Sunday, March 3, 2013

Shadow Play

I was pretty much of a Dark Shadows kid - for some part of its 1966-1971 run, I would run to a friend's house after school every day to watch the latest episode of this creepy soap opera. We'd watch at my friend's house because it was on right after school, and his house was close enough to the school that we wouldn't miss the creepy opening.

We watched a few of these on NetFlix a few years ago. We didn't watch for long because 1) It is pretty repetitive, being a soap opera and all and 2) it's pretty creepy. Now, of course, we recognize Joan Bennett (classic movie star, going back to the early talkie days), but the show is all about Jonathan Frid as Barnaby Collins. He is amazing in the role: attractive yet ugly, regal, tortured, tender and brutal. So we were quite interested to hear that Johnny Depp was going to try on his dentures.

The trailer's for Depp and Tim Burton's Dark Shadows (2012) were a little puzzling: Would this be an outright parody, or just a camped-up remake? Or even serious horror? It turns out there's a bit of everything, but comes closest to parody, based mainly on the colonial-era vampire's disorientation at discovering himself in the the 1970s. The rebellious daughter from the original show is taken over the top here by Chloe Grace Morentz, with a blacklight poster infested bedroom. Her idea of a classy party involves a floor show by Alice Cooper, playing himself (nice performance of the Ballad of Dwight Fry).

I'll skip over Michelle Pfeiffer's fine Elizabeth Collins and Helena Bonham Carter's delightful drunk psychiatrist, and just mention in passing Johnny Lee Miller as Roger Collins. He hits just the right note of cowardly ineffectual businessman/empty suit. In fact, Roger's classic tweed suits over turtlenecks were one of my favorite parts - spot-on imitations of the original Roger Collins' look.

But what about Barnabus? I really think Depp is a great talent, but sadly he is no Jonathan Frid. Where Frid was a rugged, wrecked beautiful monster, Depp is a baby-faced cutie with a silly haircut. He just doesn't have the same gravitas.

Nonetheless, this is a fun film, funny and sometimes surprising. Towards the end, they let the soap-opera-style plotting get out of control, which is just what it needed. They should have gone that way sooner, with a little less in the way of stage setting.

It ends with a great setup for a sequel, which I assume will never happen. So I went out and bought Sleepy Hollow instead.

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