Stop me if you’ve heard this one before: Tim Burton has teamed up with Johnny Depp to make a movie in which Depp plays a ghostly pale character who arches his eyebrows a lot, and also Helena Bonham Carter is in it.
No, we’re not talking about Alice in Wonderland. Or Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. Or Sweeney Todd, for that matter.
No, we’re not talking about those movies because, well, they’re old and talking about old movies is what IMDb and Wikipedia are for. I mean, this is a review, people! And reviews are supposed to be CUTTING-EDGE! Yeah! No one wants to read a review of a movie that’s been reviewed a thousand times before, right? That’s why this CUTTING-EDGE review is about Dark Shadows, a movie so CUTTING-EDGE, I’m not even sure what I think about it yet!
…Which I suppose is kind of a problem.
So let’s start with the basics:
In this dark and quirky retelling of a 1960s vampire soap opera, Johnny Depp portrays Barnabas Collins, a wealthy womanizer living in a mansion in Maine in the 1700s. All is well and good until one day, Barnabas womanizes a bit too much (as womanizers are wont to do) and ends up breaking the heart of a witch by the name of Angelique (Eva Green).
As it turns out, jilting a witch isn’t such a hot idea. Of course, Barnabas finds this out the hard way. Angelique curses him and turns him into a vampire, sets the townspeople against him (“Vampires? Not in my backyard!”), and drags him out into the middle of the woods where he is shoved into a coffin and buried alive. Since he’s a vampire, and thus more or less immortal, it’s presumed that he’s just supposed to kind of hang out there for the rest of time. Talk about getting some “alone time.” Yeesh.
Flash to 200 years later. It’s 1972 and Barnabas is accidentally unearthed by some rather unfortunate construction workers. Now in a world he can’t even begin to understand, Barnabas returns to his beloved mansion, Collinwood, and finds that things aren’t quite the way he left them. His descendants (Michelle Pfeiffer, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloe Moretz, Gulliver McGrath) are now living their sordid lives in the dilapidated home with an alcoholic psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter) and a governess (Bella Heathcote) who bares more than just a passing resemblance to Josette, Barnabas’ last great love. Determined to restore his family name to its former glory, and to get some measure of revenge against the apparently immortal Angelique, who by this point pretty much runs the town, Barnabas must adjust to this new world and confront the demons of his past. Literally.
So what works in this movie?
For starters, the film is aesthetically beautiful. From the cool, Sleepy Hollow-esque tones of the film’s early scenes, to the more modern, but still distant 1970s scenes, the settings are appealing to the eye and, more importantly, believable. Even the characters are great to look at. Eva Green is, well, hot, and get this, Johnny Depp even LOOKS like a vampire!
“I wanted Barnabas to be a rebellion against vampires who look like underwear models,” Depp remarked at the press conference for the film.
The music for the film is also a strong point. This one utilizes a mix of era appropriate tunes from Black Sabbath, Elton John, and even Barry White (SEX SCENE. HINT HINT) and a wonderful original score from none other than Danny Elfman.
Oh, and also Alice Cooper makes a cameo. (Note: Maybe it’s the dark makeup around the eyes, but Alice Cooper apparently hasn’t aged a day since his cameo in Wayne’s World. With all this talk of vampires going around, I’m starting to get suspicious…)
Another thing that this film has going for it is that Depp certainly has a knack for playing these fish-out-of-water types and, as always, he nails it. He’s funny and charming, although at some points it feels like we’ve seen him in this role before.
In reference to the many characters he’s played in Tim Burton films over the years and his current role as Barnabas Collins, Depp had this to say:
“There is some kind of thread between all these characters. Though, I liked the idea of this very elegant, you know, upper-echelon sort of well-schooled gentleman who is cursed in the 18th century and is brought back to probably the most surreal era of our time, the 1970s… How he’d react to things, how radically different things were, not just through technology… but items of enjoyment. You know, pet rocks, fake flowers, plastic fruit, Troll Dolls…”
Despite that, at some points this movie seems to lack focus. At times the movie has all the markings of a classic love story as a supernatural love triangle develops between Depp, Green, and Heathcote, a telltale sign of the film’s soap opera heritage. However, at other points, the movie seems to completely abandon that theme for what seems like hours at a time in favor for horror scenes that aren’t particularly scary, jokes that get a little tired by film’s end (coming in at around 2 hours, the film runs a little long for a comedy), and action scenes that just seem to come out of nowhere.
That being said, at the end of the day, this is a fun movie. A refreshingly classic take on the vampire genre, Dark Shadows has no shortage of intrigue and entertaining scenarios for the audience to get wrapped up in.
For Tim Burton/Johnny Depp fans, fans of vampires who aren’t “sparkly,” and folks who could think of worse ways to spend 10 or 15 bucks, I’d say this film is worth the price of admission. Just don’t go in expecting anything more than a fun, yet somewhat flawed film, or you may just leave the theatre feeling a bit sucked dry.
Dark Shadows hit theaters tomorrow, May 10th.