Sweeny Scissorhands and the Chocolate Shadows
If you are unfortunate enough to follow me on twitter, you’ll know that as a professional journalist – much like Phoebe in later seasons of Charmed – I take my reviews incredibly seriously. Do I proofread them? Gods no. Do I plan them? Lol. Do I purchase eighty episodes of the 1960s cult-classic Dark Shadows so I can complain that Tim Burton ruined something I love? You bet your sweet bippy.
But reviewing a film shouldn’t be about how successfully it adapted an amazingly camp and ultimately twisted supernatural soap opera. Simply put, the only reason I’m writing this is to let you know if I think you should see this film.
Dark Shadows was one of the first of its kind. A serialized television show revolving around the Collins family, initially the show ran for a few years to some success. But it wasn’t until the introduction of the mysterious Barnabas Collins that the show really started to gain a following. For many, the introduction of Barnabas really marks the beginning of the series.
Elizabeth Stoddard Collins, matriarch of Collinwood mansion, rules over her brother Rodger, her daughter Carolyn and Rodger’s troubled son David. David’s troubles vary in each version of the show. Ranging from a sassy attitude to tormenting his governesses with dead rats he hides in shoeboxes under their pillows to… being a quiet, agreeable young boy. It is because of his troubled nature that Ms Victoria Winters enters the situation, to tutor David. There is one more Collins family member, however. Barnabas Collins. One of the first of the Collins family, Barnabas returns to his distant relations – as a Vampire. Werewolves, witches, ghosts, murder, kidnapping, fabulous dresses. The show has it all.
I really wanted to like Burton’s Dark Shadows. Honestly. I thought he would revel in the camp traditions. There’s the opening monologue Victoria delivers on the train – a classic. There are the fabulous opening credits, the incredibly convoluted plots. All this seems to scream Burton! But it seemed scriptwriter Seth Grahame-Smith had other ideas for the film. Rather than embracing the dark elements of the show (seriously there’s a lot of murder and kidnapping and really hideous characters) the film revolves around the return of Barnabas, but not to kidnap women and brainwash them into thinking they’re his long-deceased lover –to ‘restore the family honor and cannery business’. Spare me.
Getting all up in Barnabas’s business is the nefarious Angelique, the witch who cursed him with vampirism in the first place. There’s also Dr. Julia Hoffman, psychologist who attempts to cure Barnabas of his curse, and Willy Loomis, drunkard and hypnotized lackey.
My number one problem with the film is that it just isn’t very good. It’s another vehicle for Depp to dress up like a twat, do an funny voice and flounce around on camera. The supporting cast are hardly given anything to do – they try however to stuff the plot full of various elements, giving each character their own story-arc or secret which, when comes to light doesn’t make any sense. Why? Because we’ve spent the whole time looking at Johnny Depp doing a vague impression of his last five Burton-directed roles. The rest of the cast, especially Elizabeth Stoddard Collins (Michelle Pheiffer) and Carolyn Stoddard (Chloë Grace Moretz) are both wasted in this film. Two fantastic actresses used as character paperweights. Gulliver McGrath, who plays David, has not aged a day since he was in Jumanji. In fact he almost looked younger. Eerie. The character of Victoria Winters is so boring in the film that I can’t even bother talking about her.
The one saving grace, surprisingly, was Helena Bonham Carter as Dr. Hoffman. The only character in the entire film that I found compelling and watchable.
The film undulates between a sexy, rompy comedy and a cheesy family film, but never really finds its footing with either. There are moments of humor, but more often than not the jokes fall flatter than Eva Green’s wig throughout the movie (seriously what’s happening with her hair and why was it trying to strangle her scalp?). Then there are the raunchy jokes that just seem out of place.
Styled exactly like his previous Willy Wonka and the Chocolate Factory, Dark Shadows provides no real fabulous Burton touches we haven’t seen before.
Really ‘lazy’ is the best way to describe this movie. Much like how Burton’s Alice in Wonderland was ‘utterly horrifying’, Dark Shadows is lazy, and this lethargy makes the film difficult to enjoy. For instance – Barnabas is a vampire who conforms to all classic Vampy tropes. He doesn’t have a reflection, silver burns his skin, and he can’t be out during sunlight. Oh except he spends 90% of the movie traipsing around during the daytime. What? What indeed. There are also a few twists in the film that are so poorly woven into the story they actually make no sense whatsoever.
But the most heinous crime of all is the fact that this film regaled my spirit-animal, Maggie Evans, to a faux-character. Victoria Winters is Victoria Winters, and Maggie Evans is one of the greatest characters in the show. Victoria says insane things like “Sometimes I feel as if my love for the past is unhealthy! As if.. I’ll lose myself altogether in the past!” And Barnabas is like “That’s because I’m brainwashing you” and she’s like “what?” and he’s like “I said.. isn’t it great that we were both born after the 1700s? Yeah! Jukeboxes!”
Maggie, on the other hand. Is in a cemetery.
In a moment, I’m going to hypnotize myself and forget I ever watched Burton’s Dark Shadows, and just remember the hours and hours and bottles of vodka I cherished watching the REAL Dark Shadows. Maybe I’m biased, maybe it’s Maybelline, or maybe you’re better off skipping this altogether.
Not so much bloodsucking as it is bloody suckky.