Dark Shadows was a rubbishy US daytime soap opera of the 1960s and 70s. In more than 500 black and white episodes, it told of the vampire Barnabas Collins and the deep troubles he had with witches and ghouls as he presided over his gothic estate. It's perfect fodder for Depp and Burton who were fans of the show. They've fashioned a most agreeable retread of it that's campy, over-the-top and funny. And Depp is terrific in the leading role.
A prologue introduces Collins in 1790 as he spurns the advances of evil witch Angelique (Green) who then places a curse on him after the death of his beloved. He is turned into a vampire and then laid in a coffin underground for almost 200 years. Cut to 1972 when the main narrative takes place. He is reawakened and re-enters life at Collinsport, the harbour town that his family foundered centuries before.
All is not right at the family mansion of descendants, presided over by stern matriarch Elizabeth (Pfeiffer). Her teenage daughter (Moretz) is rebellious while her unreliable brother (Miller) is hardly a good role model for his young son (McGrath). Also staying with them is oddball alcoholic doctor Hoffman (Bonham Carter). As well as coming to terms with his new brood Collins falls in love with the new governess to the children, the beautiful Victoria (Heathcote). Meanwhile his arch nemesis Angelique is still on the scene, now transformed into blonde vixen Angel Baby, and still intent on destroying his life, his family and his business - unless he succumbs to her fiery ardor of course.
Cue bloodshed, slayings and devastation but all dressed up in cheeky operatic style. There's not a subtle performance from anyone in this movie. All play to the hilt and all deliver with aplomb. Depp is splendid as the out-of-his-time vampire, his eccentric old worldly mannerisms and speech amusingly anachronistic in the more laid back era of the early '70s. His co-stars are equally expressive and achieve the same tone, not least Green who's everything one could wish for in a villain - she's scheming, melodramatic and sexy. Pfeiffer is perhaps shortchanged with an under-developed character but the performers seize their roles with relish and an impish sense of humour, going full throttle while never taking things too seriously.
But like much Hollywood studio product, Dark Shadows is a little too bloated for its own good. The script is wayward at times and though it looks glorious, with top notch production design and CGI effects, a little pruning would've been welcome. A 90 minute running time would suffice here to be honest. But I don't wish to sound too churlish. It's still very enjoyable, but tighter editing would've made it an excellent time-filler rather than a merely good one. Worth a look though.
TOBY WEIDMANN WRITES: So how does Dark Shadows, the film, compare to Dan Curtis’ original television series? Well, in truth, it doesn’t, at all. OK, it shares the same names, character traits and some of the plot lines from the 1960s-70s soap opera, but tonally Burton’s big screen adaptation is as opposite to the series as chalk and cheese.
His re-imagining of the series takes all the best elements from the show and adds a welcome dose of humour. But with the film played predominantly for laughs, you’d be forgiven for thinking the TV series was the same, a mix of slapstick comedy and dark humour that would be more akin to The Addams Family than EastEnders. But in fact the opposite is true. The original Dark Shadows is first and foremost a soap – a relentlessly drawn out, very straight melodrama about one family’s struggle to overcome the troubles thrown in its path. It just so happens that its Queen Vic is a haunted mansion and Phil Mitchell is a vampire. The only humour present is a result of seeing it through modern eyes; the nature of low budget, high turnover live television-making means sets wobble, lines are fluffed and plotlines and character arcs become increasingly preposterous.
It’s easy to see why Burton, Depp et al would be enamoured with the original series – it truly was groundbreaking in its day and bears all the addictive traits of a good soap, with the added appeal of Gothic horror tropes. But those looking for something similar to Burton’s film would do best to steer well clear.