Dark Shadows

Musty Vampire in Maine

         
 

11 May 2012| No Comments     by Sean Chavel

 

At first, it’s more Wuthering Heights than Addams Family. Dark Shadows is a droll vampire satire based on a TV soap that ran for five years in the 1960’s. The eighth collaboration between director Tim Burton and star Johnny Depp, and they are once again doing the weird ghoulish humor thing. But while the early scenes demonstrate a rhythm and flow, it eventually comes to a sludging halt. Perhaps that’s because the film has an uneven sense of whether it’s a black comedy or goofy comedy, a tart satire of vampires or a supernatural horror, a mischievous yuk-fest or a downer. It’s a curious film that deserves to be looked at for the pungent gothic strengths of the first half, while at the same time is one that you don’t even want to finish.

Barnabas Collins (Depp) was a 1700’s Victorian who was cursed as a vampire, was literally boxed, only to come out in 1972 in a fishing town in Maine. The film’s best jokes involve pop culture shocks – McDonalds’ arches, lava lamps, is Alice Cooper a woman? The temptress, and villain, is a witch named Angelique (Eva Green), with pale skin and bright red lipstick, who has been alive for more than 200 years herself. Her vice is that she loved Barnabas so much that when spurned, she became impelled to torment him by locking him in a coffin for two hundred years.

Barnabas is a courtly aristocrat of high morals – but he still kills nine construction workers by instinct, and then another group of marijuana-puffing flower children. No explicit killings, it’s done simply with campy cartoonish humor. But the point is, he could never love a bad girl like Angelique. She’s a nasty girl, not a sweet one.

The Collins manor is still holding up, barely, after two hundred years. Barnabas does what he can by instinct to reinvigorate the slumbering family, save their fishing company, lose his vampirism via blood transfusion, and engage in other B-grade story concepts. The manor restoration gets an inspired ’70’s bee-bop montage.

The family lineage is survived by Elizabeth Collins (Michelle Pfieffer), her ne’er do well brother (Johnny Lee Miller), children David (Gully McGrath) and Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz, angry rebellious teen!) and for whatever reason, live-in psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). And of course, groundskeeper Willie Loomis (Jackie Earl Haley, humorous in a dry, caustic way). Barnabas, by story design, gradually warms the family members, but by the time the end credits roll, you never really feel that any connection has been made between anybody.

Eva Green

That includes supposed true love between Barnabas and young governess of the household Victoria (Bella Heathcote), who is like Emily Blunt with plumper lips. With hazy recollection, you will recall their courtship just fine. But challenge yourself if you really feel a connection between them a day after you’ve see “Dark Shadows.” I don’t think you will be able to do that so easily. Temptation is such a @#!*% in this world, and Eva Green’s tantalizing blondie witch (recall her as Vesper in “Casino Royale”) breaks down Barnabas’ principles by eliciting him in a wild, wall-smashing sex scene. A man from any century sometimes cannot help himself from such a sultry vixen.

Climactically, “Dark Shadows” corrodes into a special effects demonstration that is limply unexceptional (as well as obligatory). Burton loses his way with constructing grandeur, and so I mean it when I say the film ends in a way that is limply unexceptional. Memory of the film decays into a murk that falls to the back of your brain. Twenty years ago, “Beetlejuice” and “Edward Scissorhands” had that baroque Burton magic of synergizing gothic with lyricism, wickedness with mirth, fiendishness with playfulness. Now, unfortunately, Burton and Depp movies have gone black and musty.

113 Minutes. Rated PG-13.

BLACK COMEDY / TV ADAPTATION / FRIDAY NIGHT WEIRD

Film Cousins: “Beetlejuice” (1988); “The Addams Family” (1991); “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” (2005); “Corpse Bride” (2005).

 

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Sean Chavel

About The Author / Sean Chavel

Sean Chavel is a Hollywood based author and movie reviewer. He is the Executive Director of flickminute.com, a new website that has adapted the movie review site genre by introducing moodbased and movie experience based reviews.

 

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