Reviewed by GREG KING
Director: Tim Burton
Stars: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Bella Heathcote, Jonny Le Miller, Chloe Moretz, Jackie Earle Haley, Gulliver McGrath, Christopher Lee, Alice Cooper, Jonathan Frid, Ray Shirley.
This remake of the cult television show Dark Shadows, the Gothic daytime soap opera that was created by Dan Curtis and ran from 1966-1971, is perfectly suited to the offbeat sensibility and distinctive visual style of director Tim Burton. So it is a little disappointing to report that his take on Dark Shadows is a little under whelming. Writers John August and Seth Grahame-Smith (Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter, etc) bring a tongue in cheek approach to the material, cheerfully sending up the source. Unfortunately, the film squanders the potential for some wonderful comedy in the story of an 18th century vampire transplanted to 20th century America.
The film reunites Burton with Johnny Depp, and over the course of their seven previous collaborations the pair have developed a wonderful rapport and they complement each other’s wacky style. Both were also fans of the tv show.
Depp plays Barnabas Collins, the son of a wealthy family that emigrates from England to the east coast of America in the 1770s. They establish the largest fishing fleet the east coast has ever seen, and found the coastal town of Collinsport. They built the sprawling family home of Collinwood. Barnabas is a rich, powerful and an inveterate playboy, until he spurns the advances of the maid Angelique (Eva Green). Scorned, she uses her witch-like powers to curse the family and destroy them. She even turns Barnabas into a vampire, and then has him buried alive.
Two hundred years later a construction crew accidentally uncovers his coffin and releases him. Barnabas returns to the ancestral home, and gets caught up in the dynamics of his dysfunctional descendants. The Collins family is almost broke, the imposing mansion is in disrepair, and the once flourishing fishing business is a shadow of its former self. And he once again has to confront Angelique, “a whore of Beelzebub and succubus from Satan,” who now runs the rival cannery in town.
The superb cast includes Michelle Pfeiffer who has fun as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the steely matriarch of the family that has now fallen into decline. Burton regular Helena Bonham Carter plays Dr Hoffman, the neurotic, alcoholic psychiatrist who is treating Stoddard’s deeply troubled nephew Danny (Gulliver McGrath). Jonny Lee Miller, Chloe Moretz, Jackie Earle Haley, and Australian actress Bella Heathcote (from Neighbours, etc) round out the cast. And fans of the original series should keep an eye out for the original Barnabas (the late Jonathan Frid) who has a brief cameo. Burton regular Christopher Lee (who played Dracula in a series of Hammer horror films) also has a cameo, as does Alice Cooper.
Depp has played this sort of fish out of water character, adrift in a strange world and environment and trying to fit in, several times before (Edward Scissorhands, etc) and his role here seems like a combination of many of his familiar oddball characters. Nonetheless he has fun with the eccentric character, capturing his seductive decadence and naivety. He immerses himself into the ghoulish role with pasty make-up, untidy black hair, and long pointy talons. He also delivers his archaic 18th century-sounding dialogue with style.
There are some wonderful sight gags scattered throughout the film, and Burton’s dark sense of humour and macabre wit permeates the material. Burton deliberately steeps the film in 70s kitsch and a soundtrack of 70’s rock classics, which will strike a chord with many in the audience. The CGI generated special effects are also good, but are kept to a minimum here. The production design from long time collaborator Rick Heinrichs is stunning, and his creation for the once grand Collinwood is impressive. And Danny Elfman’s score is typically bombastic.
Dark Shadows is certainly a bit of fun, but with its uneven combination of humour, camp horror, and Gothic melodrama, it is far from the best collaboration between Burton and Depp.