Documentary Review: ‘Dark Shadows And Beyond: The Jonathan Frid Story’

Greetings again from the darkness. Director Mary O’Leary’s cold opening replays the scene in the “Dark Shadows” TV series where Barnabas Collins, a 175 year old vampire, makes his first appearance. Fans of the gothic soap opera that ran from 1966 through 1971 know Barnabas first appeared months after the series premiered. The reminiscing is welcome and smile-inducing, but we must also recall that this vampire changed everything for those involved … especially actor Jonathan Frid.

This documentary plays like a loving tribute to Ms. O’Leary’s friend, colleague, and former business partner, and by the end credits, we fully understand why. We learn Mr. Frid was not only popular with fans, but well-liked and respected by his fellow actors in a career that spanned 70 years, considering he began acting in high school. We hear from his Yale Drama School classmate (renowned Talk Show host) Dick Cavett, as well as many from the “Dark Shadows” production, including: David Selby, Lara Parker, Kathryn Lee Scott, Nancy Barrett, Marie Wallace, James Storm, John Karlen, and series creator Dan Curtis. Additional insight and recollections are provided by fellow Shakespearean actor Anthony Zerbe, and Christina Pickles, Frid’s castmate from Oliver Stone’s first feature (horror) film, SEIZURE (1972).

Many only know Dark Shadows from the 2012 Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins, but the original series ran for 1225 episodes and still enjoys a cult following even today. The series was responsible for spin-offs including theatrical movies, an additional series in the 90’s, novels, comics, radio broadcasts, and even a board game. Jonathan Frid’s final appearance was at the 45th anniversary festival, which co-star David Selby remembers fondly here.

While the focus is understandably on Mr. Frid’s iconic portrayal of Barnabas, director O’Leary (a producer of the 2019 documentary, MASTER OF DARK SHADOWS) also provides us a bit of his family tree with interviews from his nephews, and a recap of his life: his stint in the Royal Canadian Navy during WWII, drama school (with Cavett and Katharine Hepburn), voice lessons, and the personal letters Frid wrote to his parents – read here by actor Ian Buchannan. We also see some terrific photos and clips of Frid’s early work on stage … where he felt most at home.

Much of the archival footage finds him sporting the infamous ring from the show and the wolf’s head cane that became a highlight on its own. Although Frid had very few screen credits, we see what a full life and career he had, including years of ‘Reading Theater’ where he utilized that magnificent voice. Jonathan Frid passed away in 2012 at age 87, but his legacy as Barnabas Collins seems eclipsed only by his life of grace and kindness.

Arrived October 5, 2021 on Digital Platforms, DVD and Blu-ray from MPI Home Video.

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