Tim Burton and Johnny Depp reconvene for their eighth collaboration with Dark Shadows, an adaptation of a largely unheard of 60’s TV series.
It’s another slice of gothic weirdness in the vein of Sleepy Hollow and Corpse Bride but laced with a sardonic humour lacking from these previous works. Johnny Depp stars as Barnabas Collins, a cursed vampire buried alive for nearly two centuries only to rise again in 1972 and return to his old family estate. Once there, he finds a gathering of distant relations including Michelle Pfeiffer as Elizabeth Collins, the new head of the household, Elizabeth’s teenage daughter played by Chloe Moretz and Burton beau Helena Bonham Carter as a booze-ridden psychiatrist. There is also a recently appointed nanny named Victoria Winters who could be harbouring secrets darker than the rest! After acquainting himself with the family, Barnabas states his plans to invest in the now ailing Collins’ fishing business in attempt to return it to its former glory but dark forces and a vampish competitor (Eva Green as the sexy but conniving Angelique Bouchard) stand against him.
The original Dark Shadows TV show was a black and white oddity that ran from 1966 to 1971. It was never supposed to be funny but bore similarities in tone to The Addams Family and The Munsters. It is now mostly remembered for its camp, melodramatic characters and outlandish storylines and was also notable for being shot only once and “live to tape” in front of a studio audience. This meant that every mishap, fluffed line and on-set wobble was broadcast and became quaint attributes of the series. What’s interesting about Burton’s adaptation is that he has tried to incorporate the original series’ unintentionally hilarious elements generated from its flawed execution and weave them into the fabric of his film.
Melodramatic mannerisms and gesticulations are blurted vivaciously and with frenetic comic effect by the main actors. Depp in particular, is in his element as an eccentric yet reserved old English vampire acclimatising to 70’s culture and delivering one of the best performances of his career with moments that include screaming “reveal yourself tiny temptress” at a woman dancing on television and referring to Alice Cooper as “the ugliest woman I have ever seen”. But as with most Tim Burton films, it’s all about the style and Dark Shadows is a hugely entertaining, neon-soaked love letter to the 70’s, boasting a soundtrack loaded with the likes of Alice Cooper and T Rex. It also directly references Hammer horror in its gothic set and costume design and ominous supporting characters. Jackie Earle Haley as the family butler reeks of Renfield (Dracula’s assistant) and there are a couple of other nice surprises!
Dark Shadows features many of Burton’s trademarks including a quirky score by Danny Elfman and the crazed concept from a previous incarnation given its own twisted makeover. It’s easy to say it would be refreshing to see what Burton could do out of his comfort zone of gothic weirdness and away from Depp, but the fact is they are still bringing out the best in each other!
Dark Shadows is released in UK cinemas today.
Text: Daniel Goodwin