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Dark Shadows (2012)

Oh alright, here we go. Burton, Depp and Bonham Carter are at it again. Hollywood's freakiest collection of players and puppeteers can once again be found doing something well... odd, really. Burton was never known for his familiarity with the mundane and Dark Shadows is no different. Like another recent hit movie that hailed from an original American television series and featuring at least a small part for Mr Depp, this is not exactly an original idea, though the characters themselves have, for all intents and purposes, been completely re-invented here.

When you watch a Tim Burton film for the first time, you always know you're in for something of a cinematic treat. The acting isn't always great, the script is sometimes a bit ropey, but the visuals are unmistakably Burton's palette. Whether it's a garish Wonderland or a washed out London, there continues to be something about how Burton makes his films look dreamlike that insists on impressing the viewer.


In Dark Shadows, this is as true as it ever was, Burton delighting in creating a treat for the eyes in every scene, be it a menacing two hundred room mansion with a terrible past and malevolent present or any one of the imaginatively formed characters that, if not visually breathtaking on their own, then imbibed with enough quirks and foibles to make them suitably rounded and eccentric as any Burton character needs to be.


The most notable additions to the Burton canon of weirdness are Eva Green and Jackie Earle Haley. These two actors are so obvious as to make you wonder why Burton has not used them before. Both Green and Haley reek of the style that Burton finds most malleable, odd examples of actors that exude something of the night about them, something almost otherworldly and frankly, unusually intense. Add Chloe Moretz, Johnny Lee Miller (?) and Michelle Pfeifffffer (I know, I went there), and you have a proper case of the Addams Family wannabes. This is a strange bunch indeed, and that is before you even get them to start acting.


Most reminiscent of Sleepy Hollow in tone, Dark Shadows is the story of Barnabus Collins, a vampire that has been buried (undead) for nearly two hundred years by spurned love interest Angelique (Green). During an excavation in 1972, Barnabus is released into a world he has no understanding of. Nevertheless, he returns back to the family home, to introduce himself to the screwball collection of fruitcakes that are the descendants of the good name Collins.


But what are we to make of this latest Burton offering? This is neither funny enough to call itself a comedy, though it does have its moments, usually concerning Barnabus' repeated revelations with this new world he has been thrust into. Nor it is scary enough to be called a horror movie. It is not even as dream worrying as the aforementioned Sleepy Hollow. The blood-letting is minimal and Barnabus himself seems to be at odds with who and what he now is, making it doubly difficult who to root for. Admittedly Angelique is just plain evil, but Barnabus? Two centuries before, he was a good man, but what is so admirable about his actions here, even if they are brought on by a change made by another that he makes no real effort to quell.


By the final third act, a decidedly average gothic tale perks up a little to make up for a good hour of vanilla storytelling that seems to take much of its inspiration from Anne Rice. Never as glamourous as her work, nor as cliched and cheesy as the Twilight series, this is indeed a bastard of an offering in the Burton catalogue that has all of his markings, but none of his usual satisfaction.


Entertaining enough, and with Depp at the head of the cast, could it really be anything else? But left wanting for story and scripting, uninspired and ultimately as hollow as Angelique herself. This could have been a classic horror story, Burton having a natural predilection for the absurd, the gloriously frightful and the insanely bizarre. Instead, the film doesn't know on which fence to sit and ultimately fails to land on either funny or scary. An unfortunate example that even the most creative have their off days.

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