Dark Shadows was a daytime soap opera which originally aired on ABC-TV on weekday afternoons from 1966 to 1971. What made the program unique was its gothic storyline about Barnabas Collins, a 200 year-old vampire in search of blood and a reunion with his long-lost love, Josette.
The television series developed a big cult following among youth who never took the show’s fright fare seriously, but merely enjoyed it as a mindless diversion to help them unwind after school. It is with that same lighthearted spirit in mind that Tim Burton approached the screen version of Dark Shadows.
The movie is the Oscar nominee’s (Corpse Bride) eighth collaboration with Johnny Depp; a series of movies that includes 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 agreed to work together on a remake of the Vincent Price classic, The Abominable Dr. Phebes (1971).
Set in 1972, Dark Shadows opens as 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 that were keeping Barnabas’s (Depp) cast-iron casket sealed tight.
Both Barnabas and Victoria arrive at the sprawling Collins estate and find the mansion in a state of disrepair due to the decline of the family’s fortune. The place is presently presided over by an imperious matriarch, Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) who controls an assemblage of oddballs: her spoiled daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Moretz); her brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller); Roger’s troubled son, David (Gulliver McGrath); a live-in psychiatrist (Helena Bonham Carter); and a pair of 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 laugh out loud funny. Johnny Depp’s performance leads the movie with his bloodthirsty character Barnabas’ deadpan delivery, as when he mistakenly salivates over gobs of red goo undulating around a Lava lamp.
Very Good (**½). Rated PG-13 for sexuality, profanity, smoking, drug use, and violence. Running time: 113 minutes. Distributor: Warner Brothers.