One of the tricks in which the original Dark Shadows series traded was alternate realities. Beyond the vampires, ghosts and werewolves, the show got quite a bit of mileage from time travel (backwards and forwards), otherworldly dimensions, and something the show called "parallel time." Though Star Trek might have first presented the theory of parallel universes to mainstream TV audiences (I expect - nay, DEMAND- to be corrected on this in the comments section), when Dark Shadows played the alternate reality card (via a mystical staircase built by Quentin Collins), series creator Dan Curtis really milked it, keeping the action there for months at a time, and giving the actors a welcome, extended opportunity to play variations on established characters. By 1970, such trips had become commonplace on the show, and if you were to randomly sample such an episode, you'd be totally lost, but it was something the hardcore fans were able to follow. More importantly, it's something to which they were accustomed.
That casual acceptance goes a long way toward explaining the existence of Night of Dark Shadows. Shot on exactly the same locations as 1970's House of Dark Shadows, with many of the same actors, one might think it's a sequel to the previous film. But no! Legend has it an actual sequel involving Barnabas Collins was discussed; Jonathan Frid said "no thank you," and Curtis quickly moved on. Knowing his fanbase would roll with it, Curtis (with longtime series writer Sam Hall) instead crafted an original story which re-purposed the other two central figures of the series, absent from the previous film: Quentin Collins (David Selby) and Angelique (Lara Parker). They're the same actors from the series, playing characters with the same names, but the similarities end there. The film is a story involving a brand new iteration of Quentin, presented here as the lone surviving descendant of the Collins family (an at best cursory nod to the events of the previous film) inheriting the family mansion. He moves in with his new bride (Kate Jackson, another transplant from the series, pre-Charlies Angels) and, with a little help from the ghost of Angelique (Lara Parker), he's slowly consumed by the spirit of his murderous ancestor.
There's a poor man's Shining vibe to some of it, as Quentin menaces his bride while having some steamy PG-pushing action with the ghost of Angelique, but what's notable is how no one - creators, studio, audience - really gave much of a shit that the events of the film had nothing to do with what came before. To me, that's the big takeaway of this film; the complete disregard for canon and continuity is, in this day and age, nothing less than a scrappy badge of honor. Curtis had a property, an audience, and a company of actors. And he correctly guessed that was all he needed. Dark Shadows fans, possibly one of the most niche groups in pop culture history, were devoted to the show and its actors, obsessive over every detail of their beloved characters, yet were pretty much down for whatever ride on which Curtis wanted to take them. Even on the series, plotlines, characters and major events would be dropped, ignored or forgotten. By hopping between centuries and timelines, Curtis trained his viewers to just go with it, and there's probably no other fanbase that would accept a sequel to a movie that came out one year earlier, using most of the same cast in new roles, in which there is no narrative connection to the previous film. It's a pretty liberating thing to observe in the context of today's canon-obsessed fandom.
That doesn't mean it's a good film. In fact, it's a mess, but a compelling one. The story goes that Curtis proudly unveiled his 129 minute cut of the film to MGM, who gave him 24 hours to cut out over 30 minutes of footage. As evidenced by the released film, that went about as well as one would imagine. The moody film is constantly fighting against its own impatient edits, and for every halfway effective sequence there is a plot point or detail that sends you scrambling for the rewind button, searching for an answer that was hacked out 41 years ago. Unlike House of Dark Shadows, the film has some genuine atmosphere, including a dated but cool optical effect of Angelique's ghost seducing a house guest. And where the photography (or maybe the shooting schedule) of House of Dark Shadows made everyone look five years older than they did on the TV show (which was airing simultaneously, mind you), the young cast of this film all look pretty good, especially Parker, who was never sexier:
The trailer's a lot of fun; the same guy gets shot in the face twice in two minutes! And I like to think that laugh at the end was a bit of improv on behalf of the voiceover artist as he got all caught up in the moment. Like House of Dark Shadows, Night of Dark Shadows is available on Amazon Instant, but also like its predecessor, Night is being dusted off for HD treatment thanks to the new movie. But there's a big difference: film historian Darren Gross has been slaving away for years at restoring the missing scenes from the film, recruiting the original actors to loop their lines, and even finding a Grayson Hall impersonator to fill in on ADR duty for the late actress. In the past year, activity surrounding Tim Burton's film has gotten Warner Brothers on board, and Gross' project promises to deliver the first complete version of the film anyone has since since Curtis' fateful studio screening. Good film or bad, that excites the film historian in me.