Starring: Johnny Depp, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloe Moretz, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer
Rating: PG-13, for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking
Runtime: 1 hour, 53 minutes
Bottom line: Hugely disappointing
The summer movie season has just begun, and we have our first disappointment.
Whether it be because you’re a fan of the original television series (there might be a few of you) or because you’re a Tim Burton fan (probably even fewer of you) or because it’s another chance for Johnny Depp to create a memorable character, there seem to be many people looking forward to “Dark Shadows.”
Alas, you are about to fall victim to the curse of fangless remakes.
“Dark Shadows” was a rare television anomaly that, according to all prevailing logic, had no business succeeding, let alone enduring as long as it has. It was a gothic soap opera built around the once proud and wealthy Collins family. By the time we met them, their fortunes had declined and they were cursed with every monster known to the horror genre up until 1966, when the show began.
The show could be genuinely creepy but also, either intentionally or not, wonderfully campy.
Director Tim Burton, lover of all things macabre, was a fan and now offers his film tribute. But while Burton and screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith retained the basic scenario, they forgot what made the show interesting.
Barnabas Collins (Depp) once scorned a beautiful witch named Angelique (Eva Green), who exacted revenge by leading Barnabas’ true love, Josette (Bella Heathcote), over a cliff to her death, turning Barnabas into a vampire and burying him in a coffin.
Barnabas remains in his grave for 200 years, until a construction crew accidentally unearths him in 1972. Thirsty, Barnabas goes on a killing spree before returning to the family estate.
He reunites with his few surviving Collins descendants. Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) is now matriarch, her brother, Roger (Johnny Lee Miller), idles about worthlessly, Elizabeth’s teenage daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), rebels by listening to records, and Roger’s young son, David (Gulliver McGrath), mourns the loss of his mother.
Ostensibly there to treat David, psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) lives with the family in perpetual inebriation.
The family hires a governess who goes by the false name Victoria Winters and bears remarkable resemblance to Josette (Heathcote also plays this character).
Barnabas resolves to restore the family’s stature but must compete against Angelique, who has sustained her youth somehow and whose company dominates the fishing industry that once made the Collins family rich.
Each character also has additional back stories. The filmmakers crammed in copious bits and pieces of the TV series until the movie is disjointed and plays like an extended trailer or a series of abbreviated episodes rather than a cohesive movie.
Numerous things go unexplained and even more go undeveloped.
For instance, Barnabas falls in love with Victoria, yet the movie spends very little time developing that relationship. The opening credit sequence introduces Victoria as an important character, then she disappears for most of the rest of the movie, until the climax.
The filmmakers capture little of the show’s creepy edge. Every time something violent or intense happens, they cut away and it happens offscreen. There is no horror to this film whatsoever.
Nor is the movie very funny. They try to milk laughs from Barnabas encountering modern technology. He thinks the television is bewitched, he is baffled by pavement, he thinks electric lights are satanic, etc.
There are also predictable nostalgic ’70s references, like macrame and hippies in a Volkswagen van.
Worse, many of the good jokes are revealed in the trailer.
The real measure of mediocrity is that “Dark Shadows” is completely unaffecting in spite of this amazing cast. Depp embodies Barnabas completely and Green oozes sex appeal, both working feverishly to add some charm to the film.
Even a brilliant use of Alice Cooper performing “The Ballad of Dwight Fry” only goes so far.
“Dark Shadows” should have remained in the cultural time capsule, there for us to haunt on home video when the spirit moves us.
Jeff Marker teaches film and literature at Gainesville State College. His reviews appear weekly in Get Out and on gainesvilletimes.com/getout.