PLOT: Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) has the world at his feet - or at least the town of Collinsport, Maine. The master of Collinwood Manor, Barnabas is rich, powerful and an inveterate playboy ...until he makes the grave mistake of breaking the heart of chambermaid Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). A witch, in every sense of the word, Angelique dooms him to a fate worse than death: turning him into a vampire, and then burying him alive. Two centuries later, Barnabas is inadvertently freed from his tomb and emerges into the very changed world of 1972. He returns to Collinwood Manor to find that his once-grand estate has fallen into ruin. The dysfunctional remnants of the Collins family (led by Michelle Pfeiffer and Jonny Lee Miller) have fared little better, each harboring their own dark secrets.
REVIEW: I don’t get the whole “Let’s hate on Johnny Depp and Tim Burton films!“ fad. Doesn’t make sense to me. Yeah, I’ll agree that they need to do more projects outside of each other (especially Burton) and that their union has steadily produced less-than-stellar results over the years but they have made some solid films together. There's no denying or arguing that.
EDWARD SCISSORHANDS, SLEEPY HOLLOW, SWEENEY TODD: THE DEMON BARBER OF FLEET STREET, and ED WOOD are the clear high points. Anyone who argues otherwise obviously has an intense dislike/hatred for beautiful visuals, touching stories, and filmmaking on a grand scale. I feel sorry for those people.
Only THE CORPSE BRIDE and CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY fail to truly impress and that’s mostly because the former was missing Henry Selick (the actual director of THE NIGHTMARE BEFORE CHRISTMAS) and the latter was a remake of a film that was perfect to begin with.
Then there’s ALICE IN WONDERLAND. I realize it made like a billion dollars at the box office and is beloved by pre-teen girls and stoners around the world but I hated it. I’ve even revisited it a couple of times since it’s theatrical release to see if it would grow on and …nope. Film still sucks. Murky, muddy, ugly, and dire. A criminal misuse of both Burton and Depp.
Which brings me to the duo’s reinterpretation of the cult classic soap opera DARK SHADOWS. If WONDERLAND didn’t exist and wasn’t pegging the bottom of the Depp/Burton barrel like a lead weight, SHADOWS most certainly would be. This is not the duo’s finest hour.
But, strangely enough, the lack of quality here isn’t due to either of them but we’ll get that in a moment. Depp‘s performance, despite not resembling Jonathan Frid (the original Barnabas) or Ben Cross (the 1991 version) in the slightest, is fun and loaded with that quirky charm he’s famous for. I wouldn’t rank in his TOP TEN or even TOP TWENTY performances but Depp was clearly having fun with the character and I can’t really knock him for that.
And Burton, believe or not, is actually showing signs of growth as a filmmaker here. Clearly a step up from ALICE. His usual over-reliance on whacked-out visuals (some wild stuff here but nothing reaching the bizarre heights of SCISSORHANDS) and angles (everything looks remarkably steady) has been toned down (Collinwood Manor is magnificently creaky and odd without ever going full Burton).
Burton has also loosened up with the uber-dark color palette he’s been relying on since …well, forever. The color scheme in SHADOWS is like a warm Mario Bava flick. Dark but trippy and colorful. Hard to describe but definitely a treat for the eyeballs. Impressive visuals was not something this flick was lacking.
And yes, before you ask, Burton mainstays Helena Bonham Carter (who plays Dr. Julia Hoffman) and composer Danny Elfman are present and accounted for …but they’ve been toned down as well. Well, mostly toned down. Carter’s orange hair is an absolute eyesore but her performance (outside of a out of nowhere BJ) is fun. Elfman’s score is fun too and is light on the manic pixie sh*t he usually doles out for Burton pics.
Hell, DARK SHADOWS is fun. I’ll admit that. This isn’t really a summer movie and would’ve probably played much better had it been released in October but it is fun for what it is. I realize that doesn’t jive with what I said a minute ago but I will explain myself. Trust me. I will. I think.
So Depp works, Burton works, Carter works, and Elfman works. Who else works? Well …everybody does. There’s not a dud performance in the movie. No joke.
Eva Green is flat-out awesome as evil witch Angelique. You need look no further than her for the true star of this flick. She’s so good you’ll wish the entire movie was about her (I’d love to see a remake of NIGHT OF THE DARK SHADOWS, one of the original cinematic spin-offs of the original series, with her in the lead) and that they’d ditched everyone else and just focused on her endless quest to destroy the Collins family. Granted, her scheme is a little MUCH (you’d think punishing Barnabas would’ve been enough) and it does lose clarity towards the end (as if a vampire battling a witch wasn‘t enough, a ghost AND a werewolf jump into the mix out of nowhere) but Green totally works.
Michelle Pfeiffer and Jonny Lee Miller do their able best with the thinly-written roles as the heads of the Collins family. I might be giving them a little too much credit since I was thrilled to see Pfeiffer re-teaming with Burton nearly twenty years after BATMAN RETURNS and Miller will always be Crash Override from HACKERS to me but whatever. Their characters may not have worked -- Pfeiffer scores some good scenes with Depp early on but is quickly shuffled into the background and Miller’s arc is thoroughly pointless -- but their performances did.
Chloe Moretz fares a little better as the rebellious Carolyn. Was a tiny bit icked out by the way Burton oogles her with the camera and thought her character was a little out of place amongst all the supernatural shenanigans (a last minute plot twist attempts to rectify this but is breathtakingly incoherent in its execution) but Moretz does well and handles the script issues (more on that in a second) a like a pro.
Same goes for Gulliver McGrath’s David and Jackie Earl Haley as groundskeeper Willie. Both are pros and score some fun moments (Haley steals nearly every scene he’s in) but neither really amounts to anything in the grand scheme of things. Harsh but true.
I 100% blame Seth Grahame-Smith’s script for character issues. Hell, I blame his script for all the problems this movie has. The entire cast and crew are trying their hardest to make the best film they can but none of that matter when the f**king script is there derailing them at every turn. Burton should be ashamed for leaving a novice like Grahame-Smith (an author who’s penned such novels as ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER and PRIDE AND PREJUDICE AND ZOMBIES) in charge of a such a beloved property.
A script is the backbone that allows a movie stand tall and proud. It is what makes up for whatever flaws the visuals and performances may have. A good script can make even the worst movie seem tolerable.
Unfortunately, DARK SHADOWS didn’t have one. What it had was a massive series of disconnected events that were strung along in such a fashion as to fool the audience into thinking they were watching a complete movie when they were actually watching a sketch show that happened to resemble the old television series most people don’t even remember.
I remember it (my Dad and I used to watch the re-runs of it back when they were on the Sci-Fi Channel) and also remember the two movies (I should have reviews of HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS and NIGHT OF DARK SHADOWS this weekend) and revival series (very cool and very inexpensive over on Amazon) that were spun off of it but most people don’t. And that lack of knowledge won’t cue them into the fact that this flick is NOT the DARK SHADOWS any of us fanboys grew up with. It vaguely resembles it and has some of the same characters and situations …but isn’t it.
Oh and as if the horrific tone issues (Is it a comedy? Is a horror movie? Is it a horror-comedy? Is it a spoof?) plaguing DARK SHADOWS weren’t enough, Grahame-Smith apparently wanted to cram all 1225 episodes of the original series into a single movie. He never once figures out what the focus of the movie should be and then simply opts to go with all of them. Each plot point -- whether it be the origin of Barnabas, Angelique’s obsession with him, Roger’s failures as a father, Angelique’s stranglehold on the canned fish industry, Dr. Hoffman’s attempt to cure Barnabas’s vampirism, David’s dead ghost mother, Victoria’s hidden past, Elizabeth’s reviving the family cannery, the aforementioned werewolf, Barnabas’s trouble understanding modern society, or the massive costume ball with a special guest appearance by Alice Cooper -- is given about ten minutes of screentime and is quickly dismissed. That’s nuts.
Scratch that. That isn’t nuts, that’s poor screenwriting. What’s really bad is the romance between Barnabas and Josette/Victoria (Bella Heathcote) that SHOULD’VE been the main story is the one Grahame-Smith seems least interested in telling. It’s too bad really. Had the focus been on them (and Heathcote’s lovely performance) instead of all that other pointless nonsense (Roger’s arc should’ve never made it past the first draft), DARK SHADOWS might’ve been a lot better than it ended up being. Unfortunately, that isn’t the case and what audiences have been left with is a pale shadow of what could’ve been.
I didn’t hate Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS but I didn’t love it either. The sumptuous visuals (the opening train ride set to “Nights In White Satin” by The Moody Blues was wonderful), nods to the original series (loved the brief cameo from the original cast), and excellent performances from all the actors (Green and Heathcote being the standouts) almost make me want to give it a light recommendation …but that damn script keeps popping into my head. I’m still trying to wrap my head around a script this cluttered and overstuffed actually making its way into theaters. Ugh.
This turn of events definitely makes me worry ABRAHAM LINCOLN: VAMPIRE HUNTER and BEETLEJUICE 2, both of which were penned by Grahame-Smith, are going to suck. Let’s hope this was just a case of the wrong writer for the job.
That’s it. I don’t have anything else to say. This is my third draft (first one wasn’t that very good and the second was deleted as a prank by someone who shall not be named) of this review and that’s two too many reviews for a movie as slight as DARK SHADOWS. Three out of four adamantium bullets.