Sunday, May 20, 2012

Burton and Depp Go for the Throat

by Pa Rock
Film Critic

Apparently a Gothic horror tale can be set in Maine and not come from the pen of Stephen King.

The concept of Dark Shadows goes back to the 1960's when it ran as a soap opera for several years on television.  Director Tim Burton recognized it as the perfect vehicle for him and his celluloid-other-half, Johnny Depp, to have some campy fun and make a pile of cash in the process.

Depp plays Barnabas Collins, a dashing vampire who comes back from the grave, literally, in 1972, after being imprisoned in a casket and buried by a jilted witch two centuries earlier.  After finishing off the crew of workers who accidentally freed him (he had built up quite a thirst over two hundred years), Barnabas eventually finds his way into the modern town of Collinsport, Maine.  And while the once rustic fishing village still bears his family name, much has necessarily changed during his prolonged absence.

The family mansion, on up the road and through the woods, still houses several members of the Collins clan, but it too has suffered change - through deterioration - of both the structure and the family.  Barnabas sets out to restore his house and family, all the while having to deal with the still-living witch who turned him into a vampire and buried him deep underground in the distant past.

Johnny Depp as Barnabas is, as he almost always is in Tim Burton films, a very quirky and campy character who dominates the film.   Fortunately, for those of us who are growing tired of Captain Jack Sparrow, Mr. Depp chose not to prance his way through this one.

Joining Depp in this farcical tale is another pony from Burton's stable of quirky actors, Helena Bonham Carter.  She plays a drugged and drunken psychiatrist who lives in the Collins' mansion where she takes care of  a child who has issues, as seemingly do all of the Collinses.

British actor, Christopher Lee, who is most well known for his roles in horror films stretching back over decades,  makes a brief appearance as a fishing captain.  Lee has worked with Burton and Depp before on several projects.  He will be ninety-years-old next week and has been involved in four movies since filming was finished on Dark Shadows!

Another senior citizen, rocker Alice Cooper, is featured in this movie playing himself and singing at a party at the Collins' mansion.  Depp refers to the singer in the movie as "the ugliest woman I've ever seen."  Alice Cooper is also believed to still be under the age of ninety.

Other stars of note in this very entertaining movie are Michelle Pfeiffer (the current primary occupant of the mansion), Eva Green  (the witch), and Bella Heathcote (Depp's love interest in the past and present).

Tim Burton's Dark Shadows is visually captivating:  the creaking old mansion, the rugged sea coast with its fearsome rocks and crashing waves, the dark and tranquil woods, and even the quaint but busy seaside town of Collinsport.  (At one point when a sweeping panorama of Collinsport is being presented, the background music is "A Summer Place.")  There is, in fact, an abundance of nostalgia from the sixties and seventies in this movie.  Unfortunately, those of less than a certain age (mine, for instance) may miss some of it.

Dark Shadows is a funny movie that reaffirms the comic genius of both Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.  Yes, there are scenes with innocent people getting ripped apart to feed Barnabas Collins, but they are incidental to the story and we are not made to feel any emotional connection to them.  I have a friend who fears vampire movies.  I venture to guess that she will not run from the theatre screaming after viewing this vampire flick, and she will probably sleep soundly that same night.

I give it two fangs up!

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