Were people actually clamoring for a big screen adaptation of a soapy daytime horror melodrama from the fifties that only hardcore horror fans know? Did we really have to have a big screen adaptation of a Gothic soap opera? It’s no wonder director Tim Burton approaches the adaptation of “Dark Shadows” with a tongue in cheek often derisive attitude. The show is obscure among the broader audiences, and even when he fine tunes the film with goofy humor and testicle jokes, it’s still so niche that not even hardcore Burton apologists will enjoy what he has to offer. Like most recent Burton productions, “Dark Shadow” is gaudy, busy, and feels like Burton going through the motions without an inch of heart injected in to the narrative.
Burton really missed the boat and is about a decade late for a “Dark Shadows” movie. Perhaps if made back in 1993 with the sixties television adaptation boom, where “Dark Shadows” was being pushed in to a revival, Burton would have garnered some financial success. For now “Dark Shadows” is a past its prime horror comedy that wants to be a sexual vampire opus in the vein of Anne Rice, along with a dysfunctional family comedy a la “The Addams Family.” We’re forced to learn about Barnabas Collins, who awakens after being resurrected by a construction crew one night. Barnabas is a victim to his blood lust, so he dispenses of an entire group of hapless workers in a gruesome manner much too vicious for PG-13. Barnabas is supposed to be the hero of the picture, even though he slaughters helpless victims.
Johnny Depp once again takes a role where he allows the make up and prosthetics to do the acting for him, and basically just mugs for the camera, offering a British accent he could pull off in his sleep. After being damned to become a vampire by a jealous witch, Barnabas goes home to 1972 where he learns his family fortune is doomed, and his descendants are apathetic aristocrats who hate one another. He returns to the mansion and is surprised to learn his descendants don’t really care that he’s a vampire, and he makes a deal with the matriarch Elizabeth to help re-build the family’s fortunes, while helping them to regain a newfound bond. Barnabas is taken aback when he learns that the rival fish industry that brought the Collins to ruins is run by the ancient witch Angelique, whose managed to live for a few centuries and devotes her time to making the Collins’ lives miserable.
Much of Collins time then becomes satiating his blood lust, all the while trying to “fit in” to the seventies culture, growing fond of his young descendants, and looking for new ways to build their reputations back. Collins even throws a ball for the family, inviting Alice Cooper to the party to perform. How unusual that Cooper looks well in to his sixties, for such a period. “Dark Shadows” is incredibly lackluster, and is merely Burton on auto drive collecting yet another easy paycheck. When not pissing off the five hardcore “Dark Shadows” fans with depicting Collins as an oafish if lovable lug who begins to bond with his nephew, he is pushing product placement down our throats like it’s going out of style.
Early on we’re told we can know the mark of Mephistopheles by his big M sign, and Barnabas is horrified when he catches sight of a large M not realizing it’s a McDonald’s. And don’t even get me started on the fact that it’s a modern McDonald’s sign. “Dark Shadows” runs a long list of problems, wasting an all-star cast, presenting a disturbing trend for overly sexualizing star Chloe Moretz, and can never actually decide who the main character is at any point. Whom are we supposed to root for? Who among these people is the protagonist, again? “Dark Shadows” aims for Gothic family Dark comedy and horror film and fails spectacularly at being remotely watchable as either.