Between the Mad Hatter, Jack Sparrow, Willy Wonka and Sweeney Todd, Johnny Depp is the king of creepy characters.
Dark Shadows reunites Depp with his frequent director collaborator, Tim Burton, for another wacky movie that’s (like so many of the others) heavy on the visuals, but light on the story.
Barnabas Collins is Depp’s latest oddball character, and he’s been ripped straight from the small screen. I’d never heard of, let alone seen, the gothic soap opera that ran on ABC from 1966 to ’71 before the movie, so I have no way to judge whether the movie stayed true to the TV show. I can only judge on its entertainment value as a stand-alone movie.
All of the funny moments are in the commercials, and by the end, it all felt kind of ridiculous. What is most annoying about Dark Shadows is its confusing tone. Is it a comedic spoof? A horror movie? A gothic thriller? A retelling or an homage? It’s not clearly defined and instead is a little bit of them all.
I thoroughly enjoyed the retro music of Dark Shadows. Curtis Mayfield’s Super Fly, The Moody Blues’ Nights in White Satin and The Carpenters’ Top of the World are among some of the groovy tunes. Alice Cooper even makes an extended cameo to sing a couple songs. I also enjoyed the 18th century gothic mansion juxtaposed by the bell bottoms and lava lamps of the 1970s.
If I had a checklist of the parts that make up Dark Shadows, it would look something like this: groovy music, check; adequate gothic visuals, cinematography and makeup, check; appealing story, not really. More like mangled story. For fans of the TV series, there was a blink-and-you’ll-miss-it cameo from four of the stars.
If anything, Dark Shadows proves there is nothing like a woman scorned. After being buried alive for nearly two centuries, Barnabas arises (after being inadvertently freed) smack dab in the middle of 1972. He initially winds up alive underground after breaking the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). That’s because Angelique is not just a typical woman out for revenge; she’s an honest to goodness witch, who wants Barnabas to suffer eternally.
Barnabas heads straight back to the place he called home, Collinswood Manor (the Maine estate he settled with his family in 1750 after they left England). The 1972 version of Collinswood is not exactly how Barnabas remembers it.
Heavily in disrepair, the mansion is now inhabited by family matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer, it’s a shame she doesn’t have a bigger role), Elizabeth’s brother, Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller); her rebellious teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz); and Roger’s son David (Gully McGrath). Other residents include the caretaker Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley); a live-in psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter); and a new nanny, Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), who just happens to mysteriously resembles Barnabas’ one true love, Josette.
Meanwhile in town, Barnabas comes in contact with a woman named Angie who is set on destroying the Collins’ clan once and for all.
I’ve never been a huge vampire movie fan myself, and I wonder if vampire movies are falling out of favor. The ending leaves open the possibility of a sequel, but I doubt there will be one if the response (or lack thereof) from my screening was any indication as to fan reaction. ••
Movie Grade: B-