Tim Burton brings TV’s original vampire soap opera to the big screen with Johnny Depp filling the formidable shoes of the late Jonathan Frid (making his last appearance here in a cameo) as the infamous Barnabas Collins. Film critic Al Alexander gives "Dark Shadows" 3 stars out of 4. Follow the link to read the review. What did you think of the movie?
For people of a certain age, Tim Burton’s zany reimaging of the cult TV soap “Dark Shadows” conjures a flood of nostalgia for lava lamps, Troll Dolls and The Carpenters. And we’ve only just begun to touch on the delights lurking behind the gothic walls of the infamous Collinswood Manor, home to the most voracious bloodsucker in the history of daytime, Barnabas Collins.
While the iconic role will belong to the late, great Jonathan Frid in perpetuity, Burton’s longtime sidekick Johnny Depp more than does the character justice by smoothly blending Captain Jack flamboyance with well-modulated camp. Both he and Burton are devotees of the landmark series – which became appointment TV for baby boomers from 1966 to 1971 – and it’s evident in nearly every frame of what proves to be a good-natured, “Addams Family”-like sendup of a soap that went beyond the usual treachery and bed-hopping by adding ghosts, witches and vampires to the melodramatic mix.
While purists will no doubt quibble with Burton’s tinkering with the original’s tried-and-true formula (think new Coke vs. old Coke), realists will recognize his need to revamp the camp for modern moviegoers who’d be hard-pressed to sink their fangs into a black-and-white relic that was famously made on the cheap nearly a half-century ago. Burton not only opens Barnabas’ casket to release 200 years of pent-up evil, he also opens up the fish-happy, coastal village of Collinsport, Maine, to make it feel more like a real community, albeit one populated with more than its fair share of supernatural beings.
About the only thing that remains the same are the names of the central characters, most of whom reside inside the deteriorating environs of the once-picturesque Collinswood Manor, flimsily ruled over by family matriarch, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer). In her charge are her recalcitrant 15-year-old daughter Carolyn (“Hugo’s” Chloe Moretz), Elizabeth’s ne’er-do-well brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), and Roger’s ghost-spying 10-year-old son, David (Gully McGrath), who, lucky him, has his own live-in shrink, Julia Hoffman, a self-medicating, fiery-haired lush played with subtle menace by Burton’s main squeeze, Helena Bonham Carter. Also on the premises are a pot-smoking caretaker, nicely played by the underutilized Jackie Earle Haley; and David’s newly hired nanny, Victoria Winters (big-eyed beauty Bella Heathcote), who bears a striking resemblance to Barnabas’ ill-fated lover, Josette (also Heathcote), who perished two centuries earlier at the hands of a betrayed witch (Eva Green).
It’s into this madhouse Barnabas walks after his casket is accidentally unearthed in 1972 by “a yellow dragon with large metal teeth.” What ensues is a variation on the fish-out-of-water trek taken by a number of small-screen adaptations from “Starsky and Hutch” to “The Brady Bunch.” But Burton and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith make Barnabas’ indoctrination to hippies, Alice Cooper and McDonald's – whose illuminated arches he humorously mistakes as the work of Mephistopheles – a clever journey though Watergate-era pop culture. There’s also romance, of course, between Barnabas and Victoria, and a delectable villainous in the form of the family’s fish-industry rival, Angelique (Green again), who will stop at nothing to win the affections of the town’s resident vampire.
The camp is on a level with “Willy Wonka,” only this time it’s largely funny, including an acrobatic, gravity-defying sex scene between Depp and Green sure to spring a belly laugh. Sex? In a Tim Burton picture? Yes, it’s true, and it’s not the only instance in which we get a rise out of Barnabas. But as much as we watch him service Collinsport’s horniest females, his heart clearly belongs to Victoria, who largely resists his overtures. Frustrated, he turns to Carolyn (the great-great-great grandniece he initial mistakes for a hooker), who informs Barnabas that Vicky is “a Carpenters girl.” To which Barnabas hilariously replies, “You mean she has a penchant for woodworkers?”
OK, the jokes are silly, if not downright juvenile, but darned if most of them aren’t amusing, even laugh-out-loud funny. What’s not so satisfying is the film’s conventional, FX-laden finale, which is straight out of “The Witches of Eastwick” and “Death Becomes Her.” It’s a massive letdown that seriously detracts from the goodwill the film generates in its initial 90 minutes. Still, there’s more than enough here for us older folks – and some younger ones, too – to have us exclaiming fangs for the memories.
(PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking.) Cast includes Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Chloe Moretz, Helena Bonham Carter and Eva Green. Directed by Tim Burton. 3 stars out of 4.