Whenever there’s a Tim Burton project, there’s a good chance that Johnny Depp is involved as well. Their latest collaboration is the film adaptation of the classic vampire soap opera Dark Shadows. With Depp playing Barnabas Collins, a wealthy socialite turned vampire by a jilted witch, and Burton at the helm directing, can the Hollywood duo manage to strike up another hit?
Trapped inside a coffin for almost 200 years, Barnabas Collins is an 18th century vampire “living” in the 1970’s. He returns to Collinwood Manor to find out that his descendents are not the same powerful and respected Collins’ he remembers, and the very same witch who cursed him is now running the town. It’s up to Barnabas to return glory to his family name and break the curse that has been plaguing him for so long.
Part dark comedy, part Gothic horror, Dark Shadows tiptoes the line between being funny and downright disturbing. One minute Barnabas is talking love and smoking pot with a bunch of hippies, and the next minute he’s draining the very same hippies of all their blood. Depp brings the undead vampire to life with his esoteric mannerisms and gestures. This isn’t your average sparkly vampire of today’s movies, but rather a throwback to the classics such as Dracula and Nosferatu. It’s a bit awkward at first, seeing a pale and out-of-place Barnabas in a more current setting, but Burton does a fairly decent job at incorporating the two worlds together. Burton’s attention to detail also contributes to the authenticity with things like Deliverance playing at the local theater and classic Shell gas station signage, complete with VW vans at the pumps.
While Barnabas is quite the notable character, the same can’t be said for the rest of his family. The Collins family is essentially a knockoff of the Addams Family or the Munsters. Each member is quirky in their own right but their characters are never fully fleshed out enough. There’s David (Gulliver McGrath), the young son who claims to see the ghost of his dead mother. His sister, Carolyn (Chloë Moretz), is your typical teenage rock-loving daughter. Keeping everything together is the woman of the household, Elizabeth Collins (Michelle Pfeiffer). She’s assisted by the continually drunk and Barnabas obsessed Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). Early on in the film we get a glimpse into each of these characters but it isn’t until the very end when everything comes together. Throughout the course of film you’ll wonder where everything is going.
That’s the unfortunate aspect of Dark Shadows; it never fully conceptualizes. There are bits and pieces that are entertaining but the overall film struggles, leaving you wanting more (and not in a good way). Tim Burton plus Johnny Depp is usually the perfect formula for success but it unfortunately isn’t enough for Dark Shadows.
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