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Dark Shadows (2012) Review

Dark Shadows (2012) Review

August 6, 2012
By The Horror Czar, Don Sumner
Dark Shadows is Tim Burton’s take on the 1960s serial about the Collins family and the return of a cursed ancestor who was turned into a vampire by a scorned love.

Dark Shadows (2012) movie poster

Release Date: May 11, 2012
Directed By: Tim Burton
Written By: Seth Grahame-Smith (screenplay, story), John August (story), Dan Curtis (television series)


Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins
Michelle Pfeiffer as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard
Helena Bonham Carter as Dr. Julia Hoffman
Eva Green as Angelique Bouchard
Jackie Earle Haley as Willie Loomis
Jonny Lee Miller as Roger Collins
Bella Heathcote as Victoria Winters/Josette DuPres

Back in the 1960s there was a quirky daytime soap opera that delved into concepts and scenarios never before attempted – big Gothic themes complete with ghosts, werewolfs, vampires and other supernatural beings and happenings. This particular serial was known not only for the subject matter, but also for being quite unintentionally funny with bloopers like flubbed lines and microphone booms peeking into the shot. Although this series only lasted for 5 years the daily format resulted in a large number of episodes and ‘Dark Shadows’ built quite a cult following. Since the original airing ‘Dark Shadows’ was reimagined as a weekly series in the 1990s and over two dozen comic book issues. Now, in the hands of Tim Burton and starring Johnny Dark Shadows is a lush and big budget feature complete with the signature huge visuals and dark misty landscapes Burton is known for.

The film begins with a love-struck servant girl (Eva Green) placing a curse on Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), the playboy eldest son of Collinwood manor who didn’t mind physical romps with the girl but who refused her professions of undying love. “Never break the heart of a witch” is the lesson learned by Barnabus, but too late. After his true love is compelled by an evil spell to leap from a cliff to the crashing surf below, Barnabas tries to follow her to his own death, only to learn he’s become a vampire. The young witch then turns the town against Barnabus Collins and they bind him in a coffin and bury him deep in the earth, presumably for all eternity.

Two hundred years later the Collins family has lost their status as the richest fishing family in the region, and a construction crew inadvertently releases Barnabus. Now the vampire is determined to reunite with his descendants and return the Collins family to their former grandeur.

Dark Shadows is everything one would expect from a Tim Burton feature when it comes to the visuals. Huge Gothic sets, misty backdrops, sheer cliffs overlooking dark and deadly crashing waves and an enormous mansion with 200 rooms and over-the-top appointments in every corner and crevice. The characters as well, although lacking any particular depth, are highly stylized and cartoonish – or maybe more like comic book characters than realistic actors. This brings the biggest trouble with Dark Shadows ala Tim Burton: the entire film plays strangely, part series of comic panels and part children’s feature, with a few themes here and there that are certainly not for children. There really were not any surprises as the story unfolded in a pretty predictable manner.

As colorful and outrageous as the characters are, the lack of character development severely limits the emotional engagement in the outcome of the film’s activities. This is especially true of “Victoria Winters” (Bella Heathcote), the mysterious stranger whose appearance at Collinwood is a core theme in the original serial and in this film version of Dark Shadows. While very interesting looking and quite dark and gothic in overall appearance and demeanor, there doesn’t seem to be much else to this character unfortunately. It is hard to say just what the script called for and whether it is a script issue or an acting performance issue, but Heathcote was pretty flat in her scenes. Really, though, all of the characters were relatively flat with the exception of Johnny Depp in his “Edward Scissorhands type” performance as the Collins resident vampire and Eva Green as the lovelorn witch with a vendetta strong enough to last for centuries.

Ultimately Dark Shadows plays as a comic-type feature that is incredible visually and generally interesting, but certainly not earth-shattering in any regard. Because of the partnership between Tim Burton and Johnny Depp this one will certainly make a fair amount of money at the box office, and may even serve as the backdrop for the Disneyland haunted mansion in the future, but as a stand-alone film and additional entry to the legacy, Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows is lukewarm at best.


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