Movies Made Here: House of Dark Shadows (1970)

A limited-run feature, biweekly reviewing the movies – major, minor, indie, cult – with scenes filmed in Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow.

In the last two years, we Tarrytowners and Sleepy Hollowites have enjoyed (or been annoyed by) the presence of Keanu Reeves, Jesse Eisenberger, Tracy Morgan and others filming Henry's Crime  (2010) and Predisposed (TBD). All the celebrity hubbub got me wondering how many other films, big and small, have been filmed here; as it turns out: many.

Westchester, according to the Westchester Country Tourism and Film Department, is the largest center for film production outside of NYC. So many movies were made in our county that there’s actually a two-day bus tour hitting some hot spots from major movies. Tarrytown and Sleepy Hollow figure prominently on the itinerary, with over 10 stops from hits of the mid-'90s on.

Not satisfied stopping my research with the '90s though, I unearthed a vampire blockbuster from good ol' 1970, the surprisingly timely starting point of this new series. Every other week, we'll feature a flick old or new, reviewing each of the dozens of Movies Made Here!

So grab some popcorn and protect your neck for this bloodsucking romp:

1. House of Dark Shadows (1970)

“There’s so much about you that I’m dying to know,” says Carolyn to her cousin Barnabas Collins, who has mysteriously arrived at the family estate in the night, fresh from England…or, as we'll will later discover, the grave.  Centuries after his death, Barnabas has emerged to claim a reincarnation of the bride he once lost.This all goes very badly for everyone involved, of course, and the movie ends in great messy death (stakes in some hearts, neck bites for most), and that’s just some of guilty pleasures of this cult classic. 

House of Dark Shadows, the movie, came out at the height – or some say, the beginning of the end – of the ABC “gothic soap opera” Dark Shadows by the same director. With a budget of $750,000 (small for the time, miniscule by today’s standards) and only six weeks to film, Dan Curtis shot much on site at Lyndhurst Estate in Tarrytown, with the creepy family crypt scenes at our Sleepy Hollow Cemetery, and – there are contradictory reports on this – possibly adjacent to Lyndhurst at the Spratt House (now ruins).

Anyone who's taken a tour of Lyndhurst, or even peered through the windows, will recognize the stately rooms represented in the Collinswood Estate sequences. According to Stephania Brown, Communications Manager at Lyndhurst, the crew must have had the run of the place, including rooms no one has access to now. Brown, who had just happened to watch the film the night before we talked, said she was struck by the lit candles, the doors slamming, paintings in different locations than they are now, actors smoking cigarettes. "Wow, that would have never happened now," she said.

The grounds the biters and the bitten wander is clearly Lyndhurstian, tall trees lining the private paved road, the arches of the Carriage House. The beautiful main façade has become a trademark image (pictured on the cover art) and features significantly in the film. The cemetery stuff definitely makes you want to avoid Sleepy Hollow after dark. The supposed Spratt House must have been a nightmare to begin with, as this neglected, cobwebbed-covered mansion serves as the family's abandoned former home where Barnabas likes to nap by day.

The movie was free to be more graphically violent than the TV series, the level of which, like the budget, seems quaint by today’s standards. Love triangles triangulate with love triangles. There’s a touch of vampirism science which adds an intellectual twist to the chaos (blood samples are analyzed in the Lyndhurst kitchen). The '70s-nostalgics among us will relish the itchy looking zippered frocks with rolled collars on the ladies and the awesome blue police cars with domed red lights.

What one might dismiss as pure kitsch turns out to be a thoroughly entertaining, often scary, only sometimes laughable (in a good way, of course) movie. If you love seeing this dark side of Lyndhurst, you might find yourself digging into the sequel, filmed one year later, also in part at Lyndhurst. Night of Dark Shadows didn't enjoy the same success though; the TV series itself was dead by then, only to live in fans' hearts.

Fans, and they are myriad, look forward to a new version slated for 2012 release with Tim Burton directing and none other than Johnny Depp as Barnabas, a role he's apparently wanted to play since childhood. Not to be filmed here, sadly, but that won’t stop us citizens, the folks at Lyndhurst, and even the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery Historic Fund from getting fired up.

Cemetery Historic Fund board member Donna Davies, Dark Shadow lover, and founder of Haunted Hudson Valley, confirmed that the original movie will be screening in September at the Tarrytown Music Hall. Halloween lantern tours of the cemetery already allow guests to enter the Barnabas crypt. Davies happened to be driving to Tarrytown as we talked to meet with Lyndhurst officials to get a Dark Shadow-themed tour going at the site in the fall.

Davies fondly recalled sitting with her mom as a little girl and watching Barnabas on the television series. "I have seen the movie many times and am amazed how much has not changed at Lyndhurst since the '70s," she said. "We're hoping to bring a lot of Dark Shadows fans to Tarrytown."

Through the research for this article, I was beginning to feel like the last person to arrive at a party that has been going on now for some time. The more I dig into the lore of the making of this film, the more I want to know. So much I'm dying to know.

You can watch House of Dark Shadows by renting digitally ($2.99) or downloading it ($9.99) from Amazon.com here. Stay tuned in two weeks for our next movie installment, and in the meantime, please weigh in with your own Dark Shadows memories.

Janie Rosman July 23, 2011 at 03:40 PM
omigosh! I admit I was glued to the TV every day at 4 in the afternoon (thanks to a cousin who told me about the show) to see what would happen next - and wondering about the room at the end of the hall.
Donna Davies July 23, 2011 at 04:20 PM
You can watch all the Dark Shadows episodes on NetFlix streaming video. House of Dark Shadows is not available on DVD only VHS. If you want to watch it, download it from Amazon.com or iTunes. It's just a great now as it was back then. I'd bet that if they did a remake, it would bring daytime soaps back to life! I was happy to read that Johnny Depp was a fan and would portray Barnabas as true to life. Tim Burton can be a little out there at times. Come on down to the Sleepy Hollow Cemetery and step into the Receiving Vault which was Barnabas Collin's crypt. Make a day of it and visit Lyndhurst. It's spooktacular. Look for my updated article on Dark Shadows and Lyndhurst coming soon and don't miss House of Dark Shadows on the big screen in Tarrytown coming this September! This will be your only chance. The Dark Shadows festival is being held in August in NYC. Jonathan Freid will be there (aka Barnabas) www.facebook.com/hauntedhudsonvalley
Heron July 24, 2011 at 12:26 AM
Thank you so much. I am looking forward to seeing the movie at the Music Hall and will definitely go to the festival in August. When I was growing up, we were all "Dark Shadows" fans. We loved to laugh and scream at the same time! When my sister was in college, she met David Selby because his wife was somehow involved with her college (I can't remember why.) Later he showed up on Falcon Crest! Anyway, thanks for the happy memories!
Donna Davies July 25, 2011 at 06:23 PM
Tickets are now on sale for House of Dark Shadows at the Tarrytown Music Hall: http://tickets.tarrytownmusichall.org/orderticketsarea.asp?p=1431&a=541&backurl=default.asp
Krista Madsen January 06, 2012 at 06:57 PM
According to a Patch blogger, the new Dark Shadows to be an Oscar contender: http://patch.com/B-3JV 2. "Dark Shadows" - Johnny Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a playboy in 1752 who wrongs the wrong woman, is turned into a vampire, and then buried until being unearthed in 1972 where he sees that the descendants of his family have all fallen to dysfunction, each harboring dark secrets. Tim Burton directs, which is a major plus, and we also get a cast that includes Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, and Jackie Earle Haley. Dark, mysterious, Depp-Burton, I can’t wait. (Releases: May 11)


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