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Review: Dark Shadows

The film recalls bloated misfires of decades past like The Witches of Eastwick and Dracula.




Dark Shadows
Photo: Warner Bros.

Presuming that The Soupy Sales Show isn’t rife for a big-screen resurrection, it’s hard to imagine a more low-budget baby-boomer TV obsession than Dark Shadows being inflated to the size of Tim Burton’s high-priced, half-burlesque adaptation of the 1966-71 horror soap opera. So threadbare that its live-to-tape broadcasts regularly offered muffed lines and malfunctioning sets, the daytime serial’s gothic allure transfixed Nixon-era juveniles, apparently including Burton and star Johnny Depp, so now we have this slick, self-aware incarnation, which finds vampire hero Barnabas Collins (Depp with chalky makeup and orotund diction) unearthed from a 200-year dirt nap in 1972, and taking up residence in his declining family’s coastal Maine mansion, his identity known only to imperious matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer, straitjacketed in Joan Bennett’s old role). Thanks to a prologue that stuffs a feature’s worth of backstory into five minutes (the genre’s tiresome “eternal love” trope again), we know that Collinsport’s reigning cannery queen Angelique (a sashaying Eva Green, seemingly aping Anne Hathaway) and the Collins children’s new young governess (Bella Heathcote) are, respectively, the jealous witch whose spell turned Barnabas undead in the 1770s, and his true love the villainess drove to suicide.

Depp, the Faustian delicacy of his features intact as he approaches 50, seems a natural to play an ageless nosferatu, and he makes the best of screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith’s fish-out-of-coffin gags, sniffing “This is a stupid play” as he watches a Scooby-Doo episode, and lecturing Elizabeth’s sullen, glam-rock-addicted daughter, “Fifteen, and no husband? You must put those child-bearing hips to good use.” But Barnabas’s love-hate dance with Angelique only works in a comic set piece of bouncing-off-the-walls sex, and Burton and Grahame-Smith are unwilling to mock the musty romance with the reincarnated governess, preferring to overstuff their nostalgia trip with period turtlenecks, lava lamps, and moronic hippies, and virtually nonstop cues of the Carpenters, T. Rex, and several dozen other oldies. The climactic showdown has little novelty, aside from Angelique’s epidermis slowly cracking like an eggshell, and a fraction of the wit of any scene featuring Helena Bonham Carter as the family’s scotch-pounding psychiatrist, whose designs on Barnabas lead to a sadly premature exit. Even the one-liners grow lame, with Alice Cooper gender jokes that seem transcribed from a ’72 Bob Hope cue card, and Dark Shadows flails to a conclusion that recalls not its humble TV predecessor, but bloated misfires of decades past like George Miller’s The Witches of Eastwick and Francis Coppola’s empty Dracula.

Cast: Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Eva Green, Helena Bonham Carter, Bella Heathcote, Chloë Grace Moretz, Jackie Earle Haley, Jonny Lee Miller Director: Tim Burton Screenwriter: Seth Grahame-Smith Distributor: Warner Bros. Running Time: 113 min Rating: PG-13 Year: 2012 Buy: Video, Soundtrack

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