Review: Dark Shadows (2012)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham-Carter, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller, Chloe Grace Moretz and Bella Heathcote

Directed by Tim Burton

In cinemas now

In which construction workers inadvertently unleash imprisoned vampire Barnabas Collins (Depp) onto an unsuspecting Collinsport, Maine in 1972, where Angelique (Green), the witch who cursed and entombed him, still wreaks revenge on his family’s dysfunctional remnants…

When Tim Burton and Johnny Depp’s involvement in this film was announced, longtime Dark Shadows fans held out hope that these two self-professed fans would do justice to the original show’s memory. This hope was sorely tested when leaked photos showed Depp in Nosferatu-like makeup, and more so when the trailer made this seem like an out-and-out comedy.

Happily, Burton’s Dark Shadows is not the update of Love At First Bite that the trailer suggested. It certainly has its fair share of comedic moments – mainly Barnabas’ baffled attempts to adjust to life in 1972 – but by and large it’s suitably dramatic, and at times rather horrific. And it goes without saying that like any Tim Burton production, it positively drips atmosphere, from Collinwood’s dilapidated Gothic-meets-maritime grandeur to ramshackle “downtown” Collinsport, to Colleen Atwood’s impressive costumes, which range from sumptuous to garish.

One thing that’s oddly missing, though, is Dark Shadows’ distinctive aural soundscape; Robert Cobert’s evocative music was always a highlight of the original TV show, but here it’s barely referenced. Even longtime Burton collaborator Danny Elfman’s musical efforts largely disappear, subsumed by a soundtrack of familiar early 1970s hits by groups like the Moody Blues and the Carpenters. Even rocker Alice Cooper joins in the proceedings as the musical guest of honour at a party to celebrate the Collins’ reversal of fortunes!

As expected, Johnny Depp does a commendable job as Barnabas, conveying both the courtly gentleman and the ruthless monster; the late Jonathan Frid couldn’t have asked for a more suitable successor. Michelle Pfeiffer radiates steely resolve as current mistress of the mansion Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, while Eva Green clearly relishes every bit of Angelique’s villainy.

Unfortunately, Dark Shadows stumbles in its plot and pacing. Distilling the essence of a long-running soap opera into a feature film is no easy task, particularly when 1970’s House of Dark Shadows already did it so memorably. All the familiar characters and settings are here, but in ways that don’t always work. For example, by making Elizabeth into Barnabas’ confidante, there’s precious little for Dr. Julia Hoffman to do, although Helena Bonham-Carter gives the now-thankless part her utmost. In fact, many of the supporting characters – such as Jonny Lee Miller’s dissolute Roger Collins – are surprisingly underdeveloped and/or have little screen time. Bella Heathcote’s Victoria Winters, however, has an interesting twist to her, which longtime fans will no doubt appreciate.

Eventually, the plot settles into the familiar “Barnabas vs. Angelique” groove, which culminates in a fiery, “Death Becomes Her meets the 1999 remake of The Haunting” climax within Collinwood, heavy on CGI but short on logic and sense.

Verdict: Despite its uneven tone and meandering plot, the visuals and mannered acting make Dark Shadows a bloody good homage to the spirit of the original show. 7/10

John S. Hall

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