A Look Back: Dark Shadows

When some infants are born, those present may make prophecies, although this mostly just happens in fairy tales. But I suspect that when Johnny Depp came into this world, the doctor examined him briefly and proclaimed, “One day, this lad will play a vampire on the big screen.” So far in his career, Johnny has portrayed a Jesus figure with scissors for hands, several real-life criminal masterminds, the current POTUS, a sad sack small town guy with the world’s most dysfunctional family, and the owner of a magical chocolate factory, not to mention a pirate with an over-fondness for eyeliner. He began as an undercover cop/high school student on a popular eighties’ TV show, but by 2012, he was ready to fulfill the prophecy and play Barnabas Collins, a time traveling vampire on “Dark Shadows,” the titular soap opera made into a Tim Burton movie. (Like many vampires, Johnny is rather gentlemanly – except of course, when he gets thirsty, and then the manners go out the window.)

If you wish to flee a curse, as young Johnny’s parents attempt to do in the 1700’s, traveling a fog-filled route from England to America probably won’t achieve the desired effect – particularly if a little girl is eyeballing your son, and she grows up to be Eva Green, a witch with an undying crush on him. However, Johnny is more bewitched by a young maid (Bella Heathcote), although he is the scion of a wealthy, influential Maine family. This upsets Eva to the point where she forces Bella to leap off a cliff, enchant and entomb Johnny but not before (she’s on a roll) turning the entire town against his family. Fast forward a couple hundred years, and Johnny’s resting place is disturbed, so he awakens in the seventies. Not the best era to awaken in, but Johnny makes the best of it, returning home to his family mansion, (after performing an enchantment of his own on the groundskeeper, Jackie Earle Haley), which is now headed by Michelle Pfeiffer and Jonny Lee Miller. Also present is the new governess (Bella again) for Jonny’s son (Gully McGrath) who sees dead people and as a result, has a live-in psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter, like Johnny, playing yet another resolutely not normal person). In addition, Chloe Grace-Moretz plays Michelle’s rebellious daughter who has a hair-raising secret of her own. Thus the stage is set for wacky high jinx galore.

Unfortunately, Eva is also still very much around, and soon tangles with Johnny, who manages to get the family business back in gear, and have both a sexual encounter with Eva and a chaste but charming meeting with Bella on the cliff. To celebrate, the family holds a ball featuring (yes really) Alice Cooper. (“Ugliest woman I’ve ever seen,” quips Johnny.) However, the course of love is never smooth, resulting in a series of unearthly encounters, attempted murder and entombing, escape from a drastic house fire, villains receiving their comeuppance, and Bella making an extreme deal so that she and Johnny can be together forever. The soap was before my time, so I can’t say how well it’s replicated, but “Dark Shadows” certainly serves up a healthy helping of cheese. Offhand, I would say Velveeta.


Movie Review: Miss Peregrine’s Home for Peculiar Children

Question – If you had to get stuck in a time loop, which holiday would you like to be stuck enduring the least? Thanksgiving – if you had to spend the entire day at your least favorite relative’s house? Labor Day – if you were still in school and had to return? Valentine’s Day – after you’d just been dumped? In “Groundhog Day,” Bill Murray plays a TV newsman who travels to a quaint town to do a story on that holiday and manages to get himself trapped in a time loop from which he can’t even extricate himself by committing suicide. In “Miss Peregrine’s Home For Peculiar Children” (based on the book by Ransom Riggs), a group of children with supertalents and their guardian (Eva Green) seek refuge in a time loop of a single day, which strikes me as ultimately dull but which seems to work out nicely for them. For awhile anyway.

Asa Butterfield plays the young adolescent hero who lives in present day Florida. Since he was little, he has had a close relationship with his grandfather (Terence Stamp), far closer than the one he has with his dad (Chris O’Dowd). His grandfather has always enjoyed telling him stories based on a box of old pictures of children he once knew when he was sent to away to avoid “monsters.” These children have “peculiarities,” i.e. powers very much like the ones the “X-Men” characters have – such as the ability to manipulate fire, control a swarm of bees, and defy gravity which is Ella Pernell’s specialty. Mrs. Peregrine, their guardian herself has the ability to transform into her namesake, which made me jealous because my number one superpower if I had a choice would be flight. Anyway, when the movie opens, Asa returns home from work, only to witness the (apparently) supernaturally caused death of his grandfather. However, he naturally suspects he might be going crazy – and that’s certainly the consensus of his parents who ship him off to a shrink. After some time on the couch dissecting his psyche, Asa persuades his dad to bring him on a trip to the remote Welsh island where the children’s home once was. This is when the story kicks into high gear.

Asa manages to find the ruined home – complete with actual residents, which surprisingly doesn’t make him confident that his sanity is returning. But it turns out to be true – and he manages to find his way inside a time loop – the same one that his grandfather had once been in (yes, I’m sorry, I can’t explain this better). Thanks to the residents and Eva, Asa learns that the loop exists to protect them from enemies – and these are formidable enemies indeed. Led by Samuel L. Jackson, they are a group of eye-eating zombies that can turn into people if they wish to disguise themselves. Samuel apparently needs a steady supply of eyes of “peculiars,” and that’s why he keeps trying to hijack different loops. When he manages to infiltrate Eva’s, he wastes no time wreaking havoc, and it’s up to Asa – who just may be a peculiar himself – to save the day.

I don’t know why this movie wasn’t released closer to Halloween – it’s a perfect kids’ film to see around that time, but I’m sure the makers had their reasons. Never having read the book, I went into this cold, and was pleasantly surprised at how much struck me as original. Fantasy and science fiction are tough genres to come up with original concepts, but a lot of this felt fresh, even if I had no idea where the plot was going for much of the movie. Asa and his friends are appealing, and regardless of whether or not it’s a faithful adaptation, I enjoyed it.