Though this feature film was written and directed by Dan Curtis, Night Of Dark Shadows doesn't require much knowledge of the televised gothic soap opera that inspired it. Though there are some connections to what came before, this is a very accessible self contained story that doesn't really have anything to do with the exploits of Barnabas Collins or his clan.
Set in what was the modern day of 1971 when the feature was made (after the TV show had been cancelled), the story begins when Quentin Collins (David Selby - yes, the same one who played a fairly different Quentin Collins in the show) and his beautiful wife Tracey (Kate Jackson in her feature film debut, though she too appeared in the TV series) move into Collinwood Manor (for those keeping score it's the Tarrytown, New York location used). David has inherited the massive mansion and the two hundred acres that surround it and the two intend to move in so that David can focus on his career as a painter.
Upon their arrival they meet the housekeeper, Ms. Carlotta Drake (Grayson Hall - another hold over from the TV series), a rather cold woman who has a strange presence about her. Though she may be a little on the snooty side, she welcomes them to the home and does all that is asked of her, despite showing a bit of a preference for David more so than his wife. With more space than they know what to do with, David is more than happy to let his friend Alex Jenkins (John Carlen) and his pretty wife Claire (Nancy Barrett) stay in one of the outlaying buildings. This gives them some friends to hang out with and will allow Alex to work on his latest book. Things start to get bizarre when David head up into the tower at Carlotta's insistence. For reasons known only to her, she insists that this will be the perfect place for his studio, as it was used by one of his ancestors, Charles Collins, for the same purpose ages back.
Soon, David is seeing the ghost of Angelique (Lara Parker), a woman that Charles was having an affair with and who was executed for witchcraft on the family's grounds. Angelique was married to Charles' brother, and when David starts having flashbacks to events that only Charles could have experienced, it soon seems that the home and the spirits that inhabit it are taking their toll on their latest inhabitant...
Well done if frequently plagued by logic gaps, Night Of Dark Shadows is an effective mix of fairly traditional gothic horror and what can otherwise be described as more of a psychological thriller. At its core this is a haunted house story but of course, we get the soap opera elements thrown in here just as we did in the television show, what with the affair/love triangle from the past storyline working its way into the present. The film jumps from one tone to the next seemingly at random and never quite goes one hundred percent in any one specific direction, but that's half the fun of an older horror movie like this. While it's obvious early on that something is going to happen to David and it's even more obvious that Carlotta knows more than she's going to let on, getting to the end of this somewhat familiar journey makes for a good time.
Performance wise, we're in good shape here. Selby is good in his double role and plays his part with increasing paranoia, as does the young and incredibly attractive Kate Jackson. As David starts to obviously fall under the spell of whatever it is that is affecting him, she understandably becomes upset and shows good range here in doing so. Grayson Hall steals the show as the cold and mysterious housekeeper while Karlen and Barrett are fine, if ultimately disposable, in their parts. A few other cast members from the TV show - notably Jim Storm, Diana Millay, Thayer David, Christopher Pennock and Claire Blackburn - also pop up in some fun supporting roles here and do fine with the material.
Curtis, who obviously had a knack for this type of material, keeps the pace going. The film never really slows down once it finds its stride, there's enough odd behavior and horrors drudged up from the family's past to keep things interesting. There's some mild bloodshed here and there, a public hanging, some ghosts, and of course, David's increasingly bizarre behavior. It's all shot with style, making great use of the aforementioned locations (pretty much everything takes place in and around the mansion) and set to an interesting, if occasionally inappropriate, soundtrack courtesy of Robert Cobert (who also worked on the TV series, so we'll forgive him for recycling some of the music from that show in the film!).
Night Of Dark Shadows debuts on Blu-ray in AVC encoded 1.78.1 in 1080p high definition. For a low budget film made a few decades ago, the quality of the image is solid, not mind meltingly awesome, but solid. Some unusually obvious contrast fluctuations are periodically a minor issue but for the most part the colors are well reproduced and the black levels are good, if rarely great. Detail and texture are pretty decent here and there are no problems with compression artifacts or edge enhancement. What at first appeared to be some noise reduction soon revealed itself to be softness inherent in the camerawork (the grain in the film doesn't seem to have been tinkered with at all), something sometimes common in movies like this. Overall though, the film looks pretty good.
The English DTS-HD Mono track on the disc is solid and occasionally impressive. There are some nice things done with the sound design in this movie to help enhance the atmosphere and add a few fun, if somewhat superficial, scares to the movie. While there are moments where things are a bit on the flat side, for the most part the dialogue is very clear and easy to follow and the score has more punch to it than you would probably expect. There are no problems with hiss or distortion and the levels are properly balanced throughout. Optional dubbed tracks are available in Dolby Digital in German, Spanish and Italian while optional subtitles are offered in English, French, Spanish, German and Italian.
Aside from some basic menus, the disc includes a short trailer for the feature.
Night Of Dark Shadows is always atmospheric and occasionally a little goofy but fans of gothic horror really ought to enjoy this one even if they're not necessarily fans of the TV series that inspired it. The story is a little predictable but it's shot with plenty of style and a great eye for spooky composition and mood. The performances are solid even when the script is not and if this isn't a lost classic, it's still pretty damn entertaining. Warner's Blu-ray doesn't offer much in the way of extras but it looks and sounds decent enough that it warrants a recommendation.
Ian lives in NYC with his wife where he writes for DVD Talk, runs Rock! Shock! Pop!. He likes NYC a lot, even if it is expensive and loud.