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HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS(director: Dan Curtis; screenwriters: Sam Hall/Gordon Russell; cinematographer: Arthur J. Ornitz; editor: Arline Garson; music: Robert Cobert; cast: Jonathan Frid (Barnabas Collins), Joan Bennett (Elizabeth Collins Stoddard), Grayson Hall (Dr. Julia Hoffman), Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie Evans), Roger Davis (Jeff Clark), John Karlen (Willie Loomis), Thayer David (Prof. T. Eliot Stokes), Nancy Barrett (Carolyn Stoddard), Louis Edmonds (Roger Collins), Ronald Briscoe (Todd Jennings), Dennis Patrick (Sheriff George Patterson), David Henesy (David Collins); Runtime: 97; MPAA Rating: PG; producer: Dan Curtis; MGM; 1970)
“It has the unique distinction of being the only motion picture ever based on a daytime soap opera.”

Reviewed by Dennis Schwartz

It has the unique distinction of being the only motion picture ever based on a daytime soap opera. Dan Curtis directed this schlocky 1970 feature version of his popular cult soap opera TV series (1966 to 1971) about a 235-year-old vampire named Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) who was initially evil but later in the series became benign. Here only his sinister side is touched upon. It was mostly filmed at the Lyndhurst estate in Tarrytown, New York. The film picks up when Barnabas is released from his crypt and desperately tries to get together with the beautiful Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott). She’s the mansion governess that resembles Barnabas’s lost love Josette Du Prez. Curtis keeps the same cast from the TV series, and seems to have had a commercial success packaging horror as soap opera. Dick Smith (among other things, aged Dustin Hoffman from a young man to a 121-year-old survivor in the 1970 Little Big Man) is the excellent makeup artist, and though the special effects are cheesy an authentic gothic atmosphere prevails.

It’s set in the 18th-century Collinsport mansion in Maine, where greedy handyman Willie Loomis (John Karlen) looking for a treasure buried by the family accidentally releases 19th-century vampire Barnabas Collins from his coffin. Barnabas introduces himself to the family as their cousin from England, and as he gains entry to the house the gore starts. The first vic is Willie, followed by the lady of the house, Carolyn Stoddard (Nancy Barrett), who has two bites in the neck when she irks the vampire by getting jealous over the attention Barnabas gives to her governess Maggie Evans. Doctors Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) and T. Eliot Stokes (Thayer David) are called in to diagnose the cause of death, and determine she was killed by a vampire. This proves true as Carolyn returns from the dead to attack her own prey. She is soon killed by a stake driven through her heart. Julia suspects Barnabas is a vampire and is so enamored of his courtly ways that she tries to find a medical cure for him through a series of injections, but the vampire soon makes both doctors his next victims. More gore follows as Carolyn’s husband Roger Colins (Louis Edmonds) becomes the next vic. Things conclude when Barnabas sets his sights on Maggie, but her fianc√© Jeff Clark (Roger Davis) comes to her rescue and kills Barnabas with an arrow through the heart.

Joan Bennett was coaxed out of a forced retirement after ten years away from starring film roles to appear in the TV series and liked her goofy part so much she also appeared in the flick and played Elizabeth Collins, mistress of the mansion. She was lucky enough to spend most of the film in a catatonic state.

Though I didn’t think much of the film, I was pleasantly surprised that it wasn’t as bad as I thought it would be. But it pleased its TV fans, who gave it a good box office.


Dennis Schwartz: “Ozus’ World Movie Reviews”