Review: Dark Shadows -3/5 stars


by Apoorva Rangan

Dark Shadows is as good as a bloody, comedic vampirical romance can get, barely saved from the abyss of tastelessness by the hands of director Tim Burton.

Cursed by his spurned lover Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), Barnabus Collins (Johnny Depp), the owner of a successful fishing business, is forced to spend 200 years buried under the earth as a vampire in the self-named town of Collinsport, Maine.

Barnabus awakens in 1972 to a “satanic” McDonald’s sign, leading into one of the movie’s truly funny moments, a hysterical scene of sensory overload with Barnabus stumbling around Collinsport, bewildered by the downtown’s loud neon lights. He makes his way to the old Collins manor, where four Collinses still live.

Predictably, “Angie” resurfaces as the owner of Angel Bay, the Collins cannery’s primary competitor. Shocked by the state of the manor, Barnabus swears to revive the family cannery and reclaim business from Angie’s clutches.

Barnabas’s former partner Josette du Pres (Bella Heathcote) is also conveniently reincarnated as Victoria Winters (Heathcote) to meet and fall in love with the modern-day Barnabus, while simultaneously acting as a governess for David Collins, the youngest member of the family. David, who claims to see the ghost of his mother, also receives the reluctant care of Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham-Carter), a perpetually drunk psychiatrist who truly thinks that David is insane.

Unfortunately, this plot thread and several others are lost in the multitude of twists and turns. The film does not address David’s condition until the final scenes of the play, and the romantic storyline between Victoria and Barnabus is put aside for the vast majority of the film.

It seems as though the screenplay writers were trying to appease the Depp fans in the audience by showing as many aspects of his acting chops as possible. Barnabus murders a gang of hippies, falls prey to Angelique’s desperate advances, receives a blood transfusion from Dr. Hoffman, explores the creepy Collins manor with Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), and, after about 20 minutes, reads love stories to Victoria.

Other humorous characters are woefully ignored in the plethora of Angelique and Barnabus scenes. The rebellious daughter of the Collins family, Carolyn, steals the spotlight in the few scenes she is in, while the witch and the vampire appear in alternating scenes of threats, seduction, and awkward sexual puns.
The actors do the best they can with the plot, convincingly portraying their respective character’s quirks. Accompanied by a wonderful combination of upbeat glam rock, 70s hits, and eerie sounds perfect for a horror movie, Depp’s performance reflects his love for the original Dark Shadows, a soap opera that ran for over a thousand episodes in the 1960s and 1970s. The audience can sense that Depp is comfortable working with Burton, as they have collaborated on a multitude of occasions, but their partnership verges on overuse. Yet the Depp-Burton collaboration probably drew many more audience members than the plot alone did.

Anyone trying to combine a 18th century gentleman’s love for honor, business, women, and blood with a sassy 1972 teenage girl is walking a thin tightrope, and Depp and Burton together barely heave Dark Shadows into the spotlight.