This weekend the latest collaboration between Johnny Depp and the surrealistic auteur Tim Burton, “Dark Shadows,” makes its way into AMC theatres. The film is based on the popular fantasy/soap opera of the same name that ran from 1966-1971. Johnny Depp had been a fan of the series and had a great desire to bring the character of Barnabas Collins to the big screen. In accordance with the essence of what Depp hoped to capture he approached Tim Burton, the man who had directed him in such iconic roles as Sweeny Todd (“Sweeny Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street”), Ichabod Crane (“Sleepy Hallow”) and the original and much beloved Edward Scissorhands, to direct.
At a recent press conference for “Dark Shadows” Depp expressed his intention to depict a vampire who had the physicality of the mythical monster rather than that of “an underwear model” as is the case in so many of our recent, popular vampire franchises.
Who better to work with, then, than the man who has helped to design some of cinema's most beloved monstrosities?
In honor of their latest endeavor we look at our top five favorite Tim Burton creatures:
Large Marge: “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” (1985)
“Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” stars comedian Paul Reuben as the titular character (of his own creation) and marks Burton’s feature length live-action debut. Large Marge isn’t so much a creature as she is a lady truck driver who picks up our hero, Pee Wee, mid big adventure. But in the midst of a terrifying midnight tale of “the worst accident” she’s ever seen Large Marge (momentarily) transforms into a horrific bug-eyed demon like beast. The moment was a hilarious shock and read to many as a send up to the Dan Aykroyd “Wanna see something really scary?” scene in “The Twilight Zone Movie.”
“Tell em’ Large Marge sent ya!”
The Headless Horseman: “Sleepy Hallow” (1999)
Based on the Washington Irving short story “The Legend of Sleepy Hallow” this fairytale-esque chiller tells the story of New York police constable Ichabod Crane (Depp) who is sent to the small village of Sleepy Hallow to investigate a series of brutal decapitations. Once there, the logic worshiping Crane must face the dark, dangerous and decidedly supernatural Headless Horseman brought to terrifying life by none other than Christopher Walken. Burton used a combination of stop motion and forced perspective photography, visual effects (done by the incredible artists at Industrial Light and Magic) and practical creature effects to achieve the look of the film. It has the signature Burton feel melded with the aesthetic of a nightmarish fantasy come to life.
Jack The Pumpkin King: “The Nightmare Before Christmas” (1993)
Now Burton did not direct the popular holiday stop-motion treat “The Nightmare Before Christmas,” Henry Selick did, but he did produce and co-write the film (which is based on a poem he penned as a Disney animator) and had a great influence on the design of the characters in the film. The central protagonist Jack Skellington, the Pumpkin King and De facto leader of “Halloween Town” longs for a different life and as such opens a portal to “Christmas Town." Jack makes a comically tragic debacle of the warm-hearted holiday in his misunderstanding of the meaning of Christmas cheer. Halloween Jack has made an indelible impression of our collective cultural psyches and for many has come to represent a key figure in both the Halloween and Christmas season.
Edward Scissorhands: “Edward Scissorhands” (1990)
The first of the Burton/Depp collaborations, Edward Scissorhands is a heartbreakingly beautiful contemporized fable about a brilliant inventor (Vincent Price) who dies before he can complete his most prized creation, an A.I. man-boy who is left with scissors for hands. When Edward (Depp), the artificial man, is discovered years later he must attempt to enter the strange and flawed world of modern suburbia. He falls in love and in his innocence highlights all the jaded corruption present in the seemingly idyllic community which is based on Burton’s own upbringing in Burbank, CA. The film and character remains one of Burton’s most beloved offerings.
Beetlejuice: “Beetlejuice” (1988)
My favorite Tim Burton film features what is, for me, his most dynamic, hilarious and unforgettable creation: “Beetlejuice.” This larger-than-death character is so revered that now, 24-years later, audiences are still clamoring for the return of the “bio-exorcist."
The ghostest with the mostest, Beetlejuice is something between a devilish imp, a used car salesman and your outrageously inappropriate uncle. When he convinces newly dead couple Barbara (Geena Davis) and Adam Maitland (Alec Baldwin) that he can rid them of the tacky New Yorkers that have invaded their dream home by exorcising the living all goes haywire culminating in a near escape from for the Maitland’s and the living and the dead learning to harmoniously co-exist.
This film has some of the sharpest gags, wittiest talking-to-oneself banter and creative creature effects Burton has ever brought to life as well as what is perhaps the most indelibly imaginative depiction of the afterlife that we have seen on screen to date.
We will at any time, on any day, be more than willing to say the three magical words that will call this universe back into existence:
“Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice, Beetlejuice!”
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