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DARK SHADOWS review

Posted on November 6th, 2012
Posted on November 6th, 2012

Article by: Coop Cooper

A.K.A. The Small Town Critic

Of all A-list directors, only Tim Burton chooses to remain almost entirely in the gothic genre. His passions of late have been either adaptations or remakes of dark material and the old vampire soap opera “Dark Shadows” seems right up his alley. The original 1966 TV soap was a bit before my time and the 12-episode 1991 revival series completely failed to capture my imagination. I have no personal stake (pun intended) in a feature-length remake of the series – nor did I feel one was called for – but with such low expectations, I found myself somewhat entertained.

Wealthy 19th century fishing industry tycoon Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) spurns the love of a witch (Eva Green) who murders his fiance and curses him into becoming a vampire. She rallies the townsfolk to capture and bury him alive-ish near his “Collinswood” mansion in Maine. Fast-forward to 1972 where a governess Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) has been hired to care for a troubled child at the mansion, now populated by a zany/spooky household of eccentrics distantly related to the late Barnabas. Victoria is immediately thrusted into a world of the supernatural when Barnabas is accidentally unearthed and returns to restore his family business to its former glory. Unfortunately, Barnabas finds himself a fish out of water in this new century and the return of the evil witch complicates his business and his wooing of Victoria.

In case you couldn’t tell, this film is tongue-in-cheek to the core. The jokes range from lame knee-slappers to high-minded satire, all served very dry. Its quirkiness requires a certain mood and sense of humor in order to enjoy. Some of it is outright hilarious, such as Barnabas asking for modern dating advice from the 15 year-old family burnout (Chloe Grace Moretz) then wowing a bunch of hippies with his overly romantic world view before making a meal out of them. While the dark tone remains the same throughout, the laughs do not. What starts off as fun and amusing quickly becomes tired and uneven. Barnabas’s confusion by modern inventions such as televisions and lava lamps quickly loses its appeal.

The film also uses every opportunity to remind the viewer this film takes place in the 1970’s. The soundtrack reads like a who’s-who of that decade’s music, including Alice Cooper who makes a cameo appearance as himself.

As the story spins out of control, the constant infusion of horror tropes tilts the film like a wonky pinball machine. This chaos could owe itself to Burton attempting to squeeze in several story lines from the original soap. I suppose he felt it was necessary to pay homage to the original series, but when a completely unrelated plot point or monster shows up out of nowhere, he goes one step too far.

Depp disappears into the role so deeply, he now seems less a dramatic actor than he is a Lon Chaney-styled chameleon. At this point, it feels like he’ll never return to reality-based human characters ever again. His supporting cast of Michelle Pfeiffer, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller and Helena Bonham Carter seems to have gotten cut out of most of the movie as they had little character development aside their quirkiness. Whether they did any justice to the characters they based their performances on, I cannot say.

Besides my criticisms, the movie is fun and watchable. It fits a niche that only Burton seems interested in covering. It’s no “Beetlejuice” or even “Sweeny Todd” but I’m glad to have it since it is far and above better than the so-called serious gothic films of late like “The Wolfman” and… the “Twilight” series. It’s just weird enough to appeal to the horror fan and commercial enough to interest the general public. If you rent it knowing what you’re in for, you should digest the cheese well enough and feel satisfied, but I can’t imagine fans of the original two soap operas would appreciate what Burton did to their beloved franchise. “Dark Shadows” is currently available on DVD.

Rating: 3 out of 5 stars

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