|Grayson Hall and Thayer David|
In this first theatrical feature based on the popular Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, the storyline that introduced vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) is retold, although it ultimately goes off in its own direction separate from the series. Looking for treasure, Willie Loomis (John Karlen) stumbles across a coffin containing the centuries-old Barnabas and inadvertently releases him. Barnabas introduces himself as a cousin to the American branch of the Collins family, and is struck by the resemblance of Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) to his lost love, Josette. While Barnabas feeds upon young ladies in the vicinity, and even turns Carolyn Stoddard (Nancy Barrett) into one of the undead, two people figure out his secret: Dr. Julia Hoffman (Grayson Hall) and Professor Stokes (Thayer David). Julia discovers that there's a cell in Barnabas' blood that may be responsible for his condition and begins to cure him, falling in love with him as well. But when she discovers that the person he's committed to is not her but Maggie ..uh oh! Like the series, House of Dark Shadows benefits from some good acting, with Karlen, David and Scott being especially notable; Don Briscoe as Carolyn's boyfriend and Grayson Hall as Julia are also effective, as is Louis Edmonds as Roger Collins. Joan Bennett shows up now and then as Elizabeth Collins, wringing her hands and looking worried. Roger Davis is fine as Maggie's boyfriend, Jeff, and Dennis Patrick (Dear Dead Delilah) appears as a sheriff. While Dan Curtis [Curse of the Black Widow] could never be considered a great stylist, he keeps things moving and manages to build up some tension toward the end. Certain sequences are especially atmospheric and there is some good art direction, most memorably in a climactic sequence in Barnabas' misty basement. The tune that Josette's music box plays is evocative and the old age make up used on Frid is quite convincing. There are some unintentionally comical moments, and this hasn't the visceral impact of the best of the Hammer horrors, but it really isn't at all bad. Followed by Night of Dark Shadows.
Verdict: About a hundred times better than the Tim Burton version. ***.