Category Archives: dark shadows

Vogues of 1938

Vogues of 1938 ~ Regular readers of this blog know I love “Dark Shadows” – the TV series, not last summer’s Johnny Depp vehicle. Well, when I saw this movie listed, starring Joan Bennett, DS’ Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the Collins family matriarch. I know she had a serious film career before DS, over seventy movies, but I’d never seen any, that I know of, so I had to check this out.

Walter Wanger’s Vogues of 1938 is a lavish color musical that also stars Warren Baxter as the male lead opposite Bennett. She’s a socialite who becomes a model after a failed marriage. The sets and costumes are terrific for the time, and the print is crisp and bright.

The movie is clever and snappy, like most from the decade. The story is weak, but plays second to the terrific musical numbers and the visuals so it’s okay. The worst part is …Joan Bennett! She’s stiff, fake, and unappealing. Literally everything works on this flick except her. I’m glad she found her home finally in soap operas. Worth seeing, but be forewarned.

I Saw What You Did

I Saw What You Did ~ Back in the old days, before video rentals, before OnDemand, even before cable television, there was only one way to see a particular film – you waited and waited for it to finally show up on standard six channel television. When it was a movie you’d never seen and only heard about, it became sort of an event, and a special memory. I saw The Big Sleep and The Maltese Falcon this way, and also Mothra and the Matt Helm films. There was a certain mystique to the movies you had to watch and wait for each week by scouring the TV Guide.

The original 1965 (it was later a terrible telemovie in the late 1980s that is best forgotten) version of I Saw What You Did was one of those movies, and in recent times it has been made even rarer by its on-again-off-again video and DVD releasing. In an age where almost everything is available, this is indeed a rare film. It’s a lucky thing that occasionally TCM gives it a run, usually when honoring its star Joan Crawford, or its genius director William Castle.

Its full title gives a bit of a hint what it is really about. Two teenage girls on a sleepover amuse themselves by making random prank phone calls and saying to the answerer, “I Saw What You Did! And I Know Who You Are!” You can imagine the bedlam that ensues when they call the man who has just murdered his wife. There’s the set-up and trademark William Castle hilarity and horror follow. You can understand how the plot of this one can become whispered legend among those watching the TV Guide every week.

In a role originally meant to be only a cameo (although she got top billing and pay) and originally offered to Grayson Hall, later to be known as Dr. Julia Hoffman on “Dark Shadows,” Joan Crawford eats up the screen like the film goddess she was in every scene. Her appearance, dressed for flash in the middle of the night, is kinda odd, but then again she’s Joan Crawford after all. She proves without a doubt she could easily be the kooky neighbor in a sitcom from any age, and do it with pizzazz.

The two girls, and one’s little sister, are terrible, but their kids, so give them a break. John Ireland as the killer is stone-faced and fierce, his looks alone inspiring scares. Some of the shocks and the violence are a bit over the top for the time, and surprising when you think about it in hindsight. It’s not Friday the 13th, but it’s a bit much for 1965. The initial killing is an ironic turn on the shower scene from Psycho and actually quite well done.

This is, despite what others may tell you, William Castle at his best. I love this flick, and watch it whenever it presents itself. Must see for horror fans, movie fans, and camp fans – funny, scary, quirky, what more could you want? So keep a lookout, just like in the old days, for the next time I Saw What You Did airs, it’s worth it.

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.

Jonathan Frid Dead at 87

News came today that actor Jonathan Frid passed away last week from natural causes. He immortalized the role of gentleman vampire Barnabas Collins in the Gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows” in the 1960s and early 70s, as well in a theatrical film. Frid was 87.

Like Dick Clark, who passed away yesterday, Jonathan Frid as Barnabas Collins was a big part of my childhood. I have very vague memories of the show when it was actually on the air originally (I’m not that old) but I know my sister was a big fan. I can remember it being on when I came home from school in the afternoon, and I recall the haunting theme music from those days as well.

My real association with “Dark Shadows” corresponded with my first TV, a tiny black and white number I put on my bedside table. Local channel 48 had begun showing reruns of the show at 11:30 every night, starting from the episode where Branabas was introduced. Now “Dark Shadows” was on the air before that, and even had supernatural elements, but the show didn’t really start rolling until everybody’s favorite vampire showed up. I would watch whatever 48 was offering before at 11, be it “Mary Hartman,” “Fernwood 2night” or “All That Glitters,” and stay tuned for “Dark Shadows.” It was, in many ways, the best hour on television back then. I can still remember the credits rolling just before midnight on the supposedly still DS set and seeing the coffin shake or a prop fall. Hey, the show was cheap, but serious in its way, and well loved.

Now Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are remaking the show as a campy movie spoof. I’m sure you’ve all seen the preview. I’m not going to comment, but I know that Jonathan Frid had seen it, and sources say he knew they would put their own spin on it. He actually even has a small walk-on cameo in the film. Time will tell. Jonathan Frid will be missed.

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The Death of the Soap Opera?

“One Life to Live,” after an over forty-year run on ABC-TV, ended last week. That leaves only four traditional daytime soap operas still on the air in 2012. Among the survivors is “General Hospital,” the only one of its ilk that I followed regularly for a time. I discount “Dark Shadows” as I only vaguely remember it when it was on, and mostly watched it in rerun on local Channel 48 and SyFy when it was just starting out.

The award-winning “One Life to Live” was part of the ABC daytime soap opera programming shared universe of Agnes Nixon, of which “General Hospital” is currently the only survivor. “The Bold and the Beautiful” and “The Young and the Restless” on CBS and “Days of our Lives” on NBC are the other three. On a sidenote, I gotta ask – am I the only one who thought “The Doctors” was still the soap opera of the same name? Weird. “OLTL” had some highlights in its run, Emmys aplenty, groundbreaking storylines dealing with rape and drugs, and even some time traveling a la “Dark Shadows,” exciting stuff.

“One Life to Live” also actually had some fun with its last days. Residents of the fictional city of Llanview watched on their sets the final episode of an equally fictional TV soap created by Agnes Nixon, who was interviewed. Angels abounded, played by cast members whose characters who had died. There’s even a cliffhanger, and a broken fourth wall, good stuff. But now it’s over, with some characters moving on to “General Hospital,” and the time slot filled by “The Revolution,” another boring health and lifestyle show.

Anyway it seems the soap opera is dead as a television genre, but is it? It may be well on its way out as a genre unto itself, but let’s face it, everything is soap opera now. I have always said that soap opera is at the core of comic books (any serial fiction really) and that as wrestling is the bastard stepchild of comics, soap opera and comics are the bastard stepchildren of mythology – but that’s another story.

Soap opera as storytelling is everywhere, and I’m not just talking about prime time dramas either. The concept of main story with several subplots underlying that soon become the new main story in an unending cycle is how television works now. There’s no more status quo, where the whole world resets when the credits of a given TV show roll. The characters evolve and change as time goes by.

That’s soap opera, and even if the TV series we normally think of when we think of the term are gone, soap opera still lives, in every other television series.

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True Blood: Beautifully Broken

There is so much going on, so many plots, subplots and plot twists happening all at once. “True Blood” is the perfect melding of the modern quick cut drama like “The Sopranos” and old school soap opera camp craziness of “Dark Shadows” with just a touch of “Twin Peaks.” Yeah, it’s that good.

Our main cliffhanger from last week has Bill going custerfluck crazy on those werewolves, eviscerating them. Yeah, vampires are definitely superior to werewolves in this world – and almost in answer to this revelation, we learn that the wolf pack actually serves the Vampire King of Mississippi, who has plans for Bill.

Our other cliffhanger thankfully ends with Tara not taking her own life, but leads to some great acting by Rutina Wesley and Nelsan Ellis as Tara and Lafayette. There are actually more than a few spotlight performances in this episode. Debra Ann Woll’s Jessica also gets some good stage time. Surprisingly, Eric and Sookie, who are in a real life relationship as Alexander Skarsgard and Anna Paquin, manage very little passion or emotion in their scenes together.

The episode’s title bears out in the various plots, showing the broken relationships in this large web of characters, whether it’s Sam trying to find his family, Lafayette and Tara sticking together, or Jason and Sookie finally making amends – it is all broken.

We learn the nature of the werewolves. They are not just any werewolves. The silliness of that line alone had me giggling. And they’re not just Nazi werewolves either. Yeah, I know. I’m still giggling. There were lots of lines like that in this episode, as well as a cameo by Christine, and it made an otherwise uneventful episode better. From the unintentional one-liners from Eric to the intentional ones from Jason to the various ways to devour blood Bill is presented with – “Beautifully Broken” was a lot of fun.

So until next time… make sure you know where all the bodies in your crawlspace are…

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Jean Simmons Dies at 80

Legendary actress Jean Simmons passed away yesterday from complications of lung cancer at the age of 80.

The Oscar-nominated and Emmy-winning actress not only held some of the most coveted roles in Hollywood but she also played opposite some its greatest leading men, like Marlon Brando, Burt Lancaster, Kirk Douglas, Richard Burton and Laurence Olivier.

After her stellar career in film Jean moved onto television where she won an Emmy for “The Thorn Birds” and even played in the much-maligned remake of “Dark Shadows.” We have truly lost one of the greats. She will be missed.

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Silver Screen Monday

I went to Silver Screen Classics yesterday to catch a film that I have been told several times I need to see – Scarlet Street. Granted, I would have gotten around to getting the disc on my Netflix queue eventually, but trust me, it’s always better to see anything, especially a classic film, on the big screen. For those of you not in the know, every Monday at the Showcase at the Ritz in Voorhees NJ, film historian Lou DiCrescenzo presents a classic film from years gone by along with a short subject, all on the big screen.

Scarlet Street is a classic film noir from master director Fritz Lang, starring tough guy Edward G. Robinson playing completely against type. He’s a cashier and wannabe artist caught in a web of deceit with femme fatale Joan Bennett and her abusive con artist boyfriend Dan Duryea. Some of us might remember an older Joan Bennett as the matronly Elizabeth Stoddard on “Dark Shadows.” Her role here shows she was once very hot stuff. Moody atmospheric and what every film noir should be, I really enjoyed this, and probably more than I would have had I simply seen it on a television screen.

Before the feature, Mr. DiCrescenzo presented a two-reel Mack Sennett comedy starring W.C. Fields called The Barber Shop. Great gags, and he was notably upstaged by both a kid and a dog. Terrific stuff.

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True Blood is Back

The much anticipated return of HBO’s series based on the Sookie Stackhouse novels by Charlaine Harris, “True Blood” debuted its second season starter tonight, and it did not disappoint. When it began last year the flurry of excitement was brought on not just by those who knew the books, but also by HBO’s brilliant viral promotion “Blood Copy.” This time, the excitement is brought on by the pure quality of the first season.

Cliffhangers are tied up immediately, or at least the one that kept most of us losing our minds – that wasn’t Lafayette in the back of the Sheriff’s car. For the rest I’ll leave you guessing, or at least those of you who haven’t seen it yet. And for those of you who haven’t even seen “True Blood” yet – what are you waiting for? Fans of contemporary vampires this is for you, and also fans of the old school – like “Dark Shadows,” this is right up your alley. The first season is on DVD, get on the ball!

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