Dark Shadows (2012)
[I must admit that Deggsy and I had a stalemate about this one!! Neither one of us wanted to see it and we both held out thinking the other one would crack and see it just because it's a new release. Deggsy cracked and I definitely dodged this bullet. Now I owe one to Deggsy ... a big one!! --AHS]
I had sequestered myself in the dingy takeaway, content to wile away my lunch hour trying to identify which parts of the chicken – if it truly be an animal known on God’s earth – lay hidden beneath the Southern Fried batter and grease, and forget for a short while the incessant pounding rain outside and the creeping dread within that my outstanding paperwork still awaited me back in the office.
But then the voice, raspy like the crunch of autumnal leaves beneath a boot that departed from a gravesite, drew my attention upward, and I regarded the bedraggled destitute standing by my table. He was a pitiful tatterdemalion, seemingly held together by decades of stench, and the fleas and nits holding onto each other for solidarity within his clothing. Thankful that I had not yet eaten, I asked, ‘Excuse me?’
‘What is your pleasure, sir?’ he repeated, one of his eyes wandering like a kitten on meth.
‘Ooh, horror, I think.’ An apt choice, I assumed, given that the man seemed to have peeled himself away from the crusty taint of Satan himself to be here.
He grinned, displaying a mouthful of teeth resembling a forgotten and neglected graveyard, and held up something in his gnarled hand: a box. A golden box, intricately carved and polished, with arcane runes and insidious symbols on every side, a box that looked both enticing and threatening, like a Kardashian just back from the clap clinic.
‘What is it?’ I enquired, taking it from him.
‘It is a doorway to another world,’ he intoned. ‘It has had many names over the centuries. Some men have called it the Lament Configura-‘
‘Very pussy,’ I replied, passing it back. ‘What have you got that’s *really* horrific?’
The vagrant handed the box to an adjacent child, and reached into the pockets of his filthy coat, producing a set of obvious bootleg DVDs with crudely-photocopied covers. ‘How about these?’
I looked at them. Of course I didn’t support video piracy on principle – the profits that they took from the poor studios funded paedophile terrorist Nazi Communists, after all, and stole the money from the pockets of worthy thespians like Megan Fox and Rob Schneider. But still, I looked. One stood out: Tim Burton’s DARK SHADOWS.
I looked up at him, enticed. ‘Is that as terrible as I’ve heard?’
The vagrant’s eye was busy watching the nearby child be mutilated by a Cenobite to resemble a bone-coloured, pin-covered Dora the Explorer, but still he answered. ‘Oh yes indeed, sir. Most terrible.’
I knew it would be the death of me to purchase it. My soul would be damned.
On the other hand, it would keep me from having to face those retrospective reports still on my desk…
We all remember that terrible day when the trailer for DARK SHADOWS appeared (see Scott’s article here). That the little Gothic Gargoyle Burton, his hetero life mate Johnny Depp, and Burton’s beard Helena Bonham Carter had taken Dan Curtis’ sweeping, moody masterpiece and put their own spin on it, had been on the periphery of the horror horizon like storm clouds of craptitude. But no one was truly prepared for what we saw: in Scott’s own words, it appeared to be “a campy, slap-sticky, and very tongue-in-cheek” adaptation, certainly nothing seemingly reverential to the source.
But in time, I had wanted to keep an open mind. It could be funny. Burton’s BEETLEJUICE was funny. Maybe he was aiming for this? Maybe, if I put aside my prejudices and preconceptions, I could enjoy it?
Folks, hold onto your prejudices and preconceptions.
It begins with a ten minute narrated introduction to Depp’s Barnabas Collins in 18th Century Maine, his booty call and subsequent spurning of Eva Green as Angelique Bouchard, part-time maid and full-time vengeful witch, and how she cursed his true love Josette du Pres, played by Bella Heathcote, sent her to her death, turned him into a vampire, turned the town against him and had him contained in a coffin and buried outside the town of Collinsport. All this explained in simple obvious exposition for the benefit of the tweenies in the audience so they can focus on texting their friends sitting next to them and not have to pay attention later. Or now for that matter.
We jump to the present day (well, 1972; cue all the obvious pop culture references, hippie sightings (far out man!) and appropriate songs throughout), with Heathcote now playing nanny Victoria Winters, come to the ancient Collins mansion and the remaining Collins family, a dysfunctional breed (and if your family consisted of Helena Bonham Carter, Michelle Pfeiffer, Jonny Lee Miller and Jackie Earle Haley, you’d be fucking dysfunctional too). There’s also Chloe Grace Moretz (KICK-ASS, LET ME IN) as a shrill and sulky teenager, looking like she’s trying to channel Winona Ryder’s performance in the aforementioned BEETLEJUICE, and Gulliver McGrath (HUGO) as precocious 10 year old David Collins, who swears he still talks to his dead mother. Victoria is thrown into this miasma of unpleasantness, and the fact that she didn’t immediately walk out again is testament to her obtuseness; listening to the uninteresting dialogue and lifeless performances made me want to turn off the DVD and find some tentacle rape hentai to cleanse myself.
The family’s fishing business has suffered at the hands of a rival in town, but help is coming, when some workmen (working in the woods, at night, with inadequate lighting?) unearth the coffin of Barnabas Collins, and he feasts on them (off-screen). Now begins the tiresome Rip Van Winkle fish-out-of-water tropes we’ve all seen in LOVE AT FIRST BITE, HOCUS POCUS, LES VISITEURS, DEMOLITION MAN and the like, where Barnabas wonders about the tarmac roads, the televisions, the McDonalds signs and such, before returning home and hoping to restore his family’s fortunes (and maybe get into the pants of Victoria, since she – wow, this is original – resembles his late beloved Josette). But the woman running the rival company is none other than the witch Angelique, who still has the hots for him, and she’s determined to either kill him or get his Stake into her, if you know what I mean, and I think you do.
Look, I don’t need to go into this in any more detail about the plot. It’s a fucking mess. The allegedly funny bits you see in the trailer are the only ones approaching comedy; at times everyone delivers their lines listlessly, as if they too are unsure what they were doing, or what the tone of the movie was supposed to be. Burton leans towards a hokey “family is the greatest wealth” message with all the subtlety and appeal of a lapdance from your mother, and his attempt at generating a comic atmosphere (every visual vampire joke you see will have been done decades earlier in Mad Magazine or THE MUNSTERS) is about as successful as my attempts at limbo dancing after eating a stack of ribs washed down with tequila.
Depp’s Barnabas is a travesty, and his performance, in keeping with Burton’s attempt at comedy, burns away any of the TV character’s majesty and power, making him seem as gullible as a Looney Tunes villain as he falls for the charms of Angelique once more despite all she had done to him, his family and his beloved. He’s probably the only vampire who could get his ass kicked by TWILIGHT’s Edward Cullen. They couldn’t even keep the vampire mythology consistent; you see him (and his clothes) get burned by sunlight in one scene, and then see him in another walking about in the daylight protected only by a hat.
Christopher Lee has a cameo in it (please don’t die before making another movie, Chris, you don’t want this as your swan song), as does Alice Cooper as himself (and yes, there’s the obligatory joke about Barnabas believing Alice to be an ugly-looking woman). Of them all, Jackie Earle Haley, as the laconic, sarcastic caretaker-cum-Renfield, manages to maintain his dignity, mostly by keeping his lines and presence to a minimum.
There are many plot threads thrown into the mix haphazardly: ghosts, curses, blood transfusions to steal his vampiric immortality, children getting sent to mental asylums to get shock therapy (which we see in an explicit scene that jars nastily with the light comedy we’re supposed to be getting). And in keeping with the ramshackle nature of the movie, the climax decides to jettison the weak comedy and go for weak action (and if a witch like Angelique can do all that we see her do here, why the fuck is she wasting her immortality running a fishing cannery in a shitty Maine town anyway?) – and then throws in yet *more* plot points literally from out of nowhere, like werewolves. Seriously, Burton, what the fuck possessed you (apart from your own head lodged firmly up your ass)?
I was ready to excuse Burton’s adaptation, if it had at least been genuinely amusing. But the script, by Seth Graeme-Smith, author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies, and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter, is surprisingly and painfully hack and unfunny. Someone tell the man that the high concept is not enough; you need to put some fresh, funny jokes into the script. I might have smiled once or twice. I know I groaned a lot. It fails as horror, as comedy, as action. It succeeds as shit. Burton, you rimjob, if you do something like this again, I will stomp on your pretentious face with my Size Eleven Doc Martens until you bleed.
Director: Tim Burton
Plot: 0 out of 5 stars
Gore: 0 out of 10 skulls
Zombie Mayhem: 0 out of 5 brains
Reviewed by Derek “Deggsy” O’Brien