Edward Scissorhands is, if you like, Tim Burtons take on the Frankenstein story. What clearly appealed to Burton in the classic Frankenstein (1931) was not the characters monstrousness but the sense of sad pathos that audiences responded to in Boris Karloffs performance. [Burton had earlier conducted a homage to the Karloff Frankenstein in his short Frankenweenie (1985), which has been announced for a feature-length remake]. In Tim Burtons vision, the Frankenstein Monster is Special, in the same way that we call people with disabilities Special. Edward Scissorhands can be seen an alternate take on the Karloff Frankenstein, one where instead of arriving with burning torches the villagers welcome the monster into their midst. Indeed, the film might even be subtitled a A Portrait of the Frankenstein Monster as Artist where the monster, rather than seeking revenge for his condition, rediscovers himself through artistic expression.
Tim Burton constructs Edward Scissorhands as a fable it even begins with a Once Upon a Time and the stage he sets for his fable is a mythic vision of suburbia, taking in Avon Products consumerism and Father Knows Best (1954-60) values with an earnest sincerity. Burton has a sublime sense of deadpan weirdness there is a wonderfully nonchalant charm to the dinnertable conversations at which Alan Arkin proves himself a master of straight-face humour in his attempts to teach Johnny Depp ethics, or him coming up with the perfectly natural idea of turning Depps scissors towards the carving of a roast. Other images hold great beauty and charm Johnny Depp chipping a three-metre tall ice angel with Winona Ryder dancing in the snowfall of ice chips; the toe-curling ecstasy the women experience as he clips their hair; the ever-so casual shot where the dejected Depp sits on a curbside and without a misstep reaches out to clip the overgrown hair from the eyes of the dog that forlornly wanders by. Of all Tim Burtons films, this is the one that feels the most honest and heartfelt.
At the time, Johnny Depp seemed to be doing his best to shake the pretty boy teen idol role he gained from the teen cop show 21 Jump Street (1987-92) and with this and roles in quirky off-the-beaten-track films like John Waters Cry-Baby (1990), Benny and Joon (1993), Whats Eating Gilbert Grape? (1993), Don Juan de Marco (1995) and Terry Gilliams Fear and Loathing in Las Vegas (1998), he quickly established himself as a potential pinup for indie audiences as well. By the 00s, he had become one of the major stars in the world. The beatific smiles and melancholic mime work that comes in his almost entirely silent performance here establish him as a rather good actor too. He and Tim Burton would go onto make eight films together, with Depp perpetually cast as one of Burtons endearingly eccentric outsiders.
Winona Ryder is uncustomarily subdued and unconvincingly blonde as the love interest but Alan Arkin and Dianne Wiest both give perfectly deadpan performances. Vincent Price in his last screen appearance plays Edwards creator with genteel charm. The production design is stunning from the beautifully gaping bare castle walls and antiquarian gardens to the amusingly colour-toned suburbia where products are known by generic brand names, and most imaginatively the flashback tour of Vincent Prices robot egg and cake beater inventions, all designed in a sort of L. Frank Baum steampunk.
Tim Burtons other genre films are: Pee-Wees Big Adventure (1985), the gonzo afterlife comedy Beetlejuice (1988), Batman (1989), Batman Returns (1992), the worlds worst director biopic Ed Wood (1994), the cornball alien invader film Mars Attacks! (1996), the ghost story Sleepy Hollow (1999), the remake of Planet of the Apes (2001), Big Fish (2003) about an habitual teller of tall tales, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), the stop-motion animated Corpse Bride (2005), the horror musical Sweeney Todd: The Demon Barber of Fleet Street (2007), Alice in Wonderland (2010), the film remake of the tv series Dark Shadows (2012) the stop-motion animated Frankenweenie (2012); and Miss Peregrines Home for Peculiar Children (2016). Burton has also produced Henry Selicks ghoulish Halloween-invades-Christmas puppet show The Nightmare Before Christmas (1993), the absurdist conte cruel Cabin Boy (1994), Batman Forever (1995), Selicks James and the Giant Peach (1996) the animated 9 (2009), Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter (2012) and Alice Through the Looking Glass (2016). The Death of Superman Lives: What Happened? (2015) is a fascinating documentary about Burtons failed Superman Lives project.