Dark Shadows has a coolly off-kilter concept
Starring Johnny Depp and Michelle Pfeiffer. Rated PG. Now playing
Resurrecting the late-’60s soap opera Dark Shadows offers Tim Burton the perfect mix of horror and kitsch that he so loves: a gothic vampire thrown anachronistically into 1970s America’s world of lava lamps, macramé, and electric organs.
It’s a coolly off-kilter concept, and Johnny Depp fully bites into his part as Barnabas Collins, a vampire unearthed after 200 years who returns to find his Maine manor in decay and his descendants in full dysfunction. There are big laughs watching his wonderment at everything from troll dolls to TV (“What sorcery is this?!”). It’s a deadpan performance that ranks up there with Depp’s best film freak-outs, complete with Nosferatu-style finger waving and shellacked black lid. He’s mostly matched by the bizarre household that’s taken over the grand stairways and hidden passageways of his mansion. The intentionally mannered performances include Helena Bonham Carter as a permanently hung-over in-house psychiatrist and Michelle Pfeiffer as the eye-rolling matriarch.
Burton is just as much in his element (more so than he was in Alice in Wonderland), but the plot is a silly mishmash of retro soap-opera melodrama and cutting-edge special effects. Barnabas battles to restore his family to its former status in the fishing business, but he has to take on his archrival, Angelique (classically over-the-top Burton vixen Eva Green), the witch who condemned him to a live burial two centuries ago. It all builds to a wild throw-down between the two that suddenly feels a bit like an opium-addled Death Becomes Her.
Dark Shadows is at its best when it’s not going for that kind of CGI spectacle but just odd little fish-out-of-water moments. In other words, fewer exploding chandeliers and carved staircases coming to life, please; more Barnabas passing a spliff with hippies—“those very nice, unshaven young people”.
Watch the trailer for Dark Shadows.