Every school pupil has a TV show they watch when they arrive home in the late afternoon. For me, it was Neighbours, but for many teenagers in late ‘60s America, it was Dark Shadows, the gothic soap-opera upon which Tim Burton’s latest jaunt is based. Despite a respectable cult following, Dark Shadows is a largely forgotten relic of TV history, so why did Tim Burton decide to resurrect it?
Well, to a certain extent, why not? Burton himself is said to have enjoyed the programme in its day, as is the film’s star, Johnny Depp, and with such a respectable track record at the box office, it’s fair to say they can do what they like – it wouldn’t surprise me if we soon heard news that Helena Bonham Carter was set to star as Sabrina in a gothic-horror detailing the life of a teenage witch.
What’s more, it does make for a relatively entertaining feature-length translation. Depp portrays Barnabus Collins, a member of the 18th Century nouveau riche, the beneficiary of his fathers booming fishing company on the shores of North America. As a young man he breaks the heart of his lover (Eva Green), who is secretly a witch and wreaks revenge by turning him into a vampire and killing his new love, leaving him locked in a coffin to endure an eternity of heartache. 200 years later he is released by a team of diggers, and proceeds to return home, via some murders, in order to restore the family’s honour.
The aesthetics are magnificent. Burton’s master-hand at gothic tableaux is given free-rein, but cinematographer Bruno Delbonnel, fresh from directing the photography of a Russian adaptation of Faust, no doubt also deserves some credit. The stirring visuals are most wonderfully expressed by the leitmotif of the cliff-edge, with raucous waves crashing beneath.
This Romantic aesthetic is intentionally overblown in order to juxtapose with the bubble-gum world of ‘70s America into which Collins is thrust. The basic joke is that he expresses himself in oddly hyperbolic terms which contrast with the trivialities of modern life, interpreting car headlights as the ‘luminants of Lucifer’, for example.
Despite the fact that this begins to feel a little repetitive at around the hour-mark, screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith plays on the tropes of vampire life nicely. Collins immediately identifies counterfeit silverware, for example, saying “Had this been silver, my hand would have burst into flame at the slightest touch”. Considering most of the family believe him to be human, this sort of thing works well in generating humour through dramatic irony.
With such a decent comic dynamic, it’s a shame the plot was not a little more ironed out. Collins’ quest to restore the family’s former glory is inelegantly mixed-up with his tangled love-life, and the potentially interesting theme of a vampire struggling with high principles is largely unexplored. What’s more there’s a distinct surplus of characters which pay lip service to the original show, but add little to the film itself.
Overall, though, it makes for an entertaining watch, and Depp is, as ever, a charismatic front-man. As a whimsical remake, it’s worth a watch, but don’t expect too much.