Film Review: Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows is likely to divide audiences. Those who get on board will find amusement in Tim Burton’s homage to the past.

Barnabus Collins moved to America as a young child with his wealthy family. Barnabus is turned into a vampire by a witch, who buries him in a coffin. When he is set free two-hundred years later, Barnabus sets out to find the Collins family in the alien world of 1972…

Based on the television series which ran from 1966 to 1971, Dark Shadows is a curious mixture of moods. It is not quite a dark comedy, although there is plenty of humour in the first half of the film. This humour is more camp than macabre, as the film slides from a kitsch 1970s lightness to some gothic interludes that border on horror.

There is a perceptible shift in mood from the first half of the film to the second. The second half lacks the humour that makes the first half so enjoyable. That is not to say that Dark Shadows fails to entertain after the half-way mark, but simply that there is a more serious atmosphere. The ending of the film feels a bit drawn out; a snappier climax with more humour would have been welcome.

Dark Shadows is a homage to the television series it is based on, as well to 1970s music and popular culture. The film seems to feature the things that interest director Burton and star and co-producer Johnny Depp, with the inclusion of Alice Cooper, gothic lore and camp humour. Dark Shadows also features many tropes of the traditional soap opera. The film is segmented, giving it the almost episodic feel of a soap. There is also the sudden departure of characters, and those that go missing for a significant portion of the duration, not unlike a television series.

Tim Burton’s film is visually appealing. Colleen Atwood has done a fantastic job with the costumes, while the surroundings appear authentic for the period. The make up and special effects used on Angelique in the finale are fantastic.

Johnny Depp is responsible for much of the film’s humour. Eva Green makes a great vamp as Angelique. Michelle Pfeiffer brings presence as Elizabeth, while Gulliver McGrath shows promise as young David. Bella Heathcote is a welcome addition, looking every inch the Burtonian love interest.

Dark Shadows has several virtues. The only disappointment is that it had the potential to be a lot better.

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