“If a man can become a monster, then a monster can become a man.”
Swift shot: Freaky, weird, romantic, it’s all Burton and Depp. A tragic love story set across time, where all magical and maniacal things are possible. Where I found it lacking was in the ensemble concept, a lot of the characters got dashed away, like storylines hurled from the craggy rocks to the terrible tides below. But because this two hour film is based on a series that ran for five years in the 60′s and 70′s, I was expecting a bit of the characters to be lost. A full running series rarely, if ever, translates into a brilliant film.
The series was a kind of campy, melodrama, soap-opera with dark creatures. I saw it playing on Sci-Fi (back when it was still called that) about twenty years ago, but it never really got more than a few minutes of my time. So, I am no authority on Dark Shadows, but I did hear that the original Barnabas Collins actor, Jonathon Frid passed away last month, Friday the 13th – which that in itself is creepy. I’ll be kind and not draw on any comparisons to Depp here.
It’s 1750, Liverpool, a few hundred years before a little rock band would grace our delicate shores. The Collins family, fish mongers, decide to set up a whole town in America. Barnabas is only a boy when they leave England behind forever on a great ship heading to Maine. He is a decent lad, and he has already caught the eye of a little girl who is of lower class and also sets sail on the great ship to America. His life is charmed, to say the least, he is essentially royalty, as his family’s glorious Collinwood is constructed as he becomes a young man. Now a young woman, his admirer, Angelique (Eva Green) has developed into a beauty, but she has some dark thoughts when Barnabas (Depp) falls in love with the stunning Josette (Bella Heathcote). In fact she decides to punish him in the worst way possible, reminding us there are fates worse than death . . . when you are in love, life itself can be a tragedy.
Angelique has trapped him in his own body, never to know the release of death and to endure the pain of losing the one he loves . . . endlessly. After he is shut in a coffin, fate intervenes and in 1972, he is released in his name’s sake Collinsport, Maine. Collinwood, the majestic domicile to the Collins clan that he watched his parents construct has been reduced to a veritable ruins. But, after he makes himself known to the lady of the manor, Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) and she discovers his secret, she decides to let him stay . . . provided he never harms anyone in the house, or in the family.
The family consists of Elizabeth’s half-witted brother, Roger Collins, played quite well by the full-witted Johnny Lee Miller. Roger is a widower, and barely tolerates his son’s existence. His son, David (Gulliver McGrath) keeps letting on that he sees his dead mother, and the family has hired (at this point) the live in psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). The wonderfully spoiled pup of the family, Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) keeps us in a constant state of reminder that this is the 1970′s. In her entrance, she even plays Season of the Witch, which is a prelude of dark things to come. So, here is where I say everything gets lost, you also have the mysterious new addition, other than Barnabas, to the manor in Victoria Winters (Heathcote again). On the music, it and Collinwood are characters of the film as well.
So, with all these characters running around, the story of each character gets underdone at best. The focus, rightfully so, is on Barnabas and his adjusting to the modern world, and the hilarity ensues. Sure, you will laugh at the antics and the odd choices Barnabas makes. But, never forget, he is a monster, and Burton and screen-writer Seth Grahame-Smith make sure that isn’t lost on the audience several times.
Barnabas has hidden treasures that he uses to finance his fishing empire anew, and he employs some of his bag of tricks to ensure that the townsfolk are his willing staff. This royally pisses off the rival fish tycoon, Angie who bears a striking resemblance to Angelique. No spoiler here, it is her, she is a witch and she is still in love with Barnabas. She allows him to play at fish monger again, but she always reminds him he is a monster and she really, really wants to get physical. In one of the best scenes of the movie, there is a sure to be talked about “love” scene between the two. Eventually the two fish figure out they can’t co-exist in the same pond, and the inevitable big showdown comes out.
If you loved 70′s music, like a little retro vampire action and are a huge fan of the quirky combo of Burton/Depp required staples, i.e. always wearing a ton of face makeup and with very deliberate physical acting, where Depp is really almost dancing in every scene . . . and of course steals every scene, this is your film. It is part love story, part horror and all quirky fun. I just wish I knew a lot more about the characters, other than Depp and Green, I very much felt like I wasn’t connecting to the other characters. Gulliver, as David did have a few powerful scenes, but we learned so little about the boy that those parts felt tacked on ultimately.
To be sure, every actor brought their best work, and Green did this really creepy thing with her voice that sent a chill up my spine. She was the best witch I have seen on screen in a long time. And, yes, I am over sparkling vampires and bare-chested werewolves, it was refreshing to see a completely horrific and believable daughter-of-Lucifer on the silver screen again.