Tuesday, March 27, 2012

Rant #703: Dark Shadows, Dark Days?

"Dark Shadows" was a TV phenomenon in the late 1960s and early 1970s.

What started out as a gothic soap opera that nobody watched to a vampire-laced half hour show that was "must-see TV" before the phrase was even coined ranks in the annals of TV history as something you really have to shake your head about.

With Jonathan Frid as the brooding Barnabas--a character that was not in the original concept of the show but one that made the show what it was--leading a cast of interesting characters including witches, people who came back from the dead, and rich people not knowing what to do with themselves, the show made its name in TV history as probably the first soap opera to go for a non-housewife audience.

Sure, housewives cringed with the rest of us as they watched the show, but as "Dark Shadows" evolved, it was clear that the show was going for the kids audience, an audience that they hooked once the character of Barnabas came on the scene.

The show's characters became icons for kids my age at the time, roughly 10-13 years old.

What made the show fun was all of the inconsistencies and all of the pratfalls the actors made on camera. Production people were mistakenly in the shows' shots, actors stepped on tombstones, things fell down, actors forgot their lines, and there was one episode that showed Jonathan Frid actually carrying off his shoes!

How these things got into the shows added funny turns to supposedly straightly dramatic episodes. Quite frankly, you never knew what you would see when you watched this show, whether it was in the storyline or part of the haphazard nature of the show.

And the show's stars became seemingly famous overnight. You could even pick up a Tiger Beat and while you read about Davy Jones, on the facing page was a story about Jonathan Frid or Quentin (David Selby) or any of the other actors on the show.

But the phenomenon lasted just five seasons, and with Frid refusing to return for another run, the show was cancelled in 1971.

It has lived on on video--it is probably the only soap opera with all of its episodes intact, less one--and in the hearts of anyone who watched the show, with the lights off, of course.

During its run, two theatrical movies were produced, one which pretty much followed the vampire story line with a bit more blood than the TV show, and the other more of a ghost story.

Since the show's demise, there have been constant attempts to revive the Dan Curtis production both on the small and big screens. In fact, there was a nighttime version of the show in the early 1990s that was more graphic but less campy than the original. It didn't last long.

There was a further attempt about 10 years ago to bring the show back to the small screen, but only a pilot episode was shot, and it just didn't work.

Creator Dan Curtis's dream was the bring the show back in one form or another, and he went to his grave not really realizing his dream to the fullest.

But the show never lost its following, even counting somebody by the name of Johnny Depp as one of its most ardent fans.

Depp was a fan of the show as a child, and when he became a successful actor, he vowed one day to not only revive the show as a feature film, but he would play Barnabas!

Finally, his dream has become reality, and the "Dark Shadows" movie debuts later this year.

That is all fine and good, or at least it should be fine and good, shouldn't it?

One problem though.

The movie is not going to be done straight. No, Depp and Tim Burton have developed the "Dark Shadows" film as a comedy, a sendup of the original.

How you can do a sendup of the original campy show is beyond me, and from what I have seen of their work on the movie, I would say that they better deliver the goods, or this will be another TV/movie re-boot that is destined for the trash heap.

TV has started to show an elongated commercial for the film, and I have to say that it will probably offend anyone who watched the original show.

It starts out in 1972, or after the original series aired. I guess that is how they separated this film from the TV show that inspired it.

In the early production shots of the film, Depp looked like a ghoul as Barnabas, with white makeup, white hair, the whole works. In the trailer, though, he looks like a modern version of Peter Lorre, creepy but not as creepy as Jonathan Frid looked naturally.

There are low-ball jokes abounding in this film, the use of disco music is appalling since disco didn't come onto the scene until the mid 1970s (maybe that is an inconsistency they wanted to use like the inconsistencies used in the original show), and well, when a film goes for big breast jokes, you know it is going to the deep end of comedy.

Heck, I like big breasts as much as the next guy, but when your comedy goes that low, well, you aren't getting "Young Frankenstein" here (which also used the "my, those are big knockers" joke, but so, so effectively).

The film is a goof, quite frankly, and why they decided to go this route is beyond me.

With Depp and Burton at the helm, I expected a bit more.

But let's not totally dump the film just yet, although it does look quite bad.

If it has the smartness of, let's say, the original "Brady Bunch" film, which was also a sendup of the original TV show, then maybe it will work.

But if it misses that cleverness--and if the people involved really didn't "get" the original show, then it will--then the film is doomed.

And the original Barnabas character will be spinning in his grave over this one.

Let's hope it's better than I've seen so far, because if it isn't, you can put a stake in its heart.

It's done, and not well done by any means.

(And happy birthday to Jerry Lacy, who played the evil Reverend Trask on the show. He turns 76 today.)


  1. It seems the trend to make beloved shows of the 60's into comedies or satires. I think only the Lost in Space movie was done straight. But having siad that, i don't mind it being a comedy and i know i'll see it.

  2. "Lost in Space" was horrific at best. I will see the "Dark Shadows" movie, but I don't have my hopes up too high for it. These films are usually made by people who have no clue about the original. Although Depp is a fan, it would have been better if it was done straight, doing justice to the original conception of the show.



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