Goth soap opera
Tim Burton is in his element in remake of old daytime vampire TV series
Tim Burton has always been a problematic filmmaker for me. While I’ve enjoyed some of his offerings—Ed Wood, Mars Attacks! and Beetlejuice—I haven’t otherwise succumbed to his Hot Topic spell. Personally, I found Edward Scissorhands (among others) to be overbearingly twee. And over the past decade his Skittles palette has overwhelmed the Goth, which really isn’t to my taste.
But when he plays to his strengths, he can really deliver. And with his reboot of the cult late-'60s, early-'70s vampire soap opera Dark Shadows, he swings the bat and really connects.
With a prologue that seductively nails the Ann Radcliffe atmosphere of gothic romance, Burton and lead Johnny Depp establish the backstory of one Barnabas Collins, scion of an 18th century New England fishing magnate who uses his position to sample the galley maids as he bides his time until he can hook up with someone worthy of his affluence. And when he finds that soul mate in one big-eyed Josette (Bella Heathcote, a perfectly gothic name), he shatters the dreams of manor scut Angelique (Eva Green), who just happens to be a witch. A real one. And so, after a bit of toil and trouble over a cauldron, we end up with Josette dead and Barnabas undead, chained up in a coffin and buried away for eternity.
Well … the eternity of a couple centuries as a bunch of workman backhoe up his prison and unleash his bad vampire self into 1972. And Barnabas is very, very thirsty.
After tapping the workmen, he flops like a fish-out-of-water through hippy-era Collinsport, Maine, on his way back home and finds his descendants essentially squatting in the decayed grandeur of Collinswood castle: matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), spoiled cad Uncle Roger (Jonny Lee Miller) and young siblings Carolyn (Chlo‘ Grace Moretz) and David (Gulliver McGrath). There’s also a creepy caretaker (Jackie Earle Haley) to play the Renfield-like Willie and the tippling house headshrinker Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) filling in for Van Helsing.
Of course, they all have their secrets. The years have not been good for the Collins family, as Angelique has applied her witchy skills to wresting control of Collinsport from Barnabas’ descendants. The thing is, Angelique isn’t all that disturbed about the return of Barnabas. There’s just the complication of a love triangle with the Collins family’s governess, Victoria Winters (Heathcote again).
Yeah, it’s pretty much an arch soap opera, but the material really plays to Burton’s strengths. The humor isn’t as broad as the trailer for the movie threatened, and while a lot of the gags are obvious (playing on Barnabas’ encounters with 20th century mores and technology), they still feel organic to the material. It also helps that the ensemble cast appears to be thoroughly enjoying their vamping, especially Green, who gets her Veronica Lake on in a perfectly villainous—and yet ultimately sympathetic—turn as the absurdly sexy witch.