Dark Shadows was a phenomenon. The kind of cultural big deal that needed to be cashed in on, which is why producer and creator Dan Curtis started pitching a featuring length TV movie from 1968 on.
The original idea was to simply edit together old episodes of the show, but soon the idea to tell the entire Barnabas Collins saga — complete with bloody bites and gore — took over. As the TV series was still on the air, several of the actors were written out, with Barnabas being trapped in a coffin — for 28 episodes — by a writer who was trying to use the vampire for a biographical novel. Other characters were replaced in the 1970 parallel world story arc.
With a budget of $750,000 — that was probably enough for 750 episodes of the actual series — and on location shooting at the Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown, New York and that town’s Sleepy Hollow Cemetery (as well as the Lockwood–Mathews Mansion in Norwalk, Connecticut), this movie looks gorgeous. And it’s a joy to see so much of the original cast come back and play modified versions of their roles.
However, what takes years on the soap opera now takes moments. It’s a bit disconcerting.
Much like his entry on the show, Barnabas (Johnathan Frid) is found by handyman Willie Loomis (John Karlen) and within moments, is both introducing himself as a long-lost European relative while also taking bites out of almost every single female castmember.
Daphne Budd? Bitten. Carolyn Stoddard? She gets a bite. Maggie Evans? Yep, her too.
Barnabas also gets transformed into a human by Dr. Julia Hoffman, but she falls for him and jealously transforms him into his true age. No worries — a few bites from his chosen bride, Maggie, brings him back to vitality.
The only part that you may not enjoy is Willie turning on Barnabas and the titular vampire succumbing to a crossbow to the back. That said, his bat flies away — Curtis was doing end credit teases way before the Marvel movies — in a nod to a projected sequel that never happened, Curse of Dark Shadows.
There’s also a moment where Quentin Collins’ theme is heard, but he doesn’t show up. I’m certain there were many young ladies who were crushed by this fact.
If you’ve never watched the original episodes, this is a fun movie. If you have, you may just end up upset that so much is glossed over. Regardless, I saw it at the drive-in, paired with its spiritual sequel and I enjoyed the hell out of it.
BONUS: We discussed this movie on our podcast.