By WALLACE McBRIDE
For a few minutes last week, we got to imagine what it was like to have had a third DARK SHADOWS feature film from Dan Curtis.
It was equal parts hoax, practical joke and performance art, and required a level of commitment that bordered on mania. CHILD OF DARK SHADOWS wouldn't have been interesting if it was accompanied by an explanation, so it was published without one. People visited the website and were hit cold with a review of a 43-year-old movie that had no business existing.
If we did our jobs well, readers wouldn't be able to tell fantasy from fiction. Our phony review for CHILD OF DARK SHADOWS was accompanied by a feature story on the cover of Film Comment (a real magazine), as well as in a page from Monster-A-Go-Go (a fake magazine). To confuse matters even further, the Monster-A-Go-Go "review" was kind of a real thing, and was originally published on this website as part of a contest back in 2012.
And that faux review is where all of this began. Warner Bros. approached me that year about hosting a contest for the DVD releases of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS. I thought a blind raffle was pretty boring, so readers were required to submit "elevator pitches" for a proposed third film in the series. WB was skeptical that anyone would take the bait, but Melissa Snyder stunned me (and impressed the PR people at WB) with her idea of a SUSPIRIA/"Jane Eyre" homage. She supplied a full summary of the film (in the form of a DVD review) and a poster.
Her pitch for CHILD OF DARK SHADOWS has intrigued me ever since. The plot feels like a natural extension of the DARK SHADOWS brand and played to Curtis' bleak cinematic sensibilities. HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS has been called an "American Giallo," a Hollywood counterpart to the gory murder mysteries of directors like Dario Argento. Merging gothic melodrama with SUSPIRIA (a movie that also featured Joan Bennett!) is a concept that borders on a fever dream.
As a form of creative calisthenics, I began to tinker with the idea of promotional materials for CHILD OF DARK SHADOWS late last year. What would newspaper ads have looked like? Foreign release posters? The novelization? I took a stab at some of these concepts, none of it really sticking. Part of it was a lack of purpose. It's hard to get fired up about creating something that nobody's ever going to see, and from there the larger idea was born.
With Melissa's summary in hand (and with her blessing) I asked Patrick McCray to handle the next piece of writing. My art still needed to be completed at that point in the project. And, truth be told, my schedule these days is so cramped that things might never get finished if left to me. A third voice also added more depth to the illusion ... when Patrick asked if I wanted a Starlog or Monster Serial-style review, it was clear he fully understood the concept.
He was asked not to write anything that intentionally contradicted Melissa's outline, but he had free reign to craft the film's imaginary "cultural history." He embellished a bit on the plot, but I think it turned out well. Christopher Pennock's “Anton Castille" was a perfect fit for the post ROSEMARY'S BABY occult boom of the decade and I wanted to see more of him.
The art was a mishmash of promotional images from the original DARK SHADOWS television show, as well as photos from other movies featuring the cast members. Alexandra Moltke gave up acting after leaving the show, which provided a pretty steep challenge. Expressionism (and Victoria's timeless trench coat) turned out to be my allies. Movie marketing in the 1970s was often a shell game, with posters and ads frequently selling movies much smaller than advertised. Exhibit A: Mark Hamill's Herculean physique on the original STAR WARS poster.
In lieu of photos of Moltke, it seemed appropriate to give the impression of the actress in my fake marketing materials, which pulled heavily on art from other books, movies and comics. One reader spotted artwork from an edition of Graham Masterson's 1976 novel, "The Manitou," but failed to spot Jerry Lacy's face superimposed over the monster's. Look carefully and you'll also see a still from SUSPIRIA, a track on the soundtrack titled "I Don't Understand" and Melissa's original plot summary used as the text on the Monster-A-Go-Go page.
I also liked the idea of a fictional narrative implied by these random images. Gone from the series were both Marilyn Ross and the Paperback Library Gothic books. The intent here was to show that, by 1973, a DARK SHADOWS movie could at least get the same kind of licensing push as RABID or THE WICKER MAN. After all, the occult was big, big business in the 1970s. (If you browse the movie listings in the image at the top of this post, you'll see why David Selby was unavailable for the sequel.)
Some people got the joke. Others didn't. Adam West has said that the dialogue on BATMAN only works when delivered with the seriousness of dropping a bomb, and that was my approach here. It appears to have worked: For about 24 hours, Melissa's original 2012 contest results for CHILD OF DARK SHADOWS was one of the best-read pages on the website thanks to people Googling the movie's title in search of answers. It felt cruel to ignore questions from people on social media, but it felt equally lame to clear away the fog before it had time to fully settle in.
Tone was also a concern, because I didn't want to come across as either apologetic or vain in my responses. The first would be untrue (I regret nothing) and the second ... well, I am kinda proud of this technological terror we've constructed.
(Note: You can see the original post HERE.)