I’ve accidently done two Johnny Depp films nearly in a row and looking at my DVD collection there are several more Depp horror films I have yet to do…
There is no mistaking Dark Shadows as anything but a Tim Burton (Edward Scissorhands, Corpse Bride) film both visually and with the dark humour tinged with sadness, not to mention two of Burton’s go-to actors, Johnny Depp (From Hell, Sleepy Hollow) in the lead role as Barnabas Collins, an 18th century nobleman turned into a vampire and Helena Bonham Carter (Alice In Wonderland, The King’s Speech) as an orange haired Dr Hoffman.
Dark Shadows is set in 1972 in Collinsport, a small fishing town in Maine that was built by the Collins family two centuries earlier. Since building the town however, the Collins family has fallen on very hard times, primarily left with a crumbling mansion. It is to this sorry state that Barnabas Collins re-emerges after having been trapped buried in a coffin for two hundred years. Barnabas’s tale is rather a clichéd one; he falls in love with a woman, Josette Du Pres (Bella Heathcote, In Time) spurning his previous lover, Angelique Brouchard (Eva Green, Casino Royale). Unfortunately for Barnabas, Brouchard is a witch and curses the whole of the Collins family as punishment, killing both Du Pres and Barnabas’ parents and turning Banabas into a vampire.
The (alive) members of the Collins family are a strange bunch, reminding me slightly of The Munsters. There is the reclusive matriarch played convincingly by Michelle Pfeiffer (Scarface, What Lies Beneath), the rebellious teenager, the selfish womaniser, the strange boy who talks to his deceased mother’s ghost and a handful of odd staff including newcomer Victoria Winters who happens to be the splitting image of Du Pres.
The vampire aesthetic is clearly influenced by Nosferatu with the long spindly fingers, slightly pointed larger ears and above all the white makeup with very dark rings around the eyes. All of which makes it harder to question how people don’t figure out something is different with their long lost relative. There is a lot of the usual vampire mythos featured in the film, however it is a bit inconsistent, one minute Barnabas burns when he goes in the sun, the next sunglasses and an umbrella are enough to shield him, then the next he catches fire in the sun but doesn’t realise it. As with all Burton’s films it is very clean with nothing out of place which lends Dark Shadows a storybook air which whilst visually appealing is hard to relate to. One of my favourite features of Dark Shadows is Barnabas’ reaction to life in the seventies with puzzlement rather than fear. I don’t know how I would react if I awoke in 2200!
I am not a huge fan of Tim Burton, I think he relies too much on style over substance and unfortunately Dark Shadows falls into that category. The storyline is pretty simple, however the dramatic finale throws in some curveballs that I feel complicate the plot rather than adding to it. I think the best way to describe Dark Shadows is as a solid film – I don’t think it is Depp’s best acting but neither is it his worst and it was not an unpleasant way to fill a few hours. One to watch if it is on TV or rent but not to buy unless you are a huge Tim Burton fan.
Fun Fact: Dark Shadows is loosely based on a 1970s soap opera of the same name (I’m assuming that is why it is set in the seventies) and all the original cast have cameos in the film.