Dark Shadows

Movie review by
Jeffrey M. Anderson, Common Sense Media
Dark Shadows Movie Poster Image
Mixed-up Depp/Burton vampire comedy has blood, innuendo.
  • PG-13
  • 2012
  • 113 minutes

Parents say

age 15+
Based on 26 reviews

Kids say

age 13+
Based on 66 reviews

A lot or a little?

The parents' guide to what's in this movie.

Positive messages

Dark Shadows has a narrated introduction about how important family is, and there's a takeaway about avoiding the "curse" of a loveless life, but these themes aren't conveyed strongly. Basically, It's a one-man show, with Barnabas taking center stage and rarely turning to his family or helping them with anything. The other family members appear to despise one another. An uncle chooses to leave his son in exchange for money. And in general, problems are solved through violence.

Positive role models & representations

Barnabas' behavior is supposed to be based on love, and he's funny and charming (for a vampire), but his actions aren't admirable -- they're mostly mean-spirited and violent. None of the supporting characters offer anything admirable, either.

Violence

The movie's mood is comic, so none of the violence has a heavy impact; but there are also no notable consequences for the killings -- and there are a lot of them, with lots of blood (which seems to have been deliberately colored to resemble the fake-looking TV blood of the 1960s). Most characters die off screen. The movie's climax includes a special effects-heavy supernatural fight between characters (including a stream of green vomit) but little brutality. In a flashback, parents ship a little girl off to an asylum because she sees ghosts; there are some potentially upsetting shots of her locked up in a cell and receiving electroshock treatment. Also some spooky ghosts and an explosion/fire.

Sex

Plenty of innuendo (references to touching oneself, making noises, etc.) and some passionate kissing, but no nudity. Barnabas kisses or has sexual encounters with three women (four if you count that the same actress plays women of two different eras). He has supernatural "sex" with a witch: Locked in an embrace (and still clothed), they crash all over the walls and ceiling of a room. A female character lowers her face, off screen, to the main character's crotch to (presumably) give him oral sex. A woman rips off her top to reveal her cleavage and places Barnabas' hand on her (covered) breasts. Also of note is the way in which 15-year-old actress Chloe Grace Moretz is sexualized in her scenes, posing or dancing sensually or reciting dialogue in a sexy way.

Language

"S--t" is used a couple of times; "bitch," "damn," "a--hole," "hell," "bastard," "whore," "oh my God," and "balls" are also used. There's also a range of insults, including "stupid," "harlot," succubus," etc.

Consumerism

When Barnabas emerges from his coffin, he's entranced by a giant "McDonald's" sign. There are lots of references to 1970s-era products, some of which are still around today -- there's a Wheaties cereal box, toys like Operation and Rock 'em Sock 'em Robots, and a "troll" doll. Scooby-Doo is shown on television.

Drinking, drugs & smoking

A supporting character is shown to have a drinking problem. It's treated comically, but she's drinking and belligerent in nearly every scene. She also pops some kind of prescription pill. Another supporting character is shown slobbering drunk in one scene. Barnabas is around a group of hippies who smoke pot. A 15-year-old girl is involved in a joke about being "stoned" (shown in the trailer), in which Barnabas misunderstands the meaning of the term.

What parents need to know

Parents need to know that Dark Shadows is Tim Burton and Johnny Depp's big-screen adaptation of the cult '60s TV vampire soap opera, with a generous helping of silliness added. There's plenty of vampire violence and blood, though the blood is deliberately fake-looking, and the killings largely take place off screen. A flashback sequence involves a young girl's parents shipping her off to an asylum, where she's locked in a cell and receives electroshock therapy. While there's no nudity, there's lots of sexual innuendo and passionate kissing -- and a 15-year-old girl is disturbingly sexualized, often posing, dancing, or speaking in sexy ways. Language includes several uses of words like "s--t," "bitch," and "bastard"; the main character smokes pot in one scene, and supporting characters are shown drinking to excess. This isn't swoon-worthy vampire cinema a la Twilight, but Burton and Depp fans should enjoy the duo's always-quirky pairing.

User Reviews

Adult Written byfemalefilmlover May 11, 2012

Not for kids

Definatley not for kids took my 10 year old daughter and she really does not need to know at 10 about BJ's or rampant sexual contact
Adult Written byFamlee First May 11, 2012

A Depp Disappointment

I'm one of Johnny Depp's biggest fans but this movie was a disappointment from start to finish. Very slow and a hodgepodge of violence, sex, tired 70... Continue reading
Kid, 10 years old May 31, 2012

MUST SEE AT LEAST 9-UP

Yes, in ways, this movie was SOMEWHAT innapropriate, but, I am ten and when with another 10 year old and an 11 year old, and with know parents, where had a grea... Continue reading
Kid, 11 years old July 6, 2014

HILLARIOUS! BEST. MOVIE. EVER!! A "MUST SEE!!!!!!!!!"

"dark shadows" is BY FAR the BEST FILM EVER! Some scenes might be too intense, tho. Barnabas Collins is a vampire, so naturally there's going to... Continue reading

What's the story?

In the 18th century, Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is a wealthy and powerful gentleman who attracts the romantic attentions of a servant girl (Eva Green) and breaks her heart. She turns out to be a witch who vengefully turns Barnabas into a vampire and buries him for 200 years. He wakes in the year 1972 and returns to his family home. Slightly befuddled by this strange new world, he moves in with the new generation of Collinses and tries to return the family to its former glory. And it turns out the family's new governess is the (possible) reincarnation of his lost love, Josette (Bella Heathcote). But the witch, now called "Angie," is still around and still looking to possess Barnabas for herself.

Is it any good?

In certain ways, this movie comes closest to celebrated director Tim Burton's best and most personal work. He brings many of his unique touches to DARK SHADOWS, including a dazzling, intricate, gothic design; heavy, crazy makeup (and blonde wigs) for his characters; and a penchant for high operatic style.

But while Burton should have been comfortable with the story's large-scale passions and soap opera emotions -- as evidenced by movies like Edward Scissorhands -- he seems unwilling to take the risk. Instead, he retreats to silly, fish-out-of-water comedy, as written by Seth Grahame-Smith (author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), that's filled with jokes about and references to the 1970s. With stronger material, Burton's films are capable of great verbal wit (Pee-wee's Big Adventure, Beetlejuice, Ed Wood), but Dark Shadows was more suited to a purely visual treatment.

Talk to your kids about ...

  • Families can talk about Dark Shadows' vampire violence. Is it scary or funny? Which is it meant to be? What's shown, and what isn't shown? How does that affect its impact?

  • Are the scenes with 15-year-old Chloe Grace Moretz sexy or uncomfortable? Is she too young for this material, or does the movie's playful tone make it OK?

  • How is Angelique portrayed? Talk about female stereotypes in novels and films, particularly the "sexual (but evil) temptress."

  • Why do you think so many of the characters in this movie drink so much? Does the movie treat this seriously or jokingly?

Movie details

Themes & Topics

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