Dark Shadows (2012) – A Review

Tim Burton's Dark Shadows cast
The cast of Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows

Director Tim Burton and Johnny Depp once again team up, this time for a big-screen version of the 1966-71 gothic soap opera Dark Shadows.

Not having ever seen the television show, I’d still wager it was much better than this big-budget film.

It’s 1760 and we meet Barnabas Collins (Depp) who falls in love with Josette du Pres (Bella Heathcote). This doesn’t sit well with the Collins’ maid Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) who is madly in love with Barnabas. Not sitting idly by and filled with rage Angelique casts a spell on Josette to kill herself, places a curse on the Collins family and turns Barnabas into an immortal vampire who is subsequently buried alive.

Fast forward to 1972 and Barnabas gets free of his buried coffin and meets the Collins descendants – Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), her brother Roger (Johnny Lee Miller), daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), son David Gulliver McGrath), his psychiatrist Dr. Julia (Helena Bonham Carter), caretaker Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) and the new nanny Victoria Winters (Heathcore), who bears a striking resemblance to Barnabas’ dearly departed Josette.

Barnabas sets about adapting to this new groovy era, hide the fact he’s a vampire from his family and attempts to rebuild the family fishery business against powerful Angelique who since Barnabas has last seen her has amassed a fortune creating a rival fishery company and is now regarded as an upstanding citizen in Collinsport.

Johnny Depp Eva Green Dark Shadows 2012
Depp and Green

There are plenty of characters here to play with and it’s an appetizing setup. For the first twenty minutes I was getting hooked with this story. The film however falls completely flat with all of it and just begins to aimlessly drift until the inevitable final showdown between Barnabas and Angelique that really isn’t all that exciting.

Dark Shadows is a pretty strange film. I can see how this premise could work and have it be a continuing story through a series of episodes where each could allow time to focus on individual characters and subplots and gradually move a bigger storyline forward little by little.

Here – there’s not much of a story. Barnabas getting the family business back up and running is pretty much it. But there’s really not much struggle to it and it’s mainly done in a montage set over a Carpenters song. That’s it and it’s done. So what else you got?

It appears really nothing else.

Dark Shadows horror comedy movie 2012
Helena Bonham Carter and Bella Heathcote
hanging out in Dark Shadows

The characters are all wasted and aren’t given much time to shine. Oddly characters, ones that I thought were really crucial to the story at the beginning, just disappear for long extended amounts of time. It’s really strange. This was especially odd with the new nanny Victoria, who has a very long introduction in the film making her way to get this nanny job. Then she vanishes.

I can see this one little thread in the film could make up an entire television episode. Victoria adapting to this strange family, trying to win over the difficult David, but the film just drops her and brings her back when it’s necessary for her to be the focal point of Barnabas affections towards the end, which at that point feels very artificial and not built up enough for me to care about.

And this goes for the majority of the Collins family. It’s almost like they just included them in the movie because they were on the television show. Whether the filmmakers had anything for them to do or not didn’t make a difference. So the family members show up do a few random things and disappear again.

The comedy, which mainly comes from Barnabas trying to figure out all the wild things in 1972 are all pretty tired gags. Depp does his best to sell them, but I just didn’t find most of it funny.

The ghosts and scary bits felt routine and there weren’t anything special about them, nor did they add anything to the film. A lot of times they felt like they came from a different movie. I don’t mind a meshing of comedy and horror, but you have to try to mesh them together in a way to create a consistent tone and here it just doesn’t come together.

It’s almost like they tried to take some of the best bits out of the television show and just crammed them in here not bothering to make them connect into any kind of narrative structure.

Tim Burton Eva Green Dark Shadows 2012
Green getting direction from Tim Burton

This really started to remind me of those lazy tv show reunions they used to have, where they really wanted to just make a movie and reunite the old cast, but didn’t have any story worth telling when they got them all together. It’s like that tired plot of saving the family home by developers or saving the family business. Then filtered throughout are tired little subplots that take up the remainder of the movie. Whoop De Do.

Dark Shadows is just a poor Tim Burton movie set on autopilot. The whole Burton dark/gothic thing that once felt fresh has really gotten pretty old at this point. It seems like he just does projects where he can put that surreal, dark Burton Stamp on it and that’s the main contribution people expect. It’d be nice to see him try to do something different or at least pick better stories and focus on telling them then the production design and how everything looks.

Although Green did look hot as a blonde, that didn’t make sitting through Dark Shadows worth it.


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3 Responses

  1. I thought this film was a colossal bore- couldn't make it through it during a free On Demand weekend- and believe that the biggest mistake was in making it a comedy. Creating a "Dark Shadows" film with Gothic undertones would have been more of a challenge, but the result might have been a decent salute to the beloved tv series instead of this junk. The film rolled out as if it really didn't have a script, and the actors were all just winging it. After more than an hour I turned it off, went on Wikipedia and read the plot synopsis- and couldn't believe how convoluted it ended up becoming. Glad I didn't invest the time.

    By the way, what is it with Johnny Depp and his penchant for films in which he is covered in makeup? Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka, Jack Sparrow, The Mad Hatter, Barnabas Collins, Tonto…anyone else think that this is really weird?

  2. spaceodds says:

    Another Burton stinker. For me, the last half decent film he directed was Sleepy Hollow and even that was half a stinker, but I guess I just have a weakness for films inspired by Hammer horror.

    The last truly great film Burton directed was Ed Wood in 1994, yep nearly two decades ago. A time when a film about the worst director in history was a charming and heartfelt affair, a time when Johnny Depp was doing films like Dead Man. Twenty years on, what do we have? Depp is doing stuff like Pirates 29, whilst a bio-epic on the worst director in movie history would now be an excruciating painful experience and will leave you ganging for justice. Yes I'm talking about *cough* Michael *cough* Bay or…. Uwe Boll, there I said it.

  3. Anonymous says:

    I am really hoping that Willy Wonka and The Chocolate Factory is on Haphazard Stuff's remake recoon list to have it requested the whole
    story how it all began!

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