Movie Review: Dark Shadows

In 1966 a new kind of soap opera hit the TV, one about vampires, witches, ghost, and mystery.  This series followed a young lady named Victoria Winters, who moved to a house which was known throughout the town as being haunted.  The show was finding its footing for the first 200 episodes, as they gave us a few mystery storylines along with the normal soap drama.  Though when they introduced the vampire to the show, Dark Shadows found the road it was going with and became a hit as people would race home from school or work just to watch this half hour show of horror mystery.

Two of the people that were racing home for this was Tim Burton and Johnny Depp.  They enjoyed Dark Shadows and have decided to bring the story back as a full scale movie.  This is the first time in a long time that Dark Shadows will be seen on the screen.  With the lead cast of characters brought in, and twist to try and fit as much as they can into one movie, could Tim Burton pull off a film based on a TV series with a lot of fans and 1200 plus episodes?

The movie starts off with the history of Barnabas Collins, showing that his family moved to the United States when he was a child.  There was a servant that he knew and liked as a child named Angelique.  When in the US his father built a small fishing town called Collins Port, and built their family home Collinwood.  Things were looking good for the Collins family as Barnabas grew up.  Once an adult it shows that Angelique has moved here, and Barnabas looked to be very close to her.  Though when she asked him to tell her that he loves her, he refused saying that it would be a lie.  This angered her and when she saw Barnabas was in love with someone else, she started to show what she really was, a witch.  She caused the death of Barnabas’s mother and father, then the death of the woman that he loved.  Barnabas tried to save his lover, though was too late, and that’s when Angelique did her big move against him.  She turned Barnabas into a Vampire, got the town to turn against him and locked him in a coffin where he was buried.

This was a very compact version of Barnabas’s history from the original TV series.  I think they did a very good job at showing this for a movie.  They had limited time to fit in the story for the movie and this story works.  The only thing that felt like they were missing were who the surviving Collins was to keep the family alive all these years later.  Overall it got the story out of the Collins family, how old Collinswood is, and just how bad Angelique is.  So Tim pulled this off very well.

Now to present day, we come down in on a train heading to Collins Port.  On the train is a young lady looking at a help wanted ad, she says quietly “My name is Maggie Evans”.  She looks disturbed and looks up to see a sign that gave her the idea for a new name, Victoria Winters.  Once she got off the train she hitched a ride through Collins Port right up to Collinswood.  Once there the first person she meets is Willie Loomis, who is the caretaker of the grounds.  Willie brings Victoria in and we get to meet the new Collins family.  The head of the house is Elizabeth Stoddard, with her daughter Carolyn.  There is also Elizabeth’s brother, Roger Collins and his son David.  Learning that David’s mother died in a boat accident, he now believes he still sees and talks to his mother.  They brought in Dr. Julia Hoffman to work with him, with no luck.

At this point in the movie the characters seem to be sticking mostly true to the original versions to me.  It was an easy way to get Dr. Hoffman introduced into the main house right away, with her being a main character outside of the house.  It was neat that they made it so Maggie Evans and Victoria Winters are the same person, as in the show Maggie does take over for Victoria when she leaves.  I loved Roger’s reaction to Victoria being brought into the house, he didn’t seem thrilled with a new person around which is right for him.  Overall this scene was interesting and did show a few twists.

A major difference was Carolyn, her character was the most off.  She was a rude teenager, who did not respect her mother.  She was like a new character all together.  The Carolyn of the TV show was rude, but she cared deeply for her mother and refused to leave Collinswood no matter how much her mother would try to encourage her.  She held the Collins name with pride, though at the same time the Collins name had more power in the TV series, as their company is still the top company in town.  With the movie, you see that their company is falling apart and looks like it will cave in on itself at any minute.

Something they really could have done here was have a cameo with one of the characters from the show.  When Victoria hitched her ride to Collinswood, it would of been neat if she got the ride from Burke Devlin, instead of a van of hippies.  That would of been a great touch, seeing how they started her off in the train.  For those who don’t know, the original episode starts off with Victoria arriving on a train where she meets Burke, who is also a lead character through at least 400 episodes of the series.   I was disappointed her ride came from no names that were not connected to the series at all.

Now Victoria is getting settled into her room as she sees a ghost outside her door, she follows the ghost as it says “he’s coming” and disappears as she falls backwards in front of the painting of Barnabas.  This is the lead in for a scene of workers digging up ground and finding a coffin, once they open the coffin each of the workers die fast.  As Barnabas is released, he says sorry to the last one and mentions how thirsty he is.  He leaves this area and finds a street, that is different to him as he’s never seen or heard of paved roads in his lifetime.  As a car comes at him, he’s ready to face it head on, though the car swerved around him.  This all is different to Barnabas, as he makes his way through Collinsport finding how different everything looks.  He wastes no time to get to Collinswood to find out if there is anyone left in the Collins family.

Personally I really enjoy this part, as Barnabas in the original TV series did not give reactions to the changes around him.  So seeing all these great reactions was fun, and I did laugh a bit here.  Things are very different after 200 years.  Though I was surprised that no one took notice to the blood all over him as he went through town.  At least he was trying to not be noticed too much, he would step off to the side as he would watch people walk pass him.  This could've been a good time though to have other cameos like Sam Evans or Joe Haskell, coming out of the Blue Whale or Bruke returning to the Collins Port Inn.

Once at Collinswood Barnabas meets Willie, who he puts under a trance and learns all he needs to know.  He orders Willie to clean him up and bring him in to meet the family.  When he goes in he sees how poor shape the house is being kept in.  He meets both the kids first, though Elizabeth is fast to confront him about who he is.  Barnabas goes with her into her Study and proves that he is in fact the original Barnabas Collins, even leading her to a secret room filled with family treasures.  She agrees that he can stay as long as they keep all of this a secret.

This area was fun to watch, as Elizabeth is a strong willed woman.  She wasn’t going to take anything from this stranger at first.  Though when she realized this was real, she was willing to work with him.  Family is important to her.  As I did enjoy this scene, I know a difference I would of made was the idea that Elizabeth could have gotten the dark family secret passed down to her.  In the TV series we learn that for at least 100 years, the family did pass down the secret of Barnabas.  It was lost when a grandmother passed before being able to tell her eldest grandson.  Though for the movie’s sake, it would of been easy to pick up on that.  Which is what I was hoping they would do, when I saw that she knew in some of the clips before seeing the movie.  Not a knock against the movie at all, just a different route they could of gone with how she knew of Barnabas being a vampire.

Now Barnabas meets the rest of the family, he tells them how he plans to help restore the family business.  Though most of the family finds him a bit off, David likes the new stranger in the family.  Barnabas proves his words to be true as he starts to get the house fixed up.  During this time they do a montage showing Barnabas is also trying to find somewhere to sleep.  A fun scene showing Collinswood and the different characters.  Once the montage is over, it shows Barnabas staring at something in Carolyn’s room.  This is when Dr. Hoffman comes up on Barnabas and gets him to come to her lab and she learns his secret.   After learning she goes straight to Elizabeth about Barnabas being a vampire.  Elizabeth convinces Dr. Hoffman to be interested in this, instead of being upset.

I enjoyed these scenes here, as Barnabas is getting things settled and earning the family’s trusts, becoming one of the family.   We see during the montage that he likes Victoria Winters, which is true to the series.  And finally Dr. Hoffman finds out he’s a vampire, which is only right as she is one of his best friends in the series who originally was trying to help him become human.  The movie is really coming together, and I’m impressed with Tim’s work here.

While it’s not 100 % like the TV show, they really are bringing their own style and characters together, giving us a new version that is very enjoyable.  I know I could keep going now, and tell the full movie in comparison though I would rather ask everyone to go out there and see the movie this weekend, as it’s something everyone can enjoy.   If you like vampires, ghosts and witches, this up your alley!

Now if you’re a fan of the original series, and are dead set against change, then there are some things in this movie where the changes do stand out.  I do not want to give all of the spoilers away, but I do want to rant a little as a fan of the series about one of which that troubles me.  It’s a scene that did not need to be in the movie to move things along or anything.  This is a Roger Collins scene.

Roger is my favorite character in the TV series.  While I know he’s a man who’s into getting things for himself, he’s greedy and wants all the credit, he’s rude to his son and a sneak, he is still a man who wants to hob knob with the rich.   If he’s in a fancy party with rich people, he would be out working the crowd and claiming any success for himself.  He would have a drink in hand and finding the people in the crowd worth talking to.  This is the Roger Collins that I know and enjoy seeing in the TV series.  Though in the film, there is a scene with a party, and during the party Roger is in the coat room.  This scene felt out of character to me.  It was a cheap shot at him and was not needed in the film at all.  They could’ve went the same direction with him, as they did, without using that scene.

Some of the stuff in the movie that was top notch in this film is Collinswood and Collins Port.  The sets in this film is outstanding.  Collinswood is on a hill looking out over Collins Port, you can see the house from town and you can see the town from Collinswood.  The full town is built in a studio in England.  This is an amazing set, as you can just feel walking into it would be like really being there.  It is not made at all to look like the Collinswood of the TV series, but it is a lot more impressive.  This is one set I wish I could visit.

Now the acting in this film was mostly top notch.  Jason Lee Miller really pulled off Roger Collins well, besides for the coat room scene I really loved him in this role.  He looked the part, had the right expressions and really was able to pull off Roger overall.  He was a great choice for this role.  While Michelle Pfeiffer does not look like Elizabeth from the original Dark Shadows, she carries the part great!  A strong woman in charge of the house with a lot on her shoulders.  Putting up with a family falling apart, while trying to keep the names Collins respectable.  With all the changes done to Carolyn’s role, Chloë Grace Moretz did a good job pulling off a bratty teenager. David, played by Gulliver McGrath, was also a different character, while still seeing and talking to ghosts, he only knew his mother’s ghost in the film, he didn’t have the hate for his father that he holds in the series, and did not give Victoria much problems at all.  Though his character still gave the rest of the family troubled, got on Carolyn’s nerves, and was ignored by his dad.  Helena Bonham Carter did a great job as Dr. Hoffman, while she was not the same as the one in the TV series she did do some of the same tricks.  She also tried picking up on how Dr. Hoffman from the TV series talked, so she made a few touches to nod to the fans of the show.  Which is something we can always respect with Helena when she gets a role.

The villain in the film was played by Eva Green.  She was an interesting Angelique Bouchard.  She did not have the full crazy side to her as the one in the TV show, but gave her own crazy version.  This Angelique was a lot more evil and did things to hurt the family even after Barnabas was gone.  She had spite towards him for saying that he didn’t love her.  A lot more dangerous than the Angelique of the TV show ever could be, as she did not use silly spells like a dream curse to kill people.  Her goal was not just to destroy Barnabas, but to watch the Collins family fall to nothing.

Now the best acting in this film goes to Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins.  What an amazing role he did, giving Barnabas a whole new personality while still keeping it to where times you felt like you could be watching Jonathan Frid.  This Barnabas had a lot of changes, one of which was that he was not shy of what he was.  He hates being a vampire, which is true, though he talked about it and who he was openly.  He reacted to new things he never saw before and he would walk around in the daylight with an umbrella.  Though like the original series he cares deeply for the family.  He wants to see Collinswood strong and works to help the family.  He does take a more active role in the family business.   Overall, he held this movie strong.  While Jonathan Frid will remain my favorite Barnabas, Johnny did a great job with his portrayal of this character.

For me in this film the weakest link of all the cast goes to Bella Heathcote as Victoria Winters aka Maggie Evans.  Her character was way too weak, and did not get me to care for her.  I loved both Victoria and Maggie in the TV series, and having that role is a big deal.  But she was a very withdrawn character that we did not get to really feel for one way or another.  She had an amazing history brought in, which I felt was a nod to Rachel Drummond from the original series.  She was played by the actress who does Maggie Evans and had a hard childhood in different ways, running away from a very bad school that she grew up in.  While this is a bit different, it was something I thought was cool.  But the acting of the character in the movie, she did not make me feel for her.

The movie was written by Seth Grahame-Smith with the screenplay by him and John August, based on the series by Dan Curtis.   I do not know how much of the original series that they watched to get the feel down, though they did catch a good part of the feel of Dark Shadows.  Knowing that Tim Burton was a fan of the original series, is one of the reasons I truly feel that this movie works the way it does.  As I left the theater that night, all of the Dark Shadow fans around me were just excited about everything they saw.  I heard no gripping, as people were very happy.  There was laughter and awes, there was changes while some things remained the same.  Though overall it was a fun film worth viewing.

If you’re a viewer of the movie and now have interest in the TV series, please note that the TV series is wonderfully cheesy with a lot of bloopers, boom mic shots, and cameramen views.  It’s got some really corny stuff to it that makes the show a total blast all around.  You feel for the characters, and how deep they go into fulfilling this family history is just amazing.  With over 1200 episodes, this is a series worth enjoying!

Have you seen this film?  If so please leave a review!  Are you planning to see this movie?  Did you watch the TV series?  Please share your thoughts and comments below!

Entertainment Earth