By Jon Gallagher
Trailers on TV and the internet make it appear that the new Dark Shadows movie is a comedy, perhaps a parody of the old TV show. Neither is true. There are some funny parts, but I think you’ve seen all of them now if you’ve been watching the trailers.
It’s also not quite a horror film, although it’s closer to that than a comedy. Maybe it’s just a poor example of both. The trouble is, because it tries to do both, it comes off as being a bad comedy, and a not so good horror.
The movie starts off with background on Barnabas (Johnny Depp) and how his mother and father start a very successful fish cannery in Collinsport, Maine. Young Barnabas, somewhat of a playboy, rejects the affections of a servant girl, Angelique Bouchard, who is a witch. Angelique places a curse on the Collins family that kills the mother and father and turns Barnabas into a vampire.
Barnabas is chained in a coffin and buried for 196 years. When he’s unearthed by a construction crew, it’s 1972 and Barnabas is thirsty.
He finds the Collins mansion where he grew up and introduces himself to the family that’s still left. Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) is the head of the family now, living in the mansion with her daughter Carolyn, her brother Roger, his son David, and a live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffmann. There’s also a caretaker, a maid, and a governess (who has just arrived and is the reincarnation of Barnabas’ lost love).
Barnabas may be an evil vampire who kills his prey, but he’s deeply committed to family and that seems to be the entire struggle in the movie. Angelique is still around, a beautiful CEO (despite her age of 200+) of a rival cannery which has all but destroyed the Colllins’ family business.
The plot is pretty straightforward: Angelique still wants Barnabas. Barnabas wants Victoria (the reincarnation of his lost love). Angelique and Barnabas battle. It’s not much of a plot.
The humorous side of things is seeing a guy who’s been chained up for 200 years pop up in 1972’s society. Barnabas has to deal with electricity, cars, TVs, and Alice Cooper (“The ugliest woman I’ve ever seen!”), and tends to blame anything he can’t understand on the devil. This wears thin quickly.
I could be wrong about this, but it seems that every vampire’s rulebook I’ve ever seen clearly states that vampires aren’t allowed out during the sunlight hours. Director Tim Burton skirts this rule by dressing Barnabas up like Michael Jackson with sunglasses and a huge black umbrella. For a moment, I thought we were going to have a “Thriller” moment.
Burton seems to be confused as to which way to go with the script. He didn’t do it as a complete parody, so the comedy he does use falls flat. There’s little to no suspense (something I thought horror films were supposed to have), so he fails on that front.
The movie is saved by Depp, who works his magic to create a sympathetic character whose evil side kills innocent people. He expertly weaves the two characters (good guy/evil guy) so that we’re left cheering for him when we need to, but feel a little guilty when we do.
I’m not sure why they picked 1972 to set the film rather than today. I thought at first, it might be a salute to the original Dark Shadows, but it went off the air in 1971, not 1972. I then wondered why they didn’t make the year 1974 so that the music they used would have been accurate (“No More Mr. Nice Guy” 1973, “Top of the World” 1974, “You’re the First, the Last, My Everything” 1974). You’d think that if they went to that much trouble to set the year, they’d get the music right.
Fans of the old TV show will not be entirely disappointed by the movie, although I can’t see them jumping for joy either. The movie uses just enough of the elements from the old soap opera to keep it interesting for fans, yet it brings enough new information in to make it interesting for a new generation as well.
This is minor, but I also missed the original soundtrack. The TV show had the most eerie music ever written as an opening theme and the music they played behind the actors’ dialogue had its way of keeping you on the edge of your seat. That was missing from the movie and I was disappointed. Including it might have made the difference.
This isn’t exactly a spoiler alert, but you may want to skip over this paragraph if you haven’t seen the movie . . . The most interesting part I found was when the Collins family threw a big party at their home and Barnabas greeted a group of older Collinsport citizens at the front door, He thanks them for coming and they thank him for inviting them. The four at the door are Kathryn Leigh Scott, Lara Parker, David Selby and Jonathan Frid. Fans of the TV show will recognize (the names at least) as the original Maggie Evans, Angelique Bouchard, Quentin Collins, and Barnabas Collins respectfully. Watch quick . . . It’s over very fast.
I left the theater confused. I think that’s because of the conflicting message Burton sent by not being to combine horror and comedy. He did, however, leave the door wide open for a sequel.
I’ll give it a C minus. It wasn’t as bad as it could have been, but it didn’t do much to satisfy the six months I’ve been waiting on it.
On a sad note, Jonathan Frid, who played the original Barnabas Collins and who had a brief cameo in this movie, passed away on April 13. He was 87.