At the Movies: Dark Shadows

While it has that unique Tim Burton style and Johnny Depp gives yet another strange and compelling performance, in the end “Dark Shadows” just doesn’t have enough bite.

I have vague memories of watching the gothic soap opera this film was based on but I was pretty young in the late ’60s and all I remember about the show was that it had a vampire named Barnabas Collins. So I have no idea if this new version by director Tim Burton is true to the source material.

Depp stars as Barnabas Collins, son of a wealthy fishing magnate in Collinsport, Maine, in the 1750s. Barnabas has a fling with Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), but dumps her for his true love — Josette (Bella Heathcote).

Unfortunately, Angelique is a witch, and a witch who holds a grudge at that. She curses Barnabas and turns him into a vampire (and you thought only a bat bite could do that). The townspeople then bury him alive, where he lies for roughly 200 years.

Barnabas escapes his prison in 1972 and walks back to the family mansion, only to find it in ruins. The current residents of Collinwood Manor are matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer); her no-good brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller); Elizabeth’s rebellious daughter Carolyn (Chloë Moretz); Roger’s young son David (Gulliver McGrath), who sees dead people — specifically his mother; Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), a live-in psychiatrist who’s treating David; and the mansion’s caretaker, Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley).

Oh, and I forgot to mention Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), David’s new governess. She arrived at Collinwood shortly before Barnabas. Victoria also bears a striking resemblance to Barney’s old flame Josette.

Barnabas decides to restore the family business and the family’s status in the community. Fortunately he has a fortune in treasure hidden in the manor to make this possible. But when Angelique (who is still alive but doesn’t look a day over 2o, let alone 200) discovers that Barnabas has returned she becomes determined once again to either win his love or destroy him.

If you’ve enjoyed the quirky works of Tim Burton up to now, well, “Dark Shadows” offers a lot that will seem familiar. It has lush production values, costumes, sets and visuals. There is a collection of offbeat characters. It features frequent Burton collaborators Depp, Bonham Carter and musician Danny Elfman. Depp gives another memorable, entertaining performance.

But it just feels off. There’s not much of a story here. Most of the characters are introduced but never developed and what seem to be subplots never go anywhere. As a horror film there’s no sense of terror or foreboding. As a comedy the humor is very hit and miss. Hard to say if it’s more hit than miss.

I did enjoy the hits-of-the-’70s musical score more than Elfman’s original score, mainly because Elfman scores are starting to sound the same.

“Dark Shadows” is a better movie than the trailers make it look like, but it’s one of the lesser Depp/Burton collaborations.


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