April 11, 2019 Master of Dark Shadows (Documentary Review)
Soap Operas can come in many shapes and sizes and differ from culture to culture. British ones like Eastenders or Coronation Street will try to take themselves seriously for a few weeks before going back to the cheese. While Telemundo telenovelas boil down Soaps to its basic appeal – handsome men, pretty women, high emotional stakes – and jam on that chord no matter how silly it gets.
Then there is something like the 1966 series Dark Shadows, which told the story of the many goings-on within the Collins family in the fictional town of Collinsport, Maine. Gothic Horror-based family shenanigans were not exactly new at the time, with The Addams Family and The Munsters having been on TV since 1964. Those were sitcoms. Dark Shadows may have had vampires, witches, and warlocks, but it went for mood, melodrama and menace.
It became a cult classic, though perhaps a little more niche than others. While The Addams Family and The Munsters reached beyond America’s shores, most foreign markets did not get a whiff of Dark Shadows until Tim Burton’s 2012 film adaptation. While it was not as successful as The Addams Family’s classic 1991 effort, it did pique interests abroad in the series. It may be cheap and cheesy by today’s standards, yet, like the original Star Trek and Batman series, that might be part of its charm.
Luckily, the MPI Media group will get to satisfy the curiosity seekers, releasing the new Documentary Master of Dark Shadows on DVD and VOD as of Tuesday, April 16, 2019. Director David Gregory talks to Whoopi Goldberg, Alan Ball, Ben Cross, and Barbara Steele, amongst others, about the show’s history, appeal, and legacy. Not to mention that of its creator, the ‘king of TV horror,’ Dan Curtis (Trilogy of Terror 1975, Burnt Offerings 1976). Featuring narration by Ian McShane (Lovejoy series, Deadwood series).
The feature also throws in rare behind-the-scenes footage, alongside stories behind the show’s creation and tenure on TV. It sounds like a must-have for fans, and a fascinating watch for beginners. Does it hit the mark?
Well, the production cannot be sniffed at. It follows the familiar talking-head structure, using on-site interviews interspersed with show footage, photos, archive interviews, etc, tied together by McShane’s narration. Though it does throw in a few visual fancies, like the Gothic test introducing each speaker, or its creative use of stock footage to illustrate points (i.e. Dan Curtis’ burgeoning interest in Horror).
The film also presents its info well, as the interviewees give the audience a clear idea of what Curtis was like, and how Dark Shadows came to pass. However, its pacing also plays out like the original show’s rise. It starts off rather dry and rote until it begins talking about the supernatural shift and eventual star Jonathan Frid as vampire Barnabas Collins.
Not that the story of Curtis and his show’s beginnings are dull, but it is a slow burn. The rise of Curtis and his show was not as chaotic as Richard Stanley’s Island of Dr Moreau in Gregory’s Lost Soul Documentary. Though once it reaches Frid’s debut, the Documentary hits its stride through the show’s peaks, its curious story twists, and even how it was affected by the politics of its time.
Not that the film pretends the show is a technical masterpiece. It admits its faults through its cast interviews and footage. Like its shaky scenery, flubbed lines, and other Garth Marenghi-esque bloopers. It does a good job in highlighting the positives that got the series its appeal, be it the ghouls and ghosts, or the campy nature of its Gothic romance stories.
It manages to keep up the pacing by covering Curtis’ other projects, like 1983’s The Winds of War TC series, to cover the gap between the original show and Dark Shadows’ 1991 revival. It makes for fascinating viewing, and in contrasting Curtis’ own feelings towards returning to old ground. Despite that, it does not go into the 1990’s revival that much. There is a little backstage info from Cross and Steele, yet not much on its reception from critics and fans. There is even less on Burton’s film take beyond mentioning it as Frid’s last picture.
So, ultimately, Master of Dark Shadows does offer a good look at the original Dark Shadows’ popularity, and the career of Dan Curtis. It is not an exhaustive one. The film runs enough miles to satiate curiosity in the classic series, but it does leave one feeling it missed out a lap or two. Particularly when it takes some time to build up steam. Master of Dark Shadows is still worth a watch for fans and newbies alike, though it is not quite the definitive Documentary experience on the show. Thus, for these reasons, Cryptic Rock gives it 3.5 out of 5 stars.