The Johnny Depp Archive

Dark Shadows (2012)

Starring: Johnny Depp, Eva Green, Michelle Pfeiffer, Bella Heathcote, Jackie Earle Haley, Chloë Grace Moretz, Jonny Lee Miller, Christopher Lee, Alice Cooper, Gulliver McGrath

Directed by: Tim Burton

Rating: 1 2 3

Johnny Depp in Tim Burton's Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows should be my new favourite film in the world, ever. My favourite director, favourite actor and favourite singer, all together in the same movie. And yet, despite these perfectly delicious ingredients, the result is somewhat half-baked.

Barnabas Collin (Johnny Depp) is an 18th century English emigrant whose family have made their fortunes in the New World. But when he spurns the love of his servant, Angelique (a magnificently scenery-chewing Eva Green) she kills the love of his life, Josette (Bella Heathcote) and curses him to become a vampire, before imprisoning him in a coffin and burying him undead.

Fast forward 200 years or so and we're into 1972. While the immortal Angelique has flourished, the fortunes of the Collins family have floundered, the dysfunctional remanants of the line rattling around their vast gothic mansion like the Everglots in Corpse Bride. So when workmen accidentally dig Barnabas up, he makes it his goal to restore the family to its former glory. There's only one problem: Angelique.

Helena Boham Carter as Dr Julia Hoffman in Dark Shadows

So far so fun. Except somehow, nothing quite fits together. The delightfully quirky characters of the modern Collins household are introduced with gleeful relish, from pouty teenage daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz) to creepy-little-boy-with-the-Shine David (Gulliver McGrath), glamorous matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) and her louche brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), eccentric odd job man Willie (Jackie Earle Hayley) and alcoholic psychiatrist Dr Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter). Yet once Barnabas has risen from the grave to dominate proceedings, they barely get a look in.

As usual, Johnny creates a wonderful character in the stiff, pedantic, ruthless figure of the revanant vampire, adrift in a brash modern world he doesn't understand, but it's hard to feel genuine sympathy for someone so pompous and cold, and his romance with governess Victoria (also Bella Heathcote, of course) is uncomfortably unconvincing. Plus he really needs a better writer: there are many lines that raise a smile (and if you've seen the trailer, you've already heard 'em), but nothing that's really laugh out loud funny in what is, after all, a potentially hilarious Austin Powers/Back to the Future style situation.

Alice Cooper in Dark Shadows

Of course, fish-out-of-water comedy relies on us recognising the environment in which the fish finds himself floundering, and while many of us may dimly recall the 1970s, Tim Burton's version of the period, despite strategically placed references to macrame, lava lamps, vinyl and Alice Cooper, bears little resemblance to the brown, washed out '70s of memory and lots of resemblance to well, Sleepy Hollow. As for Alice, although obviously it's marvellous to see him up on the big screen, why is he wearing his 1985 stage outfit, singing a song released in 1973? But then again, he hardly remembers the '70s at all...

Watch out, however, for the 'Dwight Frye' moment, which for me was by far the best bit of the whole film, beautifully and chillingly fusing Burton's patented overwrought gothic grand guignol with heartstopping pathos, set to one of Alice's finest songs. Why couldn't the rest of the movie live up to this?

Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins in Dark Shadows

I've never seen the original Dark Shadows show so have no idea how closely Burton's movie follows its story. Either way, it's a shame that such a valiant, stellar cast, ingenious set designers and top notch special effects team should be let down by a flaccid script and self-indulgent, meandering plot that, while springing from a great premise, never really goes anywhere. The ingredients may be perfect (did I forget to mention that Christopher Lee's crashing around in here too?) but the result, while tasty, is ultimately unsatisfying.

  • Share on Tumblr