Saturday, January 21, 2012


JOHNNY DEPP is at it again. This time, he and Tim Burton are taking on my all-time favorite TV show, DARK SHADOWS. There's already been a lot of chatter amongst fandom about Depp's appearance, i.e. "his version" of Barnabas Collins. (Or is it Burton's version?) Yes, those first leaked photos looked rather odd and worried a lot of folks. But now OFFICIAL photos are out and I must say THEY LOOK AWESOME.

For those who don't know, Barnabas Collins is a 200-year old vampire who turns up in Collinsport, Maine in the 1960s (or apparently the 1970s in the new movie). He passes himself off as a long-lost cousin of the town's residents, the rich and powerful Collins family. Then he proceeds to drain them of their blood. The cows, too, but that's a long story. Now the conflicted Barnabas doesn't like feeding off family members. He's a reluctant vampire and an overall nice guy, and involuntary exsanguination is just plain rude. But a vampire's gotta do what a vampire's gotta do. So bloody-romantic-sexy-gothic mayhem ensues.

As I wait impatiently for (hopefully) my favorite movie of 2012 [Sorry AVENGERS, PROMETHEUS, THE DARK KNIGHT RISES, and SKYFALL] to arrive in theaters May 12th... I've also been reading about how Depp wants to create a "classic horror movie monster" with his version of Barnabas. And judging from the photo above, he's succeeding. But what I've also noticed--which is something you folks might be interested to know--is that Johnny is drawing upon some very specific movie monsters from the past to create this creepy new take on Barnabas. Which ones? From what I can tell, the two biggest influences appear to be BELA LUGOSI (from Universal's 1931 English version of DRACULA)...

...and, yup, KLAUS KINSKI from German master-filmmaker WERNER HERZOG's 1979 remake of NOSFERATU.

Now you're probably thinking, "Yeah, I can get behind the Bela Lugosi influence, dude. But that Klaus Kinski-thing is just weird."

Think about it this way, folks. Aside from being one kick-ass actor, Depp is clearly a student of film history. So we can be pretty confident that he knows all about Bela's place in horror circles, and how his take on 'Dracula' defined the role long before Lee, Langella, or Oldman came around. But have you seen DEAD MAN or THE BRAVE? Whether he's acting or directing, Depp always demonstrates a clear penchant for art and foreign film-esque tastes. Which, I'm guessing, means he's seen FITZCARRALDO and a ton of other Kinski classics. In fact, now that I'm thinking about it, Kinski's notoriously intense and wholly-immersive style and approach to his roles feels a lot like Depp's approach to acting. Both men are masters at creating hyper-real characters, and then imbuing them with a grounded verisimilitude that causes audiences to care... no matter how outrageous the role. Is Depp a Klaus Kinski devotee? How the heck should I know? I've never spoken to the guy. But if I was a bettin' man, then I'd say that at the very least Kinski's past performance is on his (and Burton's) radar. I'd also bet that he and Burton probably screened the '79 (and 1922?) versions of NOSFERATU before diving headlong into the crashing waves of Collinsport.

Oh, and for the record, I LOVE Herzog's '79 remake of the Murnau masterpiece. Both the English AND German versions. I remember seeing them as a kid and being creeped out of my mind! Also, the beautifully eerie soundtrack by POPOL VUH haunts me to this day. Download it from and you'll see what I mean:

But I digress...

The point is, if you want a preview of what the new Barnabas Collins might look and sound like in action, go back and watch Bela and Klaus' definitive performances. They might give you a leg up when DARK SHADOWS (2012) hits the big screen this summer.

Oh, and since this IS a Tim Burton flick, that means the Prince of Darkness himself--CHRISTOPHER LEE--is probably going to have a small role in the new film. That makes this the perfect time to add that the 1958 Hammer version, HORROR OF DRACULA, is my personal all-time favorite Dracula movie. It's also, without question, one of the 10 greatest horror films ever made.

And since I know that Herr Burton loves Hammer flicks (have you seen SLEEPY HOLLOW?!), get ready for a ton o' blood in this new DS movie. I'm guessing it'll make HOUSE OF DARK SHADOWS look like a Disney cartoon. And if you've seen the climactic finale of HODS, then you know that's saying something.

One final note on that initial Johnny Depp/Barnabas Collins picture up top. LOOK AT JOHNNY'S HAND.

Look at the expressiveness. The meticulous quality of using digits to convey an added air of the bizarre and the disturbing. Spidery finger gestures? Check. Creepy pointed fingernails? Check. Why is this pertinent? Because throughout cinematic history, classic vampires always have creepy, spidery hands. And the great ones almost always have those pointed claws (Lee's Dracula excepted). The hands and fingers are always used to convey the vampire's power and control of his or her victims in these films. I guess having claws adds an extra exclamation point. Or maybe it just looks cool. Either way, check out the finger action (!) in the Lugosi pix below. Even though his pointed nails aren't present (like they are in the earlier photo up top), it's all about Lugosi channeling his vampiric power through those spidery digits.

And Kinski's talons? Yup, they're...

...a sinister and direct homage to Max Schreck and F.W. Murnau (another one of my all-time favorite directors), the originators of the wacky-pointed-fingerclaw-manicure. In fact, it's such a grand tradition...

...that even Gary Oldman gets into the act in Francis Ford Coppola's deliriously enjoyable BRAM STOKER'S DRACULA (1992).

Talon-mania has trickled down to the small screen, too. Dig the claws on Mark Metcalf's "Master" from Joss Whedon's eternally-cool BUFFY THE VAMPIRE SLAYER.

So yes, Depp is carrying on an expressive horror-acting tradition for the ages. It's one that director Tim Burton is also obviously in tune with, as exemplified by the production photo below. In fact, it might be Burton's meticulous attention to detail that is driving all of this adherence to a lovable, nail-biting trope. Again, I'm just speculating here. At the end of the day, only Burton, Depp, and Hollywood make-up folks know the real skinny.


Since I should actually stop procrastinating now and go finish writing a script of my own, I ask you, "Do you actually need more reasons to go see this movie?" Didn't think so. So until May 2012 arrives, do your homework and watch some darn vampire movies. It's homework to die for.


Nancy said...

Barnabas broke the 'vampire' mold. I don't LIKE so-called 'classic' vampires. I loved Barnabas. WITHOUT the longer fingernails, thank you. He was supposed to appear to be human. Those things just scream "I'm an inhuman monster!"

Sunni said...

Actually, to say that original Barnabas drained his relatives of blood is erroneous. He only fed on one family member at 1960s Collinwood and that didn't last very long. His victims were non-relatives, mostly the townsfolk of Collinsport.

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