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IN SHORT: Disappointing. [Rated PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking.. minutes]
We cannot tell you how utterly excited we were at the thought of Tim Burton doing that Tim Burton Thing on the only soap opera cool enough for boys like Cranky (well, back in that Stone Age I was just a budding teenager) to watch religiously. I mean... you know, soap operas are for girls BUT Dark Shadows had a vampire and a werewolf and more weird stuff than you could possibly imagine going on. After an hour of Popeye 'toons and Three Stooges film shorts courtesy Cap'n Jack McCarthy and Officer Joe Bolton on the local stations, Dark Shadows (on ABC) was our bridge to adulthood.
Maybe you had to be there.
So here we are, forty years later and Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are having their go. No possible way anything could go wrong. It's just a question of how incredibly incredible the final product is going to be. So . . . we now lock all those memories and expectations behind the wall of this site's Prime Rule: You shouldn't have to know anything to "get" what the film is all about.
There is a rushed opening sequence detailing how the Collins family of Liverpool relocated to Maine and found fortune in the fishing business. How the young Barnabas Collins found love in the form of sweet Josette, all the while ignoring the blatant advances of another woman named Angelique Brouchard (Eva Green). .Angelique is attractive and attractive women have their uses but Josette was The One, as far as Barnabas Collins (Depp) was concerned.
Unfortunately Angelique was a witch with a vengeful streak a mile wide. Spells are cast. All the characters that are important to Barnabas die. Topping it all off, one final curse is laid upon the grieving Barnabas, who makes his best effort to snuff out his mortal existence and join his beloved Josette in the Afterlife -- but rises with a pair a incisors that would scare the junk out of any dentist. Barnabas rises with a thirst for revenge. And with a for blood. Not necessarily in that order. Unfortunately, Angelique has bewitched the town as well and the vampire Barnabas is chained and locked in a casket buried; again wrapped in chains, in an unmarked grave far from the Collinwood property line. She then sets her sights on the Collins family business and we move 200 years into the future. Barnabas Collins is now only a portrait on painting hanging in a prominent place in the Collinwood Manor.
The Collns family, what is left of them, has seen better days. Most of Collinwood is sealed off -- 200 rooms is just too expensive to maintain -- and the residents, Family Matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) seems to be the only member of the family grounded in any kind of thing resembling reality. Her brother, Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller) spends his days hunting for the alleged fortune hidden within the house -- it's never been found, probably with good reason; ; Elizabeth's teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloe Moretz) is booored... jusst sso borred to deaath and spends her time with headphones plugged into a cassette machine, listening to "happy music" like Moody Blues concept albums (young 'uns find an old fart to explain why that's funny...). Finally there is Roger's precocious 10-year-old son, David Collins (Gully McGrath), who has never accepted the notion that his mother died at sea. For Roger, there is a live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), and a newly hired nanny, Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote, to attend to his schooling. Ms. Winters is, mysteriously, the mirror image of Barnabas' one true love, Josette.
Which isn't a problem since Barnabas is, y'know, buried . . . until a construction project stumbles across the coffin and the workers pop the chains and get the surprise of their soon to be very short lives.
To be fair, Johnny Depp is phenomenal as Barnabas Collins, a vampire out of time who must adjust to the cultural changes that have irrevocably changed the world. Barnabas manages to connect with and arrange a partnership with Elizabeth to restore the family fortune but everything else about the story is utter crap. The script is a mess. The characters are underdeveloped and their own relationships are about as deep as an empty wading pool. Most seem as if they take a quaalude IV first thing in the morning for that extra "boost". Sure the lack of money and prestige is depressing. There is a reason why screenwriters try to avoid utilizing depressed or bored characters in any kind of lead role (short of putting a character on the road to a major collapse or revelation or something). The reason is that boring is boring and depressed yields a terrible sit.
And all the weird stuff is crammed into the story, almost as a deus ex machina afterthought.
I was not expecting a Gothic Citizen Kane from this version of Dark Shadows. It appeared to be a Goth comedy -- unfortunately I watched some advertising -- and, had it taken that route, the film would have been a lot more fun than it was. What it is is a a sloppy mess. One which can only be, perhaps, saved by the ingestion of tremendous quantities of herbal supplements. Movie viewers of a different generation (mine) used to do that back in the day. I have no idea what the demographic targets of today are dropping, but whatever it is may be the only thing that can save Dark Shadows.
On average, a first run movie ticket will run you Ten Bucks. Were Cranky able to set his own price to Dark Shadows, he would have paid . . .
Wait and roll whatever before you spin the DVD or VOD rental. If you prefer to enjoy the colors on the big screen . . . well, then go and do so.
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