Friday, March 16, 2012

Are The Shadows Dark Enough? New Dark Shadows Movie

I first discovered Dark Shadows from old issues of Famous Monsters of Filmland magazines my mom had lying around in the 1970s. She was a fan when the show when it first aired in the 1960s, and sometimes would tell my older brother and me about how it had a vampire, a werewolf and witches.

In the early 1980s NBC (channel 4) in New York started showing Dark Shadows in the afternoons, and I got to experience the gothic soap opera for myself when I was about ten. After that channel 9 showed the two movies, House of Dark Shadows and Night of Dark Shadows (this one didn’t have Barnabas, but concentrated on the witches’ story line). Both my brother and I were hooked as fans. When the reruns were relegated to late-late night on NBC, we would sneak down stairs and watch it when we could. We got paperback novels and comic book collections of the Gold Key run. My family subscribed to the fan club newsletter (back in the day when you had to wait for the postman to deliver it by hand). My brother even had a large poster of Jonathan Frid as Barnabas snarling with cane that hung over his bed (he ordered out of the back of an issue of Famous Monsters before it died-the first time).

There were attemps at revivals over the years. The short lived night time drama in the early 1990s suffered from being pre-empted for the gulf war. An attempt by the late WB in 2004 network never made it to air. Still, fans like my brother and I hoped for someone bring us back to Collinwood.

Fans rejoiced when they heard Tim Burton and Johnny Depp were going to make a feature film of Dark Shadows. Although I was intrigued by the pairing of the quirky duo and the gothic soap, I was not as excited as others.

Why, you ask?

Look a list of their work together and pay attention to the types of films Burton makes and the characters Depp plays in them: Edward Scissorhands, a comedy with a weird outsider played by Depp; Ed Wood, a comedy with a weird outsider played by Depp; Sleepy Hollow, a comedy with a weird outsider played by Depp; Charlie and The Chocolate Factory, a comedy with a weird outsider played by Depp; Sweeney Todd, a comedy with a homicidal but weird outsider played by Depp.

Does anyone see a pattern here?

My fear was Burton and Depp would camp it up. And those fears intensified when I saw an early set photo of Depp in his Barnabas Collins makeup, looking like Michael Jackson’s ghost (what, too soon?). Fans kept their cool, for the most part. Waiting until they could see with their own eyes what kind of movie Burton would bring them.

And then the trailer came out.

Facebook and the Twitterverse blew up with negative reactions. Most hated the idea of their beloved Dark Shadows being made into a comedy. Many said it didn’t fit their memories of the soap opera they ran home from school to watch all those years ago. There were some positive voices out there. Mostly people too young to have seen Dark Shadows and knew little of its history.

My brother, just so you know, hates it. I think he took a sick day from work to recover.

So what is my take on the new Dark Shadows?

First, I’m not surprised at Burton’s slant on comedy for the new film, as I said before. That’s his strength and at this point in his career he knows what works for him as a director and what doesn’t (cough-Planet of the Apes remake-cough). Even with it being a comedy, Burton always manages to weave in pathos and drama. He knows how to manipulate emotions so you feel for the outcast.

Second, and don’t get angry at me for this, most of the population don’t know anything about the original Dark Shadows. They’re going to see it because it’s a Johnny Depp flick. Heck, there are people out there that don’t realize Pirates of The Caribbean was based on a Disney ride at their theme parks. Dark Shadows fans aren’t enough to make a movie a hit on opening weekend. They had to make the movie more mainstream, less cult following.

Also, I rather doubt film executives would throw millions at Burton and Depp to make a depressing horror film. As much as I love Sweeney Todd it is considered a box office failure.

This was never going to be the Dark Shadows we fans remember, nothing can ever be. Trying to recapture the lightning in a bottle would be a fool’s errand. I wanted it to be a faithful retelling of Collins saga. I wanted to feel the pain Barnabas goes through as he battles his vampire side. I also wanted werewolves and man-made men and an aged vampire in Dick Smith makeup. That can never be again. Just like there are different takes on Batman, Dracula, Frankenstein, Tom Cruise and other fictional characters, this is a different take on Dark Shadows.

With all that said, I’m going to give the new Dark Shadows a chance. I did like some of what I saw in the trailer. The 1970s is cool choice of a setting and appropriate. The vampire Barnabas is a gothic fanged monster that DOES NOT SPARKLE LIKE A DISCO BALL. Am I a little conflicted as a fan of the original? Yes. But I’m also a fan of Burton’s and I’m willing to give his vision a try. I might be disappointed, I might not be.

But I’ll always have Dark Shadows on DVD and Netflix to remind me of those nights I snuck downstairs when I was a kid.

Until Next Time,

Stay Insane.


Priya Balan said...
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jmcozzoli said...

Sadly, movie's not funny and misses the vein entirely. Depp would have been super if movie played it straight.