Dark Shadows review

Screenshot - dark shadows johnny depp

Can you believe this is the eighth time that Tim Burton has worked with actor Johnny Depp?  They practically know each other by heart at this point, starting way back with Edward Scissorhands and leading into the likes of Ed Wood and Sleepy Hollow.  With Dark Shadows, they moderately take the old 1966-1971 TV drama of the same name and channel it into a curious beast, a somewhat spooky comedy revolving around the antics of a vampire.  And, thank God, not one that sparkles.

The story explains the fate of Barnabas Collins (Depp), a man who, unwittingly, created a curse for himself when he wronged a girl named Angelique (Eva Green).  She not only causes the death of his parents, but also makes his true love Josette (Bella Heathcoate) throw herself off a cliff.  Following suit, Barnabas soon discovers he can’t die, as Angelique has turned him into a vampire. Soon after, he’s buried in a tomb to suffer.

Two hundred or so years later, he emerges to find… a McDonald’s sign.  The times have changed, and it’s now 1972.  He returns to his manor to find the Collins family, but in disarray, between tired family head Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), questionable brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), troubled kids Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) and David (Gulliver McGrath), alcoholic live-in psychiatrist Julia (Helena Bonham Carter), and caretaker Willie (Jackie Earle Haley), who becomes Barnabas’ unwitting ally through means of hypnosis.

Barnabas soon sets out to revive the family name by rebuilding the fishing business that started the town of Collinsport to begin with.  It’s here that he learns that Angelique is still alive.  And though she left him in a nasty place so long ago, she still surprisingly has feelings for him — which are expressed through a humorous love scene where they destroy an office to Barry White’s “My First, My Last, My Everything."

Watching Dark Shadows, it’s easy to see where some of the problems lie.  Not all of the characters are fully established, especially in the last few minutes, where characters somewhat reveal secrets that seem a little tacked on.  For that matter, Miller’s Roger character isn’t “quite there," compared to other members of the family.  Even Willie feels like he belongs more.

But it’s forgivable, as Burton enlightens the picture with a nice, spooky mood that usually fits into his films.  It’s not too scary, and there are plenty of laughs, especially as Barnabas tries to fit into the culture.  (His scene where he sits around with war-hating hippies is humorous, especially at the conclusion.)  It also has atmosphere to spare, thanks to some excellent set design and effects, even if the CG is a little too far by film’s end.

Most of the credit, though, goes to the performances.  This is Depp’s show, as he has just the right amount of vigor and accent to fill the role of Barnabas, while still maintaining a stellar make-up job.  Green is every bit his equal — a ferocious witch who really knows how to keep up the pace.  Other actors are good too, including Pfeiffer and Carter, and keep an eye out for a quick appearance by Christopher Lee.  You might just miss him.  Also, Moretz, who first appeared as Hit-Girl so long ago, definitely finds a good role here — even if her "twist" is a bit odd.  (You'll see.)

One other note — the soundtrack is superb.  There are a number of standout 70’s tunes here, along with a great score by Danny Elfman, a long-time Burton contributor.  Alice Cooper even pops up midway through, sporting his old 70’s look, complete with straitjacket.

Dark Shadows carries an entirely different tone over last week’s The Avengers blockbuster, so if you go in expecting a ridiculous vampire romp, you’re likely to be let down.  However, it has plenty of goofiness and fun to spare, particularly when Depp acts up on the screen, which he does often.  It’s kind of like the old show it’s based on, never going too far, but just enough.  That’s more than we could say for the Alice In Wonderland remake.  These Shadows are worth checking out.

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Robert Workman
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