Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows”

Dark Shadows 2012 banner

Yesterday I watched the recent Tim Burton remake of “Dark Shadows” and, much to my surprise, actually enjoyed it. I had seen a snippet of the opening sequence online and was intrigued enough to want to see it on the big screen, so the following day I hunted it down and found that it was still playing at a bargain theater not 20 minutes away from me.

Dark Shadows original series cast

Mind you, I used to watch the original series with my mother back in the 70’s, which probably explains my fixation with Gothic imagery; and after a brief re-acquaintance with the show in the early 90’s, I have been a fairly devout fan ever since, following it’s various incarnations and adaptations through its brief rebirth in the 90’s and beyond. So,when I finally saw the much anticipated trailer for the Tim Burton version, I was horrified to see what seemed to be a wacky irreverent spoof of my beloved show. I was so upset by this that I vowed that I would not only not go to see it, but that I would swear off of Mr. Burton’s future endeavors until further notice. So, imagine my surprise when I found myself rushing to get to the $3 theater to catch an afternoon showing of the very movie I had vowed so vociferously not to see.

For starters, the trailer that was released to the public is very misleading. Although the movie is presented with tongue planted firmly in cheek, the humor is a (mostly) more subtle than the non-stop laugh fest portrayed in the trailer. In fact, many of the jokes were things I might  have written into one of my stories, save for a couple of blatant gags like the love making scene between Barnabas and Angelique, which started out kind of fun, but devolved into slapstick special effects overkill. Even so, Tim Burton’s stylized Gothic vision really delivered the proper ambiance, especially in the supernatural scenes, and the well advertized Alice Cooper cameo was not so gratuitous as I had originally imagined it would be. One thing that was missing, however, was the Dark Shadows theme song, which would have helped set the mood for the die hard fans. Although the pop tune selection was fun and appropriate to the time period, Danny Elfman’s orchestral score was forgettable and could have taken a cue from the original show which had several memorable themes that the fans would have instantly recognized and appreciated.

Grayson Hall as Dr. Julia Hoffman in Night of Dark Shadows (1971).

That being said, the cast was great and composed mostly of inspired choices; I say mostly because I felt that Helena Bonham Carter’s portrayal of  Dr. Julia Hoffman was a bit lacking. Dr. Hoffman’s character in the TV series was a little more complex than the shallow lush depicted by Ms. Bonham Carter; but this is probably more due to a weakness in Seth Grahame-Smith’s script rather than in the actress’s talent. Another issue I had was that so much time was spent on Angelique and Barnabas’s toxic love/hate relationship that when it came time for Barnabas to interact with Victoria Winters, I felt their “true love” was a bit milquetoast in comparison.

Barnabas has post-coital regret in Tim Burton’s “Dark Shadows” (2012).

On the other hand, I did like the way they reconciled the duality of the Victoria Winters/Maggie Evans character, which was a bit sloppy in the original show, and the mystery of who she was and where she came from, which didn’t have time to play out in the initial series before actress Alexandra Moltke bailed to have a baby forcing her storyline to be grafted onto Kathryn Leigh Scott’s character, Maggie Evans. In Burton’s version, Maggie Evans, charmingly portrayed by doe-eyed actress Bella Heathcote, grew up being able to see dead people. As a little girl, her parents once witness her engaged in a lively conversation with a ghost they cannot perceive so the have her committed. After years of being locked away in an asylum, she escapes and is directed by her ghost gal-pal to answer an ad for a governess for a “prominent family”; on the train ride from New York to Collinsport, she sees an ad for a ski resort in Victoria and comes up with her new name.

Bella Heathcote as Victoria Winters.

Most of the rest of the movie is fun and the cast in great.  and Eva Green is alternately scary, funny, sexy and pathetic in her portrayal of the witch, Angelique Bouchard. Michelle Pfeiffer is weary but strong as materfamilias, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. Conversely, Jonny Lee Miller’s Roger Collins is reduced to a philanderer and negligent father to sweet and vulnerable David Collins, sympathetically played by young Gulliver McGrath–a vast improvement over the overbearing brat he had been interpreted as by past actors. I was not sure how to react to the choice of Chloe Grace Moretz as Carolyn Stoddard. I enjoyed her very much in both “Kick Ass” and “Let Me In”, and do not doubt her talent, but I was curious as to why someone so young was chosen to portray the spoiled daughter of Elizabeth, who in the series used to carouse in bars and embarrass her straight laced mother no end. Although she wasn’t quite party girl the original character was, she was definitely smoldering  as the frustrated teen who was waiting to turn 16 so she could move to New York City and live the bohemian life. My only complaint with her character was the last minute revelation of her supernatural curse, which wasn’t even hinted at throughout the rest of the film.

“House of Dark Shadows” movie trading card featuring Nancy Barrett as Carolyn Stoddard rising from her grave.

Jackie Earle Haley is sufficiently creepy as the estate groundskeeper, Willie Loomis and, lastly, there is his master, Johnny Depp’s Barnabas Collins. His is not as subtle as earlier renditions of Barnabas Collins who could pass for human when not vamping out. Depp’s Barnabas looks like a cross between Nosferatu and the blanched, sun-shy phase of Michael Jackson. Much time is spent on gags demonstrating his antiquated notions and perceptions, some amusing, like when he is mesmerized by a lava lamp, believing it to be “pulsating blood urn”; others a little cloying, like his attack on the “tiny enchantress” in the television set. Even so, Depp’s straight-faced dry delivery works with his overwrought antediluvian dialogue, particularly when used as a preamble to a horrible event like when he tells a group of young hippies that he must regretfully kill them all.

All in all, it wasn’t perfect, but it was a lot better than I expected it to be and I’ll probably pick up the DVD for my collection when it comes out.

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