May 23 2012 by Ian Bunting, Airdrie & Coatbridge
DARK Shadows is a horror/comedy based on the sixties/seventies U.S. television gothic soap of the same name.
Johnny Depp stars as vampire Barnabas Collins who is set free after 200 years in imprisonment and returns to his ancestral home, where his descendants are in need of his protection.
Dark Shadows marks the eighth collaboration between Depp and director Tim Burton and given the traditional off-beat tone of the pair’s previous work, we shouldn’t be surprised that Dark Shadows is an oddball mainstream movie.
Dark themes and gothic splendour are Burton’s stock in trade but the trailer made this film look like a pure comedy... and that mish-mash of genres plays out in the full feature.
Barnabas’ brutal disposal of the construction crew who free him is the closest the film gets to horror but truly laugh-out-loud comedic moments are also few and far between.
Previous Burton partner John August (Corpse Bride, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory) and television writer Seth Grahame-Smith (The Hard Times of RJ Berger) co-wrote the story and it works at its best with Addams Family-style hi-jinks of ghoulish characters interacting with a normal world.
And this world is set in the 1970’s, recreated by Burton through hippies, smoking pot, references to the Vietnam War and, predominately, his use of music.
August and Grahame-Smith’s story meanders during a very saggy mid-section as lots of chatting in the Collins’ mansion takes over.
The early arrival of Bella Heathcote’s Victoria seems to set her up as the film’s focus but as soon as Barnabas awakens this plot strand is virtually abandoned and she and Gulliver McGrath’s young David fulfil severely underwritten roles for the rest of the movie.
Depp suffers from the strangeness of his character (“I am neither good nor a gentleman”) as his tendency to maim and kill people makes him quite unlikeable.
Michelle Pfeiffer (Elizabeth) teams-up with Burton for the first time since she whipped audiences into a frenzy as Catwoman in Batman Returns but she and ‘Mrs Tim Burton’ Helena Bonham Carter (Dr. Julia Hoffman) are underused and wasted.
Faring much better is Eva Green (Angelique) as a wild-eyed, slinky, seductive antagonist.
And a rough and tumble love scene with Barnabas and Angelique, complete with Barry White music, causes even more room damage than Bella and Edward’s ‘first time’ in Breaking Dawn: Part 1.
Christopher Lee and Alice Cooper pop up in fun cameos, the latter described by Barnabas as “the ugliest woman I’ve ever seen”.
Once again Burton creates a sumptuous looking film. A fantastic opening flashback sequence sees blue skies and white clouds turn to a grey storm as things deteriorate for Barnabas.
Burton continues to mix desaturated and bright colours throughout and the gothic grandeur of the Collins house and Barnabas’ black tears are beautifully rendered.
The finale is good fun too, as Angelique takes on the Collins clan and does some ‘renovating’ of their mansion.
Dark Shadows isn’t Burton at his best, and suffers from not quite knowing what kind of film it wants to be.
But gorgeous visuals, a few laughs and top drawer bookends mean it doesn’t deserve to completely skulk in the shadows.
Rating – 6 out of 10.