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Movie Review: Tim Burton’s ‘Dark Shadows’
Adam Frazier   |  @   |  

Dark Shadows Theatrical PosterDark Shadows
Directed By: Tim Burton
Written By: Seth Grahame-Smith
Starring: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloë Moretz, Helena Bonham Carter, Jonny Lee Miller, Jackie Earle Haley, Bella Heathcote, Christopher Lee and Alice Cooper
Distributed By: Warner Bros. Pictures
Rated: PG-13
Release Date: May 11, 2012

“His name was Barnabas Collins, and he was the finest man this family ever knew.”

With its unique blend of gothic intrigue, romance, and melodrama, Dark Shadows staked the soap opera status quo in the heart in the late 1960s. The series, which ran from 1966-1971, was unprecedented in daytime television for its supernatural stories filled with vampires, ghosts, witches, werewolves, and the occasional zombie or warlock. My mother would race home from high school to watch Dark Shadows, hypnotized into submission by Barnabus Collins (Jonathan Frid), 18th-century vampire and master of Collinwood Manor. With its blood-and-thunder performances and atmospheric interiors, Dark Shadows became a pop culture phenomena with 1,225 television episodes and numerous films, novels, comics, and audio dramas dedicated to the Collins family.

For those dying to revisit the creaky, cobwebbed halls of Collinwood Manor, director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood) has resurrected Dark Shadows as a 113-minute gothic comedy, written by New York Times best-selling novelist Seth Grahame-Smith (Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter).

Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is the master of Collinwood Manor, a rich and powerful lothario whose family built a fishing empire in the coastal Maine town that has come to carry his name: Collinsport.

After confessing his undying love for the porcelain-skinned Josette DePres (Bella Heathcote), Barnabas breaks the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), a spiteful, venomous witch who dooms Barnabas to spend the rest of eternity as a vampire. Hunted by the torch-wielding townspeople of Collinsport, Barnabas is condemned to a fate worse than death – locked in a box and buried alive forever… or at least the foreseeable future. Nearly two centuries later, the vampire emerges from his tomb to discover the year is 1972. Groovy.

Dark Shadows Barnabus Collins

After draining a dozen blue-collar construction workers in gory fashion, Barnabas returns to Collinwood Manor to find his once-grand estate (and the remnants of the Collins family) in shambles. Family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her daughter Carolyn (Chloë Moretz) live with Roger Collins (Elizabeth’s brother, played by Jonny Lee Miller), his neurotic son David (Gulliver McGrath), and David’s live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). Barnabas is introduced as a distant relative visiting from Europe with hopes of rebuilding the Collins empire, only to find the witch who cursed him is ruling the town, not with spells and curses, but good old fashioned American capitalism.

Most of the humor in Dark Shadows is found in the fish-out-of-water circumstances of an 18th-century vampire stuck in the 1970s. If this seems like a rather well-worn concept, that’s because it is. You’ve seen Johnny Depp play Tim Burton’s skittish outcast numerous times as Edward Scissorhands, The Mad Hatter, Willy Wonka, and Victor Van Dort. Barnabas Collins is introduced to every ’70’s cliche imaginable in Dark Shadows. It’s as if Seth Grahame-Smith read a Wikipedia entry on the 1970s and filled the script with as much kitsch as possible. Troll dolls, lava lamps, macramé jewelry, disco balls, crushed velvet suits – everything you might expect to see on a VH1 marathon of I Love the ’70s.

Dark Shadows Barnabas and Carolyn

Tim Burton has become a lazy storyteller. He is a complete fetishist, focused more on the trappings of a story than the story itself. Talk about diminishing returns, it’s hard to believe this is the same man who made heartwarming, hilarious films like Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, and Edward Scissorhands.

It’s as if Burton thinks he can just put Johnny Depp in a room filled with ’70’s crap and we’ll make up our own story in-between all the flat, monotonous jokes. “Oh look how absolutely zany this is! A vampire brushing his teeth in the mirror – if only he could see his reflection!” or “Did you hear that? Johnny Depp just called a lava lamp a pulsating blood urn! He has no idea what it really is!” You sure got us good, Burton.

If there’s any genuine heart in Dark Shadows, it’s buried beneath the countless references to Alice Cooper, Superfly, and Erich Seagal’s Love Story. While it isn’t as offensive as Burton’s adaptations of Charlie and the Chocolate Factory or Planet of the Apes, Dark Shadows is a rather limp, lifeless affair.

Honestly, I wish Tim Burton would just retire from filmmaking. In many ways, he already has. He’s a great artist with a unique visual style, but he isn’t a storyteller anymore. When it comes to a Tim Burton film, it seems like the story is the least important component. Instead of working on character and emotional resonance, Burton is too busy fretting over twisted trees and crooked tombstones.

Part of being a great filmmaker is having the ability to grow and mature as an artist – but Burton seems stuck in 1986. His entire filmography looks like a music video retrospective of The Cure, filled with ghostly white faces and unruly Flock of Seagulls hair. Burton should hang it up and become the world’s foremost authority on gothic set dressing… or CEO of Hot Topic, either way he’ll be draping skinny, pale-faced outcasts in black-and-white 1800s attire.

Dark Shadows had promise, if only it would have been played straight. The great thing about the original 1960’s soap opera is that it was deadly serious, which made it hysterical. Burton’s adaptation is basically Encino Man meets Addams Family Values – or Austin Powers meets Dracula: Dead and Loving It, if you prefer.

It’s a shame, because I really wanted to like this film. The first act is rather enjoyable as a straight-forward gothic vampire story, but as soon as Barnabas is introduced to the ’70s, it’s nothing but “Bang A Gong (Get It On)” and awkward supernatural sex scenes set to Barry White.

Do yourself a favor and just wait five years for the eventual Dark Shadows reboot instead…

1 Comment »

  1. “Tim Burton has become a lazy storyteller. He is a complete fetishist, focused more on the trappings of a story than the story itself.” AGREED. Great review.

    Comment by Doug — May 11, 2012 @ 9:59 am

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