Filming location for spaghetti westerns in Almería, Spain

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© 1987-2016
Scott Larson

Building façade in Cannes, France

Risen from the grave

We are now less than seven weeks away from an event that a particular segment of baby boomers never expected to see and can barely believe is nearly upon us.

By “a particular segment of baby boomers,” I of course mean myself and a few other people I read on the internet. More specifically, I mean those people who were once kids who ran home from school every weekday afternoon to be in front of the television in time for the gothic soap opera Dark Shadows. I’m trying to remember whether I have ever mentioned this show here before.

In a way, it probably shouldn’t be that surprising that Dark Shadows is, after a 41-year hiatus, once again being adapted for the big screen. Over the past decade or two, it seems like every popular TV show from the second half of the 20th century has been recycled for cinemas. Some of these adaptations have been virtual elaborate bonus episodes of the series (cf. The X-Files). Some are completely different from the originals but still quite faithful (c.f. Brian Levant’s The Flintstones). Others have simply borrowed a title and a few character names but otherwise were generic genre movies (cf. S.W.A.T.). Others have taken TV dramas and turned them into cinematic comedies (Starsky & Hutch). So into what category will Dark Shadows fall?

We got our first real big clue two weeks ago when the first trailer was released. From a marketing point of view at least, it did exactly what a trailer is supposed to do: it got people talking. A lot of people expressed disappointment at the comedic tone of the trailer. A lot of that effect had to do with the music that was played over the images (Curtis Mayfield, the Carpenters, T. Rex, Barry White: contemporary with the original series but not its tone), but beyond that it is clear that the movie, like all Tim Burton films, will definitely have a particular sense of humor. For many of us, the appeal of Dan Curtis’s 1960s small screen opus was the way, no matter how preposterous the stories got, it always took itself completely seriously. Having said that, you cannot say that the original series didn’t have a sense of humor. It’s just that its sense of humor was extremely deadpan. But that didn’t mean that it didn’t believe its own bizarre stories.

Personally, my initial reaction to the trailer was: Burton has turned Barnabas Collins and his relatives into the Addams family! But, as calmer voices pointed out, trailers are often misleading and sometimes give you absolutely no idea what to expect of the movie they are hawking. Incidentally, one of those calmer voices is Stuart Manning, who curates the best single destination on the internet for information and news on all things Barnabas Collins, the Dark Shadows News Page blog.

If there is a disconnect between the trailer and the movie itself, it may be because the movie presents a distinct marketing challenge. One of its stars (and, incidentally, the director’s domestic partner), Helena Bonham Carter, said as much at the end of November when she told MTV News, “It’s actually a really bad, hilariously bad soap opera, and because it’s so bad, he felt he had to make a hugely expensive movie.” She went on to say, “It’s going to be impossible to sell, frankly, because it’s just so… it’s a soap opera, but it’s very, very subtle. I don’t know. We’ll see.” Born in London a month before Dark Shadows first aired in the U.S. (and two and a half decades before it was first seen in the UK), Bonham Carter almost certainly did not run home after school to see the show and was presumably unfamiliar with it before Burton took it on and cast her as Dr. Julia Hoffman, originally played by Grayson Hall. But she told MTV News that Burton (an American) did indeed make that daily sprint, around the age of 10.

Burton deserves our trust, or at least our patience. He is a gifted visual artist and has demonstrated a distinct sensibility for gothic romance, particularly in Edward Scissorhands and Corpse Bride. My main concern is over the snippets we have seen of Depp’s performance. He is without question a very talented actor but, strange as it is to say, he seems way too young to play Barnabas—despite being seven years older than Jonathan Frid was when he first played the vampire. Depp’s elfin quality was well suited to Edward Scissorhands and Sleepy Hollow. And he seemed to suppress it successfully in Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street. But in Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and Alice in Wonderland, it had become somehow creepy. Frid (who, along with other original cast members, has a cameo in Burton’s film) seemed suitably older than his years and Shakespearean in his angst. While there is no point in Depp trying to copy Frid’s take, what we have seen so far looks disconcertingly closer to Willy Wonka than to Sweeney Todd. But at least it looks nothing like Capt. Jack Sparrow.

It’s a strange old world. When I saw Helena Bonham Carter for the first time in James Ivory’s A Room with a View in 1985, few things would have been farther from my mind than the idea that this young English actor would one day play Dark Shadows’s weird Dr. Hoffman. Nor, for that matter, could I ever have suspected when I saw Wes Craven’s A Nightmare on Elm Street in 1984 that the young man being swallowed in a pool of blood by his bed would one day play the reluctant vampire Barnabas Collins. Or when I saw the kinky carry-on by France’s Eva Green nearly a decade ago in Bernardo Bertolucci’s The Dreamers, did I have an inkling that she would one day become the vengeful witch Angelique. Okay, okay, I could play this game all day. The point is, it’s hard to take in that Dark Shadows is actually coming back and including a lot of very talented people I have come to know over many years for fine work on other movies.

It’s enough to make me wonder if I’ve wandered through one of those portals to a parallel universe in the abandoned east wing of Collinwood.

-S.L., 27 March 2012

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