Dark Mansions

Wicked Wednesday: Dark Mansions (1986)

It’s Made-For-TV March, everyone! Truly a month that I look forward to every year.

TV movies are brilliant for many reasons. But one reason in particular that I love these films is the dramatic flair. Soap-opera vibes, if you will. Thunder! Lightning! Unexplained powers! And is there anything soapier than Joan Fontaine as the matriarch of a wealthy family in a TV pilot described as “Dallas meets Dark Shadows”?

That question is rhetorical.

The Drake family are incredibly wealthy and own a successful shipyard (ship making?) business. As with any well-kept family, there are cracks in the facade. The brothers bicker. A couple of the cousins are in love. And one of them just happened to mysteriously fall to her death from a cliff…only for her look-a-like to appear months later.

Shellane Victor is the newest employee of the Drake family. She’s there to be Margaret Drake’s assistant and the family biographer. When she arrives at the house, the family all react to her strangely. Almost amazed at what they see.

But the attention is soon off her when the family patriarch, Margaret’s husband, dies while out on the boat with his sons in a storm. Though his niece Noelle had already seen this coming as she has the powers of premonition. (I think.)

Shellane slowly learns the secrets of the Drake family. Some are more confusing than others. One mystery grabs her attention the most. She learns about the death of Jason’s wife, Yvette, who died falling from a cliff. She’s first told it was a suicide. But maybe it wasn’t? She later hears that Yvette might have been pushed or maybe even slipped out of her husband’s own hands.

Stranger than all of that, Shellane discovers she shares a striking resemblance to the late Yvette.

There is plenty of other storylines going on here. Lots of people sleeping with other people. That cousin romance I mentioned. Drama about the father’s will. A little something for everyone.

Though unfortunately, this one is pretty light on the horror vibes (no vampires here), there is plenty of drama to go around. I particularly loved Lois Chiles as the dastardly, scheming wife of a Drake family son. She walked straight out of a scene in Rebecca and into the 80s. You could see how well this pilot was setting up for future misdeeds. It’s a shame we’ll never see them.

The setting for the story is wonderfully gothic: a pair of mansions. One by the seaside cliffs, sitting abandoned. The other an exact replica, almost a ghost of the other. Throw that in with a wicked family and you have TV movie magic.

I’m not really sure what the point of this story was beyond the mystery of Yvette’s death (which is secondary, really). The point of the pilot was clearly meant to tempt viewers to continue watching in the future, not resolve any storylines. Frankly, that doesn’t matter too much when you get to see scene after scene of drama and gorgeous mansions.