Thursday, March 20, 2008

Adaptation Anticipation: Dark Shadows

Greetings everyone and thanks to Nathaniel for inviting me to pitch in while he’s away. For those of you who don’t know, I’m a regular contributor at Awards Daily.

I’d like to use this opportunity to reflect on several upcoming adaptations, starting with a campy television classic.

The Film: Dark Shadows, currently slated for 2010 and listed as “In Development” over at IMDB.

The Source: The popular supernatural soap that ran from 1966 to 1971, and inspired devoted fandom (from pop songs to conventions), two earlier films, a short-lived television resurrection in the early 1990s, and a 2004 WB pilot that failed to take off. The plot featured vampires, witches, zombies, werewolves, beatniks, drunks, and clueless virgins mixed up in a sudsy and melodramatic cocktail. Audiences sat enthralled each weekday afternoon to the highs, lows and accidental live burials of the aristocratic Collins family, owners of the Collinwood mansion in Collinsport, Maine.

For those of you who are unfamiliar with the show, here's a DVD teaser featuring grave robber Willie Loomis, who's in for a nasty surprise:

The Skinny: Last summer Variety reported that Warner Bros. was teaming with Johnny Depp’s Infinitum-Nihil and Graham King’s GK Films to develop a feature. The rights deal was made with the estate of Dan Curtis, who created the series and served as its director/producer. Depp and King are listed as producers along with David Kennedy, who ran Dan Curtis Productions until Curtis died in 2006.

Depp, who has expressed his childhood love for the series in interviews, is expected (rumored) to take on the iconic role of Barnabas Collins, the centuries old vampire known for his fashion sense (dapper Ohrbach’s suits, flowing Inverness cape and wolf cane) and knack for overreacting. If I had a dollar for every time he uttered the line “[Insert character name here] must DIE!” (dum dum dummm) I’d be very wealthy.

I’m excited, but…: Last year at Awards Daily I shared my initial thoughts about the possibility of Depp playing this role, noting that the Oscar nominee is the perfect actor to help Barnabas rise from the Collins family crypt. Post-Sweeney Todd, I still think he can do it, but I worry that his actorly tics (especially if they are directed by Tim Burton) could push Dark Shadows too far across the stylistic camp line. That said, one reason Sweeney Todd worked for me, despite the un-Broadway-like voices, is because Burton and Depp managed to get the tone right. I can’t imagine them sinking their creative teeth into Dark Shadows without scaling gothic heights, but my hope is they keep the pathos and find the right balance. Jonathan Frid, who played Barnabas in the soap, injected the character with humanity, even when the script called on him to deliver seriously clunky dialogue.

In the Director’s Chair: In addition to the gothic aspects of this story, Dark Shadows lends itself well to a Burton/Depp collaboration due to the original series’ tendency to flirt with Ed Wood-like badness. Bad acting, line flubs, wobbly sets and visible boom mics were part of the Collinsport lore. To be fair, the series was shot at a break-neck pace, with nearly every scene done in one take. If an actor messed up, they would correct themselves right in front of the camera. Another possibility for director is Quentin Tarantino, who is also a fan of the original series and even sports his own Barnabas Wolf Cane.

Cast Contemplation: Besides Depp as Barnabas, other key roles include Victoria Winters, the hopelessly naïve ingénue; Maggie Evans, the slightly less naïve ingénue, the aforementioned pathetic man-servant Willie Loomis, tough doc Julia Hoffman, Collins family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, and bitchy witch Angelique Bouchard.

The 1991 revival diminished the role of Maggie and put more emphasis on Vicki, though I think Maggie is more interesting (despite Vicki’s “my name is Victoria Winters” opening monologue). So my hope is that Maggie is restored to her full Josette-reborn, 18th Century doll clutching, “count the bricks” glory.

The actress chosen to take on this character should be more Kathryn Leigh Scott (the original Maggie, pictured left, from than Alexandra Moltke Isles (the original Vicki). As the object of Barnabas’s confused lust, she needs to project innocence but intelligence. Actresses I could see in the part include Natalie Portman, Rachel McAdams or Anne Hathaway. McAdams would probably be my first choice.

Actor John Karlen (who would go on to later television fame on Cagney & Lacey) originated the role of Willie and gave his characterization perfect shades of “pathetic underling.” While an obvious choice would be Steve Buscemi, I’d like to see the filmmakers go against type, but with actors who can pull off creepy. I’m thinking Jude Law or Matt Damon. The question is this: Who would you rather see Johnny Depp beat with a wolf cane?

Grayson Hall (an Oscar nominee for Night of the Iguana), originated the role of controlling shrink Dr. Julia Hoffman, whose questionable methods and attitude make her my favorite character (so far) from the original series. The epitome of Barnabas’s foolishness is that he can’t see how fabulous the not-so-good doctor is since he’s blinded by the boring (but youthful) babes. If Burton ends up directing this, I’ll expect Helena Bonham Carter to take on this role, and since she doesn’t have to sing, I think she’d be a pretty good choice. Other actresses I see filling Dr. Hoffman’s bouffant-do include Nicole Kidman, Diane Lane or, in a brilliant retro-casting choice, Winona Ryder.

Fans of the show have posited that Leigh Scott should return to the series to take on the role of Elizabeth, created by actress Joan Bennett. She does seem like the one original player who could best fit into a new screen version. Other actresses I could see in this regal role include Susan Sarandon or Glenn Close.

I’m least familiar with the character of Angelique, originated by Lara Parker (shown in the image at the top of this post, from her web site), since I'm still making my way through the series DVDs and haven’t actually gotten to her debut. But based on what my boyfriend (my Dark Shadows “enabler”) has told me, the actress in this role would have to be good at going over-the-top. Two actresses come to mind in terms of delivering that kind of diva-like performance without edging too far into cartoon-y: Michelle Pfeiffer and Angelina Jolie. Madonna, a fan of the original series, would also be an intriguing choice. If Tarantino takes the directing reigns, his blonde goddess Uma Thurman would probably be considered. I'm not sure if either has the dramatic grit to temper the camp.

Bonus Casting Tip: Lindsay Lohan as Carolyn Stoddard (originally played by Nancy Barrett), the rebellious daughter of Elizabeth, who briefly dates a beatnik named Buzz (Ben Foster?) just to get back at mom for agreeing to a blackmail-induced marriage to sleazy Jason McGuire (a brilliant cameo by Bruce Willis).

Deliberation: This project, if it ever moves beyond the development stage, is ripe with cinematic possibilities. But given the overabundance of movie vampires, can it really stand out or will it be weighed down by its cult and campy status? Whether you attend the Dark Shadows Festival annually or not, I welcome your input in the comments.

To help inspire you, I end with another video, this one from 1970's House of Dark Shadows:


Anonymous said...

Great post, thanks

but... I've never heard of this soap (shame, shame)


clearly i have been remiss in never having seen an episode of this. You know how i love the supernatural ghoulies.

must rent soon

SusanP said...

The entire series is available on DVD, but I'd recommend doing what I did and skipping the first season (before the intro of Barnabas) and starting with the "Dark Shadows DVD Collection 1."

The show can alternate between silly and compelling in the same episode, but it really sucks you in once the Barnabas/Maggie plotline picks up steam.

Anonymous said...

I would like to see Jude Law play Quinten Collins he would bring the sexness to the role.

Anonymous said...

To whoever this is filling in for Nathaniel : Your comment about Jude and Matt is not funny. Maybe you should be beat with a cain.

SusanP said...

To Anon: Sorry to offend, but I'm making a joke about a very specific reference in the Dark Shadows lore, where Barnabas does indeed beat his man-servant Willie with his wolf cane.

I merely meant he would beat their CHARACTERS not the ACTORS.

Anonymous said...

As one of the few people frequenting this site who is old enough to have seen the original as a live broadcast after school (I'm not that old), I second many of the casting choices except for Angelique. While a blonde Angelina Jolie would do, I think Nicole Kidman would have the discipline to pull it off and still have a ton of fun with the role.

The doctor is a bigger problem. The character is older and conveys more maturity and intellectual heft than your listed choices. The role is more Kathy Bates than recovering shoplifter.

Hope they can pull it off. It'll be a hoot.

SusanP said...

Thanks for the feedback, Carl.

I was actually going to suggest Nicole Kidman for Angelique as well, but my list was getting too long. For that matter, I've heard Charlize Theron mentioned too. I think she has the right look, but perhaps a little too young?? Since I haven't actually watched her in action, my choices here could be off-base!

As for Dr. H -- I liked the synergy of Ryder co-starring with Depp, but that wasn't that serious of a suggestion. Perhaps an actress more in line with my choices for Elizabeth Collins Stoddard? I was trying to think of actresses in Depp's age range. Grayson Hall and Jonathan Frid were around the same age.

Re: the earlier Quentin comment--that's another character I haven't gotten to yet. I was thinking Hugh Jackman (if he's willing to be typecast as "wolfish") would be a good choice. From what I've heard, the key there is sex appeal.

I do think this can be a really entertaining movie if it ever happens and it's done right.

Thombeau said...

I used to find ways to stay home from school so I could catch important episodes! LOVE IT!

Though not a huge Tarantino fan, I think he NEEDS to do this. After all, his name is Quentin!

Jude Law would be absolutely perfect.

Great post!

Anonymous said...

Nah --- your picks for Dr. Hoffman are too glamorous. Before I even heard about this I always thought Sigourney Weaver would be perfect in that role.

And I know they won't but I wish they would throw the character of Laura Collins into the mix. Her segments in the series were my favorites --- trying to lure her son into the burning building so they could burn for eternity together while Vicki tries to pull him out of his mother's spell. And that whole back in time segment where she squared off against Angelique. The phoenix vs. the witch.


Anonymous said...

I think that the character of Angelique should be Sharon Stone she would be an overthetop Angelique.

Anonymous said...

Well, as the writer notes, Angelique doesn't come in until the 1795 flashback, well after Barnabas' arrival. It is hard to see how she could be integrated before then, which means she likely won't be in any first movie.

That said, remember she is from the islands. So you could have someone like Halle Berry do it. That would certainly add an interesting angle to it ...

timer7 said...

YOU did,nt mention bratty little david collins one of my favorites in the show any child actors you can think of. freddie highmore will be to old by the time they film this.

SusanP said...

Ah yes, young David. Right now I'm on DVD Collection 4 and he is featured prominently. What's funny about characters like David, Burke and Dr. Woodard is that I find them really annoying, yet they're the only ones (besides Dr. Hoffman) who actually have a clue as to the true nature of Barnabas.

And on the subject of child characters, pretty much any young actress would have to be better than the girl who played Sarah Collins.

Anonymous said...

In the event that Depp decides to direct and not star, here are my alternate choices for Barnabas:

1. Blake Ritson (PBS's "Mansfield Park-Edmund)

2. Henry Ian Cusick ("Lost"-Desmond)

For Quentin:
Josh Holloway; Sawyer on "Lost".

For Willie: Dom Monaghan; Charlie on "Lost".

The ladies should be unknowns: surely there are other capable actresses out there.

Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

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Anonymous said...

You are all completely missing the point of "Dark Shadows." And since many of you haven't seen the original show, it's not surprising. As a life-long DS fan, I can tell you that the star of the show is the STORY and the CONCEPT, not the actors. It was truly a work of ensemble genius and made stars out of many uknowns! Let's hope the powers that be won't get all wrapped up in what "star" could play whom, (Lindsey Lohan? EWWW!) and focus instead on finding perfect actors for roles that they're suited for. Nobody but Bennett was a star in the original DS, but all the actors were perfect choices for their roles. Let's hope they cast ACTORS, and not stars. (Please Johnny D. - NO BORAT IN THIS FILM!)

Anonymous said...

Angelique = Christina Ricci

Barrymore Tebbs said...

Angelique = Christina Ricci

Anonymous said...

I too saw the original series while I was a high school student.
It was very well done, had excellent actors and writing, and was VERY theatrical. Very few actors and actresses today have the talent to pull off what those wonderful people from the 1960s did. Julia Roberts? Lindsay Lohan? Tom Cruise? Charliae Theron? Nicole Kidman? Halle Berry? NO WAY. These people are NOT actors; they are well marketed celebrities.
Christina Ricci would be good. I would love to see some of the original cast in roles too, even cameos. To make this a great movie, you will have to get real ACTORS--Canadian Sarah Polley comes to mind--truly talented people: Maggie Smith, Edward Norton--they should involve Alan Ball and Josh Whedon--those men know how to select people who can act. Another factor is the Collinwood mansion--it must be real and spooky, NOT a CGI! Watch the dvd's--they are not perfect--but they are truly great TV. Shot quickly and on a shoestring budget, you will not find ANYTHING on TV today (maybe TRUE BLOOD AND BUFFY AND PASSIONS (at times) half as good as the original DARK SHADOWS.

Old enough to recognize talent "Fred"

Unknown said...

I think that Drew Barrymore would make a better Angelique than the ohter actresses would, she has the depth and talent to do this part. As well as Anne Hathaway would make a good Victoria Winters, as far as the wearwolf , Hugh Jackman would make a great one, he fits the bill of Quentin Collins. I think Cathy Bates would make a good Dr. Hoffman too. Patptschwrtz