Dark shadows is a remake/reimagining of the daytime soap (of the same name) that originally aired weekdays on the ABC television network, from June 27, 1966, to April 2, 1971.
The show was a “so bad it’s good” and ran (and ran) siring a huge cult following, a cult that included Tim Burton and Johnny Depp among its numbers. What was very interesting about the TV show is that it originally was just a simple Gothic soap opera with no supernatural elements until six months into its run. This random turn for the paranormal made the show wildly popular, especially the character of vampire Barnabas Collins (originally played by Jonathan Frid) who appeared after the show had been on the air a full 12 months.
It is this character that Depp so loved and it is his storyline that provides the modern day film’s jumping off point.
Dark Shadows (2012) begins back in the 18th century when the mortal Barnabas breaks the heart of a witchy servant girl named Angelique (Eva Green, proving there is life after Bond). Hell really does hath no fury like a witchy servant girl scorned as Angelique tosses Barnabas’ true love Josette (Bella Heathcote) off a cliff and turns Barnabas into a vampire, cursing him to eternal life then promptly buries him alive hoping that in time he will learn to love her again.
Fast forward two centuries (“don’t exaggerate, it was only a hundred and ninety-six “quips Green, with an…utter lack…of comic…timing). Barnabas is unearthed in 1972 to world of hippies, lava lamps, sexual equality (“A woman doctor… what an age this is”), unmarried teenagers (“Fifteen, and no husband? You must put those child-bearing hips to good use!”) and Alice Cooper (“Ugliest woman I’ve ever seen”).
You get the idea, Dark Shadows is not a Gothic horror, it’s a fish out of water comedy where the 18th-century gentleman must deal with everything the 1970s can throw at him. Not only does Barnabas have to readjust to 20th-century living he must deal with Angelique who refuses to die and persists in trying to seduce him, much to his displeasure,
Barnabas also tries to restore the family business to its former glory. Sadly it’s a waste of a good (remember the Adams Family) set-up as Dark Shadows is flatly paced and shamefully underwritten.
The love story/business narrative is functionary at best and this film seems to be made for the benefit of Tim Burton first, Johnny Depp second and everybody else is left in the shadow of their enthusiastic private joke.
Going for broad comedy, the film only really works when Depp deadpans and if anything it makes the first Austin Powers film look like comedy gold. “Are you stoned?” Barnabas is asked at one point, “They tried stoning me, my dear. It did not work,” for example.
Much as I am a fan of burton-depp films, there really is no substitute for an old fashioned good story and snappy script.