By Oliver Lyttelton | The Playlist May 11, 2012 at 2:07PM
Whether you end up loving it or hating it (as our reviewer did), one has to admit that there are few films like "Dark Shadows" in theaters this summer. Based on the popular 1960s/1970s ABC soap that included vampires, werewolves and witches, the film is a curious blend of comedy, drama and horror that's indelibly a Tim Burton creation.
"Dark Shadows" is in theaters today, and as ever, there's been a wealth of interviews with Burton, lead Johnny Depp, and other cast and crew members. We've sifted through it all to pick out a few highlights, and you can find a selection of them below.
Writer Seth Grahame-Smith was brought on board to rewrite a draft by Burton's regular collaboration John August, after impressing the director with his work on the Burton-produced "Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter." Grahame-Smith tells the Boston Phoenix that his job was to lighten the tone, and to push Depp more front-and-center than in August's draft. "As far as John's script for 'Dark Shadows,' he's a great writer who had written a very straightforward, dark take on it, that was more of an ensemble, and not so Barnabas-centric," he explained. "But we wanted to shift it back to Barnabas's point of view, and infuse it with some fun. Those were my marching orders from Tim and Johnny. I did preserve some of John's draft, but I added the humor."
Grahame-Smith acknowledges that he grew up on Burton's films, and was very much writing a Tim Burton Movie.
Like many in their 30s, Seth Grahame-Smith came of age in the era of "Batman" and "Beetlejuice," and says that he must have drawn on the director's earlier work when writing a script for him. The pensmith tells Bloody Disgusting: "I look at the film now and I see that subconsciously I’m channeling some of my favorite Burton-isms. You can’t escape the comparison. For me I was thinking about 'Edward Scissorhands' a lot. Edward is this gothic horrific character interacting with kitsch. Like Barnabas tapping the troll or the 'Operation' board game, Edward taps the water bed and is afraid when the water spouts out. Those are very similar beats. And also in Edward, he gets chased up a mountain to his castle by a torch-wielding mob. And I look at that now and wonder if I’m being too derivative, but that’s what I love about Tim’s movies. It’s the normal people who are the most frightening. So at least that part was conscious. Wanting to contrast, 'what is normal?' Barnabas is freaked out by these decorative touches, but they are ridiculous."
The weird meld of comedy and horror is something very Burtonesque, but the director acknowledges it wasn't the easiest sell to potential actors, or to an audience. He told Collider: "It’s a tricky tone and we all recognize that. When we talked about 'Dark Shadows,' part of its appeal was the weird nature of all the elements that went into it. It was very serious, but it was on in the afternoon, on a daily basis. There were certain reasons why we loved the show, but you couldn’t necessarily adopt to a film. It was the weirdest challenge to get the acting tone and the soap opera nature of the tone. That’s a weird thing to go for in a Hollywood movie. It’s not like you can go to a studio and go, 'We want to do weird soap opera acting.' They go, 'Oh, great! Whatever that means.' That’s why I was so grateful to all of the cast. Even the ones that didn’t know the show, got into the spirit of it. What made it 'Dark Shadows' was trying to capture the spirit of what the show was."
1972 was the crucial year for the setting, not just because of the period music, but it was it's an important year in vampire lore.
The original "Dark Shadows" ended its five year run in 1971, whereas the film is set in 1972. Presumably it's partly a nod to the original, but it also proved a nice coincidence. Burton explains that the music of the era became important: "The setting in 1972 was important and we just went through all the music of that year. Just doing that research it reminded me I must have been quite ill that year because I just remember that music on the AM radio, being sick and having a fever and hearing all that kind of music on AM radio over and over again. The quality of music, going from everything from really kind of cheesy pop to cool, hardcore stuff, it was a weird year for music. I remember Alice Cooper [who cameos] being quite a strong influence to me at that time and he looks exactly the same now which is really scary. But it was important to use so there was a lot of interesting music in 1972. We tried to treat it like score. We didn’t try to treat it like oh, let’s just throw in pop songs." But it was also, Burton explains to Crave, a key year for the undead. "'Blacula' was ’72, wasn’t it? I think that was one of the only movie references that I talked to Bruno [Delbonnel], the DP [about], was 'Blacula.' That was a good year. Actually ’72 was a good year for vampires. That was like 'Dracula A.D. ’72.' That was Christopher Lee’s last Dracula."