Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Looming Shadows

This may be the best time ever to be a Dark Shadows fan.

Okay, technically the best time was during the years 1966 through 1971, when there five brand new episodes of the series on ABC every week. But this year is shaping up to be one of the better years for Dark Shadows fans in quite a while. Let’s hope it doesn’t all go to hell.

We fans have had potentially good years before. There was 1975 when 130 episodes were released to syndication, making it possible to see them again or catch up on ones that had been missed. Or 1989 when episodes started becoming available on VHS. Or the years between 1992 and 2003 when the Sci-Fi Channel aired the entire catalog of 1,225 episodes. Or 2002 when episodes started becoming available on DVD.

Of course, that all involves recycling the original content. One particular high for fans came in 1991 when the series was rebooted (before that term became popular) in primetime for NBC by creator Dan Curtis. Sadly, the revised series lasted only 12 episodes. Maybe it was done in by the fact that its run more or less coincided with the Gulf War, causing episodes to be preempted or rescheduled with no notice. Also, fans of the original may have been conflicted because the new series was basically a remake of the original, meaning that we were covering old ground (although with new fresh faces) rather than breaking new ground. And some of us just couldn’t warm up to Ben Cross (best known for Hugh Hudson’s Chariots of Fire) in the role of Barnabas. Still the 1991 series has its adherents.

An even more quickly aborted high came in 2004 when a pilot was made for yet another revised series, this time for the WB. The fear was that it would be a victim of the trademark WB teen-ification, but instead it was a victim of pilots-to-null-output death. But it sounded intriguing. Reportedly, it was directed by Australia’s P.J. Hogan, the Australian best known for his Wedding movies (Muriel’s and My Best Friend’s) and who showed a flair for dark fantasy in 2003’s live-action Peter Pan. Following Jonathan Frid and Ben Cross in the role of Barnabas was Scottish-born actor Alec Newman, whose credits include the Sci-Fi Dune miniseries, the 2004 Hallmark Frankenstein miniseries and playing the genetically engineered “human augment” Malik in a few episodes of Enterprise.

Following screen legends Joan Bennett and Jean Simmons in the role of Collins family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard was Blair Brown of The Days and Nights of Molly Dodd fame. Following Louis Edmonds and Roy Thinnes in the role of her brother Roger was Martin Donovan, a veteran of several Hal Hartley movies. Part of the pilot’s opening sequence turned up in someone’s resume reel on YouTube and the whole thing is apparently out there for people with the penchant and bandwidth for BitTorrent, but otherwise it remains unseen.

Then news started being heard about a Dark Shadows feature film. And not just any schlocky run-of-the-mill movie. This was to be directed by none other than Tim Burton, a titan of horror/fantasy. And habitual Burton collaborator Johnny Depp was to play Barnabas. But would this tantalizing stream of gossip actually go anywhere? As time marched on, it seemed more and more real. Burton and Depp even showed up on UK TV talking about it while promoting Alice in Wonderland. (Interestingly, the Kentucky-born Depp will be the first American to play Barnabas Collins—Frid being a Canadian and Cross and Newman being Brits.) Seth Grahame-Smith, author of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, was confirmed as the screenwriter. Lately, more casting news has emerged. Jackie Earle Haley, the former child actor who grew up to play Rorschach in Watchmen and Freddy Krueger in the A Nightmare on Elm Street remake, will apparently be Barnabas’s lackey Willie Loomis (John Karlen in the original, Jim Fyfe in 1991). The perfectly named Bella Heathcote, whose main credit to date is the Australian soap Neighbours, will be Victoria Winters, following in the footsteps of Alexandra Moltke and Joanna Going. Most excitingly (so far) is the casting of the evil witch Angelique, who was originally played by the incomparable Lara Parker and later by Lysette Anthony. Word is that the character, who was always meant to be a Frenchwoman from West Indies, will actually be played by a French actor: Eva Green, who (with Louis Garrel) was half of a pair of kinky twins in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers and the Bond girl Vesper Lynd in Casino Royale.

As if this weren’t enough excitement for aging but die-hard DS fans, the original Barnabas, Jonathan Frid, mentioned on his web site that he had been asked to participate in the movie. This is the mark of good faith we have been waiting for, to make sure that self-avowed DS fans Burton and Depp are serious. And what will Frid (who, as of this writing, is 86 years old) do in the movie? Will he have a cameo as a servant or a footman? Or maybe the ghost of some Collins ancestor? I have a suspicion. In the 1970 feature film House of Dark Shadows, Dr. Julia Hoffman treats Barnabas to cure him of his vampirism but becomes jealous of his attentions toward Maggie Evans and sabotages the treatment, causing him to age drastically. This was accomplished by makeup artist Dick Smith using the same bald head appliance that he had created for Dustin Hoffman in the movie Little Big Man. If this same scene is restaged in the new version, wouldn’t it be perfect if Frid played the aged Barnabas?

Needless to say, we wait with baited breath for more casting news. Will other surviving members of the original cast get cameos? Who will play other members of the Collins family? And who will get the role of the brilliant but strange Dr. Hoffman (Grayson Hall in the original, Barbara Steele in 1991)? The answer to that one seems obvious to me. Where could Tim Burton possibly find an actor to play a quirky and potentially creepy woman? Is there anyone he and Depp have worked with before that might fit the bill? Maybe someone he sleeps with? I will be flabbergasted if Helena Bonham Carter does not play Julia. She may be the toast of the town at the moment for her Oscar-nominated performance in The King’s Speech, but let’s not forget that her eclectic body of work includes Planet of the Apes, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Terminator Salvation and Alice in Wonderland. And let us not forget her performances as Bellatrix Lestrange in four Harry Potter movies. Indeed, when I heard that Burton and Depp were doing this movie, this first image that popped in my head was that of Depp and Bonham Carter in their characters from Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street.

Gulp. I have moved past fearing that this movie will not get made (production is scheduled to begin in April) to merely fearing that it will be disappointing. Will it have the magic of Edward Scissorhands or Corpse Bride or will it be laced with humor like Beetle Juice or completely jokey like (please, no) Mars Attacks!? Will it be successfully mythic like Burton’s Batman? Or will it be a klunker like his Planet of the Apes remake?

One bright ray of optimism, from a strictly personal point of view: I actually liked Burton’s Planet of the Apes remake.

-S.L., 10 February 2011

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