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


Jonathan Frid and Grayson Hakk

This week we look at that venerable old Gothic,/horror soap opera, Dark Shadows (1966 - 1971), which kept many kids glued to their TV screens each weekday afternoon to watch the adventures of vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), the witch Angelique (Lara Parker), the weird Dr. Hoffman (Grayson Hall), those good gals Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott) and Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke), the nice guys Joe Haskell (Joel Crothers) and Jeff Clark(Roger Davis), the ever-emotional Willie Loomis (John  Karlen), Professor Stokes (Thayer David), the Frankenstein-like Adam (Robert Rodan), werewolf Quentin (David Selby), and a host of others.

Dark Shadows, to be charitable, was pretty low-brow, and even schlocky at times. The series borrowed from everything from Jane Eyre to Wuthering Heights to Mary Shelley's Frankenstein to all the old Universal horror films starring Franky, Dracula, and the Wolfman. Not that there's anything wrong with that, for Dark Shadows often came up with intriguing variations on a theme, such as having a handsome Frankenstein monster instead of an ugly one. The 1790 storyline which told how Barnabas became a vampire certainly had fascinating elements, and there were other gripping adventures during the series' run.

And then there's the acting. With little rehearsal time, and difficultly memorizing lines, some actors relied too much on the TelePrompTer, with the result that all they could do was "indicate" a performance -- when you're too involved in just getting the right lines out, it's difficult to create convincing emotion in a character. Only when the cast really knew their lines was the acting more than adequate. Grayson Hall had her good moments, but she was more often awful on the show, splitting up her sentences ["there must -- be something -- we can do"] in ways that made little sense, or suggesting that she either was stalling to remember her lines or had breathing issues. Frid was quite effective when he clearly knew what the scene was about and what he was saying.

Joel Crothers
Humbert Allen Astredo, who played Nicholas and other characters, was one of the best and most professional actors on the show. Robert Rodan scored as Adam. And there were many others equally memorable. Kathryn Leigh Scott was always professional, as was Louis Edmonds. Alexandra Moltke did have the innocent quality that producer Dan Curtis was looking for, even if she wasn't necessarily a great actress. Handsome Don Briscoe was quite good in the roles of twin brothers, and was especially effective as the bad boy who turns into a werewolf. John Karlen handled everything the writers and Barnabas Collins threw at Willie and he always rose to the occasion. Joel Crothers was solid as stalwart Joe Haskell, who was Maggie's boyfriend until Angelique got her hooks -- and fangs -- into him.

This week we look at one of the most interesting story arcs on the show, "The Creation of Adam and Eve;" as well as the 1990 revival of the show; the film Night of Dark Shadows; a book on the series; and some special extras, Last, but not least, we look at season two of the Showtime series Penny Dreadful, because if it wasn't at least partially influenced by Dark Shadows, I'll eat my hat.

You can also click here to read about House of Dark Shadows and Tim Burton's dreadful big-screen adaptation of Dark Shadows.


angelman66 said...

Hi Bill- yay, this was my favorite series as a kid. They rebroadcasted the whole series every afternoon in the early to mid 1970s so I watched every day after school. Despite the obvious schlock factor you mention, I was mesmerized. And I laughed out loud at calling out Grayson Hall on her hypnotic, strange and ultra-slow delivery...and widened wild eyes obviously seeking out the teleprompter! I always loved Alexandra Moltke (Isles), more of a model than an actor, but perfect as Victoria....and a perfect mistress for Klaus Von Bulow, too! Joel Crothers was adorable, and he was gay and succumbed to AIDS in the early 1990s, as I recall. Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie Evans/Josette) has been the Dark Shadows archivist with her wonderful books and reminiscences. The cast still attends those horror conventions, I believe...

So much fun!

William said...

This is a show you either love or hate. When I posted on this on twitter I got absolutely no reaction and on Facebook I heard from some people who loved the show and others who said they found it so slow and the acting so wooden that they couldn't get past an episode. True, the pace may not have been ligntning-swift, but if you get caught up in it, it works.

I forgot about the Von Bulow connection! I knew Crothers was gay. I'm sure even as a kid I noted how Handsome he was!