Dark dreamer : Dan Curtis and television horror, 1966-2006 /

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Thompson, Jeffrey
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Middle Tennessee State University
One of the most significant television directors, in terms of innovation, quality, and influence, is the Emmy and Directors Guild of America Award-winning auteur, Dan Curtis (1927-2006). In the 1980s, Curtis was lauded for bringing to television Herman Wouk's epic World War II novels, The Winds of War and War and Remembrance. However, well before those remarkable achievements, Curtis had made an indelible mark on television horror with his groundbreaking daytime television serial Dark Shadows (1966-1971) and numerous made-for-TV horror movies of the 1970s. Themselves influenced by classic Gothic-horror literature, Universal monster movies, and Hammer vampire films, the horror productions of Dan Curtis served as a bridge from classic horror to modern horror and introduced such media icons as Barnabas Collins and Carl Kolchak.
Beginning with an overview of Curtis's career, this dissertation explores the cultural significance of all three incarnations of Dark Shadows (1966-1971, 1991, 2004), as well as sixteen films that Curtis produced, co-wrote, and/or directed in 1968, 1970 1977, and 1996. Two of these films are outgrowths of Dark Shadows while five others are faithful adaptations of classic Gothic-horror works by Henry James, Mary Shelley, Robert Louis Stevenson, Bram Stoker, and Oscar Wilde. Curtis's three anthology films, including Trilogy of Terror (1975), adapt the modern-horror stories of Jack Finney, Henry Kuttner, and Richard Matheson.
The Night Stalker, The Night Strangler, The Norliss Tapes, and Scream of the Wolf (1972-1974) represent Curtis's own sub-genre of a writer who investigates seemingly supernatural events against an innovative backdrop of humor, horror, and film noir. Classic-horror archetypes, including a vampire and a zombie, meet the cutthroat world of contemporary journalism. The result is a new brand of horror envisioned by Curtis and in tune with the times. Burnt Offerings (1976) and Curse of the Black Widow (1977) continue this trend as Curtis blends horror with family dynamics, interpersonal relationships, and women's issues.
This dissertation concludes with a consideration of Dan Curtis's importance to participatory fan culture while also documenting the director's esteemed place within the larger canvas of popular American literature and film.
Adviser: Will Brantley.