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HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS 30th Anniversary Celebration

Old Vampires Never Die...

By By Stephanie E. Embrey     October 26, 2000

On the night of Friday, October 13th, at the recently restored Vista Theater (where Hollywood meets Los Feliz), fans converged for the 30th Anniversary Celebration of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS, the feature film version of the Gothic soap opera from the '60s. The movie and an episode from the television series were scheduled, along with autograph sessions with many of the stars, who were also there to place their handprints and signatures in cement in front of the theater. A memorabilia auction was held to benefit the Women's Care Cottage, a charity presided over by Chip Selby, the wife of actor David Selby (who played Quentin on the show). In addition, Dark Shadows books and CDs were for sale in the lobby.

Near the theater, flashing lights from several fire trucks and police cars, responding to an unrelated altercation nearby, beat a silent yet rhythmic counterpoint to the smooth sweep of the searchlights. The quick-drying cement, in which the stars' handprints were to be affixed, resembled tar or black primordial ooze. The scene out front was pure pandemonium as workmen trundled wheelbarrows filled to the brim with the sticky stuff, and fans and members of the press jumped out of their way. Forrest J. Ackerman, jovial as always, served as MC, announcing the stars' names as they took turns immersing their hands in the wet cement. The crowd waiting to enter the theater applauded wildly in accompaniment.

Stars in attendance included Louis Edmonds (Roger Collins), John Karlen (Willie Loomis), Jerry Lacy (Reverend Trask), Lara Parker (Angelique), Dennis Patrick (Jason McGuire, Sheriff), Lisa Richards (Daphne) David Selby (Quentin Collins), Kathryn Leigh Scott (Maggie Evans), and Bob Cobert (composer of the Dark Shadows music).

Every style of dress was represented, from casual pool hall garb to gothic velvet and period dress to the latest in tattoos, leather, and studsalthough the majority fit into the T-shirt and jeans crowd. One attractive fan in her forties said that she and her sister fell in love with Dark Shadows when they were still in high school. They attended the screening with her daughter, who discovered Dark Shadows on the Sci-Fi Channel in 1992. Adding to the entertainment was a six-foot-plus, rather stocky transvestite dressed as Julia Hoffman, MD, who pulled vitamin and medicine bottles from her bag and offered them playfully to members of the crowd.

For readers unfamiliar with the Dark Shadows phenomenon, the American passion for vampires survived long after Dracula and was reborn long before Anne Rice conducted her Interview With The Vampire. Dark Shadows(the TV series) ran from June 1966 to April 1971. The film HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS was released in 1970, and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS (which is currently in the process of restoration) hails from 1971. In 1991, the franchise was resurrected as a classy primetime TV series (featuring Ben Cross and Joanna Going). Unfortunately, it fell victim to expanded Gulf War news coverage and was summarily (and unfairly) canceled before it had a chance to win the converts it deserved. In 1992, the Sci-Fi Channel rescued the original series and has been presenting it continuously ever since.

Dark Shadows was the first daytime gothic soap opera. It began as a slow-moving mystery set in the New England town of Collinsport, where the wealthy Collins clan lived in their stately home, Collinwood. Then Willie Loomis (John Karlen), an itinerant handyman, went to the basement of the 'Old House' in search of money and jewelry that he thought was hidden there. In the act of removing chains from around a coffin, he unleashed Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid), a ravenous 175 year old vampire, into the unsuspecting world of Collinsport. Later, it was revealed that the witch Angelique (Lara Parker), who was jealous of his engagement to Josette, cursed Barnabas as a vampire. When Josette learned of his transformation, she leapt to her death from Widow's Hill. After his resurrection in the present day, Barnabas represented himself as his own descendant to the Collins family. Nonetheless, he remained obsessed with Josette and became convinced that she was reborn as waitress Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott). Barnabas regarded his vampiric savagery with disgust and sorrow. When Dr. Julia Hoffman (portrayed by the late Grayson Hall) offered an experimental treatment to cure his vampirism, he was eager to try it.

Both the TV series and HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS share the basic premise. However, the film plays like a different version of the myth: it omits the Angelique character and presents a selfish, much less sympathetic Barnabas with a distinctly predatory bent. Stylish and full of seduction and violence, it bears more than a slight resemblance to Hammer films of that period.

I saw HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS when it first came out and was puzzled by the popularity that Barnabas enjoyed among many of my friends who were fans of the TV series. I wondered how they could idealize the cold, callous character I encountered in the movie. When I began to watch the series on the Sci-Fi Channel, I was entranced by the charming, tormented vampire and his desperate quest for a cure. Dark Shadows portrayed Barnabas as a conscience-stricken, remorseful blood drinker, years before Louis de Point du Lac and Lestat de Lioncourt appeared in the novels of Anne Rice.

The production values of the film are noteworthy for the era in which it was made. The sound is crisp; the cinematography is vivid; the special effects surpass their television counterparts; and the acting is convincing. Unlike the TV series, there are no major bloopers, such as a stuffed bat hanging from a visible string. However, the movie doesn't have enough time to accomplish the character development for which the TV series was so famous. Therefore, what the film gains in polish, it loses in the emotional depth of its characterizations. Still, since Dark Shadows was renowned for parallel story lines with different endings, the film could be interpreted as another alternate reality.

The fans in the audience were respectful to both the actors and the film. In contrast, the actors had a great time applauding each other and responding vocally to familiar scenes. Their greatest mirth came before the film, in reaction to the series episode and its laughably outdated commercials. The episode presented an alternate reality that took place in what was then the present. It offered a fun, dark shadowy take on Daphne Du Maurier's Rebecca, in which Grayson Hall took the Mrs. Danvers role. After being widowed by Angelique's 'death', Quentin Collins (David Selby) married Maggie Evans. Pretending to be her own twin sister, Alexis, Angelique persuaded Maggie to wear the dress that Angelique had worn to the costume ball the year before. Of course, Maggie knew nothing about this until she was confronted by an enraged Quentin, who was the very soul of bipolar chic. Today, he would have been turned in to the authorities for domestic violence.

Although there were no press conferences or question and answer sessions, I managed to interview two of the special guests: Kathryn Leigh Scott and composer Robert Cobert.

QUESTION: KATHRYN, WHAT IS IT LIKE TO SEE THIS MOVIE AGAIN AFTER ALL THESE YEARS?

Scott: It's a little scary to be seeing HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS again. The last time that I saw it was in Paris in 1972, about two years after we did the film. This is my first time seeing it since then. The audience loved it in Paris, and the theatre was packed, but I think that the French love good horror films. If nothing else, Leonard Maltin said that this was a great horror film.

IT HAS BEEN SAID THAT DARK SHADOWS PROMPTED THE FIRST WAVE OF THE CONTEMPORARY GOTHIC MOVEMENT. WHAT IS YOUR OPINION?

Scott: I don't know that I really care. It's funny: you're doing your work; the film goes out there, and the audience makes of it what they will. A cult sometimes develops, and people create their own lives around it. This really doesn't have so much to do with your work, but with how they perceive it.

TELL ME WHAT INSPIRED YOU TO START YOUR OWN PUBLISHING COMPANY?

Scott: I started Pomegranate Press when Grayson Hall and Joel Crothers died. Someone asked me to write a memorial for them in a magazine, and I just kept writing. Now we have 40 books, about eight or nine of them having to do with Dark Shadows. 'The Movie Book' has the scripts to both of the movies with Dan Curtis's cuts in it. It's really fun.

DO YOU THINK THAT DARK SHADOWS IS IMMORTAL?

Scott: It is immortal. I think that now, after 35 years, we've reached some sort of immortality, but you know what? I would love it if some of your readers looked up my web site. It's www.pompress.com and just take a look on what we have on Dark Shadows. We have a wonderful calendar of events. For example, this evening's event is on it, so tune in and see the other things that we're doing.

WHAT ARE YOUR IMPRESSIONS OF TONIGHT'S EVENT?

Cobert: It's very, very exciting. People have come up to me and told me about how I've affected their lives and how they have grown up with my music and still love it. To hear that from the public is really fabulous, fantastic, and very exciting for me as a composer. I'm also amazed that people are buying out the CDs that I've brought. Let me tell you what it was like composing for Dark Shadows. It was a gas. It was really fun. It was laughs from beginning to end. I had a chance to write many, many different kinds of music. Of course, you've got to understand that I wrote Dark Shadows in 1965 and 1966. I've had 35 years of composing other music since then, so it's real hard for me to remember all of the emotions, but I do remember the fun.

* * *



The Vista Theater was the perfect setting for all this nostalgia. Originally built in 1923, it was purchased and restored by Five Star Theaters in 1993. The Vista is a small gem with decor reminiscent of the larger Egyptian Theater, including murals of Egyptian gods and goddesses in the lobby, and inverted pyramid light fixtures and busts of pharaohs in the auditorium. Best of all, it is a real theater rather than a Cineplex, with the added benefits of updated sound and projection systems. By the time we left, the cement in front of the theater had dried partially and turned to a pale greenish color. DARK SHADOWS had left its mark.

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