Dark Shadows Review and Blu-ray Features
11 May 2012
Interview with Director and Main Cast
Question: Tim, can you talk about Johnny Depp bringing this to your attention and getting this project going?
TIM BURTON: We’ve talked about it for many years, but this was the first project that I ever remember Johnny saying that he’d wanted to play this ever since he was a little boy.
JOHNNY DEPP: Just a wee tike.
BURTON: He knew Barnabas Collins before he knew his own father.
DEPP: Pretty much.
BURTON: It was one of those things where the show had a lot of impact for some of us. Johnny, Michelle [Pfeiffer] and I were there at the time it came out, and we just recall it being a very strong, interesting property. This was something that Johnny had had for a long time.
Johnny, as a producer, what did you want to make sure you got across with this film?
DEPP: It’s impossible to consider myself a producer. I can barely produce an English muffin, in the morning. That’s the producer [in me]. But, just as a fan of the show, our initial conversation about the thing was during Sweeney Todd, where I just blurted out, in mid-conversation, “God, we should do a vampire movie together, where you have a vampire that looks like a vampire.” Dark Shadows was looming on the periphery, and then Tim and I started talking about it. When we got together, Tim and I started figuring out how it should be shaped. And then, (screenwriter) Seth [Grahame-Smith] came on board and the three of us just riffed. One thing led to another, and it basically dictated to us what it wanted to be, in a sense, certainly with Tim at the forefront, leading the troops.
What were the key elements from the original series that you wanted to carry over to this film?
BURTON: It’s a tricky tone and we all recognize that. When we talked aboutDark Shadows, part of its appeal was the weird nature of all the elements that went into it. It was very serious, but it was on in the afternoon, on a daily basis. There were certain reasons why we loved the show, but you couldn’t necessarily adopt to a film. It was the weirdest challenge to get the acting tone and the soap opera nature of the tone. That’s a weird thing to go for in a Hollywood movie. It’s not like you can go to a studio and go, “We want to do weird soap opera acting.” They go, “Oh, great! Whatever that means.” That’s why I was so grateful to all of the cast. Even the ones that didn’t know the show, got into the spirit of it. What made it Dark Shadows was trying to capture the spirit of what the show was.
Johnny, what was the key to playing Barnabas Collins?
DEPP: There is some kind of thread throughout all these characters. The idea of this very elegant, upper-echelon, well-schooled gentleman, who was cursed in the 18th Century and is brought back to the most surreal era of our time – the 1970s, with 1972 – and how he would react to things and how radically different things were, not just with regard to technology and automobiles, but actual items of enjoyment for people, like pet rocks, fake flowers, plastic fruit, troll dolls, lava lamps and macrame owls. Those were my favorite.
What do you think people find so tempting about vampires?
DEPP: It’s a strange thing because, as a child, I certainly had a fascination with monsters and vampires, as did Tim. There’s this darkness, this mystery, this intrigue. And then, as you get older, you recognize the erotic nature of the vampire and the idea of the undead. What was most interesting, in terms of Barnabas, was the combination. It was a real challenge, probably more for Tim than me, to make that vampire, who is clearly a vampire, fit back into this odd society and this dysfunctional family, and I think he did it rather seamlessly.
Tim, what was it like to re-team with Michelle Pfeiffer, for the first time in 20 years, since Batman Returns?
BURTON: It was weird because it reminded me how much I loved working with Michelle. It was a long time ago, but it just flooded back. I never really watch the movies again, but how impressed I remember being with Michelle just flooded back. She learned how to use a whip and jump around on roofs in high-heeled shoes, let live birds fly out of her mouth, and let cats eat her. It was very impressive stuff. So, it was a real joy to get a call from Michelle [before there was even a script] and find out that she was a closet Dark Shadows fan. I knew she was weird, but that confirmed the whole situation. It was great. Michelle and Johnny and I, we were the only ones of the cast that new Dark Shadows. You can’t really show Dark Shadows to anybody else that doesn’t know it ‘cause they’d probably run screaming out of the room. It was nice that Michelle, playing the head of the family, was a fan. It just made me realize how much I enjoyed working with her. But, she did have trouble walking down the stairs in this movie. Some people’s powers diminish, at some point.
Johnny, what was it like, the first time you had to bite someone in the film?
BURTON: Yeah, how was your bite on that big construction worker? Did you enjoy that?
DEPP: Well, going back to the erotic nature of vampires, I felt as though I was biting one of the Village People.
BURTON: And then, he went on to the biker and the cowboy.
DEPP: And the cop. No. When I had the fangs in, I wanted to be a little bit careful that I didn’t actually pierce the jugular. It was kind of like my experience shaving Alan Rickman (in Sweeney Todd), which, by the way, neither of us want to do again, especially Alan.
Johnny, actor Chris Sarandon said that he felt sorry for you for having to wear the vampire nails because he had such a hard time with it when he did Fright Night. How was it for you to have to wear them?
DEPP: There are many more reasons to feel sorry for me. We can go through them now, or we can just cuddle after. We can have a big group cuddle, and all get greasy and weird. In every film that I’ve been lucky enough to do with Tim, there’s always some form of torture. The nails were Tim’s idea. They were the length of the fingers. But, it was okay because I had a troupe of people who would help me go to the bathroom. They had to have treatment afterwards, but they’re okay now. That is true.
How much of your physicality for Barnabas came from watching Jonathan Frid, and was there also some Nosferatu influence?
DEPP: Approaching Barnabas, even in the early days of trying to explore the possibilities of the character, no matter where you went in your head, if you tried to veer away from the original Jonathan Frid character, it was apparent to both Tim and myself that it had to be rooted in Jonathan Frid’s character of Barnabas. It just had to be. It was so classic, in the classic monster, Fangoria magazine way. In terms of that, when Jonathan was playing Barnabas, there was a rigidity to him, like he had a pole of the back and this elegance that was always there. Tim and I talked early on that a vampire should look like a vampire. It was a rebellion against vampires that look like underwear models. There was a bit of Nosferatu in there, too.
What was it like to use a cane for this character?
DEPP: The cane was one of the left-over things from the series. It’s pretty much the same design. It’s slightly altered. It’s not a silver-tipped cane because my hand would have burst into flame.
How was it to have the original cast on the set?
DEPP: Well, it was great! It was great of Tim to bring them into the fold. It was our way of saluting them, and Jonathan was terrific. He had written me a letter, a couple of years before, and signed a photograph to me, passing the baton to Barnabas, which I thought was very sweet. He had his original Barnabas cane with him and I wasn’t sure, when he actually saw me, if he was going to attack me with it, but he didn’t.
BURTON: It’s like having the Pope come visit. For us, part of the reason we were there was because those people inspired us, so it was nice to see them back in their early ‘70s clothing.
Tim, with such a big cast, what deleted scenes might be on the DVD?
BURTON: There’s stuff that we cut out. Each actor will have all of their best scenes that I’ve cut out of the film in there. No. I think there will be some stuff on it because, with the nature of it being a soap opera, we cut out stuff, but all the actors were great, so I think I’m going to look at having scenes that aren’t in the film. Because the actors did such a great job and because of the soap opera nature of it, we’ll probably have some stuff on there.
Johnny, after working on Dark Shadows, was the influence of Dan Curtis what led you to want to do The Night Stalker?
DEPP: From Dark Shadows, The Night Stalker appeared, and it was a show that I really loved. Again, there’s this weird tone to it. This reporter becomes a detective in these really odd situations. Yeah, Dan Curtis was a great, great influence.
Since this is not material that current movie audiences are familiar with, did you worry about whether the interest would be there?
BURTON: Going into this movie, you don’t go into it going, “Oh, Dark Shadows, what an easy peasy idea.” It’s not like you go into it thinking that. It’s actually a much more strange challenge.
There’s always a lot of pressure for summer movies to perform. Do you hope this film reaches beyond its specific niche audience and is seen by a larger group of people?
BURTON: There are Dark Shadows fans, and then there’s everybody else. You can’t really make it with projecting what you think it’s going to be. First of all, we made a movie that we wanted to see, and then you just hope for the best.
The ending of this lends itself to a possible sequel. Did you always think that this could be a possible start to a franchise?
BURTON: No. Because of the nature of it being like a soap opera, that was the structure. It wasn’t a conscious decision. First of all, it’s a bit presumptuous to think that. If something works out, that’s one thing, but you can’t ever predict that. That had more to do with the soap opera structure of it.
Johnny, people have said that you’re in this Marlon Brando phase of your career, making these very eccentric characters come to life. Having directed and worked with Marlon Brando, do you see that as a valid comparison?
DEPP: I couldn’t imagine my name and Marlon’s in the same sentence, in terms of the work. He was a great friend of mine, and certainly a great inspiration and a great mentor. I don’t know.
If you had to stay one of your characters for the rest of your life, who would it be?
DEPP: Probably the Earl of Rochester (from The Libertine).
RT/Meta Critic Review
There’s more than enough here for us older folks – and some younger ones, too – to have us exclaiming…(Click here to see)
Captures the grand sweep and often ridiculous theatricality of both soap operas and gothic romance.(Click here to see)
Dark Shadows is true to its name, with fleshy, oppressive shadows adorning every inch of Collinsport and Collinswood Mansion. Not that Warner’s 1080p/AVC-encoded video transfer shies away from the challenge. Bruno Delbonnel’s palette is dreary and desolate on the whole (almost to the point of being colorless on occasion), with overcast skies, sun-starved skintones, grim grays, dulled whites and smoky blacks. Primaries slice through the drab curtain every now and then — especially where Angelique is concerned, with her bright crimson lips and cherry red sports car — but otherwise color is limited to blood, mansion draperies, hippie gatherings and hearthside conversations. It’s all intentional, of course, and perfectly suits the film, its gothic sensibilities and photography. Detail isn’t razor sharp, nor is it completely subdued. The darker the shot, the less revealing it is. No surprise there. The surprise comes when light, however faint, enters a window pane or fills a room. Suddenly once-slight textures become more refined, delineation is more forgiving, and crush, minor as it is, ceases to be an issue. Edge definition is clean and satisfying throughout, as are closeups, which impress in spite of Delbonnel’s diffuse lighting. The encode, meanwhile, doesn’t run aground. Artifacting, banding, aliasing and other anomalies don’t make any significant appearances, and a bit of elevated noise is the only inconsistency to report. All in all,Dark Shadows looks exactly like it should. It won’t drop jaws, but it won’t leave fans with anything to complain about either.
Dark Shadows‘ DTS-HD Master Audio 5.1 surround track isn’t the kind of lossless monster that goes for the jugular. It stalks its prey, closes in oh so patiently, pounces suddenly and retreats into the night to search for its next victim. And it serves the film wonderfully. Surging seas, squawking gulls, rustling branches, creaking floorboards, groaning doors, cavernous secret passageways, the echo of a grand hall, the chorus of a windy forest, the open skies of Collinsport… the rear speakers grab hold of it all, enveloping the listener in the quaint hustle and bustle of Barnabas’ mansion and seaside town. Convincing directional effects make for an active and engaging experience, ghostly pans send spirits shooting from one channel to the next, LFE output is bold when attacking and subtle when simply lending weight, and dynamics are eerie and altogether excellent. Danny Elfman’s score and the ’70s hits that fill out the film’s soundtrack are given full run of Collinswood too, and the resulting soundfield represents a perfect union of classic songs, playful genre music and plenty of properly prioritized horror hijinks. Dialogue doesn’t disappoint either, with clear, well-grounded and smartly centered voices, as well as the freedom to venture out beyond the front speakers. Warner’s mix is a fully immersive one and there isn’t a single scene that underwhelms.
- Maximum Movie Mode (HD): Though listed on the back cover as one of Warner’s “Maximum Movie Mode” experiences, the showpiece feature is little more than a basic Picture-in-Picture track with few frills. Focus Point featurettes are accessible along the way, but there isn’t host, there isn’t any manipulation of the film, and the PiP content is confined to a box at the bottom right-hand side of the screen. It isn’t a subpar track by any means — Burton and company dissect the production quite extensively in fact — it just isn’t all it’s cracked up to be. Even its title in the main menu is decidedly dull: “Play Movie with Focus Points.” Here’s hoping Warner doesn’t make a habit of it. If every PiP experience is going to be slapped with the Maximum Movie Mode moniker, the genuine article will no longer be easily identified.
- Focus Points (HD, 37 minutes): The PiP track’s optional Focus Point featurettes can be accessed from the main menu as well. Segments include “Becoming Barnabas,” “Welcome to Collinsport,” “The Collinses: Every Family Has Its Demons,” “Reliving a Decade,” “Angelique: A Witch Scorned,” “Alice Cooper Rocks Collinsport,” “Dark Shadowy Secrets,” “A Melee of Monstrous Proportions” and “Dark Shadows: The Legend Bites Back.”
- Deleted Scenes (HD, 6 minutes): Largely inconsequential? Sure. Deserving of a place in the film? Surprisingly, yes. The best of the bunch involves a conversation between Barnabas and David, but all five scenes would have served the movie well.