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Eccentricity Doesn't Go Far in Dark Shadows

  • Christa Banister Crosswalk.com Contributing Writer
  • 2012 5 May
  • COMMENTS
Eccentricity Doesn't Go Far in <i>Dark Shadows</i>

DVD Release Date: October 2, 2012
Theatrical Release Date: May 11, 2012 (2D theaters and IMAX)
Rating: PG-13 (for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking)
Genre: Comedy, Fantasy, Remake
Run Time: 113 min.
Director: Tim Burton
Actors: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Jonny Lee Miller, Bella Heathcote, Chloë Grace Moretz, Gulliver McGrath, Alice Cooper

While one can’t help rooting for—and thoroughly loving—a little eccentricity in the often cookie-cutter world of Hollywood, let’s just say it’s probably about time for the dynamic duo of Johnny Depp (The Rum Diary) and Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland) to start seeing other people—professionally speaking, anyway.

Like the singer/songwriter who teams up with the same, tried-and-true producer on album after album, there’s a slightly stale, all-too-comfortable feeling about the eighth collaboration between Depp and Burton in Dark Shadows. Naturally, one could probably place a little of the blame on the source material, a sudsy, supernatural-themed soap opera with a cult following than ran from 1966 to 1971, but the bulk of what’s wrong with Dark Shadows is the sneaking suspicion that you’ve already been invited to this garish costume party before.

See, in Burton’s world, the story has almost always played second fiddle to the fantastical scenery, and Dark Shadows is no exception, sadly. And given that pop culture is already suffering from a severe case of vampire fatigue (brace yourselves, there’s more with Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter and the final installment of the Twilight franchise waiting in the wings), there needs to be a pretty compelling reason for the audience to get invested in the tale of a formerly imprisoned vampire named Barnabas Collins (Depp) who’s now charged with protecting his very kooky family.

As you’ve probably guessed by now, the film’s driving narrative is about as threadbare as they come. In the film’s opening moments we discover (with a tired voiceover, no less) the details of the Collins’ family history. In better times, they were enjoying the spoils of a very successful fishing empire, which led them to build the movie’s central stage piece, an opulently beautiful home that’s now a full-on Norma Desmond level of creepy thanks to a rather disgruntled employee.

After being rejected by Barnabas, who’s always been infatuated with a doe-eyed gamine named Josette (Aussie newcomer Bella Heathcote, In Time), Angelique (Eva Green, The Golden Compass), who just happens to moonlight as a witch, casts a spell that not only sends poor Josette to an early grave but turns Barnabas into a vampire. But unlike the pin-up worthy Edward Cullen who’s a strict vegetarian and sparkles in the sunlight, poor Barnabas has not only sprouted a set of nasty fingernails and unsightly fangs but is now confined to a coffin for centuries, too.

In what’s a lucky break (or not, considering the fashion of the day), Barnabas is eventually resurrected, thanks to a crew of construction workers who stumble upon his grave while digging on the Collins property. Now forced to adjust to life in the 1970s, Barnabas hopes to help restore his family’s name and social status.

Naturally, the bulk of Dark Shadows’ laughs result from Barnabas’s fish-out-of-water observations about the free-love era. Baffled by everything from lava lamps to frozen waffles to Karen Carpenter, the “tiny singing creature” gracing the TV screen, Depp relies on his same deadpan, arched eyebrows charm while playing the lovable oddball.

Feeling even more phoned in than Depp’s performance, however, is the film’s lazy direction. When you’ve got great talent on board like Michelle Pfeiffer (New Year’s Eve), Helena Bonham Carter (Harry Potter and the Deathly Hallows: Part 2) and a quick-witted newcomer like Chloë Grace Moretz (Hugo), what’s the point of getting them all dressed up only to give them no place to go?

In Dark Shadows, all the attention to detail was apparently reserved for the film’s aesthetic quality. Considering that weird is pretty much Burton’s modus operandi, however, that’s not even all that awe-inspiring anymore. So when the camera’s done panning over every detail of a room, the script quickly segues into let’s-shock-them territory, whether it’s the random bursts of violence, a thoroughly bizarre sex scene when Barnabas eventually succumbs to Angelique’s charms, a slew of blush-worthy double entendres or the darkest parts of Dark Shadows where characters dabble in the occult to downright scary effect.

From time to time, the whole we’re-just-making-it-up-as-we-go sensibility may give some movies a much-needed madcap spark, but in Dark Shadows it simply comes across as nearly two hours of unnecessary frustration, less the creation of a mad scientist than a bad idea that simply didn’t deserve the green light.

CAUTIONS:

  • Drugs/Alcohol: Social drinking and cigarette smoking, plus a group of free-spirited students are shown smoking weed.  
  • Language/Profanity: God’s name is misused on a couple of occasions, plus a smattering of other profanity including he--, da--, bast---, and bit--.
  • Sex/Nudity: Countless sexual innuendos, often involving crude references to the male anatomy. A woman is referred to as a “whore.” David informs everyone at the dinner table that Carolyn “touches herself” and makes loud noises while doing so. Angelique is often shown wearing very low-cut shirts and dresses, and in one scene, she opens her jacket so Barnabas gets a pretty good view of her breasts (no nudity, just a lot of cleavage). In a very bizarre love scene, Angelique and Barnabas have sex (no nudity, but the scene goes on and on for comedy’s sake, apparently).
  • Violence: Definitely more bloody and gruesome than the Twilight franchise but not as gory as TV’s True Blood series, there’s still a pretty high body count, thanks to Barnabas’s pervasive thirst for human blood. Without giving too much of the plot away, several characters are killed in sporadic acts of off-screen violence. We also see two young women leap to their death and another character die (and thrown into the nearby muddy waters) after a blood transfusion gone wrong.
  • Supernatural/Occult: References to hell, demons and Satan. The ghost of David’s departed mother warns the Collins’ house inhabitants of impending danger. Angelique is a witch with a very vengeful side, and it’s her curse that not only turns Barnabas into a vampire but ensures he’s buried alive for centuries. She also uses her “powers” to get whatever she wants, including the death of the woman who David really loves. SPOILER ALERT: As Angelique begins to realize that Barnabas is really, truly never going to love her, she ups the ante on the spells and basically destroys everything she can before literally cracking under the pressure.
     

Christa Banister is a full-time freelancer writer, specializing in music, movies and books-related reviews and interviews and is the author of two novels, Around the World in 80 Dates and Blessed Are the Meddlers. Based in Dallas, Texas, she also weighs in on various aspects of pop culture on her personal blogFor more information, including her upcoming book signings and sample chapters of her novels, check out her Website.