Except for the fake concert appearance of Alice Cooper singing “Ballad of Dwight Fry” from a forty-year-old album, the high point of Tim Burton’s new movie “Dark Shadows” comes very early in the picture. It must come right after the shorthand recapitulation of the circumstances in the late ‘60s vampire soap opera, a TV series no one would remember except that it ran just before Dick Clark’s daily “Where the Action Is” pop music show.
And from that point, about five minutes into this longish movie, it is all down hill. What a dreadful bore.
Burton, who gave us the ‘89 re-make of “Batman” (with Michael Keaton in the title part) and “Edward Scissorhands, “ “Frankenweenie” and the ‘01 re-make of “Planet of the Apes” (with Marky-Mark Wahlberg), has always loved to base movies on cheap crud. His films have often succeeded nevertheless because he has covered immature interests and unsound story structures with piles of slightly eerie imagination.
Here the only piles are piles of “Gilgi.” The story begins as a replacement for the TV series. Vampire Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), buried for two hundred years, is dug up by construction workers. He returns to his family seat outside Collinsport, Maine. There he discovers that Angelique (scowling Eva Green), the witch who cursed him and killed his parents, is now running a fishing company which competes with the failing Collins enterprise.
Barnabas introduces himself to the resident members of the Collins family circle—widower Roger and his young, ghost-seeing son David, widow Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her teenaged werewolf daughter Carolyn, and a resident psychiatrist played by Helena Bonham Carter wearing a wig she seems to have swiped from Raggedy Ann.
Then our blood-sucking hero sets to work reviving the fish canning business and the huge mansion, using treasure retrieved from a secret basement trove to pay for all the construction and for new fishing contracts negotiated one night with a character played by Christopher Lee.
After offing the shrink, who seemed to have been giving herself transfusions of his vampire blood, Barnabas orders up a huge party to celebrate the return of the family business to prominence. Alice is the star entertainer. And about the time the movie starts suggesting relationships between Collins family history and events referred to on the band’s third album, “Love It to Death, “the story becomes so confusing, forced, and ill-functioning that trying to make some vestige of sense of it game me a raging headache.
I already didn’t understand why the doc had to go. What does Roger do wrong? Is Carolyn Elizabeth’s daughter or a changeling? Why isn’t all of Barnabas’s energy focused on destroying his upper-torso-bearing adversary? The flying coitus scene is original, but not sexy, and one wonders why?
And, more than anything else, moviegoers will be asking why the screenplay veered away from comedy after just a few joke attempts, at least half of them appearing in the movie’s preview? The idea of reviving a 60s soap opera about a vampire, setting it in the 70s, and putting Carter in that wig—what else was “Dark Shadows” ever going to be except a comedy?
Well, maybe that’s the point of introducing Alice Cooper. Transvestial high drama. Too bad the boys known for “Eighteen” already did just about everything that can be done with that idea. I suggest you buy a copy of “Love It to Death” and listen to that instead of paying to see the movie. The album is almost as funny. And its drama makes a heck of a lot more sense.