Dan's Review: Dark Shadows

Dan's Review: Dark Shadows

Tim Burton takes a stab at a campy 1960s TV hit.
Dark Shadows (Warner Bros.)

Rated PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking.

Starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Bella Heathcote, Chloë Grace Moretz, Gulliver McGrath.

Written by Seth Grahame-Smith and John August, based on the television series by Dan Curtis.

Directed by Tim Burton.

GRADE: C+

REVIEW:


Beware of movies based on old TV shows...

...most of them either a) have little to do with the original premise/characters, or b) stink.

Dark Shadows is Tim Burton's homage to the late 1960s and 70s daytime drama of the same name, starring Burton's common team players Johnny Depp and (sort of) wife Helena Bonham Carter.

Depp plays Barnabas Collins, an 18th Century Maine man cursed by the evil witch Angelique (Eva Green), who turns him into a vampire for spurning her and loving the beautiful Josette (Bella Heathcote) instead. Angelique arranges for Barnabas to be hunted locked away and buried by the local townspeople and remains there for nearly 2 centuries until a 1972 road crew accidentally digs him up.

Barnabas finds his way to the old Collins estate, where he discovers the remnants of his family living. The Collins family consists of Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), her daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz) her brother-in-law Roger Collins (Johnny Lee Miller) and his son David (Gulliver McGrath). Also living at the estate are groundskeeper Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) the new governess Victoria Winters (also played by Heathcote) and a live-in psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Bonham Carter).

Barnabas reveals himself as a vampire to Elizabeth, yet vows to restrain himself from killing the family or sucking their blood (Barnabas shows less restraint toward the road crew that found him and a group of hippies). He also vows to restore the Collins family fortunes by revamping their fishing operation. His efforts are thwarted by Angelique, who has used dark magic to keep herself young all those centuries, while building up her own fishing business at the expense of the Collins operation.

Barnabas confronts Angelique, who uses her female charms to seduce him, despite his growing attraction for Victoria.

The conflict comes to a head when Angelique tries to expose Barnabas again, and the vampire's family rises to his defense.

Having few personal reference points to the original Dark Shadows series (my mom wouldn't let me watch it, even if I wanted to), I, like most people who are too young to remember the TV show don't have the same reverence for the campy cult hit. As such, there were a lot of characters and moments in Dark Shadows that escaped me, like being left out of an inside joke. Burton and Depp have a fondness for the old show, but I'm not sure anyone else will have the same devotion by seeing the movie version. So, I can't really answer the question as to whether the movie sticks to the original premise. Through a little research, however, I discovered that Jonathan Frid (the TV Barnabas) makes a cameo appearance during a party scene, but sadly, he passed away a month ago.

There are several dark comedy moments that induce laughter in Dark Shadows, but not enough to make it an instant comedy classic, nor enough to classify it among Burton's (or Depp's, for that matter) best work. Some of the more cumbersome elements include a brief, sordid affair between Barnabas and Dr. Hoffman along with the revelation that some of the Collins family have hidden supernatural powers. These moments all seem like last-minute add-ons, especially the emphasized role for Burton's wife. Most, if not all of the characters have little resolution, and fail to develop in any way. It would have been better had Burton stuck with the "fish-out-of-water" narrative, rather than try to cram in a bunch of special effect sight gags with Depp's over-the-top performance.

So, if you're over 50 years old, you might be amused by Dark Shadows, but if you're a little younger, it will be seem more like a less humorous version of The Addams Family. It doesn't stink, but it doesn't smell that good, either.


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