The story of a lovesick vampire who awakens in 1972 to find a much different world than the one he left behind seems like perfect fodder for the duo. With Burton’s kitschy-Halloweeny style and Depp’s expertise at playing troubled outsiders, the question remains, Will this have more of the heart of “Ed Wood” (we’d like that!) and less the forced quirk of “Alice in Wonderland” or the other way around?
Depp is Barnabas Collins, (played on the original show by Canadian actor Jonathan Frid who passed away last month at the age of 87), an eighteenth century man cursed by the succubus Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green) after he broke her heart. Turned into a vampire and buried alive for two centuries, he is exhumed in 1972 and returns to his family home, Collins Manor. Things have changed. His once grand home is in disrepair, the family fishing business is in tatters and he thinks the lava lamp is a “pulsating blood urn.”
His descendants, matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her daughter Carolyn (Chloë Moretz), Elizabeth’s brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), and his son David (Gulliver McGrath), make a deal with him. In exchange for business help they’ll make him head of the house once again. Trouble is, the rival fishing company is run by the still jealous Angelique who still has feelings for Barnabas.
“Dark Shadows” unfolds at a funereal pace. A peppy prologue sets up the story, but once the main credits roll and Burton is saddled with the task of introducing the movies many characters and giving them all something to do, the pace crawls to a stop.
The movie has a couple of good ghostly apparitions, is wonderfully designed, the sets are beautiful, the look is muted—the vivid colors of “Edward Scissorhands” and “Pee Wee’s Big Adventure” are gone, replaced by a monochrome palate—and the cast is certainly fetching, but while al that may entertain the eye the general lack of energy does little to entertain the rest of the senses.
Depp does what he can to keep things moving. With a ghostly pallor that recalls Edward Scissorhands’s white complexion he is a vampire-out-of-water living among humans in a time he doesn’t understand. His first tentative steps in “the future” are well played and understated. His culture shock at seeing a car or a MacDonald’s sign is fun, and while Depp is skillful, it’s a one-joke premise that wears out its welcome.
More fun is Eva Green’s turn as Angelique. She’s strange and sexy, which is exactly the right tone for this movie. Her love scene with Barnabas—Burton’s first ever!—has the energy sadly missing from the rest of the film.
“Dark Shadows” could have been a fun companion piece to “True Blood” and “Buffy the Vampire Slayer,” Too bad the storytelling is as musty as the dilapidated old Collins Manor.