Let me begin this one with a wee, little disclaimer: While the 2012 film Dark Shadows was based on the 1966 soap opera of the same name, and they do apparently carry over some similarities from the show to the film, I have never seen the original show. With that said, I am, however, familiar with director Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's work over the years, and Dark Shadows is just about everything you could expect from the pairing. The film didn't fare too well at the box office this summer (in fact, it tanked), but after viewing the film, I have to say it is indeed an acquired taste and not a movie for everyone.
In fact, in retrospect, I'd have to say that Dark Shadows is probably geared toward the horror fans, yet it doesn't contain enough of what those viewers usually like about those movies to appease them. While also a comedy, it may be too dark and twisted to appease those fans as well. Burton aimed to capture more of the classic monster movie feel, and as such, probably missed the mark a bit, but Dark Shadows ultimately may be one of those movies that is too schizophrenic in tone to appeal to the general public. To be honest, I did enjoy the overall story of the movie, as well as some of the tongue-in-cheek humor. And, admittedly, I was a bit uncomfortable with the spell-casting elements that made up the backstory of Barnabas Collins's curse by a witch who turns him into a vampire, but it is an element that doesn't permeate the movie (I didn't know about the magic element going into watching the movie). The backbone of Dark Shadows is the tale of Barnabas Collins and his cursed love for a woman who is then sent to her death by a witch named Angelique who wishes to have Barnabas all to herself. Barnabas doesn't love Angelique, and so she adopts the "if I can't have you, nobody will" mindset and dooms him to life as a vampire, locking him in a box for 200 years. When he's unearthed by a construction crew in 1972, he awakens to a completely different world and attempts to join his ancestors in the Collins mansion. As he adjusts to this new life as a vampire among mortals, Angelique -- now going simply by Angie -- learns of his return and swears to put him back into the ground from where he came.
Johnny Depp is great as our hero with cursed villainous tendencies. He's a good man deep down, but is forced to kill innocent people for their blood (due to being a vampire) on more than one occasion, all thanks to Angelique's spell. The real villain of the story, however, is Eva Green's Angelique/Angie. Eva seems to just revel in the opportunity to play such an evil and manipulative temptress who will do anything to either win over Barnabas or lock him away again. Her scenes are some of the best in the film, and the two play off each other extremely well. Depp is a fantastic character actor and Barnabas has a bit of the Jack Sparrow character in him with more elegance and naive charm that comes from being displaced from the 1770's to 1972. The Collins family of the 70s is a pretty bizarre bunch, too. Michelle Pfeiffer is the head of the house, Liz, and her daughter, Carolyn (played by Chloë Grace Moretz), is a fifteen-year-old flower child with quite the attitude. Roger Collins, played by Jonny Lee Miller, is Liz's brother and the father of little David, a troubled boy who hasn't been the same since his mother's tragic passing. Roger's rather a sleazeball who is anything but the right father figure for David, and he is frequently shown as having no redeemable qualities. Dr. Julia Hoffman, who is played by Burton's wife Helena Bonham Carter, is a psychiatrist (and alcoholic) who had moved into the house to help David years earlier but never left. Finally, the grounds keeper, Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley), is a loyal servant of the family and becomes Barnabas's righthand man upon his return. It's a motley crew, and quite the disfunctional family, but Baranabas's presence proves to be good for them. And, interestingly enough, Dark Shadows ends up being a pro-family film that stresses the natural bond that family creates.
Tim Burton has proven to be a pretty versatile director over the years, especially evidenced by the quirky Big Fish, but Dark Shadows probably is more in line with the kind of work one expects when they hear the name of 'Tim Burton.' From Pee-wee's Big Adventure to Beetlejuice to Batman to Sleepy Hollow and on, Burton's name is synonomous with dark, twisted horror films with a bizarre sense of humor mixed in. Dark Shadows wears the PG-13 rating with pride, pushing it at times with some sensuality and the murderous ways of Barnabas. There is one particular sequence where Barnabas first is let out of his coffin by a construction crew, that he ends up tossing the men left and right, biting their necks to consume their blood. Throughout the entire movie, we never see him actually sinking his teeth into anyone, nor do we see the wounds on characters' necks afterward, but we often see him, mouth agape, going in for the bite, as well as the bloody aftermath on his mouth and clothing. There's also one instance where he bites a victim and we see their feet dangling and blood dripping to the ground in a trickle as Barnabas does the deed off screen. Also, the senusality factor is particularly naughty in two scenes. The first example is a short one, and done rather subtly (considering), but it involves Dr. Hoffman responding to a compliment from Barnabas about her beauty by lowering her head out of the movie frame in front of his crotch. The camera then focuses on his face as he realizes what is about to happen and the scene immediately cuts away. It's played for a laugh, but it feels rather out of place in the movie. The second instance is a longer, much less subtle encounter between Barnabas and Angie as she tries to seduce him. We see her caressing him while he's seated and reaching down his front, which causes him to stand up and back away from her. She then blackmails him into giving in to her advances and she tears his shirt open, as well as her own (revealing her cleavage-y top). He gets on top of her on the couch (both are clothed) and they proceed to violently and passionately make out, flying around the room, smashing everything in their way as they passionately grope and kiss each other. We even see her appear to have more than two arms in one moment as she caresses him and later we see her tongue come out and lick his neck in a lizard-like fashion. It all ends with the two them sitting on the couch (both clothed) after the act, the room looking demolished, and him regretting what they did. That, coupled with a few other verbal comments during the movie, make the film a lot more adult in nature. All in all, the movie lives up to its ominous title, and anyone who is familiar with Burton's usual fare can probably assume accurately the kind of movie they'll be getting from Dark Shadows.
What I liked most about the movie were the characters and some of the humor (albeit it being kind of twisted). Depp and Green are the highlights, while Pfeiffer also makes a wonderful addition to the cast. You can really feel for Barnabas, even when he can't help but do some heinous things due to being cursed. He's a victim of being a hopeless romantic for his beloved Josette, and one can't fault him for that. Elements of his entrapment brought to mind the 1999 remake of The Mummy (especially in the way his origin story was told at the beginning, and the way he's unearthed and then consumes those who rescued him uintentionally), while the fantastical and over-the-top action-packed brawl at the end felt remarkably like The Haunting from that same year. While Dark Shadows is significantly better than the latter, it probably doesn't balance the humor and horror as well as the former. The over-the-top finale in this movie seems to merge all of the monster-movie horror elements that would make this more appropriate for a Halloween viewing than any other time of the year. It has a satisfying ending, but Dark Shadows is a pretty creepy flick, with all of that getting pretty amped up by its end.
While I can understand why Dark Shadows didn't connect with a wider audience, I found the film to be a lot more entertaining than I'd expected. Again, I wasn't too keen on the magical elements and witchcraft, but the movie didn't focus on it all too much (or paint it in a positive light). Still, it's something to be cautious of. The perfomances (not to mention the attention to detail in the grand sets in the movie) help make Dark Shadows a stronger piece, but the unbalanced tone of the film, along with Burton's directing style being an acquired taste, keep the movie from having a wider appeal. Fans of Depp, Burton and Green will especially enjoy Dark Shadows, but unless you're into vampires, classic monster flicks, and a movie that may try to be a little too much of everything, you may just want to pass on through these shadows.
- John DiBiase (reviewed: 9/30/12)
Blu-Ray Special Features Review
Dark Shadows is available in two different Blu-Ray packages, one including a "movie only" version with Ultraviolet, and one that includes special features, Ultraviolet, and a DVD (this is a review of the latter). You can also get the movie on DVD or early at digital retailers. The following are the extras on the Blu-Ray combo pack...
Focus Points - Becoming Barnabas (5:23) - This featurette showcases Johnny talking about what it was like becoming Barnabas and how he prepared for the role. The cast members also talk about Depp and they address the look they were going for with his character.
Focus Points - Welcome To Collinsport! (4:26) - This is a short featurette dedicated to the set designs used in the movie. They had actually built the Collinsport area from scratch as well as the mansion, and the attention to detail isn't wasted!
Focus Points - The Collinses: Every Family Has Its Demons (6:49) is dedicated to the casting of the film and their respective characters. It's interesting to see how they were chosen and what their history is. I would have liked maybe a little more focus on the TV show source material and how they compared (for those of us unfamiliar with the show), but it's a great featurette regardless.
Focus Points - Reliving A Decade (4:54) covers the 70s design of clothing and vibe for the movie. You can tell they had a blast revisiting that era for this.
Focus Points - Angelique: A Witch Scorned (2:58) - Burton, Depp and Green talk about Angelique and what drives the twisted villainess.
Focus Points - Alice Cooper Rocks Collinsport! (2:25) is all about Alice Cooper's cameo in the film. Burton and Depp, along with a couple other cast members, express their intense appreciation for Cooper's music in this segment. Cooper even reflects on his role in the film as well.
Focus Points - Dark Shadowy Secrets (3:53) - This featurette is dedicated to the film's special effects, from CG sequences and green screen work to the blowing up of the real cannery building and the burning of a scaled mansion model.
Focus Points - A Melee of Monstrous Proportions (3:59) focuses a great deal on the huge action-packed finale. We hear from the cast and stunt coordinator about how some of the scenes were filmed, and we learn a bit about how Chloe (who played Carolyn) has a bit of an action-star heart in her, having filmed all of her own stunts for this movie!
Focus Points - Dark Shadows: The Legend Bites Back (2:05) - The final focus point briefly addresses the horror elements of the movie and what tone they were hoping to achieve for this movie. Depp even gushes about getting to work with Christopher Lee who once played Dracula in a film himself.
Deleted Scenes (5:39) - There are 5 deleted scenes. The first scene is a chat between Liz and Julia about Barnabase, shortly after he arrives (1 "S" word, 1 "G-d"). The second scene is between Barnabas and David as they talk about dinosaurs while playing with them on the floor and the value of family. Next is a scene of girl talk between Carolyn and Victoria as they smoke a cigarette and talk about Barnabas and Liz (1 "a" word). The fourth scene shows Willie driving drunk with Barnabas in the car as they approach some police cars looking for the murderer of the hippies (1 "S" word). Lastly, Julia approaches Vicky after she had seen Josette's ghost.
- John DiBiase, (reviewed: 9/29/12)
Parental Guide: Brief Summary of Content
Sex/Nudity: Barnabas and Angelique passionately kiss in a flashback; David antagonizes his sister by saying "Carolyn touches herself, she makes noises like a kitten;" Carolyn says "I'm pretty sure he called me a hooker;" Angie kisses Barnabas passionately. She suggests they had a "lot of fun" 'here' and glides her clothed behind across the piano keys. Then she moves to the sofa and sits on it, suggestively adding "and here;" Barnabas calls Angie the "whore of Beelzebub" and the "succubus of Satan;" Julia asks Barnabas if he's aware of "patient confidentiality" and he asks her to enlighten him. She then lowers her head out of the frame (but toward his crotch) and the camera focuses on Barnabas's face as his eyebrows raise in surprise. The scene immediately ends (oral sex is implied); Barnabas tells Angie to go to "h*ll" "and there may Asmodeus himself suckle from your diseased teat;" Angie puts Barnabas's hand on her chest briefly. She then comes up behind him and starts cuddling his head and rubbing his chest suggestively. As she reaches her hand further down his front, he jumps up. They verbally spar before she rips open her jacket to reveal her cleavage in her lingerie-ish top. She tells him to take her and begins tearing open his clothes. She threatens Vicky's life so he gives in to Angie's advances and the two proceed to make out violently around the room. We then see them sitting on the couch, her smoking a cigarette, and him commenting on regretting what they just did (apparently having just gone all the way together); As Barnabas is trying to encourage the family to throw a ball (party), Roger comments that their family could use some "b*lls," and Barnabas talks about the family holding large wonderful balls (while he means the parties, it sounds like the body part); We briefly see Roger making out with a woman passionately on a couch; We see Angie in a V-cut dress that dips very low in the front, revealing a lot of cleavage; Angie removes her panties and puts them over Barnabas's face while he's lying in a coffin. Later, David finds him like that and asks why he has a woman's underwear on his face.
Vulgarity/Language: 3 "S" words, 6 "d*mn," 4 "h*ll," 4 "G-d," 2 "b*tch," 2 "J-sus," 1 "a--h*le," 1 "oh my G-d," 3 "b*stards," 1 "Chr-st," 1 "teat"
Alcohol/Drugs: We see Willie drunk and stumbling around; Carolyn asks if Barnabas is stoned; We see a group of hippies sitting around a fire smoking weed. One of them passes a joint to Barnabas who just looks at it and passes it on; We see a woman on a couch smoking weed; Julia is seen frequently drinking and/or drunk and hungover.
Blood/Gore: Barnabas's eyes bleed as his fingers elongate and distort when he is transformed into a vampire; We see blood on a hand that grabs various construction workers by the throat and attacks them. We then see Barnabas's face with blood around his mouth and blood on his hands. As he bites another man, we see blood dripping to the ground in a stream as it falls. We then see Barnabas again with blood on his mouth and clothes; We see a sheet over a dead body with a little bit of blood on it; We see a medical line coming out of Barnabas's arm with blood going through it; We see a woman with a line of blood to her arm. Barnabas realizes what she's doing and bites her neck. We then see a bag of blood drain and then we see blood on his chin; Barnabas drinks a glass of blood; Blood squirts out of Barnabas's back when he is shot twice, but he is fine; Blood starts trickling out of paintings on the wall; Angie's skin is seen cracking like glass, with pieces missing. She reaches into her chest (which is cracking like glass) and pulls our her own heart outside her chest and we see it beating before it turns to glass and shatters in her hand; Barnabas has some blood on his chin after biting a person's neck; It's neither bloody nor gory, but we see Angie spew green vomit out of her mouth at Barnabas twice, the second time hitting him square in the face.
Violence: SPOILERS AHEAD: As the result of a spell, we see a piece of building fall and crush Barnabas's parents; Because of a spell, a woman leaps off a cliff to her death. Barnabas then jumps after her and lands on the rocks beside her. When he gets up, he suddenly becomes a vampire; The lid of Barnabas' coffin shoots off, throwing a man into the air and he lands on the ground. We then see every member of a construction crew get grabbed and thrown in different ways, hitting glass vehicle windows and one even hits an electrical box which sparks. Barnabas is basically biting and killing each one, drinking their blood; Barnabas slaps Willie on the head; We hear people screaming as Barnabas is killing them (from a distance in the dark, we don't see it); Angie and Barnabas violently make out around the room, smashing tables, walls, glass, pots, etc, with her tearing up paintings and floor boards and his clothes with her fingernails; We see Angie drag her fingernails in anger across a doorway and then her face cracks; We see a woman with a line of blood to her arm. Barnabas realizes what she's doing and bites her neck. We then see a bag of blood drain; Willie and Barnabas dump a woman's dead body wrapped up into the water. We then see her sinking in the water; Barnabas grabs Roger by the throat and threatens him; Barnabas's jacket catches on fire; We see a building explode due to a spell cast; We see a flashback of Victoria in a straight jacket and being given electroshock therapy to her temples; An angry mob chases after Willie's car; Barnabas grabs Angie by the throat and her skin cracks like glass. He bites her neck and she throws him through the mansion front door. She then tosses Willie, who's wielding an ax, aside; Angie spews green vomit out of her mouth at Barnabas twice, the second time hitting him square in the face; Liz shoots Angie with a shotgun several times, chipping away pieces of her skin like cracked glass; Some house trim comes alive and becomes a snake and attacks Liz's shotgun. Liz shoots it to pieces; Angie and Barnabas spar (her head spins a bit); Paintings in the house bleed and scupltures come to life and grab Barnabas, entrapping him. Angie threatens to kill David, but he tells her his mom will kill her, and a ghost appears and screams, throwing Angie into a glass chandelier, which then crashes to the ground; Angie is seen with her skin fracturing like glass, with pieces missing. She reaches into her own chest, which cracks like glass or an egg shell, and pulls out a purple, beating heart. She holds it out to Barnabas, and then it turns to glass and she crushes it in her hand and dies; A woman jumps off a cliff and a man jumps after her, catches her, bites her neck and the two hit the rocks below. We then see that the woman is a vampire too; We see a woman tied up at the bottom of the ocean, apparently dead, suddenly open their eyes and the screen goes black.
** Disclaimer: All reviews are based solely on the opinions of the reviewer. Most reviews are rated on how the reviewer enjoyed the film overall, not on content. However, if the content really affects the reviewer's opinion of the film, it will definitely affect the reviewer's rating.