Quick Review: Dark Shadows

Music composed by Danny Elfman
Orchestrated by: Steve Bartek, Edgardo Simone, David Slonaker
Conducted by: Rick Wentworth
Score Recorded at Air Studios and Abbey Road Studios, London, England
Album time: 53 minutes
Available on Water Tower Music

Hey, hey, the gang’s all here.  Tim Burton’s newest film features several Burton mainstays (Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Christopher Lee, and Michelle Pfeffer).  At 13 films together, Burton’s biggest mainstay would be Danny Elfman.  Luckily for the listener/filmgoer, we’re treated to this Elfman/Burton film as well as their next collaboration, Frankenweenie, which comes out later this year.

Elfman was certainly influenced by the sounds of the Dark Shadows TV series (1966-1971) with music by Robert Cobert.  The style of the Cobert music is in the score, with a handful of musical references, which should please the die-hard fans.  Even the electronic synth work has a retro vibe to it.

Here’s my rundown of the score album, and of course, track titles contain a few spoilers.

The album starts with the longest track: Dark Shadows - Prologue, and it is very satisfying.  The beginning features some low alto flutes, setting up the mood.  The music then turns a bit sweeter as the choir joins in.  It gets more eerie with low brass and string harmonics.  The music shifts with a quickened pace as horns and low strings drive up the action. The choir works really well and the whole orchestra gets intense to the end.  Much of this track is similar to the music Elfman did for The Wolfman (2010), but of course works very well.
Resurrection features tons of orchestral tricks in the strings, giving that eerie atonal sound.  We hear a solo voice reprising the Angelique/Dark Shadows motif from the Prologue, and the flutes return with the beginning motif.  The other opening tracks like Vicki Enters Collinwood and Deadly Handshake have more of the solo voice, some spooky sound effects, harmonics and vibraphone.  These tracks set the mood nicely, although they aren’t too exciting to listen to without the film itself.  Starting with an electronic edge, Shadows – Reprise, is literally a quick reprise of the Shadows theme.

At 43 seconds, Is It Her? is the shortest track on the album.  The other short tracks work well in the flow of the album, and don’t really seem cut off.  Barnabas Comes Home features more of the motifs and techniques from past tracks, still with the classic Elfman-esque sound found in films like Batman (1989).  I suppose I should be glad it has taken it so long for the score to turn to the ‘standard’ sounds.  While a short track, Vicki’s Nightmare is reminiscent of Alice in Wonderland in its use of choir and churning strings.  Killing Mr. Hoffman and Dumping the Body seem to blend into each other in tone.  These tracks, while effective sound all too similar to everything heard this far into the album.  Perhaps it is edited that way, but it almost does sound like one long track.

There are some nice moments in Roger Departs and Burn Baby Burn/In-Tombed.  They go by awfully quickly.  The latter gets more of the action in the strings.  Lava Lamp features more alto flutes and vibes and the Dark Shadows motif.  The music finally picks up at The Angry Mob.  House of Blood contains a bunch of electronic sounds and sound effects.  It is more intense, which is a welcome relief.  

As in several other Elfman soundtracks, we get the track title The Final Confrontation (8th time to be exact).  This track and Widow’s Hill-Finale are great cues, with plenty of momentum and reprises of the Dark Shadows/Angelique theme.  The momentum continues as the score continues to grow into The End (Uncut)More The End references a bit of the original Dark Shadows music by Robert Cobert, which blend nicely with Elfman’s music.  The album ends with a slew of ‘End’ puns track titles, and the music ends on an unresolved note.

Elfman seems rather subdued in his scoring compared to his other Burton collaborations.  In interviews, Elfman did say he wanted a smaller score, a more intimate sound.  He called it “lean and mean”, instead of the bigger score we’re used to.  The score features tons of low brass sounds (including the cimbasso!), adding to a very dark sound.  It does translate well due to the original source’s TV history.  The score does owe a lot to Robert Cobert’s music for the series, and Elfman tapped right into it.  The score is full of the melancholic alto flute/vibes theme for Barnabas and the Angelique theme, which permeates the score.  It doesn’t rely heavily on Cobert’s music, or turn the score too campy like Mars Attacks! (1996).  Instead, we get a rare intimate score, similar in tone to bits of The Wolfman (2010) and Sleepy Hollow (1999).

His collaboration with Tim Burton has produced some great music over the years.  I wouldn’t rate this among the top, but it has some great moments and serves the story and characters well.    

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