I grew up mesmerized by the original Dark Shadows gothic soap opera as a kid from 1966-1971. The soap played the paranormal element as dead serious, to pardon a pun. And since the time period was the late sixties/early seventies, there was no spoofing the culture because we were all living that culture.
Fast forward to 2012.
As a fan of Tim Burton's work, I was looking forward to the premiere of his version of Dark Shadows starring Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer. I'd enjoyed Dan Curtis's 1991 Dark Shadows mini-series and was hoping that Burton would revive the original gothic atmosphere and storyline.
So I was a good bit disappointed to discover my beloved Dark Shadows was being spoofed, although there are several great comedic moments in the film.
AND the writers had taken liberties with the original story--some needed and some just plain baffling. Overall, I felt the film was just okay, neither good nor bad.
However, when I found it on DVD in the bargain bin for five bucks, I decided to give it a whirl again. Sometimes I actually like movies better on the second viewing. Plus it would be a great addition to my Dark Shadows collection, including the original soap that I faithfully taped off the TV years ago, the feature film from 1970--House of Dark Shadows--several "The Best of Dark Shadows" videos, and the mini-series on DVD.
And I was right. Now that I knew it was supposed to be a comedy, I could sit back and enjoy the clever spoofing. One of the things that irked me about the original story is that Barnabas Collins is released from his 200 year imprisonment by Willie Loomis, and yet despite the huge changes in culture during that time, he manages to find modern clothes, speak in a modern manner, although a bit stiffly, and doesn't seem amazed or befuddled by modern technology like cars, electricity, phones, or modern culture and fashion. As a writer, that really bothered me. However, being that D.S. was a soap that relied totally on indoor sets and each new set was expensive to create, the producers/writers decided to skip the transition between Barnabas being released and his reintroduction to modern society.
However, Tim Burton's film has delightful fun with Barnabas' interaction with the new world he finds himself in. McDonald's golden arches are the sign of Mistopheles (Satan), being stoned is a means of execution rather than being high on drugs, and a teenager wearing a short dress in 1971 is mistaken for a prostitute.
As for the story changes, since the original writers of DS the soap were literally making it up as they went along--in fact, the whole vampire storyline was contrived as a ratings booster and was only supposed to last for two weeks--in hindsight the characters of Maggie Evans and Victoria Winters should have been combined into one as they are in the 2012 movie.
Some of the other story changes aren't satisfying to a die-hard DS fan, though. Roger Collins then was an uptight, arrogant, prissy bore. Roger Collins now is a womanizing, thieving sleaze. David Collins then was a spoiled rich-kid brat. David Collins now is a sympathetic boy who sees his mother's ghost. Caroline Stoddard then was a responsible young woman with lots of friends in Collinsport. Caroline Stoddard now is an obnoxious fifteen-year old who was bitten by a werewolf in her crib (huh????) Willie Loomis then was a lowlife petty thief who becomes a lovable, sympathetic human servant to Barnabas. Willie Loomis now is a rather disgusting looking alcoholic family servant.
However, Michelle Pfeiffer's Elizabeth Collins Stoddard is quite interesting and fun to watch and Helena Bonham Carter does a wonderful job of impersonating the amazing Grayson Hall as Dr. Julia Hoffman. Dr. Hoffman was one of my favorite characters in the original show.
So, how do I rate Dark Shadows 2012 now? As a spoof and comedy, it's 4 out of 5 stars. I do hope, though, that someone will one day attempt to film a version that's closer to the original story and atmosphere. Either way, there's something about Dark Shadows that makes us want to keep revisiting it.