Movie Review: Dark Shadows

Stars: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloe Grace Moretz

Rated PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking . Running time 113 minutes, Horror/Comedy/Fantasy

Plays like: Beetlejuice (1988), Death Becomes Her (1992)

I really can’t get a general idea of how many people are tired of the Burton/Depp collaboration, but then I look at 2010’s Alice in Wonderland and numbers don’t lie; people just can’t get enough. I can, but I’m only one man and I don’t pay for the movies anyway. Nevertheless, after seven films together, the pair don’t show any signs of calling it quits. Their latest attempt at blending humor and the macabre, Dark Shadows, based on the 70s horror soap tv show, is a perfect example of Burton’s directorial style as well as how little he has refused to evolve his storytelling beyond special effects. Whether or not this is a good thing is up to the viewer, of course.

The year is 1752 and the Collins family owns a successful fishing company, complete with a massive gothic mansion and servants galore. Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) enjoys the simple life as the heir to the Collins Empire but after rejecting one of the maids, Angelique (Eva Green), she employs witchcraft to curse Barnabas by killing his love and damning him to existence as a vampire. After locking him in a coffin, Barnabas eventually awakens in the 1970’s to find the family business is alive, but barely. He vows to return them to their former glory, all while Angelique, still alive and more powerful than ever, vows to have him as her own or kill him herself.

If you’re familiar with Burton’s work, and chances are, you are, you already know what to expect before you read this. The humor is dark, although light in comparison to the subject matter, which is darkly comic itself, providing a vicious circle of sorts and one that may make some audiences uncomfortable while entertain the crap out of others. The eerie ghost that haunts the hallways are especially creepy (and fun) parts of the movie. Depp shares personal secrets of love and tragedy with a group of people he viciously tears apart and eats seconds later. It’s the kind of thing you’ve come to expect from Burton. Characters react accordingly to certain horrifically bizarre instances while seconds later accepting everything and moving on with their lives. Edward Scissorhands comes to mind but any one of Burton’s projects with a dark children’s bedtime story vibe to it could suffice. Heck, even Pee-Wee Herman in Pee Wee’s Big Adventure (1985) could be related. An outsider getting their place in a conformed world while never be able to quite fit in.

As much as I could point out the similarities or cliches (once again, depending on the viewer) in Burton’s films, it doesn’t mean that you won’t get some enjoyment out of the style of the movie. The sets are great, bringing to mind 1999’s The Haunting when the interior of the family mansion is displayed. Large and empty, regal yet cold. Mermaids and eels are carved into the woodwork to complete the bay setting while the dilapidated structures perfectly resemble the feeling of a family in stasis. Not growing up in the 70’s, the costume design is humorous as well as cool, as it seems a combination of history as well exaggeration. The music is something of a character in the story as well, hitting the 70’s feel on just the right note. Curtis Mayfield to Donovan, Iggy Pop to The Carpenters, I can’t imagine someone not enjoying the music offered up to set the tone of the world Depp’s character is so amused and bewildered by. Once again, not having grown up then, I almost sympathized.

The casting is good as well, Depp playing to his usual role in Burton’s films, sincerity and the unusual abound. Eva Green plays the femme fatale Angelique who is torn between wanting to be with Barnabas forever or just murder him on the spot. Michelle Pfeiffer’s role as Baranabas’ distant relative performs her role subtly and cautiously, while Helena Bonham Carter’s resident child psychologist of the family is the complete contrast, flaming red hair and outfits bright enough to blind the eyes of a senstive man. A couple entertaining cameos make the rounds too, but no spoilers here. I was especially pleased with Jackie Earle Haley’s portrayal of Willie Loomis, the manor’s caretaker. A creepy little man, he’s too dumb to be dislikable, but too lazy to be endearing. During Barnabas’ return to his family mansion, he’s taken a pseudo-tour of his former home in which Willie knows practically nothing about the house itself and doesn’t care if Barnabas knows it.

I wasn’t aware of the tv show before the movie started getting buzz but from what I understand, to simplify it is to say that it’s a serious version of The Addams Family. Fans of the show might not be as pleased with the way Burton has taken many of what may have been very serious moments in the show and turned them into quick jokes and gags here, but once again, fans of Burton’s style will find this right up their alley. Jonathan Frid, who played Depp’s character in the original series just recently passed less than a month ago and to date, it seems as though he hadn’t viewed the film before his death. It would have been interesting to see his reaction the adaption. For the new cast’s sake, I hope it would’ve be along the lines of the original cast member’s of the A-Team movie that came out in 2010. The most positive comment from a cast member was a kind of “it’s not bad, but it’s nothing like the show” while Mr. T outright protested the movie. Then again, if you could please Mr. T, he wouldn’t be Mr. T. Rocky knows.

All in all, the movie’s not bad. But unless you’re fine with the same thing Burton’s been doing for the majority of his career or you’re a fan of the original TV show and have to see what they do with it on film, waiting for DVD wouldn’t feel like eternity. Ohhh!!! Immortality puns!

Grade: C+

One Response to “Movie Review: Dark Shadows”

  1. Taylor Says:

    Thanks, I think! If I understood this message correctly, this is a good thing you’ve told me. Keep on reading!

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