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Dark Shadows—movie review

by Leonard Maltin
May 11, 2012 1:00 AM
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Johnny Depp is Barnabas Collins
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

It makes sense that for Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton to get in on the current vampire craze, they’d have to approach it with a sense of humor. I doubt if many young viewers know that they’ve based their new film on a forty-year-old daytime TV drama, and it scarcely matters. Dark Shadows is an amusing piece of high camp, stoked by Depp’s deadpan star performance and the kind of elaborate trappings one would expect from Burton. (His longtime production designer, Rick Heinrichs, has done another beautiful job with both real and virtual sets.)

The story begins in the 1700s, when the Collins family leaves Liverpool for the New World and settles in Maine, where Joshua Collins builds a thriving business, establishes a seaport town, and constructs a majestic family mansion. But one of the household servants (Green) turns out to be a witch, and when Barnabas (Depp) shuns her in favor of another woman, she unleashes a curse on the Collins clan and turns the young playboy into a vampire who is then buried alive. The story picks up two hundred years later—in 1972, as Barnabas rises from his grave and tries to restore his family’s tarnished glory.

If you’re hoping for big, Addams Family-style laughs, however, you may come away disappointed. There isn’t much substance here, and once you absorb the tone of the film and acquaint yourself with its colorful characters, the movie has no big surprises in store. I was satisfied to watch Depp and sexy Eva Green bare their fangs, so to speak, and I enjoyed Helena Bonham Carter’s scenes as a slightly unhinged psychiatrist-in-residence, even if other cast members like Chloë Grace Moretz and Jackie Earle Haley have little to do. Michelle Pfeiffer is reduced to playing straight-man, as the family matriarch, but she does it well. And, of course, it’s nice to see 89-year-old Christopher Lee in his one scene as an old sea salt.

Johnny Depp and Eva Green
Photo courtesy of Warner Bros. Pictures

Longtime fans of Dan Curtis’ memorable daytime drama may be dismayed at this sendup, but at least they’ll catch a glimpse of the show’s original stars (Kathryn Leigh Scott, David Selby, Lara Parker, and the late Jonathan Frid) as guests at a fancy-dress ball where Alice Cooper entertains.

So, as usual, how much pleasure you derive from Dark Shadows will have a lot to do with your expectations. It’s not great, by any measure, but I found it diverting, and I’ll confess that I didn’t mind watching the notably beautiful women in its cast.

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  • Tiffany Crider | May 15, 2012 4:43 PMReply

    I absolutely love this movie, cannot wait to own it on DVD.

  • Muggyy | May 12, 2012 4:02 PMReply

    The Lord works in many marvelous ways. Thankfully he took Johnathan home before he had the chance to view this poor atempt at gothic humor/horror. I dare say that if Dan Curtus was still among us, he would have never allowed these two the opportunity to touch his baby.

  • Sophie | May 12, 2012 10:14 AMReply

    I have no idea why this old man is still reviewing current movies. He's more entertained by Green instead of the brillant cast, costumes, sets, script, and not to forget the direction, score and dark, humorous undertones. This review leaves me disgusted and perhaps the old pervertshould retire from "critiquing" and pull out a playboy instead of his laptop.

  • Albert | May 12, 2012 11:39 AM

    Frankly, Sophie, you sound like a paranoid afraid of sex. You take a casual remark by Maltin and inflate it into something twisted and perverted when no such meaning was intended. Maltin doesn't even mention Eva Green in his review, and you have a knee jerk reaction to the fact that he even mentions that there are beautiful women in the cast. (What film doesn't have them - except perhaps "Ice Station Zebra" or "Moby Dick"?

  • Dean Dean | May 12, 2012 8:05 AMReply

    This is a great movie, I don't know why critics are at best giving it lukewarm reviews, and movies like the Avengers (a superhro tem - up movie) rave reviews. Anyway I thoroughly enjoyed the movie for its acting, strange and original story, excellent cinematography and effects (and these days it is hard to impress in this area). If it does well I would pay to see a sequel, if it doesn't (and a movie this good won't flop -no matter how many lukewarm reviews it gets) it will be a cult classic blu - ray in my collection. Sometimes films that take chances (aka not being another "Love at First Bite") does pay off and sometimes it doesn't. Time will do this movie justice I'm sure.

  • debbie | June 13, 2012 8:36 PM

    i was wondering the same thing! glad to read this dean & mike. i haven't seen the movie yet, but still looking forward to it!

  • mike schlesinger | May 14, 2012 5:51 PM

    Most of the negative reviews come from critics too young to have seen the original series; by and large, the more positive ones have come from folks like Manohla Dargis, Owen Gleiberman and Leonard, who are old enough to get it. Kids today simply cannot comprehend running home from school every day to do anything, much less watch a TV show. DARK SHADOWS came along at the right time--the networks had cancelled all their horror-themed shows (HITCHCOCK, TWILIGHT ZONE, OUTER LIMITS, even sitcoms like ADDAMS FAMILY and MUNSTERS), and the advent of the rating system allowed most horror movies to be rated R--out of the reach of kids. It filled a very big void, and did so brilliantly. (They also merchandised the hell out of it; even a soundtrack album went to #1.) In this social-network age, a phenomenon of this sort is likely impossible, so the film is basically a valentine to baby boomers (and that subset known as "monster kids") who get a chance to happily relive their youth for a couple of hours.

  • Pappy Caligula | May 12, 2012 12:43 AMReply

    It was a decent flick that for me was enjoyable, if not totally satisfying. It had enough gags to make it work and Depp was excellent in the role. I was SHOCKED and pleasantly suprised to see Christopher Lee. (Damn, I thought he was dead). I was proud to see Jonathan Frid, Lara Parker, Catherine Lee-Scott, and especially David Selby (Quinton Collins)...(wish there had been a way to add a memorium at the start for Jonathan who passed just this past Friday, April the 13th)..I won't rush out and see this flick right away however...BUT I will rent it..
    That being said, with all it's flaws, I'd personally like to see a SECOND (I can hear the critics horror) Dark Shadows however in the very near future. There's reason to do it and I believe Depp is up to it..
    All that's left for him to portray is the lead in a cinematic "Doctor Who" film WHICH I hear isn't just on the back burner.
    I'd suggest dressing "Goth" and seeing this at a good, ole time drive in with some jovial friends. (AND personally, I thought Alice Cooper was suprisingtly GOOD in this!)

  • Kirk Callahan | May 16, 2012 3:49 PM

    I'll have to agree with Mike Schlesinger also. It seems lots of young critics are not too keen on the movie. But there were some surprising twists and quotes from the show that delighted me. First, I love the overshot of the train when Vicki is travelling to Collinwood. And when she said name is Maggie..Victoria Winters..we'll that had me very interested. And later when they showed the 1960s ambulance with Windcliff on the rear doors..superb!!! I had a feeling they were going to somehow combine the characters and it did work IMO! When Barnabas first meets Vicki he states the same line Frid did " You allow people to call you Vicki? Victoria is such a beautiful name, I would not surrender a single syllable ". And David's Mom rising like a Phoenix ..true to the show. In 1972, I turned 10. When I left the theater after the movie , I enjoyed feeling that age again. Thanks to the cast and crew!!! Hope there is a Quentin sequel.

  • Med Wright | May 11, 2012 2:42 AMReply

    ...and so, DARK SHADOWS is an amusing film, not resembling very closely the original, unbeatable cult serial, but rather reaching for a mainstream audience looking for the latest Johnny Depp/Tim Burton vehicle.

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