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"DARK SHADOWS"
(2012) (Johnny Depp, Eva Green) (PG-13)

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QUICK TAKE:
Horror/Comedy: After being buried for two centuries by his rejected lover, a vampire tries to adapt to the 1970s as he returns to his home to find it filled with his dysfunctional descendants while the original witch who cursed him still has it out for him.
PLOT:
The Collins were once the prominent family of Collinsport, Maine back in the 1760s. But when the young adult son, Barnabas (JOHNNY DEPP), rejected the affections of young Angelique Bouchard (EVA GREEN), she put a curse on him, what with being a secret witch. Not only did she kill his parents and cause his new girlfriend of the time, Josette DuPres (BELLA HEATHCOTE), to fall from a cliff to her death, but Angelique also turned Barnabas into an immortal vampire so that he would have to live with his grief for all eternity. Finally, to rub salt into that wound, she had the local townsfolk capture and bury Barnabas alive in a chained coffin.

Two centuries later, he's accidentally unearthed by a construction crew. Trying to acclimate himself to the cultural and technological changes present in 1972, he returns to his manor only to find it filled with his highly dysfunctional descendants. There's matriarch Elizabeth (MICHELLE PFEIFFER) who must contend with her moody 15-year-old daughter, Carolyn (CHLOE GRACE MORETZ). Elizabeth's brother, Roger (JOHNNY LEE MILLER), is more concerned with the estate's dwindling finances than his young son, David (GULLIVER McGRATH), who's still affected by his mother's death, thus necessitating the presence of alcoholic psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (HELENA BONHAM CARTER).

New to the house is recently hired governess Victoria Winters (BELLA HEATHCOTE) with whom David senses a kindred spirit, as does Barnabas as he sees a lot of Josette in her. Putting a spell on groundskeeper Willie Loomis (JACKIE EARLE HALEY) to be his faithful assistant, the vampire sets out to reestablish the family's name and fishery business in Collinsport. But he must contend with Angelique who's not only spent the last two hundred years building up her rival business, but now once again wants to win over Barnabas and promises to unleash more pain if he again refuses her.

OUR TAKE: 4 out of 10
Back when I was a young kid growing up in the 1960s and '70s, I was terrified of something that occurred after school. It wasn't the walk home, as that was only a few blocks in a safe neighborhood. It wasn't the thought of having to do homework as I honestly don't think they assigned that way back when for the youngest elementary school students. And I had a good family life and friends, so that wasn't the cause of my fear.

What then, you may ask, was the cause for my fright? It was a TV soap opera that aired in the afternoon and featured, among other characters, a vampire by the name of Barnabas Collins. Other than him, the opening title sequence and the creepy atmospheric music, I don't recall a great deal about "Dark Shadows," but I distinctly remembering sitting on the basement sofa scared enough to hold a pillow in front of my face.

I haven't seen any part of it since it went off the air back in 1971. But I'm pretty sure that if I viewed it today -- through my 48-year-old eyes that have seen all sorts of horror watching and reviewing movies for decades -- the goings-on at the Collinsport, Maine manor known as Collinwood would seem likely little more than a campy gothic soap opera.

Even so, and with those frightful moments etched into my memory, I was curious to see what director Tim Burton and long-time collaborator and star Johnny Depp would do with their big screen adaptation of said material. Alas, while it could likely scare today's six and seven-year-old kids like its predecessor, and starts off with a lot of promise, it eventually devolves into a whole lot of nothing where all of the fun has been sucked dry by some unseen entertainment vampire.

The film -- penned by Seth Grahame-Smith -- begins with a whirlwind bit of back-story and exposition -- narrated by Depp -- where we quickly learn all about Barnabas Collins (Depp) and the vampire curse placed on him by a rejected lover (Eva Green) who turns out to have been a witch, and a vengefully jealous one at that. His new girlfriend goes off a cliff and he ends up buried alive. Following a cool opening credits sequence scored to The Moody Blues' "Nights in White Satin," he's then unearthed two centuries later.

And thus begins what initially appears is going to be a fun, fish out of water tale as the perplexed vampire tries to get himself accustomed to the various unusual and foreign (to him) trappings of 1972 America. It's quite entertaining, and the writer, director and star have a blast showing the vampire first encountering the Golden Arches, a paved road and a quickly approaching motor vehicle.

The fun continues as he arrives at his former manor only to find a dysfunctional bunch of family descendants. There's the matriarch (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her moody teenage daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz); the disillusioned uncle (Johnny Lee Miller) and his motherless young son (Gulliver McGrath); the alcoholic psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter); and the equally boozing groundskeeper (Jackie Earle Haley). Such a set-up and the presence of ghosts will likely remind some viewers (and especially Burton fans) of the filmmaker's 1980s horror-comedy "Beetlejuice."

That works for a while, but it isn't difficult to sense the fun starting to evaporate, especially once the main plot kicks in with the original witch back again to try to woo Collins and then unleashing havoc once she realizes he only has dark-circled eyes for the new governess (Bella Heathcote) who bears a striking resemblance to his former, cliff-falling love.

By the time rocker Alice Cooper shows up (yes, you read that correctly, although he looks a wee bit older than what's supposed to be the early 1970s version of himself) and performs not one, but two songs at a ball (preceded by sophomoric euphemisms for testicles), the film's really sputtering. In fact, that scene feels as self-indulgent and unnecessary as the Prince song inclusion in Burton's big screen vision of "Batman."

From that point on, nearly all of the humor dries up and we're left with a mirthless and not particularly entertaining or engaging bit of special effects laced revenge and chaos. While I usually stress that films without real plots can't succeed, this offering ends up undermined by the arrival of its progressively weak and boring story that taints the fun and enjoyable opening and the goodwill it so effortlessly brought with it.

Depp is as good as ever in creating an interesting and (initially) funny man-child type character, but he's now done this sort of role so many times I can't imagine it's much of a challenge anymore. Carter is occasionally entertaining as the boozed-up shrink, but the likes of Pfeiffer, Moretz and Heathcote are pretty much wasted in underwritten and/or one-note parts.

Many films are bad from start to finish, so I appreciate the good ones or those that at least have good parts. But the most frustrating are those that start off with great and even infectious material, only to end up falling apart. And while nothing in "Dark Shadows" frightened me like its TV predecessor so long ago, it scares me to think that those involved read the script and thought it would be great from start to finish. It isn't, and thus the film rates as just a 4 out of 10.




Reviewed May 7, 2012 / Posted May 11, 2012


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