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  House of Dark Shadows How Would You Like Your Stake?
Year: 1970
Director: Dan Curtis
Stars: Jonathan Frid, Grayson Hall, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Roger Davis, Nancy Barrett, John Karlen, Thayer David, Louis Edmonds, Don Briscoe, David Henesy, Dennis Patrick, Lisa Blake Richards, Jerry Lacy, Barbara Cason, Paul Michael, Joan Bennett
Genre: HorrorBuy from Amazon
Rating:  6 (from 1 vote)
Review: In a region of Maine resides the Collinwood mansion, a rambling Gothic pile where the Collins family lives, a brood with a mysterious history. Today the groundskeeper Willie Loomis (John Karlen) is seeking the whereabouts of a hidden treasure in jewels which went missing some years before, but he has a note of precisely where they could be secreted and tracks them to a tomb. As he does this, the family are also doing some searching of their own for their youngest member, David (David Henesy) whose governess Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) is calling for him, but he is effectively hiding from her. However, with night falling Willie's discovery of not only the jewels but a long lost Collins ancestor will set the cat among the pigeons...

Dark Shadows was a long-running daytime soap opera on American television from 1966 onwards and occasionally revived every so often on television and movies. The Tim Burton film version of 2012 generated interest in the original series even if it wasn't much of a hit, but there had been other cinematic outings for the Collins clan and their hangers-on, and those made while the series was still in production. House of Dark Shadows was the first (Night of Dark Shadows was the follow-up) and directed by original producer Dan Curtis who throughout the seventies saw him as the go-to guy for horror on U.S. television, mostly thanks to his involvement with this franchise.

But like many a TV producer, Curtis had a yen to make it on the big screen, and this was the result of his labours, a quickie created by adapting a storyline that had taken some months to unfold on the small screen, thereby rendering this rather a headlong rush through the plot and meaning it had most appeal to those who had followed it before in the series. Even so, it had the fans grumbling as by condensing the material there was little time for the nuance they appreciated when they tuned in each afternoon, and most unforgivably the romantically doomed lead character Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) was more out and out villain than someone the audience could feel sorry for.

To make matters worse for those who liked their horror without lashings of claret, House of... was considerably more bloodthirsty, with raw neck wounds and vivid stakings, along with assorted other injuries; after all, Curtis had to keep up with the standards of the genre of the day, and things were getting a lot more violent in this decade. Of course, there's a problem with going back and trying to get into the source as it was on television, and that is there was not simply about a thousand episodes to sit through, but to the uninitiated it did seem both impenetrable and crushingly dull, whereas watching the first film was easier to get on with as there were no long, drawn out scenes of dialogue as the production attempted to make their ideas last far longer than a moviegoer would have patience for.

Many of the cast of the serial returned for this, including veteran star Joan Bennett, and if you were unfamiliar with who was who their characters helpfully called each other by name in every other sentence, as if the script was trying to convince the diehards don't worry, these are still the same folks you knew and loved all these years, but now we have a proper budget to work with. Well, it was more expensive than the show, with nicely chosen locations - the mansion had a particularly pleasing air about it - and more elaborate special effects, though when Barnabas is cured of vampirism and his age catches up with him, they simply borrowed Dick Smith's elderly Dustin Hoffman makeup from Little Big Man and had Frid wear that, so there was a degree of cost-cutting. As for the narrative, it would help if you knew what was going on from the source, but it was possible to trace the events as they breathlessly flew by and it did build to an enjoyably frantic climax as Frid did his best Christopher Lee and tried to bond with the hapless Maggie... forever! Music by Bob Cobert.
Reviewer: Graeme Clark

 

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