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Film Review: Dark Shadows

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Collins 1972 A.D

Dark Shadows’ structural problems are of the arse and elbow variety. Tonally it’s a head case. The breezy, cartoon vampire that emerges in 1972, a year chosen for its evocation of Hammer and Christopher Lee’s Dracula (who cameos as a fisherman), violently slaughters the first men he sees, ripping their throats and casually tossing a body headfirst into a power generator. Our hero. A scene from a Hammer Horror has been accidently cut into an episode of Scooby Doo. A comedy sex scene and a blowjob from Helena Bonham Carter’s guileless shrink awkwardly stand out; you’d kill to see what horrors lie on the cutting room floor.

Burton’s parodist is at their most cruel, however, drawing attention to Tim’s shortcomings as a storyteller. Perhaps screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, author of the droll Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, also assumed the director’s chair, for he seems intent on giving us a masterclass in how to lose an audience. You could be forgiven, for example, for thinking that this was the governess’ story; Barnabas’ reincarnated love (though confusingly plagued by her own ghost), returning to her old haunt to reignite her love affair with the master of the house.

Indeed, it starts that way only for Victoria to quickly fall by the wayside. Reader, I can’t even verify that she’s in the second act; I barely saw her. Instead, there’s a shift to Barnabas’ attempt at reviving the family’s fortunes, while fending off his rival – superbitch (and witch) Eva Green. Now the movie’s about a spurned woman getting her revenge on a former lover (though technically she already did by turning him into a vampire and putting him in a coffin for 200 years). We’re invited to be on the edge of our seat, watching two fish factories vie for supremacy. No, that’s not a joke. Hang on, you say, wouldn’t it make more sense if the governess was centre stage at this point, with Barnabas torn between two women? You bet it would, but the parodist shows that by concentrating on the eccentric lead and tossing in some flam about the Collins fam – all of whom are ornamental, you can easily lose your focus and consequently sabotage the audience’s ability to invest in the story.

By way of comparison consider another TV adaptation, Barry Sonnenfeld’s The Addams Family. The tone was consistent throughout, the black humour sharp and witty, the story simple and clear, freeing Sonnenfeld to have fun with the ghoulish design and vivid characters. Dark Shadows has similar ambitions but ends up being a mirthless monster mash that just manages to remember what it’s about, a minute before the end – all concerned praying it’s not too late. It is.

Pages: 1 2

Directed by: Tim Burton

Country: US

Year: 2012

Running Time: 113 mins

Certificate: 12A for The Carpenters, Johnny Depp's shtick and one instance of Christopher Lee.


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