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Dark Shadows

TIM Burton's cinematic rendition of the 46-year-old cult soap opera Dark Shadows may be one of the year's most brutally reviewed movies, earning a scant 36 per cent favourable rating on the Rotten Tomatoes website.

As a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration, it falls below Sleepy Hollow or Ed Wood -- but it's an enduring masterpiece compared to their Alice in Wonderland.

This horror-comedy-melodrama is a spin-off of the daytime horror-melodrama of the '60s and '70s, the continuing story of vampire Barnabas Collins, the centuries-old head of a Maine clan plagued by witches, werewolves and miscellaneous supernatural phenomenon.

The premise gives Burton licence to pay affectionate homage to Edward Gorey, the American illustrator and storyteller who expressed his sublime comic gifts by rendering tragic, dark-eyed little children, corpses littering Edwardian mansions, and maidens flinging themselves off impossibly high precipices.

Barnabas (Depp) is the scion of a rich English family whose move to Maine resulted in supernatural tragedy. Lascivious witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) fell in love with Barnabas, but when he spurned her in favour of winsome village girl Josette (Bella Heathcote), Angelique cast spells that sent Josette off an impossibly high precipice and Barnabas cursed with the eternal life of the vampire.

Entombed alive, Barnabas is revived in the year 1972 (the year the TV series Dark Shadows went off the air). The once magnificent Collins estate is in near ruins, inhabited by matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), her rebellious teen daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), her ne'er-do-well brother-in-law Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), Roger's literally haunted young son David (Gulliver McGrath) and the inevitable drunk groundskeeper, Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley). Also in attendance is a live-in psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and a new governess Victoria Winters (also played by Heathcote), who bears an unearthly resemblance to the centuries-dead Josette.

Burton and Depp fully realize they're not working with classic material here but they have fun with what they've got, especially Depp as an alabaster-skinned ghoul with love in his heart.

Blocking actors in soap opera style gives Burton the opportunity to pose his cast like figures from a Gorey storybook. The movie's look is a gratifyingly perverse blend of Gothic with macramé owls, beanbag chairs and shag carpeting: kitsch relics dwelling among the kitsch relics.

The '70s production design is the subject of one of a multitude of featurettes -- Reliving a Decade -- that also includes Becoming Barnabas and Alice Cooper Rocks Collinsport. 'Ö'Ö'Ö out of five

randall.king@ freepress.mb.ca

Republished from the Winnipeg Free Press print edition October 4, 2012 E4

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