In the 18th Century, young Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) was taken from his home in Liverpool across the Atlantic to the coast of Maine in the United States where his family set up a fishing business which made them very rich indeed. Growing up in the home his father had built for them, a huge stately pile which contained at least two hundred rooms, Barnabas was expected to take care of the business but other events came into play when someone fell in love with him. She was Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) and she was a witch, so when he finally spurned her advances there was hell to pay...
Which brought us in quite a leap to 1972 where Barnabas returned to seek peace of mind rather than revenge. How was that possible? Angelique had transformed the object of her desire into a vampire and chained him up in a deep-buried coffin from which he is only awakened when construction workers disturb it nearly two hundred years later. This was one of the plot strands of Dark Shadows the television soap opera of the late nineteen-sixties, a cheap and gloomy show which was broadcast in the afternoon and became the obsession of more than a few American children, such as the young director-to-be Tim Burton, making for a cult which the uninitiated found baffling.
It was such an impoverished production that creator and producer Dan Curtis, the man to go to for US TV horror in the seventies, was forced to leave in most of the flubbed lines and missed cues, and shoot on the most basic of sets, meaning if you watch it now without the pull of nostalgia you may well find it hard going. Yet with its tales of vampires, reincarnation, supernatural allsorts and whatnot, it sparked off many an imagination who saw in it what it aspired to be rather than what it was, and it made cult TV stars of its cast, in particular Jonathan Frid who was the original Barnabas (how nice that four of the most celebrated faces of the series were offered cameos here, especially as Frid died shortly after). Depp applied his accustomed style to the role, but acknowledged his debt to his predecessor.
In fact, although the trailer promised fish out of water nostalgic fun and games, the experience of watching the film was as if the sombre nature of its plot and origins were affecting proceedings more than the advertising campaign, which made it look like an Addams Family knock off, indicated. Certainly there were a few goofy laughs here, mostly at the expense of Barnabas unable to adapt to the new times he found himself in, but in the main Burton took a slow, deliberately paced, well nigh funereal approach to his plot, which had been drawn from threads of the ongoing narratives of the source. This left a film rather unsteady in its ambitions, keen to pay tribute to what Burton and the fans would recall of Curtis' efforts, but having to camp it up in various scenes to pander to the audiences of 2012.
A more serious tone might have given rise to more interesting work, for the jokes were a little lazy - Barnabas hiring Alice Cooper for his ball and declaring him the ugliest woman he'd ever seen, for example - and while some hit the mark, the concerns with themes of love and family would appear to be more where the heart of the piece lay. Barnabas yearns to be reunited with Josette (Bella Heathcote) who Angelique forced over a cliff, so when he sees Victoria, the new governess, is an apparent reincarnation of his lost love he wonders if immortality might not be such a bad thing. However, also immortal Angelique is still obsessed, and in an amusingly downmarket turn she and the Collinses vie for the fishing rights of their seaside town. Green was well cast, her toothy grin at times resembling a rictus if caught at the wrong (or right) angle, Michelle Pfeiffer added faded gravitas as the matriarch, Helena Bonham Carter a neatly duplicitous shrink, and Chloë Grace Moretz exuded adolescent disdain as the daughter, but dutifully ending in a big fight was perfunctory, when melancholy was more advisable. Music by Danny Elfman, battling a bunch of oldies.
American director, producer and writer, frequently of Gothic flavoured fantasy who has acquired a cult following in spite of the huge mainstream success of many of his projects. He began as an animator at Disney, who allowed him to work on his own projects while animating the likes of The Fox and the Hound, which garnered the attention of Paul Reubens to direct Pee Wee's Big Adventure.