If you were born after the baby boomer generation then you may not be familiar with the legacy of Dark Shadows. In 1966 Dan Curtis’ gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows, premiered on ABC. It was a show that revolved around the Collins family estate and the supernatural happenings that take place in Collins’ home. The soap opera received mixed reviews initially until its second season introduced the vampire Barnabas Collins which thrust the show into a new found popularity. Word on the street is, at its height Dark Shadows was an impressive, well-loved show, so much so that upon cancellation fans threatened to protest the decision by crashing the set of the show that replaced it, Passwords. With its heavy focus on the supernatural, Dark Shadows paved the way for more paranormal oriented television shows like ABC’s soap opera Passions and Joss Whedon’s cult classic, Buffy the Vampire Slayer.
Dark Shadows made such an impact that as a youth Johnny Depp claimed to have been obsessed with Barnabas Collins to the point of wanting to be him. That’s why it makes sense that he would jump at the opportunity to do his own portrayal of the cryptic vampire in Tim Burton’s retelling of the classic series—because it certainly couldn’t have been because the script was something impressive. But then again, considering Depp’s film choices over the decades shows he is prone to choosing his fair share of rotten eggs.
Have you seen The Astronaut’s Wife? Don’t. It’s bad.
Dark Shadows begins with the back story of Barnaby, a once youthful attractive man courting the love of his life. However, when a jealous witch who has fallen in love with him disapproves of the relationship, she places a curse upon the Collins family and condemns Barnaby to be buried alive as a vampire. Two centuries go by and he is accidentally dug up and recovered in 1972, returning to his beloved estate to care for the dysfunctional distant relatives now residing in his home and struggling to keep themselves and the family business afloat.
Tim Burton always has been and always will be a visionary mastermind and Dark Shadows is just drenched in Tim Burton-ness. Images within the film are bright and vibrant despite being contrasted against dark and drab backdrops. Set in the 1800s with low lighting and a black and gray color scheme, Burton still somehow creates a luminous world in which even the faces of characters glow thanks to digitized post effects.
Although I didn’t experience the 1970s first hand, it seems to be captured authentically throughout the film. It’s not flashy and campy as most films would portray a specific decade, but instead it’s almost downplayed after the first half of the film and at times there’s even an authentic grain as if some scenes were shot on film instead of digitally. Also the world of Collinsport, in which Barnaby and the Collins reside, seems fairy tale-like with its enormous landscapes. Of course, because it’s Tim Burton, the town the Collins estate is found in sits near an enormous cliff padded with large boulders and gushing water, making this story of vampires, witches, and ghosts that much more believable because of the world they exist in is.
How do you make the 1800s, the 1970s, and cloudy rainy days look vibrant? Only Tim Burton knows.
The story feels like it’s going around in circles between Barnaby and Angelique constantly fighting and her attempting to seduce him repeatedly. Also, one would think a film about a vampire condemned to burial and awoken in the 1970s would be a romping comedy with hilarious hijinks, and it kind of is. However, Dark Shadow quickly becomes a one trick pony. Nearly every single joke relies on the generational gap of Barnaby and his surroundings with very few of the jokes straying from that formula. Nearly everything is set up to remind you that Barnaby is new to this world and while it makes for humorous moments it gets older than flogging a dead horse to make it pull a load (idiom fans will appreciate that).
The development of character relationships throughout Dark Shadows is rather weak and almost paper thin. Dark Shadows starts off introducing Victoria Winters, a women looking to start a new life as a teacher for the strange and youngest member of the Collins family, David. Yet after the introduction of Barnaby, Victoria is forgotten about and only briefly seen with Barnaby until the film’s climax, therefore never giving audiences the chance to get a true sense of their relationship and the connection they feel for each other. Instead Dark Shadows puts too much focus on the past and present relationship of Barnaby and Angelique. Had the focus on relationships been inverted, I would have cared about the fate of Barnaby and Victoria’s relationship instead of my focus at the film’s climax being when the credits would start.
Oh yeah, this story started off about you… sorry what’s your name and story again?
The same weakness in relationship development can be said for the development of secondary characters as well. The film features an ensemble of family members, but most of them are wasted as just standard pawns only present to move the plot along and in different directions. Throughout the entire film I felt like I didn’t know the true intentions or understand any of the characters outside of Barnaby and Angelique. Michelle Pfeiffer’s character, Elizabeth Collins, is given an air of mystery and mistrust at the film’s beginning, but that all inexplicably goes out the window as she turns out to be a much less sinister figure than we are led to believe. On the other hand, Chloe Mortez as Elizabeth’s daughter, Carolyn, doesn’t develop to be much other than an annoying Lolita whose cues never go beyond being the angst ridden vixen teenager. When she’s not delivering every line with a scowl, she appears to be trying to seduce everyone in her path.
If it weren’t for the somewhat original story and Johnny Depp, who is just phenomenal as a character actor, Dark Shadows would have been a complete waste of time. When Depp’s not on screen everything is just melodramatic time filler that never truly amounts to anything memorable. Dark Shadows isn’t terrible but it’s far from impressive. It reminds me that as much as I would like to believe that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp are a dream team, the only thing noteworthy they are doing together these days is telling stylistically different stories. Nothing more, nothing less. Dark Shadows is entertaining, but the same enjoyment can be had from watching a high budget film on the Syfy Channel.
Bonus Drinking Game
Take a Drink: every time Barnaby says “indeed”
Take a Drink: every time he does a double take
Take a Drink: for every classic song that you hear and recognize.
Take a Drink: every time Chloe Mortez’s character scowls and/or pouts.
Take a Drink: every time a woman seduces Barnaby.
Take a Drink: every time you wonder what Angelique isn’t capable of.