I know I said I wouldn’t be able to review Dark Shadows this week, but: surprise! It worked out that I could. And I’m glad – Dark Shadows is an updated version of a horror soap from the 1960s and 70s. The words “horror” and “soap” don’t really go together except in a universe where everything is crazy, so naturally it’s screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith (who wrote Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) and director Tim Burton (who did Corpse Bride) who bring the classic to life (again).
Cursed by the witch whose love he spurned, a rich canning company heir turned vampire spends two hundred years in a box then returns to restore his family’s prosperity.
I really enoyed Dark Shadows because after a decade of supernatural fiction moving further and further away from the vampires-as-monsters model and toward an ideal where vampires are broody sparkly bunny munching boyfriends, it’s refreshing to see something that calls back to the good old days where vampires were scary. Scary and hilarious.
The movie begins in the 1870s when young canning company heir Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) beds Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) a servant girl and closet witch, then rejects her in favor of his one true love Josette (Bella Heathcote). Out comes the witchcraft…
And no, the witchcraft isn’t what made J.D. look so young, that’s special effects.
And make-up. Lots and lots of make-up.
… and suddenly Barabas’ parents are dead, Josette has thrown herself off a cliff, and Barnabas is a vampire (the white-faced, claw fingered, fang-toothed, burst-into-flames in the sunlight, sleeps in a coffin kind of vampire, not the sparkly kind). Angelique turns the townsfolk against him and he spends the next two hundred years chained up in a box until some idiots from a construction company dig it up and open it.
Most horror movies seem to start with idiots doing something idiotic
Barnabas is unfamiliar with the results of 200 years of innovation, which leads to my favorite thing: the fish out of water character. Barnabas twigs on things I wouldn’t even have guessed would be different. The golden arches of a McDonalds restaurant are a sign of Satan (M for Mephistopheles), he gingerly toes the asphalt before determining it’s safe to walk on, and he’s mystified by television.
“Reveal yourself, tiny songstress!”
He shows up at Collinwood manor to meet his descendants, who are struggling because of the monopoly Angelique’s company has on the local fishery, and decides to re-integrate himself back into the family. With his long fingered hands and archaic ways, it seems impossible that he could fool them into thinking he was human, but it’s not like he doesn’t fit in.
The Collins family is only slightly less dysfunctional than the Addams family.
Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) seems normal enough apart from her penchant for stashing macramé and sporting equipment in secret hideaways, but her brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) is a womanizing pickpocket, their resident therapist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) is a drunkard, their caretaker Willie (Jackie Earle Haley) is only one step up from Renfield, and their housekeeper Mrs. Johnson (Ray Shirley) is so old as to be “about as useful as a bucket without a bottom.”
And about as observant as one too.
There are also two kids in the mix: a cute little boy named David (Gully McGrath), who talks to his dead mother, and Carolyn (Chloe Moretz) a pouty and annoying teenager that I could have done without.
She spends the entire movie looking like this and it makes me want to punch her in the face.
They’re looked after by their governess, Victoria Winters (also Bella Heathcote) who’s a dead ringer for that old flame of Barnabas’ who started the whole mess in the first place and is still hanging transparently around asking for help before falling off the chandelier.
If Victoria’s a reincarnation, why’s her ghost still hanging around??
Barnabas wants to return the family to its former glory so with the help of some stashed wealth and his vampire powers, he revamps (hur hur, get it? Revamps?) the factories and collects a fleet of fishing boat captains to supply it. This of course attracts the attention of the still alive (and still insane) Angelique, who still wants (and can’t have) Barnabas’s love. So it’s a showdown between an immortal witch and an immortal vampire with the winner being whoever has something left standing at the end of it.
If anything is left standing, that is.
Plot wise it’s a little thin and some characters (like Victoria) disappear for long periods of time when they’re not needed, but the movie is more than funny enough to make up for it. The hammy expression on Johnny Depp’s face is enough to keep you going but there’s also a lot of really hilarious dialogue and hysterical faux-pas resulting from being 200 years out of date. So should you see it? Hell yeah. Dark Shadows is hilarious, horrifying, and perfect for anyone who (like me) is sick of Twilight.