Dark Shadows

By Mark Ramsey | 2012/05/14

Any movie featuring Michelle Pfeiffer wielding a shotgun should, under normal circumstances, be irresistable.  God knows a shotgun would have done wonders for The Fabulous Baker Boys.  But resistance is anything but futile in Dark Shadows, Tim Burton’s latest reimagining of a franchise fondly remembered by a generation that hasn’t frequented a movie house since Kevin Bacon went Footloose and Charles was actually In Charge.

Does there exist a brand that Tim thinks can’t be improved by his quirky humor?

Planet of the Apes?  Let’s add the comic stylings of Paul Giamatti, because lack of comic timing was certainly the problem in the original. Dark Shadows?  Is that Johnny Depp at the intersection of Jack Sparrow Road, Scissorhands Lane, and Wonka Terrace?  It must be time for Depp to pay another mass appeal performance toll on the Hunter S. Thompson “Who the Hell’s Gonna See This Vanity Project?” highway.  Well, okay then.

Johnny is Barnabas Collins, cursed by a witch to be undead, cursed by Tim Burton to be unfunny, and by the audience simply cursed.  When his beloved topples to her death off Widow’s Peak, we are reminded of the value of a good safety fence – ideally one that rings this theater.

I knew we were in trouble when the cops drew a chalk outline around the box office.

Johnny throws himself after her, but to no avail.  He rises with pallid complexion and long, sharp fingernails, doomed forever to be a vampire or a Joan Rivers impersonator (in case there’s a difference).

His lady love is now a ghost.  “It’s easy to look like a ghost when a backlight acts like an x-ray,” said skeletal actress Bella Heathcote, who was fluttering in a gentle breeze at the time and pointed to the image of a Jamba Juice from 2009 still digesting in her stomach.

Watch the sea critters crawling out of her long-dead and long-hungry mouth.  “I can’t even keep seafood down,” she explains.

Cut to 1972, when Barnabas reappears just in time for an era few active moviegoers experienced firsthand and is hazy for the rest of us. Karen Carpenter would die and go to Heaven if she knew one of her songs was actually on a new soundtrack, had she not long since died and gone to Heaven, where she is crashing at a cloud with Simon & Garfunkel’s brand name on it.

Johnny returns to his ancestral home whereupon he spends an inordinate amount of time admiring the house.  Okay, it’s a grand old house with a long history, I get it.  Move on.

“You must put your birthing hips to good use, ‘lest they shrivel up and die,” Barnabas advises young Victoria, the reincarnation of his dearly departed whose appearance and appetite have not changed in two-hundred years.

“I was blown away by this role,” Heathcote said.  “No, literally, as I was reading the script a gust of wind carried me out an open window.”

Wherever Tim Burton goes a job for Helena Bonham Carter is sure to follow, and Dark Shadows provides another opportunity for Tim to murder his long-time gal pal on the big screen.  I don’t know what kind of submerged psychology finds this sort of sadism eternally appealing, but a wild-haired creative genius acting out fantasies of killing his wife…?  Sounds like a Tim Burton movie to me!

And so the man-out-of-his-time “fish out of water” jokes transition to the bland and boring plot, whereby Barnabas must resurrect the family fishing empire to defeat the witch who cursed him because revenge is a dish best served with some cocktail sauce on the side.

Look out!  It’s a big party at the Barnabas estate!  Nope, it has nothing to do with the plot, it’s just an excuse for an extended Alice Cooper musical sequence!  Alice Cooper!?  Be still the heart of moviegoers everywhere!  Is he hosted by Mike Douglas?  I have to get home early, Sammy Davis is on All in the Family.

Finally, the climax:  Where the witch battles Barnabas’ family for control of what’s left of our measly attention spans in a scene so long I felt like I was chained in a coffin for two-hundred years.

In a sign that optimism springs eternal, Dark Shadows wraps up with a setup for a sequel.

That should earn it a special Oscar in the category of Best Supporting Wishful Thinking.

This movie is framed with the quaint notion that blood is thicker than water.  Unfortunately Dark Shadows is thinner than both.

And Bella Heathcote is thinner than all.


3 Responses to “Dark Shadows”

  1. megansspark says:

    I’ve been reading basically everything about this film, your review was the prize winner for most entertaining, heh! You should have written the film, if humor was the intent. Great stuff. I’ve been following Dark Shadows for years. Love the old show. The build up on this film, (five years worth) apprehension, and then crashing of expectations– much like the waves on the shore– has been interesting, as a sociological phenomenon. I’m not laughing at the enormous waste of time and energy some have put into this. I hope the most disappointed of the fans will take this opportunity to explore new things and make connections in life that aren’t just targeting their pocketbook.


    Mark Ramsey Reply:

    Thanks Megan.

    Like Tim B and Johnny D, I grew up with that show. So I feel you.

    I love Tim Burton and Johnny, both. But they should do more imagining and less re-imagining.


  2. megansspark says:

    They are both favs of mine too… I told a pal this film had everything going for it… stellar cast, director, unlimited funds. Seems like a rushed job did it in.


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