Saturday, May 12, 2012

You can go home again

I'll be the first to admit it when I am wrong.

And I was wrong about the Tim Burton-directed new feature film version of "Dark Shadows," starring Johnny Depp as vampire Barnabas Collins.

Turns out you can go home again -- to Collinwood at least -- and it's pretty darn fun.

Let's get one thing straight up front: Whoever came up with the ridiculous trailer for the film should be fired. Today.

"Dark Shadows," Dan Curtis's crazy dream, is sacred territory for some of us. The 1966-71 ABC-TV daytime drama, shown in re-runs for years on and off until 2003, was my favorite television series when I was a teen. To say I was obsessed is an understatement.

And, if you know me well, you know I am a traditionalist. I had been looking forward to this film for years. Both Burton and Depp had been saying all the right things. Burton spent too much time watching the series during its original run. Young Depp wanted to be Barnabas Collins.

"Yes," I said. "They can do this. They can do it. They can do it right."

Then came the terrible trailer. My jaw dropped. My blood boiled.

"Oh, my goodness," I said, (or words to that effect). "They've turned it into a comedic farce."

I was furious.

Then Jonathan Frid, the beloved, first and, yes, still the best Barnabas, passed away. Ironically on Friday the 13th. Ironically just weeks after making a cameo in the film. Ironically just weeks before its opening.

I debated. I fretted. I seethed.

"You have to go see it," Dean Harned said. "You can't write a fair review without going."

He was right. Plus, it was Frid's final role. I owed him that much for getting me through puberty. (Don't blink, or you'll miss him, and Kathryn Leigh Scott, and Knoxville native Lara Parker and David Selby, in the cool cameo.)

Jenn and I were expecting to see two hours of bizarre burlesque.

Instead, what we got, to my eternal delight, was "Dark Shadows."

Yes, it's different. But, yes, the damn thing is "Dark Shadows."

The opening scenes were superb. Young Barnabas comes to America from Liverpool. His father, Joshua, plants the seeds for what becomes the town of Collinsport, Maine. You get to see pre- and post-construction shots of Collinwood.

Enter Angelique, Josette's death, and the infamous Collins curse. Enter a brief bit of Robert Cobert's original score before Danny Elfman's excellent effort.

The waves crash onto the rocks at Widow's Hill. Maggie Evans, no, wait, Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) arrives in Collinsport by train, just like Alexandra Moltke did 46 years ago. OK, so you hear "Nights in White Satin" instead of that creepy Bob Cobert tune. But it works. Oh, how it works.

"They did it," I said over and over. "They did it!"

Those laughs about which we were all worried are more about comic relief. This film does what Curtis's dreams didn't or couldn't do. It shows us how our favorite vampire adjusts from the 18th century to 1972.

Depp plays Barnabas just about as right as one can in 2012. He's not quite as guilt-ridden as Frid. But it's enough. More than enough, even.

Michelle Pfeiffer lacks Joan Bennett's grace, but dang it, she's got cousin Elizabeth down pat. Jonny Lee Miller does a dead-on worthless Roger Collins and throws in some Louis Edmonds mannerisms to boot. Carolyn, David, loopy Willie Loomis, Mrs. Johnson, that creepy Collinwood -- it is all here.

Eva Green is a sexy and supercharged Angelique. She plays the role with relish. And, again, it works.

Helena Bonham Carter is an out-there Dr. Julia Hoffman, but it's OK. Hers is more of an homage to the "House of Dark Shadows" (MGM, 1970) Julia than the TV version of Grayson Hall, but, again, it fits.

Heathcote plays Victoria/Josette just the way a die-hard fan would want her to.

It all fits. The songs, the '70s, the house, the homages, the fangs, the fits.

And the ending? Not the "hey, we might do a sequel" stunt, but the climax on Widow's Hill? Oh, my goodness.

I won't give it away, but I will unashamedly say I shed a tear. It happens. What never transpired on the tube finally, finally happens.

And they did it. Yes, they did it. Tim Burton, Johnny Depp, screenwriters Seth Grahame-Smith and John August, the entire cast, they did it.

Nothing will, nothing can, replace the daytime "Dark Shadows." Jonathan Frid is still the best Barnabas Collins. Always has been, always will be. I can't wait for that gonzo complete series box set to get here in July.

But, yes, my friends, you can go home again. Dust off the cobwebs and come back to Collinwood.

Just do me one favor, Warner Bros. Fire whoever came up with that trailer. If this movie doesn't do the box office business it should, put the blame on them.

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Blogger Lola Alapo said...

Good to know! When I saw the thriller during my last movie, I thought, "meh." But I might give it a chance now after reading your post.

2:42 PM  
Blogger Jake Mabe said...

Well, you might have to be a die-hard "Dark Shadows" fan to appreciate it. I don't know. All I can say is I went into it thinking I would be ready to punch a garbage can afterward and came out of it with a big grin on my face. But, remember, I'm a die-hard fan of the original series.

4:00 PM  

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