Just when you thought there couldn’t possibly be any more room for another vampire film, Johnny Depp and Tim Burton’s cluttered but provocatively pastiche “Dark Shadows” remake rises from the grave of long-dead television shows.
Like many of Burton’s films, the unabashedly soapy “Dark Shadows” is a collage of wonderful ideas that feel forcefully wedged together like pieces from different puzzles. The binding glue here is the gleefully melodramatic performance by Johnny Depp as the vampire Barnabas Collins.
There is so much on the surface of “Dark Shadows” that is spectacular. Tim Burton’s indelible visual style and quirkiness is a welcome change among the seemingly homogenous blockbusters of late. “Dark Shadows” feels like a throwback for Burton with a handful of visual references to his early work like “Batman,” “Beetlejuice,” “Edward Scissorhands” and “Mars Attacks!”
The mise en scene of “Dark Shadows” is beautiful, from Colleen Atwood’s impressive mash-up of 19th century European and retro 1970s garb to the intricate art direction and production design, with nods old Hammer Studio’s horror films. So much love went in to the look of the film that the story and characters become lost in the details.
The film follows Barnabas Collins as he spurns his lusting servant and witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), who then enacts a laundry list of nasty on the Collins family: killing Barnabas’ girlfriend, turning him into a blood sucker and trapping him six feet under for two hundred years.
Thankfully “Dark Shadows” doesn’t gloat on sodden vampire lore for long, but instead goes straight for the soap opera melodrama of the Collins dynasty. Burton plants his tongue firmly in cheek, magnifying the soapy elements from the Dan Curtis TV show. However, Burton isn’t consistent with the campiness of the film, making the mistake of switching from comedy to horror, throwing the balance off-kilter.
After an impressive gothic prologue, rife with Danny Elfman’s lush and swelling score, the film meanders about as an exaggerated daytime soap. A vampire fighting a witch over control of a fishing business in 1970s Maine is quirky enough to satisfy but disappointingly, the screenplay is so disjointed that there’s never a focus long enough on any given plot line to make a cohesive story.
At first we latch on to the young mysterious Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) as if she is our protagonist but is quickly tossed aside and forgotten about as soon as Barnabas arrives in 1972 Collinswood to reclaim his position as the head of the Collins estate and restore his fishing conglomerate. Michelle Pfeiffer and Helena Bonham Carter are wonderfully retro but under-utilized as Barnabas’ descendant Elizabeth and the drunken psychologist. Dr. Julia Hoffman.
Apart from Depp, the stunning Eva Green steals the show as Collins’ vengeful nemesis Angie.
The rest of the cast is wasted on characters, who may look and sound great, but do absolutely nothing for the remainder of the film.
While “Dark Shadows” has many wonderful elements, it is set up to become a new franchise for Warner Bros, but it just doesn’t quite have that eternal bite.