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Thursday, November 18, 2010

Night of Dark Shadows: Creepy, Moody Horror

 "Mrs. Collins? Did you ever stop to think that perhaps you don't belong here?

Early on in the 1971 film Night of Dark Shadows, a writer looks out the window of a stately New England mansion and sees thickly gray skies and leaves so deep they seem an ocean. For a moment he sees someone hanging from the branches of a gnarled old tree, and then the vision is gone.

I have no history with Dark Shadows. I just discovered the series a few weeks ago (incredibly, given the prominence of it) and found myself entranced by the gothic soap opera, the great houses and endless hints at something darker beneath the surface of the characters' lives. The soap opera thrived on stretching stories out forever. The first movie, House of Dark Shadows, compressed the storyline of vampire Barnabas Collins down to one feature-length drama.

The second Dark Shadows movie, Night of Dark Shadows, is a different and better film than House of Dark Shadows. House was intended to appeal to fans of the series and worked to present the show's most popular storylines. By the second movie, the show had been canceled and the original cast had moved on. As a result, creator Dan Curtis chose to tell an all-new story of Collinwood Mansion. I think the result is a better, creepier, and more evocative horror tale.

Here, Quentin Collins inherits and returns with his new bride to his family's maginificent New England estate, Collinwood. Immediately he begins to experience ghostly visions: the hanging, old funerals, rainy processions.

Night of Dark Shadows is the perfect brandy-and-blanket movie.Everything about it evokes something cold and deep, even before the spirits arrive on the scene to interrupt the creepy piano score and gorgeous upstate New York setting. And they do appear, but this is more a witch-and-ghost movie than a vampire film.

The visions Quentin suffers are sometimes genuinely chilling, such as the sudden vision of a screaming child in a window. The movie treads along at a slow pace, like all gothics must. It is all about evoking a feeling of unease, of suspected betrayal and doom.

Mind you, this is not the sort of thing I write. I write books that start with people falling out of airplanes and ends with them stealing speedboats, and there is generally some kind of deathtrap in every chapter. I write action or action horror, depending on your preferred word. But I am haunted by the gothic, with its hidden corridors and hints of old wounds and old curses, and cold November days.

Beautiful work.

Trailer (this is a trailer for both movies; the trailer for Night of Dark Shadows starts at 2:40.)

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