Tuesday, April 24, 2012

R.I.P.: Jonathan Frid

Jonathan Frid
December 2, 1924 – April 14, 2012

"I don't play a vampire. I play a man with a secret."

In the world of horror and sleaze film, Jonathon Frid actually played a very miniscule part. Indeed, his film roles can be counted on one hand. But the Canadian stage actor is nevertheless an integral part of pop culture for his iconic role as the vampire Barnabas Collins in the ABC supernatural soap opera Dark Shadows, which ran for over 1,200 episodes from 1967 to 1971. His character, like the show, has never completely disappeared from the collective pop culture psyche of the States, and even people who have never seen the original soap know who Barnabas Collins is, even if they don't know the name "Jonathan Frid." He was, you could say, the first sexy, romantic vampire of modern horror. (We specify "male" for we are of the opinion that the first "sexy / romantic" vampire in Western culture actually appeared in Sheridan Le Fanu's Carmilla which, of course, was adapted by Roger Vadim in Blood and Roses in 1960 (full film / trailer), and she was a babe. Likewise, though Christopher Lee's Dracula also had a carnal sexuality about him, he was in no way a love-torn Romanticist.)
John Herbert Frid was born December 2, 1924 in Canada; according to Wikipedia, he served in the Royal Canadian Navy during World War II. Following the war, he graduated from McMaster University in 1948 and then studied at the Royal Academy of Dramatic Arts in London. In 1954, he moved to the United States to study at the Yale School of Drama, where he received a Master of Fine Arts in 1957. Dark Shadows Online says that throughout those years he appeared in stage and radio productions, some early Canadian Broadcast Corporation TV programs, regional theater and on television and Broadway. In 1967 he started on Dark Shadows, on what was supposedly to be a 13 week gig.
After Dark Shadows ended, but for an odd film project he concentrated on stage projects, both as an actor and director. In 1994, he finally left NYC and returned to Canada to live in semi-retirement. Frid, a "life-long bachelor" who refused to discuss his private life with the press, died at the age of 87 of natural causes on April 14, 2012, at Juravinski Hospital in Hamilton, Ontario.

Dark Shadows
Episode 1 – aired 27 June 1966:
Dark Shadows, a daily Gothic soap created by Dan Curtis, aired weekdays on the ABC television network, from June 27, 1966 to April 2, 1971. About six months after it began broadcasting, the unprecedented step was taken to introduce ghosts, a first for daytime television. In a last-effort attempt to resurrect the flagging ratings, the character of Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) was introduced; a 175-year-old vampire, he was in search of both blood and his lost love, Josette. The show soared in popularity and he became the lead anti-hero of the soap. Dark Shadows also featured werewolves, zombies, man-made monsters, witches, warlocks, time travel, and a parallel universe. The matriarch of the Collins Clan, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, was played by the Joan Bennett. (Bennett, whose last screen role was in the classic horror film Suspiria [1977 / trailer], began her career in the Silents and is found in numerous other classics, including three US Fritz Lang film noirs, The Woman in the Window [1944 / trailer], Scarlet Street [1945 / full movie] and Secret Beyond the Door... [1947 / full film].) Introduced in B&W, Dark Shadows went color with the August 14, 1967 episode. Gold Key published a comic book based on the show, 'Marilyn Ross' – no better known as William Edward Daniel Ross – wrote 32-odd Dark Shadows novels (and there were other publications by other authors, too), inspired two feature-length films in the early 70s (see further below), and even enjoyed a prime-time weekly drama remake in 1991 starring Ben Cross as Barnabas (assisted by no less than Barbara Steele, Jean Simmons, and a very young Joseph Gordon-Levitt).
Closing credits with the classic Dark Shadows theme:

House of Dark Shadows
(1970, dir. Dan Curtis)
In 1970, while Dark Shadows was still on the air, the show's creator and producer Dan Curtis (director of such fun stuff as Burnt Offerings [1976 / full film / trailer], Trilogy of Terror [1975], and Bram Stoker's Dracula [1974 / trailer]) brought out this film version which used many of the plot elements already used in the soap (as well as the original characters and actors) but gave the events a breakneck speed and a much better production – and made Barnabas very much an evil vampire, which allowed for an ending rather different than that of the soap. The film was dissed for a long time, but over the years it has gained rather a fan following, of which we are part. Blood and bites and stakings and deaths are the common occurrence after the merciless Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) rises from the grave and searches for a cure so he can marry the woman who resembling his long-lost fiancée Josette (Kathryn Leigh Scott); when the cure goes wrong, he loses all restraint. House of Dark Shadows is Gothic, but it is anything but camp – or funny – and, a true vampire film with scares and surprising twists, it is well worth watching as one of the best vampire films of its time.

Night of Dark Shadows
(1971, dir. Dan Curtis)
OK, neither Barnabas nor Jonathon Frid took part in this film, the sequel to House of Dark Shadows, but the original plans did call for him to. But by the time production had started, the soap had been canceled and Frid was ready to try (unsuccessfully, in the end) to separate himself from the icon that he had become. The plot this time around was based loosely on the "parallel time" storyline once used in the soap and brought back the other anti-hero of the show Quentin Collins (David Selby) and the young and sexy Kate Jackson (of Satan's School for Girls [1973 / full TV film]) as Tracy Collins; the currently available version is the edited 94-minute version – the 129 original director's cut is still awaited. To quote The Terror Trap: "A solid sequel to director Dan Curtis' House of Dark Shadows. […] Quentin (Selby) finds himself the last of the Collins family, and so he and wife Jackson move into the old Gothic mansion. But no sooner can the couple call the estate home than they find themselves haunted by the vengeful ghost of a dead witch (Parker). Perhaps not as (consistently) powerful as its progenitor, Night still has a few good scares and is worth a watch both for Jackson's film debut and Lara Parker's creepy portrayal of ghostly Angelique Collins."

The Devil's Daughter
(1973, dir. Jeannot Szwarc)
Jeannot Szwarc, the man who helmed such masterpieces as William Castle's Bug (1975 / trailer / full film), Jaws 2 (1978 / trailer) and the infamous Supergirl (1984 / trailer), directed this prime example of 1970 TV horror that seems to divide the viewing public. In this Rosemary's Baby (1968 / trailer) inspired TV flick, Frid plays the mute (!) chauffeur of Shelley Winters (who also made Cleopatra Jones [trailer] that same year). Kindertrauma, one of our favorite blogs, says "Exhibiting all of the subtlety of a monster truck jam, Shelley Winters owns this sub-par, supernatural TV movie by bulldozing over anyone with the misfortune of sharing screen time with her." To make a long story short, after the death of her mom (played by Diane Ladd), the young and attractive Diane Shaw (Belinda J. Montgomery Silent Madness [1984 / Japanese trailer / full film]) comes to the realization just who her daddy is. DVD Drive-In says the film is "one of the better horror TV movies you've never seen" and that "there are still some surprising twists which tie everything together during the climax." In regard to the acting, unlike Kindertrauma they are of the opinion that Shelley Winters "proves to be a superb character actress as usual." Frid, in turn, "does a good job of executing his sympathetic character through facial expressions." The entertaining cast also includes Joseph Cotten (who was in Soylent Green [trailer] that year, too) and Lucille Benson (of Private Parts [1972 / trailer]); The Devil's Daughter was remade in 1997 as The Devil's Child.
Full film:

(1974, dir. Oliver Stone)
TV spot:
Aka Queen of Evil. Oliver Stone's true directorial debut, a good seven years earlier that his other horror film The Hand (1981 / trailer), about which he is at least willing to speak if asked (he has basically disowned Seizure and, having bought back the rights to it, is sitting on it to prevent a DVD release). The great cast includes Martine Beswick (of Dr Jekyll & Sister Hyde [1971 / trailer]), Troy Donahue (of Lust in the Dust [1985 / trailer]), Mary Woronov (of Night of the Comet [1984 / trailer], Hervé Villechaize and, of course, Jonathan Frid in his last film role – not only of note, but in total, up until his guest appearance in the 2012 remake of Dark Shadows. According to Wikipedia, Mary Woronov later claimed that the film was partially financed by gangster Michael Thevis, in an attempt to launder money. Canuxploitation has the following to say about the film: "Oliver Stone's mostly unseen directing debut was made in Quebec [...]. It sounds like pure lunacy, and it is. But not the fun kind of lunacy, more like your weird uncle who always forgets his prescription. The plot involves Jonathan Frid as a struggling writer named Edmund who keeps having the same weird dream in which a dwarf, a big mute executioner and a Vampira/Elvira clone (named 'The Queen Of Evil') kill his family and a bunch of house guests. In totally unrelated news, Edmund's family is expecting a bunch of house guests. Things get weird when the three evil characters kill a few peripheral characters, then advance on the house where they hold everybody prisoner and force them to compete in games against each other. Seizure's main problem is that is flogs the 'Is it real? Is it a dream?' ambiguity to death." The website Dangerous Minds says that "The surreal plot is loosely based on Ingmar Bergman’s Hour of the Wolf (1968 / trailer)."

Dark Shadows
(2012, dir. Tim Burton)
It seems almost a joke to put this film on Frid's career review, but it is the last film in which he makes an appearance – alongside former Dark Shadows cast members Lara Parker (of Race with the Devil [1975 / trailer], David Selby (Larva [2005 / trailer]) and Kathryn Leigh Scott (Parasomnia [2008 / trailer]), Frid spent three days at Pinewood Studios in June 2011 filming a cameo appearance in a ball scene held at Collinwood Manor, which means you probably won't notice any of them. Burton's version of the Gothic soap is obviously far from serious, which is sure to piss off a lot of people, but we'll go see it – it features too many of our favorite actors (Johnny Depp, Eva Green [of Franklyn (2008 / trailer)], Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter) and, to tell the truth, if we totally ignore Planet of the Apes [2001 / trailer], we've always found something to like in all Tim Burton films. In any event, Frid died ten months after filming his cameo – may he Rest in Peace.


Anonymous said...

Lord Ruthven (The Vampyre, 1819, Polidori), based on Lord Byron, was the first "sexy/romantic" vampire

Abraham said...

Oh, sorry. Was Byron's film in color or B&W?

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