*Dark Shadows was a daytime soap opera which originally aired at 4 PM on ABC-TV on weekday afternoons from 1966 to 1971. What made the program unique for the romance genre was its Gothic storyline revolving around Barnabas Collins, a 200 year-old vampire as earnest in his search for blood as for a reunion with his long-lost love, Josette.
The television series built a big cult following among kids who never took the show’s fright fare seriously, but merely enjoyed it as a mindless diversion designed to help them unwind after a long day at school. It is with that same lighthearted spirit in mind that master of the macabre Tim Burton apparently approached the screen version of Dark Shadows.
The movie marks the Oscar-nominee’s (for Corpse Bride) eighth collaboration with Johnny Depp, a string which has included Edward Scissorhands (1990), Ed Wood (1994), Sleepy Hollow (1999), Charlie and the Chocolate Factory (2005), Corpse Bride (2005), Sweeney Todd (2007) and Alice in Wonderland (2010). And the two have reportedly already agreed to work together next on a remake of the Vincent Price classic, The Abominable Dr. Phebes (1971).
Set in 1972, Dark Shadows is a costume dramedy that offers a walk down Memory Lane courtesy of such best-forgotten staples of the era as Lava lamps, macramé and plastic fruit. It also features bell-bottomed Flower Children driving a Volkswagen bus while listening to rock anthems like “Nights in White Satin,” and “Season of the Witch.”
At the point of departure, we meet Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) en route to Collinsport, Maine to apply for a position as governess at Collinwood Manor. Meanwhile, elsewhere in the quiet coastal village, construction workers at an excavation site unwittingly unleash an undead monster by cutting the bolts keeping Barnabas’ (Depp) cast-iron casket sealed tight.
Both Barnabas and Victoria descend on the sprawling Collins estate, only to find the mansion in a dire state of disrepair due to the decline of the family’s fortune. The place is presently presided over by imperious matriarch, Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) who lords it over an assemblage of oddballs: her spoiled-rotten daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Moretz); her ne’er-do-well brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller); his troubled son, David (Gulliver McGrath); a live-in shrink (Helena Bonham Carter); and a couple of creepy servants (Jackie Earle Haley and Ray Shirley).
The ensuing mix of slapstick violence and tongue-in-cheek humor is often amusing, nostalgic and clever but never really rises to the level of laugh out loud funny. This Johnny Depp vehicle benefits most from his bloodthirsty character Barnabas’ deadpan delivery, as when he mistakenly salivates over gobs of red goo undulating around a Lava lamp.
A faithfully-cheesy remake of a consciously-campy TV show.
Very Good (2.5 stars)
Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, smoking, drug use and horror violence.
Running time: 113 minutes
Distributor: Warner Brothers