Directed by Dan Curtis
Distributed by Warner Home Video
What a year to be a “Dark Shadows” fan! First there was the great Dynamite Entertainment comic book, which acts as a sequel to the original 1960s soap opera. Then there was the release of the gargantuan Complete Series box set, containing 131 discs featuring all 1,225 episodes of the show. And then there was the big-budget Tim Burton/Johnny Depp adaptation (review here), which brought the visuals but forgot to tell a coherent story. Of course, that movie did give us a damned good Danny Elfman score (review here) so there is that.
And now come the final gift(s) of the year: Blu-ray and DVD releases of the original 1970s spin-off flicks House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows. Long relegated to bootleg bins at horror conventions, each of these previously unreleased-to-disc movies has been long anticipated by fans, with rumors of releases and restorations abounding for years. At long last these two gems are available on the format of your choice. So the question remains: Was it worth the wait?
For the uninitiated here’s a bit of background: “Dark Shadows” was a very popular soap opera that ran in the late Sixties and found an incredible number of viewers after introducing the supernatural into its otherwise banal, soapy storylines. With this came the introduction of Barnabas Collins (Frid), a vampire newly freed from his tomb of two hundred years. Barnabas was initially created as a villain but turned into somewhat of an anti-hero when he quickly became the public’s most beloved aspect of the show.
Released in 1970, the series’ first feature film spin-off was House of Dark Shadows, an adaptation of the initial run of Barnabas stories which finds the lovelorn vamp seeking out the reincarnation of his long-lost love Josette (Scott), now in the form of the lovely Maggie Evans (also Scott). While Barnabas remains somewhat sympathetic, as in the television series, the movie doesn’t hold back when it comes to Barnabas’ darker side. In fact, the ending veers quite a bit away from its source material when it has the undead hero turn fully villainous, leading to a bloody finale the show would never have attempted.
House is a bit of a mixed bag, quality wise, even for die-hard fans of the show. While the actors are all great and the sets and photography are all gorgeous (evoking somewhat of a Hammer feel), the movie just races along, hitting all of the major plot points of the original storyline without bothering to take a breath. As a result, it’s a bit of a challenging watch for viewers who are already familiar with the material and will likely alienate those who aren’t already aware of the characters and plot. Still, for its faults, it’s a damned fun watch for those looking to check out the show’s most popular tale in bite-size form.
Released one year later, Night of Dark Shadows drops the Barnabas storyline altogether and cooks up something entirely original, featuring actors and characters from the later years of the show in a mostly unrelated tale of witchcraft and reincarnation. Night focuses on Quentin Collins (Selby, who portrayed a different character bearing the same name on the show), a young man who has inherited the large Collinwood Manor now that he is the last of the Collins line.
Before he and his beautiful young girlfriend, Tracy (Jackson), get settled in, Quentin is assaulted by visions of himself in another time, locked in a torrid affair with a dangerous witch named Angelique (Parker, another series vet). Quentin’s strange behavior begins to turn violent, putting himself and his girlfriend in grave danger. Is Quentin mad, or is he being controlled by a witch from beyond the grave? Ohh, but you’ll find out, during the film’s utterly chilling final moments.
While the film was shorn of thirty minutes of footage upon its initial release (which Warner had reportedly promised to restore for this edition but didn’t), Night still stands as a superior spooker, full of gloomy atmosphere and great performances. Owing as much to Henry James as the original show, this Gothic chiller will keep you engrossed before assaulting you with its gasper of an ending, which will likely stick with you for some time after the film ends.
Warner Bros. brings House and Night to disc with practically no bonus features (we get a trailer on each). A shame, as the previously mentioned excised footage or retrospective interviews would have been much appreciated. Still, we’re here for the films, and the presentations do not disappoint.
The 1080p hi-def transfers are both pretty great on each release, with strong colors and quite decent clarity. The source prints for each film do not look to be in perfect shape so neither of these discs will likely ever be used as reference material. Still, this is the best these movies have ever looked on a home format so I’ll keep my complaining to a minimum. The mono audio leaves a bit to be desired, however, though the dialogue and effects are mostly quite clear throughout. Pity the effort couldn’t be made to remaster the audio on these flicks, but oh well.
If you’re a “Shadows” fan, you already know that you need these releases (and likely already own them). For those who know of the Collins family only through the recent theatrical film, be sure to give House a look for a better understanding of the original story. Those who are entirely unfamiliar with the story and characters may want to skip House, but be sure to give the haunting Night a look. In any case, don’t let these visits to Collinwood pass you by entirely.
2 1/2 out of 5
3 out of 5
1/2 out of 5