Lively, entertaining reviews of, and essays on, old and newer films and everything relating to them, written by professional author William Schoell.

Thursday, February 16, 2017

DARK SHADOWS (1990)

Ben Cross and Barbara Steele
DARK SHADOWS (1991).

In this "revival" of the sixties TV show, Barnabas Collins (Ben Cross), turned into a vampire two hundred years before, is freed from his coffin and becomes a "new" member of the Collins family. In the original series, waitress Maggie Collins (Ely Pouget) was the spitting image of his old love, Josette, but in this version it is Victoria Winters (Joanna Going) who excites Barnabas' romantic interest. Dr. Julia Hoffman (Barbara Steele) tries to cure Barnabas of his vampirism, but is angered when she realizes his affection is reserved not for her but for Victoria. Victoria winds up going back to 1790 during a seance, and from then on the show follows both the modern and 18th century storylines, as Victoria is denounced as a witch despite the fact that the real perpetrator is Josette's handmaiden. Angelique (an effective Lysette Anthony). Most of the cast play dual roles. For instance, Roy Thinnes is fine as Roger Collins, who is having an affair with psychic Maggie, but he is really splendid as the grotesque Reverend Trask, who torments Victoria mercilessly.

Jean Simmons was cast as Elizabeth Collins, taking over from Joan Bennett, but while she's good, she isn't given that much to do. Joanna Going makes an impression as the beautiful Victoria. Two cast stand-outs are Joseph Gordon-Levitt as little David Collins, a really superb child actor who graduated into adult roles, and Jim Fyfe as Willie Loomis, who at times seems to be channeling Dwight Frye from Dracula. Over the top on occasion, he still gives a mesmerizing performance. Michael T. Weiss is also notable as Joe Haskell and Peter Bradford. Barbara Blackburn is okay as a somewhat sexier version of Carolyn Stoddard. Most of these actors amassed many credits after Dark Shadows went off the air.

And then there's the glue that holds the whole thing together: Ben Cross [Star Trek]. Aside from the rare perfunctory moment, Cross is superb as Barnabas, expertly delineating both the character's kind and vicious aspects, and managing to be genuinely frightening at times, something Jonathan Frid never quite accomplished. Cross is a fine actor and he makes the most of this opportunity. At the time he told an interviewer that this was his last chance to break out into major stardom, but while that may not have happened, he's still had a busy career ever since.

It was probably seen as another casting coup to hire Barbara Steele [Black Sunday] to play Julia Hoffman, but frankly, taken out of her Italian movie context she's just not a lot of fun, and her performance (as both Julia and a French character in 1790) is only adequate.

The town of Collinsport seems to learn much more about the existence of vampires than in the original series, but I admit it's been a while since I've seen those episodes. Some scenes were shot day for night, but they don't quite work, making it look as if Barnabas is walking about in broad daylight. Despite its higher production values, this version sometimes doesn't seem to escape its somewhat schlocky origins, but it starts to gather speed with the third episode, and hits high gear with the eleventh. Unfortunately, there was only one more episode left, making this more of a mini-series than a series. It does manage to tell the whole story of Barnabas' introduction and his and Victoria's 1790 adventures in twelve hour-long episodes, and generally does it well. A highlight is when a supposedly dead Angelique walks into the courtroom where Victoria has just branded her the true witch.

Dan Curtis directed many of the episodes, which were also helmed by Armand Mastroianni, Paul Lynch, and Rob Bowman.

Verdict: Gets an "A" for effort and is often entertaining. ***.

4 comments:

angelman66 said...

Bill, is this available on DVD yet? I need it!!

Back when it first aired, the ratings were not very good and the Gulf War preempted several episodes, so the show was cancelled before the 12 episodes were even shown. I think they only aired 8 or 9...

Decades later, when Hulu was in its infancy, I found the entire 12 episodes and watched them all for free on my Mac computer. What a joy!!

Ben Cross was a magnificent Barnabas - even better than Jonathan - he had a sexy menacing air reminiscent of Christopher Lee. I liked Barbara Steele more than you did, fun to see her resurrected for this..and a young Joseph Gordon Levitt is wonderful as David Collins...he had the same star quality then as now!!

Oh I am dying to see this again, even if I had to pay for it, but have not been able to find it...
-Chris

William said...

It has been available on DVD as DARK SHAODWS -- THE REVIVAL: THE COMPLETE SERIES for a few years now and you can find it on Amazon -- and ebay may have some copies for sale as well.

It is still streaming on Hulu. You could watch them all in a month for $7.99, which is cheaper than the DVD, but you'll have to put up with commercials!

Gary R. said...

I never followed the daytime soap, but I did watch this revival and enjoyed it. I'm glad you praised Jim Fyfe's interpretation of Willie Loomis; I remember the character became my favorite in the series.

William said...

Mine, too. Gary. Fyfe was able to bring out a lot of facets in his character's personality, plus he was fun and a really good actor. Best, Bill