Both directed by Dark Shadows creator Dan Curtis (Dead of Night), the pair of flicks conveniently has arrived in long-overdue DVD and Blu-ray releases from Warner Home Video. Both also benefit in the production value inherent of theatrical releases, which the live, shot-on-video soap often severely lacked.
It took me a while to realize this, but House of Dark Shadows is a thoroughly streamlined adaptation of its source material’s most popular arc. That introduced the reawakened 18th-century vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) to the Collins and Stoddard families who live on the 200 or so acres that compose the appropriately Gothic estate of Collinwood.
While Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) searches for a cure for vampirism, Barnabas searches for love with the children’s governess (Kathryn Leigh Scott), who is the spitting image of his fiancée of centuries ago. Never fear: Many people fall prey to Barnabas’ bloody bite.
That may sound familiar if you’ve seen Burton’s film … and I hope you have, as Curtis makes no effort to introduce his characters, Barnabas excluded. It’s as if viewers are expected to be familiar with every branch of the family, which requires some acclimation to become fully immersed into the storyline. Getting creepy as Barnabas shows his true skin, the second half is a smoother ride.
Night of Dark Shadows doesn’t share that trouble. Although directly connected to the series’ universe, it tells a tale that’s more in the series’ spirit (pun intended) than a straight adaptation.
In this superior work, Quentin Collins (David Selby) moves back to Collinwood with his brand-new wife, Tracy (Charlie’s Angels’ Kate Jackson, in her movie debut). All he wants to do is consummate his marriage and paint some pictures, but his subconscious has other plans: He begins dreaming of ancestor Angelique Collins (Lara Parker), who was condemned as a witch and, therefore, hanged right on the property.
Without spoiling details, the story moves into a haunting realm of reincarnation. (It once ventured into exorcism as well, before Curtis had to cut the film; for whatever reason, those deleted scenes are not included.) The only confusion on my part this time was that Hall and Jackson are playing different parts than they did on the TV show, so their appearances here are repertory in nature.
Regardless, Night is the stronger picture, and its ending disturbs (whereas House’s unintentionally camps it up). Whether forced by budgets, both movies’ use of small casts helps heighten the intimacy and atmosphere. And while slow by today’s standards of horror, they move faster than any episode of the show I’ve seen. —Rod Lott