I've wanted to see the American TV series this is based on ever since my mid-teenage years spent poring over a book named Horrorshows - my personal filmic and televisual Horror bible. Sadly, I've still yet to have the pleasure, but my appetite has definitely been piqued all the further by the film. Who knows - if others feel the same in its wake, maybe soon the original TV series too will find its way to British screens at last?
The film itself (like the TV series) is the story of an Addams or Munsterish family, living in a big Gothic mansion on a hill above a fishing port which they founded two centuries earlier. It's typically Tim Burtonish, in the sense of starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham-Carter, involving almost cartoonish make-up and costumes, and mingling Gothic horror with kitsch comedy. Dear old Tim does keep on and on making the same film, but then again, it's not a bad film, and I certainly liked this iteration better than the last one of his I saw - the musically and comedically dismal Sweeney Todd. This one is vastly better musically, thanks to being set in 1972 (which for me = love), and having a period-appropriate sound-track replete with the likes of T-Rex, The Carpenters etc. It's also hugely funnier, provoking many a guffaw along our row of the cinema.
Johnny Depp was absolutely perfect as Barnabas, the Collins family vampire who gets buried in an iron coffin in the 1770s and dug up again by workmen in the 1970s. He's awkward, anachronistic - and oddly sexy. But I agreed with ms_siobhan to leave him all to her, while I got exclusive rights instead to the STUNNING Eva Green as Barnabas' nemesis, Angelique Bouchard. In retrospect, I remember being very taken with Eva as Serafina Pekkala when I watched The Golden Compass, but I had rather forgotten about her since, and didn't even know she was in this film until it started. After that, though, I could barely look at anyone else, and came away at the end all dizzy with visions of her loveliness. I've now got a little list of further films of hers, as recommended by my Facebook chums, to work through over the next few months. :-)
There were some fab cameo appearances, too. Best of all was Alice Cooper (yay!) as the main attraction at the Collins family's ball (or 'happening'), singing 'No More Mr. Nice Guy' in fine style, and making me want to crack out my old copy of Billion Dollar Babies. But ms_siobhan and I also found ourselves turning to one another in open-mouthed amazement at Unexpected Christopher Lee as a fishing captain. While it was cool to see him, though, I wouldn't call his scene entirely enjoyable. He's nearly ninety now, and it was all too obvious that he is a very tired old man who probably isn't much longer for this world. Meanwhile, I've also discovered since seeing the film that Jonathan Frid, who played Barnabas Collins in the original TV show, appeared as a guest at the family's grand ball - though I was oblivious to that at the time of watching. Even more sadly, Frid died in April, just a month before the film was released - so I guess he never got to see it. :-(
For all that I loved seeing Eva Green in action, though, I found myself a bit disquieted at the gender politics of her character. Angelique Bouchard is one of two diametrically-opposed women in Barnabas Collins' life - the other being Victoria Winters / Maggie Evans / Josette DuPres (it's complicated - but they are all basically the same person). Victoria / Maggie / Josette, Barnabas' One True Love, is virginal and demure, but his admiring references to her 'birthing hips' show that he also sees her primarily as a prospective mother-figure. Angelique Bouchard, on the other hand, is both lower-class (she begins the film as the Collins family's servant-girl) and sexually voracious - something which Barnabas is quite willing to take advantage of, but ultimately rejects, provoking her into a two-century-long campaign of revenge enabled by the fact that she is literally a witch. When Barnabas is resurrected in the 1970s, she is a hugely successful business-woman, but ends up destroying first her office (during a wild bout of sex with Barnabas which nevertheless fails to win him over), and then herself and her empire because of her obsession with him. Finally, as her powers fade and the Collins family collectively fight back against her, she begins to break into pieces like a porcelain doll. She ends up, then, in a sort of tropic metaphor for the position she occupied as the Collins' servant-girl at the beginning of the film - a toy to be played with, and then thrown away when she breaks.
So, in short, the Good Girl is a virgin-mother, while the Bad Girl is a slutty, evil witch whose only real motivations are sexual, and who turns out to be nothing more than a disposable toy anyway. ARGH! Did I say 'a bit disquieted'? I think I might have meant utterly depressed and horrified - and I haven't even bothered unpicking the class aspects of the same two characters, which are just as bad. It's unfair to say that the whole film is one great big heap of gender-fail, because we do also get Michelle Pfeiffer as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard - the strong-willed, non-nonsense matriarch who has steered the family single-handed through tough times while Barnabas has been under the ground (and with what has obviously been no help at all from her feckless brother, Roger), remains absolutely in control of her own destiny throughout the film, and does at least as much as Barnabas to save the family at the end. But great though she is, she can't on her own compensate for the awful misogynistic tropishness in the characterisation of the two younger women.
Still, it's not like there's a long list of well-scripted vampire parody films which don't fall into sexist pit-falls out there just waiting to be watched. Until there is, I guess this'll do pretty nicely.
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