Not so creepy, not so kooky
Tim Burton sinks ever deeper into self-parody with his latest sub-gothic comic horror riff, writes Donald Clarke
THE TEMPTATION to indulge in sarcasm is irresistible. Oh look. Tim Burton’s made a sub-gothic comic horror starring both Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter in thick, pale make-up. Danny Elfman provides the score. What next? Rain on a bank holiday? Strawberries at Wimbledon?
One could, of course, argue that Burton has devised his own genre. But the defining characteristics of Burtonia are so superficial that the defence just won’t hold up. A little bit of cod surrealism here. A touch of macabre humour here. Season it with Elfman’s jaunty chords and you are good to go.
Dark Shadows has to be the most perfunctory, most self- parodic entry to the canon thus far. Based on a 1960s TV series that almost nobody remembers, the picture stars Depp as a rich landowner who, after falling foul of a witch during the late 18th century, gets turned into a vampire and is buried in an iron coffin for 200 years. Meanwhile, his descendents have evolved into a decadent gang of bourgeois sourpusses. Michelle Pfeiffer is drinky-drinky mom. Chloë Grace Moretz is the surly daughter. Bonham Carter is a visiting psychiatrist.
The film is set in 1972 (Burton is a fan of Hammer’s Dracula AD 1972) and we’re not allowed to forget that fact. Hippies hang out in the park. The ladies wear too much paisley and eye shadow. Moretz covers her bedroom wall with posters of Iggy Pop and David Bowie.
In truth, the ambience is so heightened that it resembles a tribute to The Ice Storm and That ’70s Show more than it suggests a sincere attempt to summon up the decade. Still, it’s fun for a while. Being generous, one can view the horror comedy – Count Duckula meets Carry on Screaming – as intentionally broad. Yes, Depp, upon spotting The Carpenters on telly, really does rail against that “tiny songstress” confined in a magic box.
Sadly, those cheap novelties quickly wear thin, and the efforts to stir interest in a throwaway romance across the centuries falls fatally, tediously flat. Burton desperately needs to find some new ideas.