Monday, March 19, 2012

Dark Shadows/An Open Letter to Tim Burton

Tim. Tiiiiim, Tim, Tim.

Source, source (One of these things is right, and one of these things is wrong. You tell me.)


I've been waiting for months to see the trailer for the new Dark Shadows movie. Sounded good in the pre-production days... Tim Burton at the helm, Johnny Depp as two-hundred year old vampire Barnabas Collins. I figured there was not a lot that could go wrong with that winning equation of symbiotic star and director; both kooky, both a little brave, both extremely talented. And I would be right, if it was 1995, and the duo were just on the heels of the endearingly antic, totally-true-to-the-spirit-of-the-subject, biopic of Ed Wood. Turns out, however, it's 2012, Johnny Depp is coming off a comatose walk through The Tourist, and everything's gone to shit professionally between what was once THE bound-to-do-something-original duo. That's strong language, but I feel STRONGLY that the remake of Dark Shadows coming to theaters this summer will drastically affect the way those two title words go together in the hallowed halls of kitsch pop culture. So, listen to me vent a little negative energy, and tell you a little bit about my childhood eccentricities. Good combination? GREAT combination.

Photobucket Photobucket
Source, source (Whole cast photo, Barnabas Collins. It was 1991! Don't judge!)

I understand, being a college graduate and of at least average intelligence, that Dark Shadows is, or was, not exactly the Citizen Kane of television either during its initial run (1966-1971) or during its short-lived, prime-time revival (1991). I also understand that, as a ten year old, I'd just learned to set the VCR to tape programs both a) while I was at school and b) after I went to sleep. When my dad advised me that Sci-Fi channel was running a month-long rerun of the nineties' revival series and mentioned that "it might be something you would be interested in", his Hitchcock young adults' story collections, Tales From the Crypt comics obsessed fifth grader went about the arduous task of finding an old cassette of Oprah to tape over and setting the VCR timer to the witching hour (roundabout 10 o'clock in my childhood household...I had school the next day!) to tape what would become my favorite grade school tv show. I had my helpful dad special order the companion book from Media Play in those pre-Amazon days. I meticulous photocopied stills of Barnabas, Victoria, and Angelique from the book for inclusion in my special "Dark Shadows" three ring binder. I wrote fan fiction, before I even knew what that was, to continue the story where the series had left off after being cancelled, on a typewriter at my grandmother's house, and taped in hand drawings for illustrations. I kept the two, six hour VHS tapes, archive-labelled, in my room so my mom wouldn't accidentally re-tape Oprah over them. In short, the show was very important to me.

Source (I could lie to you and tell you I didn't want to look EXACTLY like Joanna Going when I grew up, but I won't. )

The nineties' version, which drew more inspiration from the semi-coherent and more darkly gothic movie of the series, House of Dark Shadows, is not without its flaws. Still, it features a strong cast headed out by Ben Cross (Chariots of Fire) as a suitably baritone-voiced, much scarier, much handsomer-in-an-early-90s-way Barnabas, and even resurrects the screen career of the 1950's Vivien Leigh lookalike actress Jean Simmons as matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard. The difference between the original series and the revival is mainly tone... while the sixties' series boasted a bargain bin of every-freakin-supernatural-creature-or-public-domain-literature-ripoff-you-could-imagine, in a gleeful bacchanal that was a grade schooler's perfect dream of not-that-scary, but-scary-to-me plotlines, the revival was streamlined into what I loved from the storyline. You get one child ghost (Barnabas's sister Sarah), one love-scorned witch (the sultry, blonde, man-punishin' Angelique), and one tortured, sensitive, immortal vampire (ye olde Barnabas), one psychic (Maggie), and one kid-with-weird-powers-who's-friends-with-the-ghost-kid (David). And of course, the reincarnated, looking exactly like the original, Josette/Victoria Winters thing, just to make Barnabas a little more tortured than he already was, being an immortal creature of dark damned to walk the night for all eternity (hey! Some people are cool with that, man!). A lonely little gleeful for the ghoulish, hopelessly romantic child had found THE show to watch.


Source...? (Above, Barnabas in fang-rante; below, Angelique casting some spell, doubtless some bad stuff for Barnabas is coming down the pipeline...)


In the late nineties' (and possibly before), the self-same Sci-Fi channel, before changing its name to SyFy and focusing mainly on original productions, would broadcast reruns of classic sci-fi and horror productions. I watched a ton of Lost in Space, Time Tunnel, Quantum Leap, Beauty and the Beast, V, Ray Bradbury Theater, and Tales from the Darkside in that era. Sci-Fi ran two episodes every weekday of the original sixties' Dark Shadows series, from 10-11 am, for their daytime programming. I got re-ho-o-o-oked on the Barnabas habit one summer between eighth grade and ninth grade at my grandma's house, and when school was back in session in the fall, started taping the shows while I was at school to "run home" and watch after classes were out, oddly replicating the famous "I Ran Home to Watch Dark Shadows" nostalgia battle cry that referred to its 3:00/right-after-school original air time. I had to know what was going on with Adam and Carolyn in that weird, Frankenstein rip-off sub plot! I loved the low-budget soap opera style set dressing, the NUMEROUS, ALL THE TIME line-flubbings and visible boom mikes, and most of all, the heart of story arcs that were obviously written for housewives and the aforementioned, running-home-children. Make it sappy! Make it scary! Make it so preposterous you're not really sure what's going to happen next week! While the revival show is my heart, I won't pass up a chance to watch the original series to get a warm memory of that pre-teen I once was, whirligigs in my imagination all a-twitter with the Styrofoam supernatural the show offered me.

Source, source (I want that exact cover on the left, with my head and Matthew's head superimposed inside the crystal ball, as our wedding invitations)

Cut to a much more jaded, supernatural-SATURATED decade, the year of our Lord 2012. Post Twilight, post Vampire Diaries, post True Blood...let's close-up on this morning, actually, as I sat at my desk and saw on my Facebook feed that the trailer for the Burton remake had finally been released. I saw the teaser spread of the cast in Entertainment Weekly, and reacted with a "well, we'll just have to see", though having STRONG reservations about the Eddie Munster-ish makeup, Nosferatu hands, and glued down hair Johnny Depp sported (I know the hair is probably a wink to sixties' star Jonathan Frid's ridiculous head-rug, but come on). The trailer, sadly, confirmed my worst fears about it, while adding some others I'm not sure I'd even thought of. Watch for yourself:

The vampire, all over the wall sex scene? I thought I was watching a gothic version of Norbit. WHY IS THIS HAPPENING? As I vociferously protested earlier this week on various social mediums (*cough*: Facebook), if you want to make "The Little Vampire Who Came To Dinner: An Edward Gorey/Royal Tenenbaums/Norbit ripoff done in the poorest taste possible by Tim Burton", why don't you divorce yourself entirely from the idea of a remake entirely and create a NEW story. It's not even like the Dark Shadows franchise gives any luster to the production or its promotion, especially considering the soap/romance portions (VERY. IMPORTANT. to all incarnations of the show) are being completely excised in favor of very broad comedy and animation-like caricatures. REIMAGININGS ARE UNACCEPTABLE, TIM BURTON. DO YOU HEAR ME? Do you remember Planet of the Apes? Charlie and the Chocolate Factory? You are not good at this!! If you have no respect for the original property or its spirit (I know that sounds way lame, but I can't think of a better word), MAKE YOUR OWN MOVIE. You've done it before! Snap out of it!

Source ("Oh, helleth to the no, my good madam... you are asking for it and you shall receive it!"---> I'm making that one up, but there's a 1700's style rephrasing of "kiss my ass" in the trailer that is no better, I promise. WHY IS THIS HAPPENING.)

While plenty famous in its day, Dark Shadows, in its current form, is not famous enough or well known enough at present to withstand the negative effect of a major motion picture release thirty years after the original property was put to bed. What I most resent about the whole business is the selfish idea (on my part) that when I mention the beloved-of-me television franchise, someone will automatically go "Oh, right, I saw that. Jesus, you like that kind of stuff?!" Well, no, friend. I do not like that kind of stuff. I HATE that kind of stuff. What I like is the cheese-ball, cutie, kitschy, totally ridiculous, totally addictive, but EARNEST television series of my childhood. You fellow cult-following devotees can probably understand this on some level. Don't find something I love and ruin it with your horrible, money-hungry, not-even-interesting-in-its-own-right, bloat of a blockbuster, because I will hate you for it, whether people agree with me or not.

((continues to rant and rave into the night, clutching my little paper Dark Shadows Official Fan Club card and several ancient VHS cassettes))

Do you have any sworn allegiances to childhood books, movies or tv shows that someone has totally ruined for you? Did you ever watch the original Dark Shadows or will you watch the movie when it comes out? Am I completely crazy? Let me know what you think.

Bonus: Matthew, re the trailer, in the style of that one South Park episode:


Double Bonus: Watch the whole of the 1991 revival series, FOR FREE, LEGALLY on MGM's youtube page. Nineties'-datedness aside, I can PROMISE you it will be better than the Burton film:

Til next time!


  1. What? On? EARTH?? Good lord. Just...good lord. Why didn't he just make a movie about some random vampire? Why even have a Dark Shadows tie-in? It might as well just have Will Ferrell in it. Or Owen Wilson. Uggh.

    And we thought that Charlie And The Chocolate Factory was a disgrace.

  2. Is Tim Burton making a comedy? More like a comedy of errors! I love Dark Shadows and am saddened to see the trailer for this new film. The original Dark Shadows was so creepy...and I wish they kept it that way for the film version.

  3. Thank you! I felt I died a little inside when I saw the trailer yesterday. My dad is a huge fan of the original series, so I have a passing familiarity with Barnabas Collins. The best thing about the episodes I've seen is the atmosphere and now it's going to be a comedy? I got tired of the lame jokes by the end of the trailer; I can't imagine what torture sitting through the entire movie would be.

  4. The only positive thing I can say about this remake is that it doesn't LOOK like every other TB film...just like every other TB film does. Frankly, his 'look' is getting old and dated to me, so that at least was a plus. And hearing that Johnny Depp was in it (big's as if no one else exists in Burton's little world but Johnny and Helena B-C.) I mean, I've had a massive crush on Johnny since I was about 8 and saw him in 21 Jump Street (which also didn't need a shitty remake either, IMO...not that Holly "no original ideas" Wood cares about my opinion...).
    In retrospect, now that I've seen what his version of one of my faves is going to be, well, I almost wish he'd stuck with his usual, tired, worn out gothic style. At least it would have given some reverence to the feel and vibe of the original...and even the '90s remake, which actually wasn't too bad!
    Anyhoo...rant over. I'm with ya on this one. Not something that should have been remade to begin with, but DEFINITELY deserved a better and more respectful send up if they HAD to remake it.
    Oh well, it'll give me an excuse to do a post on my 'Dark Shadows'/'Fearless Vampire Killers' inspired dress I did a few years ago...

  5. Great "open letter," most fans can relate. I'm an avid Dark Shadows fan myself, watched the original series (like so many others) by running home from school when I was a kid. About ten years ago I caught DS on dvd and got my wife hooked --- along with a bunch of friends who remembered bits and pieces from the original show. The storyline is a classic gothic love story, about torment and excess and power and redemption. The original series worked so well because Barnabas (as well as Quentin) was a good-hearted, tragic character whose demons sometimes got the better of him. It worked because we can all relate to human suffering, to lost love, to loyalty. Tim Burton's version doesn't have any of this, at least as it is portrayed in the comedic trailer. He has reduced a grand story to a teenage sexual romp, a "vampire -vs - the witch" comedic sprawl in which neither character has any depth. Barnabas Collins would never pull out the insides of a tv set and talk to it like he was looking for some ghost. Why not? Because Barnabas knew who he was.... a member of the Collins family. The tragedy that made the original DS series so special is that we are "in" on Barnabas' secret, even though he is desperate to keep "the truth" hidden from our eyes. The Burton-Depp remake is really nothing more than an Addams Family meets Beattlejuice. A lot of freaks who have no depth, no emotional pull, no substance. Its a comedy, a farce, that makes fun of the very thing that the original Dark Shadows knew not to laugh at: the brokenness of the human condition. So, so much potential lost, so much good will squandered! Imagine if Burton had at least held true to the inner demons that surround the Barnabas/Josette storyline, propelling Vicky Winters back to 1795, etc. They could have made a dynamite franchise out of this story --- including future films that included other storylines (such as Quentin and Daphne, parallel time, etc.). Instead, we have a remake of Abbot and Costello meet Frankenstein --- sadly, without Bud and Lou. I was hoping against hope that Burton and Depp wouldn't blow this, as they appear to have done. I won't see this on a first-run screen, it is too heart-breaking. Imagine Barnabas sitting at the family table telling everyone that "I'm a vampire." Stupid, there is no empathy in that. Its too obvious, too mundane, too --- well, it represents a supreme lack of sophistication that the Collins family once had. A 1970's disco fever in the Collins mansion? Poor Dan Curtis, RIP, dear friend. Your vision remains supreme, you accomplished a masterpiece with nickels and dimes, while Burton & Co. have millions. They blew it, I mean they really blew it. And they could have hit a grand slam. Too bad.....

  6. did you see the movie? it wasn't as bad as the trailer made it look, but it was by no means good. i've had the orginal series in my netflix queue for a while, i need to start watching. i need a new obsession.



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