My take on…Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows

My take on…Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows

“Mercy.  There was a time when I needed it.  A time that I…I begged for it from those who could so easily have given it: from those who could have understood and helped. But they chose not to…and now, I choose not to.”
–Barnabas Collins (played by Jonathan Frid)
Dark Shadows episode 257
screenplay by Malcolm Marmorstein

Reviewers have not been particularly merciful to Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows.

While the trailer made me mad, I was willing to wait and see if the movie was the silly farce shown in that trailer or not.

Honestly, it was more serious than that…although there were farcical elements. Tonally, I’d put it along the line of Death Becomes Her…there were silly things (lots of them), but there was an attempt to give us some horror as well. I’m not quite sure I understand the point of the campaign: I don’t think people would walk into it expecting a comedy, and say, “Wow, that wasn’t what I wanted…but it was good.”


Let me say first that I have watched more than one hundred episodes of the original 1960s series…recently. I also watched the show when it was originally broadcast.

However, I don’t think that I am strictly judging it by comparison.

I found the movie surprisingly…uninteresting. Not bad or offensive, which is what I thought it might be for fans of the series. The moviemakers didn’t disrespect the original, which would have been possible. There were many nods to the TV show. Even some of the original cast members cameo, and are specifically invited to the party (you may notice them with that much information).

No, I think the main problem is that Barnabas Collins is undeniably the hero of the piece (despite violently killing people), but there was very little drama in that for me. When Barnabas was alive, he was a philanderer and seemed to be…a bit of a lazy, self-entitled aristocrat. After he is cursed to be a vampire, he doesn’t seem to have gained much true nobility. He seemed…petulant about the situation, not self-sacrificing…or even vengeful.

He was a vampire without teeth.

It’s very hard to maintain a movie when the protagonist doesn’t appear to have any real driving motivations, just situations.

Were there funny sight gags?

A few…most of them were pretty obvious. There were some good bits of Burton whimsy…there was a complex mechanism I particularly enjoyed.

This is all very different from the series. There was a lot of suspense about whether people would discover Barnabas was a vampire…here, it’s just stated right out, no surprises. Barnabas was tortured…and evil. That was part of what made him interesting. We understood that Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas Collins wouldn’t have chosen to be a vampire…but that he might have been cruel even if he hadn’t been.

Removing that complexity simply makes the story less engaging.


There were a few good performances.

The amazing Chloë Grace Moretz was at times mesmerizing in a period performance (the movie is set 25 years before the actor was born). She’s already done some great work, and has more in front of her.

Eva Green had great fun as the primary antagonist, Angelique Bouchard. She brought a lot of life to the movie.

At some point, I’m going to get over British actors doing American accents (that used to be pretty impossible…even Laurence Olivier couldn’t pull it off), but Helena Bonham Carter handles it beautifully as Dr. Julia Hoffman (an important character in the TV series). I would say that the role was a bit underwritten, but she was intriguing.

Unfortunately, I didn’t feel like either Michelle Pfeiffer or Jackie Earle Haley found anything that wasn’t on the page.

Speaking of the script, I think Seth Grahame-Smith may not be the mainstream screenwriting success some might have hoped at the end of this year.  The next test will be Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter…and I won’t say that I felt a lot of enthusiasm at the trailer (which ran before Dark Shadows). That doesn’t mean that it won’t happen, but I think not in 2012. Dark Shadows didn’t especially impress me, although it was a complicated assignment (it’s not easy to adapt a show that had over 1,000 episodes!).

Bottom line…I wouldn’t avoid seeing it, even if you are a fan. It’s the kind of movie that might be a great time passer on an airline or some slow late night.

Have a different opinion? Feel free to let me and me readers know.

This post by Bufo Calvin originally appeared in the The Measured Circle blog.


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