I never do movie reviews or critiques but last weekend’s release of Tim Burton’s take on the sixties Gothic soap Dark Shadows has sent me running to the keyboard, like vampire out for good gulp of blood. I feel qualified to comment on this film – not because I spent most of my adult life writing film and TV, but because I spent every afternoon at three-thirty, for four years riveted by Dark Shadows. I think I might have been more addicted to Dark Shadows than any show that has ever been on the air.

DARK SHADOWS SUCKS

May 14, 2012by tracey Comments

 

I never do movie reviews or critiques but last weekend’s release of Tim Burton’s take on the sixties Gothic soap Dark Shadows has sent me running to the keyboard, like vampire out for a good gulp of blood.

I feel qualified to comment on this film – not because I spent most of my adult life writing film and TV, but because I spent every afternoon at three-thirty, for four years riveted by Dark Shadows. I think I might have been more addicted to Dark Shadows than any show that has ever been on the air.

Those feelings may have something to do with a time and place; or it may have been a young girl’s first glimmer of sexuality attaching itself to a vampire, something that seems to be the rage decade after decade. Regardless of the reason for the attraction, I was sucked in so to speak.

I would not miss an episode.  I was forced to on guitar class days, which only made me resent the guitar.

I loved it so much when my mother took me to Romania with a planned stop in Transylvania, (I kid you not, it’s in my book) I made my friend Lynda Ellenshaw watch the show every day and keep an accurate report of everything I missed while I was gone.

With this history you can only imagine my delight upon hearing this show,  my beloved Dark Shadows would be returned to me via the big screen.  But then I heard Tim Burton was directing it and I feared it might let me down.

I know Tim Burton is considered a genius and people worship his films. The man has a very distinct talent that is not really to my taste, and with a topic such as Dark Shadows I feared he might just Burton it up. Take his Timmy Scissorhands and make a big ole Johnny Depp – Tim Burton extravaganza out of it.

And that is exactly what he did.

Give the guy Willy Wonka, fine, I never cared for Willy Wonka; but creepy, Gothic Dark Shadows belonged in the hands of someone who understands that kind of material.

Someone should have dusted off William Friedkan and given him a shot. Or Brian de Palma could have turned in what the die-hard Shadownians (I made that up by the way) wanted to see. Think the last scene in Carrie.

Shadownians tend to be women and gay men between fifty and fifty-six, though some straight men fell under the spell and all were desperately attracted to the convoluted plot lines and the smoldering, dangerous, awkward sexuality of Barnabas Collins.

The great thing about Barnabas Collins played by Jonathan Frid, who coincidently died in March (I have a feeling he might have seen an early cut) he played the roll with integrity. Which when you know that role was not easy.  He wasn’t ghoulish, and crazy, he was anything but. He was measured, reserved and refined. He exerted enormous energy keeping his secret exactly that.

He was like the odd uncle who you would have over for parties and holidays as he added a certain otherworldly elegance; though you would never have him babysit the kids.

He came off as such a real person the fact he was a vampire made it doubly scary.  Anybody could be a vampire.  That is the only way a vampire works, otherwise it’s just a bad Halloween costume.  Barnabas was scary because he did not wear his fangs on his sleeve.

Johnny Depp who took on this boomer icon gives us a much different Barnabas. I fear Mr. Depp, who is a deeply gifted actor has been playing too many Disneyland ride characters. His Barnabas glides onto the screen like he was auditioning for a back-up on the Thriller video.  In fact Depp seems to have modeled his Barnabas entirely on Michael Jackson.  This is the first thing you think upon seeing his super white skin that leads one to believe he spent a great deal of pre-production time with Dr. Arnie Klein, Jackson’s chief bleacher and secondary drug dispenser, to his long talons, razor sharp cheekbones, dopey hairdo and insistence on walking around under a parasol.  The second you see Depp you say, that guy is so damn weird. I would not get anywhere near him. In fact I think he’s a vampire. Thus breaking rule number one in vampire portrayal you gotta keep em guessing, is he or isn’t he?

You can’t pop on the screen and announce I’m a vampire – boo. The story is essentially over.

And on top of this you add the 2012, two hundred million dollar cinematic pyrotechnics and you don’t believe a thing.  The daft dialogue, coupled with the scenes that ping-ponged between War of The Roses, Mr. and Mrs. Smith and cheesy  horror films  made this feel as much like the original Dark Shadows as it did That Girl.

The thought of the original Barnabas having sex on the walls, please, our Barnabas was a gentleman, unless of course it was a full moon and even then he was embarrassed by his love for blood.

Once again I am baffled how and why studio executives make certain decisions. Why would they take this beloved show so far from its roots?   The Adams Family and The Brady Bunch, both high boomer TV art stuck to their origins when they made the leap to the big screen.  Thus you got families flocking to the theatres.  They were family films in the same way they were family TV Shows. There was nostalgia for the parents and decent story lines for the kids.

I don’t know who they figured they were making this movie for. Any Dark Shadows respecting boomer will only be deeply disturbed by it. The only nod to us was a soundtrack that picked up some Casey Kasem top forty tunes from 1972, the year in which they set the film. Which is actually a  year after they yanked the show off the air.

The kids don’t identify with the name; I guess they identify with Depp, but it’s pretty sexual for the Willy Wonka, Pirates of the Caribbean under sixteen fans.  And the weekend numbers showed it wasn’t bringing in those discerning taste makers, the eighteen to twenty year old boys.

The Boomer word of mouth will be stay away. Head to You Tube and watch the original clips and go to the Cineplex to see The Last Exotic Marigold Hotel. I hate to think that at this stage we are closer to a retirement home in India than we are to having a crush on a guy who just might be a vampire. I prefer to think we just need the right vampire, and that is certainly not Johnny Depp.

 

Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins
The Real Barnabas Collins