A film starring Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter, scored by Danny Elfman and featuring vampires, witches and ghosts, Dark Shadows is Tim Burton at his most comfortable. Based on an early 70’s soap opera of the same name, the film is essentially a revisitation of Burton and Depp’s childhood and shows them create something both nostalgic and unique.
It begins, as most Burton films do, with a prologue; a fantastically gothic montage detailing the mortal life of Barnabas Collins (Depp), his transformation into a vampire and the subsequent curse laid upon his entire family by a witch (Eva Green). Then in 1972, two centuries later, Barnabas is freed from his imprisonment and returns to his mansion, Collinwood, to find a family even more dysfunctional than the one he left.
While Dark Shadows is Burton and Depp’s eighth collaboration together, they have still managed to create a film that feels very different to any of their previous work. Yes the dark humour still remains, as does the isolated, misunderstood protagonist that instantly conjures up images of Edward Scissorhands, Willy Wonka and Sweeney Todd, but there’s something else that stands out. Perhaps it’s the fact that (as surprising as it sounds) the two have never made a vampire movie before, or possibly because the cast does such a good job at portraying the strangest group of people since the Addams family; Chloe Grace Moretz is brilliant as the angst-ridden teenager, as is Helena Bonham Carter’s role of the alcoholic psychiatrist, Dr Hoffman, and Depp, the main attraction, never lets his standards fall.
Scripted by Seth Grahame-Smith (author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies), the film certainly boasts the feel of a soap opera, with various affairs and family scandals being discovered at every turn, but diehard fans of the original television show are bound to be disappointed. This is the world of Tim Burton: a place packed with gothic imagery and tortured characters, a world in which absurdity prevails – Dark Shadows is more a re-imagining than a remake. It’s not completely different from its predecessor however – the characters are the same, the plot is vaguely similar and Jonathan Frid (the original Barnabas Collins, who sadly passed away last month) even has a small cameo – but when Alice Cooper makes an appearance on stage at the Collinwood house party singing ‘No More Mr. Nice Guy’, you know you’re dealing with a Tim Burton project.
Okay, it might not be Burton’s finest moment; it may lack the gravity of Ed Wood and the simplicity of Edward Scissorhands, but Dark Shadows is a fast-moving, character-driven piece of entertainment and certainly an interesting addition to the already varied portrayal of the vampire legend.