Thursday, April 19, 2018
Movies

Review: 'Dark Shadows' lives up to origin's mediocrity

By Steve Persall

Times Movie Critic

This may offend nostalgic readers, but the 1960s soap opera Dark Shadows wasn't great or even good television. Like other schoolchildren, I rushed home daily to follow the haunted saga of Barnabas Collins, only because Jonathan Frid was gracing as many magazine covers as Bobby Sherman, so he was pop culture cool.

Senseless hysteria for sensitive vampires didn't begin with Robert Pattinson, you know.

What I recall about Dark Shadows is its clumsy execution; all dingy grays with poorly aimed cameras and flubbed lines, cheap supernatural effects and twists taking until Fridays to turn. I've tried watching episodes lately, mostly fast-forwarding to Frid, and mourning those hours after school when I should have been outside playing.

In that respect, Tim Burton has nailed Dark Shadows with his reimagined version, a movie much more technically accomplished than its source yet equally dull. Burton and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith settle into the talky, pedestrian rhythms of the TV show, with subplots amounting to not much, no matter how archly they're presented.

Forget the previews painting Dark Shadows as an Austin Powers-style comedy, with Barnabas (Johnny Depp) awakening in 1972 after two centuries in a coffin. Those time-clash gags are few, far between and mostly lame. The neck biting is more graphic than '60s censors allowed, but that isn't difficult. The biggest shock is a distinct lack of fun, with Burton handling this material more reverently than it deserves.

Rather than Beetlejuice craziness, Burton reverts to a Sleepy Hollow atmosphere, with gothic grandeur and pallid grays draining life from the performances. He can't seem to decide whether to play it straight or spoof, and his movie winds up somewhere disappointing in between. A few jokes hit their marks but comedy momentum isn't sustained, and special effects are of the Haunted Mansion variety.

As with Frid in the TV version, tolerance for Dark Shadows largely depends upon the viewer's affection for Depp. We've seen this morosely mannered performance before, without the pointy bicuspids and usually in a Burton film. They may be great friends with similarly morbid tastes, but after eight collaborations, it's time for a long trial separation.

The rest of the cast is odd window dressing except Chloe Grace Moretz as Barnabas' petulant teenage descendant Carolyn Stoddard. Moretz has the right idea, or at least it was given to her character alone by the script. Carolyn sees this supernatural situation as an intrusion, rebelling with tart asides and daring glares. Watching her you see the subversive comedy that Dark Shadows might have been.

By the time Alice Cooper arrives to perform at a Collins family soiree, it's obvious that Burton and Grahame-Smith are stumped to wrap up the proceedings. Depp's eerie charisma can only carry a movie so far. Dark Shadows manages in two hours what the TV show took six years to do: become irrelevant and remembered only for how sloppy it was.

Steve Persall can be reached at [email protected] or (727) 893-8365.

Comments
This is a week to spring clean instead of hitting a movie theater.

This is a week to spring clean instead of hitting a movie theater.

It’s a spring cleaning weekend at multiplexes, with studios vacuuming every dollar from current releases before the Avengers and Amy Schumer drop in next week. If you’ve seen A Quiet Place, Ready Player One and Black Panther, this is probably a good ...
Published: 04/18/18
R. Lee Ermey, drill sergeant in ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ dies at 74

R. Lee Ermey, drill sergeant in ‘Full Metal Jacket,’ dies at 74

.LOS ANGELES — R. Lee Ermey, a former Marine who made a career in Hollywood playing hard-nosed military men like Gunnery Sgt. Hartman in Stanley Kubrick’s "Full Metal Jacket," has died. Ermey’s longtime manager Bill Rogin says he died Sunday morning ...
Published: 04/15/18
Rays stadium backers sponsor free screening of ‘Field of Dreams’ at Tampa Theatre

Rays stadium backers sponsor free screening of ‘Field of Dreams’ at Tampa Theatre

TAMPA — It would take hundreds of millions of dollars to build a new stadium for the Tampa Bay Rays, and more than a few dreams, too.So a business group advocating for a stadium in Ybor City is joining with the Tampa Theatre for a free screening of t...
Published: 04/13/18
What’s in theaters: ‘Beirut,’ ‘Rampage,’ ‘Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare’

What’s in theaters: ‘Beirut,’ ‘Rampage,’ ‘Blumhouse’s Truth or Dare’

INDIE FLICKS:BEIRUTJon Hamm has no trouble looking like a movie star. Dapper or bedraggled, it doesn’t matter what kind of role. He’ll make it believable. What he doesn’t have yet is a starring role worthy of his talent, although Beirut (R) comes pre...
Published: 04/12/18
Helen Hunt plays my high school gym teacher in ‘The Miracle Season’

Helen Hunt plays my high school gym teacher in ‘The Miracle Season’

I never had school spirit. I didn’t go to many football games, and I never owned a West High shirt. (Green doesn’t look good on me.) Then I moved away, and tragedy struck my high school.The Miracle Season, now in theaters, is the tear-jerking true st...
Published: 04/06/18
Why it’d be even scarier to watch John Krasinski’s ‘A Quiet Place’ at home instead of in theater

Why it’d be even scarier to watch John Krasinski’s ‘A Quiet Place’ at home instead of in theater

A Quiet Place is where John Krasinski’s hushed experiment in terror should be watched, not at multiplexes where silence is easily broken.Krasinski’s movie wrings fright from silence so well that he accidentally makes a case for waiting until home vid...
Published: 04/04/18
What’s in theaters this week: ‘A Quiet Place,’ ‘Blockers,’ ‘The Miracle Season’

What’s in theaters this week: ‘A Quiet Place,’ ‘Blockers,’ ‘The Miracle Season’

A QUIET PLACEReal-life married couple Emily Blunt and John Krasinski, right, need to keep it down in A Quiet Place (PG-13). Silence isn’t just golden; it can save your life.Krasinski and Blunt play Lee and Evelyn, whose family has survived a worldwid...
Published: 04/04/18
What’s in theaters this week: ‘Ready Player One,’ ‘The Death of Stalin,’ ‘Tyler Perry’s Acrimony’

What’s in theaters this week: ‘Ready Player One,’ ‘The Death of Stalin,’ ‘Tyler Perry’s Acrimony’

INDIE FLICKS: THE DEATH OF STALINDespite its somber title, The Death of Stalin (R) is the year’s funniest movie so far, delivered by director/co-writer Armando Iannucci with the politically profane snarl he brought to HBO’s Veep and In the Loop. The ...
Updated one month ago
‘Ready Player One,’ all retro references and CGI dazzle, lacks emotional pull of Spielberg classics

‘Ready Player One,’ all retro references and CGI dazzle, lacks emotional pull of Spielberg classics

After two hours of pop clutter and video game clatter, Steven Spielberg’s Ready Player One has the audacity to proclaim reality matters. Kind of like a snuff film with an end note saying murder is bad.Ready Player One is soulless validation of a cult...
Updated one month ago
I watched ‘The Room’ for the first time with Tommy Wiseau there. Here’s how it went

I watched ‘The Room’ for the first time with Tommy Wiseau there. Here’s how it went

YBOR CITY — It’s 1 a.m. and I’m hunched over a pile of plastic spoons, studying a list of phrases I’m supposed to shout aloud (Liar! Unfocus! HI, DENNY!) when a man with stringy ink-black hair sweeps to the stage."Oh, hi, Tommy!" a guy in back shouts...
Updated one month ago