Dark Shadows

Posted: May 23, 2012 in Film reviews

Directed by Tim Burton. Starring Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer.

Unlike many in the UK, I was at least aware of Dark Shadows, though I’d never actually seen any of it as far as I recall, and in fairness I’m not sure how true this offering from Tim Burton is to the original show anyway, given it was, effectively, a gothic soap opera (imagine if a vampire moved into Albert Square…probably cheer the place up actually.)

In the 18th Century Barnabas Collins makes the mistake of spurning the love of a serving girl, Angelique, little realising at the time that she’s a witch. Soon he’s paid for this mistake by having his parents murdered, and his one true love hypnotised to walk off a cliff…oh and he’s been made a vampire and then been buried (un)alive…

Nothing ever stays buried forever though, and eventually a hapless band of construction workers dig him up…and pay with their lives, because after 200 years he’s very thirsty. Revitalised, Barnabas discovers that he’s now in the far future time of 1972! Making his way to the Collins’ family mansion he discovers that whilst his descendants still own it, their fishing business has gone down the tubes thanks to the success of a rival called Angie. Angie, of course, is actually Angelique the witch. Barnabas also discovers that his descendants are a pretty dysfunctional bunch, and sets out to restore the family name and thwart Angelique.

The trailers for this film really do give the wrong impression—it seems to be marketed as strictly a comedy; Austin Powers with a vampire instead of a spy. Except it isn’t really a comedy. It is funny, in fact very funny in places, but tonally it shifts several times, becoming by turns very silly and very dark.

The fact that its all over the place probably accounts for a lot of the negative reviews, but actually, despite this, and despite the fact that various plot strands never seem to go anywhere (take Johnny Lee Miller’s character) somehow it works, and if nothing else there’s something refreshing about a film that you can’t put into a neat little box. And there’s no better example of how messed up the film is than the soundtrack. Seriously, how many film soundtracks would ever marry Iggy Pop, Barry White, Alice Cooper and The Carpenters?

I want that album!

Pfeiffer is solid as the family matriarch, whilst Eva Green appears to be having a ball…although at times I’m not quite sure she’s acting … Chloë Moretz has fun as the surly teen and Jackie Earle Haley makes for a good Renfrew style lackey. Plus there are a couple of amusing cameos (although one is a missed opportunity ‘cos I’d have loved to see him of all people bitten by a vampire)

Yes there’s a degree of contemptible familiarly about seeing Depp and Bonham-Carter in a Tim Burton production with music by Danny Elfman, but Depp is genuinely hilarious as the man out of time, yet Burton never shies away the fact that he is a monster. This isn’t a sweet family comedy.

It takes a while to get going, and you might take a while to acclimatise to the film’s shifting tone, but once you do you might well enjoy it rather a lot…

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