'Dark Shadows' doc reveals the man behind the fangs

“Dark Shadows and Beyond: The Jonathan Frid Story” - ★ ★ ★ ½

He was to TV soap operas what Boris Karloff was to horror movies.

When Canadian actor Jonathan Frid joined the cast of the ABC-TV gothic soap opera “Dark Shadows” in 1967, the show scared up 20 million daily viewers and made Frid a virtual rock star.

As 175-year-old vampire Barnabas Collins, Frid electrified TV with his take on a tortured, romantically tragic character forged by Frid's Shakespearean training, the Yale Drama School, and the Lorne Greene Academy of Radio Arts in Toronto.

“Dark Shadows,” a genre blend of horror, suspense, romance and time travel, became so popular that thousands of American students reportedly ditched classes to catch the latest afternoon episodes of witchcraft, werewolves, vampires, ghosts and things that go bump in the night. (These were usually stagehands who accidentally wandered into camera range. No retakes on this set.)

“Dark Shadows and Beyond: The Jonathan Frid Story” is directed with economy and panache by Mary O'Leary, Emmy Award-winning producer for the soap operas “General Hospital” and “The Young and the Restless.”

Her biography of the popular actor evolves into a love letter for the performing arts, exemplified by a man whose devotion to his craft became the driving force in his life.

A fierce proponent of local and regional theater, Frid, according to a friend, never seemed to have a significant other. During the AIDS crisis in the 1980s, when people feared to be near those with HIV, Frid, who was gay, would often visit and support his stricken comrades, listen to their stories and hold the hands of the dying.

O'Leary offers up a treasure trove of movies, photos and recordings of Frid's life, from his early years developing his voice and onstage confidence to his post-Barnabas era when the actor capitalized on his cult following to advance the performing arts.

On Oct. 6, 1969, I saw Frid's final performance in “Dial M For Murder” at the legendary Little Theatre on the Square in Sullivan, Illinois. He took to the stage to thank everyone for coming, then held up his famous set of fangs, explaining that he usually puts these in after the show, but on this final night of the play, he would just like to be himself.

Then he personally signed every program for the mob of fans waiting outside the stage door.

Many of Frid's co-stars, friends and colleagues pay tribute to him in O'Leary's doc, including his Yale Drama School classmate Dick Cavett, actors Marion Ross and Anthony Zerbe, and his “Dark Shadows” co-stars David Selby, Lara Parker, Nancy Barrett and Kathryn Leigh Scott.

Special features of the DVD and Blu-ray include archival material from Frid's private collection, a PBS-TV discussion with Frid, promotional pieces with the actor, Frid reading an excerpt of Washington Irving's “The Legend of Sleepy Hollow,” and a compilation video “The Best of Barnabas.”

• • •

Starring: Jonathan Frid, Dick Cavett, David Selby, Anthony Zerbe

Directed by: Mary O'Leary

Other: An MPI Media Group release on digital platforms, DVD and Blu-ray. Not rated; parental guidance suggested. 102 minutes

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