15 July 2024

The nature of television, not to mention the much smaller budgets, has made it difficult for directors who toil in the medium to put their personal stamp on their work. An exception is Dan Curtis.

Curtis was born on August 12, 1928 in Bridgeport, Connecticut. By the 1960s, he had become a successful TV executive at CBS. A dream about a woman on a train led him to pitch an idea for a series to ABC.

It was then that the groundbreaking daytime supernatural soap opera Dark Shadows was born. Curtis' title would be Creator and Executive Producer. Taking place in a huge, creepy mansion called Collinwood...the series premiered in June of 1966.

It would not be an immediate hit but its fortunes changed when the character of Barnabas Collins was introduced the following year. Jonathan Frid's portrayal of the angst-ridden vampire became a sensation and audiences became devout viewers of the program.

During its run, Curtis found time to produce the excellent The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde starring Jack Palance.

Dark Shadows ran until 1971, with over 1,200 episodes in all. It was so popular that it spawned two theatrical films: House of Dark Shadows in 1970 and 1971's Night of Dark Shadows.

Curtis helmed both - and then continued a prolific career in TV terror by directing, producing and writing various projects.

In 1972, he produced The Night Stalker with Darren McGavin as weary reporter Carl Kolchak. It became one of the highest rated Made-for-TV films up to that time. Yet another bloodsucking tale, it was followed by a sequel entitled The Night Strangler. Curtis took directing chores for the second film...which led to a series in 1974, a project he had nothing to do with and that leaned more heavily on humor.

1973's The Norliss Tapes also involved a reporter investigating the supernatural. Curtis directed a version of Dracula the same year - and then Scream of the Wolf and the Henry James ghost vehicle The Turn of the Screw in 1974.

1975 saw him direct and produce the chilling Trilogy of Terror, a Movie of the Week tour de force for actress Karen Black. The third segment of the anthology film, about a Zuni-fetish doll that comes to life, became one of the most enduring horror images of the decade.

Curtis would direct Black once again, this time for the big screen. Burnt Offerings (1976) co-starred Oliver Reed and Bette Davis in a story about a woman possessed by the spirit of the previous occupant of a huge Victorian house.

Among Curtis' genre work in the 1970s, he also helmed the spidery Curse of the Black Widow, as well as an anthology of horror tales with 1977's Dead of Night.

By the end of the decade, his interest in the genre waned. He has been quoted as saying, "I just ran out. I couldn't come up with another great scary idea...I couldn't find any existing material. I just wanted to forget it and put horror behind me."

Curtis would find great success in the '80s by directing the massive mini-series The Winds of War and its sequel War and Remembrance. But he never quite gave up on the genre that he is best remembered for. There would be a revival of Dark Shadows in 1991 and a cable TV sequel to Trilogy of Terror in 1996.

Sadly, Dan Curtis passed away on March 27, 2006 from a brain tumor...just three weeks after the death of his wife Norma.

Burnt Offerings 1976
Curse of the Black Widow 1977
Dark Shadows [TV series] 1966-1971
Dead of Night 1977
Dracula 1974
House of Dark Shadows 1970
The Invasion of Carol Enders 1973
Night of Dark Shadows 1971
The Norliss Tapes 1973
Scream of the Wolf 1974
Trilogy of Terror 1975
The Turn of the Screw 1974
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