I am a fan of Vampires and werewolves. If there is a movie that involves either of these monsters, I will give it a shot. This predilection causes me to see some awful movies. It was the reason that I went out with friends last weekend and saw Dark Shadows. It was not a bad movie but it wasn’t a good movie either.
Dark Shadows stars Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, and Eva Green. The movie follows the plot of the original soap opera from 1966. Barnabas Collins, played by Johnny Depp, is a powerful playboy in Maine during the 1700’s. He breaks the heart of a young witch during one of his many flirtations. In retribution, she curses his family, kills his only true love, and ultimately turns him into a vampire. Her final retribution is to imprison him in a coffin and bury him. He is freed from his prison in 1972 and begins the process of finding his family and recovering the wealth and power that the witch has stripped from him over the intervening centuries. The bulk of the movie is taken up by Barnabas Collins trying to reintegrate into his own dysfunctional family and a society that has long since left him behind while dealing with the witch that has brought all this upon him.
The trailers for the movie give you the feeling that this is a comedy. This is not a lie but a bit of an exaggeration. The movie tries to be a large range of things but at the cost of not doing anything well.
The comedy in the film is centered upon Barnabas Collins. Instead of a bloodthirsty beast, he is portrayed more like a child learning about this new era. The problem is that we are not watching someone try to fit into our modern era but into 1972. This makes the awkwardness all the more pronounced as this is a decade that most people look back on with regret.
While traipsing through ’70’s kitsch, Gothic elements are added to the mix. The Collins family all have the pasty white complexion that is standard for the heroin of a Gothic novel. The movie already has a vampire and a witch but can not resist adding the other denizens of Gothic literature. Ghosts and werewolves are added to the mix and the family mansion, Collinwood adds the final dollop of gothyness to the recipe. These supernatural elements are reinforced through small scenes throughout the movie such as Barnabas confiding in a group of hippies then feeding on them all.
But wait, there’s more!
Since this is based upon a soap opera we have to have to add family drama into the mix. The Collins family is small and has fallen upon hard times due to the depredations of the witch that cursed Barnabas so long ago. Michelle Pfeiffer plays the matriarch, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, who struggles to keep what is left of the family strong. She has a surly teenage daughter, a troubled nephew, and a philandering thieving brother. The family business is in serious decline and the family estate is in total disrepair.
If you think that this is a lot topics for a movie, you would be correct. Each of these things would be entertaining on their own but none are given enough attention to make it passably entertaining. There are many scenes throughout the movie that would have been more engrossing if given more traction. One example would be the Collins family business. The idea of a vampire and witch struggling for dominance of the business world is intriguing. There are many facets that could be explored in this one idea all of which are rife with comedic possibilities. Instead, we are given one scene in which the Barnabas uses mind control and to get ship captains to do business with his family.
If you were a fan of the original soap opera, this film is for you. The myriad topics that are dealt with in the movie are directly derived from the soap opera’s plot. On the other hand, if you would like a comedy that will entertain you and make you laugh, give this movie a pass. It is definitely not worth the cost of a matinee ticket.