MUSIC REVIEW: Dark Shadows (2012) – Original Score

Dark Shadows - Danny Elfman Score

Just as Johnny Depp is Tim Burton’s cinematic avatar, Danny Elfman is Burton’s brother-in-atmosphere, connecting to the director’s unique atmosphere through music the way that Depp connects with the director’s misfit heroes. Since 1985’s Pee-Wee’s Big Adventure, Elfman has contributed the score to nearly all of Burton’s major studio output (with the exceptions of Ed Wood and Sweeney Todd, the latter of which for obvious reasons, and the former due to a feud with Burton at the time Ed Wood was in production). Danny Elfman’s offbeat, zany, and atmospheric music, fueled in part by his days with the new wave/rock band Oingo Boingo, usually compliments Burton’s offbeat, zany, and atmospheric fims. Dark Shadows, based on the horror-soap of the same name, marks the latest collaboration between the two mad geniuses – will director and composer meet in cinematic synchronicity, or will the pairing mix as well as water and oil… or in this case, blood?

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Tim Burton & Danny Elfman

Simply put, yes. Elfman’s score to Dark Shadows is rich and evocative, lending a much-needed darkness to the pastels of Burton’s Collinwood. While the trailer to the film left fans wondering about the tone in the film adaptation of one of television’s most enduring cult classics, there is no doubt where Elfman’s Dark Shadows lives: in the dark, Theremin-filled mists of classic horror and science fiction. Burton’s fish-out-of-water tale of a vampire returning to restore his family’s former glory may teeter from the macabre to the zany, but Elfman’s score is focused on the fright of the matter. If fans have questions about this re-imagining’s adherence to the Dark Shadows feel, they need not worry about this score.

The score starts off with the eerie Dark Shadows (Prologue), which sets the mood quite nicely. It is a haunting but up-tempo piece, evoking the tragic events that start the fall of the Collins family. Within the next few tracks, the dark feeling is increased by strings, choral vocals, and yes, even the Dark Shadows favorite, the Theremin. The reprise of Elfman’s Dark Shadows theme is very representative of its retro roots, starting with the eerie strings and wail of the Theremin, then dives directly into a quick and tense section that surely accompanies some crazy Dark Shadows action.  Elfman has captured the feel of the original series – maybe better than Burton himself. This is not to give the impression that Elfman is trafficking in the simple-but-effective music by Robert Cobert in the original series; from the opening tracks to late-in-the-film cues such as The Angry Mob and Final Confrontation, the score is big-big-BIG, with cacophonous choruses and a lot of action-driving music. It’s just amazingly reassuring that Elfman is clear on the show’s original, musical roots, and it feels as if he’s gone to some lengths to embody the Dark Shadows spirit.

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Dark Shadows: Burton, Elfman, & Depp back again

By the end of the score of Dark Shadows, one thing is clear – Danny Elfman is at the top of his game, or, at the very least, has knocked the score for Dark Shadows out of the park. Whether you feel as if Elfman has lost steam in his later years, or that he has always been a consummate musician, one thing is clear: no matter how Dark Shadows is remembered as a Tim Burton film, the score should definitely be ranked among some of the strongest of Danny Elfman’s film work. This is a haunting, evocative soundtrack. While many fans of the original series have questioned Elfman’s (and/or Burton’s) decision not to utilize Robert Cobert’s original music (including the series’ iconic theme music), it’s very clear that Elfman has done his research – this score honors what has been done before, and builds on that, creating an atmosphere as rich in texture as the original series was rich in atmosphere. While some people have complained about Tim Burton’s constant partnering with Elfman (and Johnny Depp, and Helena Bonham-Carter), there is nothing to complain about in regards to this score.

Rating: 4.5/5 ★★★★½ 

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About Nathan_E

Nathan Erdel is a screenwriter. He wrote Headless and some other stuff. He likes beer, metal, pizza, and horror. He has three cats and one wife.

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