I don't know what it is about mummies and barely dressed unconscious women, but you see this kind of thing a lot in horror movies and comics. It's always either a mummy or some monster, corpse, vampire, werewolf, or nasty male creature carrying off a woman. I'd love to see an unconscious naked guy being carried off one of these days. Just once, at least, please. Women in Horror 2015 is coming up and I know for certain this is definitely not the kind of cheap, exploitative image we should perpetuate for modern horror. Sure, it sells comics and movies (or tries to), but it is growing stale. After so many victimizations of poorly dressed women running, feinting, and screaming through the horror of it all, you would think the male-pattern-baldness mentality going on here would get a beating. Before that happens though, I suggest you read why they made this poor guy a living corpse wrapped in rags (and if she catches her death of cold dressed like that).
My mom and I are heading to the Benson Theater on 86th Street. We are in Bensonhurst Brooklyn, in New York. The year is 1970, or so, and the day’s light is waning as the evening presses down. The walk is not too far to the Benson and the best thing is that across the street is the Loew’s Oriental Theater, so we always have a choice of movies to see. The Benson isn't ornate like the Loew’s though, just your screen and seats basics, but we do catch a lot of wonderful horror movies there.
I’ll never forget when we saw Vincent Price in The Abominable Doctor Phibes because the theater’s air-conditioning wasn't working that particular summer’s night. It was hot sitting there in the dark. They even kept the front doors open to help cool down the place but that made it noisy every time the elevated train that ran along 86th street screeched past.
But I digress. Memories can do that to you, you know.
We have our tickets! With our popcorn and Cokes we sit in the middle row, about center to the screen. We aren't sitting in the balcony this time around. Man, I love sitting in the balcony; any theater’s balcony for that matter. Tonight we are seeing House of Dark Shadows, the only soap opera my mom and I love watching. Shh! What a pleasure it is not seeing screen messages to turn off cell phones, don't text during the movie, don't read your tweets, don't talk with your mouth full, and--but this is 1970, or so, and...
...Like countless other kids of my generation, I ran home after school, every day, to watch a soap opera that even I could love, Dark Shadows, on television. Now it was a movie! Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas Collins would bare his fangs on the big screen, more blood would flow from his attacks, vividly red blood to boot, and the story’s episodic arc of vengeful curse, supernatural circumstance, and the narrow halls of Collinwood, filled with the dark shadows of Collins Family history, would be hammered into a running time of ninety-seven minutes. Not constrained by television’s censorship, the vampire attacks would be more horrific and the scenes more expansive and atmospheric. I was ecstatic with anticipation.
At first, Dan Curtis, the creator of the series and now director of the movie, envisioned editing “already existing television video material into a full-length feature, as had been previously done with the Man From Uncle, but the complexities of the Dark Shadows storyline would not permit an easy edit for the screen.” (The Dark Shadows Companion). Nor would the video quality variations and continuity problems make it an easy or convincing fit with newly filmed material anyway. Then, finding backers for the movie proved a hard sell. ABC refused to back their own show, even though they were loving the television series audience of 15,000,000 viewers. One misguided producer even recommended recasting the television series stars with other stars, even though David Selby (who played Quentin Collins, another cursed soul in the series) could “draw a million kids to shopping centers.” He played a werewolf, that's why. After Curtis spent two years of shopping the movie around Hollywood, the newly-installed president of MGM, James Aubrey, said “Let’s go,--what the devil are we waiting for?” (TDSC)
Filming the movie over 5 weeks while the television series continued to air was a challenge. On television, the alternate universe storyline, Parallel Time, introduced new characters and provided various plot devices that covered the necessary absence of actors appearing in House. Barnabas was chained in a coffin on television while he roamed free in his cinematic incarnation. That incarnation would be more evil and less sympathetic than the soap opera one, taking its cue from the early days of Barnabas’s entry into the television series to spark flagging ratings. Then, and for the movie, he was “a darker, more Hammeresque vampire Barnabas with no mitigating providence to steer him from his eventual end.” (TDSC) Perhaps this is why ratings for the series dropped a short time after the very successful movie painted a more brutal and evil antagonistic vampire than what viewers of the television show were happier with? Or perhaps because Curtis killed off just about everybody in the movie? Awkward.
The Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown, New York, would become the new Collinwood. Curtis, his production team, and the actors had to film around the regularly scheduled tours of visitors to the mansion (a National Historic Trust site), but its period rooms made it worth doing so. Money was saved on props and decor because the mansion was already furnished with priceless antiques, rich furniture, evocative paintings, and enough dark shadows of its own to give House an elegance well beyond its small budget. An hour’s drive from Manhattan also made it an easy location to get to for the actors.
Shooting began on March 23, 1970, at the Sleepy Hollow cemetery a few miles away, where an existing mausoleum was dressed over with the Collins Family name. Shooting Carolyn’s funeral there proved a bit more of a challenge than anticipated. A grave diggers strike had caused bodies to be piled into a building needed for shooting. Non-union workers were hired to tackle the growing piles of corpses, but their constant interruptions to carry the corpses out of the building prompted Curtis to finally plead “Can you do that later, please, it’s not like they’re going anywhere.” (The Dark Shadows Movie Book) Additional sets were fashioned out of Lyndhurst’s rooms. The kitchen became Dr. Julia Hoffman’s laboratory (how can you forget staccato-voiced Grayson Hall?), where she worked at finding a cure for Barnabas’s vampirism (it was a virus! Like the one in House of Dracula. I wonder if she was related to Dr. Edelmann?). The basement became the wardrobe department, and the souvenir shop was taken over by the make-up team. (TDSMB)
The interior crypt scene where Willie Loomis (John Karlen) goes to find treasure, but finds Barnabas’s hand suddenly around his startled throat instead, was shot in an exterior building on the Lyndhurst grounds. Curtis shot 9 hours a day, barring interruptions from the weather, which proved colder and wetter than they expected, and shot day-for-night for the night scenes. While the resulting look on film is obvious, shooting that way did save time and money as night-time shooting requires more set up and lighting considerations. Kathryn Leigh Scott, in her Maggie’s House of Dark Shadows Diary, gives a little insight into Curtis’s directing style: “During the break, I overhear the camera crew talking. One of them says Dan has a great way of bringing unity to the set—everyone hates him. And this is the first day?” (TDSMB) John Karlen had kinder words for Curtis, calling him a good actors director.
The Old House, where Barnabas takes up residence, forcing Willie to restore it to its former glory, was a location at the Schoales Estate in Connecticut. It is here that Carolyn, in a fit of jealousy, invokes Barnabas’s anger and vampiric fury as Willie helplessly looks on. Her subsequent rise as vampire leads to one of the movie’s highlights in its staging and execution, bringing to mind a hint of the Hammer aesthetic. She is eventually cornered by police officers brandishing crosses, overpowered, and held down as Professor Stokes (Thayer David) hammers a stake through her heart. Watch this scene closely; you will notice Curtis cuts away just before Stokes brings the hammer down on the stake, then cuts to the stake in her chest, with suitably bloody results. Thayer David would not hit the stake hard enough, so after numerous takes Curtis gave up pleading with him to hit the bloody thing harder and decided to get the best take he had and fudge it with editing. Lost in the editing, also, was why the police suddenly become believers in vampires.
Perhaps more noticeable than it should be is Curtis’s approach to editing, with additional help from film editor Arline Garson (although her only editing credit on IMDb is for The Beatles at Shea Stadium (1966). An odd thing happens as you watch the story unfold past the first 21 minutes. Scenes are cut so that they don’t quite match in spacial and time relationships, appearing too brief in some cases. It’s as if Curtis decided to trim seconds here and there, but instead of tightening the pacing and reinforcing the structural logic of events, he causes a hiccup effect, making his match cuts almost appear to be jump cuts. Dark Shadows fans could easily fill in the fractional timing gaps with their memories of the television series. New viewers may find the editing a bit disconcerting. Overall, it creates a rushed story that could have used a few more minutes to flesh out events more clearly. The studio didn't pressure him to shrink the movie's running time, that would come later with Night of Dark Shadows. Perhaps Curtis, coming from television, subconsciously worried about bridging through non-existent commercials?
One cannot mention the Dark Shadows movie without bringing up Dick Smith’s wonderful makeup effect for the aging Barnabas (a favorite scene for monster magazines of the day). After Julia becomes miffed at his preferring Maggie over her, she slips a mickey into his hypodermic needle used to deliver his anti-vampire dose. This causes Barnabas to age to his true life span of 200 years in a few seconds. Of course, he still has enough energy to throttle Julia to death with his withered hands in his rage. To accomplish the extreme aging for Jonathan Frid, Smith used the bald cap he designed for Dustin Hoffman in Little Big Man, then, under Curtis’s suggestions, added a stronger veiny and mottled look to Frid’s facial features; more effort was put into this effect than was done in the series episode that showed the same plot twist. The transformation effect is startling. Combined with Robert Colbert’s signature music for the series, with additional scoring taken from his The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Hyde (1968), it works perfectly. Curtis insisted Colbert, who wanted to do original music for the movie, use his previous work instead. Curtis even went so far as to edit to the pre-scored music, which may account for the jarring match cuts.
“At a boy, Willie!” yells my mom to the theater screen as we watch House of Dark Shadows. Willie is doing his best at being Willie (helpless and frantic) and she enjoys watching him sweat. But Willie redeems himself at the end, driving a really big arrow bolt into Barnabas’s back and up through his chest. The scene unfolds in slow motion, the music is poured on, and soon the credits roll. Hey, what’s that bat doing flying out of the spot where Barnabas collapsed? Does that mean a sequel! Sadly, the planned sequel wound up like so many ideas in Hollywood: somewhere between the bedroom and the driveway, and a different story took over the next Dark Shadows movie.
We leave the theater, fully satisfied, and looking forward to the next horror movie to play at the Benson. Well, okay, maybe not Frankenstein Meets the Spacemonster, but sure, any other horror movie. What? You need to head back ? Okay. Thanks for joining us.
Let’s get together again real soon.
The following essential books were quoted from and used as reference in writing this article: The Dark Shadows Companion: 25th Anniversary Collection, edited by Kathryn Leigh Scott; and the Dark Shadows Movie Book, edited by Kathryn Leigh Scott and Jim Pierson. I highly recommend.
What's wonderful about this snapshot in time? The two men working on the huge sign (look right above the word "The"), the Chock full o'Nuts, the Lucky Strike "It's Toasted," the various businesses in the building on the right, the crowds in front of the theatre and in front of the Lucky Strike (hey, it's toasted!), and the fellow in the foreground, bottom right, holding a walking stick. The movie may be The Broadway Melody, but damn if this street scene isn't also "all talking, all singing, and all dancing" to the rhythm of the city. Glorious.
He had been away on vacation, some sort of trip around the world as he termed it. For me it was a blissful vacation not having him underfoot. But now he was back. Nothing truly good and enjoyable ever lasts, does it?
"Time for what? I countered. I was a bit rusty with him being away for so long, but my mental machinery was slowly beginning to hiss as it built up steam.
"Why, time you got back to writing my boy. What is all this nonsense with posting scans of this and that? You have grown lazy while I have been away. Time for some meaty review or insightful observation, or perhaps even a rant or two, instead of another lobby card or magazine or movie pressbook or--."
"Those scans of this and that, as you so blithely put it, are our history old chap. Mine, yours, ours. Monsterkid history. From the vaults of memory history. You know, the stuff fond memories are made of. Otherwise known as nostalgia for older horror fans, and maybe an introduction to such wonders for those who grew up much later."
He opened his mouth to respond. Chef Machiavelli interrupted with a tray full of pistachio cannolis and a pot of his angelic espresso (you know, one cup of it and you're in heaven). We quickly both agreed to disagree between bites and sips.
"And I haven't been all that unmindful. Here's my review of Annabelle," I said.
"Splendid." He settled into his wingback armchair. His long, thin arms came to rest in their comfortable positions across its armrests. I jotted a mental note to have the chair reupholstered; its armrests, now threadbare and shiny in spots, needed attention.
"Let me hear all about it," he said, as he took another sip from his cup.
I didnt' see Annabelle in a theater. 2014 seemed to be pretty dry in creativity for widely released horror movies and I decided to simply wait and catch it on DVD. Warner Bros. Home Entertainment graciously offered their DVD+Blu-ray discs for review. I said yes. Of course.
You'll want to pop in the Blu-ray disc, it has all the featurettes, although I found each one of them too short in running time for my inquisitive and seasoned (okay, jaded) mind; but sure, they still are pertinent and worth watching. Especially the deleted scenes from the movie and the descriptions of the makeup work on the demon. A funny moment pops up while the effects team discusses the preparation of Annabelle's dolly companions for their full-blown demonic hazing. Other deleted scenes show how the storyline had changed during editing, forcing the deletions.
Looking at the designs for both demon and doll, they show a careful artistic balance between the demon's gargoyle (aka woodcut) looks and the not-quite-sinister-but-damn-she's-a-little-off Annabelle that you can appreciate. Both look ghastly when you take a long hard look, and the movie's terror easily flows from their visual and narrative suspense. Having the Annabelle doll become the conduit for the demon's evil makes it a terrible plaything in more ways than just looks. I still can't believe anyone in their right mind would go near a doll that looked like Annabelle unless they had a few stiff drinks beforehand. And were nearsighted. And probably didn't like the person they were giving the doll to.
But I'm referring to the reel doll, not the real one (see the picture), of course. As the movie progresses, Annabelle's porcelain face turns darker and her lighting and coloration more ominous as she gets her sinister on, while her already alarming smirk, grows smirkier by the minute, or seems to, making you wait for her to say something you really don't want to hear. Thank god she doesn't have a pull-string. I'm not sure who's scariest among cinema's terrible dolls such as the Saw and Dead Silence Billies, or Chucky and Tiffany, or Talky Tina, to name some of them, but that unblinking stare of Annabelle is probably the most deftly executed compression of horrifying countenance hidden in an almost pretty face; and she has Hell on her side, so there's your win-win for mayhem and scares.
And that's when you realize, and a pleasant surprise it is, that director John R. Leonetti does more with less, greatly increasing the movie's impact. Easy jump scares are replaced by a more studied atmosphere of growing doom and gloom (like the one you find in the original Omen), and he even dares to do a long take that makes the origin of the doll's cursed existence a stylish treat as much as it is a brisk-paced blood-letting (without egregious gore). Lingering closeups of Annabelle's eyes makes you wonder when they will move, and seeing Annabelle sitting in a rocking chair, or on the shelf, makes you watchful for any sudden movement. Of course she doesn't wink, blink, or deliver epigrammatic barbs like Freddy, or even move a ponytail; except for one scene where she does move, but it's what's behind her that's more scary.
The deleted scenes show what didn't make it to the final cut. One can understand why the building's creepy handyman character was removed (pointless for the narrative), and why two incidents involving the baby were also left out. The first, which includes many cats, is visually arresting, but off premise with the rest of the storyline (it happens, it's weird, so what?), but the second generates some real goosebumps. It involves baby's bath time and danger. I'm sorry it didn't make the final cut: it's that strong. But keeping it in would have probably upset a lot of audience members, and undermine the demon's purpose (a soul to need, to a demon will feed kind of purpose).
The demonic and satanic cult aspects of the movie are framed by a surfeit of Catholic faith, which almost becomes cloying and preaching when Father Perez (Tony Amendola) ponders the glory of motherhood as worried mom, Mia (Annabelle Wallis), listens distractedly. Scripter Gary Dauberman's ponderously preachy dialog takes on a pandering-weight, and Leonetti dwells on it in one or two scenes, forcing his actors to the speaking cadence you see in those corporate training shorts many employees have suffered to watch with a game face.
There's the "problematic racial function" provided by Ruby (Alfre Woodard), the bookstore owner, as described by Inkoo Kang, in her review of Annabelle for The Wrap, that warrants further academic exploration. Later. I'm not sure why Dauberman resorts to it, but it is noticeable. Like all those red shirted, landing party, classic Star Trek personnel going to their doom, we know what's coming. But then he uses a more carefully crafted approach by injecting those 1960s notions of womanhood, realized through Mia's husband (Ward Horton): Mia is imagining things because she's going through postpartum depression. A few drugs and seeing a shrink, in between watching soap operas on television, should cure her.
Lucky for us Father Perez believes in evil. And demons.
If you ever wondered why parents were quick to toss these magazines in the garbage--if they found their kids stash of them--well, here's a good issue to satisfy you: Tales From the Tomb, Volume 6, No. 4. The following information for this issue is taken from the excellent The Weird Indexes of Eerie Publications by Mike Howlett (if you're an Eerie Publications fan you need this book):
The Demon (redraw of Demon Fiddler from Fantastic Fears #7)
The Skin-Rippers (redraw of Black Death from Fantastic Fears #4)
The Coffin (redraw of I, the Coffin from Fantastic Fears #7)
Heads of Horror (redraw, taken from Voodoo #14)
I Chopped Her Head Off (redraw of I Killed Mary from Weird Mysteries #8)
Satan's Cat (redraw of First Come First Served from Weird Mysteries #2
In the Slime Below (redraw of Les Miserables from Black Cat Mystery #48
The Monster (redraw of Transformation from Witches Tales #14
The most terrifying thing in this issue of Eerie Publications' Terror Tales, September 1970, is that some crazy kid cut out a coupon. A pox on you and your descendents! Luckily it doesn't totally ruin the story panel the coupon clipping took with it. Crazy kid! At least the stories are sufficiently gruesome. And the kid, at least, did show good taste: he clipped a one dollar coupon ("for creepy ghouls only") for 4 back issues. Yes, that's right, a buck back then could get you four issues of terror, horror, and assorted nastiness. Hope he didn't tell his mom.
This Mexican lobby card for The Planet of Female Invaders (1966) is so pulp science fiction 60s. The women aren't dressed well for inter-planetary travel, and those helmet-hats they're wearing are pretty wild. (Here's the Azteca-style lobby card.)
So times really haven't changed all that much. Sure, movie theaters may no longer dress as elaborate as this one for Mark of Zorror, but swap out that guy dressed up as Zorro, by the ticket booth, for a Darth Vader stationed in front of a modern theater today and you'd feel right at home.
Yes, it's true: Dracula always gets the girl. Frankie's left with his arms empty as usual. The eagle-eyed among you may have noticed the "continuous to 4 a.m. sign." Coffee not included I'm sure. The last time I was in a movie house past midnight was for a Three Stooges and Little Rascals marathon. I'm lucky I can stay up past 8pm these days. But if I had a bag of White Castles, and Nathan's fries, I'd make the attempt for sure.
The usual elements of exploitative promotion are here: cowering, partially undressed female and a weapon held in an attacking posture. But due to an imbalance in the illustration, the ho-hum left side of this Mexican lobby card for Venganza Apache greatly lessens the impact of the more aggressive right half of the card. Also the proportions on all elements in the illustration aren't well thought out: one giant guy, three little heads, and a doll-sized woman. I hope the movie has more action than this lobby card and better thematic sense.
Another visually charged Mexican lobby card, this time for the thriller En Carne Propia. Note the fearful female huddled against the unperturbed male, and the blood dripping down across the newsprint. I can't make out what the shadowy figures are in the top middle of the card. I'm open to suggestions.