HAPPY HALLOWEEN! Dan Curtis was well-known for his Dark Shadows television series, the original Night Stalker telefilm and its sequel The Night Strangler. Throw in The Norliss Tapes, Trilogy of Terror and about a dozen more made-for-tv exercises in the macabre.
In keeping with Balladeer’s Blog’s overall theme here’s a look at four of Curtis’ overlooked horror productions, ranging from excellent to laughable.
DR JEKYLL AND MR HYDE (1968) – Believe it or not Jack Palance does a decent job as the dual title figure in this made for tv movie which also starred Denholm Elliott, Oskar Homolka and BILLIE WHITELAW, who was introduced in this production.
This rendition of Dr Jekyll and Mr Hyde is top quality for a 1968 television effort and reflects the best elements of Curtis’ then-current Dark Shadows but without the frequent on-air gaffes that plagued that live broadcast.
The story is very nicely adapted with just the right amount of foggy London streets, murders and increasingly obscene behavior from Edward Hyde. One of the best features of this Dan Curtis treasure is the way it retains Robert Louis Stevenson’s oft-neglected point that it was Jekyll behind the horror all along – Hyde was simply the “mask” that gave free reign to the dark urges Jekyll suppressed in his everyday “respectable” life.
In this internet age that aspect of the tale takes on greater significance as countless “decent citizens” unleash their real nature behind on-line pseudonyms. Picture a holy roller “family values” nut breathing heavily behind closed doors as he spends his spare time at kiddie porn sites or the like.
FRANKENSTEIN (1973) – Robert Foxworth stars as Dr Frankenstein and Bo Svenson portrays his famous monster in what was originally a two-part presentation on The Wide World of Mystery. (“He’s an artificially created monster who solves murders!”)
Susan Strasberg played the good doctor’s love Elizabeth, Willie Aames was William Frankenstein and John Karlen from Dark Shadows appeared as Otto.
Leif Garrett, soon to appear as one of the murderous children in Devil Times Five, was briefly glimpsed as a little boy running from the Frankenstein Monster. Heidi Vaughn and Brian Avery were along for the ride as the DeLaceys.
There’s a lot to like but also a lot to dislike about this version of Frankenstein. My favorite aspect is the way this is one of the earliest productions to free the monster from the image of a simple-minded marauder. The story follows Frankenstein’s creation from his brutish early days to his more intelligent phase.
The storyline was being so nicely streamlined that I was hoping for the big climax to take place at Dr Frankenstein’s wedding but unfortunately things get dragged out a little further. Purists will no doubt fuss over the changes but c’mon – it was a made for tv film in the 1970s. Just be happy the monster got to be more fully-developed this time around.
It could be argued that this production is actually superior to Curtis’ Frankenstein but the popularity of the Mary Shelley story prompted me to award that tale second place.
For a television effort of the time this is pretty high quality and has a sort of PBS feel to it. It almost seems too sophisticated for a network production of the 1970s. Some would consider it dull but they would probably not go for any adaptation of this ghost story.
The supernatural doings pile up on Jane Cubberly at her new position as governess for the creepy Miles and Flora who are being manipulated and seemingly possessed by the ghostly Bob Roberts and Laura Palmer of the era – Peter Quint and Miss Jessel.
You have to give this version credit for retaining the disturbing way the ghost-lovers were having the children watch them have sex and for keeping the ugly insinuation that Peter Quint was molesting Miles.
DRACULA (1974) – Jack Palance was decent as Jekyll and Hyde but is a constant joke as Dracula. Think of his performance as a sneak preview of his character Curly from the City Slickers movies. You expect Drac to tell Jonathan Harker “I crap bigger than you.”
Sarah Douglas puts in an appearance as a Bride of Dracula and Nigel Davenport plays Van Helsing. Simon Ward is an annoying Arthur and so many liberties are taken with the story that the weak casting in some of the roles really stands out.
The facial expressions in some of the reaction shots are like throwbacks to the Silent Film era and will make you laugh your ass off. Davenport as Van Helsing goes to the other extreme and is more like the Invisible Man since he disappears into the woodwork.
By the way I’ve read Bram Stoker’s novel and this adaptation is not very faithful so I don’t know where some of the IMDb reviews get that this is “the most faithful adaptation” of Stoker’s novel. I find this version of Dracula to be enjoyably bad and not just because of Palance’s miscasting.
P.S. I know Dan Curtis also did an adaptation of The Picture of Dorian Gray but I have never considered that enough of a horror film to bother including it in this article.
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