Thursday, March 24, 2016

Sam & Grayson Hall prop up Night of Dark Shadows, 1971

The troubled post-production of NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS has been well documented since its release in 1971. Unhappy with the sprawling, dour epic presented to them by director Dan Curtis, MGM demanded the film be drastically reduced in length. More than 30 minutes were excised during a marathon editing session, bringing the film down to a drive-in theater friendly 94 minutes. Not many people — least of all the creative minds behind NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS — were satisfied by what was eventually shown to audiences that year.

But the movie still had to be promoted. In 1971, screenwriter Sam Hall and actress Grayson Hall made the usual press rounds, desperately trying not to let the words "MGM can go fuck itself" come flying from their mouths. And the neutered version of NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS was not the only issue they had to address. The absence of Barnabas Collins was also an obstacle that needed to be cleared with grace and, in this interview with the St. Louis Dispatch that year, I think they presented the bravest possible front. They've also got some interesting things to say about DARK SHADOWS' reputation as violent camp, even if the reporter can't keep track of her facts.

You can read a transcript of the interview below.

Out of the Shadows for Friday The 13th 
By Mimi Teichman 
The Post-Dispatch Staff 

Aug. 13, 1971

HERE'S A BUMPY-NOSED, red-haired, bony-handed scary-type witch, slinking and cackling around in the middle of summer. Her high cheekbones threaten to break through the skin. Her enormous brown eyes struggle under an overdose of black eyeliner. No doubt about it. It's a witch, stranded in Missouri, where the forces of darkness wage a never-ending battle against the incorrigible goodness of Middle America.

Skeptics might say she's an actress who plays witches, and they might be right, since she travels under the name of Grayson Hall, an actressy name if there ever was one. Where's all the imagination in the Netherworld? If Grayson Hall is all they can come up with for an actresses name, no wonder hanging, drowning, jumping off towers, being pushed off railroad bridges and trampled by horses are the most exciting, inventive ways the spirits can think of to rid the earth of a few more souls. Not that they are bad murder methods — lots of good scream potential there — but they've all been done before.

The witch thinks horror is better than ever. People die in the above ways in "Night of Dark Shadows," a movie that opens in St. Louis, today, Friday, the thirteenth. The witch is in it and she thinks it's terrific. She plays a sinister housekeeper named Carlotta, who remembers the lives of all her prior selves.

IN PREVIOUS theatrical reincarnations, Grayson Hall was Dr. Julia Hoffman, a hematologist-psychiatrist-hypnotist hopelessly in love with Barnabas Collins, the reluctant vampire; Magda, a gypsy witch, and Mrs. Danvers, another 'housekeeper, also sinister. These characters, and actress Grayson Hall, have existed in the demi-monde of "Dark Shadows" for the last three years. "Dark Shadows" was the phenomenally successful television soap opera that added the supernatural to the usual round of pregnancies and auto accidents, thereby creating a following that has developed cult proportions.

When the program was cancelled by the network in March, its fans contented themselves with the knowledge that a second feature film was following the first, “House of Dark Shadows.”

With the serial doomed to the purgatory of cancelled television programs, “Night of Dark Shadows" is the only way the fans can keep track of how things are going with Barnabas, the vampire, Angelique, the mean but beautiful witch, and the others. Except that Barnabas isn't in the new movie.

"There's just so much you can do with a vampire," said Grayson's husband, Sam Hall, who wrote the screenplay and co-authored the daily episodes for the last two years of the series. "He bites. He needs blood. The only thing that made Barnabas interesting was that being a vampire to him was like an awful disease he couldn't control. He felt bad about it. He'd bite a girl whom he loved and then sulk about it for a week. “

SAM HALL has received help in plotting “Dark Shadows" from his 13-year-old son Matthew, who, like many others in his age group, is a devoted fan.

“He used to bring his friends to the studio and say, 'Let me show you where the coffins are,’” Grayson said. Children are ardent fans of horror because they respond well to fantasy, the Halls believe. And when the couple thinks about it, they admit that what they like about horror is the fantasy as well.

"Of course I have to take it deadly seriously when I write it," Hall said. "It may become camp later, but I can't approach it that way or it won't work.

Grayson Hall, who also takes the horror seriously while working, likes the scale of the macabre. "I worked with Tyrone Guthrie, the great British director, and he said something that I thought was very good. 'I don't understand you Americans,' he said. 'You're always trying so hard to recreate reality. If you really want reality go watch a street accident. This is the theater.’”

SAM HALL AGREES. "Somehow you get relief from seeing monsters that you know can't exist," he said. "Our gore is artificial, and not within your life experience. Removing it from the realm of possibility diminishes real fear. Our violence is fundamentally romantic violence. It's all based on oversized passion. Revenge or love or the supernatural motivates the violence, not the fact that someone needs heroin. I was mugged in New York. That's a real, scary experience. Seeing that on the screen would terrify me. The human being overcome by the mechanical, like when a car runs a man down, I find that scary."

But being hanged as a witch? Being trampled by horses? It's no big deal, sir.

"For a horror film to make an impact, it has to be more violent than the things around us. With all the killing and mugging around, that's pretty hard," Hall said.

“When the show was on the air," Grayson said, "people said it was bad for children. I think it was good because it denied death, one of the greatest fears children have. Characters would die and then come back later. I don't think there's anything wrong with postponing the reality of death for children.”

In the world of “Dark Shadows," characters die and return, sometimes in different reincarnations. The show (and the movies) were written using the literary device "parallel time," a kind of world of if, in which all an individual's possibilities are carrying on at one time. That is, if Carlotta hadn't become sinister house-keeper of Collinwood, she might have been a gypsy or a French doctor. All those possibilities are going on somewhere, as well as possibilities in other centuries, which lets the “Dark Shadows” plots travel in time.

IF GRAYSON HALL hadn't liked working on “Dark Shadows" with her husband, and if her husband and son hadn't cared about living in New York as much as they did, she might have moved to California after her performance as a lesbian schoolteacher in John Huston's movie of
Tennessee Williams' "Night of the Iguana" won an Oscar nomination. But she didn't. Not one to be typecast, she followed the part in the Richard Burton, Ava Gardner movie with a role in a Walt Disney feature.  She has also worked in the theater and been in numerous television dramas.

Sam Hall was born in Carrollton, (Ohio), attended Dartmouth and was studying playwriting at Yale Drama School when Grayson was a guest actress there. He has written novels and for other television programs, and was the chief plot strategist for the prime time "Peyton Place" series.

"Doing a movie that has an end is a relief,” Hall said.

“Don't tell the ending," Grayson said, fixing the defenseless mortal screenwriter with a compelling stare that might have been perfected 180 years ago.

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