Dan Curtis (1927-2006) had a long and distinguished career in television as a producer and director, both within the horror genre (The Night Stalker, Trilogy of Terror, Burnt Offerings) and beyond (the epic miniseries The Winds of War and War and Remembrance). Nevertheless, he will always be best remembered as the creator of the American Gothic soap opera Dark Shadows, so it is only appropriate that the biographical documentary Master of Dark Shadows devotes most of its attention to Curtis’s still-beloved brainchild.
Narrated by Ian MacShane, and featuring interviews with Curtis, his family, and the cast and crew of Dark Shadows, the documentary traces the history of the ABC series, starting with its origins in a strange dream Curtis experienced. The early struggles for ratings–and near cancellation of the series–are acknowledged, which makes Dark Shadows‘ evolution into a pop culture phenomenon (subsequent to its turn to storylines centered on supernatural elements) that much more remarkable. A convincing argument is made for the revolutionary aspect of the series, which not only changed the nature of the daytime television drama but also transformed “an international archetype for horror” via its introduction of the reluctant, sympathetic vampire Barnabas Collins. The documentary also offers some interesting contextualization, suggesting that the show’s fantastic plots offered an escape from the grim realities of Vietnam-era America.
I recognize Dark Shadows as a formative influence; the series undoubtedly shaped my love for all things Gothic and macabre. When the show returned for a syndicated run on NBC in the early 80’s, it numbered me among that next generation of kids who rushed home from school each afternoon to tune in to its atmospheric horrors. Master of Dark Shadows brought those fond memories flooding back to mind as it furnished deeper insight into the hit series. This wonderful documentary (currently available for streaming on Amazon Prime) is highly recommended for every Dark Shadows fan of any age.