Movie Review: ‘Dark Shadows’

Davalyn Stepzinski

If you have any intention of seeing “Dark Shadows,” just watch the trailer a few times, because it not only spares you the tiresome and long-winded plotline, it gives you the best jokes and songs from the film, saving you 113 minutes of your life.

As someone that grew up watching reruns of “The Munsters” and the various monster movies of Abbot and Costello, I can safely say I had a soft spot for the traditional monster icons, as well as a certain fear of them, due to the pieces of the original horror films if I stayed up late enough to catch them. Unfortunately, with the onset of the craze between teenage girls falling in love with vampires and werewolves, their mystery has become something people generally shelf as overdone. Perhaps this is one reason zombies have made a pop culture comeback, as an outlet for those exhausted with current mainstream material.

Regardless, “Dark Shadows” does not change this attitude nor does it get saved by zombies eating the entire cast at the end, sadly.

I’ll admit, while I was aware that “Dark Shadows” was a television show that ran more like a monster soap opera after some stumbling about on Wikipedia, I never did know of its existence until a month ago, when I was deciding what movies to put on my top five movies of spring 2012. I was not expecting the movie to be terrifying by any means, but I had hoped it to be amusing and another creative venture for Tim Burton and Johnny Depp to add to their collaborative portfolio, but it did not live up to the hype on really any levels for me.

To summarize the plot, the Collins family travel from England to Maine in order to begin a new life in America. In time the family becomes extremely wealthy and the namesake of the town, making their son Barnabas Collins (Depp) quite the fortunate bachelor. As odds would have it, he has an affair with a woman, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), before realizing another is his true love. And Bouchard turns out to be a witch, with a passion for ruining his life, by not only killing his love Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote) but also turning him into a vampire and locking him away for 200 years. He escapes through accident and finds himself in the modern day of 1972, completely confused until he makes it back to his family’s estate and learns their wealth and name has run into ruin since his disappearance. Thus, he makes it his goal to get them back into the town’s good graces and restore them to their former brilliance while dealing with the witch who has turned him into a vampire.

Nothing about this film is supposed to be taken seriously, because it is pure entertainment and it is meant to exist in a world other than our own. However, even when you do that, this film makes no sense and is not even entertaining; I toyed with the possibility of getting up and leaving a few times, for it is slow and absurd, and none of the characters captivate you into caring what happens to them. Not really. I have a high regard for Johnny Depp for a few different reasons, but there was no magic in this role to make it memorable or keep you watching the whole way through. In fact, I found Heathcote to be a much more fascinating character, for her upbeat quirkiness (and similarities to “Glee”‘s Emma Pillsbury) when she becomes governess to one of the new Collins children as well as Barnabas’s new love interest. There is one sequence during the screen credits in the beginning that sets up her character quite beautifully. She could not save the movie though, not from the haphazard plotline and her two-dimensional compatriots.

In defense of the movie, the production was nice in its recreation of the ’70s and using only music from that time period. It gave it a nice sense of nostalgia and kept the ties to the original show more clearly. The manor of the Collins family itself is a beautiful piece of work, which begs the question of whether it was built on a sound stage or shot on-location, for the detail is something to be admired. The make-up is also nicely done, in that it doesn’t go overboard but plays on Burton’s past films as well as the typical stereotype of vampires: pasty and dark-eyed. For that reason, the novelty value of the film is lovely. It is just unfortunate the script, plot and acting cannot add to it.

For that reason, this film is nothing special. I cannot speak accurately for those who are fans of the television series, but my advice would be to just make a night of your favorite episodes and rent this when it leaves theaters if you have any desire to see it.