Dark Shadows (2012)

Saw this on friday. The general consensus, at least as I’ve heard it is that the movie isn’t terribly offensive, but that it’s not great, either. I’m inclined to agree. Oddly enough, those familiar with the original series tend to be more forgiving of the film’s faults than those who aren’t; I’ve read reviews by people who hate the film with a passion, none of whom bothered to check out the original as a reference. For the record, I’m the former, having watched reruns of the 1966 series on Sci-Fi during the 90’s.

The film begins with an exposition heavy prologue, which explains how the Collins family traveled to the New World to start a fishing empire. After Joshua (Ivan Kaye ) and Naomi (Susanna Cappellaro) Collins are crushed under the weight of a fallen gargoyle, son Barnabas (Johnny Depp), rather than blaming lousy craftsmanship, decides that evil is afoot and begins studying the dark arts. Things take a turn for the worse when Barnabas’ bride to be Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote) takes a dive off widow’s peak under the spell of jealous witch Angelique (Eva Green). 200 years later, Victoria Winters (played by Heathcote as a composite of Victoria Winters and Maggie Evans from the original series), a young woman abandoned by her family, decides to take a job as a nanny for the dysfunctional Collins family, whose canning business has been threatened by fierce competition. Meanwhile, workers accidentally unearth the chained coffin of Barnabas, cursed as a vampire . Deciding to resume his post as patriarch and restore the family name, Barnabas returns to the family manor, only to discover that things aren’t quite as he left them, except, that is, for Angelique…

All of the performances tend to the melodramatic, as befitting a campy soap opera. Johnny Depp does the usual “pasty british guy in a Tim Burton movie” (see also Sleepy HollowAlice in Wonderland, Sweeny Todd, etc). Michelle Pfeiffer makes for a passable Elizabeth, and Jackie Earle Haley and Jonny Lee Miller turn in okay performances. Chloë Grace Moretz‘s take on Carolyn as a sullen, bitchy (all puns intended) teen is worlds away from the original, bubbly Carolyn of the series, and Bella Heathcote is incredibly bland and wooden, though despite being set up as the main character, her appearances tend to be brief, and she has little to no chemistry with Depp at all. Eva Green as Angelique is part Bette Davis from All About Eve and part Meryl Streep from Death Becomes Her, though neither necessarily in a good way, make of that what you will. Gulliver McGrath scores sympathy as David (if nothing else, he’s much less irritating than the original) though he isn’t given much in the way of screen time. The cameos by the original cast are non-speaking roles and painfully brief, of the “blink-and-you’ll-miss-it” variety (Alice Cooper gets more screen time then the late Jonathan Frid gets). But the best has to go to Helena Bonham Carter as Dr. Julia Hoffman, David’s live-in psychologist, here a vain, neurotic drunk (no small ‘take that” to Grayson Hall, the horrendously terrible actress from the original, who only got the part because she was married to one of the show’s writers).

The story is a mixed bag, not really certain if it wants to be comedy, drama or horror, and switches between the two on a whim. It feels like the writers were trying desperately to squeeze in as much from five seasons of the show as they could, although any one or two of the story arcs from the series could have, with a few minor changes, made a serviceable film adaption on their own. As it is, the script relies too heavily on either exposition or fish out of water gags and not nearly enough on character development, until the end, when a series of twists are conveniently revealed in rapid succession, one of which comes out of nowhere and does little to further the story. What keeps the film from being intolerable is the concept itself; the references, however changed, to the original series, and to 70’s culture in general. Fans familiar with the original, given the admittedly cheesy nature of the series, are more likely to see past the flaws than those going in blind. Honestly, for what it was, it was fun, and I wasn’t nearly as offended as I thought I would be. In any case, let’s hope a reknewed interest in the show will result in a DVD release of the real DS films: House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows.

Things I learned from this movie:

  • Ronald McDonald is the devil incarnate
  • Human hearts are both transparent and luminescent
  • The quality of a wife can be measured by the size of her birthing hips
  • Hippies are as understanding as they are thirst-quenching
  • Lycanthropy is the ultimate mythical metaphor for PMS

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