Monday, October 04, 2021

Dark Shadows and Beyond: The Jonathan Frid Story

It debuted the same year as Star Trek, but for a lot of 1960s kids, this show was their first experience of cult TV fandom. The vampire was a major reason why. In many ways, the classically trained actor was an unlikely teen idol, but he was the first brooding TV vampire, predating Angel and True Blood by decades. The fanbase is still out there and growing, so there should be plenty of interest in Dark Shadows and Beyond: The Jonathan Frid Story, directed by Mary O’Leary, his friend and co-producer of his one-man shows, which releases tomorrow on DVD and VOD.

Dan Curtis’s
Dark Shadows was on the brink of cancelation when he introduced a vampire storyline, mostly as a personal lark. Much to everyone’s surprise, Barnabas Collins caught on big, turning the struggling show into a hit and making Frid an overnight celebrity. It took him a while to get used to the run-and-gun production methods of a daily soap opera, but he was always popular with his co-stars. It also took him a while to adjust to his new fame, but there was no question he was the focus of fans’ attention.

Dark Shadows didn’t last so long during its initial run, but unlike just about every other soap opera, it enjoyed subsequent lives in syndicated reruns and through healthy multi-million copy sales of its DVD collections. Post-cancelation, Frid appeared in two horror movies (including Oliver Stone’s first film, Seizure), but he was unhappy with his agency, so struck out on his own, largely concentrating on the stage.

If you look at Frid’s IMDb page, there is not much aside from
Dark Shadows, but he constantly appeared in regional theaters. He also had a pretty big hit leading an all-star tour of Arsenic & Old Lace (co-starring WKRP’s Gary Sandy). (Actually, I remember enjoying the show as a kid, but I didn’t appreciate who Frid was at the time. We can only hope some long lost tape of the production eventually turns up.)

That sort of leads into what really makes this doc valuable for fans. Unless, you saw him perform readings at
Dark Shadows conventions, he sort of disappeared. On the other hand, he largely did things his way. In a way, it is both good and bad that we can’t watch him doing guest shots on Murder She Wrote and the like, because what we have of him on film is pretty high quality.

Indeed, O’Leary spends nearly half the film covering his post-
Dark Shadows years (which makes sense, since that was when she knew him). The Dan Curtis doc, Masterof Dark Shadows probably covers the series in more detail. However, we still hear from plenty of his Dark Shadows co-stars, including Lara Parker (Angelique Bouchard), David Selby (Quentin Collins), Kathryn Lee Scott (Maggie Evans), and Nancy Barrett (Carolyn Stoddard). None of the cast-members of Tim Burton’s ill-conceived reboot appear, but it is just as well, considering what an ordeal his cameo was for the ailing Frid.

Indeed, Frid is one a many legendary thesps to play Jonathan Brewster on-stage (along with Boris Karloff, Bela Lugosi, John Carradine, Raymond Burr, and Erich von Stroheim), but there were only three other Barnabas Collins (in subsequent remakes), and Frid far outshines them all (especially Johnny Depp). Yet, O’Leary nicely put his full life and career in context, handling the particularly of his closeted private life with sensitivity. In fact, she largely keeps it private, while still conveying a sense of his personal conflicts. Perhaps most importantly, it will inspire fans to dive back into the series. Affectionately recommended for
Dark Shadows fans and those who appreciate the tradition of classical summer stock, Dark Shadows and Beyond releases tomorrow (10/5) on DVD and VOD.