Category Archives: dan curtis

RIP Karen Black

Earlier today I found out that actress Karen Black had passed away via a Tweet from my good friend Andy Burns, also editor-in-chief of Biff Bam Pop!. Another Tweeter’s response was that he had no words. That’s how I feel. We’ve lost one of the good ones, a legend of the genre. Karen Black died yesterday in Los Angeles from ampullary cancer at the age of 74.

When I said genre, I am of course talking about the horror genre. Karen Black probably most remembered film is one where she played a tour de force of four characters in Dan Curtis’ TV movie of the week Trilogy of Terror. It was at the aforementioned Andy Burns’ website, Biff Bam Pop!, that I talked about how that film still scares the crap outta me. You can read that here.

While it’s true she made her share of horror films, notably Trilogy, and Rob Zombie’s House of 1000 Corpses among others, it’s a fact she never stopped making movies. But of all the films Ms. Black has made, it is the movies of the 1970s that defne her. Hell, one could even say that Karen Black defined film in the 1970s. She changed the way women and sexuality were portrayed on the big screen.

Among her films are some of the best or at least most memorable of the decade, including Easy Rider, Five Easy Pieces, The Great Gatsby, Capricorn One, In Praise of Older Women, Hitchcock’s last movie Family Plot, and Robert Altman’s Nashville. She also starred on stage and on television as well as film. She was a composer, screenwriter, producer, and author of children’s books.

I met her once a few years back, at a Chiller convention near the Meadowlands. We were about to leave and I saw this seemingly crazy woman screaming at people to get her something or other. The men surrounding her scrambled. I realized it was Karen Black. She was holding court in the lobby of the hotel.

I was either brave or stupid, so I approached her and told her she was great in Easy Rider and Nashville, and that I loved her in Trilogy, even though she scared me to death in it. She was kind, and soft spoken, and thanked me, even shook my hand. Moments later she was barking at underlings again, but to me, and other fans who approached her she was an angel.

That’s how I will remember Karen Black – a kind loving woman who adored her fans. Not the psychopath possessed by a Zuni fetish doll. And that’s probably for the best. We’ve lost one of Hollywood’s great actresses, and she will be missed.

Dark Shadows 2012

Dark Shadows ~ When I first saw the trailer for this new version of Dark Shadows my thoughts were, “Oh boy, here’s Tim Burton raping another piece of my childhood, just like he did with Batman, Willy Wonka, Planet of the Apes, and tried to do with Superman.” To an extent, I was right, but if I’m absolutely honest, having seen the film, there’s also a lot of love and homage in there too, right next to the blatant disrespect and mockery.

The story for those who don’t know is that of Barnabas Collins, cursed by an ex-lover, also a witch, to become a vampire in the 18th century, imprisoned, released and awoken in the 20th century. This was the basis for the last few years of the late 1960s/early 1970s ABC soap opera cult classic “Dark Shadows.” Tim Burton, a supposed fan of the series, has decided to remake it as a camp comedy horror drama, emphasis on the camp and the comedy. Not that “Dark Shadows” wasn’t camp, mind you, it was, it just wasn’t planned to be. Like all good camp, it took itself deadly serious. That’s not the case here at all unfortunately. Often, as with most of his films, what’s funny to Tim Burton is rarely funny to everybody else.

All the good zingers are in the previews, so don’t go in expecting much more. That said however, in between all the failed jokes are tons of in-jokes and Easter eggs for fans of the show. Tim Burton may have disrespected the TV series, but he certainly did know it backward and forward. He does streamline and he does change many details, but still the love is evident. It’s when he tries to make fun of it and fails that fans and non-fans alike will cringe.

I dislike Johnny Depp’s Barnabas Collins quite a bit. As he sometimes does, it seems as if he made up a character in a improv class and then built a movie around it. Depp might be better off getting together and making movies with that Borat guy rather than raping my childhood with substandard remakes of old soap operas. He does have Jonathan Frid’s speech patterns down however. I have to give props to Helena Bonham Carter’s Dr. Julia Hoffman for the same reason. Her voice is perfect, but her over the top dye job alcoholic drag queen version of the doctor not so much. Fans of the show will laugh their asses off at her, it’s both hideous and hilarious.

Another of my favorites, Jackie Earle Haley is cast brilliantly as groundskeeper Willie Loomis (and yes, I bet that’s where “The Simpsons” got the name from). He is one of the highlights of the flick, both dramatic and comedic. Don’t blink or you will miss the two second cameos by surviving cast members of the soap opera – Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Selby, Lara Parker, and the recently late Jonathan Frid – as guests at the ball/happening with Alice Cooper.

Michelle Pfeiffer is pretty pedestrian for a role she wanted so badly, but she doesn’t have much room to act next to the scene-eating Depp. Same for one of my faves Jonny Lee Miller and newcomer Bella Heathcote – not enough room. I would have loved to have seen more of them, but such is the way of the soap opera. Speaking of over the top scene-stealing, Eva Green from “Camelot” is just absolutely crazy town as Barnabas’ nemesis Angelique. It’s almost as if the actors got drunk and played make-believe as their characters at some points. Also, much like 1989’s Batman, Burton is unable to come up with an ending so it feels like he starts pulling ideas of out his butt. Seriously, the last twenty minutes of this movie are insane, and not in a good way. It’s almost unwatchable.

The problem is that it’s not all bad, and that this really could have been a good movie, and not just that, a good movie, a respectful remake, and it didn’t have to resort to low brow comedy. The credits sequence in the beginning, set to the Moody Blues’ “Nights in White Satin,” with Victoria Winters coming to Collinsport, is so ABC telemovie that not only would Dan Curtis (creator of “Dark Shadows” as well as more than a few movies of the week) would have been proud, but I was half-expecting to see Kim Darby, Kate Jackson, or Karen Black make an appearance.

There was a lot of stuff to love set amongst the comedic ruins of this flick. I loved both the inside and the outside of Collinwood, the town of Collinsport they built on the set, including the Blue Whale. The bit with Alice Cooper, which in the previews appears to be a one note joke, turns into brilliance by the inclusion of “The Ballad of Dwight Frye” as background for a couple scenes.

All in all, except for the last quarter of the movie, I did enjoy it. It’s not “Dark Shadows,” it’s not the cult classic gothic soap opera of my youth, but I did laugh, I did smile, and I still have my memories. Worth seeing for the curious, the fans, and for those with no point of reference whatsoever. I just would have rather seen the movie it could have been, as opposed to the one it is.