For anyone who’s not familiar with the longstanding collaboration between Johnny Depp and Tim Burton, let’s just say that these guys are two peas in a pod. This, their eighth film together, is an adaptation of the 1960s vampire-centric TV soap opera Dark Shadows. But it’s certainly not your parents’ (or grandparents’) Dark Shadows.
Nor is it, as trailers suggest, a rollicking Addams Family-like comedy. It’s creepy and violent and gory and, yeah, OK, funny. It’s also campy. But nothing less should be expected from the shared quirkiness of Burton and Depp, both of whom are fans of the old show.
The story opens in 1760 Liverpool, where the well-to-do Collins family sails for new opportunities in the New World, settling in the self-named Collinsport, Maine, and building the huge Collinwood Manor. Things go well for a couple of decades, till the fetching beauty Angelique (Eva Green) sets her eyes on the handsome Barnabas Collins (Depp), who is more interested in another: Josette (Bella Heathcote).
You know that business about the fury of a woman scorned? Barnabas’ parents are slain, Josette commits suicide, and Barnabas is turned into a vampire, then buried “alive.” Have I forgotten to mention that Angelique is a vindictive, unforgiving witch?
All of this furiously paced storytelling happens before the credits, after which the story jumps ahead to 1972, when distant Collins relatives have seen their fortune flounder and the manor has fallen into disrepair. It’s also when an unfortunate construction crew discovers and opens the casket of the very thirsty – make that bloodthirsty – Barnabas.
What follows is a tale of jealousy, treachery, revenge, selfishness — and Barnabas’ hopes for a return to the glory days of the family. A family, mind you, that’s gone the absurdly dysfunctional route.
Every actor in the film gets to over-emote, to just the right degree, with stretching-it-beyond-the-limits kudos going to ashen-faced, gothically clothed, frightfully formal fish-out-of-water Depp, and seductively scene-stealing Green. The film is draped in muted colors, except for the outrageous red of Green’s lips and the indescribable orange of a psychiatrist’s (Helena Bonham Carter) hair, and a fantastic ’70s pop and rock soundtrack. It also features one of the all-out weirdest lovemaking scenes in movie history.
The final act is everything a Burton fan could hope for, taking in the whole range of his sometimes ghastly, usually fanciful visions, and eventually becoming totally unhinged.