Wednesday, March 9, 2011

Not on DVD Week: House of Dark Shadows (1970)

Before there was "Buffy the Vampire Slayer", "True Blood" and "The Vampire Diaries", there was "Dark Shadows." A Gothic soap opera, the show has since endeared thanks to better than usual acting, a pervaiding Gothic atmosphere, and dark romanticism. Whilst the show is on DVD, the two spin-off movies-"House" and "Night of Dark Shadows"-remain conspicuously absent. Well, I think it's time we took a look a the first film.

In Collinsport, Maine, the Collins family are settling down at a mansion, where they meet lost relative Barnabis (Jonathan Frid), who looks mysteriously like his 19th century counterpart of the same name. Well, he is that man, and a vampire to boot, and he starts to take interest in Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott), who looks like his lost love Josette Du Prez. Carolyn Stoddard (Nancy Barrett) soon becomes jealous of Maggie, and in the midst of a fight with Maggie, is bitten by Barnabis. Now, she's and Barnabis are preying on people, and Barney decides it's time to marry Maggie...

Easily the best of the movies reviewed for "Not on DVD Week" thus far, "House of Dark Shadows" is something of a lost classic of Gothic Horror that at times stands with the Vampire films Hammer was releasing, what with it's evocative score, bared fangs, and fog permeating the whole film. It's also strikingly violent for a film that's rated PG, with plenty of bloody vampire bites and nasty stake impaling scenes that would garner the film an R rating these days. The films is also very well acted, with Frid making for a creepy but tragic presence, and Barrett holding onto a Gothic sexuality that's gives goosebumps. Add some fine direction from Dan Curtis (who also produces, "Shadows", as well as "Trilogy of Terror", "The Night Stalker" and more) and an energetic and satisfying conclusion, and you have a real winner.

Well, there is one thing that doesn't quite work, and that's the more "soap opera" aspects of the film. Whilst such things may have translated well on television, here they just feel out of place and goofy, especially scenes in which Barnabis reacts to betrayal, which got a few unintended chuckles out of me.

Still, "House of Dark Shadows" is a must for fans of Gothic horror, and it's a shame the film isn't on DVD. However, with Tim Burton doing a film version of the show soon, there may be hope yet.

Rating: 8.5/10

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