The feature-length documentary Master of Dark Shadows is released on Blu-ray and DVD today (April 16) from MPI Media Group. The documentary looks at the career of legendary producer and director Dan Curtis with a focus on the daytime serial that made him famous, Dark Shadows. Narrated by Ian McShane of Deadwood fame, the documentary features interviews with cast members of Dark Shadows and others who worked with Curtis in his long career; his daughters are also interviewed, as are celebrities who loved the series including Whoopi Goldberg.
KSiteTV was provided with a Blu-ray of this release, and here is our review:
For starters, the cover artwork on Master of Dark Shadows, which doesn’t seem to have the name of the artist, is an immediate attention-getter. Several projects of Curtis’ long career are standing behind a painting of the director, with Barnabas Collins, of course, as the most prominent.
Getting into the feature itself, what I especially appreciated was that I learned things about Dan Curtis specifically that I did not know before. I did not realize he really became prominent by producing a “Golf Classic” show of all things! I did not realize that Barbara Steele, who played Dr. Julia Hoffman in the 1991 revival of Dark Shadows, was Curtis’ production partner on his critically-acclaimed movies. I also found it sad that – spoiler warning – Dan Curtis and his wife died within the same year of each other. I’ve done my Dark Shadows research; I own three of Kathryn Leigh Scott’s books about the show…. but this was new to me.
I should also point out for those who may not know: Dark Shadows was a daily (!!) serial that ran on ABC from 1966 to 1971. Possibly the closest contemporary series to it would be The Vampire Diaries, which also had vampires, werewolves, doppelganger lookalikes and such. The show covered several eras and had notable cast members including the legendary Joan Bennett. The show dabbled in the supernatural fairly early on, but it wasn’t until the vampire Barnabas came on the scene that the series really took off. MPI has released the entire series to DVD, and it is highly recommended, for TV history’s sake just as much as being a bit addictive, however campy. In 2004, it was attempted to revive Dark Shadows as a series on The WB; sadly, it did not happen, despite having later big names like Jessica Chastain and Marley Shelton in the cast.
Dark Shadows did fandom before fandom was a widespread thing. Conventions about the series are still a thing that happens, where cast members reunite to meet with their fans and often do things like live readings. The series was one of the first to enter syndication with repeats aired; of 1225 episodes, only one is lost, and that one at least has available audio. These fans are rabid and enthusiastic, and the fan convention aspect is talked about in the documentary; thankfully, the more scary side that one might encounter is kept out. (A Google search reveals these are fans who like to sue each other if they don’t get their way.)
MPI has made an industry out of Dark Shadows; they’ve also put out some other series with high-quality presentation including all seasons of The Doris Day Show. In the case of Dark Shadows, there are Barnabas bobbleheads and all kinds of things available.
But back to Dan Curtis: This all started with a dream about a woman on a train. This documentary doesn’t gloss over the fact that Curtis wanted to be known for more than Dark Shadows; his dramas of the 1980s, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance did get him his long-awaited awards recognition but took years to complete. I was disappointed that Kolchak the Night Stalker was not mentioned or barely mentioned at all, despite the appearance of Kolchak on the DVD cover. I was even more disappointed that the 2004 WB Dark Shadows pilot was not even referenced – despite “Special Thanks” to Alec Newman and writer Mark Verheiden in the credits. Is it because the project didn’t go, that it wasn’t “worth” getting a mention? The awful Johnny Depp movie was mentioned, but at least that was a chance to see original series stars Jonathan Frid, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, and David Selby assembled together.
This Blu-ray is also full of extras, some of which have been released before. There are promos from the very early days of the series, featuring the original “Victoria Winters” Alexandra Moltke in most. There’s a visit to the studio where the show was originally taped, which was also fascinating. Audio from Jonathan Frid’s appearance on The Dick Cavett Show is included, and there are trailers for Scott’s books, merchandise from MPI, and original Dark Shadows audio dramas featuring members of the cast. I almost wish one of the full audio dramas had been included. Still, this Blu-ray included a lot of material for the Dark Shadows fan.
Is this Blu-ray worth it? I’d say so. Beyond the extras, I always think a jaunt into TV history is a great thing, especially if I learn things I never knew before.