Friday, May 11, 2012

Reel Thoughts Preview: Camp Vamp

Television fans of Dark Shadows have been in a snit ever since the very campy trailer of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows came out. But even die-hard fans can’t explain why the real world of the late sixties and early seventies, save for groovy costumes and hairstyles, never seemed to intrude on the bizarre world of Collinsport, Maine. Barnabus Collins, the show’s fly-away star, wasn’t even a part of the series until a year into its run. In honor of Burton’s comic new take on the old classic, here is some more Dark Shadows trivia you might like:

- At first, Dark Shadows played like a daytime Jane Eyre, with sweet orphan Victoria Winters (Alexandra Moltke) summoned to the creepy Collinwood Estate by Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Joan Bennett) to care for her misbehaving nephew David (David Henesy). She hoped to discover her roots. Hints were dropped that her parent might be closer than she thought, but they were dropped altogether once the show introduced ghosts and the supernatural.

- The first major monster to strike Collinwood wasn’t vampire Barnabus, but rather David’s crazy mother Laura Collins (Diana Millay), who reportedly died in a fire in Phoenix only to appear suddenly at Collinwood’s front door. She was an actual Phoenix, it turns out, and had to burn herself and her son up in order to live for another hundred years.

- The film’s imposing Collinwood Manor is fake, but is much inspired by the Carey Mansion, a Newport, Rhode Island landmark that served as Collinwood in the original series. In the 1991 TV remake, the house looked like a detailed model covered in rain and fog.

- Katheryn Leigh Scott’s diner waitress Maggie Evans was intended to inject a little working class grit into Dark Shadows, complete with a crazy drunken painter for a father. She was tapped as Barnabus’ reborn lover Josette DuPres, however, and soon became the show’s more popular heroine.

- Alexandra Moltke gained unwanted notoriety as the mistress of Claus von Bulow, who was convicted then cleared of killing his socialite wife Sunny. The case inspired the film Reversal of Fortune, with Jeremy Irons (in an Oscar-winning performance), Glenn Close and Christine Baranski playing Claus’ girlfriend.

- Many of Collinwood’s visitors were gay, at least off-screen. While the original Barnabus, the very private Jonathan Frid, passed away last month without confirmation of his sexual orientation, Louis Edmonds (Roger Collins), hunky Joel Crothers (Joe Haskell), handsome Boys in the Band star Keith Prentice (Morgan Collins), spooky Thayer David (Professor Timothy Stokes), and flamboyant Humbert Allen Astredo (Nicholas Blair) definitely set off many viewers’ gaydar.

- Surprisingly, tough ol’ broad Grayson Hall, who played Dr. Julia Hoffman, was not a lesbian, although she played one rather convincingly in the hilarious Satan in High Heels.

- Did you know about the lost Dark Shadows? Not the two spin-off movies House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows, nor the 1991 short-lived remake starring Ben Cross as Barnabus and a steely Barbara Steel as Julia. In 2004, a pilot starring Marley Shelton as Victoria Winters and recent Oscar nominee Jessica Chastain as Caroline was filmed for the WB, but never aired. It is probably better that way.

Tim Burton's big screen take on Dark Shadows, starring Johnny Depp, Michell Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter, opens today at a theater near you.

Preview by Neil Cohen, resident film critic of Movie Dearest and Phoenix's Echo Magazine.

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