), a professor, are convinced that these are caused by a vampire, and that Carolyn will return from the dead. She does, and is killed by a stake through the heart while attacking her fiancée, Todd (Donald Briscoe).

Julia is attracted to Barnabas, and knowing him to be the vampire, convinces him that he can be cured. He wants to marry the governess, Maggie (Kathryn Leigh Scott), and when Julia discovers this, she deliberately reverses his cure so that he ages to his true 175 years.

In an insane fury, he kills Julia, renews his youth with Maggie's blood, and carries her off. In a hair-raising climax, Maggie's fiancée, Jeff (Roger Davis), rescues her as she about to become the bride of the vampire in an abandoned monastery.

Do you, Maggie, take this vampire as your unholy husband of the night? Maggie & Barnabas prepare for their wedding in the abandoned monastery.

HOUSE, OF DARK SHADOWS is characterized by liberal doses of gory murders & bloody deaths, in the great old Dan Curtis tradition. In an interview, Curtis related still another dream to the reporter. In this fantasy, he would invite the cast & crew of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS to a big party to celebrate the success of the picture. He would hold the affair at Lockwood House in Norwalk, Conn., one of the 3 spooky mansions he used during the filming of the movie. When all the guests had gathered in the central rotunda, Curtis would press a button and huge steel doors would quickly slam closed, imprisoning the group. A motion picture camera, protected in glass, would then rise out of the floor and begin to revolve. Suddenly, Dan Curtis's recorded voice would shout: "So you thought you were coming to a party!” And, with that, 150 men with crossbows would appear on the balcony and begin shooting at the helpless people below. And while all this was going on, the camera would be filming the entire bloody mess.

One of Curtis's dreams, the girl on the train has brought him fame and fortune. This one, how ... well, who knows?

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