Dark Shadows is everything you would expect from a Tim Burton film; it has a twisted and sinister plot, the weather always seems to be dull and rainy, and of course it stars Johnny Depp wearing a lot of eye-liner. Despite Burton’s predictable criteria, Dark Shadows is still entertaining and witty.
Burton has made a camp and over-dramatised – yet visually stunning – homage to the cult 1960s supernatural TV drama of the same name. The jokey, jazzed-up Gothic-comedy incorporates some incredible visual effects with dazzling Broadway-like costumes. However, it does seem like it’s all show and no tell, which might explain the over-the-top use of indulgent sets and costumes to compensate for the shallow characters and predictable story line.
Johnny Depp, naturally, plays Barnabas Collins, a wealthy 18th-century businessman who mistakenly breaks the heart of the wrong girl. Upsetting a woman is dangerous enough, but when she’s a jealous and love-sick witch you know you’re in trouble. Clingy and possessive, Angelique (Eva Green) falls in love with Barnabas who doesn’t love her back, so in a jealous rage she curses his girlfriend to jump off a cliff and turns Barnabas into a vampire so she can torture him forever. And to top it all off, she buries him alive – well undead technically – in a coffin. Two hundred years later it’s 1972 and Barnabas’ coffin is discovered and opened. After feasting on workmen and gazing upon a McDonalds sign believing it’s some kind of glorious angel, he discovers that his beautiful manor house is now being inhabited by his dysfunctional relatives.
After emerging from the grave, he potters about like a Gothic Austin powers, not understanding the point of Cadillacs and ceramic pineapples – which is probably what most of us think now. In all, he’s not that different to Powers – both have strange taste in clothes, bad teeth and have terrible pick-up lines, but there’s only a certain amount of times before ‘fine birthing hips’ isn’t funny any more.
It couldn’t be more obvious we were in the Seventies since Burton relies heavily on juke-box classics for period atmosphere. But if you weren’t sure, Burton slings in a rock and roll performance by Alice Cooper. And with his white face, scraggy hair and black eye liner, he fits in perfectly with the Collins family.
The music obsessed, typical grumpy teen Carolyn is played by Chloë Grace Moretz. Compared to her lively and ass-kicking character in Kick-Ass, Morez puts on a sullen face to play this lazy, strop-bag. Her brother David (Gulliver McGrath), who can see his dead mother’s ghost, is considered ‘loopy’ and has a live-in psychiatrist, as played by Helena Bonham Carter who thinks wearing a tight ginger wig makes her character funny. Their mother Elizabeth, a fading belle, is played by the ever glamorous Michelle Pfeiffer. Rosy-cheeked Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) soon arrives at the house as the new nanny, and has an uncanny resemblance to Barnabus’ cliff-jumping girlfriend – something which is never explained.
The witty script – penned by Seth Grahame-Smith – is cleverly constructed to suit all ages. While adults laugh when Roger spills the beans on his sister who he’s spotted “touching herself and making kitten noises”, the youngsters can probably relate to the mindless sibling banter.
Dark Shadows is Burton and Depp’s eighth collaboration and out of them all it is certainly the most visually appealing. You could see the set, costumes and premise all working for a stage production, which might explain why it didn’t quite work on screen. Despite being all-show and no tell, it was entertaining, witty and enjoyable, but nothing in comparison to Edward Scissorhands or Sweeney Todd. Burton’s next film is Frakenweenie, a stop-motion black-and-white feature about Frankenstein’s dog. Depp is not in it.