Jump to content



Dark Shadows Reviews


Recommended Posts

To talk about my personal history with the DARK SHADOWS source material seems slightly pointless even to me, but let me see if I can bring it around to the subject at hand, which is director Tim Burton's more comedic approach to the televised story of Barnabas Collins, a New England vampire protecting his family (more like his descendants) while fending off those who would do them harm. I'm pretty sure I've seen every episode, having watched the nightly reruns that aired in the city in which I grew up. It wasn't until years later that I understood that "Dark Shadows" was a soap opera shot live on tape, thus the reels of mistakes that humorously plagued the show.


But the original Barnabas, Johathan Frid (who passed away last month), remains one of my all-time favorite vampires, with his buttoned-down manners and fierce devotion to old-fashioned morals and sensibilities. And the best thing star Johnny Depp does with his revamped portrayal of Barnabas is to capture this reserved side to the elder Collins and put him in direct conflict with the times (in this case, the early 1970s).



I refused to get hung up on what Depp, Burton and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (author of ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER) lifted from the "Dark Shadows" television series and what they didn't. If the film is strong, I don't care if they fail to lift a single things from the series. But DARK SHADOWS, the movie, reveals some truly disappointing things about the world of Tim Burton, who has taken his outsider, freakshow approach to filmmaking and traded it in for a family-friendly, cliche gothic, unfunny, not scary, and patently uninspired movie, with a smattering of workable elements sprinkled sparingly throughout, most of which comes from the still-serviceable talent well of Johnny Depp.



Depp still has the sometimes uncanny ability to find the heart of even the most bizarre and damaged creatures, and breathe just enough life and spirit into them to make us want them to win. He has created a look that would be suspicious in any century, with pale white skin that practically glows in the dark, long fingernails, and a haircut that looks like it was styled in an oil slick. But Depp pierces through the old-school styles (acting and clothing), he favors to give us an often-moving performance as Barnabas, a vampire not just man out of time, but still in love with a woman who has been dead for more than 200 years.



Most of his troubles stem from his brief fling in olden times with Angelique (Eva Green), a servant at his beloved family home Collinwood, who is rejected by Barnabas in favor of the captivating Josette (Bella Heathcote), who later jumps off a cliff into the sea under a spell conjured by Angelique, who happens to be a witch. The jilted woman manages to transform Barnabas into a vampire and bury him in a coffin for a couple of centuries. Up to this point in the story, the film is told with the same amount of reverence that the TV show existed, and I wasn't instantly against the idea of having it leap into the '70s and go for some obvious jokes. Burton has made several wonderful films about outsiders attempting to fit in/clashing with the world around them, all the way from PEE-WEE'S BIG ADVENTURE and EDWARD SCISSORHANDS to ED WOOD and BATMAN. In fact, they're his best works.



The trouble with DARK SHADOWS is that Burton assembles this magnificent supporting cast and does almost nothing interesting with them, and this is a problem that has plagued so many of his recent works, especially the cash cow ALICE IN WONDERLAND. But the bigger problem with Burton's more recent works is that he's recycling some of his "weird-guy" tricks, and every line in the movie is delivered to the third balcony, complete with full volume and sweeping gestures. A ridiculous "sex" scene between Depp and Green is more high-wire act than anything remotely erotic or even titillating.


I will admit, I found Michelle Pfeiffer's take on family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard mildly captivating, but that's more because she continues to have a magnetism about her that will likely never go away. Of course a radish would look dynamic next to the deadly overplayed roles played by the likes of Helena Bonham Carter, Jonny Lee Miller and Jackie Earle Haley. Fairing slightly better is Chloe Grace Moretz as Elizabeth's mopey teen daughter Carolyn. Toss in a couple of throwaway cameos by the likes of Christopher Lee and Alice Cooper, and you've got yourself a gigantic mess.


I'm not even knocking the look of the film, which actually borders on breathtaking every so often. Burton knows how to put a shot together, and he certainly excels at allowing Depp the space to mold whatever character he's playing and add eccentricities where needed. But Burton has lost his way at actually crafting the gloriously dark and sometimes sinister stories he used to do so well, and that has been maddeningly apparent in his last few movies. I'm not quite ready to give up on him, because I have a sneaking suspicion that his next film, the animated redeux of one of his earliest works, FRANKENWEENIE, is going to be a blast. But DARK SHADOWS is a muddled, confused work by a one-time mad genius maybe needs to go off his meds when he's working.


-- Steve Prokopy


Link to comment
Share on other sites

What happened to Tim Burton?

Where has the Tim Burton I grew up watching and respecting gone? It used to be when Tim Burton’s name was attached to a film you paid attention. You anticipated the dark visions he had waiting for you on-screen, wondering what perverse ideas he was willing to explore next. He built an entire career with films like PEE-WEE’S BIG ADVENTURE, BEETLEJUICE, BATMAN, EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, BATMAN RETURNS, ED WOOD, MARS ATTACKS!, SLEEPY HOLLOW and BIG FISH. Wow… that’s some run of movies to be recognized for… making it far more unfortunate that over the past decade, he’s tainted his own name and his own style with lesser films that stylistically have become paint-by-numbers templates of what a Tim Burton film should look like. They’ve also become creatively hollow, devoid of the wonderment of which Burton’s films used to be overflowing. For the last decade or so, Burton’s films have grown colder and more detached from the immersive worlds he used to create, and whether it’s laziness or complacency or a bit of both, this isn’t the Tim Burton I used to really love. PLANET OF THE APES, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, SWEENEY TODD, ALICE IN WONDERLAND… one might be a misstep, two a fluke, but more than three is a trend. Burton’s films have snowballed to the point that when his name is attached to a film these days, you’re left wondering just how soulless this one might be. And that brings us to DARK SHADOWS, which might wind up being the emptiest of them all.

For source material that Burton and his longtime collaborator Johnny Depp (this being their eighth film together) supposedly love, DARK SHADOWS feels like a property they desperately wanted to get their hands on, and then, once they did, had no idea what to do with it. It doesn’t stay true to its melodramatic roots nor does it elect to go campy in spoofing its soap opera nature. Quite simply, DARK SHADOWS never comes to the realization of what it wants to be, and, as a result of this identity crisis, we’re stuck with a film filled with half-realized yet mostly forgotten story arcs and a novelty that quickly wears off after about 20 minutes. Most damagingly though, DARK SHADOWS serves as a concrete reminder that the Tim Burton of old, the one who always seemed capable of bringing another unique story our way, is very likely gone, and I don’t know that he’s ever coming back.



DARK SHADOWS dips into the mythology created by the original ABC daytime series, where vampire Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is accidentally released back into the world more than 200 years after he was imprisoned in a coffin. Going from 1760 to 1972 is quite the culture shock, yet all the mileage the film is able to get out of this fish out of water scenario comes in a quick montage with the resurrected Barnabas observing the bright lights of a neon McDonald’s sign, discovering blacktop and hearing the new music of the day. With that out of the way, there’s about 90 minutes of movie left to fill, and nothing left worth watching to fill it with. Depp seems to be having some fun in his portrayal of Barnabas, pulling tricks from his Captain Jack Sparrow bag to at least bring about a character worth remembering after you’ve left the theatre. But it’s almost as if Depp and the rest of the cast are acting in two entirely different movies, with neither side in on the jokes of the other. Barnabas continues to act as a proper Englishman of the 18th century, and yet the rest of the Barnabas clan (Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Moretz, Jonny Lee Miller and Gulliver McGrath), who are encountering their long lost relative for the first time seem largely unfazed by his bizarre speech and behaviors. To make matters worse, side stories involving Moretz, McGrath and the family’s new governess, played by Bella Heathcote, who may or may not have a link to Barnabas’ past, are quickly built up as if they’re going to go somewhere in the larger picture of DARK SHADOWS, only to get no attention paid to them for large bouts, before haphazardly being resolved during the film’s disaster of a finale, where supernatural shit of all kinds are thrown at the walls in the hopes something cool might stick.

The brunt of DARK SHADOWS revolves around Barnabas’ on-again, off-again love affair with Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), who, when denied the vampire’s romance, goes on a scorched earth rampage against him, his family, his loves, his business and his legacy. Too bad watching a vampire and a witch do battle over the future of the fishing business in their harbor town seems rather trivial when there’s far more interesting things that could have been done with these creatures. As a result, their conflict seems rather lame, when we’re being told of others who can see ghosts and communicate with spirits. Rebuilding a cannery or jockeying over ports at that point doesn’t even register.



ARK SHADOWS does have its moments early, but the novelty of seeing Depp’s Barnabas stick out like a sore thumb (which only the audience seems to realize) quickly grows tiresome. That leaves a lot of screen time to be filled with something, and, for this film adaptation of DARK SHADOWS, it’s not comedy and it’s not drama. Whatever it is, it’s just not very good.


-Billy Donnelly

"The Infamous Billy The Kidd"

Link to comment
Share on other sites

Join the conversation

You can post now and register later. If you have an account, sign in now to post with your account.
Note: Your post will require moderator approval before it will be visible.

Unfortunately, your content contains terms that we do not allow. Please edit your content to remove the highlighted words below.
Reply to this topic...

×   Pasted as rich text.   Paste as plain text instead

  Only 75 emoji are allowed.

×   Your link has been automatically embedded.   Display as a link instead

×   Your previous content has been restored.   Clear editor

×   You cannot paste images directly. Upload or insert images from URL.

  • Create New...