Wednesday, May 9, 2012

Dark Shadows - Twisted Fun and Depp Magic

Two hundred years after being shackled inside a coffin that's buried underground, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is inadvertently cut loose and set free. The year is 1972 on a balmy October night, and the reluctant vampire is consumed by two decades of thirst. After feasting on the hapless construction workers, Barnabas  finds his way to Collinwood, a palatial home he saw rise from the earth when as a little boy, his adventurous family began a new prosperous life from dank and urine-stenched Liverpool to a bright and flourishing town in Maine.


Their halcyon existence allowed them to build the town of Collinsport which has since thrived in the fishing industry that the Collins jumpstarted. But a vengeful, albeit spurned witch Angelique (Eva Green) wrecked havoc on Barnabas' family, murdering his parents and casting a spell on the beautiful Jossette (Bella Heathcote), Barnabas' object of desire, to jump off a cliff. Jossette, in Angelique's eyes, took young Barnabas' affections from her thus she deserved to die. Moreover, she cursed the handsome young man to become a vampire.

But present day Collinsport has changed since Barnabas' "detention". The terrain (he's never seen a concrete road before) has changed and he is continually hounded by Mephistopheles (the devil) decked in gigantic yellow light (the "M" in McDonald's stores). Moreover, Collinwood is in a state of disrepair, rambling into destitution. The Collins have likewise lost their fortunes. Only four of them have survived: Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), the matriarch; her belligerent daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz); Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), Elizabeth's incorrigible brother and his son David (Gulliver McGrath) who everyone perceives as looney (he thinks his dead mother still intermittently communicates with him). Then there's psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) who has overstayed her doctor's visit for the last 3 years! She attends to David's mental health.

After convincing Elizabeth that he indeed was the "living" incarnation of their ancestor, Barnabas gave his word that he would never harm any member of this family. Furthermore, he would rebuild Collinwood's past glories. In fact, he unearthed a room brimming with jewelries and gold; riches that have eluded the clan for two centuries!


Unfortunately, Barnabas' ambitious plans couldn't go unimpeded, could it? Angelique, the witch, has taken over the dominion of the fishing town (calling her fish processing company as Angelbay). And she would not allow the resurgence of the Collins! Unless Barnabas accedes to a romantic ever after with her. After all these years, Angelique is still madly in love with "that man with handsome features". But her malevolent nature won't allow him romantic happiness outside her embrace! "I'd rather see him suffer or die..." Angie promised!

One day, a beautiful young woman named Victoria offers her services as a nanny! She has come a long way and seems content to be part of the family. But her uncanny likeness to the downfallen Jossette isn't lost in Barnabas. And the reluctant vampire once again falls in love. Surely, Angelique won't have any of these!

What becomes of the Collins? Will Barnabas be able to rebuild the family fortunes from dire straits? Why is the overstaying doctor transfusing blood on Barnabas who's desperate enough to try the former's experiments (he was told that this could restore his humanity)? Who is Victoria? Will Collinsport embrace the family that built the town? Will they ever find the beast attacking locals to their death? Finally, what is a vampire's place in a new age where "little women" (Karen Carpenter) sing "Top of the World" in small boxes (television)?

Johnny Depp once again creates another delightfully preternatural character in the lovesick Barnabas Collins.  His circumscribed delivery is key to making his character enthralling, which should be a formidable thespic hurdle considering Barnabas thrives on innocent beings for their blood. But it is easy to fawn over someone who's utterly devoted to his family, and more so, with a girl who so enamored him! When he tells Angie off, "How dare you put your cursed lips on mine!" I couldn't help but giggle! Giggle - and I am not 16! When the Collins invites heavy metal legend Alice Cooper to perform for their soiree, Barnabas quips, "I've never seen such an ugly woman!" (He thought with a name like Alice, the rocker couldn't be a man!) :)

Aside from Depp, the cast is as hopelessly engaging. Michelle Pfeiffer deliciously commits to the feisty matriarch who would protect her family against usurpers. She returns to the spotlight in grand fashion! So does Eva Green as the vengeful Angelique who is so malevolently bloodcurdling as she is sexy! Helena Bonham Carter promises another character envisaged like a predetermined anti-hero for a calculated sequel - and this we cannot wait!

There are blatantly weak links in the plot, most of them figure as spoilers so I am not going to get into them, but this involves character development that somehow unravels at the latter part of the film: Carolyn, for example, turns into something else and I thought there was only "one monster in the family". Roger Collins, on the other hand, evolves into a cad just when the family has found their riches. Why leave when luxury is all you're after - and your family has obviously found a huge stash. Even Dr. Hoffman's character is superficially glazed over. Her extended stay does not make sense even as a comedic strain. Having enumerated just a few of these narrative lapses, "Dark Shadows" is nevertheless entertaining.


Horror and comedy aren't an easy hybrid simply because fear and laughter don't congeal comfortably beside each other like hands in glove. You don't shriek with fear then laugh in the same breath! It isn't physiologic! Gaiety is in fact the anti-thesis of anxiety and discomposure. But Director Tim Burton succeeds where others failed, thanks to a brilliant cast, a resplendent cinematography, an understated humor and a brisk narrative that never lingers unnecessarily. On IMAX, the film embraces extensively, thus the audience becomes part of Barnabas' journey to restore his broken family!


During the screening, a heart-pounding, nail-biting "complete" sequence of the next "Dark Knight" sequel was shown, involving Bane, Batman's next cinematic nemesis (wasn't he notorious for being the guy who "killed" Batman?) It involved an action-packed sequence set in mid-air where a plane gets hijacked. Every second felt urgent and by the time this particular sequence ended, people started clapping! Yes, this wasn't a trailer, but a full-15-minute portion of the incoming summer flick. If they wanted to hook their viewers, they sure succeeded! Now where do I buy the ticket? :)    

Elizabeth and family.

Dr. Hoffman (Carter, right) wants to look young forever so she transfuses a vampire's blood in her.

Barnabas tries convincing Elizabeth that he is the real deal.

Angelique was the Collins' maid in 1752. She fell in love with a playful Barnabas.

Angelique crashes the Collins' party.

Johnny Depp takes on another quirky character.

Michelle Pfeiffer - Catwoman is back sans costume!

Eva Green is malevolent!

Bella Heathcote as Victoria has a dark past that might be unraveled further in a sequel.

Jonny Lee Miller plays the spineless Roger Collins.

Jonny Lee Miller - Angelina Jolie sure knew how to pick boyfriends back then! :)


Armando dela Cruz said...

Darn Cathy, u always posting first. Wasn't able to watch it today. Is it on screening already?? Tell me, fast. BTW, I freakin' love me some Tim Burton films. :)

Cathy Pena said...

Hi Armand,

Saw it last Tuesday at MOA, but it officially opens today Thursday so you can catch it already! Love Tim Burton too. :)

Armando dela Cruz said...

Cathy, saw it today and I was slightly disappointed. Wasn't THE BEST Tim Burton, but it is passable. I kind of contradict to your post.

Cathy Pena said...

@ Armand:

LOL. It's alright. I always say movie watching is a subjective experience. I also think it is far from the best of Tim Burton. I've actually added one paragraph in the post - belatedly - to mention what I believe are its weak points.

Still, for me, a good part of the film is entertaining, despite the flaws. :)

Armando dela Cruz said...

Well, that's true. But this is really disappointing. If I think about it, it confuses the audience of its identity: is it a parody? Twilight for the mentally-challenged? Or a Tarsem Singh extended collaboration with Burton (it having stunning visuals)? Two things two celebrate in the film tho: (a) Johnny Depp proved he's not just an actor anymore, more like a personifying tool for characters and (b)This is better than Alice in Wonderland.

I have many complacent things that I can say about this film, but I don't really like to sound mean all the time. Well, anyhow, I hope you can drop by my blog and read what I think about this. ;)

Cathy Pena said...

@ Armand:

I would have to disagree on several points here.

It is clearly not a parody, but an adaptation of its 1967 TV soap beginnings, a gothic yarn that had vampires, witches AND werewolves.

Despite its less than impeccable writing in some areas, comparing it to "Twilight" is a bit misleading, not when it jumpstarted the idea of admixing witches, bloodsuckers and lycanthropes by 45 years - that's almost half a century prior to the conception of Bella, Jacob and Edward. Mentally challenged? The film, as I've mentioned, had loose narrative strings. Saying that it is bad or stupid is an inequitable hyperbole.

The TV series ran for 4 years and inspired 2 TV remakes and 3 movie versions (adaptations) even before Tim Burton finally decided to bring it before a new millennium audience. Parody rests on lampooning something that's familiar to its audience. The original "Dark Shadows" is not a familiar entity to most.

Moreover, comparison between Tarsem Singh and Tim Burton is unwarranted. Burton always had strong visuals and an even stronger story telling acumen than Singh (whose "The Fall" is one of my all-time favorites). They don't have the same temperament at all. Burton's always had an undercurrent of dark humor. Singh meanwhile doesn't have one. Singh in fact is yet to learn how to tell an immersive tale. Comparing the two is an unfair tack for Singh because he would miserably pale in comparison.

For the sake of argument, "Dark Shadows" isn't the best of Burton, but it isn't that bad at all.

Armando dela Cruz said...

First, I am appreciative that you sound like a Tim Burton fan; for that, we are on the same page. I like him as much.

Secondly, I didn't say that it was bad or stupid. My review and even my comment didn't worn such kind of words.

Thirdly, I know that my thoughts are sometimes unwarranted. (a) referring it to as 'Twilight for mentally-challenged' means that is it a more crazy and fun version of Twilight (which by the way can never be less boring) (b) Tarsem Singh is such a great visual artist and with this I intend to appreciate the imagery of the film.

Finally, I appreciate you have different thoughts than mine. I personally think that it looses control because of Burton's wild imagination. It is however one of the most fun and entertaining films this half of the year.

Really the final stuff: I haven't seen the TV series, I wasn't even born then. lol

Cathy Pena said...


Neither was I born in 1967, but I am familiar with Alfred Hitchcock's "The Shame of Mary Boyle" which came out in 1930 when even my parents weren't born yet! This is saying that one doesn't have to be acquainted with something that existed even before she was born.

When you repeatedly use the word "disappointing", and suggest that it "confuses its audience", it should be easy to infer (that's Logic 101) that you think it isn't good, thus it is "bad". How else would you cumulatively interpret those words?

Then by way of an interrogative phrase, you suggest that it's a "Twilight" for the mentally challenged? What is mentally challenged if not "stupid"? Someone "mental", someone whose cognitive processes are "challenged" by a disability?

"Crazy and fun" don't fall under the descriptive realm of "mentally challenged". Thus I had to disagree that it is neither bad nor stupid.

While I take my hats off for Tim Burton, calling myself a "fan" seems inappropriate because I wouldn't kill for him. He's just a good director with bright and fresh ideas, is all.

I appreciate too that you try to own up to your thoughts, something that many other people don't have the balls to do so. But you see, in any dissertation, it is normal to have the conflicting opinions. As I mentioned in my first reply, movie viewing is a subjective experience. Some people may love something that others hate. It's just the state of things in a democratic world.

In short, we can live in harmony even if we disagree. So let's agree then to disagree. :)

Armando dela Cruz said...

I have to tell you that this is such a pleasure, us exchanging our thoughts. IDK, I guess I have to brought my hate up for Twilight each time I review a film. I just friggin' hate Twilight and thank God it's ending. :)

NOTE: I'm 16. The earliest film I've seen was a Hitchcockian too! "The Lady Vanishes!" hahaha. :))