Thursday, 3 May 2012


Warner Bros. Pictures
Now Showing

Dark Shadows was a late 1960s, supernaturally-themed daytime soap opera centred on the cursed Collins family. The show received an uptick in popularity -- and cult status -- when it introduced Barnabas Collins, a 200-year-old vampire with a penchant for hypnotism and snacking on young girls.

Tim Burton's film version, starring regular collaborator, Johnny Depp (both are professed fans of the original TV series) as the bloodsucker, isn't so much a soap opera as a fish out of water -- and time -- comedy (of sorts), whereby the 1770s vampire finds himself awakened in 1972, having been buried alive by angry villagers two centuries earlier.

But unlike the recent 21 Jump Street, which successfully took the late 1980s drama about youthful looking cops going undercover in high schools and turned it into a raucous comedy, Burton's experiment is less successful; the director unable to decide on a tone with Dark Shadows by turns comic, camp and even scary, but never convincingly or cohesively so.

The once great Collins family has been reduced to a mere handful -- matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), teenage daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), Elizabeth's ne'er-do-well brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), and his grief-stricken young son, David (Gulliver McGrath) -- and their standing in the seaside Maine community of Collinsport, is in name only.

Their downfall has a great deal to do with the Angel Bay fishing company, which has usurped the Collins cannery fishing contracts. It also happens to be owned and operated by Angelique (Eva Green), the same witch who cursed Barnabas to vampirism when he refused to return her love many moons ago.

That love-hate relationship is revived -- and spectacularly so in one scene -- when Barnabas returns, coincidentally at the same time new governess, Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), arrives at Collins Manor to tutor young David. Victoria bears an uncanny resemblance to Josette, the woman Barnabas did love back in 1772, and whom Angelique sent to a watery grave.

Barnabas's resurrection is a truly frightening scene (well, for this wuss, anyway), with the thirsty vampire going to town on the necks of the work crew who are unfortunate enough to unearth his coffin. But any horror and tension is immediately upended by a blatant piece of product placement.

Sadly, Burton and Depp only intermittently remember to utilise Barnabas's true, bloodthirsty nature -- another highlight has Barnabas munching on a bunch of munchie-suffering hippies -- mostly relying on Barnabas's kooky appearance, ye olde worlde speech, and bemused reactions to the wonders and mysteries of the 1970s.

The same goes for the rest of the cast -- which includes Jackie Earle Haley as Collins Manor groundskeeper, Willie Loomis, and Helena Bonham Carter as Dr. Julia Hoffman, the psychiatrist treating David -- who have storylines which are introduced, completely forgotten, and then returned to if only for some form of closure. Bonham Carter's story arc ends with the suggestion of a sequel which will surely -- hopefully -- never come.

Credit, or blame, where it's due: the screenplay was penned by Seth Graham Green, the novelist responsible for the book, Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter. Here's hoping his adaptation of his own book (due in Oz cinemas in August) is a far more confident, less schizophrenic affair.

At the very least you could say the film looks great. Burton's regular collaborator, Colleen Atwood, revels in the costume design of the period, and the production design by Rick Heinrichs is retro gothic, or vice versa.

And the cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel (Amelie, and The Half Blood Prince) is suitably dark but no where near as muddied as Alice In Wonderland (thankfully, Burton did not shoot Dark Shadows in 3D or post-convert it). But then, saying a film is better than Alice In Wonderland (one of 2010's worst films) is low (or no) praise, indeed.

Perhaps it's time Messrs Burton and Depp had a mutual parting of their creative ways? The vibrant collaborative process which spawned Edward Scissorhands (1990) and Ed Wood (1994) has progressively soured over the past decade and a half, slightly revived by Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005) but irredeemably poisoned, cursed if you will, by Alice.

It's time you saw other people, guys. Don't make us bury you alive for 200 years!


  1. I don't know what it was about this flick, but it just didn't do much for me. Sure, it was funny and had moments that seemed like Burton was having some fun, but then he would just totally let loose of that comedic side to him and get too dark and serious. Just should have stayed with that goofy, fish-out-of-water comedy idea that it originally had because it worked very well. Good review D.R.

  2. Thanks for the read, Dan. I was already resistant to the film given that I knew the original DS was a soap and the trailer for the film made it out to be a comedy. Perhaps if Burton had picked just one genre/tone, the film may have been more successful. As it is, it's a stylish mess.