Written by: Seth Grahame-Smith and John August based on the television series by Dan Curtis.
Starring: Johnny Depp (Barnabas Collins), Michelle Pfeiffer (Elizabeth Collins Stoddard), Helena Bonham Carter (Dr. Julia Hoffman), Eva Green (Angelique Bouchard), Jackie Earle Haley (Willie Loomis), Jonny Lee Miller (Roger Collins), Bella Heathcote (Victoria Winters / Josette DuPres), Chloë Grace Moretz (Carolyn Stoddard), Gulliver McGrath (David Collins), Ray Shirley (Mrs. Johnson), Christopher Lee (Clarney), Alice Cooper (Alice Cooper).
Dark Shadows is a prototypical Tim Burton film – which is both good and bad. It has everything you have come to expect from Burton – the dark, meticulously designed art direction, costumes and ,cinematography, his quirky, outsider of a hero played by Johnny Depp, sexy, big eyed, slender statuesque, pale women, and his mixture of comedy and the macabre. But like many of his films, Burton is more concerned with the design and look of his film, than the story itself. For much of its running time, Dark Shadows is an amusing fish out of water comedy, with a very slight story. The result is that the last half hour or so of Dark Shadows is an absolute mess – as Burton tries to wrap up all the loose story threads he barely focused on for the first three quarters of the movie. It is an unsatisfying way to end an otherwise enjoyable little Burton film.
Baranbas Collins (Depp) was the son of wealthy parents in the 1700s in America. The Collins make their money in the fishing business – but Baranbas makes a crucial mistake by having an affair with a servant named Angelique (Eva Green) – and then jilting her for another woman he intends to marry. What Baranbas doesn’t know is that Angelique is a witch – and when she cannot have him, she intends to not let anyone else have him either – killing his fiancé and turning him into a vampire, before burying him deep in a coffin to let him suffer. Two centuries later, in 1972, workmen uncover the coffin, and Baranbas escapes – determined to rejoin the once proud Collins family, no fallen on hard times, and remake their business. What he doesn’t know is that Angelique is still around, and is now a captain of industry in their small town.
Burton and Depp have a great deal of fun with Baranbas waking up after 200 years in the ground, and not being familiar with all that has gone in the preceding years – from thinking the McDonalds sign is representative of the Satan, to his confusion about the TV and the lack of horses that have been replaced by cars, and confusing his free spirited teenage ancestor Carolyn (Chloe Grace Mortez) for a prostitute. Depp, who enjoys going over the top in his performances for Burton, is clearly having a blast playing Baranbas – and that seeps into the other performances as well – Michelle Pfeiffer as the slightly sinister Collins matriarch, Helena Bonham Carter as a drunken psychologist, Mortez as the teenage girl with a secret and of course Green as the witch. Everyone is having a blast in the movie, which is usually a good sign that the audience will have fun as well.
The film looks great – of course it does, since it is a Burton film. He loves large, sinister houses and in Collinswood, the dilapidated family mansion, he has created one of the better ones of his career. He also has a blast recreating the style of the 1700s in the early scenes, and throughout with Barnabas’ clothing, but also the look of the 1970s – as he pumps through a lot of period music throughout, which sets the tone well.
The problem with Dark Shadows is that Burton and his writers (Seth Grahme-Smith and John August) have so much fun setting up comedic set pieces, and fish out of water moments, that the story itself is paper thin. The film has so many little subplots that are barely developed, and then when it comes to the climax of the movie, they have to wrap them all up. The fight sequences that end the film, as well as the monster movie like villagers, doesn’t really fit in. What fans of the soap opera that is the basis of this film will make of the film I have no idea – I have never seen an episode. But Burton really does go melodramatic in his tone for the film, but then pushes it into comedic territory. I think that was the right choice. While I do think that the last half hour of Dark Shadows is an absolute mess, I enjoyed so much of what came before, I cannot dislike the movie as a whole. At this point in Burton’s career, we know what to expect of him – and Burton delivers exactly what you would expect in this film. So you probably already know whether this film is for you or not.