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2 reviews, 12 user ratings

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Dark Shadows
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by Peter Sobczynski

"Welcome To Collinwood"
4 stars

With its clearly rushed production schedule, actors who seemed to be cast largely for their looks than for their talent, a large cast of characters who all seemed to be holding lurid secrets that would invariably be unveiled whenever things began to lag and plot twists and developments that often boggled the mind and other organs, "Dark Shadows" was in many ways similar to the other soap operas with which it shared afternoon airtime with during its original 1966-1971 run. The difference is that while the other shows only featured metaphorical monsters--adulterers, bigamists, rapists, fancy lads and the like--"Dark Shadows" had actual monsters at its core--witches, werewolves, ghosts, ghouls and, at the center of it all, a 200-year-old vampire by the name of Barnabas Collins (played by the great Jonathan Frid, who passed away just a couple of weeks ago) who returns to his family home as a distant relative while still suffering from the throes of a still-potent curse. Of course, in the wake of stuff like "Buffy the Vampire Slayer" and "The Vampire Diaries"--not to mention all that "Twilight" crap--the fusion of soap operatics and the supernatural may not sound that unusual but it was a big deal back in the day and while the show was never a blockbuster hit like "General Hospital," it did amass a loyal cult following during its original run and later on in syndication. In subsequent years, there were a couple of attempts to revive it but they never quite took--whatever producer Dan Curtis was able to accomplish the first time around proved difficult to replicate and, like many of the characters that would appear on it over the years, the show eventually faded into the ether.

Over the years, both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have admitted to being enormous fans of the show--perhaps not that big of a surprise--and have discussed bringing it to the big screen as a tribute to one of their formative cultural experiences. And yet, even with their combined clout and track record at the box-office, the project remained a whim for years until the massive international success of their last collaboration, their awful take on "Alice in Wonderland," gave them the power to do pretty much anything they wanted (I am sure that even "Mars Attacks II" might have been considered under the circumstances) and they decided to use it to finally make a "Dark Shadows" film a reality. However, when the first trailers and TV ads premiered a couple of months ago, fans of the original show wildly objected to their joke-heavy tone and bewailed the fact that their beloved show was apparently being treated as a goof--apparently forgetting that the original had an undeniably campy appeal to it in the first place. (Besides, where were these people when such serious-minded shows as "Dragnet" and "21 Jump Street" got similar comedic spins?) Having seen "Dark Shadows," I can assure those fans that they can relax because the film is nowhere near the laugh fest presented in the ads and actually does a halfway decent job of capturing the show's melodramatic moodiness while spiking the material with welcome bits of silliness and dark humor here and there. On the other hand, I have a sneaking suspicion that the vast majority of the target audience--younger viewers who have never seen the program and who are expecting the wacky comedy promised by the ads--are going to be taken aback by often grim, downbeat and decidedly bloody bit of weirdness that the film has to offer. In other words, most audiences are probably going to be really, really pissed with this one, though I also suspect that amidst the inevitable outpouring of complaints, some viewers here and there may find themselves quietly saying "You know, I kind of liked it."

In a prologue filled with enough incident to fill a movie all by itself, we are introduced to the Collins family and discover the origins of the curse that would befall them for generations to come. After coming over to America from Liverpool in 1760, the family establishes a wildly successful fishing business that allows them to eventually reside in a vast an rambling mansion in a town that has been named Collinsport in their honor. For years, all is well but when the dashing young Barnabas Collins (Depp) makes the mistake of rejecting the considerable favors of servant girl Angelique (Eva Green) for those of the lovely and fragrant Josette (Bella Heathcoate), everything literally goes to Hell. It turns out that Angelique is a witch and she responds to Barnabas' turn-down by vowing to destroy his life, which she does by killing his parents, hypnotizing Josette so that she flings herself off a nearby cliff to her death and placing Barnabas under a curse turns him into a vampire doomed to live forever without his lost love. When that doesn't prove to be enough, Angelique turns the townspeople against him and they wind up chaining him up and burying him in a coffin to spend eternity in the ground.

Of course, you can't keep a good vampire down for too long and after a 200-year-rest, Barnabas is accidentally unearthed and released into 1972-era Collinsport. After making his way back to his ancestral home of Collinwood Manor, he discovers that both his home and family are both shadows of their former selves. Inside the crumbling manse reside the few remaining members of the Collins family, led by reclusive but fiercely loyal matriarch Elizabeth (MIchelle Pfeiffer) and including her lazy and greedy brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), her rebellious teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) and his lonely and oddball 10-year-old son David (Gulliver McGrath). Others currently residing in the mansion include Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), a live-in psychiatrist who is supposed to be helping David get over the mysterious death of his mother (a process complicated by the fact that he insists that he can see her ghost), weirdo caretaker Willie (Jackie Earle Haley) and Victoria, a mysterious young woman who has just been hired to serve as David's governess and who, to the astonishment of Barnabas, bears a startling resemblance to lost love Josette. Barnabas vows to help restore the family and their failing fishing concern to its former glory and revoke the curse that has allegedly plagued them for decades and decades but is stunned to discover that the owner of the rival cannery that now dominates every aspect of Collinsport is none other than the astonishingly well-preserved Angelique herself. Needless to say, 200 years has done little to sag her anger or ardor towards Barnabas (among other things) and she vows once again that if she cannot have him for herself, she will destroy him, Victoria and what is left of his family.

In news that may not come as much of a surprise to anyone who has ever seen a Tim Burton movie, the screenplay is the weakest element to "Dark Shadows" by far but in a weird way, its deficiencies almost feel like a strange homage to the show itself. Needless to say, every character is burdened with a long and complicated backstory but while that sort of thing is almost necessary when dealing with the necessities of filling a five-day-a-week schedule, trying to jam it all into the confines of a two-hour film is a juggling trick that screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith simply is not up to pulling off. No doubt Burton wanted to make sure that all the key characters from the original series made appearances but for what little they contribute to the story as a whole, both Roger and Dr. Hoffman could have easily been eliminated without too much fuss and allowed for a more streamlined story. As it is, the narrative moves along in fits and starts in such a manner that there are ties when it feels as though entire scenes are simply missing. In a weird way, the disconcerting effect that this has almost matches the sensations that occur when someone misses a couple of weeks of their favorite soap and they have to piece together what must have happened in the interim on their own. If this were done intentionally, I would deem it to be a brilliant storytelling approach but since that would require cleverness on the level of a Charlie Kaufman to properly conceive and execute, it just feels as though a bunch of stuff was randomly jettisoned here and there in order to make room for the big special-effects set-pieces and an extended cameo from Alice Cooper as himself that threatens to drag the proceedings to a dead halt. (Look, I dig Mr. Cooper, as the Times might call him, as much as anyone else but do we really require a second number from him?)

And yet, despite more or less failing in the grand scheme of things in regards to presenting a well-told story, "Dark Shadows" does do a lot of little things right throughout to help offset the narrative damage. Despite what the aforementioned trailers suggest, the film is not a wall-to-wall comedy and actually does a pretty good job of echoing the palpable Gothic atmosphere and brooding nature of the original show, albeit on a budget that probably could have covered the cost of its entire five-year run and then some. At the same time, when it does shift into a more humorous mode, those bits are, more often than not, reasonably inspired--I especially liked Barnabas confronting a pair of mystical golden arches the way he discusses the nature of love with a group of made-for-TV hippies before repaying them for their advice in a most unsettling manner. I also liked most of the performances, the best of which manage to find a way of acknowledging the inherently campy nature of the material while treating it with enough of a straightforward and respectful manner to prevent the whole thing from spiraling off into sheer silliness. As Barnabas, Johnny Depp is admittedly turning in yet another one of his self-consciously weirdo performances but when it works as well as it does here--effortlessly scoring big laughs in certain scenes and achieving something close to genuine poignance in others--why complain? As the malevolent Angelique, Eva Green is a dervish of erotic malevolence that so unashamedly revels in her own nastiness that most viewers will finds themselves helpless to resist her. Michelle Pfeiffer is good as the powerhouse matriarch and it is her down-to-earth manner that keeps the material as grounded as it is while newcomer Bella Heathcoate (whose name alone qualifies her for inclusion in a "Dark Shadows" movie) demonstrates that Burton still has a knack for finding striking and wide-eyed gamines to populate his bizarre tales. For me, however, the film is pretty much stolen by up-and-comer Chloe Grace Moretz as Carolyn. Granted, she doesn't have much to for the most part and the last-minute revelation about her character comes from even further out of left field than was probably intended but whenever she is on the screen, she demonstrates so much genuine charisma that you cannot take your eyes off of her and when you consider that she is always sharing the scene with some combination of Johnny Depp as a lovelorn vampire, Eva Green in a series of heart-stopping outfits and millions of dollars of elaborate special effects and production design, that is a considerable achievement, especially for someone who is only 15.

For the most part, "Dark Shadows" is kind of a mess and at times, it seems like the antithesis of the contemporary big-screen blockbuster in that it often feels like a film that has been designed to alienate more viewers than it attracts. Fans of the show will no doubt be put off by the occasional jokiness and the elephantine production that has been bestowed upon a property celebrated for its cheapo nature. Those coming into it expecting a wild "Beetlejuice"-like comedy based on the ads will likely be equally upset by the often somber storytelling and melodramatic excesses. Additionally, teen girls who are looking upon the thing as nothing more than "Johnny Depp Meets Twilight" are likely to be appalled to discover that the vampire in question has no hesitation towards indulging in bloodsucking when necessary and may be put off by the surprising levels of gore on display. And yet, he says in a very tiny voice, I kind of liked it just because it is so defiantly odd and if nothing else, I certainly enjoyed it more than most of Tim Burton's recent endeavors. My guess, however,is that few of you may feel the same as I--the word of mouth on this one is probably going to be terrible--and if that is the case, all I can do is ask that if you are going to unleash any curses on me for steering you the wrong way by recommending it, please try to keep them relatively clean and above the belt, unless they involve spending eternity with Eva Green, however.

link directly to this review at https://www.hollywoodbitchslap.com/review.php?movie=22535&reviewer=389
originally posted: 05/10/12 19:19:23
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User Comments

9/14/17 morris campbell fun Depp killed it 4 stars
9/09/13 mr.mike Depp carries it, some humor is too silly. 3 stars
3/03/13 Nicole Davis Liked it but the ending could have used some work. 4 stars
11/18/12 Meredith B Burton does it again in this creepy rendition of the original series! 4 stars
10/07/12 Jeff Wilder Better than the trailers let on. But not much better. 3 stars
9/22/12 D I was almost bored to sleep. 2 stars
9/05/12 Albert I actually quite enjoyed this. I knew it wasn't a comedy. Pfeiffer + Burton 20 years later! 4 stars
6/03/12 Charles R.L. Power As a fan, I loved the Maggie Evans bit. 4 stars
5/25/12 Louise Entertaining but got a bit silly towards the end. Don't like Eva Green! 4 stars
5/19/12 BoyInTheDesignerBubble If it were my film, it would have been played seriously, not camp. 1 stars
5/15/12 Kimberly Brown Johnny Depp was good but it wasn't really my cup of tea. 3 stars
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  11-May-2012 (PG-13)
  DVD: 02-Oct-2012


  DVD: 02-Oct-2012

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