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Master of Dark Shadows (2019)
MPI Media Group
Blu-ray Disc Released: 4/16/2019
All Ratings out of
Review by Mike Long, Posted on 4/19/2019
Being a genre fan can be exhausting. There was a time when one would check out re-releases of movie, rent some videos, and read fanzines and books to get a fix for your favorite type of movie. Today, with the various physical and streaming offerings available, staying caught up on a favorite type of movie or television show is a daunting task. Thus, things are going to fall by the wayside. For example, I’ve been a horror fan since my earliest memories, but I’ve never seen a single episode of Dark Shadows, the gothic soap opera which ran from 1966-1971 on ABC. I’ve seen the videos advertised and noticed the ads for the various merchandise tied to the show, but still knew little about it. Therefore, my mind was a sponge ready to absorb knowledge as I checked out Master of Dark Shadows.
Master of Dark Shadows is sort of a hybrid documentary. One the one hand, it profiled Dan Curtis, the producer who created Dark Shadows. It follows his early career, where he invented the idea of putting golf on TV, goes through the Dark Shadows years, and then examines his movie and television work which came once the soap opera went off of the air. But, the bulk of Master of Dark Shadows is reserved for Curtis best known creation, Dark Shadows. Through clips from the show and interviews with stars like Nancy Barrett, Lara Parker, and Roger Davis, and many of the shows writers, we are given a detailed primer on the creation of the show, its rocky beginning, and its ascent to cult popularity.
As noted, I had some general knowledge about Dark Shadows (soap opera, vampires, etc.), but had never seen the show. Similarly, I was somewhat familiar with the work of Dan Curtis, but other than Trilogy of Terror, had not experienced his output. Therefore, I was a sponge prepared to absorb a great deal of information and Master of Dark Shadows, which is narrated by Ian McShane, delivers. To be honest, the documentary’s opening is a bit shaky, as it soars through Curtis’ early years (I’m still not sure if I understand how he invented putting golf on TV) and how the Dark Shadows deal developed. But, once production of the show begins, the documentary really takes off. We get clips from the show, still photos, and best of all, interviews with the living cast members and creative team. They give a detailed account of how the gothic soap opera was on the brink of cancellation when Curtis and his team decided to go for broke and bring in the supernatural elements. The movie then essays how the show became a cultural phenomenon, with the stars appearing on talk shows, and even being covered in teeny-bopper magazines. This was all news to me, as I thought that Dark Shadows didn’t become a thing until genre fans discovered it years later.
Aside from Dark Shadows, the movie breezes through Curtis’ subsequent work, giving the most attention to the TV mini-series The Winds of War and War and Rememberance. The productions of these projects were clearly well-documented, as we get some behind-the-scenes footage of Curtis at work. And while Trilogy of Terror is mentioned, it receives no detailed coverage. While the War mini-series were rating successes, I think that many people still recall the effect that Trilogy of Terror had on them.
Long before Chris Carter oversaw The X-Files or Joss Whedon created the “Buffy-verse”, Dan Curtis was the king of horror television. Besides the fact that it spawned a feature film and an unsuccessful TV reboot, Dark Shadows influenced a generation of horror fans. Despite some minor shortcomings, Master of Dark Shadows does a great job of providing an overview of the show and explaining why its appeal endures to this day.
Master of Dark Shadows doesn’t suck on Blu-ray Disc courtesy of MPI Media Group. The film has been letterboxed at 1.78:1 and the Disc contains an AVC 1080p HD transfer which runs at an average of 39 Mbps. The documentary is made up of several different source elements. The modern-day interviews, look great, as they are sharp and clear, showing no grain or defects. Beyond this, we get clips from Dark Shadows (which was shot live) and archival interviews. Most of these look pretty good given their age, but we do get some grain and scratches on the images. (The older Dark Shadows are quite soft.) The Disc carries a Linear PCM Stereo audio track which runs at 48 kHz and a constant 1.5 Mbps. Being a documentary, we don’t get many dynamic effects here. However, those being interviewed are always intelligible and the Dark Shadows theme music sounds fine.
The Master of Dark Shadows Blu-ray Disc contains a crypt full of extra features. “Dark Shadows in Hell’s Kitchen: Visiting Studio 10” (2 minutes) offers a brief tour of the building in New York where the show was shot. “Original Dark Shadows TV Spots” (2 minutes) offers a reel of commercials for the show. “Jonathan Frid on The Dick Cavett Show (1968)” (16 minutes) is an audio-only presentation of the interview. “Jonathan Frid: Poe & Shakespeare in the Shadows” (16 minutes) offers the actor doing one-man readings for a PBS broadcast. “Barnabas at the White House” (4 minutes) documents Frid attending a White House Halloween party in 1969. “The House” (26 minutes) brings us the episode of the TV show The Web from 1954 which served as an inspiration for Dark Shadows. “David Selby: Light & Shadows” (6 minutes) has the actor performing a song about the show at a Con. “Dark Shadows in Print” (8 minutes) almost plays like a commercial for a book about the show. “Dark Shadows Audio Dramas” (2 minutes) offers excerpts from audio stories based on the show. The extras are rounded out by a TRAILER for Master of Dark Shadows and a reel of commercials for other projects from Curtis.
Review Copyright 2019 by Mike Long