Drew Zahn is a WND news editor who cut his journalist teeth as a member of the award-winning staff of Leadership, Christianity Today's professional journal for church leaders. A former pastor, he is the editor of seven books, including Movie-Based Illustrations for Preaching & Teaching, which sparked his ongoing love affair with film and his weekly WND column, "Popcorn and a (world)view."More ↓Less ↑
I can see the criticisms in the “comments” section below now: “Lighten up, man. It’s just a movie.”
And that illustrates exactly the point I intend to make.
A movie is a mere trifling, a toying with ideas and images depicted on screen for entertainment – but how do you suppose God would advise us on toying and trifling with Satan?
If you believe, as the Bible clearly teaches, there really is a prince of darkness who works in the shadows “looking for someone to devour” (1 Peter 5:8) – a master deceiver who would tempt all people toward their own decay and destruction without ever tipping his hand to reveal his face – then reducing his presence to a mere joke would seem to play right into his plan, would it not?
And for the actors themselves, laughing about him as though he were a toy, readily invoking him with no thought of the consequence but to dismiss him as an archaic myth, seems a foolish thing to do, does it not, if the devil really is the diabolical demon the Scriptures make him out to be?
In short, unless you think the Bible a farce, how can you make a farce like “Dark Shadows”?
Not only is the movie not funny – seriously, it’s one of the worst major films of the year so far – but its subject matter is equally no laughing matter.
The film begins somewhat promising, telling the story of a 1700s New England fishing tycoon (played by Johnny Depp) who spurns a witch’s love and is cursed by her to become a vampire. The witch then locks him in a box, where he remains until awakened in 1972.
For a few moments, the film promises to be amusing, with Depp’s formal, erudite character confronting the hippy world of 1972, nearly 200 years out of his native time. Depp plays the character brilliantly and begins a fish-out-of-time tale rife with comedic promise.
Unfortunately, the promise is left woefully unfulfilled, as the story too quickly swerves off the rails to reintroduce the long-lived witch as a modern-day corporate shark determined to seduce her old flame. Gone is the witty comedy, replaced by a sleazy soap opera, which then switches gears again and becomes a supernatural showdown.
In the resultant, unholy mess, the movie’s conflict falls flat, the side characters are left undeveloped and the “villain” is stripped of any real depth, leaving Depp without any meaningful foil to draw out his protagonist’s fiber.
The net effect is a film that tries in vain to be too many things, succeeding at none.
And it’s too bad the film was so determined to be vapid and soulless, for there were opportunities to explore some intriguing themes, including the vampire’s admission of being “a sinner,” an allusion to “purifying” the blood, talk of forgiveness and justice and even an acknowledgement that “there are things in the is world we don’t understand, like magic, death and destiny.”
But these brief moments when the script could have shown some life quickly faded into the dead flatness that was most of the movie.
Even if it was a good film, however, we’re left with director Tim Burton’s morbid fascination with the occult, which borders, frankly, on necrophilia (see “Corpse Bride” or the final scene of this movie).
Depp’s character, for example, beyond being a vampire, studies black magic, invokes “Satan’s true name” (according to the film) Mephistopheles, calls the witch “a whore of Beelzebub … succubus of Satan … harlot of the devil” and most significantly, shouts the lines, “Show yourself to me, Satan!” and, “Have at me Lucifer; my soul is prepared!”
Acting or not, I sincerely hope for Depp’s sake Lucifer doesn’t take him up on the invitation.
According to Christian doctrine, this “devil” character gleefully tears apart marriages to divorce, lures pedophiles to abuse children, inflames rapists to act, fills megalomaniacs like Adolf Hitler with schemes of mass murder and has the power to possess men’s souls to self-destruction and everlasting torment in hell.
And we’re going to make a joke of it? Johnny Depp is going to call out for the beast’s presence in his soul?
I don’t suggest we go looking for devils under every rock, but I do suggest the American culture show a little more respect when handling the most potent evil force in the universe.
“Dark Shadows,” rated PG-13, contains roughly 20 obscenities and profanities.
The film’s violence is present, but scaled back, with much of the vampire’s killing done off screen. There are, however, a few scenes of the vampire biting his victims. Most of the more graphic violence is present in two scenes – the first of which is played for laughs as the vampire and witch trash an apartment in a supernaturally-charged, rough sex scene, the second a climactic battle scene between the vampire’s family and the witch, including gunfire, choking, crashing, biting, slashing and magical hijinks.
The movie’s sexuality, outside of some kisses, innuendos, a couple of lewd jokes and an implied oral sex scene, focuses on the modern-day witch. She dresses provocatively, shows off a lot of cleavage and leg and actively works to seduce the vampire. In one over-the-top scene that was supposed to be funny, the pair engage in a supernaturally-charged, rough sex scene. Though there’s no nudity, the pair roll around the walls, floor, furniture and ceiling of an apartment, breaking and smashing everything in their path. She licks him (again for laughs, I suppose) with a long, serpentine tongue, and there’s plenty of grunting and moaning, but all done for comedic effect. Some audiences will find it funny; others, frankly, will find it juvenile and even disgusting.
The film contains little religious content, but is dripping with occult references. In addition to what is detailed in the review above, there are spoken spells, ghosts, a werewolf, talk of curses and some references to damnation.