Movies Are My Wife

Married to the Movies — Mdino's Blog

TIM BURTON’S DARK SHADOWS

With skin as pale as in any of his other collaborations with Tim Burton, Johnny Depp revisits a piece of 1970’s Gothic camp in DARK SHADOWS (2012).  As vampire Barnabas Collins, he sports a none to subtle pair of fangs yet gums his way through the performance.  This is not to say that his performance is bad-it isn’t at all-but he just seems to be coasting here.   It is as if he has taken an easy part with a proven director and is relaxing on-screen.  As a result, the film is fun but nothing spectacular, and that is probably as intended.  This film lightly entertains right from its eighteenth century prologue, through to its eye-opening conclusion. 

The early scenes present Barnabas as the young son of a wealthy Maine family who is involved in a tryst with a young domestic, Angelique (Eva Green) at the Collins mansion.  But this beautiful maid happens to be a witch and when spurned by her lover takes the inconsiderate action of turning him into a vampire.  Locked in a coffin for 200 years, he is unearthed in 1972, providing infinite opportunities for fish out of water jokes.  Some of them-well most of them-are pretty funny, especially a hilarious scene of dope smoking hippies, with a twist I never saw coming. 

Aside from the comedy, the plotting and characters follow the TV series closely.  Operating a fishery that is in competition with the Collin’s cannery, is Angelique, and she is still hot for Barnabas.  He, however, is prepared to give his heart to the comely Josette (Bella Heathcote).  Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michele Pfeiffer-even better preserved than Barnabas) is the matriarch of the Collins clan.  Her family’s psychiatrist, Dr. Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) is busy giving Barnabas blood transfusions in order to cure his vampirism.  There is another twist here, and Dr. Hoffman promptly performs oral sex on the vampire, who returns the favor by sucking her blood.  All of this is approached by Burton with his usual macabre wit and intriguing visual touches, particularly in the depiction of Dr Hoffman’s demise. 

Explicit in the film is the theme of the American food industry as being corrupt and malevolent.  In the prologue, Barnabas describes Angelique as discovering the proper name of the Devil himself.   The woman reads a book on witchcraft featuring the name “Mephistopheles” emblazoned in Gothic type, the “M” baring a startling resemblance to the “Golden Arches” of the McDonald’s logo.  On the table at which the Collins family has breakfast, a Wheaties box is prominently displayed.  Since the athlete featured on the package is O.J. Simpson, Burton’s attitudinal proclivities are obvious. 

Tim Burton probably set the film in the early 1970s partly because that is when the original TV show was aired.  But there may be another reason: It was the height of the “mod”  era, with mini skirts, lava lamps, psychedelic posters and the introduction of freewheeling attitudes toward sex and feminism.  There was probably never another time contrasting so perfectly with the eighteenth century. 

Not as perversely jolly as BEETLEJUICE or as thrilling as BATMAN, DARK SHADOWS is never the less an acceptably effective piece of Grand Guignol and occasional cheekiness that is a worthy addition to Tim Burton’s impressive cannon.

Directed by Tim Burton.  Written by Seth Grahame-Smith and John August.  Based on characters created by Dan Curtis.  Cinematography by Bruno Delbonnel.  Music by Danny Elfman.  With Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Eva Green and Bella Heathcote.

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June 3, 2012 Posted by | American Film, Dan Curtis, film directors, Helena Bonham Carter, Johnny Depp, Michele Pfeiffer, Tim Burton | , , | 1 Comment

BURNT OFFERINGS (1976)

An odd little film found its way onto Turner Classic Movies the other night.  TV vet Dan (DARK SHADOWS) Curtis’ much reviled BURNT OFFERINGS (1976), has some effective moments of fright and suspense, but finally chucks it all for a denouement so obvious and cheesy that  everything that comes before it is rendered a waste.  This film about the Roth family who find what they believe will be the ideal Summer home, stars Oliver Reed, Karen Black, Lee H. Montgomery and Bette Davis.  Not surprisingly, the house is haunted, and only Black as Marian Roth makes it out alive.  At least I think she gets out alive.  By the end, virtually nothing is explained-not even the details surrounding the predictable “twist” ending.  None of this is helped by Curtis’ use of distorting wide-angle lenses and fuzzy soft focus photography. 

But there are brilliantly stylized moments of fear along the way: A frightening scene in which Ben Roth (Reed) tries to drown his young son Davey (Montgomery), is well-directed, with water level camera placement in the manner of JAWS.  The cutting, as well as Montgomery’s frantic performance, create a memorable moment.  A creepy looking actor named Anthony James (as Ben’s childhood chauffeur), grins his way into Ben’s nightmares (and ours).  James doesn’t say anything-he doesn’t have to-it’s all in that porcelain smile.  But yet another unanswered question: Why is the chauffeur’s car a 1920s model T, when Ben’s childhood years should have been in the 1950s? 

It is a nice touch by Screenwriters Curtis and William F. Nolan (or was it the idea of the novel’s original author, Robert Morasco?) to have Ben’s Aunt (Bette Davis) refer to him as “Benjy”.  The Roths call their son “Davey”, and the film’s creators suggest both father and son are viewed as helpless children by their elders.  This is especially astute considering the film’s theme of the slow destruction of a family unit. 

A note about Lee H. Montgomery:  The child star of much 1970s television and film work was unfairly maligned in some circles.  Critics Michael and Harry Medved even went so far as to nominate him for the title “most obnoxious child performer of all time” in their 1980 book THE GOLDEN TURKEY AWARDS.  In actuality, young Montgomery was a good actor, though he was often saddled with inferior material.  He didn’t deserve the condemnation.

Besides  BURNT OFFERINGS, Dan Curtis produced very few films for theatrical release.  However his TV work was often exceptional.  His 1975 film TRILOGY OF TERROR (also with Karen Black) gave the world one of the most unforgettable sequences in TV history:  Black terrorized by a knife wielding, miniature African fetish doll.  Of course Curtis was working from original material by Richard Matheson-a brilliant suspense novelist/short story author/screenwriter whose work often appeared on THE TWILIGHT ZONE.  The puppetry for TRILOGY (remember, this was years before CGI)was so amazing that the little doll featured in the film is still on display at Universal studios.

April 10, 2010 Posted by | Bette Davis, Dan Curtis, Horror, Karen Black, Lee H. Montgomery, Oliver Reed, William F. Nolan | , , , , , , , , , , | Leave a comment