This is a story about a man cursed to stay in the darkness for 200 years until he escapes to find himself alone and confused in a new world he never knew. No, I’m not talking about Barnabas Collins in the new Tim Burton/Johnny Depp vehicle and television show redo, Dark Shadows; I’m talking about myself sitting through this frighteningly unfrightening film that is an insult to its source material. OK, so it wasn’t 200 years long – but it certainly felt like it.
The new Dark Shadows movie is very loosely based on the television soap opera and movies of the ’60s and ’70s, but where those monstrous melodramas with vampires, ghosts and werewolves had a gothic, creepy and unconventional feel to them, the new film instead is presented as a comedy that is neither funny nor frightening. If Burton wanted to make Beetlejuice 2, he should have done that instead of desecrating this classic that he is purported to have great respect for.
I’m a fan of Tim Burton’s and he is responsible for some of my favorite films (i.e. Pee-wee’s Big Adventure, Batman and Edward Scissorhands to name a few), but somewhere along the time of Sleepy Hollow (1999) this eccentric director “jumped the shark” (please Tim, do NOT remake Jaws) and started directing remakes instead of original movies, and the results have ranged from mediocre (Planet of the Apes) to the bloody awful mess that is Dark Shadows.
Dark Shadows begins in the late 1700s as the wealthy Collins family moves to America and builds the seaport fishing village of Collinsport, Maine. When colonial-era philanderer Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) spurns the love of a jealous witch, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), she kills his true love and then curses him with being a vampire, forcing him to live for eternity without his beloved Josette. Too make matters worse, Angelique incites the townspeople to chain and bury Barnabas, where he stays for 200 years until construction workers in 1972 inadvertently uncover his long-forgotten casket. The story then turns into a fish-out-of-water farce with the centuries-old vampire experiencing the modern world while helping the remaining Collins family members regain their stature in the community that their forefathers had created.
The new Dark Shadows movie also stars Michelle Pfeiffer (Batman Returns) as Elizabeth Collins, Helena Bonham Carter (Alice in Wonderland) as Dr. Julia Hoffman, Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen) as Willie Loomis and Chloë Grace Moretz (Kick-Ass) as Carolyn Stoddard. The cast is fine and the art direction is exquisite, as it is in most Burton films, but the script, by Seth Grahame-Smith, should have been buried and forgotten, lest any audience ever be cursed to see it come to fruition.
Author Grahame-Smith has made a name for himself out of rehashing classic material and giving it pop-culture palpability (see Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter – both of which are being made into films as well.) I have no problem with the mixing of genres and in fact I often find the blending of opposing brands intriguing, but in the case of Dark Shadows, Grahame-Smith has not just combined one concept with another, he’s also given it a tone that in no way resembles its ancestral spirit.
There is a great ’60s and ’70s soundtrack in Dark Shadows, but it is so in-your-face-obvious about trying to get you to buy a CD or download the music that it becomes a distraction (maybe a good thing in this case). The film is riddled with 40-year-old references, but most are set up in a way that is just downright stupid. Oh, here is the hidden Macramé room, and here is our table full of ’70s games. You mean the Carpenters are a band and they don’t build things? They even drag poor Alice Cooper into this nightmare of a movie for a cameo appearance.
To be fair, there are a few eccentric Barnabas Collins lines in this film that were amusing, and if you know nothing about the original series, then maybe this movie will work for you, but Dark Shadows is not and was never meant to be a comedy. Sure, some of its sixties schmaltz was corny, but for its era, it was spellbinding and spectacularly spooky.
As a child, I saw the House of Dark Shadows film, which was a companion piece to the television series, and it literally scared the hell out of me, to the point that for years afterwards I could not sleep without having a bed sheet clustered heavily around my neck to protect me from vampire bites. But the “Addams Family” style comedic remake of the classic Dark Shadows never even tries to be scary, and even if you forgive Burton, which I don’t, for attempting to turn the whole thing into a joke, it’s just not funny.
SIDE NOTE: If you are interested in a great commentary on how vampires have gone from something to be afraid of to now boyfriends and fodder for farce, check out, “A New Breed of Human,” a fun Ignite Phoenix presentation by Tiffany Brown.