Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp: The Rum Diary) has two curses in his life: He’s irresistible to women, and he’s a vampire. One might seem more serious than the other, but his callous treatment of chambermaid/witch Angelique (Eva Green: Camelot) is the cause of his undead undoing.
This cautionary dating tale starts in 1772, when young fishing magnate Barnabas sows his wild oats with Angelique before settling down with his one true love, Josette (Bella Heathcote: In Time). Spurned, Angelique kills Barnabas’ parents, leads Josette to suicide and curses Barnabas with vampirism.
Soon the townspeople are after him with pitchforks and torches. They stone him, then burn him at the stake, but nothing can keep Barnabas down. Finally the villagers bury their monster problem, entombing him in a coffin wrapped with chains.
Two hundred years later, a construction crew digs up the coffin and makes the staggeringly unwise decision to cut the chains to see what’s inside. A little tip from this reviewer: If you ever find a chained coffin, leave it be. The chains are most likely not decorative.
After a dinner of construction workers, Barnabas returns to his Collinsworth estate to resume his life. His beloved mansion and family have turned into a Grey Gardens mess.
Matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer: New Year’s Eve) swans about the dilapidated mansion in fancy outfits, clinging to the last strands of Collins aristocracy and ignoring her snippy teen Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz). Brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller: Dexter) is a shiftless snob who lives at the bottom of a whiskey tumbler and neglects his withdrawn son David (Gulliver McGrath), who spends his day speaking with his mother’s ghost. A booze-addled psychiatrist and a nubile governess who is a dead ringer for Josette complete this pathetic crew.
Posing as a distant English cousin, Barnabas reenters the family to revive the Collins business and community standing. The only problem in his way is the Angel Bay fishing company, run by a miraculously young-looking Angelique. Can Barnabas save the family business and adjust to the swinging 1970s? Will Angelique ever get over him? Will anyone in the family notice that their befanged, sun-avoiding cousin is a vampire?
A tribute to the original soap opera, Dark Shadows is a vampire movie that knows how ridiculous its plot is. Because it doesn’t take itself seriously, the film is awash with excellent campy performances. Depp steals the show as pale gothic fish-out-of-water Barnabas. His delivery is such a charming combination of camp and parody that it makes the audience root for him, even though, as I mentioned, he eats people.
The women of Dark Shadows do what they can with one-note roles. Green makes the thankless role of obsessed harpy fun. Angelique is so delightfully evil that you wish she’d just leave the Collinses alone and start up a revenge company. Pfeiffer is a striking matriarch and the only person in the film who has equal footing with Barnabas. She intuits his secret and shares his fervor for restoring the family name.
Still, this light-macabre comedy has some big problems. The resolution is a mess, leaving major plot points dangling. Director Tim Burton (Alice in Wonderland) does a good job of setting the mood with his gothic sets, but the movie is little more than an elongated Saturday Night Live sketch parodying the original.
Though Dark Shadows doesn’t have the teeth of the original, it’s a fun romp thru a world where monsters live among us. Plus, it’s a good cautionary tale for boys: Treat your date with respect, or you might get turned into a damned creature of the night.