Movie Review: Dark Shadows

By Matthew Huntley

May 17, 2012

Dude is catching up on world history since he was asleep.

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Dark Shadows could rightly be described as a comedy, a drama, a horror movie and a thriller. And yet, given all these identifiers, it lacks a clear identity. It’s a mix of genres blended into one nonsensical movie. How, exactly, did director Tim Burton want us to perceive it? Obviously he wanted it to work on all levels, but which one did he want it to work on first? Had he answered that question, he might have brought some much needed direction to the unresolved screenplay and made a working picture out of what’s essentially a mess.

The movie is based on the cult 1960s soap opera and stars Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins, son of wealthy Liverpudians who immigrate to America in 1760 and start a fishing empire on the coast of Maine and build a town called Collinsport. As a philandering teenager, Barnabas breaks the heart of one of the family’s live-in servants, Angelique (Eva Green), who happens to be a witch. She exacts revenge by killing Barnabas’ parents and placing a spell on his one true love, Josette, who throws herself off a cliff. When Barnabas tries to do the same, he discovers Angelique has turned him into a vampire and the townspeople subsequently confine him to a coffin for the next 200 years.


Flash forward to 1972, where Collinwood Manor, the Collins’ dilapidating mansion, is now occupied by Barnabas’ distant relatives and dipsomaniacal staff. Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) is a single mother to her rebellious teenager daughter, Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz); Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) is Elizabeth’s brother and father to young David (Gulliver McGrath), who goes around dressing up in sheets; Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) is David’s live-in psychiatrist with loud orange hair who’s been trying to determine whether the little boy is crazy for talking to his dead mother; and Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) is the uncouth groundskeeper who’s easily susceptible to hypnosis.

We’re introduced to this lowly and miserable group when a young woman named Maggie (Bella Heathcote), who looks uncannily like Barnabas’ long lost Josette, applies for the governess position. Coincidentally, she arrives the same day Barnabas is awakened by an unsuspecting construction crew. When they unearth his coffin, he murders them, albeit apologetically (“I’m so sorry, but you have no idea how thirsty I am”) and makes his way back to his beloved mansion. Along the way, he speaks out loud as if he’s delivering a Shakespearian soliloquy and is amazed by such things as McDonald’s, running vehicles and a two-lane road. After he greets the children, he reveals himself to Elizabeth and they agree to keep his history and true identity a secret. His primary ambition is to restore the family business to its former glory and take back Collinsport from the sly Angelique, who has started a fishing company of her own and acts like queen of the town. She still loves Barnabas and wants to be business partners as well as lovers, but he once again dismisses her affection in favor of Maggie and family honor.

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