Dan Curtis’ 1966 gothic soap opera Dark Shadows is the latest cult classic to be given the Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland, Sweeney Todd) dark comic makeover. Unfortunately Burton’s customary touch lacks both comedy and darkness.

Written by Seth Grahame-Smith and John August (The Corpse Bride), the film follows the misfortunes of young Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) and his family. Leaving Liverpool in the mid 1700s they arrive in Maine in the New World, establishing a fishing industry and the town of Collinsport. Following the death of his parents (Ivan Kaye, Susanna Cappellaro) Barnabas becomes the rich and powerful master of Collinswood House until he breaks the heart of Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), a powerful and vengeful witch. Dark magic condemns Barnabas to live in shadows as a vampire, before Angelique turns the town against him resulting in his imprisonment until he’s accidently released two centuries later in 1972.

Although all the elements for a Burton classic are here; quirky characters, Johnny Depp (The Rum Diary, The Pirates of the Caribbean), extensive makeup and hyper-real visuals, the characters lacked depth and the film meanders inoffensively from start to end. Depp is particularly guilty in his latest dressing up part, which is hard to distinguish from many of his previous painted heroes.

The film gets into its stride when Barnabas is introduced to the remnants of his 1970’s dysfunctional family: matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), her daughter Carolyn Stoddard (Chloë Grace Moretz), Elizabeth’s brother Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller), his disturbed son David Collins (Gulliver McGrath) and David’s live in alcoholic psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). Collinswood House’s caretaker and Renfield-esque Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) adds some much needed comedy to the Munsters-like household. With the Collins ancestral home in disrepair and much of the family’s wealth gone, Barnabas endeavours to return the family to its former position, only to be thwarted by an old foe.

There are a couple of enjoyable cameos with iconic Dracula actor Christopher Lee (Hugo, Season of the Witch) as Captain Clarney and Alice Cooper does an amazing job playing his younger self, but much of the comedy is based on the premise of a man out his time and many of Barnabas’ lines are predictable. Even the attempted dark elements are undermined by clumsy and laboured scenes.

Burton’s visuals are always a joy to watch but with little else added to the canvas, movie classics like Edward Scissorhands are nothing but a distant memory. Dark Shadows’ final scene disappointedly borrowed from films like Ghostbusters, Death Becomes Her, Harry Potter and Terminator III and the film finishes with a less than subtle sequel set-up.

Depp and Burton obviously love working together but on the evidence of this film their collaborations have run their course and Burton’s films are in desperate need of a new leading man.

Dark Shadows
Screenings at FACT and ODEON Liverpool One

  • heather

    I agree the fact that the original characters that Depp cut his teeth on were more believable, (edward scissorhands) but the man is a genuine legend, maybe move on from Burton but there will be nobody that can do a part in a Burton movie as good as Depp! I have yet to see this movie, but from the previews i see no change in the quirky weird character thats always been there. dont forget this man can make an entire movie sparkle without the need for many characters. <3 #respectthereview

  • Vinny

    I’m also a big Johnny Depp fan, but he was just going through the motions on this film, so a bit disappointing. Also Tim Burton’s films seem to be increasingly uninspired. I would love to see them both back to their best.