Mischievous David Collins is missing as the movie opens, and his governess, Maggie, is looking for him when she runs into the creepy Mr. Loomis. While the household is distracted, Loomis goes out to the cemetery to do a little grave robbing and accidentally resurrects the vampire Barnabas Collins. While the somewhat naive Collinses then welcome Barnabas because he introduces himself as a cousin from England, a series of brutal murders in the area coincide with his “arrival.” How many people will get turned into vampires, and how many will die? Will Barnabas manage to successfully woo Maggie, who he believes is a reincarnation of his lost love from the 1700s? And can the local surgeon turned Collins biographer find a cure for vampirism?
I’m not getting into a detailed comparison and contrast between the plot and character arcs of TV show and the movie. This is because I’m still very confused about the show, seeing as how Netflix starts it in the middle of the second season, yet we’re just introduced to characters as if we should know what’s going on. I know, I’ve had my whole life to watch the show, but I just started recently.
But from what I have experienced so far, I can say that House of Dark Shadows is very different in tone from the show. Dark Shadows camps it up soap opera style, while House of Dark Shadows is much, well, darker. It’s actually a horror movie instead of a soap opera. And because of that, it is in some ways the improvement one always wishes for when a favorite show goes to the big screen. We want to see all the stuff they aren’t supposed to show on TV. Do we? Yes and no. We don’t get a lot of nudity, but we do get a much more vicious Barnabas, a very creepy Carolyn as a vampiress, and a fair amount of blood. Barnabas: The Movie Version is about as menacing as a vampire gets, in my opinion. When he is attacking, the screams of fear are believable. He’s not John Dixon with fangs here, but a violent and evil bloodsucking fiend, and it’s pretty badass.
Of course, when we switch from TV serial to horror movie, we get some tradeoffs. It goes from a convoluted plot which has time to unfold to a movie that is somewhat jumpily edited to fall within the time restraints that MGM required for a theatrical horror picture. In fact, we run into many of the same old unbelievable horror plot points, like how quickly the characters go from disbelief in vampires to belief. However, this is a damn fine vampire movie as 70s vampire movies go. Fans of Dark Shadows the show or of horror in general won’t care about the plot’s shortcomings with this much atmosphere. The biggest problem is that House of Dark Shadows is a rare film, and at this time you’re limited to VHS or a VHS rip on a DVD-R. Hopefully, with renewed interest in the saga due to the Tim Burton adaptation, we’ll soon get a good DVD/Blu-ray of House of Dark Shadows.