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Movie ReviewsRating: 4 of 5 yaps

Dark Shadows

“Even Aphrodite herself could not construct a more odious union.”

“The Collinses have always held the biggest, most marvelous balls.”

Johnny Depp utters both lines in “Dark Shadows,” adapted for the screen from a 1960s TV series. Split the difference between highbrow eloquence and puerile puns, and you’ll find the middle ground occupied (mostly) with confidence in this eighth collaboration between Depp and director Tim Burton.

Depp and Burton’s coupling has yielded entertaining literary adaptations (“Sleepy Hollow,” “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory”) and three great films (“Edward Scissorhands,” “Ed Wood” and “Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”).

But 2010’s “Alice in Wonderland” was as uninspired as it was successful. Burton buried his wit and style in a barren land of bad CGI. Depp’s reliable embodiment of the misunderstood outsider got lost under bad makeup and a worse accent.

What a relief, then, to see them right their ship even as “Shadows” wobbles at times. Alternating between manic peppiness and mournful romance, “Shadows” instead adheres rather strongly to its soap-opera source material.

It’s inconsequential fun — a juicily entertaining story of family secrets, sex, greed and vanity and tossing in spooky shenanigans and ’70s gags. Only in an overwrought climax of cartoonish CGI does the soufflé collapse.

Hailing from 18th-century Liverpool, the Collins family emigrates England for coastal Maine. Soon, their fishing business becomes a cannery empire in a town that takes on their name, Collinsport, and lets them build the 200-room mansion, Collinwood.

It’s there that scion son Barnabas Collins (Depp) carries on a lusty, but loveless (for him) affair with a busty maid named Angelique (Eva Green). As Barnabas notes, of all the servants to sleep with, he chooses the witch. And when he finds his soulmate in Josette (Bella Heathcote), Angelique murders his parents and his beloved.

She then transforms Barnabas into a vampire — whom she promptly persuades the townspeople to chain and bury. Over two centuries, Angelique cheats death and sends the Collins dynasty into decrepitude via her own successful fish cannery.

Flash to 1972, when Barnabas is exhumed after groundbreaking on a McDonald’s near Collinsport (in a scene that takes an amusing jab at the chain).

Barnabas’s resurrection is, within PG-13 confines, bloody, rough and violent. It’s the first of several jolting moments in Seth Grahame-Smith’s script to remind us Barnabas is a creature who tempers his bloodlust only for his bloodline.

And what a sallow bunch of sad sacks Barnabas finds at Collinwood. There’s modern-day matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer, shamefully wasted given how few films she does anymore) and her perpetually pissed-off teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz).

Then there’s Elizabeth’s gadabout brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), his son David (Gulliver McGrath), who insists he can communicate with his dead mother’s ghost and Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), a psychiatrist treating David whose day-drinking makes her avoid the sun as much as Barnabas.

Bemused by his family’s apathy and his mansion’s disrepair, Barnabas hatches a plan to reclaim pride and prosperity. But he must also decide whether to acquiesce to Angelique’s aggressively resumed quest for his love — especially after he falls for David’s new governess, Victoria (also Heathcote), and Angelique threatens to wipe out what little family he has left.

Thankfully, “Dark Shadows” gives Burton room to roam in practical sets and CGI-assisted seaside visuals that authentic enough to feel the thick, salty Atlantic air.

Jackie Earle Haley’s surly groundskeeper amusingly grumbles that Collinwood is “a bitch to dust.” But it’s a marvelous, meticulous monument to production design that is truly one of Burton’s finest signatures. Kudos to production designer Rick Heinrichs for designing a hulking, intricate mansion with surprising amounts of crannies, nooks and crypts, as well as kicky blasts of retro kitsch a la “Mars Attacks!”

Burton’s acting cohort similarly draws on his strengths of obsessive moodiness. But think Sweeney Todd were he an intermittently happy swinger. Barnabas’s human urges are undead, too.

Thus, Depp plays Barnabas as Edward Scissorhands with an insatiably raging libido — suave in speech, but emotionally arrested and prone to rage. Unsurprisingly, Depp is equally at ease in despondence as when declaring his powers. He also achieves an appropriately spindly and spectral appearance, with a herky-jerky physicality and rigidity akin to “Nosferatu’s” Max Schreck.

And it’s not just Depp’s show. The alluring Green is dangerously sexy — strutting, wiggling and shimmying in ways to make any man or immortal melt. She also occasionally drops her voice into a decrepit register that belies her beauty.

The rest of “Shadows” throws together minor-key melancholy and major-key goofiness. Alice Cooper shows up before the film makes appropriately bleak use of his “The Ballad of Dwight Fry.” A spontaneous comic tryst leads to something sinister. And a goofy-fun sex scene between Barnabas and Angelique is tempered by a poetic visual resolution to their conflict.

About their battle: It manifests itself in a special-effects showcase that needs the feather-light touch of “Death Becomes Her,” not the tromping stampede of “Jumanji.” Plus, a stupendously lame twist for one character and an ill-advised coda dangle unnecessary sequel bait.

No, “Dark Shadows” is best left self-contained and self-assured in its one-and-done presentation of silly-serious storytelling. When Barnabas quotes Steve Miller’s refrain from “The Joker,” he makes it sound just a bit sad. “It’s not Shakespeare,” he utters, and neither is “Dark Shadows” — entertainingly pitched somewhere between a timeless play’s tragedy and a ’70s pop song’s playfulness.

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15 Responses to “Dark Shadows”

  1. Mikey says:

    After watching the trailer and reading a few reviews, I get it now; it’s not a one-to-one remake, it’s more of a re-imagining. Which, unless you can be open minded about, you’re not going to enjoy. I think some people, like my mom, think that it’s going to be just like the 90s remake. They’re prolly going to be disappointed with that, but I be they still end up liking the movie.

  2. Michelle Hurley says:

    I am a HUGE Depp/Burton fan, but this film definitely left me wanting MORE! There could have been A LOT more humor, more quirkiness, and more music esp. Cooper! Over all I think 4 yaps are a stretch, more like 3 yaps :(

  3. Carl says:

    The trailer for this movie almost made me not want to see it but it was not real a comedy like I thought. It ended up being entertaining in the way the old series was. A campy soap opera. I don’t know if it was 4 yaps maybe 3 and a half

  4. Linda says:

    I expected a little more comedy in this film. It pretty much showed all the funny parts in the trailer. This movie was a little boring for my taste. Very disappointed.

  5. James says:

    I really agree with the score that the film yap gave this move. It was great when you watch the previews of this movie you get a sense that the movie will be a silly one. One that is chessy with a plot that only serves to get from one laugh to the other. Fortunately this was not the case. Dark Shadows has its laughs but as the movie reaches its conclusions you will be happy with how serious and deep the plot and each of the characters are.

  6. Greyson says:

    I really enjoyed this movie. I will admit that im not old enough to remember the tv series, but this didnt stop me from seeing the movie. If you have the consistent combination of Depp and Burton. Your going to get some movie magic. Depp as usual brings his unique taste in the character to Baranabas which really helps carry this movie. Plus having a former Bond girl as his stalker helps.

  7. Kent P says:

    Dark Shadows is a wonderful movie which plays perfect homage to original 1966 ABC soap opera. Depp is the 3rd actor we’ve seen to play Barnabas Collins, and definitely a strong second behind the late Jonathan Frid (whose guest appearance in this movie should have given him more air time as it will sadly be his last). Depp was great in his role, portraying a more realistic man out of time than has been seen before. And he is just one member of a great cast. Green as Angelique and Pfeiffer as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard stand out greatly in the film as well. Though none will ever top Lara Parker (also making a cameo) as the evil Angelique, Green fills the shoes quite nicely in a more sexual way. And Pfeiffer gives life to Elizabeth that Joan Bennett never did. Yes, it did have its share of farce, one-liners and sight gags, but the movie is a classic reimagining of the original which keeps just the right amount of old and adding a great quality of new. As a fan of the original (I even own a Josette’s music box), I cannot give this movie a higher endorsement.

  8. cleda Cox says:

    I cannot wait to see Johnny Depp in this. I love him

  9. Katie says:

    I was so excited to see this! Tim Burton, Johnny Depp and vampires, such a no brainer. I briefly remeber watching this show with my dad. I really enjoyed it, Depp did a good job as Barnabas Collins. I’m hoping for a part two!

  10. Kyle says:

    I have really enjoyed the the Tim Burton / Jonny Depp combo throughout the years. I am not a fan of anything twilightesque, but I am excited to see this flick. I appreciate the review.

  11. Kevin says:

    I was ecited to see this movie. I LOVE vampire movies (Twilight does NOT count… diamonds in the sun… really?!?!) I have never seen the TV show and I knew it was going to be campy. I did not hate the moive but I agree w/ Matt. There were parts where I was just like "come on next scene please!" Johnny Depp was AMAZING!!! I would wait and see it in the $1 theater or Redbox it.

  12. Matt says:

    I have never seen the TV series, but thought this movie was ok. There were parts I loved, and then parts that I thought were kind of boring and just ready for it to move on. Some good performances for sure…Depp is great. Loved Michelle Pfeiffer and Chloe does a good job of playing a disenchanged 70’s teenagers! Guess they didn’t have enough money in the budget to "de-age" Alice Cooper! LOL Overall I didn’t hate it, but did not love it as I have some of Burton’s previous movies like Big Fish. But unlike Big Fish that dealt with some very heavy topics of our mortality, this is what it should be–light, fun, and totally overdone melodrama.

  13. Scott says:

    I was a fan of the original series so was pretty nervous about what Burton would do with the film. But I’m happy to say I wasn’t disappointed. I felt he made it just as campy as the series and there really wasn’t anyone who could pull off Barnabas as well as Johnny Depp. Seriously – is there any role that man can’t tackle?
    I would definitely recommend this movie to any fan of the series (or Burton/Depp fans)!

  14. Charlie says:

    I was pleasantly surprised by this movie not knowing much about it but the trailers that seemed to paint it as a full fledged comedy spewing cheesy vampire and 70s jokes around left and right.
    But it was not that at all. Neither a comedy or a drama and the one liner jokes spewed throughout the trailer were much better taken in context with their timing and subtle wit in which they were delivered. Many so understated that you weren’t sure if they meant it as a joke or not.

    The story was interesting but seemed to be jammed uncomfortably into a movie time slot. I googled the Dark shawdows series when I left and saw that it included amazingly over 1000 episodes and from the synopsis given it seemed that they tried to fit most of the main plot line into this movie.

    The mansion CGI was amazing. Not over-the-top ornate and weird like much of Burton’s stuff but just enough beyond believable to be extravagant and mysterious and feel like it could be a real place.

    Overall, my opinion was that it was not the greatest movie but it really made me intrigued with the essence of the story line and I want to dig up some of the old series and watch some to discover more.

  15. NickM says:

    Thanks for the review. I am on the fence about seeing this. I haven’t really liked anything Tim Burton/ Jonny Depp has done for awhile. Maybe I will give this one a shot.