The original Dark Shadows TV series was a weekday soap opera that aired on ABC from 1966 through 1971. Drawing vampires, werewolves, and other denizens of the supernatural into the usual soapy melodrama of the genre, Dark Shadows built a fandom that grew beyond the usual soap demographic to include a cult following among younger viewers. The show came back into mainstream consciousness this year with the release of Tim Burton’s film adaptation that cast Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins. 2012’s movie wasn’t the first time Dark Shadows has taken to the big screen, though. Near the end of its television run, a pair of spinoff flicks hit theaters, and both of them recently made their way to Blu-ray shelves for the first time.
House of Dark Shadows (1970)
Released during the original series’ run and transporting a number of the original cast members from their small screen roles into a major motion picture, House of Dark Shadows was a box office success. Rather than add to the ongoing story from the TV show, this first movie extracts some of the more significant plot threads and distills them into a single serving production, in much the same way Burton’s 2012 adaptation treats the source material. In fact, viewers of the more recent Dark Shadows movie may be surprised by just how much common ground exists between the 1970 and 2012 films.
Early in the movie, Willie (John Karlen), the groundskeeper at Collinwood, accidentally frees Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) from his centuries-long entombment. Returned to the world, the vampiric Collins heads back to his family home where he works his way into the modern generation of the family. The matriarch is Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Joan Bennett), and she presides over Collinwood with her daughter Carolyn (Nancy Barrett) and brother Roger (Louis Edmonds). Barnabas recognizes something familiar in Maggie (Kathryn Leigh Scott), the family’s governess, and realizes that she may be the reincarnation of Josette, his love from prior to his undeath. Accompanying the Collins family is Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall), who might be digging too deeply into the Collins family history. All the requisite melodrama of the situation plays out alongside some truly chilling moments of horror and gore.
Series creator Dan Curtis directs the film, which manages to strike a balance between spookiness and unrepentant cheese. In 2012 it’s hard to watch any film from 1970 with the same sensibilities of the time in which it’s released, but melodramatic horror outings like House of Dark Shadows make it especially difficult to imagine an era in which laughably ridiculous setups might once have been truly scary. Still, there’s a lot of interesting atmosphere and supernatural craziness going on here, and even if it’s not a great movie by general standards, it is a fun watch for fans of the original TV show as well as for anyone who has seen the Burton version and is interested in its origins.
House of Dark Shadows received a straightforward Blu-ray release on October 30, 2012, that includes a theatrical trailer as its only bonus feature.
Night of Dark Shadows (1971)
Following the success of House of Dark Shadows, it’s only natural that a sequel movie would go into production. As fate would have it, the Dark Shadows TV series concluded before this second film launched in theaters, so the excitement for the franchise was waning by the time audiences got to see Night of Dark Shadows. While still created and directed by Dan Curtis, Night is a markedly different movie than House. Where House of Dark Shadows relies on rather faithful adaptations of events from the TV series, Night of Dark Shadows plucks characters from the TV mythos, significantly changes them, and drops them into a completely new scenario, almost as if this movie were set in an alternate universe from Dark Shadows proper (a possibility that actually isn’t that farfetched, given the traditionally sci-fi laced plotlines that permeate the TV show).
Reportedly, the followup film would have featured Barnabas Collins again, but by the time it went into production, actor Jonathan Frid was involved in other, post-vampirism projects. Consequently, the new heir to Collinwood became Quentin Collins (David Selby), a character established on the TV show but reinvented for the movie. The film finds Quentin and his wife Tracy (Kate Jackson) arriving at the manor to claim his inheritance. There’s a lot of gothic brooding to be found, along with the occasional case of lycanthropy and possession, but overall Night of Dark Shadows is less engaging than the previous film. Quentin makes for a fine Collins heir and evidently was a popular character toward the end of the series, but the absence of Barnabas is a loud one.
Grayson Hall, who previously played Julia Hoffman, makes an appearance as Carlotta, the housekeeper at Collinwood. Carlotta’s story brings the familiar Dark Shadows trope of reincarnation back onto the table and rolls Angelique (Lara Parker), a popular character from the TV show as well as from the later Burton movie, into the mix as well. Night of Dark Shadows’ plot meanders throughout, and its level of camp is heightened by some truly strange musical scoring. It’s still recognizably Dark Shadows and carries all the ‘70s era trappings wrapped in ancient gothic mystique that built the franchise, but it likely will appeal only to a subset of viewers who enjoyed House of Dark Shadows.
Night of Dark Shadows released on October 30, 2012, on Blu-ray, alongside House of Dark Shadows. Like House, Night features only a theatrical trailer as bonus content.