Dark Shadows – film review

Tim Burton’s entertaining adaptation of the cult American late 1960’s gothic TV melodrama Dark Shadows is admittedly a deeply flawed trash-art opus, blending obsessive 1970’s pop culture clash archaeology, broad humour, doomed romance and ghost/vampire stories.

Thankfully, it is only during the last twenty minutes or so that Seth Grahame-Smith’s screenplay, based upon a story co-written with John August, really completely losses its way. Even though the near impossible balancing act that Burton tries to sustain between melodrama, horror and comedy genres often falters, those who rate Mars Attacks! and Sleepy Hollow among the perpetual adolescent auteurs best pictures will only be vaguely dissatisfied by the persistently visually ravishing Dark Shadows.

In the year 1752, Joshua and Naomi Collins, with young son Barnabas, set sail from Liverpool, England to start a new life in America. Two decades pass and Barnabas (Johnny Depp) is the master of all he surveys in the town of Collinsport, Maine and beyond. The lord of the sprawling Collinwood Manor, Barnabas is prosperous, authoritative and an incorrigible playboy. Barnabas makes a grave error when he breaks the heart of fiery maid Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). A practicing witch, Angelique condemns Barnabas to a fate worse than death – transforming him into a vampire, and then burying him alive.
Two centuries later, a very bloodthirstyBarnabasis unintentionally freed from his coffin and surfaces into the very transformed world of 1972. He returns to Collinwood Manor to find that his once-grand estate has become dilapidated. The dysfunctional remnants of the Collins family have not fared well either, each concealing their own murky,clandestine pasts. Matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) has called upon live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), to help with her family’s near insurmountable problems. Also in residence at Collingwood are Elizabeth’s shady brother, Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller), her sulky teenage daughter Carolyn Stoddard (Chloe Grace Moretz), Roger’s troubled 10-year old son, David Collins (Gulliver McGrath), grizzled old caretaker Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) and David’s new nanny, Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), who bares an uncanny resemblance to Barnabas lost love.
Barnabas is determined to restore the family’s fortunes, but as if the Collins family did not have enough problems, Angelique appears to be very much alive and evil, administrating the principal commerce in Collinsport. Angelique hopes that Barnabas might have learned his lesson after her initial cruel and usual punishment, and that he will surrender to her amble charms again. If he does not, she will bury himonce more,and in the process destroy the whole Collins family forever.

The cast are uniformly excellent, in particular Michelle Pfeiffer, who exudes a suitably melodramatic air of vampish, fading glamour, and Chole Grace Moretz’s personification of teenage indolence. But this is co-producer Depp’s picture, and he is very convincing as a man out of time, emoting hushed exasperation with a succession of 1970’s artefacts, ranging from lava lamps to troll dolls, by way of macram jewellery and Scooby Doo. This is a gentleman vampire, who apologises to his victims before he embarks on his blood sucking sprees.

When Danny Elfman’s predictably bombastic score becomes more than a little tiresome,the well-placed and excellent choice of early 70’s source music – T.Rex’s Get It On, Curtis Mayfield’s Superfly, a very hip Carolyn Stoddard listening to what must be a bootleg tape of Iggy and The Stooges’ incendiary I’m Sick Of You (recorded in 1972, the track was not issued on vinyl until 1977!) and the real Alice Cooper performing at a Collins family ball/happening the classic No More Mister Nice Guy – more than compensates.

Dark Shadows’ blend of melodrama, ironic humour at the expense of the decade that taste forgot  and gore will definitely not be for everyoneand is an acquired taste. The descent into uninterestingspecial effects dominated action sequences, the disappearance of minor characters and total narrative incoherence at the climax is most regrettable, shameful even, given the film’s huge budget.
But if you are in the mood to be beguiled by Bruno Delbonnel’s strikingcinematography, Colleen Atwood’s magnificent costume design, juvenilecomedy and Depp doing what he does best, Dark Shadows could prove to be a diverting, guilty pleasure. The film’s main strength is the utter lunacy of the entire enterprise and the determination of director and cast to see it though.

Dark Shadows opens Friday 11th May 2012.

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