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Cinema in Focus: ‘Dark Shadows’

Enamored with the dark soap opera of their youth, Tim Burton and Johnny Depp have difficulty shedding the feeling of a TV show

1 Star — Troubling

As a child, Johnny Depp wanted to become his television idol, Barnabas Collins, on the daytime soap Dark Shadows. Fascinated by the complexity of this cursed vampire who tried to be selective of those he killed, Depp was joined by Tim Burton, who was also obsessed with this late 1960s television series. Now as an accomplished actor and director, the two have joined forces to re-create their beloved childhood characters on the large screen.

The problem is that the story and the characters are rather appalling and the attempt to make it a comedy is incomplete. Additionally, the love and violence portrayed are one-dimensional, which ends up making the film less of a tribute to the original tale and more a caricature.

Based on a dream and subsequent story by Dan Curtis, the writing was expanded by John August and Seth Grahame-Smith for the film version. True to the timeline of a 200-year tale in which the Collins family came from England and founded a town and castle in Maine, the story begins with Barnabas as a teen taking advantage of the young daughter of an employee in the Collins home, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green).

With a broken heart as he discards her, Angelique turns to the dark arts and becomes a witch in order to destroy both Barnabas and his family. Her final curse is to compel the true love of his life, Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote), to walk off the cliff to her death. When he tries to join her in death, he discovers that Angelique has given him eternal life through the curse of a vampire. Surviving off the blood of townspeople, Angelique leads them to entomb him in a chain-bound casket. It is this 1770s event that sets the stage for a 1970s return when his casket is discovered by a construction crew and he is returned to his freedom and his family.

The obvious comedy of a vampire awakening in the 1970s is paired with the expected struggle as Barnabas discovers that Angelique is still alive and has spent the last two centuries destroying his family in vengeful and violent ways. Also predictable is Josette reappearing in the form of Victoria Winters as she is drawn to the 1970s Collins mansion just as Barnabas is set free. It is the re-creation of the original situation that becomes the focus of the film.

As the name Dark Shadows implies, the darkness of this film permeates everything. From the shadows that fall upon the characters, to the destruction that follows the vengeance, to the shattered hearts and bloodied kisses that follow the love, there is little within the film that enlightens or even informs our common human experience. Like the vampire fleeing from the light, this film lives in the darkness of the night. We do not recommend it.

Discussion:

» The double meaning of the statement that “blood is thicker than water” is true of the Collins family both in its genetics and its curses. How has your own family been both a blessing and a difficulty in your life?

» The suggestion that Josette’s ghost was preparing her descendant for a relationship with Barnabas even as a child suggests that there is interaction between those who have died and those who are alive. Do you believe there is any such communication?

» The childhood lust that Barnabas had for Angelique destroyed her life. What would you do if you were her? Would you seek the ability to forgive, or turn to dark side of life to get revenge? Why?

— Cinema in Focus is a social and spiritual movie commentary. Hal Conklin is former mayor of Santa Barbara and Denny Wayman is pastor of Free Methodist Church, 1435 Cliff Drive. For more reviews, visit www.cinemainfocus.com.

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