DARK SHADOWS. Starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter and Eva Green. Directed by Tim Burton. Rated M (Fantasy themes and violence). 113mins.
Some audiences will find this comedy/parody a hoot, Tim Burton style. On the one hand, it has no uplifting moral values to explore. On the other, it is an entertaining and often clever spoof. (The danger is that some audiences will either take it too seriously or not seriously enough, expecting Johnny Depp to be Jack Sparrowish again.)
For audiences who remember the 1987 Beattlejuice, one of Tim Burton’s earliest films, the Collins family, living in a dilapidated 18th century Maine mansion, won’t seem too surprising in their eccentricities. Burton has filmed a lot of fantasies since then. This time, he is clearly intending to enjoy himself and provide another opportunity to work with Johnny Depp (their eighth collaboration in twenty two years). He has been intrigued by the 1970s’ television series (1225 30-minute episodes from 1966-1971), created by Dan Curtis, Dark Shadows, and decided to give it a big screen treatment, big cast, big design, big effects. But, it is still Gothic horror soap opera.
The film opens in 1760 on a dingy Liverpool dock with the Collins family setting out to settle in Maine. Barnabas, the little boy, is given a baleful eye by the servant, Angelique, and her mother. The Collins family prosper in Maine with a fishing company, a town, Collinsport, and a huge baroque mansion. But, the adult Barnabas rejects Angelique again, is smitten by Josette who, under one of Angelique’s spells, throws herself from a cliff into the raging sea. What is Barnabas to do but to follow her – but that is not enough for Angelique who curses the Collins family, transforms Barnabas into a vampire, then binds him, puts him in a coffin, bolted and buried. And, that’s just the beginning!
When builders on a site strike the coffin, Barnabas is freed (vampirising the workmen since he is so thirsty!). Finding the ancestral home, he settles in only to find the curse has reduced the family to penury and that Angelique, who has had a prosperous 200 years, is behind everything. It is 1972.
Johnny Depp is at his best as Barnabas Collins. He is pasty-faced, black-rimmed eyes, 18th century vesture, prim British accent and a flow of ornate 18th century prose. Depp is completely and consistently serious, perfect in timing, which makes his performance all the more effectively amusing. And getting used to cars (dragons) big M signs (Mephistopheles?), coping with television and Carpenter’s songs, reading Love Story… a deal of amusing details. The plot? Well, Angelique goes to work again to destroy the Collins family success and to win back Barnabas (in what must be one of the funniest, edited sex scene collages in films).
The cast is interesting. Michelle Pfeiffer is now the matriarch with a rebellious and sullen teenager, Chloe Grace Moretz (Hugo, Let Me in). There is the weird cousin Willie (Jackie Earle Haley), the callow brother-in-law (Jonny Lee Miller), the orphaned child, David (Gulliver McGrath) and the resident psychiatrist, Julia Hoffman (Burton giving his wife Helena Bonham Carter yet another mad character to play). Angelique is played by Eva Green. And Christopher Lee gets a welcome scene.
It all ends somewhat apocalyptically, in the American vein.
If Gothic horror soap-opera does not appeal, forget it. But, if witty, sometimes absurd, spoofs do appeal, you may very well like it.
Fr Peter Malone MSC is an associate of the Australian Catholic Office for Film & Broadcasting.
Out May 10 2012.