Cue spooky music because Barnabas Collins has risen from the grave once more, but the Johnny Depp starrer was not its first attempt at a film series. The original Barnabas comes off better as a movie since it doesn’t have a split personality.
Willie Loomis (John Karlen) is looking for buried treasure, but what he finds is a coffin. When he opens it he unleashes cursed vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) from his 150 year slumber.
Barnabas returns to his ancestral home with Willy as his slave and ingratiates himself with his relations, Elizabeth (Joan Bennett), her daughter Carolyn (Nancy Barnett), and her brother Roger (Louis Edmonds), but poses as a long lost cousin and moves into the old house where the original Barnabas lived (little do they know).
He also meets governess Maggie (Kathryn Leigh Scott) who cares for Roger’s son David (David Henesey) and who is the spitting image of Barnabas’ long lost love. Barnabas arouses the suspicion, as well as other desires, of family doctor Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall).
Soon a family member has been killed, but you can’t keep a nosy girl down as she rises as a vampire and comes to the attention of Professor Stokes (Thayer David) who takes up stakes to try and curb this vampirism plague.
Dark Shadows (1966-1971) was a gothic soap opera from creator Dan Curtis that showcased the eerie goings on of Collinsport, Maine. The series would reach a frenzied height when character Barnabas Collins was unearthed. Of course the desire to use that popularity to bring Barnabas to the big screen would result in this 1970 feature.
The soap was still ongoing so a storyline was developed to keep Barnabas away from the small screen so that Frid would recreate his role for the big screen and be joined by many of the cast members of the show – some would meet fates in the film that wouldn’t reflect their place in the show.
Also not really allowed on television are the amounts of blood and mayhem that appear on the big screen, most times with garish red blood that pops off the screen in this delicious transfer.
The storyline recreates the Barnabas storyline and does a decent job of compressing it to the 90 minute running time. Not that fans couldn’t fill in any missing bits from their memories of the show. A nice touch is that Curtis doesn’t show us Barnabas until he shows up at Collinwood, but I think that may also be from the TV storyline.
The film also features some impressive old age makeup from master Dick Smith. I certainly found the film’s certainty of what it was doing, being a scary movie, more pleasing than Burton’s schizophrenic switches between comedy and horror.
A career on the big screen was not in the cards for the late Frid, but we do have this filmic adventure of Barnabas to remember him by, as well as many episodes of the show that made him a household name.
House of Dark Shadows is presented in a 1080p transfer (1.85:1). Special features sadly only include the 2 minute theatrical trailer.
House of Dark Shadows is a gothic feast for fans of the show and it certainly provides a visual feast on Blu-ray. The special features department is where the coffin is found to be empty, which is a pity. Too bad Frid couldn’t have given a new interview before he passed on. No crying over spilt blood.
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