Friday, February 26, 2016

In defense of NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, 1972

Thoughtful reviews of the original DARK SHADOWS feature films can be difficult to find. At the start of the 1970s, film criticism was still a superficial medium, rarely discussing the theatrical experience as anything more than just ephemeral entertainment. As horror films,  HOUSE and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS were doubly damned and about as likely to get meaty reviews as whatever might be playing at your local porno theater.

Below is the transcript of a review of NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, published in the first issue of Thriller in 1972. Thriller was a pretty typical fanzine, published on the cheap and written by people in love with a particular subject. Consequently, the opinions in these kinds of publications are better informed than what you'd find in their mainstream counterparts, though the writing was sometimes inferior. This review, by the magazine's editor Jerry Weddle, is a perfect example of that dichotomy. Weddle knows his stuff, but he makes a few glaring errors and dwells so much on the film's flaws that his positive review comes across as decidedly negative.

I've noted a few of the writer's mistakes in the transcript, and corrected a few (but not all) of the typos. This might lead you to ask, "Then why the hell are you sharing this?" Despite these inaccuracies, Weddle had some interesting things to say about the movie, Dan Curtis and the DARK SHADOWS phenomenon as a whole. He also does a good job of presenting the cultural context NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS, which was not competing against the original television series, but against movies like TWINS OF EVIL and COUNT YORGA.

There are other nuggets of trivia embedded in the story, which you can read for yourself below ...

Thriller #1, 1972

This further mining of Dan Curtis's ABC-TV series DARK SHADOWS makes its second big screen appearance, and a good one at that. While Dan Curtis is quite a remarkable producer/director, his films have always failed in one way or another, usually due to a weak screenplay, when if written properly they could have been superior to the majority of feature films currently being released by major studios. Such was the case with his first motion picture, HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, which was not nearly as good as his two telefilms, THE STRANGE CASE OF DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE and Richard Matheson's THE NIGHT STALKER. The later film was go successful on TV it will soon be released to theaters, and Curtis is now working on a major motion picture for MGM, again DR. JEKYLL AND MR. HYDE to star Sir Laurance Olivier and James Mason.

In comparison to HOUSE, NIGHT is much better. The first DARK SHADOWS film had the most inept, ludicrous, unpalatable script ever written for a notion picture, but for this sequel the screenplay written by Curtis and Sam Hall is almost first-rate in my opinion. The opera in a supernatural and gothic extremely well developed (Hammer’s John Elder could learn from that!) and the theme is coherent and interesting. In particular, Curtis and Hall do an admirable job on character development and premise, and even the setting — a grim, ancient old mansion overrun by spooks — acts as a character and not merely a background. The pacing of the film is essentially slow, and its only flaw lies in the fact that, with the exception of the last 25 minutes or so, the film moves at such an aggravating, dull pace it becomes an over-long bore. And everything — the photography, settings, music — adds to this stagnation, and as a result the entire affair becomes a trifle pretentious. It is also dead serious, (too) much so, some humor or satire is sorely needed to liven (not the ghosts, just the people) things up a bit. In fact, I’m sure that if humor had been incorporated the slow pace would not have been noticeable, meaning that NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS could have been perfect. Everything about the film is natural and creative, like the dialogue, and the conventional script resembles THE RETURN OF COUNT YORGA in some ways.

Quentin Collins (David Selby) arrives at the old Collinwood mansion with his bride, Tracey (Kate Jackson), where they are greeted by their new tenants, Alex and his wife Claire Jenkins (John Karlen and Nancy Barrett) Quentin is an artist, and he sets to work painting in the strange tower room he is haunted by illusions of the dead witch, Angelique (Lara Parker) who was hanged in the 18th century. The housekeeper Carlotta Drake (Grayson Hall) and her wicked nephew, Gerard (James Storm) warns Tracey to leave Collinwood and let the evil spirit of Charles Collins take over Quentin’s body. Gradually, Quentin's personality becomes more and more like that of his dead ancestor, he tries to drown Tracey and it is his love for the witch that is keeping her alive. But Alex and Claire discover what is happening, and they try to save their friends. In the flashback sequences to the 18th century, we learn that Angelique was in love with Charles, but she was condemned to death by her real husband (Christopher Pennock), Charles's wife (Donna Wandrey) and the resident witch-burner (Thayer David) against Charles's will. In short, all are reincarnations of their turbulent past and the dead come to call on the living. (EDITOR'S NOTE: Weddle refers to Donna Wandrey several times in this feature. Wandrey does not appear in the movie. He's most likely referring to Diana Millay.)

David Selby delivers a very well-drawn characterization in the dual, difficult role of Charles/Quentin Collins, and Grayson Hall, who won the 1964 Oscar for best supporting actress in NIGHT OF THE IGUANA, is equally good as the sinister maid who knows all the secrets of the old mansion. John Karlen (who appeared in the Belgian vampire flick, DAUGHTERS OF DARKNESS) and Nancy Barrett are both quite good as the novelist team who try to save their friends, and Kate Jackson gives a fine, earnest performance as Quentin's mistreated bride; She (cries) a lot and is a great screamer. The rest of the cast, including Thayer David who has three other screen credits to his name, all perform adequately.  (EDITOR'S NOTE: Grayson Hall was nominated for Best Supporting Actress in 1964 for NIGHT OF THE IGAUNA, but lost to Lila Kedrova in ZORBA THE GREEK.)

The Lyndhurst Mansion, located in Tarrytown, New York, used for Collinwood, was restored by Metro-Goldwyn-Mayer just for this film (in HOUSE it looked dilapidated and shabby, which it was at the time). The interiors are extraordinarily designed, the rooms are elaborately furnished with a lavish, beautiful style that contributes a great deal of quality to the film. The house itself is deliciously spooky-looking, what with all the lurking shadows, ghostly windows, imposing towers, creeping doors, etc.

Hanz Holzer, the celebrated ghost hunter, was technical adviser on the film, go one might say that it is "parapsychologically accurate" in the nerve-wracking scenes where the dead take over the living's bodies.

The music score by Robert Cobert is not worth discussing.

Producer/director Dan Curtis does nothing by the rules; he’s a masterful director, and unquestionably as (remarkable) a director as Terence Fisher and Freddie Francis. Curtis is a compliment to the genre, and like the best of them he has his own style, techniques and ideas, and he uses then with a keen sense of know-how and discernability.  Let's hope that someday he will choose a script as good as his talents, for there is no telling what he can accomplish with good material.

NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS is a darned good movie, one of last year’s very best. And for those of you who think the soap—opera is silly, you must admit that it much more original than Hammer's boy-saves-girl-from-monster stories, and on an equal level with the Count Yorga films. 

No comments:

Related Posts Plugin for WordPress, Blogger...