“House of Dark Shadows” (1970)
Within the realm of popular culture, so ingrained is the image of Count Dracula in the public consciousness that any manifestation of a vampiric figure who might escape the literary eclipse of Bram Stoker’s iconic creation would have to be regarded as something of a triumph of characterization. Such an occasion arises with the appearance of Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins on the supernatural television soap opera Dark Shadows and in its cinematic incarnation “House of Dark Shadows”, a film that continues the character dynamics of the program, but also extends those characters into a plot sufficiently independent of the need of the source material’s continuous flow of daily evolutionary exposition (and in the process, exposing several evident borrowings from the filmic antecedents of Stoker’s novel, which are skillfully woven into the fabric of the narrative), thus granting a comfortable continuation of the home experience while being entirely accessible to the novice viewer.
That director Dan Curtis manages to make this extension of the soap opera entirely cinematic, without a glimmer of aesthetic resemblance to the daytime version is a testament to his skill as a director of atmospherically immersive mise en scene, especially in judiciously upping the ante as to the explicitness of the horrors presented, extended beyond the limits imposed by network Standards and Practices; bloody gruesome as befitting the subject matter, but somehow less exploitative than the average Hammer film. In Curtis’ film, there is a purpose, and within the context of the story, a tragic inevitability to the events which grant the violence the weight of consequence. There is also a great deal of dread generated in the film, which is, no doubt, the result of the same necessary application of restraint in telling such potentially garish material under restrictively disciplined guidelines. The experience seems to have granted the director an appreciation of building tension through mood and patient exposition, allowing the audience to nervously anticipate rather than to being simply assaulted by cruder but more widely used shock tactics.
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