Arts movie review

Dark humor, Dark Shadows

Tim Burton churns out another entertaining gothic film

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Resurrected vampire Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) presides over his familial home in Dark Shadows.
Photo by peter mountain. courtesy of warner bros. pictures


Dark Shadows

Directed by Tim Burton

Starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, and Eva Green

Rated PG-13

Remember being five and giggling about clumsy characters and silly scenes such as a vampire not seeing himself in the mirror while brushing his teeth, an orphan under a bed sheet trying to scare away a guest, or even a vampire chilling out with stoners before sucking their blood and perhaps inviting Alice Cooper to his house later that week?

Dark Shadows brings you back to those days. Tim Burton’s newest film is based on a horror-fantasy soap opera from the 1960s to the 1970s. This movie version takes place in 1972, when vampire Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) escapes from 200 years of confinement in an underground coffin. He had been born into a rich and powerful family with a large fishing business, but when he broke the heart of a witch, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), she killed his family and his lover Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote) and cursed all the following members of the Collins family.

Angelique, still alive when Barnabas returns, tries to win him back and destroy the fishing business he tries to recover. Barnabas joins up with the current-generation of Collins to fight Angelique. The current dysfunctional Collins family features Michelle Pfeiffer as Elizabeth Collins, her 15-year-old hippie daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), and her malicious brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller). Roger’s son David (Gulliver McGrath) lost his mother at his young age but is able to communicate to her ghost. Mrs. Collins hires into the household a beautiful governess for David, Victoria Winters, who happens to be Josette in one of her past lives. Helena Bonham Carter plays an alcoholic psychiatrist, Dr. Hoffman, who resides with the family and is tasked with healing David’s grief.

Dark Shadows compares visually to a large collage of Burton’s work throughout his lifetime. Think Charlie and the Chocolate Factory plus Edward Scissorhands plus Big Fish plus Mars Attacks! … The list goes on. The movie is also reminiscent of Burton’s classic collection of poems The Melancholy Death of Oyster Boy & Other Stories as recurrent images from his writing, such as little pale children or a woman sinking to the bottom of the ocean, now take the form of living characters. Dark Shadows is nothing new or exciting, but rather is familiar and comforting.

Art direction and set design are marvelous as always. The costume design is by Colleen Atwood, who won the Academy Award for Costume Design for Alice in Wonderland in 2010. If one should take one thing back from this movie, it is its visual appeal — as long as the audience is not repulsed by fake blood and absurdity.

Eva Green is gorgeous in her evilness, and Michelle Pfeiffer is stunning in every second of her appearance. Danny Elfman is responsible for the music, selecting pieces from The Carpenters, Barry White (for the violent vampire/witch love scene), Black Sabbath, and Elton John. “Nights in White Satin” by the Moody Blues plays in the opening credits, shifting from the gothic 17th century scene in the most mind-bending way.

Dark Shadows is an epic fairy tale, Tim Burton style, with occasional innocent morbidness and flamboyant visuals contrasting depressing grayscale scenes. So if your inner core happens to be a morbid yet happy child who has strange cravings for visual stimulation, Dark Shadows is a good couple hours off from reality. But not everyone fulfills those condition, of course.