Based on the popular soap opera, the story delves into the classic story of the Collins family and their elder patriarch, Barnabas Collins, a vampire who just got himself a wake-up call. With help of his blonde servant Willie Loomis (John Karlen, from Daughter Of Darkness), he goes around vamping up the members of the Collins family. But Barnabas is actually a tormented soul, simply longing to stop being a vampire and find true love. He believes he’s found that love in a physical reincarnation of his old squeeze, Maggie Evans (Kathryn Leigh Scott), and with the help of Dr. Hoffman (Grayson Hall), he sets about on his mission. Will Maggie’s boyfriend Jeff stop him just in time, or will Maggie be lost forever to vampirism?
I never was a fan the original soap opera by Dan Curtis. In fact, I find Dan Curtis in general to be a little over-rated, although he’s done some genuinely good stuff (the third story in Trilogy Of Terror, Burnt Offerings). I saw some old reruns many years ago when the played them on TBS, and I simply didn’t care. Maybe it’s because I hate soap operas, maybe it’s because vampires don’t really interest me (with few exceptions), or maybe it was because I was born two decades after the show went off the air, but it just didn’t click with me. Still, this movie is pretty damn good. It features an excellent production design, as good as some of the early Hammer films such as Curse Of Frankenstein and Horror of Dracula, with the old abandoned castles and fog-covered fields. The cinematography also reflects this, being very dark but appropriate, looking like a lot of the lighting comes from many candelabras turned on at the same time. Acting-wise, it’s Jonathan Frid who steals the movie, as the tormented vampire Barnabas Collins. He’s sympathetic, and lovable, but also really scary when his fangs come out. John Karlen also plays a sympathetic loser, a poor soul who is forced to do Barnabas’ willing. Veteran actresses Grayson Hall and Joan Bennett also put on a good show. There’s also a lot of attractive women who turn into the undead, and show a lot of cleavage. Always good.
The movie’s pace is a little slow, in that way classic horror movies always are, helping to build up the atmosphere and scares. It especially picks up in the third act, where all the revenge and most of the vampire action comes out. There’s a lot of cool blood and makeup effects and they’re very well made, particularly the sequences where Barnabas takes the tainted formula and ages horribly, and the staking of a hot blonde by the gang of family members. This is a very well-made chiller that gave me a lot more than I was expecting, and is very recommended.