Dark Shadows has all the ghoulish kookiness of an Addams Family movie. The plot is loosely based on the 1960’s soap opera of the same name and follows the misfortunes of the cursed Collins family. The movie is drastically different from the soap for two huge reasons. Firstly, the original soap was characterised by its Zee horror show style production. The movie, on the other hand, is a stunning example of Tim Burton’s flawless art direction. He recreates the Collins’ crumbling mansion so well that it sends more chills down the spine than the movie’s fanged protagonist himself. Secondly, unlike the soap, Twilight and True Blood, this vampire fiction does not take itself seriously, and that’s what makes it so charming.
The characters all play their roles with a straight face, but the situations they have been hurled into are downright absurd. Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is a vampire and who was locked in a coffin for almost two hundred years. He’s accidentally released in 1971 and has his baffled first encounters with cars, neon lights and disco music. He reunites with his dysfunctional descendants and is more shocked by them then they are by him. The Collins of the 1970’s include a self-persecuted teen (Chloë Grace Moretz), a good for nothing brother in law (Johnny Lee Miller), and an alcoholic psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter).
In the 1700s, Barnabas was a wealthy heir to a fishery fortune who had a torrid affair with the maid, Angelique (Eva green). It’s only after breaking her heart and moving on to another girl that he realises Angelique is a witch! And a vengeful witch at that. Angelique kills Barnabas’ parents and true love, but she has even crueler plans for him. She does not even want him to have respite in death so she turns him into a vampire and has the towns people lock him up for all eternity. As Angelique, former bond girl Eva Green has impressively held her own against a stellar Johnny Depp performance. She’s also got that psychotic look in her eye that is absolutely necessary for any convincing super villain.
Visuals and acting aside, the dialogue itself makes this film a winner. Barnabas’s pre-Victorian English leads to deliciously bizarre interactions with people used to “rock and roll” 1970’s slang. And really, who better to capture Barnabas’s undead properness than scriptwriter Seth Grahame Smith, bestselling author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies? All in all, this eccentric romp through the 70’s is an absolute must see.
Published in The Express Tribune, Sunday Magazine, June 10th, 2012.
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