The town of Collinsport, Maine. Home of the Collins family. One of them is a vampire. His name is Barnabas Collins, and the 1966 gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows, became a spooky, supernatural playground for his exploits. Vampires, werewolves, time travel and witch hunts: I love Dark Shadows. I watched the entire series over a period of a few years in reruns on the SciFi (now Syfy) channel. I was 15 when I first glimpsed the foyer of Collinwood, and I’ve been hooked ever since.
When I heard that a Dark Shadows movie might be in the works, I was terribly excited. When I found out it would be a Tim Burton film…I was pissed. I am not by any stretch of the imagination a fan of ANYTHING Tim Burton has done. A friend and I saw “Charlie and the Chocolate Factory” in theatre…oh boy, if you are a fan of the Gene Wilder original, I think you’ll agree that Burton’s remake was weird, overdone and just plain bad. I haven’t had the nerve to sit through “Alice in Wonderland” yet.
Still, it was Dark Shadows, so as the months passed by, I read every article, watched every trailer for this new Burtonized film. I joined in with other die hard fans, “Dark Shadows Purists”, in blasting the project and touting it as blasphemy. I even convinced myself that there was no way I would ever watch this monstrosity. Well, I can still say that I didn’t shell out any money to see it, but my curiosity got the better of me and yes, I went ahead and watched it online. Now, I’ve a feeling I’ve got a little crow to eat.
I went into the movie expecting to hate it. But the truth is, aside from the obviously brash and gawdy stylings of Burton, the film was not half bad, and even stayed mostly true to the original Dark Shadows theme.
The first 7 minutes 45 seconds are very nicely done. The beginning is Barnabas’ backstory, so the non DS fans have a clue about what’s going on. We get a taste of what Johnny Depp’s Barnabas will be like in the beautifully shot scene where Angelique curses Barnabas and we witness his transformation into a vampire.
But, like any movie, there are mistakes and faux pas; good scenes and awful scenes. There are also moments where you just shake your head and say, “What?” Dark Shadows is no different. Victoria Winters, “Call me Vicky”, arrives at Collinwood. The gate is closed. She opens the gate, walks in and all I can think is, “Were you born in a barn? SHUT THE GATE!”
One huge disappointment for me was Jackie Earle Haley, who’s Willie Loomis would have made a better Renfield in Dracula. I had the most ridiculous crush on John Karlen’s Willie in the original Dark Shadows! Why Burton felt the need to turn the beloved character into the guy you’d expect to see at the dump is beyond me.
I felt that another grave miscast was the ever important role of the main Dark Shadows antagonist, Angelique Bouchard. Lara Parker created such an incomparable character: that piercing stare, haunting laugh and over the top yet understated beauty; her Angelique was a woman you loved to hate.
I didn’t like Eva Green as Morgana in the flop series Camelot, and her Angelique was sorely lacking as well. I just didn’t feel her performance, she failed to capture the essence of Angelique – wicked innocence. And for some reason the blonde hair did not suit her at all which only added to the problem.
When I first heard that Michelle Pfeiffer had been cast, I thought, “YES! She will be the perfect Angelique!” Turns out she was playing stuffy old Elizabeth Stoddard…talk about a let down!
Elizabeth was a regal brunette, not a blonde. I didn’t appreciate the change. I also felt that Michelle tried much too hard to match the late Joan Bennett’s stern, calculated nonchalant approach to the Collins matriarch. But she’d have made one hell of an Angelique! Oh well, just add this to the long list of missed opportunities in this movie.
I thoroughly enjoyed the many cameo appearances though. One of my all time favourites, Christopher Lee gets a short but sweet scene as Mr. Clarney, a fisherman who gets whammied by Barnabas. Then there is what I believe many thought was the stake through the heart of the movie, rocker Alice Cooper, in concert even! But you know what? It kinda worked, and I love the song he performed, so I enjoyed that little tidbit of obscurity which added zip to the plot.
This scene also provided the opportunity for the film’s most memorable quote. While observing Alice perform, Barnabas quips, “Ugliest woman I’ve ever seen.” Simply priceless.
Perhaps it is the film’s one big redeemer, at least for those of us still in love with the Collins of the 1960’s and 70’s. A special cameo appearance (albeit without any dialogue) by a few of the original actors, including the now late Jonathan Frid.
Seeing the stars again was a wonderful reminder of the old days, and a beautiful tribute to Dark Shadows. Also sadly, it would be Frid’s final on screen appearance, but what a fitting one it was.
There is a huge mistake in this film though, a mistake which will only be noticeable to fans of the original series. At the dinner table, Barnabas is gingerly fussing with the silverware. Upon picking up a fork, he reveals that he knows it is not real silver, for if it had been, he’d have burned himself. Okay, popular modern day vampire lore, silver burns vamps. However, Burton seems to have forgotten about Barnabas’ wolf’s head cane. In the original, the head of the cane is made of silver. Barnabas was able to save himself from werewolves Chris Jennings and Quentin Collins because the cane was silver. (refer to episodes 640, 699, 754)
One of my favourite things about this movie is the backstory written for Vicky (who has been merged with another character, Maggie Evans). There is also a very creepy scene at the beginning when Vicky first sees the ghost of Josette, who ominously warns, “He’s coming…” (referring of course to Barnabas)
As I can see it, there were really only three scenes in the movie which are truly unforgivable. They add nothing to the story, and are, quite frankly, a tad inappropriate as far as I’m concerned. One is the “sex” scene between Barnabas and Angelique. Flying around the room, bouncing off the walls, breaking everything in site and all to the tune of Barry White’s “Can’t Get Enough of Your Love”; and all while Barnabas magically keeps his pants on…
Another is a strange scene between Barnabas and Dr. Julia Hoffman (my favourite character from the original series portrayed by Grayson Hall, played now by Helena Bonham Carter), where the strong visual implication is that Julia is giving Barnabas a blow job. Why, you ask? I have no idea.
Finally, and equally as disturbing, Angelique has trapped Barnabas in his coffin, again. Before closing the lid, she shimmies out of her red panties and straps them across Barnabas’ face! It was another of those “WTF?” moments for me. I suppose it was meant to be humourous, but it came off as just weird and a bit pervy.
All in all, I’d rate Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows at 6 out of 10 stars. It was no blockbuster hit, but it also wasn’t the worst movie I’ve ever seen. As a matter of fact, I intend to watch it again. It has a truly lovely ending, an ending which I would personally have been pleased with had it wrapped up the original series.
So yes, I’d recommend that Dark Shadows fans see this movie. It has enough substance to be enjoyable and it’s not too difficult to ignore the Burton-esque flash. And if you are still completely against it but are a tad curious, then I’d recommend watching the clips from the following links. They showcase some interesting scenes from the film.
The Dark Shadows legacy will live on untarnished, regardless of this movie, the not so great revival series or anything else that comes down the pike. Because the fact is, when something is perfect, no matter how hard you try to make it better or worse, you simply can’t. It stands the test of time all on it’s own, subject to no one and nothing. And remember, beauty is in the eye of the beholder, you can’t please everyone all of the time. That’s probably a good thing. If we were all the same, life would be pretty boring :)
For most men, time moves slowly, oh so slowly, they don’t even realize it. But time has revealed itself to me in a very special way. Time is a rushing, howling wind that rages past me, withering me in a single, relentless blast, and then continues on. I’ve been sitting here passively, submissive to its rage, watching its work. Listen! Time, howling, withering!