Thursday, September 10, 2015

What a minute ... when did HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS open?


People like anniversaries. A solid date gives us something on which to hang our history and heritage, but neither of those concepts lend themselves well to fixed schedules. The milestones we love to recognize are often, in the words of Charlotte Brontë, "categorical horseshit."

Such is the case with the release date of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS. Yesterday, I marked the 45th anniversary of the film's release, using Sept. 9, 1970, as the date of its officially sanction debut. This is the date that IMDB prefers, citing a "premiere" that day in Detroit, Michigan, of all places. It specifies a broader roll out closer to Halloween.


While I don't know when (or even "if") HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS received a formal premiere, movies operated much differently in 1970 than they do today. Back then, little emphasis was placed on opening weekend grosses ... because there was rarely ever anything resembling an opening weekend. Movies were rolled out slowly, sometimes taking months to gain a proper toehold in theaters. Today, a motion picture will make as much as 50 percent of its total gross during the first three days of release. During the 1970s, though, you could expect a film to stay in theaters for months at a time. For example, John Carpenter's HALLOWEEN officially opened Oct. 25, 1978 in Kansas City, Missouri ... but didn't arrive in theaters in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, until the end of the following November.

Aug. 28, 1970.
So, the Sept. 9, 1970 "debut" of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS? It's absolutely wrong. In fact HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS started screening to audiences as early as August of that year.

On Aug. 28, 1970, the film opened at the Diane Drive-In in Gastonia, North Carolina. It was paired with Hammer's HORROR OF DRACULA from 1958 as the B-picture. To give you an idea of what kind of movies generally played at the Diane in 1970, the movies playing on these screens during the previous week were THE CHRISTINE JORGENSEN STORY and the 1968 Frank Sinatra thriller, THE DETECTIVE.

From there, HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS trickled out to theaters around the country. While it got a boost from the Halloween holiday that year (which probably led to the myth of its October 28 release date) the film was in wide release by the end of September.

If you're looking for a date to recognize as the "official" opening for HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, Sept. 9, 1970, is as good as any. As with most anniversaries, though, the truth is a lot more complicated.


UPDATE: Film archivist and DARK SHADOWS fan Darren Gross found an even earlier showing of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS. He sent me a scan of a newspaper ad (which you can see above) for a preview of the film that took place Aug. 24, 1970, at The DeMille Theater in Manhattan. He says the October 28 date often referenced is when HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS opened in New York City and Los Angeles.

Note: The DeMille, following a few name changes, closed in 2007. The building was remodeled and served at the site of Famous Dave’s BBQ Restaurant, which closed in 2013. The building was demolished earlier this year.

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