Tuesday, 15 May 2012

DARK SHADOWS - Review By Greg Klymkiw - Gothic Horror Classic Reduced To Mild Fish-Out-Of-Water Comedy

Dark Shadows (2012) Dir. Tim Burton

Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfieffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green, Chloë Grace Moretz, Jackie Earle Haley, Bella Heathcote, Johnny Lee Miller, Alice Cooper, Christopher Lee


Review By Greg Klymkiw

Living in a place that had no cable television until I was 11 years old meant that during the first four years of its on-air life, I could only read about the great Dan Curtis television soap opera Dark Shadows in Forrest J. Ackerman's legendary genre magazine "Famous Monsters of Filmland". Worse yet, when the daily dose of horror was finally available in my hometown it was a season and a half away from its untimely demise. Even more depressing was that I lived in Central Time - one hour behind Eastern Time, which meant the gothic serial devoted to vampires, werewolves, witches, ghosts and other supernatural delights aired 30 minutes before school was out.

Needless to say, I found many excuses to feign illness in order to watch Dark Shadows with some sort of regularity. In more ways than one, I was the sickest kid in my school!

In 1970 the Grand Guignol tragedy of vampire Barnabas Collins (Jonathan Frid) came to the big screen with the terrifying House of Dark Shadows and creator Dan Curtis pulled out all the stops - high production value, delectable makeup effects and buckets of blood. It scared the living bejesus out of me.

I saw the creepy, blood-soaked chiller repeatedly during its first-run engagement in the majestic old Winnipeg picture palace the Metropolitan Cinema and partook in numerous screenings at a variety of sleazy North Main Street grind houses. A year later I saw it again on a double bill with the lesser, though watchable psychological horror of Night of Dark Shadows.

I collected the lurid quarterly Gold Key comic series (plus the wonderful Gold Key Comic Digest one-off), the magnificent blood-red-bordered trading cards and over thirty novels from Paperback Library with their distinctive pale green covers.

How could any red-blooded horror fan not love Dark Shadows?

The primary storyline dealt with the mysterious aristocrat Barnabas Collins who showed up to the grand Collins mansion to claim his rightful place as heir of the estate. He meets a woman who resembles his beloved, long-dead Jossette and locks horns with Angelique the witch who forced Jossette to plunge from the cliffs to her death and turned Barnabas into a vampire when he spurned her romantic designs upon him.

Add to the mix the household matriarch, her children, the ne'er-do-well playboy loafer, the werewolf Quentin Collins, the weird alcoholic caretaker and, of course, Dr. Julia Hoffman - a sort of Van Helsing vampire expert who had no interest in slaying the bloodsuckers, but rather, is obsessed with finding a cure for vampirism. House of Dark Shadows was closest to the series in terms of story than all the other offshoot adaptations, but ultimately, anything that bore the stamp of Dark Shadows was more than enough for its rabid fans.

Dan Curtis was a genuine visionary in the world of television drama. In addition to Dark Shadows, he delivered a phenomenal TV adaptation of The Strange Case of Dr. Jekyll and Mr. Hyde with the inimitable Jack Palance and later cast the crazy, old Ukrainian character actor in a TV movie of Dracula. Curtis delivered the astounding character of Kolchak, The Night Stalker, a reporter who specialized in sniffing out stories about the supernatural and in addition to numerous horror-themed series and specials, Curtis also delivered the epic mini-series The Winds of War. Though pulpier in his approach than Rod Serling, Curtis was easily in the same sphere of creator-as-superstar.

It was with considerable anticipation that I went to see Tim Burton's Dark Shadows 2012 with Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins. When Burton is on his game, there are few who can match his sheer moviemaking bravado and distinctive style. I especially loved his somewhat overlooked and underrated Sweeney Todd which was dazzlingly creepy and delectably dark in the humour department.

The intensity of my excitement at the prospect of Burton adapting Dark Shadows turned out, however, to match the intensity of my disappointment with the final product.

The central tale is true to the original, the movie has style to burn and Depp plays Barnabas beautifully (and with no tongue in cheek). I loved the supporting cast - especially Michelle Pfeiffer as the Collins family matriarch and Jackie Earle Haley as the boozing caretaker.

So what's wrong?

Well, what went "right" is that it's occasionally creepy, often funny (usually when the blood spurts insanely) and the look of the film is sumptuously imaginative. Sadly, it's a movie that has no idea of what it wants to be.

The movie takes place in 1972 (one year after the original TV show went off the air) and amidst the faithful narrative mentioned above, what Burton has created amounts to little more than a fish out of water tale - with a centuries-dead Barnabas traipsing through one gag after another that pays lips service to the gothic proceedings, but seems more interested in having a straight-faced Depp react to the strangeness of 70s society and culture.

This is definitely good for a few laughs, but the overall feeling upon leaving the cinema is wondering what might have been if the movie tackled the material for the pure, gothic horror and instead added daubs of dark humour and occasional fish out of water yucks.

The movie is a mess. That said, it's an amiable mess and certainly worth seeing on a big screen - but only on a cheap movie night or in a discount cinema. Because of this, I can't imagine either Dan Curtis or Barnabas Collins resting easy in their graves.

HERE is what Tim Burton's Dark Shadows could have been:

And HERE, is what Tim Burton delivered:

Here's some great original Dark Shadows and Dan Curtis material which you might wish to order directly from the following links Amazon.com and Amazon.ca which will help support the publication of this website: