Movie Review: Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows is a Reimagining That Lacks Imagination

I’m tired of vampires. I haven’t even seen any of the Twilight films — neither having been professionally required to do so, nor a teenage girl — and yet I find myself suffering fatigue of the undead. I am calling for a moratorium on all new TV or film productions about blood-sucking creatures of the night.

Was the world crying out for a movie remake of a 1960s gothic soap opera featuring vampires, ghosts, witches, and werewolves? Star Johnny Depp and director Tim Burton thought so. They’re both professed fans of the creaky old cult TV show Dark Shadows, and the resulting film is just what we’ve come to expect from those frequent collaborators.

Depp riffs on a variation of essentially the same sort of oddball outsider he’s been playing regularly (usually with just some changes in costume, accent, and makeup) throughout his career. Burton employs his usual brand of Charles Addams-esque aesthetics and Danny Elfman score. They’re both good at what they do. I only wish they weren’t drawn to use their talents for a retread of a show that — beyond some ironic form of enjoyment — wasn’t that good.

Burton’s take on the story of 18th-century vampire Barnabas Collins, who awakens 200 years after being locked in a coffin by a witch, is played for laughs. Barnabas (Depp) is a fish-out-of-water, encountering unfamiliar sights like cars and electric lights when he finds himself in 1972. These amusing encounters are the movie’s best bits, as when Barnabas is convinced that the singing he hears on a television is coming from a tiny sorceress hiding within the set.

The screenplay by Seth Grahame-Smith (author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies) features a mishmash of characters from the original Dark Shadows. A prologue details how Barnabas, as a young man, spurned the love of the witch Angelique (Eva Green) in favor of the saintly Josette (Bella Heathcote). Angelique gets her revenge by cursing Barnabas to become a vampire and driving Josette to throw herself off a cliff. The frightened townspeople of Collinsport, urged on by Angelique, lock Barnabas in the coffin where he remains until an unlucky construction crew releases him in the 20th century.

Just before that happens, Victoria Winters (also played by Heathcote) arrives at Collinwood — the Collins family mansion — to become governess to the troubled young David Collins (Gulliver McGrath). The once extremely rich and powerful Collinses have fallen on hard times, and the home is in disrepair when Barnabas shows up and introduces himself to Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), her brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), and rebellious daughter Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz). Filling out the household are a couple of servants and Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter), a live-in psychiatrist brought in to treat David.

When Barnabas discovers that Angelique is still alive and has put the Collins family seafood cannery out of business with her own company, he decides to restore the family’s former glory. Meanwhile he courts Victoria (whom he immediately recognizes as a dead ringer for his beloved Josette) and tries to stave off the continued lusty advances of Angelique.

Despite the presence of ghosts and witchcraft and other supernatural elements, the movie is strangely unimaginative. The middle section — in which we spend time watching Collinwood’s vast rooms get repainted, and the Collins factory resurrected — plods along.

With only a couple of yawn-inducing “surprises” in the climactic showdown between Barnabas and Angelique, it plays more like a mediocre TV show. Which, I suppose, means they’re staying true to the source material.

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