Film review: Dark Shadows

posted at 8:01 am on May 12, 2012 by Ed Morrissey

In 1776, a witch cursed Barnabas Collins for rejecting her in favor of another woman, transforming him into a vampire, and caused him to be buried for almost 200 years. Freed when construction expands around the Maine hamlet of Collinsport — a town founded by his family in better days — Barnabas awakens to a much different world than the one he knew two centuries ago.  Can Barnabas restore his family’s fortune and honor, or will the same witch that cursed him destroy his family and Barnabas once and for all?

Based on the old soap opera, Dark Shadows takes a decidedly campy turn as a film.  Tim Burton once again finds an excuse for white facepaint, but unlike Edward Scissorhands, this isn’t a subversive swipe at the suburbs.  It does poke a little fun at small-town America, but not as egregiously as, say, Doc Hollywood did.  The film mostly contents itself in the first half with skewering the early 1970s, at least until the grudge match between Barnabas and the nearly-immortal Angelique begins again in earnest.  (To say that she still carries a torch for her vampire is a rather large understatement.)    Barnabas has to dispatch construction workers, hippies, and other assorted bit players, but he has trouble getting rid of his rival, and she has just as much problem getting rid of Barnabas … if that’s what she really wants to do.

Dark Shadows is an entertaining bit of fluff, but I suspect it may play to a limited audience.  Fans of the old soap opera are probably not going to appreciate the comedic treatment given to their stories, while those who don’t know the show may not be terribly interested in a vampire comedy.  However, even without knowing the old show, Dark Shadows is an entertaining, fast-paced film with plenty of laughs and not just a little suspense.  It’s as original as a movie based on an old TV series can be, and the climax really does pull out the kitchen sink in characterization, special effects, and plot twists.

Johnny Depp delivers his normal mannered performance as Barnabas, keeping the vampiric elements light.  Eva Green (Casino Royale) has a ball playing the evil Angelique, easily the most alive character on the screen.  Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter mainly get wasted in their roles, but Jackie Earle Haley (Watchmen) plays a bumbling caretaker/henchman with some style.  Bonham Carter’s character feels like make-work; her character seems extraneous to the conflict and certainly to its resolution, and while her performance is good (as is Pfeiffer’s), there isn’t any reason for her to be there.  Bella Heathcote is mainly eerie but beautiful in a dual role.

Overall, if you’re looking for some laughs and escapism, Dark Shadows is a pretty good choice.  It won’t be on anyone’s top 10 list at the end of the year, but it’s fun and never gets boring.  Dark Shadows  is rated PG-13 for some drug references, sexual content (a hilarious, if nonsensical, scene that doesn’t include nudity), and — quelle horreur indeed — smoking.  We went with friends who brought their 17-year-old daughter, and there wasn’t anything that embarrassed us.  However, the after-movie poll had the two men approving and the three women saying, “Meh,” and as a result, the next time we all go out, we have to see a chick flick. Factor that into your calculations.

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Comment pages: 1 2

I can’t say I’ve ever seen Alice in a movie. Has he been in one? I have seen him in concert (yes, I’m that old).

scalleywag on May 12, 2012 at 11:14 AM

Alice Cooper has been in many movies. He was in Prince of Darkness, Sgt. Pepper’s Lonely Hearts Club Band, and Wayne’s World among others.

Alice Cooper? The guy that lit live dogs on fire for his shows while he stomps chickens to death?

bernverdnardo1 on May 12, 2012 at 12:40 PM

Purely urban legends. There was the chicken incident early in his career, but it was actually the audience that killed the chicken, not Alice.

MeAlice on May 12, 2012 at 10:13 PM


You LIKE Dark Shadows but thought the Averngers sucked.


mechkiller_k on May 12, 2012 at 10:48 PM

Is there any truth to the rumor that Elfman and Depp are next doing “Twin Peaks”? /Sarcasm off

The_Basseteer on May 13, 2012 at 3:00 AM

Saw the film Saturday night…not bad, B+.

jan3 on May 13, 2012 at 8:35 AM

Saw the film this afternoon. I liked it! Some of the scenes had the same feel as the series, though it was subtle. I believe I will purchase the soundtrack. Excellent music!

While I thoroughly enjoyed seeing the actors from the series, it was particularly good to see Jonathon Frid one last time.

kakypat on May 13, 2012 at 9:22 PM

BTW, very nice review, Mr. Morrissey.

kakypat on May 13, 2012 at 9:23 PM

Comment pages: 1 2