By Gary ‘Shady Silhouettes’ Murray
Starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter. Jackie Earle Haley and Chloe Grace Moretz
Written by Seth Grahame-Smith and John August
Based on the series by Dan Curtis
Directed by Tim Burton
Running time 113 min
MPAA Rating PG-13
Selig Film Rating Rental
Dark Shadows was a TV soap opera from the 1960’s. The story concerned a vampire, Barnabas Collins, and a family in Maine. Along the way, there were also ghosts, were-wolves and other beasts of the night. It was creepy and very different from any other program on television at the time. I remember finding it VERY slow and quickly became bored with the entire exercise. I was much more interested in Batman.
The show went off the air in April of 1971 but remained a cult favorite in re-runs. It also had two different spin-off movies and a total remake on television in 1991 and in 2004. The latest person to take on the idea of Dark Shadows is horror director Tim Burton, the mad genius behind such favorites as Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Batman and Edward Sissorhands.
This tale begins in Liverpool at the founding of the country, 1752. Young Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) and his family travel to America to start a new life. The town they found (Collinsport, Maine) becomes a thriving fishing community and the family becomes wealthy beyond belief. Barnabas has an affair with Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) but finds he is in love with another, Josette. Heaven hath no fury as a witch scorned, and Angelique is in fact a witch. She places on Barnabas the curse of being a vampire and convinces the village to capture and bury him alive.
Flash forward to 1972 and the Collins family has fallen into bad times. Elizabeth Collins (Michelle Pfeiffer) struggles to keep the house and family afloat. Her staff has dwindled along with her fortunes. She has the care of two children as well as the 100 room mansion.
One night, a digging crew hits a large coffin buried deep in the ground. Opening it, we see the fully formed and hungry Barnabas. After taking his much-needed feast, he finds that the world is much different than when he was buried 200 years ago. He doesn’t understand things like McDonald’s, cars, television and phones. He is a stranger in a strange land. But, he does recognize Collinwood Manor and goes back to his roots.
Once at the home, Barnabas convinces the family to accept him as a distant relative. Elizabeth instantly sees the monetary gain of housing the creature of the night. Barnabas wants to establish the rightful name of Collins. Then he discovers the bump in that road.
Angelique is still alive and will do everything in her magical powers to keep the family from coming back. It becomes a battle between these two titans of the netherworld. While this is going on Dr, Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) is trying to ‘cure’ Barnabas of his blood lusting affliction. Also added to the mix is the new nanny who bares an uncanny resemblance to Josette.
Johnny Depp is brilliant with the role, giving a performance that is at times sinister and at other times extremely comedic. He once again shows that he is one of the greatest actors working in Hollywood. While he delivers a stellar performance, the problem with Dark Shadows is in the words and deeds of the characters.
The writers have not figured out what kind of a movie they wanted to make. Is this a fish out of water story, a comment on the silliness that post-hippy world or a straight out horror film? The movie never makes up its mind what it wants to accomplish.
The hodge-podge screenplay needed a focus, something that Tim Burton has trouble grasping. He has made many flicks that have great elements but not a collective whole. Mars Attacks! and Planet of the Apes are two prime examples of works that do not work.
Eva Green is best known as Vesper Lund in Casino Royale, the Daniel Craig outing as 007. As a Bond girl, she isn’t given that much to do except look great. Here, she steals just about every scene she is in. She goes tooth to fang with Johnny Depp and delivers the best performance of the piece. Her Angelique is a wonderfully crazed witch who will stop at nothing to stop the man she loves. The film works best when she and Barnabas go after each other.
Both Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter are given little to do and their inclusion into Dark Shadows feels like stunt casting. To even a higher degree is the waste of talent of Chloe Grace Moretz and Christopher Lee, both previous vampires in Hammer Films. Only Jackie Earle Haley delivers a small part with the kind of comedic punch the material deserves.
Dark Shadows will probably drive in the horror fans and those who wax nostalgic for a show they remember being better than it was. I found the film mostly mediocre and a tremendous waste of a talented cast and crew. The film looked great, with amazing sets and costumes; it just didn’t have anything at all to say.