Exploring: Dan Curtis

Dan Curtis may have started his TV career producing golf, but he became known for his horror-related projects throughout the 60’s and 70’s. It all began with Dark Shadows, a daily series that went from gothic romance to downright weirdness and then got even stranger before the end of its five-year run.

This is way too short of a space to get into all of the stories that took part on the show, but let’s summarize them as vampire, ghosts, a Phoenix, a werewolf, Dorian Gray, witches, time travel, reincarnation and even a series of episodes that took much of the cast to a parallel version of its universe, all tied together by lead vampire Barnabas Collins, who didn’t even show up until the show was already on for ten months.

You can still watch it online — beware there are 1,225 episodes — on  Amazon Prime, Hulu and Tubi.

As the show was still on the air in 1970, House of Dark Shadows played theaters, an incredibly gory and condensed version of the series. Yes, somehow hours upon hours of stories were all presented in one quick story. That said, the production values are well beyond the daily show and its a fun romp. There was a sequel after the show went off the air, Night of Dark Shadows, which moves away from the series somewhat while still remaining an entertaining — and actually frightening — film.

During Dark Shadows run and after it ended, Curtis began producing and directing a series of TV movies. Best known amongst them are the two movies feature Darren McGavin as Carl Kolchak. The Night Stalker, the first of these films, remained the top-rated made-for-TV movie for decades. Along with a second movie, The Night Strangler, and a TV series that Curtis did not work on, Kolchak influenced The X-Files and remains popular to this day.

There have been rumors of a theatrical movie being made from the original film, directed by Edgar Wright and starring Johnny Depp. It would be Depp’s second Curtis character, following him played Barnabas in the Dark Shadows reimagining.

Curtis would then make The Norliss Tapes, another attempt at a series where an investigative reporter chases after the occult. Sadly, it wasn’t turned into a series, but the film that resulted is quite good.

Over the rest of the 70’s, Curtis became the small screen’s main purveyor of the dark side, thanks to movies like Scream of the Wolf and a series of shorter features for ABC’s Wide World of Mystery like Come Die with Me, The Invasion of Carol Enders, Nightmare at 43 Hillcrest, and Shadow of Fear.

Curtis also took the time to create a series of classic horror stories that were shot on video. DraculaThe Turn of the Screw, The Picture of Dorian GrayFrankenstein and The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde remain fun looks back at the television of my youth, marked with fantastic performances by Jack Palance.

If that was all Curtis did, he’d still be remembered. However, there is still more.

Burnt Offerings is an adaption of the Robert Marasco novel with Karen Black, Oliver Reed, Bette Davis and Lee Montgomery at odds with a house ready to devour all of their souls.

Curtis would work with Black again in perhaps one of the 1970’s best known TV movies, Trilogy of Terror. Across three stories, Black would be a seductress, a set of twins and a woman battling an ancient African doll out to kill her. It’s one of the best movies — not just TV movies — ever made and a true landmark of horror. A 1990’s sequel, Trilogy of Terror II, was made and while it’s not as good, it’s still interesting, as is another Curtis’s anthology movie, Dead of Night.

After several more TV movies — The Big EasyThe Long Days of Summer, When Every Day Was the Fourth of JulyCurse of the Black Widow — Curtis would embark on two gigantic epic mini-series, 1983’s The Winds of War and 1988’s War and Remembrance. It was one of the few times that Curtis would receive an award for his work, as the first series won an Emmy.

Curtis produced new takes on Dark Shadows in 1991 and 2005, as well as executive producing an abortive — and way too dark and gritty — reboot of Night Stalker in 2005.

Here’s the rest of Curtis’s film to enjoy: Alien Lover, A Darkness at Blaisedon, I Think I’m Having a Baby, In Advance of the Landing, and St. John in Exile. And there’s the 2007 Curtis career documentary, Master of Dark Shadows. Also be sure to check our feature on the Collinsports Historical Society.

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