Documentary Review: MASTER OF DARK SHADOWS is Reminder of Dan Curtis's Genius
Courtesy of MPI

As a child, I was in love with DARK SHADOWS. My first encounter with the enigmatic Barnabas Collins happened while walking down the aisle of a Hollywood Video and running headfirst into the horror section. It didn’t take me long to stare at the sad, yet powerfully connecting gaze of Jonathan Frid from one of the box VHS sets. Upon making eye contact, I was intrigued. My 10-year-old self had to rent whatever it was that I was staring at. It didn’t matter to me that the Hollywood Video had a limited selection of the episodes or that I was watching it out of order. All I knew was that I had finally been introduced to the legendary creature of the vampire and that I was hooked.

It wasn’t until later that I learned that DARK SHADOWS was actually a soap opera and a very popular one at that back in its heyday. The documentary MASTER OF DARK SHADOWS, brilliantly directed by documentarian David Gregory, focuses on creator Dan Curtis and how a simple dream and a studio that took a chance on him turned into a soap opera sensation that swept the nation and arguably launched the 1960’s equivalent of a vampire craze similar to what we experienced with Twilight or Alan Ball’s “True Blood”.

It is hard not to notice that this documentary is a labor of love and, if you were a fan of the series before viewing, within the first five minutes you’ll be hooked on the film. The haunting score written by composer Bob Cobert wafts through the opening credits, taking us back to Collinwood and back to fond memories of a soap opera that almost didn’t make it early on in its run. With actor Ian McShane narrating, viewers learn more about Dan Curtis and are provided insights from the man himself on his creative process towards creating TV.

To round out the documentary, there are interview vignettes with DARK SHADOWS stars Jonathan Frid, David Selby, Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, John Karlen, Nancy Barrett, Jerry Lacy, Roger Davis, Marie Wallace, Chris Pennock, and James Storm and many colleagues and family members. To round out the interview vignettes, you also get to explore the TV Shows impact on Alan Ball of “True Blood” and veteran actor Whoopi Goldberg. These interviews come together to round out the story of Dan Curtis and how he came to reach the point of creating DARK SHADOWS and how it came to define his legacy throughout his life and after his death.

Courtesy of MPI

While the documentary reveals a lot of information about Dan Curtis’s inspiration for the series from a dream he had of a young governess, the chaos of production, and more, you can’t help but feel that the surface of the subject matter isn’t completely scratched. You get a glimpse of the type of relationships Curtis had with cast members and staff; his personality and his work ethic rubbing many raw throughout the course of his career, but especially on DARK SHADOWS. I did wonder whether or not it would have been possible to dive further into the darkness that occupied Dan Curtis’s mind because there were little notes sprinkled throughout the documentary laid out that could have been explored. However, MASTER OF DARK SHADOWS seeks to not sully the reputation of an opinionated man that turned a once failing series into a nationwide success. It made sense that we weren’t exploring the more dark parts of the man’s psyche.

I’ll admit that I find it awfully hard to sit through documentaries. With some, there is a blatant slant that the team wants to push the audience to accept. And with others, the pacing and execution leave one slowly fading, battling the need to sleep as the dullness of the footage wears on. With MASTER OF DARK SHADOWS, director David Gregory has managed to balance the footage with a simple, yet distinct structure that allows the viewer to follow along and maintain interest as they learn more about Dan Curtis and his involvement with his hit DARK SHADOWS. This alone makes this documentary standout for me, especially as documentaries today struggle to stay relevant to the modern viewer.

Overall, MASTER OF DARK SHADOWS was a well-rounded documentary that will leave many fans of the original series excited after learning more about the behind-the-scenes process and how a show went from struggling to maintain ratings to completely transforming how the nation embraced a vampire haunted by his sins. While I did think that the documentary could have dove just a wee bit deeper into Dan Curtis’s process, what we do end up learning is really enough to whet our appetites and keep us wanting more. Hell, I think the documentary may actually get new people actively investing their energy into finding copies of the show to watch afterward.

MASTER OF DARK SHADOWS is available now across digital HD platforms and on DVD on April 16, 2019.

Sarah Musnicky
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