I was familiar with the original Dark Shadows TV when they used to show it on the Sci Fi Channels in the 90s. It was long with complicated story-lines. I was not confident that a faithful film would be successful or that with Tim Burton in the director’s chair there would be much sign of the source material. I’m not really sure who this film is for since I don’t think the liberties taken with characters will please fans of the original TV series and there are much better collaborations between Burton and Depp than this to please their fans.
The wealthy Collins family left for America in 1760 to set up a fish processing factory in a bay they named Collinsport and with the wealth from that business they built a very large house that they called Collinwood. Their son and heir Barnabas grew into Johnny Depp who has a relationship with a servant called Angelique (Eva Green). When Angelique wants more than just sex he rejects her. Unfortunately for Barnabas, Angelique is a powerful witch and she kills his parents.
Barnabas knows that his parents were killed by magic somehow and he studies magic to try to find out how. Later Barnabas falls in love with Josette DePres (Bella Heathcote) and Angelique casts a spell to drive Josette to the edge of a cliff and throw herself to her death in front of Barnabas. A grief-stricken Barnabas throws himself off the cliff too but Angelique casts another spell and turns him into an immortal vampire so he can suffer forever. She then turns the town against him so they capture him in a metal coffin bound with chains and bury him
That’s enough back-story now, the film forwards to 1972 and a young woman who decides to call herself Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote) travels on a train to Collinsport. She gets a lift from the station in a VW van from a gang of dope-smoking hippies to the gate of Collinwood. The place has certainly seen betters day and now looks a bit dilapidated and where there would usually be a garden there’s a pumpkin patch. She knocks on the door and it’s opened by the grounds-keeper Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) who is also the butler and cook. Victoria introduces herself and says she’s here for the job of tutor to one of the Collins children. Elizabeth Collins (Michelle Pfeiffer) comes down to greet her and asks her a few questions about 70s current affairs and seems pleased to find Victoria’s view to be archaic and that she is disinterested in the modern world. Elizabeth tells Victoria about the other people staying there, Elizabeth’s daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), her brother Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), his son David (Gulliver McGrath) that Victoria is to tutor, a senile old cook who never says anything and a psychiatrist Dr Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter).
Victoria meets everyone at dinner later where Elizabeth introduces her to Roger and Caroline who is dancing to psychedelic music and calling her young cousin a loony. Dr Hoffman staggers down to the dining room drunk. While they are sitting down to dinner David appears covered in a sheet. He gets ridiculed by Caroline and told off by Elizabeth for cutting holes in sheets. He wanted to scare Victoria and she plays along and says she was terrified. While they talk over dinner Caroline gets sent to her room for been cheeky and unpleasant. Victoria learns that they all think David is a bit strange because David talks to his dead mother. Victoria starts backing him up and talks about her thoughts on ghosts and other dimensions but Elizabeth shuts her down.
Later that night Victoria sees the ghost of Josette who tells her “He” is coming. At a construction site in town a digger finds something in the soil and at first they think it’s a gas main but when they dig around it they find it’s metal coffin bound in chains. They open the up the coffin and a very hungry Barnabas comes out and kills all the workers, apologising for this to last man he kills Barnabas heads towards town and we get a sample of what we’re in for when he sees an electric McDonalds sign and thinks it is powered by witchcraft. In town he sees the very strange sight of the 70s filtered through the mind of Tim Burton and even though Collinsport is a fairly quiet small coastal town you’d think it was a trendy swinging town in California.
Barnabas goes to Collinwood and is it not happy with the state of the place. He meets Willie in the pumpkin patch and Barnabas waves his pointy vampire hand around and hypnotises Willie and gets him to tell him what year it is and about the Collins family. He has Willie take him to get cleaned up then Barnabas goes into the house and in the large hall he introduces himself as relative from abroad to David and Caroline. Caroline mocks his archaic speech and mannerisms but David likes him because he’s creepy. Elizabeth enters and of course she recognises him from his portrait above the fire place but she doesn’t believe in the old stories and wants to know who he really is and what he’s up to. To prove that he’s who he say he is he activates a secret door down to a basement and shows her a secret stash of art and treasure. Elizabeth swears him to secrecy and agrees to let him to stay.
At breakfast next morning Elizabeth introduces Barnabas to Roger and then to Dr Hoffman went she makes her appearance. Barnabas says he going to invest in the family fish processing business. Over the years their business has been lost to rival called Angel Bay. Victoria comes down to breakfast and right away Barnabas notices her similarity to his love Josette.
Angel Bay is owned by Angelique and when she hears about the murders of the construction workers wants to know where because she realises it means that Barnabas is back at Collinwood. Angelique heads straight out there and Barnabas is surprised to see her still alive but she’s been around all this time, taking out her anger at being rejected by Barnabas on the whole Collins family. She still wants him but Barnabas is still angry about Josette being killed and then being locked in a coffin for about 200 years
This film has Burton’s style all over it and it is much more a Burton film than it is an adaptation of the Dark Shadows TV series. The films doesn’t settle very easily in any genre since as a comedy it’s not funny, as a horror there are no scares and the dramatic elements are campy and over-played. The characters are very thin with no depth at all. Barnabas Collins in particular is a mere caricature of the character played by Jonathan Fridd in the original TV series which may have been cheap and creaky but at least it had a sense of unease about it. This film is not totally horrible but it isn’t very interesting either
- Rotten Tomatoes
- “DARK SHADOWS” (2012) Review (rosiepowell2000.typepad.com)
- REVIEW: Dark Shadows (comicmix.com)