Movies: Dark Shadows

Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Bella Heathcote
Directed By: Tim Burton
Written By: Seth Grahame-Smith (screenplay); John August & Seth Grahame-Smith (story), based on the television series by Dan Curtis
Warner Bros., Village Roadshow Pictures
PG-13; 113 min
3 stars (out of 5)


I am not personally familiar with the 60s phenom that was Dark Shadows, though my mother assures me it was well worth rushing home from school to watch it. I did very much enjoy the short-lived 90s reboot that featured Ben Cross as Barnabas Collins; I even have the Innovation comic book tie-ins.

For those unversed in the story, it is that of the aforementioned Barnabas, 1700s-magnate-turned-vampire reawakened in the 1960s (or, for this film, 70s). The original television series was a daytime soap filled with witches and curses and star-crossed lovers. The 90s remake did not fare well, probably because they attempted to air it at primetime (perhaps they believed the success of Twin Peaks opened the door for that kind of thing; alas, they were wrong). In any case, the original version had a solid cult following, with Burton and Depp counting themselves among their number, hence the idea to make a movie.

Unfortunately, they seemed to be unclear whether to go for camp—which the 60s series unwittingly became due to low production values—or horror, and so the film Dark Shadows is a strange and ungelled mash of both. It has definitely funny moments, some intentional and some not, and the final scene calls on any number of horror tropes, though it never actually becomes frightening in any way. Meanwhile, with so many characters and so little time, there is a quantity of wasted talent and unexplored plotlines littering the stage here.

Even so, I enjoyed Dark Shadows more than I expected to, which is why I give it a solid three stars. I went in with not very high hopes, which is, I suppose, the key to truly enjoying a movie: not giving yourself room to be disappointed. Dark Shadows did not do well in cinemas this past summer thanks to a crowded market and middling reviews, plus fans of the 60s serial were disappointed and even irked by a movie that seemed to be making fun of something dear to their nostalgic hearts. But I don't think that was Burton's or Depp's intent. Best I can gather, they meant to (a) play up what they especially loved about the show to begin with, and (b) introduce it to a whole new generation. It didn't work, sadly, and I can't say I'd go so far as to recommend this movie. But I wouldn't warn anyone away from it, either. It is what it is, which is to say it's nothing special—just an odd duck outside of its time, rather like Barnabas Collins. Look at the movie as you might look at him, with a sense of: Huh. Isn't that weird? And then walk away shaking your head.


Roland D. Yeomans said...

I wanted to like this movie which is why I was disappointed. The production values were superb but, as you say, the rudder of the movie kept sweeping toward farce and then to horror, never arriving fully at either destination. As always, a fascinating review.

Jessica Acosta said...
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