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'Dark Shadows' Lacks Bite

Published: Thursday, May 10, 2012

Updated: Thursday, May 17, 2012 17:05

Dark Shadows

Starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter

Directed by Tim Burton

Rated PG-13

Opens Friday

Grade: C


Vampire movies are subject to the rules set by general consensus. The basic lore involves blood, sunlight and wooden stakes but the mythos changes with every interpretation. Most filmmakers can get away with new additions to the vampire ideology, so long as they remain interesting and consistent. Alas, “Dark Shadows” has neither.

Based off the 1965 supernatural soap opera of the same name, “Dark Shadows” tells the tale of Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), an 18th century vampire released from captivity in 1972. A victim of a witch’s curse, Barnabas is tasked with restoring his family name in a new era.

After escaping imprisonment, Collins seeks out his descendants and quickly becomes ingratiated with his quirky relatives. Said relatives include Michelle Pfeiffer, Jonny Lee Miller, Helena Bonham Carter and Chloë Grace Moretz, each of whom offers an odd personality quirk true to most Tim Burton films.

Much like this year’s “John Carter,” “Shadows” adheres to its source material to a fault; what was considered revolutionary concepts at the time feels antiquated to modern audiences. A vampire out of his timeline, resisting the urge to eat everyone while falling for a human woman who bears surprising resemblance to a past love.

Clichés alone do not make a bad movie, but “Dark Shadows” is so unremarkable the inherent appeal of a vampire yarn is lost under the weight of a weak script and boring design.

Part of the problem is that a Tim Burton-Johnny Depp collaboration comes with certain expectations. True to Burton’s style, the movie will either be absurdly colorful or bleak and gothic. “Dark Shadows” actually benefits from the latter, but it’s nothing audiences haven’t seen before – ancient mansions and pale faces under ominous clouds.

In fact, the style is the most overbearing aspect of the movie. Performances and storyline fall second to the look of the movie, with only Johnny Depp making the most of his time. Billed as a supernatural comedy, the jokes primarily fall on Barnabas’ ignorance of the 20th century and some out of place risqué humor, especially for a PG-13 film.

The success of any true horror-comedy is entrenched in the source of the humor. If the “monster” of the movie makes the jokes, it becomes parody. Success comes from when the “humans” make the jokes in reaction to a horror situation, best exemplified by “Shaun of the Dead.”

The tone of “Dark Shadows,” remains inconsistent as well. With Barnabas being the typical “self-loathing vampire,” a certain amount of regret is expected. However, “Dark Shadows” revels in Barnabas’ slaughter of innocents, bouncing him between appearing as a genuine hero, anti-hero and monstrous murderer throughout the movie. Audiences only root for Barnabas because the story says so.

What’s more, “Dark Shadows” haphazardly barrels toward a climatic conclusion with no arc or progression. Nothing is changed, no one grows and while certain plot points are satisfying, the surprise reveals are not earned.

There is a basic allure of any modern vampire movie, especially considering today’s special effects which can showcase some truly superhuman feats. “Dark Shadows” manages to take all the life and fun out of the vampire tale.

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