Thursday, 1 October 2015

Dark Shadows

Everyone knows that Twilight ruined vampires for everyone. It turned these ancient blood-sucking terrors of the night into overly-emotional boyband wannabes that sparkle.
Surely legendary film director Tim Burton can bring some respect back to these once-feared prowlers of the dark?
It seems like a match made in heaven. Burton's love of Gothic sets and gloomy method of storytelling should gel perfectly with Nosferatu.
Turns out no.
Instead, it's just plain boring.
AKA Johnny Depp: The movie.
How did this happen? How did this seemingly perfect combination go so wrong?
To find the answer we start in Liverpool 250 years ago.
Well, 250-ish.
As the camera pans around the ship Johnny Depp's voice-over narrates what the basic plot is, a la Spider-Man. Unlike Spider-man however, the narration is entirely extraneous, since the movie's showing us the exact thing he's talking about within moments of him talking about it. He mentions about how blood is everything, since it connects some people to riches and some to poverty, and within moments a young girl is scolded for looking at young Barnabus and told to "Know your place".
Was it common for servants to wear all-concealing black robes back then?
The boy is, as mentioned, Barnabus Collins, who is our main character. His incredibly wealthy family is moving to America to oversee the expansion of their business. It goes well, so they set up permanent residence and build a mansion.
Apparently it took fifteen years. Slackers.
They named the town Collinsport and their house Collinwood, because they're very egotistical and have no imagination.
After fifteen years Barnabus is now an adult and he's having fun times with the girl from earlier, who's named Angelique and is played by Eva Green, whom you may remember from 300: Rise of an Empire.
I remember, no matter how much I may try to forget it.
She asks Barnabus to say that he loves her, but he refuses due to the fact that he doesn't. Angelique doesn't take rejection well and she curses the whole Collins family to death. Since she's a witch, her curse carries some weight behind it.
About as much weight as the masonry, in fact.
The Collins family had some very weird tastes when it came to mansion building. The masonry that landed on their heads was in fact a giant seahorse.
More time passes and Barnabus researches dark arts, but I don't know why they bother mentioning it since it never comes up again.
After some time Barnabus falls in love with a girl by the name of Josette, something Angelique isn't too happy about.
So Angelique uses her witchcraft to make Josette jump off of a cliff.
You can't lay all the blame on Angelique for this one though, Barnabus did just stand there for almost a whole minute.
Not willing to face life without her, Barnabus throws himself off after her, smacking face first into the jagged rocks below.
But instead of dying he just stands up, having been turned into a vampire by Angelique.
Bright side though, he can now do wicked Edward Scissorhands impressions.
An unspecified amount of time passes and Angelique leads the villagers into forming a mob and capturing Barnabus, locking him inside a coffin and burying him in the woods.
I don't think it has enough chains.
And thus, with the backstory completed we fast forward 196 years to 1972 and a young lady on a train.
This chick.
This girl is holding a help wanted ad and she practices her introductions, first as Maggie but then changing it to Victoria.
So we already know she's a liar.
She hitch-hikes her way to Collinwood, giving us a chance to learn some of her backstory and meet some hippies who'll be turning up again later.
Because '70s, therefor Hippies.
The hippies drop her off at the gates of Collinwood and she hikes up the path to the mansion, which has clearly seen better days.
Although the car does have some nice plants growing in it.
She knocks on the door and is greeted by the groundskeeper, who's named Willie.
Unfortunately, he's not Scottish.
He lets her in and she marvels at the majesty of the greeting room, even if it is rather dusty. Willie points out some features, but Victoria's gaze lands upon the giant painting of Barnabus hanging on the wall.
Apparently not one of his descendants thought about moving it somewhere else, even after he was accused of being a vampire.
Victoria's reverie is interrupted by the matriarch of the Collins family, Elizabeth Collins. She explains that the painting is of Barnabus and goes on about how great a person he apparently was.
They go to Elizabeth's study and talk a bit and Elizabeth officially gives Victoria the job before taking her to meet the family.
Starting with a 15 year old Chloe Grace-Moretz trying to look sexy. Which is rather disturbing.
Elizabeth's daughter Carolyn is both a hippie and anti-social, treating Victoria with disdain and mentioning that she won't stay long.
I think it's meant to be ominous.
Cut o dinnertime, where Carolyn plays some '70s music I've never heard and starts dancing. As Victoria and Elizabeth eat Roger enters, ordering Willie to get a move on with the food.
He acts awkward towards Victoria and from appearances he's every bit the slimy git character.
Which he of course turns out to be, because Burton likes his characters to be obvious.
In walks Dr. Hoffman, played by Helena Bonham-Carter. Hoffman's alcoholism was mentioned in passing earlier, but what was not mentioned was her rudeness. She bluntly calls Victoria a liar and says that she has secrets.
Not sure if it's a spoiler or not, but everything she says turns out to be true.
As they start eating (With Carolyn sitting at the other end of the table) Victoria is completely unfazed by the presence of a ghost at the door.
The music even swells to try and make it spookier.
This is of course the last member of the family, David. He says he wanted t scare Victoria, who responds in a kindly and friendly manner, which gets Carolyn angry. She accuses everyone of being nice to him just because he's nuts and she storms out.
But not before David says that she touches herself and makes "Noises like a kitten".
A masturbation joke about a teenage girl.
This movie just oozes class.
They then talk about David's movie, who died at sea. But David believes that she's still around and talks to him. Everyone thinks he's crazy.
Except Victoria, who says that she believes in ghosts too.
That night, as Victoria is unpacking, she is once again unfazed by a ghost standing at her door.
This movie did not skimp on the special effects.
She tells the 'ghost' that she won't be spooked so easily and goes over to remove the bedsheet.
Well, we already knew that vampires exist, so why not ghosts?
Victoria responds to this shocking discovery in an entirely appropriate manner.
With a blank stare.
The ghost of Josette says that "He's coming".
Cut to some construction workers digging up Barnabus Collins.
Because the plot has to start at some point.
Upon finding a chained up coffin in the middle of nowhere, the construction workers respond in the most appropriate manner.
By grabbing some bolt cutters and opening it immediately.
They don't think to inform their contractor that they discovered something on his property (Which is what they're required to do) or by contacting the historical society (Or the 1970s American equivalent).
Nope, they just open it up straight away and get eaten by the vampire for their troubles.
Oh look, it's the main character. Murdering a whole bunch of innocent people. Yay?
As he makes his way to Collinwood he is confused by 'modern' life and all it contains, such as roads and cars. He eventually makes it to Collinwood and he expresses despair for how far it's fallen. 
He notices a very drunk Willie stumbling around and he hypnotises him into servitude.
Technically it's not as bad a murder, but it's hardly a heroic thing to do.
Willie cleans Barnabus and leads him inside, where Barnabus starts gushing over the decor, seemingly without noticing David and Carolyn sitting on the sofa behind him.
He introduces himself as Barnabus Collins and says that the painting behind him was worth every hour spent posing.
There are quite a few moments like this, where he says something and everyone ignores it. It gets quite frustrating after a while.
Once again Elizabeth interrupts from the stairs and takes the guest to her study to talk.
They chat about the family curse and Elizabeth is naturally skeptical, assuming Barnabus to be a fraudster after money.
And who wouldn't trust this man?
Barnabus proves that he's not a fraudster by using his cane to open a secret passage behind the fireplace which leads to his father's secret stash of treasure.
So Elizabeth accepts him into the family and tells everyone else that he's a distant cousin from England.Because back in the '70s America didn't get any English television, so they were mostly unaware of English culture.
So no different from today really.
Over breakfast they discuss the family business and how far it's fallen, so Barnabus takes it upon himself to fix it back up again.
With a combination of the family wealth and his power to hypnotise people, he does so.
And I just told you in two sentences something that takes the movie 20 minutes to establish.
During this time, some subplots get set up, so let's go through those.
Barnabus meets Victoria and falls in love with her.
Remember her? yeah, it seemed as though she'd be important, but she's not.
It also transpires that not only is Angelique still alive thanks to her dark powers, but she also runs the rival fishing company. When she hears about the incident with the construction workers, she goes to investigate.
Apparently if you're rich enough you can just ignore police at crime scenes. And they'll ignore you.
She goes to Collinwood and says hello to Barnabus.
I like her method of saying hello.
Oddly enough her plan of locking Barnabus in a coffin for 200 years didn't result in him liking her anymore than before. In fact, he seems a little resentful about it.
There's also a subplot where Dr. Hoffman discovers the truth about Barnabus and tries to cure him via some blood transfusion plan.
If this subplot seems pointless to you, it's because it's pointless.
In addition, during his attempts to woo Victoria, Barnabus asks Carolyn for advice. She tells him to talk to some normal people. Cut to that night where he's sitting around a campfire with the hippies from earlier. He opens up to them and they give him some genuinely helpful suggestions, for which he is thankful.
Then he straight up murders them all.
It's funny because they're hippies. Except it isn't funny. At all.
I have issues with this scene, which is where any enjoyment or liking for the character went out of the window. It's entirely unnecessary for Barnabus to kill them. He knows of the concept of blood transfusions, so he's aware that regular people could donate their blood for him to drink. Heck, Dr. Hoffman is rather willing to do so. He doesn't even need people to be willing since he can just hypnotise them, he doesn't have any qualms about doing so.
On that point he doesn't even need to kill them to keep them quiet about his secrets. He could just hypnotise them to forget that he ever existed.
I don't understand why he makes the decision to kill them.
Anyway, onto the plot. Angelique has a talk with her shareholders about the Collins cannery opening up again and her people say that it doesn't matter since they still make lots of money.
But Angelique is petty and wants them to be properly destroyed.
So she arranges a meeting with Barnabus in order for her to buy them out and she employs some aggressive negotiation tactics.
And by that I mean she uses her boobs.
They proceed to engage in violent coitus, wrecking the entire place due to their superpowered natures. Afterwards he once again refuses her affections and she takes it as badly as the first time, promising to destroy him in return.
She has a very odd definition of 'Love'.
And then we get a flashback of Victoria's childhood.
There's no real indication that it's a flashback. We do get a very short scene of Victoria sleeping to imply that it's a dream, but it's so short that on first watching it's almost impossible to tell who it is.
Turns out that Victoria's been talking to the ghost of Josette since she was a child, but her parents thought she was crazy and had her committed.
I would have thought she had an imaginary friend and hope that she'd grow out of it. But in movie-land, all parents are horrible.
The next subplot that goes nowhere starts when Barnabus decides to throw a ball to show the town that the Collins are back and wealthy. And he defers to Carolyn for the majority.
Meaning that they end up throwing a disco with entertainment by Alice Cooper.
Sure, he's 40 years too old for this cameo, but he's still awesome so we can let it slide.
During the performance Barnabus spies on Roger (David's father) stealing wallets from the guests coats and having nookie with some woman.
He also spends some time talking to Victoria, where she explains her past, although she doesn't mention the name of the ghost.
Barnabus' response is that her parents deserve to burn in hell for turning on their kin.
So it doesn't look too good for poor Roger.
It doesn't look too good for Victoria either.
That night Barnabus rushes in to speak to Dr. Hoffman about intensifying their efforts to turn him human, but he finds her using his blood in a transfusion with herself in an attempt to become a vampire and gain immortality.
Barnabus doesn't take it well and kills her by draining her blood.
I wonder if this decision will come back to bite him?
I make no apologies.
Barnabus and Willie dump her body in the bay, because it's not like any of the numerous fishing vessels might accidentally dredge her up.
And before we have any chance to take in this development, another minor plot thread gets itself resolved. Barnabus catches Roger trying to find the secret door to the treasure room. Due to their reltion he decides to give Roger a choice to either change his ways and be a good father to David or leave with a hefty chunk of cash.
If we'd gotten to know him this might have been emotional.
As David runs crying back into the house the disco ball snaps and almost lands on him, but Barnabus uses his vampiric speed to rescue him. But his knew place is exposed to sunlight and he bursts into flames whilst David looks on.
Since we have actually gotten to know David his feelings of betrayal actually do stir some emotion in the audience.
But then it gets ruined with a quick joke.
That's some good makeup though.
After everyone runs away he goes to speak to Angelique, presumably to beg her to remove his vampiric curse.
But instead she gets him riled up by mentioning Dr. Hoffman and he admits to killing her, as well as the construction workers and the hippies. As they argue she reveals that she's set events into motion to destroy the rest of his family, including Victoria, but before he leaves she traps him in the coffin and finds a better place to hide him, leaving him a gift to remember her by.
Her underwear. Because in Hollywood sluttiness = evilness.
She also blows up the Collins Cannery for good measure. Barnabus lies patiently, unable to move due to the chains being wrapped around him this time. But he doesn't wait long, since David followed them.
How David followed them is a mystery, since he was on foot and they were in a van.
While they head back to the house, Angelique visits the burning cannery and talks to the sheriff, handing him a voice recording of Barnabus admitting to the murders.
So everyone gathers at Collinwood in an orderly fashion.
Best thing about posh driveways, you've got all the space you need for an angry mob.
Barnabus steps forward and announces that he'll willingly go to his punishment, as long as Angelique is punished too. They stare off for a bit before he bites her and she uses her dark magic to blast him away.
Although her creepy smile didn't endear her to the mob much either.
And we come to the final battle. Angelique uses her magic to make the statues and carvings come to life while Elizabeth shoots her repeatedly with a shotgun. Barnabus smashes her through the ceiling and into Carolyn's room, but she drops back down and lays him out. And that's when Carolyn returns, only this time she's a werewolf. She says that they shouldn't make a big deal out of it.
Well why should we? It's not like the movie bothered to.
Angelique reveals that she arranged for a werewolf to come and bite Carolyn in her crib back when she was a baby.
Back up one second.
So carolyn was bitten when she was a baby? And Elizabeth, her mother, only just found out now? When Carolyn's already 15 years old?
So she didn't notice that once a month her baby got very hairy and grew fangs? And claws?
I'm right there with you Jean-Luc.
And what's the result of this massive revelation?
Carolyn gets her arse handed to her.
Meaning that this entire subplot was entirely pointless.
Well done movie. great job.
But there's yet another subplot waiting to reveal itself as David enters the room. Angelique laughs at him, saying that he won't be able to stop her.
And he agrees, replying that it's not him but his mother who'll stop her.
Cue his mother's ghost flying in and banshee screaming Angelique.
Just because it's foreshadowed, doesn't mean it's a good plot twist.
The banshee scream finishes off Angelique. As she lays dieing she reaches into her own chest and pulls out her heart, handing it towards Barnabus, but he once again turns her down.
So she died of a literal broken heart?
But as Angelique dies Barnabus suddenly realises that Victoria's unaccounted for. So as the rest of the family watch their home burn down he rushes to the cliff where Josette committed suicide. Despite Angelique being dead her spell is apparently still in effect since Victoria jumps off. But this time Barnabus jumps straight after her and he turns her into a vampire before hitting the ground.
Still a better love story than Twilight. Just.
But before the movie ends, we get one last shot of Dr. Hoffman opening her eyes, because she's a vampire and the movie needed a sequel hook.
Not that it will ever get one. Fortunately.
So that was Dark Shadows. Did it suck?
Yes. Yes it did suck. It was terrible.
I think the main problem was that it wasn't an original concept but a remake of a soap opera from the seventies. The original show went on for over 250 episodes whereas this movie had about 1:30 and it tried to cram in as many plot points as it could. The foreshadowing for each of them was subtle but it all got lost in the confusion. If you didn't know exactly what to look for then you wouldn't have known what was going on and every plot twist seems like it just comes out of left field. It's fine for a soap to do that, but in a movie it just seems crowded.

Add to that the problems with the tone. It didn't seem to be able to make up it's mind about how it wanted to handle itself. Throughout most of the movie it takes on a darkly humorous angle but the plot is rather serious and it tries to climax on a fight scene. And not a very good one either to be honest.

And it's really boring too. Since the main protagonist is an unrepentant murderer you become rather apathetic to his plight. The family are all pretty terrible too. Elizabeth is bossy, carolyn's a brat, Roger's thoroughly unlikable, Hoffman's rude and obnoxious. 
Sure, Willie's amusing but he's mostly just there, not really doing much. Same with David, who's at least likable.
And Victoria is presented as though she's the main character but once Barnabus shows up she's relegated to the role of satellite love interest and all personality she previously had is wiped away. Every time I watched this movie I forgot that she was supposed to be David's teacher.

Next review is of an incredibly cheap movie I brought called 'Dawn of the Dragonslayer'. The CGI dragon looks like it was rendered by a five-ear old.
I'll bet it's still more fun than this movie.

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