Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows

Written by John Augus and Seth Grahame-Smith
Based on characters created by Dan Curtis
Directed by Tim Burton

Needs more spires…

The thing about Dark Shadows is it is the type of film that Tim Burton directing and Johnny Depp starring should make it a natural hit and an amazing cinematic experience. But instead things just don’t turn our right, in fact, they go pretty wrong pretty quickly. The dark and dreary atmosphere is unfortunately too familiar with Burton’s other works, even though it should stand out here. The plot is the weakest part, the whole jilted ex-lover out for revenge trope we’ve seen time and time again. Sure, it’s dandied up with all the spooky trappings, ghosts and vampires and witchcraft, but it’s nothing new. Unfortunately, that’s a big problem. Just reading through the plots for the series, there was a lot of things going on, most of which is ignored and discarded, though there are a few references. But what we end up with is bland.

The Transylvanian version of The Help didn’t do as well

Though the period setting of 1971 is largely used on a few jokes that fall flat and hippie murder (killing hippies is soooo Kent State…) it does help in giving some characters a distinct look as they’re dressed in period clothing as opposed to modern fashion (and it helps that retro looks are in and what old is new!) Beyond that, you’ll not even notice that it is set in the past and not modern day, the few times older technology is used, it’s not intrusive and it keeps things from getting diluted with cell phone videos of vampire action being uploaded to YouTube.

The film is not all bad, there are bright spots. The strongest aspects of Dark Shadows are the actors. Everyone is bringing their A games. But they got little to work with, and the film can’t be carried by performances alone. And remember that it’s Collins, not Cullen. Let’s not say things we can’t take back and have sparkle vampires starting to wander around…

Three Stooges witchcraft

Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) – A 17th-century man cursed to become a vampire by a scorned lover. He’s imprisoned in the ground for 200 years and is freed in 1971, where he sets out to try to bring his family back to prominence. There is no actor I could have conceived of playing this part except Johnny Depp, and no one else could have done it justice. But Depp seems to be acting a constant stream of Jack Sparrow variations, eventually it’s going to get tiresome. Eventually means real soon.
Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) – A former servant of the Collins family 200 years prior and a witch, who has been enacting revenge against the family ever since Barnabas spurned her. Eva Green is spectacular and looks spectacular.
Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) – The matriarch of the Collins family, and the only thing holding it together until Barnabas arrives with help and secret treasure. Michelle Pfeiffer is frakking awesome. It is great to see a strong role for an older woman in a Hollywood film.
Carolyn Stoddard (Chloë Moretz) – Elizabeth’s teenage daughter, who seems to think she’s some sort of rocker chick and is permanently scowling.
Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) – Hired to be the governess of David Collins. Victoria is a name she made up on the train ride over. She bears a striking resemblance to Barnbas’s true love, Josette du Pres, and quickly catches his eye.
Actual photo of the original test audience five minutes after the film ended…

Who needs realistic color?

Jonny Lee Miller is largely wasted as Roger Collins, his character’s role is so diminished and one-dimensional it wasn’t worth including in the film, we’ve already had the message that “family is the most important” beaten into our heads long before he exits the film. His son David Collins is played by Gulliver McGrath, who looks like a clone of the boy from Jumanji (straight down to the same hair!) And let’s not get into how original a creepy kid who sees dead people is. Jackie Earle Haley is the caretaker of the manor, but Ray Shirley is the standout of the two servants, because she’s just there and it’s cool. It’s not a Burton film if he doesn’t squeeze in Helena Bonham Carter, and she’s there as Dr. Julia Hoffman, who in this incarnation is a psychiatrist for David that takes an interest in Barnabas.

A prologue introduces us to Barnabas as a child and his father impressing the meaning of family onto him. And the servant girl Angelique (the daughter of another servant!) who has an eye for Barnabas. But Barnabas doesn’t love her with all his heart, which drives her mad with revenge. She hypnotizes his true love into committing suicide and curses him into becoming a vampire. Then Angelique leads a mob against him and has him buried alive. 200 years later (196 years, exactly) he’s accidentally discovered and returns to the Collinswood mansion to find it in disrepair, and what is left of the Collins family filled with dark secrets of their own. Their business is in near ruin, and death haunts them.

What kind of f’ed up Cinderella film am I trapped in?
The first thing you should do when you see a coffin buried far beneath the earth and wrapped in heavy chains is to greedily open it…

Barnabas vows to return the family to glory, thanks to his vampire hypnosis powers and his knowledge of a giant stash of treasure inside the mansion. Good thing there was all this secret gold ex machina to help the plot…

Angelique freaks when Barnabas is revealed to have returned, she’s spent the last 200 years systematically destroying his family and taking over all the fishing business. But she’s still in crazed stalker love. He spurns her yet again, so the revenge is on, big money style! or something. The rebuilding of the Collins business commences, but danger is ahead and things will soon be exploding out all over. But first Barnabas must figure out how people are in the TV! Ha, that Barnabas!

There is a weird class warfare angle to the whole plot, with the jilted servant and the rich heir to the family. Barnabas is fine to use Angelique for sex, but he doesn’t love her, and spurns her for another. She is like a toy for him to play with until he finds his true love. It’s also sort of creepy that she’s at least the second generation of her family to be a servant for the Collins.

The ghost with the most…time spent wandering the halls
Silly witch, that’s not how you bowl!

Even the killing of construction workers and hippies by Barnabas is an affront against the working class and the 99%. Why not go after the all old white male executives of Angelique’s fishing company? Heck, they are the enemy of the family and helped destroy their livelihood (and a few are used as her goons in a later scene!)

One of the major points of conflict is who owns the town of Collinsport, the Collins or Angelique. This could be seen as a takeoff of the alternate reality from It’s a Wonderful Life, where Bedford Falls is renamed Potterville. Except Collinsport is already named after rich people. And can someone really own a town? (Actually, some towns have put themselves on eBay when they went broke, so yeah, I guess you can…)

Large portions of this film are Barnabas walking places and looking at things.
Can you tell it’s 1972? Should we be even more obvious?

Outside of the class issues, let’s move on to gender roles. What happens to Carolyn Stoddard is not only a parallel to womanhood that should have been explored, it is avoided for most of the film and ends with a brief and unsatisfactory payoff that goes nowhere. I don’t want to spoil it too much. Every female character not related to Barnabas is in a race to get into his pants. Though while Dr. Julia Hoffman is pretty single note, Angelique is a well-fleshed look at the descent to obsession and madness. There was a lot of scenery chewing going on.

There is a lot of drama in the air, but Elizabeth is great as the woman holding the family together as it neared the abyss. She shows she is capable of more, and her initial hints that she might be greedy and selfish turn out to be acted for the protection of the family and not for her own interests. It is natural that she would show up at the end armed with a shotgun, the ticked off mother bear defending her clan. She may not be able to compete with the vampires and witches and ghosts, but she’s not going to sit things out.

Once I’m finished with this cup, I’m going to find the bastard who switched the coffee with Folgers Crystals and chop off his balls!
Ha ha ha! That’s our Barnabas!

The marketing for the film seems to be unable to decide if they want to call this a comedy or a drama. It isn’t really a comedy, though there are a few funny parts, the majority is more serious in tone. The fish out of water scenes were a frustrating mix of good humor and blown chances. While not a total wash (and certainly not the worst of the films we’ve gotten advanced screening passes for – looking at you, Jack and Jill!) Dark Shadows isn’t as cool as I hoped it would be. It seems more like something you wait until it shows up on TBS for endless reruns between Law & Orders.

Jessica Rabbit is alive and attending vampire balls…
The new flip-top Barnabas toys, available only with a McDonald’s Happy Meal…

It’s a miracle of plot device necessity!

Rated 3/10 (I’m pre-ghost!, is the teeth plaque he’s brushing also invisible?, Vampires in Black)

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3 thoughts on “Dark Shadows

  1. Pingback: Dark Shadows | Mysterious Order of the Skeleton Suit

  2. Johnny Depp proved himself to be no Jonathan Fridd. In terms of playing Barnabas Collins, Depp isn’t even worthy to shine Fridd’s shoes with his tongue!

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