Dark Shadows, which ran on television from 1966- 1971, always knew what it was- a sometimes over the top, campy Gothic soap opera. And it worked as such. Now along comes visual director Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Alice in Wonderland, Beetlejuice) and attempts to re-imagine Dan Curtis’ creation for new audiences. Though Burton has had some success in the past mixing horror and comedic elements, this time things tend to fall flat. It’s not an awful movie by any means, but it’s not quite sure what it wants to be.
The movie begins in 1780, showing us the origins of the Collins family as they came from England to settle in America. Barnabas Collins (played by Burton long time collaborator Johnny Depp) engages in an affair with a maid, Angelique (Eva Green) and then breaks things off in order to pursue the lovely Josette (Bella Heathcote). Unfortunately for Barnabas, Angelique is a practicing and fairly powerful witch, and doesn’t take kindly to being spurned. She causes Josette to commit suicide and curses Barnabas to become a vampire, that he may endure eternal torment at losing his love. She turns the townspeople against him, locks him in a coffin wrapped in chains, and puts him in the ground. There Barnabas lays for the next two hundred years.
Flash forward to 1972. A young woman named Victoria Winters (also played by Heathcote) is on her way to the Collins estate in answer to an ad for governess. Once there, she meets the remainder of the Collins family- Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), her daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller), his son David (Gully McGrath), David’s psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (another Burton collaborator as well as his wife, Helena Bonham Carter), and groundskeeper Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley). The Collins family has fallen on harder times, caused by the witch now known as Angie. A construction project frees Barnabas from his coffin, which results in a swift massacre. His thirst for blood sated, Barnabas sets out for the family digs, where he seeks to rebuild the Collins name.
Up to this point, the movie is decent, playing as your standard Gothic horror fare. Once Barnabas meets the culture of 1972, however, is where things start to go off the rails. The attempts to interject comedic moments never really gel. A montage showing Barnabas trying to find a sheltered place to sleep during the day falls flat, and his attempts to understand modern speech are only mildly amusing. Eventually, there is the ultimate confrontation with the witch who cursed him, which is staged in suitable fashion. The ending leads one to think they might have been hoping this film would be a big hit, as it hints toward a sequel. There are no real surprises here, as you’re liable to guess at certain outcomes. The cast does a decent enough job in their roles as written for them (the screenplay was done by Seth Grahame-Smith, of Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter fame), but all have done better, even in Burton’s other movies. Danny Elfman, another long time Burton sidekick, provides his usual well done musical score. The special effects are fairly good, with nothing coming off as campy as the cheaper effects shown in the original series. The results make for a suitable atmosphere for the film, but it’s nearly undone by the attempts at comedy which never manages to be funny. There are a couple of notable cameos- Christopher Lee makes an appearance as a fishing boat captain, and Alice Cooper appears as himself, hired by Barnabas to provide the entertainment for a ball he throws to regain the town’s favor (The scene dealing with the ball’s planning used a not so funny paraphrasing of an old AC/DC song). Cooper’s brief time on screen worked well and fit nicely.
Overall, this film should have worked, considering the talent involved, but it just didn’t come together as well as it could have. It needed to be either broader in its comedy, or leave it out altogether and just become a Gothic horror movie. It made for an uneven mix that’s bound to be a little disappointing for even long time Burton-Depp fans. The magic seems to have faded from their frequent collaborations over the years. It’s not completely awful, but there are better movies worth your time. It’s available on DVD/ Blu-ray, but it’s more of a rental than a purchase. tjsmoke63
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