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I did not like Dark Shadows. Admittedly, just that morning I finished reading Out of Sight by Elmore Leonard, so my standards for dialogue and plot may have temporarily gone through the roof, but still. This was not a good movie and, when I don't like something, I tend to over-analyse it.

The movie begins with a lot of boats and explains that Barnabas (Depp) comes from Liverpool and his dad built a mansion and set up a fishing port and and and...! Well, none of this matters until it eventually gets to his romance with a witch and the untimely demise of his love.

One of Vampire-Barnabas' first scenes is when he explodes out the coffin that he was imprisoned in and devours the workmen that dug him up. "I'm sorry, but you wouldn't believe how thirsty I am," (or something along those lines) he says as he kills the final one, which is neither amusing nor horrific nor cool. The main reason being that we don't know know any of these men, so nothing is at stake (heh) and, since all vampires kill when they wake up, the audience doesn't see it as a big deal. This line could show Depp's character as a total monster or a sad woobie or a flamboyant showman, all valid choices for movie vampires, and could be delivered in a number of ways to reflect that. Instead, it's rather stiff and there's no impact.

Later in the film, he kills a bunch of hippies, but isn't shown killing them onscreen. Vampires eating hippy stoners could be really funny, if everything (especially script, camera, music, acting) comes together, or it could be horrific as all of the hippies came across as basically good people, if a little naive. However, the camera cuts away to a long shot before they're killed and it falls flat again. I suspect, in fact, that no choice along these lines was made.

There are also entirely useless sub-plots. One explains how the cheating, thieving dad is a cheating thief. If this was all sequel set-up though, then I'm fairly impressed. It's not often that you can sow the seeds of a sequel while appearing to cleanly tying up loose ends. Otherwise, the plot should have focussed more on Barnabas and some of the other apparently relevant plot threads.

Another such plot features a doctor trying to give Barnabas a blood transfusion. When he finds out she was trying to turn herself into a vampire as much as turn him into a mortal man, he kills her and tosses her into the sea. Wait, so was I not meant to like Barnabas? I got the feeling I was constantly being told how cool and interesting he was, even if it never really sunk in and I ended up with a fairly neutral opinion. He was neither malevolent nor conflicted nor good-but-flawed enough to interest me. I guess if I had to choose between him and Edward, I'd choose Edward. At least he sparkles.

Actually, I haven't read much more than a couple of chapters of Twilight, but one thing I do know Twilight got right is that it takes a long time for a vampire to decide to turn a human and/or for a human to make that decision. So the climactic scene in which Barnabas forces his barely-there love interest to become a vampire to save her life, with her only once having mentioned it as an option and not even that one that she was necessarily considering, was off. And, at the same time, he condemns her to a lifetime of thickly-applied gothic stage make-up. I used to think that was pretty cool in The Crow TV series, but then Mark Dacascos was hot.

(I'll also take this time to point out that Depp's make-up itself is terrible and looks very obviously like stage make-up below his cheekbones. It's so obvious, that I bet his make-up designer is giving interviews in which he/she explains that it's a deliberate homage to the original or something. No. Stop. LOOK AT IT.)

Finally, one of the biggest problems is the sudden revelation that one of the ensemble cast is a werewolf. After she transforms. During the climax. This might have been in the TV series(?), but that doesn't matter as I hadn't even heard of it before the movie started being promoted. Most people outside of the US haven't seen it either. Something that came out of nowhere to that degree could have been lampshaded (E.g.: "We already have a ghost, a vampire and a witch under this roof. You're gonna make a big deal about a werewolf?" "...Should we be expecting zombies too?") or foreshadowed with a scene that ACTUALLY MENTIONED WEREWOLVES in some way. But no.

The one good thing about Dark Shadows is Alice Cooper. I liked him. I just wish they hadn't put his name in the opening credits so it could have been a surprise, like they hid the name of the actor playing the killer in Se7en. Also, the costumes are pretty awesome – I like Depp's waistcoat.

In summary, this is a terrible movie with a dialogue and plotting that is all over the place, with no directorial support to make it work. And sort out that cheekbone make-up.
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Another World

April 2013

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