‘Master of Dark Shadows’ Review

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Dark Shadows, a gothic romance-based daytime drama, was a cult hit when it originally aired on network TV in the late 1960s/early 1970s. Fans of a certain age all have the same memory: running home from school to catch the daily adventures of the spooky inhabitants of Collinwood, Maine, including the reluctant vampire, Barnabas; the tormented werewolf, Quentin; Angelique, the witch who cursed Barnabas; and a host of ghosts, ghouls, and the random humans who lived and worked around them. Master of Dark Shadows is a delightful look behind the scenes of the show, its fans, and its creator, Dan Curtis.

Here’s the trailer:

What’s In Master of Dark Shadows?

Master of Dark Shadows has new and archival footage of interviews with Curtis, his daughters, and the actors and creative talent involved with the original run of the show and with the early ‘90s revival, including actors Jonathan Frid (Barnabas), Lara Parker (Angelique), and David Selby (Quentin); writers Malcolm Marmorstein and Joseph Caldwell; and composer Bob Cobert.

Narrated by Ian MacShane, Master of Dark Shadows follows Curtis as he begins his producing career (one that he never intended) through the initial concept for Dark Shadows and the poor ratings that led the production team to try anything—in this case, a vampire—and onto the wildly excited fans that hung out around the studios and overwhelmed any personal appearances the cast made. It continues after the show left the air as Curtis tried other horror-based shows before finally producing the mammoth television mini-series adaptations of Herman Wouk’s novels The Winds of War and War and Remembrance.

Special features include:

  • A tour of the Hell’s Kitchen studio that housed the set (which famously tended to fall apart due to the time constraints of its live, daily shooting schedule)
  • The audio master of Frid appearing on The Dick Cavett Show (the video footage was lost)
  • Assorted promos for the show
  • An episode of The Web, a 1954 CBS-TV anthology series, written by Art Wallace, who went on to put together the show bible for the original Dark Shadows

The Blu-Ray disc also includes footage of Frid, in full Barnabas costume, at the White House for a 1969 UNICEF Halloween party hosted by Tricia Nixon and a 1983 public television appearance of Frid performing Edgar Allan Poe’s The Tell-Tale Heart.

With a running time of 87 minutes, the documentary moves briskly. It touches on Curtis’ drive and forceful personality—including an interview with Barbara Steele, who co-produced the Wouk mini-series along with Curtis and co-starred in the 1991 prime-time remake of Dark Shadows, where she recounts being so aggravated with Curtis that she walked off the set (though she un-quit a short time later).

For more of our favorite nostalgic movies of the season, see A Look at 10 of the Greatest Halloween Movies of the (Mostly) ’80s.

As one of those kids who ran home to watch the original show (after having hidden behind the couch to watch the earlier years when I’d been deemed too young to watch on my own), my favorite parts were, of course, the sections devoted to the original show (we really don’t talk about the 2012 movie with Johnny Depp in my house), but I enjoyed the segments detailing Curtis’ later career as well. The Blu-Ray extras alone are worth hunting down a copy even if Halloween is already past.

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