So once again we have survived.

Dark Shadows

tn_darkshadowsa.k.a. TIM BURTON’S WHITE BLACULA

I didn’t expect to write a review of this movie, but I think I liked it more than everybody else, so I figured I should stick up for it. I mean, I don’t necessarily plan to watch it again in my life, but it has an odd tone that I enjoyed and shows signs of life in ol’ Tim Burton.
Seems like most people have given up on the guy, and for good reason. After a strong decade or so of uniquely stylized, quirky perversions of mainstream entertainment he seemed to stop emotionally investing in his movies around MARS ATTACKS! and stop doing a very good job some time after that. Only his PLANET OF THE APES could ever be considered worse than his most recent one, ALICE IN WONDERLAND, which of course was his biggest hit and literally made over a billion dollars.

If he wasn’t phoning it in so bad I think some of the complaints would be unfair. I don’t think people should hold it against him that he has a recognizable visual style, set of obsessions and team of collaborators. That just makes him an auteur. And people always say he’s bad because they sell t-shirts of his shit a that store Hot Topic. (if that still exists, not sure.) Well, the same could be said for Edgar Alan Poe or many horror movies we love – who cares? But at some point he started being less of a filmatist and more of a brand name. He mostly does remakes now and the scripts keep getting worse.

The other day I listened to the screenwriter John August on Jay Mohr’s podcast. He has writing credits on BIG FISH, CHARLIE AND THE CHOCOLATE FACTORY, CORPSE BRIDE, the upcoming FRANKENWEENIE and this, but (in explaining how well he works with Burton) says he’s never had a meeting with him longer than ten minutes. As Arsenio would say, Hmmm.

None of these things point to potential redemption, and getting together with Depp again to do a movie based on the old vampire soap opera Dark Shadows sounded like literally the #1 least interesting thing Burton could possibly do. Then the trailer got my attention – oh, so they’re doing it as a comedy about a gothic vampire being out of place in ’70s America? More of a BEETLEJUICE vibe than a SWEENEY TODD? That actually got my hopes up… until all the reviews were bad.

mp_darkshadowsSo I’m happy to say that I kinda liked it. The movie begins with a Hammer Horror type period prologue with Depp as Barnabas Collins narrating the story of his upbringing, how his wealthy family founded a port town in Maine and how a scorned lover killed his parents and girlfriend, turned him into a vampire and buried him alive.

We cut to 1972 as Victoria Winters, a gorgeous young woman with big haunted eyes like the paintings that probly hang in Burton’s house, and played by the same actress as Barnabas’s dead lover (Bella Heathcote), arrives at the worn down Collinwood estate for a new job babysitting a troubled young descendent of the vampire. There’s a couple other Collinses there played by Michelle Pfeiffer, the little girl from KICKASS that many of the male internet writers are extremely fond of, and a groundskeeper played by Jackie Earle Haley. All of them are very good. It’s great to see Pfeiffer helping carry a movie again, Haley is really funny and I gotta be honest I think it’s kinda creepy how much they play up that little girl’s sexuality in almost all of her roles, but she is a good young actress. In this one she does a dance that makes you want to send her to an all girls boarding school. Hopefully she’ll grow up more Portman than Lohan.

Construction workers accidentally dig up Barnabas’s coffin, so he goes to the manor and tries to not only acclimate to the new era but restore the Collins family seafood empire to its former glory. You know, it’s one of those vampire fishing industry tales. He’s in competition with Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), who happens to be the witch who cursed him pretending to be one of her own descendants. She has powerful magic and is totally crazy and still pretty stalkery.

Can I be frank with you? I always enjoy Eva Green because of man reasons. She’s that sort of mean type of hot where she seems to attract you even though you’re kinda scared of her. Like a classier Asia Argento. But I do think she’s a good actress, and here she gets to play a much weirder and more over-the-top role than I’ve ever seen her in. Because she’s pretending to be young and to be somebody else she has trouble moving her face like a real human, does bizarre expressions and movements and sometimes will briefly slip into a really bad American accent. She gets to be a total seductive sexpot but also a pathetic monster cracking apart like an eggshell. Her heart literally looks like a Christopher Radko Christmas tree ornament. So she’s a weird and unfocused character, but it’s nice to see Green having this much fun.

What I like is that the movie takes its story mostly seriously, even though the hero is a weirdo murderer with claws and Nosferatu ears, and even though there are plenty of jokes about how much he doesn’t understand the world around him, or just the contrast of the gothic horror world with the ’70s. They don’t even make a punchline of it, but it cracks me up to see glass grapes on a table in a gothic castle. There are scenes that use Curtis Mayfield and Barry White songs as jokes, which is too bad because I love those songs and it would be amazing to see Barry White used sincerely in a movie. But the other period tunes (even The Carpenters) are used in a less jokey type of way.

I guess that’s what I see in this movie that I didn’t in ALICE IN WONDERLAND – it seems like he means it more. He’s doing familiar Burton topics, but he’s doing it because this is the shit that excites him, I think.

So he’s got an atmospheric Hammer type feel in a real-looking town. He’s got Haunted Mansion-esque ghosts and some blood. He whips it up to a dramatic climax that includes vampire, witch, ghost, one other major monster type, inanimate objects come to life, shotgun blasts, fire, flashbacks, revelations, and all in the intimate setting of the house instead of one of those bullshit “we gotta make it about destroying the whole city and/or world” type climaxes you usually get in a TV show adapted into a movie.

The previous Burton movie it’s most similar to is SLEEPY HOLLOW. It’s got the Johnny Depp comedic-unorthodox-hero (but more deadpan this time), the classic horror feel, the Christopher Lee cameo, but an ending that works better in my opinion. Less decapitation I guess would be one weakness. But we’re moving back in the direction toward the good Burton, right?

My favorite screenwriting trick in the movie is when the witch lady records Barnabas confessing to a bunch of murders and plays it in front of the whole town to expose him. I love it because this is a hackneyed cliche that I don’t think works anymore – it was already played out when Burton used it in BATMAN RETURNS 20 years ago next month – but it’s always the good guy recording the bad guy and that’s how he saves the day. This has gotta be the first time where the villain is the one recording the confession of the hero. But that’s because heroes usually don’t have a bunch of murders to confess to. Maybe this is a nod to or a result of the serial nature of the soap operas, that they gotta keep the story going every day for years so the super villain eventually becomes the good guy, the nice girl becomes a serial killer, the rapist becomes the love interest, the dead person comes back to life.

The internet is known for housing the fiercest fans of everything in existence, and these fans demand over-literal faithfulness in adaptations of their favorite comic strips, books, TV shows and what not. That’s nice, but I call bullshit on most of the people trying to be purists about a fucking 1960s soap opera. I think some people are exaggerating their connection to this show because it’s their natural reflex to get up in arms about anything that used to be a thing and now is another thing. I don’t know, are there alot of women in their 50s mixing it up with Danny Glover’s Dickblood on the Ain’t It Cool talkbacks? I’m not sure how many of these people have ever seen this show. But Burton and Depp actually did obsess over it as kids, that’s why they wanted to make a movie out of it, and I think this gives them more right to it than most inhabitants of the modern world.

If it was Days of Our Lives though that would be a different story.

VERN has been reviewing movies since 1999 and is the author of the books SEAGALOGY: A STUDY OF THE ASS-KICKING FILMS OF STEVEN SEAGAL, YIPPEE KI-YAY MOVIEGOER!: WRITINGS ON BRUCE WILLIS, BADASS CINEMA AND OTHER IMPORTANT TOPICS and NIKETOWN: A NOVEL. His horror-action novel WORM ON A HOOK will arrive later this year.
This entry was posted on Tuesday, May 22nd, 2012 at 1:43 pm and is filed under Comedy/Laffs, Horror, Reviews. You can follow any responses to this entry through the RSS 2.0 feed. You can skip to the end and leave a response. Pinging is currently not allowed.

36 Responses to “Dark Shadows”

  1. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    May 22nd, 2012 at 2:22 pm

    Vern:

    “He whips it up to a dramatic climax that includes vampire, witch, ghost, one other major monster type, inanimate objects come to life, shotgun blasts…”

    Ok, the “other major monster type” – is it a Swamp Thing? Please tell me it’s a Swamp Thing. I’d go see this movie if it had a Swamp Thing. Hell, in “Cabin in the Woods”, when Bradley Whittaker’s character was rooting for the merman, I was right there with him.

  2. I honestly never heard of Dark Shadows the original series until they announced this movie. Maybe it’s just an american thing.

    About enjoying Pfeiffer in this, have you seen STARDUST, Vern? She’s one of the main villains in that, a fairly campy but fun witch.

  3. Paul – sadly no it’s not Swamp Thing.

    Vern – I’ve spilled alot already about how I didn’t like DARK SHADOWS, didn’t think alot of the “jokes” connected (though I did laugh at Depp eating the Hippies), and bitched that it had too little storytelling, but too many plots to try to substitute that.

    (though to be fair Vern, you did bring up a good point about the tape recorder.)

    Funny thing was a week after I saw DS, I re-read some of my complaints (which I reposted elsewhere on the webbers) and thought maybe I was being unfair since I basically claimed that Burton was tone deaf in comedy and thrills, in deep contrast to one of his supposed greatest hits, BEETLEJUICE. (Like most people and fans tend to do with pop stars and legends. A traditional bitch clutch.

    So I did rewatch BEETLEJUICE, first time in many years…and fuck, it’s still pretty good and confirmed my DS death certificate. And odd too I forgot how that one had many plot elements (several that could’ve been their own movie plots) it had to juggle around as does SHADOWS, but instead of throwing them in at the end or mistaking exposition for storytelling (who wrote SHADOWS, those PIRATES scripters?), Burton and his scripters on JUICE somehow were able to make them all synch and pace well more or less as a unitary narrative.

    And hell, it had fun with the basic pitches with “death” revealed to be a mundane bureaucracy and “freelance bio-exorcists” and supposed rules. In fact I totally forgot how little Michael Keaton the star is actually in the movie, and a movie I suppose works when that’s a good thing. (compare that with DS, how many scenes was Depp not in? Not many.)

  4. shucks. now you’re making me wish I hadn’t skipped this Vern

    well I’ll check it out when it comes out on blu ray, I’m glad to hear that Vern liked it (since I trust Vern’s opinions the most)

    also “I PLAYED THIS STINKIN’ CITY LIKE A HARP FROM HELLLLLLLLLLLL!!!!”

  5. Griff – Your original inclination is wise. Hell even Vern in his review basically said he sorta liked it but not enough to want to rewatch it someday.

    rental or 2nd run theatre.

  6. What makes the movie is how the end of the hippie movement is put by a two centuries old vampire. In a Tim Burton movie. We just HAD to see this.

  7. Glad to know that, “mean girls who scare you” isn’t a type that is unique to me.

  8. This is the longest movie I’ve seen in a while. Nothing happens and they repeat the same two scenes over and over again.

    Scene 1: Depp sits in the mansion and says old fasioned things. Some family member gives him a ?????? look or Hitgirl whispers “you’re weird…”

    Scene 2: Depp and Eva Green argue

    Then there’s a really badly staged cg finale and the movie finally ends thankyougod

  9. caruso_stalker217

    May 22nd, 2012 at 7:16 pm

    This one will be a rental for me. I thought Burton was on his way back with SWEENEY TODD (which I really fucking enjoy) but then he followed that up with the worst film of his career. Yes, even PLANET OF THE APES was better.

    Marky fucking Mark.

  10. caruso_stalker217

    May 22nd, 2012 at 7:17 pm

    I do love me some Eva Green, though. Yes.

  11. Back already bared – but am I the only fucking person that thinks Beetlejuice is not that good? I’ve tried watching it at least five times because I feel I must be missing something. And I just don’t get it. That being said, I truly love some Burton films. Sadly for me, I guess, Beetlejuice is not one of them.

  12. Okay, so Teenage Mutant Ninja Turtles and Dark Shadows… you’re keeping me on my toes, Vern. I never, never know what to expect when I stop by this site.

    By the way, did you ever watch the movie Ravenous?

  13. “They don’t even make a punchline of it, but it cracks me up to see glass grapes on a table in a gothic castle.”

    Ok now I want to see this, because little details like that make me fall in love with the unlovable.

  14. Little known fact: Chloë Grace Moretz happens to be in the Seagal family tree. She was the little girl from the hospital in “Today you Die.” That’s the one where Seagal plays a Robin Hood type character, who steals from drug dealers and such and gives to local charities.

    She has no lines but she’s in at least two scenes. So Vern, she might end up being one of the more popular actors to ever share a screen w/ Steven.

  15. Griff – what, does the bus only go into town once a month? It came out a week ago, I’m sure it’s still playing if you decide you want to see it.

  16. Holy shit GQ, I had no idea! Thank you for that. That’s a hilarious scene, too. I wish I had known that before updating Seagalogy. I mention her character in the book but unfortunately didn’t list her name. (I did at least update it to acknowledge that Randy Couture is the guy he punches out after knocking on the front door and declaring himself “Girl Scouts of America.” I didn’t know who he was when I did the first edition.)

  17. I’ve only seen Chloe Morets in two movies, and, while it seems unnecessarily cruel to criticize a child actor, she wasn’t very good in either of them. The first movie was Kick Ass, and since the entire film was pretty bad, I don’t think she’s to blame if she turned in a mediocre performance. The second movie I saw her in was Hugo, and I thought she was downright awful. She was probably one of the worst parts of an otherwise good movie. There was just something about her that seemed so self-conscious. It’s probably too early to declare her a good or bad actress after just watching two movies she’s been in, but I honestly don’t know why she has become the go to young actress in Hollywood these days.

  18. Watch her episode of 30 ROCK. There are maybe three or four actors in Hollywood who could go toe to toe with Alec Baldwin like that and not give an inch.

  19. RBatty024 – Fully agree with you there brother. She was by far the weakest part of those movies. Scorsese’s visual creativity and Nicolas Cage being the best.

    Anyone also notice all the pedos that come out whenever her movies are in discussion in other places on the net? it’s pretty fucking weird so to me her fanbase also doesn’t do her any favors.

  20. Jareth Cutestory

    May 23rd, 2012 at 7:17 am

    I thought Hit Girl was pretty good in LET ME IN. Not as good as Lina Leandersson in the original, but still good.

  21. If you are into Eva Green, “The Dreamers”, by Bertolucci:

    http://www.imdb.com/title/tt0309987/

    A completely useless movie, except for the Eva Green starring threesome.

  22. interesting Eva Green related… did not know this:

    http://en.wikipedia.org/wiki/300:_Battle_of_Artemisia

    300: Battle of Artemisia is a forthcoming American fantasy action film, a prequel to 300.

    Plot

    The Battle of Artemisia (a possible reference to the Battle of Salamis) was fought between an Alliance of Greek city-states and the Persian Empire in September 480 BCE, in the straits between the mainland and Salamis, an island in the Saronic Gulf near Athens. It marked the high-point of the second Persian invasion of Greece which had begun in 480 BCE.
    The movie will cover some of the backstory of Xerxes, and will explain how he became ‘the God King’.[1]

    Cast

    Sullivan Stapleton as Themistocles
    Eva Green as Artemisia
    Rodrigo Santoro as King Xerxes, King of Persia. Santoro previously played Xerxes in the 2007 film 300.
    Callan Mulvey as Scyllias
    Jamie Blackley as Calisto

  23. Come on, dude. Some of us really, really loved (and still love) that fucking 60s soap opera. You’re more than welcome to like the Tim Burton movie (I freely admit that I don’t). But it’s a cheap shot to put down the ones who don’t.

    I am not anti-Burton/Depp. Edward Scissorhands is one of my favorite all-time films. But even if I didn’t have the memory of the original Dark Shadows, I would have found this movie to be a loud, disjointed mess, with no character development and a lot of flash but no substance.

  24. Sorry. Nothing I’ve seen or read about this flick has changed my initial impression that it’s just Tim Burton and Johnny Depp giving each other old fashioned’s for two hours. Cannot muster the energy to care.

  25. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    May 23rd, 2012 at 3:38 pm

    JSix – is it just me or does that seem to describe most Tim Burton movies nowadays anyway?

    I’m glad at least one person liked this one anyway. I’m ALMOST inclined to give it a shot, reading Vern’s review, but I’ve read others that said it didn’t do justice to what was shown in the trailer (which I actually thought was pretty good) so… ugh.

  26. I loved Dark Shadows and will see it again. It’s a fun movie. I think everyone should see it themselves, going in with an open mind, and make their own opinions. Don’t take everything so dang seriously, and just go have some fun!

  27. “I’m glad at least one person liked this one anyway. I’m ALMOST inclined to give it a shot, reading Vern’s review, but I’ve read others that said it didn’t do justice to what was shown in the trailer (which I actually thought was pretty good) so… ugh.”

    Paul – Oh please, don’t go see it and not like it and then blame Vern.

    “Don’t take everything so dang seriously, and just go have some fun!”

    I did make my own opinion, and guess what? It sucked.

    (BTW, do you like plants?)

  28. As always, I’m glad this made Vern and some other viewers happy. For me it is truly a strong contender for worst of the year. What made it most interminable to me was so many characters with nothing to do.

    I get that some are glorified cameos but Pfeifer has nothing to do. Michelle fucking Pfeiffer and she just stands there as a prop for Depp. Green and Depp have stuff to do but not Haley, Miller, and Heathcote it’s like she’s just hanging out until the obligatory love interest moment. Bonham Carter has maybe one thing to do, but it’s stupid. Moretz is cool until the movie forgets about her.

    The opening prologue started with a bad taste. I mean blatant exposition. Show don’t tell. I appreciate the soap opera-y shifts of the story but none of it was interesting and still didn’t give the ensemble anything to do. Also looked ugly, not burtonesque at all. The lighting was some kind of post glaze effect so it’s not even burtonesque cinematography. Maybe I just don’t get the Hammer look. Sorry.

  29. Rehydrated Dehydrated Pirate Paul

    May 24th, 2012 at 10:23 am

    RRA – Don’t worry, I’m not wasting money on this one at the pictures. Might stream / DVD it though.

  30. I should add I previously thought CHARLIE AND THR CHOCOLATE FACTORY was Burton’s worst, worse than ALICE IN WONDERLAND. Thou I don’t remember APES that well. That’s probably the worst.

  31. Fred – CHARLIE is one of my most unpleasant film experiences ever, just one leaden sequence after another. It seems bound and determined to undermine every single good thing about the book and replace them with dull special effect sequences. Deep Roy is the sole watchable thing about it. The whole runtime of the movie doesn’t contain an ounce of the joy that a single sequence from the Gene Wilder version had. At least ALICE bore no resemblance whatsoever to its source material so it wasn’t actively ruining something which was already good, and just exists in its own dark nexis of disinterested badness.

  32. I was surprised…oh, hey everybody, I’m back! Anyway, I was surprised how much I loved this movie. There is just something about movies, that are technically dark and serious, but aren’t afraid of exploring the sillier sides of the story without becoming a self parody, that automatically clicks with me. It’s not perfect, but damn, I had a blast. Something tells me that in 10 or so years, everybody will look back at this movie and say: “It didn’t deserve its bad reviews. It’s acutally a realyl good movie.”

    But to be honest, after trying for 10+ years to get this movie made, I wish Burton and Depp had at one point just said: “Fuck it, let’s make it as an HBO series” or something like that. Can you imagine how mind blowing some of the character arcs and relevations would have been, if we had a week long build up to them?

  33. I’m not sure if it’s because my expectations were so low, but I kind of liked this myself. I say kind of because the ending felt a little off like they threw everything they could think of in it and just hoped it would work itself out. What was surprising to me was how serious the prologue was. I actually wished they had kept that tone for the entire movie. I’ve never really watched the show since I wasn’t even born yet when the original soap opera aired. I did check it out on youtube and I’m glad I did. Not necessarily because I thought the show was good, but it made realize the tone they were going for with the movie. The actors were all talking in that old school stilted I’m-trying-to-remember-my-lines tone of the old show,especially Michelle Pfeiffer. This wasn’t in the category of Burton’s best, but it’s much better then anything he’s made in years. I really don’t understand how in the hell this movie is Tim Burton’s worst reviewed movie ever, at least on the Rotten Tomatoes scale. No way this is worse then Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, or Planet of The Apes. In fact, I’ll go as far as saying if this movie had come out before those films it would have gotten some love. It’s not a great movie, but it’s definitely entertaining. It’s worth it for the prologue and the scene where Barnabas eats the hippies alone. Jackie Earle Haley was also pretty good, even thought there wasn’t nearly enough of his character in the movie.

  34. This one sat on my DVR for a few years and I had heard so many bad things, but I kinda liked it too in this shaggy, ridiculous way. Pretty much every criticism is correct – the jokes are juvenile and flat, the music cues are obvious and uncreative, the movie can’t properly juggle it’s characters. (Pfeiffer is wasted and WTF is Jonny Lee Miller doing in this?) I like how Bella Heathcoate dominates the opening of the movie and then literally disappears until the end where we’re apparently supposed to care about her getting with Depp. The CGI climax is loud and obnoxious and goes on forever. The aforementioned secret creature reveal has nothing to do with anything. A character turns out to be a ____ and it doesn’t even impact the plot or change what we’ve seen before or after. That’s the type of movie this is.

    But I still liked it! The middle third of the movie where basically nothing happens is kind of soothing in a “I can’t believe this is a big budget summer movie” type way, and yeah, Eva Green single-handedly saves this like she did Sin City 2. She goes big and broad, plays it straight with a slight wink, and she’s fascinating to watch. If the whole movie was on her level of camp-but-not-camp performance this might be a trash classic. (BTW, it’s kind of odd that Green plays the vampy femme fatale yet delivers most of her lines in a comedic “American” accent, whereas Moretz plays a normal American teenage girl yet delivers all of her lines in a Jessica Rabbit-y femme fatale accent.)

  35. About all those reviews saying MISS PEREGRINE’S HOME FOR PECULIAR CHILDREN is a return of form for Burton. They are lying.

  36. Who to believe? The people who celebrate even his mediocre movies like SWEENEY TODD or FRANKENWEENIE as “a return to form” or those, who even dismiss his good movies like BIG FISH or DARK SHADOWS as uninspired shitpiles from a former visionary? (At least we are all on the same page with ALICE IN WONDERLAND)

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