Warner Bros. has reached into the past and brought back to life the story of the cursed Barnabas Collins and his family in their new release, Dark Shadows, which opens today (May 11) in theaters nationwide.
Once a television soap opera type series in the 1960s, Dark Shadows is the story of the wealthy Collins family that leaves the Old World for the New World in the 18th century to broaden their riches by starting a fishing business in Maine. As the family prospers, the Collins family builds an amazing 200-room palace dubbed Collinwood Manor, and due to their business being the main source of income in their area, the city is named Collinsport.
Young Barnabas Collins, enjoying the fruits of his family’s wealth, galavants around Collinsport as the town’s playboy. Unfortunately for Barnabas, he becomes romantically involved with a young female servant of the house and breaks her heart. Why is this bad? Well, it turns out that the young maid is also secretively a very powerful witch. So powerful, that she causes Barnabas’ parents to die in an “accident” and puts a spell on his new love, Josette, that makes her leap off of a steep cliff to her death. If that isn’t punishment enough for the heartbreak, the young witch also puts a spell on Barnabas that turns him in to a vampire, and leads the town in condemning him to a chained coffin in which he’s buried alive.
Fast forward 200 years later, Barnabas is freed from his grave and returns to Collinsport in the “groovy” 1970s and sets to return his family (distant relatives that took over Collinwood Manor) to prominence. Johnny Deep, who has a history of choosing odd roles, once again teams up with director Tim Burton who has a history of choosing to make odd movies. It’s the duo’s eighth movie together, in fact. So how does Dark Shadows fare under them? To be honest, it is a very ridiculous story, but Depp and Burton use that to their advantage to create a humorous two-hour experience.
The makeup heavy Depp (a la “Edward Scissorhands”) gives Barnabas Collins a touch of charm as the vampire rediscovers life, love, and vengeance in the ’70s. Helena Bonham Carter, also one for odd roles and a frequent collaborator of Burton films, brings delightful life to her role as Dr. Julia Huffman, the family psychiatrist. Without Depp and Bonham Carter, the movie wouldn’t survive, as they are truly experienced in giving strange characters the right amount of charm, humor, and drama.
Another standout is the young Chloe Grace Mortez who plays Carolyn, the rebellious teen of the house. Although a 15-year-old playing a rebellious teen isn’t too much of a stretch, Chloe (who was marvelous as “Hit-Girl” in the Kick-Ass movie) does a good job of bringing teen angst to the ’70s hippie-era Carolyn. Michelle Pfeiffer has some decent moments as Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, the current family matriarch, as well as Eva Green as the witch and antagonist of the movie.
Director Tim Burton also does a splendid job of visually capturing the feel of both 18th and 20th Century of coastal New England, and musical director Danny Elfman scores the movie with music from the likes of Curtis Mayfield, The Carpenters, and Alice Cooper to give it a broad ’70s feel. I found Dark Shadows to be a fun and pleasant movie, and I feel that most audience members will, too, if they can allow themselves to get past some of the oddness and even ridiculous elements of the story.