Dark Shadows – a souped-up, jewel-toned, bigscreen adaptation of the musty yet beloved supernatural soap opera from the late sixties – seemed pretty much guaranteed to disappoint at least one of its major potential fanbases. If it were too different from or condescending to its source material, fans of the creaky old serial would cry foul. But if it were too faithful to what really wasn’t a particularly coherant (or exciting, on most days) show to begin with, it would bore the hell out of anyone looking for a dependably offbeat Tim Burton movie.
So it’s interesting in the worst possible way to see that rather than disappoint half of its audience, Dark Shadows may disappoint pretty much all of it.
For those unfamiliar with the premise, Shadows tells the story of the Collins family, a dynasty of once-prosperous fish canners who by the early 1970′s have nearly succumbed to the “Collins curse” – a series of unfortunate events that have afflicted the family for centuries as a result of supernatural forces either actual or imagined.
Turns out they’re actual: As a snappy and appropriately over-the-top gothic intro montage explains (delivering the film’s most enjoyable five minutes), back in the late 1700′s Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) broke the heart of a servant girl who also happened to be a witch (Eva Green), leading her to systematically destroy everything and everyone he loved and curse him to an eternity of misery as a vampire. Cue the villagers with the torches, and Barnabas is chained, boxed, and buried for a long dirt nap.
In 1972, Barnabas is uncovered by a group of construction workers digging the foundation for a McDonald’s, and he sets out to reconnect with his family at Collinwood, his beloved family estate. When he arrives he is less than delighted to find that his bloodline has tapered to a trickle, with only four direct descendants remaining: prickly matriarch Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer), preoccupied widower Robert (Jonny Lee Miller), miserable teen sexpot Carolyn (Chloe Grace Moretz) and prepubescent sociopath David (the impeccably-named Gully McGrath). (Actually, how he came to have any descendants at all is never clear, as the film suggests he was an only child with no children of his own at the time of his undeath – one of the film’s many unanswered continuity concerns.)
Jonny Lee Miller and Helena Bonham Carter
Living with the split ends of the Collins family at Collinwood are drunk psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and newly-arrived governess Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), as well as domestic handyfolk Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley) and the ancient Mrs. Johnson (Ray Shirley). They are presumably there to add some off-the-wall local color, but in reality they do very little other than gather dust.