Dark Shadows, starring Johnny Depp and a cast of several under the direction of the very capable Tim Burton is the 8th collaboration between Depp and Burton. It is certainly not the worst, but it’s much closer to that level than it is to their best (you can choose your own best, for me, it is easily Ed Wood).
The TV soap opera ran for only five seasons, but because it ran five days per week, there are more episodes of “Dark Shadows” than any other sci-fi and/or fantasy genre English language television.
Burton’s film opens with the story of how Barnabas, then a young child, came to the U.S. from his birthplace of Liverpool and how he grew up as his father founded and built a successful fishing business in the Maine town of Collinsport. We also watch the construction of the family home, Collinwood Manor.
His parents are killed in what appears to be a tragic accident and now an adult, Barnabas takes the reins of the family. But he spurns the love of Angelique (Green) in favor of his chosen, Josette (Heathcote). It turns out that Angelique is a witch and she curses Barnabas, turning him into a vampire and then imprisoning him in a coffin which was to be buried forever. That fate befell him only after he watched as a bewitched Josette leapt to her death from a cliff. He threw himself after her, but death was not in the cards for the newly converted vampire.
Fast forward almost 200 years when the coffin containing the cursed Barnabas is accidentally unearthed.
He discovers that his beloved family home is in severe disrepair and still populated by his ancestors. Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Pfeiffer) is running the family which includes her brother Roger (Miller) and his son David, along with her daughter Carolyn (Moretz). There is also a live-in psychiatrist (every wealthy, deranged family needs one after all) in the person of Dr. Julia Hoffman (Carter). Taking care of the family in olden days meant a staff in excess of one hundred, but nowadays all they can afford is the drunken Willie Loomis (Haley).
Barnabas sets about to restore the family home and business to their former glory, funding these plans with a treasure trove that his family had secreted in a hidden chamber in the house. But his efforts quickly get the attention of Angelique, who through her witchcraft is still young, beautiful and angry.
She is now the leader of the fishing business that supplanted the Collins’ family operation as the leading institution in town, and not only is she not going to let her business be relegated to second fiddle, she wants her man or else no one is going to have him. That includes the latest addition at Collinwood Manor, the young governess Victoria Winters. She bears a striking resemblance to Barnabas’ lost love Josette, probably because both roles are played by Bella Heathcote.
Depp delivers, as he always does when directed by Burton (or just about anyone else), but aside from his performance there isn’t a lot other than Burton’s artistry behind the lens. The opening is very strong, but then the action plods and never lives up to the initial promise of the opening sequences.
Green is lovely to look at and has good chemistry with Depp, but there’s something ultimately lacking in her delivery of emotion in key moments. There’s an interesting subplot involving Dr. Hoffman’s alleged effort to “cure” Barnabas, but it gets short shrift in the focus on the attempts of “Angelique” to get her man.
In the end, perhaps Dark Shadows should have been left in the gloom of its name as a TV classic.