Saturday, May 14, 2016

Dark Shadows (2012)

The iconic 1960s vampire soap opera is ruined by a Tim Burton 'reimagining' in this dreadful horror/comedy. From its Johnathan Frid impersonation in voiceover by Johnny Depp to its overly CGI'd gothic opening, Tim Burton's film starts out as a promising, but deeply flawed, remake of the TV series. Depp's Barnabas Collins chases his doomed love Josette through eerie trees to the craggy cliff of Widow's Hill, as atmospheric shots of ocean waves crashing on rocks reference the TV series' iconic opening credits.

The cracks in the facade begin to show during the lackluster re-appearance of Barnabas, as he viciously attacks some construction workers who disturb his unmarked grave for some reason, which pales in comparison to the chilling appearance of Barnabas from the series, which surprisingly enough didn't need millions of dollars of CGI and a back-hoe to raise goose-bumps.

Unfortunately, the appearance of Barnabas is also the beginning of the groan-inducing, '19th-century fish out of water in campy 1970s' jokes, which stoop to the level of a McDonald's looming over his gravesite (when a mere 9 billion burgers had been sold to date), a secret door which leads to the discovery of hidden macrame, and the nonsensical indignity of Barnabas trying to sleep amidst packing peanuts in a cardboard appliance box to the forced, cheesy nostalgia of The Carpenters playing on the soundtrack.

Johnny Depp keeps the tics and triple-takes to a minimum for a change, and if he wasn't doing an intermittent impersonation of Johnathan Frid, his performance would almost be considered acting. Seth Grahame-Smith's dialogue for Barnabas is appropriately overwrought, and shows his talent for period language, which he used to good effect in 2016's Pride and Prejudice and Zombies. Helena Bonham Carter also impersonates Grayson Hall's boozy Dr. Julia Hoffman, but Carter is sadly underutilized, and whose only memorable moment is when she's french-inhaling like Fight Club's Marla Singer. Michelle Pfeiffer does the best she can with the part she's given as matriarch Elizabeth Collins. Fierce, determined, and the exact opposite of the timid, agoraphobic Collins from the TV show, Pfeiffer gives a needed bite to the role, and performs as though she isn't in the same film as the rest of the cast. She's magnetic onscreen as usual, refuses to be a cartoon character, and is the lone highlight of a dreary film. And don't get me started on what they've done to Barnabas' Renfield, Jackie Earle Haley's Willie Loomis, Bella Heathcote's dual role of Victoria Winters and Josette Dupres, and Eva Green's villainess Angelique, because the characters and accents are just too goofy and confusing to adequately describe. Let's just forget it happened.

Embarrassingly laugh-free, embarrassingly horror-free, and often just flat-out embarrassing, Dark Shadows contains only a hint of vampirism in a movie about a vampire, with a casual werewolf reference duct taped onto the ending to give angsty, miscast Chloe Grace Moretz something to do other than gnaw at scenery like a lycanthropic Lolita. Sure, Burton had his work cut out distilling 6 seasons and 1200 episodes down to an overlong 2 hours, but he didn't have to partially reinvent the wheel. Oddly enough, the cameo from rocker Alice Cooper is a lot more unsettling than Depp's Barnabas, and his musical performance nearly rivals the time allowed to onscreen vampirism.

Tim Burton's film is yet another aggressively quirky, overblown misfire, joining the ranks of Planet Of The Apes and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. The mythical reverence the Burton and Depp supposedly had for the source material should have appeared onscreen. Instead their Dark Shadows is a hokey mess.

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