Dark Shadows 2012 Review
I grew up with Dark Shadows on TV, in fact, one of my first TV memories is Victoria Winters running into the house to find Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard, and reporting she’d seen a light in the window of an unused portion of the house. Liz tells her she’s imagining things, no one’s been in that part of the house for years! Next shot was the window and a light moving past it, accompanied by the three chord stinger. I loved the two films inspired by the series, “House of Dark Shadows,” and “Night of Dark Shadows.”
I was too young to note how disjointed “Night” was, due to the studio forcing producer and Director Dan Curtis to re-edit the entire film in 24 hours because they thought it too long to be commercial. I liked the 1991 revival. Since I heard Burton & Depp were doing this film, I had high anticipation for a big budget version. I had high hopes we would get a quality film. I really wanted to like it. The trailers gave me pause, but… I really wanted to like it.
I saw the movie (it’s most definitely a movie, NOT a film, and a comedy, NOT a serious re-visioning.) with about 17 other people. One of whom found the jokes funny, but only the ones seen in the trailer. This person also decided to sing the rest of “I’d like to teach the world to sing” long after the brief snippet in the film was over. So that kinda tells you who will enjoy the film.
I’ll get the cameos out of the way first. Blink, and miss both “cameos”, in actuality, ‘background extra’ appearances. Kathryn Leigh Scott (former Maggie Evans/Josette) does say “Thank you for having us.” And that’s about how long you see everyone, is the time it takes to say that. Jonathan Frid, the original and I dare say, unrivaled Barnabas Collins, sailed on in so fast, you’re better off looking at stills, you get a better view. I almost missed it, and I didn’t blink! (Now one person has said that Frid said something, possibly “Good Evening,” but if he did, I didn’t hear it. Others have said the same.) I barely saw Mr. Frid, and I was watching closely, and the soundtrack was LOUD, so I don’t think I missed anything. And you’ll have to pay me to sit through it again. That said, I would love to have heard Mr. Frid say “Harrumph! Some party, the door’s answered by a clown in drag!” That would have made it worth while.)
There’s a brief second where Michelle Pfeiffer looks at the stage when Carolyn speaks the first lines of an Alice Cooper song. For a moment, you can see David Selby (original Quentin), Lara Parker (original Angelique), and Kathryn Leigh Scott (Original Maggie Evans/Josette). Blink, or sneeze, it’s gone. Alice Cooper’s cameo lasted a lot longer. Two song’s worth, as a matter of fact. The originals were given short shrift.
If you’re paying to see this film just for the original’s cameos, don’t bother. You want to actually see the cameos? Look at the still photographs and watch the first featurette on Youtube at the 1:56 mark. It’ll last longer and be a lot more satisfying. It was quite clear this was just a publicity stunt so BurtonDepp’s press people could point to this and say “homage” and “tribute” without meaning it. Frankly given their overuse of the terms, I think they’ve forgotten what they mean. “To make a mockery of” is NOT the definition, boys.
It’s “Dark Shadows” in name only. The title and character names are lifted from the series. They followed the original’s storylines as in taking the names of characters and title of the show and that’s pretty much it. Oh, there is a vampire and a werewolf and a witch and an old house and a fishing village. And that’s about what they have in common. Any further resemblance ends, even to the octopus Depp used as a wig. Frid was dead right when he said “too many curls.”
In a new invention for Barny, his cane now sports an ivory dog’s head, since silver now burns vampires. Where the hell did THAT come from? For all practical purposes, this is “Dark Shadows: The Sitcom.”
That particular headache aside, let’s tackle the other ones: The first 20 minutes were… OK. “Not bad” is about the best I can say, as it encapsulated the Collins family history in 5 minutes, Angelique’s, Barnabas’, and Josette’s back-story in about 5 minutes, the cursing bit and Josette’s death in another 5 minutes, and the boxing of Barnabas by the angry mob led by Angelique (a la Frankenstein) in the final 5. And Barny is a master of magic as well.
A major anachronism, which also happens to be a joke setup, as well as product placement to the nth degree, is when a McDonald’s logo shows up in an allegedly ancient book of magic as revealing the name of Satan as Mephistopheles. I assume that’s meant to be a clever insult to McDonald’s as well as product placement. And as seen in the trailers, yes, the McDonald’s sign is one of the first thing seen after he flies from his coffin like Peter Pan on speed and slaughters the hapless workmen who dug him up.
Then, 1972. Maggie Evans Bella Heathcote is on a train to Collinsport to answer an ad for the governess position. She sees a poster for ski trips to Victoria, B.C. and apparently, in that moment changes her name to Victoria Winters. That has to be the most arbitrarily thrown in afterthought of a plot device I have ever witnessed in a film outside of “Dracula Dead and Loving It.”
She hitchhikes into town with hippies in what I guess was supposed to be a funny scene. This sets up the scene where Barny (That’s what I call him in this version, Jonathan Frid was Barnabas. Depp only deserves Barny) communes with the badly played hippies waxing euphoric about love and apologizing (as he does almost every single boring time) before the slaughter. Yeah, apparently, that “apology serves as the reminder that “I am a guilty vampire.” It reeks of insincerity and being tossed into the script just for the sake of reinforcing the idea. Much like everything else in the film.
As for Bella Heathcote’s Maggie/Victoria/Josette, the character’s given such short shrift, other than another arbitrary moment that felt like it belonged to another film entirely when her back-story is revealed as a girl who talks to dead people (like David) which seemed all too “sixth sense-y) whose parents put her in an asylum as a kid, then she escaped and a ghost pointed out the ad for governess.
She walks up to Collinwood (the most successfully atmospheric sequence in the film, all 30 seconds of it), and arrives at the door, suitcase in hand, expecting to be given the job, which she is – after the briefest and oddest job interview sans reference checks ever seen. Would you let a stranger be your live in sitter without checking references? I imagine the name change would have been really easily caught out. But in Seth Smith’s script, this is the sort of thing that jars you back into realizing, “I’m watching a badly written movie.”
Maggie/Vickie falls off a cliff of her own free will in the ending, Barny bites her on the way down (long fall) and turns her magically into a vampire in 30 seconds. Which makes me wonder where the construction guys and hippies are, if that’s all it takes? And she turns into a She-Deppire at the last moment, which I guess is supposed to make you cheer, but just left saying “What?”
Johnny Depp’s balmy Barny Collins… (Jonathan Frid was Barnabas Collins. Depp deserves the diminutive form.) Yeah, no. He keeps standing in the sun, sometimes to no ill effect, others being singed, and even catching on fire without even noticing, in what’s supposed to be another joke. No one laughed. I just shook my head. Apparently, burning doesn’t hurt. And at other times, he stands in it, and it doesn’t seem to bother him. Could the filmmakers not make up their mind? Idiotic. I did have to admire the art department, who airbushed abs and pecs onto his body.
Depp plays it for yuks, and we can all say the punch lines along with him. That will make this the “Rocky Horror” of its time, with screenings where folks will dress up and repeating the jokes with the actors. Funny how after repeated hearings, even the amusing ones aren’t funny anymore. To me, anyway. And they weren’t really that funny to begin with. And there are plenty of others, drawing cricket chirps from myself and the audience I was sitting with.
The repeated “sincere apologies” before every suck rang so false, it was clearly the one plot device they had to show he’s a “reluctant vampire.” He seemed to have no problem killing masses of people once the “sorry” was uttered. The hippie scene was a waste of screen time. Jonathan Frid was able to convey remorse successfully without the repeated “OK, I am apologizing! Note me apologizing! OK, now that we’ve established I’m really sorry for this, dinnertime!” And some still say it’s not a comedy. It certainly felt like an Adam Sandler movie. The hippie slaughter scene? Total waste of screen time.
And Johnny… it’s werewolves that have the silver allergy, not vamps. As for his interpretation “staying close to Frid?” No. Not anywhere close. Frid was compelling from his first appearance, and he made Barnabas someone you care about, even when he was doing nasty things. You wanted him to be whole again. Depp? All the appeal of a cardboard cutout, painted white; with an obsession for birthing hips, regardless of age.
And he’s released, flying about like Peter Pan on crack, sucking construction workers dry, then there’s a ridiculous montage where he manages to be quite obtrusive walking around town staring at modern people with blood dripping down his clown white face, yet no one ever sees him. Yeah, buying that! Then, having arrived at the mansion and invited himself in, he’s accepted as a vampire in about 5 minutes with no doubt whatsoever, because he knows where the secret treasure is. Even house of Dark Shadows had more plausible character development than that. And it’s shorter.
And “House of Dark Shadows” makes more sense. In Dark Shadows 2012, for instance, Barny knows Maggie as Vicky, and that deceptive plotline is dropped with no explanation, so he loves someone who’s lying about her identity, and he thinks she’s Josette at times anyway; but she’s not, until she comes back as a vampire and he says “Vickie…” And she replies, “Josette.” – complete with Depplike clown-white face and black eyeliner and fangs. So I have no idea who the hell she actually was supposed to be because that was never resolved. I wound up with a migraine after watching this film, not just from the overly loud soundtrack.
Eva Green (EvahGreen? How clever.) as Angelique is as superficial a character as they come, and you feel nothing for her. Barny’s right when he says she has no idea what love is. You don’t feel she’s loved him for a second. She’s killed by a group effort of the Collins’s, and is finally done in by David’s mother screaming at her briefly. Really? That’s all it took after all that?
Of course, she’s not quite dead yet, but has turned to hollow porcelain, in a deep allegory to being hollow (I guess, it’s never explained, like so many things in this Deppsaster). She finally dies when she removes her heart, which is a purple and red glowing and throbbing piece of jelly, which she offers to Barny saying “Take it!” He looks at it in disgust, and then due to oxidation, I guess, it turns to glass, blackens and crumbles. And why does she crack like porcelain doll at the end? No reason is ever given, no rationale explained.
The whole Angie/Barny thing is problematic. He says he can’t do her, then does. Several times. He’s found his true love (in record time, I might add), yet he can’t resist doing Angie again? Really? He’s a cretin, whom one feels no sympathy for whatsoever as a character.
And her “Burn baby burn” line? That was the phrase allegedly coined by DJ Nathaniel Montague, known as “Magnificent Montague.” Montague says he came up with the phrase in 1962 while working at a station in New York. He was given a copy of Pickett’s new song, “If You Need Me,” and he fell in love with it. It was a custom to say “buuurn” when music was moving. “Something hit me, and I said, ‘Burn, Baby, Burn,’” Montague said. Then he asked his listeners to call in and experience it with him. Magnificent Montague took his show — and his hot catchphrase — from New York to Chicago, and from Chicago to Los Angeles, where he arrived three months before the August 1965 Watts riots.
By then, “Burn, Baby, Burn” had caught on inLos Angeles and quickly became the battle cry for those taking to the streets after a white highway patrolman arrested a black motorist on suspicion of drunken driving. It was a hot night in the Watts neighborhood, and the scene soon escalated into a confrontation between police and nearby residents. Tensions between the black community and police boiled over, and a week later 34 people were dead and more than 1,000 were injured. More than 600 buildings were damaged or destroyed. Just thought you’d like to know it was more than a 1976 disco song. Hence, Angelique’s usage of it before burning the Collins cannery down.
Helena Bonham Carter’s Dr Hoffman… Ugh. The chain-smoking, boozaholic Hoffman who’s more allergic to daylight from hangovers than Barny is. Hoffman doesn’t love Barny, she just wants to stop the aging process, so her plot device departure from the original series is to claim she’s trying to cure him, when in reality, she’s stealing his blood and giving it to herself to be a vamp. And yes, she succeeds, not at curing him, but transforming herself, though Barny does drain her dry and drop her in the bay when he finds out. No cure for Barny.
Helena Bonham Carter is annoying as usual, though I do have to say, her loud, headache inducing American accent is pretty good. As for her acting, it’s every bit as bad as she claims the soap opera was. The scene in which it is clearly implied (oxymoron?) that she gives Barny a blowjob in the name of “client-patient confidentiality,” sinking down below camera view as his face registers surprise is another thing that left me shaking my head. Barny didn’t protest. By the end of the film, I had a sore neck, though NOT for the same reason Dr. Hoffman might have. Ick.
The snippet of Barnabas in the trailer talking about “Collins’ holding the largest most wonderful balls?” That’s the tip of the iceberg for ball jokes, most of which again, fall flat. And the best one. Pity we’ve heard it so often it’s no longer funny.
In the trailer, at the party when you see the disco ball fall, and Barny moves out of the way and say “Missed me?” That’s a cleverly edited segment comprised of two scenes. The first is after the party, the ball is being taken down and falls. David is underneath the falling ball, and Barny saves him just before it crashes on the floor. Later, Angelique has invaded Collinwood, which has come to life and is attacking the Collins’s, and She confront Barny, spewing a jet of green pea soup at him. He moves and says “Missed me” at that point, Then gets hit in the face with a second jet of ‘vomit.’ Cue laugh track for the “Exorcist” ‘homage.’
Michelle Pfeiffer turns in a good performance as Liz, the matriarch; but as with the other character’s, she’s Elizabeth Stoddard in name only. And as a person, I respect her. She was the only one who was honest enough to say, “If you like the TV show, you probably won’t like this.” One of the issues I have with this movie is the question the script, of course, never answers: If the Collins’s are so down on their luck, how does she afford a live-in psychiatrist for David when she can’t afford to keep the mansion from falling down? No sense is made there.
Chloë Moretz’s mumbley, surly Carolyn has a totally arbitrary out-of-left-field, explained-in-a-sentence werewolf turn at the end. Angelique says “Who do you think sent the werewolf to bite her when she was a baby?” Which was so out of place as to be even more ridiculous that the numerous levels of ridiculosity already attained. It’s just… there.
Gulliver McGrath ‘s David, in spite of his masturbatory line at the dinner table, is the single likeable character in the film. And hands down, the best actor. Angelique was responsible for his mom, Laura, dying at sea. She’s still around, except that until Maggie/Vickie arrives, he’s the only one can see her.
The rest of the folks in the film are wasted and forgettable in this tribute to excess. Ray Shirley as Mrs. Johnson… why even bother? She’s just used for a few stupid silent sight gags that weren’t funny.
Jonny Lee Miller’s Roger was another “Why is he even there?” character who didn’t contribute a thing to the film. Roger in the series was a rogue, but a likeable one, thanks to Louis Edmonds. Miller’s version is just a rogue, a jerk, and a thief; and when Barnabas kicks him out, you merely wonder why Elizabeth hadn’t done it before the film started. Not his fault, it was the script.
Most of the non-trailer humor fell even flatter (for most of us) than the now-tired and memorized jokes in the trailers, most of which were lifted wholesale from “Dracula Dead and Loving It.” (Don’t believe me? I have the Youtube addresses of some clips of both; I can show you at least two examples.) The “birthing hips” and “I must apologize for ripping your throat out now” running gags are equivalent to the “enema” running gag in DD&LI, and about as funny. The sex scene with Barny and Angie? Buffy, season six. Buffy and Spike, without the comedy. The big fight between Barnabas and Angelique? “War of the Roses” And “Mr. & Mrs. Smith.“
Seth Grahame Smith is not the most original writer on the block. Dan Curtis may have stolen material himself, for Dark Shadows, but at least it was from classics. Not so Smith, whose script is barely coherent, rushed, and provides nothing to care about. Boy genius? I think not. Seth Grahame-Smith was clearly out of his league, writing Dark Shadows as a modern sitcom – it felt more like his audition piece for writing “Beetlejuice 2.”
Where Dark Shadows TV was an ensemble piece, here it’s merely an ego assuaging star turn for Depp. As for direction, there doesn’t seem to have been any.Burtonseems to have lavished more care on the house coming to life and attacking residents homage to “Beetlejuice” than anything else.
It’s one thing to update, but the changes made to streamline the story (thus making it a sketch of a story) were ridiculous. Barny’s parents being killed by Angie before he becomes a vampire? What made you care about the situation in the original was that his family was alive and affected by his transformation. His father found out about it, was dismayed, but Barnabas was still his son (Now that plotline resonated with a large number of fans for what should be obvious reasons). Barnabas requested that his father stake him, dad couldn’t, and thus had him chained in the coffin. Josette was still alive and Barnabas, tormented by his love for her (much more credible than Depp’s Barny, who can’t make up his mind between love and a good screw), almost made her his vampire bride, but Angie tricked her into throwing herself off the cliff. Without these ingredients, the plotline of the new film is anemic. You just don’t care about the story unfolding, or the people in it.
The big problem with the movie as a whole: it’s an outline of what might be a really good film, sans the badly written and played humor and “wink wink, nudge nudge, I made a joke” forced camp quotient. In short, the script sucked, and not in a good way. No character development, just character sketches. Other than Depp and Green, the others may as well not be there. They are, but only as arbitrary plot devices that you feel nothing for. In fact, if you didn’t know the series, this just seems like an overlong cartoon.
Burton has more character development in his cartoons than in this film. None of the characters give you anything to care about, they’re just sketches, not fully fleshed out or realized. Barnabas in particular, and I know Depp can act.
Screenwriting 101 tells you that the big rule for movies is show, don’t tell. Most of the movie is someone telling us about people and things that happened, in a bare bones sketchy kind of way, with a few visuals to illustrate it. Everything’s undeveloped montages surrounded by vignettes, which leaves you feeling most of the movie is missing something.
Logic, for one thing, is missing. That was one of the things Seth Grahame Smith left out with the rest of the template for how to make a movie. Things like if Angelique killed Barnabas’ parents, given there were no siblings or other relatives in evidence, then where did the future Collins spring from?
And as far as I could see or hear, Maggie/Victoria never told Barny she was really Maggie, not Victoria. And then she said she was Josette when he vamped her in 2 seconds during the fall at the end. It made no sense at all! And love based on lies like that is not love at all, just a bunch of illusions that’ll crack like Angelique’s skin the day after!
In another example of credibility left at the door, Julia says she might be able to cure him. She begins her “treatments.” We then see the montage (the movie is one long series of montages). During these montages, he’s out and about during the day, in the sun. Yet, we come to find out the ‘treatment’ is a sham so Julia can drain him and drink his blood to make herself a vamp, which she does. So then, if other scenes show him singed and on fire due to sun exposure (which was really lame and stupid the way they did it), how did he manage to be just fine in the other sun scenes? This film asks you to leave your brain at the door. But already, there are people overlooking things like this, and everything else, proclaiming the thing a masterpiece.
Dark Shadows 2012 has the bones of a movie that could have been so much better than it is. I could SEE the basis for a really good film underneath the mess they made of it. That made it harder to watch than anything, because there was so much potential that was just crapped on for a few yuks.
The two things they got right: Scenic and set Design. Flawless. I did like Danny Elfman’s score. He used Robert Cobert’s “Secret Room” cue from the original soundtrack album (track 10), and did an excellent job of creating a moody, atmospheric score. Pity it was wasted on this film.
The 70’s music soundtrack? Miss. Mainly due to more anachronism, which is just sheer laziness after such a fuss was made over setting DS 12 in 1972, and those of us who were there would notice. “I’m Sick Of You” – Iggy Pop? 1980. Punk wasn’t even thought of in the early 70’s. “You’re The First, The Last, My Everything” – Barry White, 1974. “No More Mr. Nice Guy” – Alice Cooper, 1973. You can stretch it here and say it might have been performed in ’72, recorded in ’73. A stretch, but… maybe. I’d have to ask Mr. Cooper. Or Miss, as Barny keeps calling him a woman. And go-go girls dancing in cages were a thing of the early 60’s. Nitpicking? Maybe. But if you’re gonna do it, do it right.
I knew it would not be the same as the TV series, or the two Curtis films. How could it? I expected different. That’s fine. But I also expected good, and didn’t get it. It could have been a really good serious, “Sleepy Hollow” or “From hell” like film with a few moments of comedy, or, it could have been a really funny parody. But we got shafted with this in-between thing that wants to be a family film, a love triangle, and a Universal “House of Dracula” type monster movie all at once. Too much ADD. It left me feeling sad for what it could have been, on its own terms, not merely as a recreation of a past series.
Dark Shadows 2012 gave me a migraine, to the point where sitting through the end credits was impossible, so I have no clue if Mr. Frid got his memorial credit or not. I can’t imagine someone not knowing anything about the “Dark Shadows” TV series coming into this film and leaving anything but confused about the monster mash they just saw. Dark Shadows 2012 just left me cold, and wishing it had been locked away in a box. Burrton’s not a director, he’s a designer and should stay in the design department where he belongs. It is Depp Shadows, and it is most certainly not a Dan Curtis Production.
Some folks are now wondering what Dan Curtis, creator and producer would think of this new work. We can only guess from the following:
Ben Cross: “Dan Curtis insists that Barnabas Collins doesn’t have a sense of humor.”
Q: “Mr. Cross, you say the vampire has no sense of humor, and yet, last night he described his career to someone as “all consuming.” Was that unintentionally funny?”
Dan Curtis: “He has a slight sense of humor. A little irony when he lies.”
According to Matt Hall, he and his father pitched Depp’s name to Mr. Curtis for the revival as Barnabas. Curtis emphatically said no.
The filmmakers are pointedly avoiding mentioning the series is currently available, so for those wishing to know what the fuss is about regarding the original, check out the following from MPI home video: For the budget minded, there are samplers: “Dark Shadows: Best of Barnabas” and “Dark Shadows: Fan Favorites.” There are edited storyline sequences such as how Barnabas got cursed and became a vampire locked in a coffin: “Dark Shadows: The Vampire Curse” and the Quentin origin story, “Dark Shadows: The Haunting.” The entire series, as individual DVD collections; or in a deluxe box set of the entire run.
The two Dan Curtis Films are not yet on DVD, and are owned by Warner Brothers; though you can watch them on Amazon digital video. At the time of writing, Darren Gross, who found the missing footage Dan Curtis cut under studio pressure, has told me that all dialogue for the lost footage (there was no sound on the footage) has been re-looped except for Grayson Hall, they are auditioning voice actors, and awaiting a budget for restoration apparently contingent on the success of Dark Shadows 2012.