There is a point about halfway through the latest Tim Burton/Johnny Depp outing “Dark Shadows” where the movie morphs from being strange and interesting to being strange and tedious and just not very good.
The film is lifeless, which would be a funny thing to say about a vampire movie if it weren’t so true.
“Dark Shadows” is based upon a supernatural soap opera of the same name that ran from the late ’60s to the early ’70s. The show was before my time, but apparently, it was beloved by many (including Depp and Burton) for being corny and melodramatic and featuring notoriously low production values.
Burton tries to channel all this soapy romance and ghoulish goofiness to the big screen and fails for a multitude of reasons; the biggest being that you can’t recreate kitsch.
I too know what it is to love something that is so bad it’s good and will gladly join you right this instant for a screening of “Predator 2” or a Godzilla marathon.
But at the heart of anything that is delightfully terrible is a true sense of earnestness that comes from something made with pure intentions and not a single wink to the audience.
Burton and Depp should know this better than anyone because their wonderful biopic “Ed Wood” featured the undying self-assuredness of one of the schlockiest directors of all time. A remake of “Plan 9 From Outer Space” wouldn’t be nearly as enjoyable as the original because no one could make it with a straight face. This is the problem with “Dark Shadows,” all the giggling is done on the screen, not in the audience.
The movie’s other major flaw rests at the heart of why no one has ever tried to adopt a soap opera into a film. The enjoyment of a soap is purely character-driven and comes from watching the development of these people day-in and day-out to the point they become like family. In “Dark Shadows” the characters are so flimsy and one-dimensional that it is hard to stay interested in what they are doing from minute to minute, let alone give a rip about their various romantic entanglements. Susan Lucci wouldn’t be caught dead in this movie.
The film starts off with promise as we venture back to the coastal Maine of the late 1700s where we meet young Barnabas Collins, the heir of a powerful fishing empire. Barnabas winds up breaking the heart of local witch Angelique (Eva Green), who curses the Collins clan by turning Barnabas into a vampire and then dispatching all of his loved ones.
Angelique then summons the torch-wielding townsfolk of Collinsport to chain Barnabas inside a coffin and bury him in the woods. Fast forward to 1972 when a construction crew accidentally digs up Barnabas and releases him from his prison.
The movie gets some mileage out of Barnabas’ grandiose manner of speaking and his Rip Van Winkle-esq culture shock, but never really offers up much more for the audience to sink its teeth into.
Barnabas returns to the family mansion to see what remains of his bloodline. What he discovers is a sad state of affairs; the house is in a state of ruin and the family is hopelessly dysfunctional.
Holding down the fort are matriarch Elizabeth (a fetching Michelle Pfeiffer) and her caustic daughter, Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz), along with Elizabeth’s deadbeat brother, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), and his haunted son, David (Gulliver McGrath).
Other hangers-on include groundskeeper Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley), governess Victoria (Bella Heathcote), and the completely unnecessary family psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter).
Barnabas vows to restore the family to its former glory even though Angelique remains alive, beautiful, and determined to stop him.
By the time we get around to the completely preposterous, effects-driven finale it is difficult to summon up the energy to even care at all.
Clearly, Depp and Burton wanted “Dark Shadows” to capture all the tacky fun of the original show, but their misguided efforts have produced a movie that is so bad it’s just plain bad.
“Dark Shadows” is rated PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language, and smoking.