Wednesday, February 23, 2011

Top Ten Movie Theater Experiences #4: “House of Dark Shadows” (1970) and “The Fearless Vampire Killers” (1967)

As a kid, I love movie monsters. My brother, Dale, and I collected the move monster models. We had all the Universal Studio Horror Icons, Frankenstein’s Monster, the Wolfman, the Hunchback of Notre Dame, the Creature from the Black Lagoon and Dracula.
I thought about monsters a lot. The first novel I tried (one of many that only went as far as a chapter or two) was about Godzilla. But I never got to see horror films. They were always on past my bedtime. The only monster films I got to see were the ones in which they met Abbot and Costello. Those were shown early Sunday morning (alternating with Francis the Talking Mule and Ma and Pa Kettle.)

Then an incredible thing happened. A soap opera added monsters. I always hated soap operas. They took daytime TV hours away from game shows, cartoons and reruns of “Leave it to Beaver”. But ABC took an average soap opera, “Dark Shadows” and added vampires, ghosts and werewolves. This made it “Must See TV” to me, long before NBC came up with the slogan.

I watched the show faithfully, and my two older brothers and two older sisters watched it as well.

So when a “Dark Shadows” movie came out, we went together. This was one of two movie outings that I remember with just us siblings and no parents. (The other was the musical version of “Scrooge” with Albert Finney. Both times we went to the Park Cinema in Santa Rosa.)

I’d always wanted to see a horror film at the theater. My parents must have been concerned I would be petrified. I was. It was great.

In the soap opera, everything moved at glacial speed and obviously character could only be rarely dispatched. All the actors from the show were in “House of Dark Shadows” but there must have been no concern for continuity with the show because characters were killed in rapid succession. (Usually being killed and then turned into a vampire so they could be killed yet again.)

And “The Fearless Vampire Killers” (with the alternate title “Pardon Me, But Your Teeth Are in My Neck”) was even scarier. My brother, Daryl, assured us this film was a comedy so it wouldn’t be scary. But the film was made by the great director Roman Polanski, so it managed to be funny and scary.

Polanski would make more frightening films (“Rosemary’s Baby”, particularly), but I wouldn’t see those until much later in life. (Polanski’s personal life was even more macabre.)

Even Dan Curtis who directed “Dark Shadows” would make better and scarier things (especially “The Night Stalker” and all the Kolchak adventures that would follow.)
But soon my mom made us stop watching “Dark Shadows” because Dale had nightmares. So I cherished this outing as a horror highlight in my life. Even though I’ve watched the show “Dark Shadows” as an adult and it has not held up well at all….I still consider this outing a movie going highlight. But now more because of Gwynne, Daryl, Lola and Dale than the films.

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