Johnny Depp as a vampire… yes please!
I swear these were my precise words when I saw the trailer for Dark Shadows in the cinema. Admittedly, saying them out loud did raise a few giggles… and not just amongst my friends. Dark Shadows takes its inspiration from the gothic soap opera which aired in the U.S.A from 1966 to 1971. Interestingly, the film has been met with mixed reviews with some critics comparing it unfavourably to the original soap opera. As someone who has never seen the original series, my ability to compare them is slightly limited, however my ability to appreciate this film is certainly not.
In eighteenth century Maine, the heir of a wealthy family, Barnabas Collins (played with relish by Johnny Depp), has an ill-fated affair with a beautiful servant girl Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). When Barnabas tells Angelique that he does not and cannot ever love her, Angelique uses her supernatural abilities as a witch to curse the Collins family. A curse which includes murdering Barnabas’s parents, bewitching Barnabas’s love interest, Josette du Pres (Bella Heathcote) to commit suicide and transforming Barnabas into a vampire before burying him undead for the best part of two centuries.
By the time a group of unfortunate construction workers accidentally release Barnabas, it is the 1970s, Angelique, in one form or another, has managed to build up a successful fishing business and is a beloved and trusted member of the community. In contrast, the fortunes of the Collins family have declined dramatically. The family matriarch, Elizabeth, (played by the always radiant Michelle Pfeiffer) agrees to take in Barnabas and keep his vampire status a secret so long as he manages to restore the family honour. All the usual members of a dysfunctional family are present including the playboy Roger, (a blonde Jonny Lee Miller), the sulky teenager Carolyn, (Chloë Grace Moretz) and the troubled but adorable youngest child David. Of course, this unusual family also comes complete with a borderline alcoholic psychiatrist, Doctor Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter with astonishingly bright hair) and a demure nanny, Victoria Winters, running away from a tragic past (also played by Bella Heathcote). As Barnabas seeks to rebuild his family’s fortune, pursue his romantic interest in Victoria and find a cure for his vampirism, he finds himself embroiled in an increasingly bitter war with Angelique who still holds a flame for her former lover.
As with all Tim Burton’s films, Dark Shadows is a visual delight; in particular the Collins mansion provides the audience with a wonderfully intricate and foreboding setting. You certainly get the impression that a considerable amount of money was spent on creating the illusion of declining wealth and in my opinion it was money well spent! The costumes and settings are wonderful; Angelique and Elizabeth could certainly have a style off with their amazing wardrobes. The attention to detail alone, particularly in respect of 70s kitsch, is one reason to watch this film.
Aside from the costumes and settings, the characters are certainly an intriguing bunch, and particularly the women of Dark Shadows. Eva Green is absolutely fantastic as the devilish Angelique; she simmers with seductive darkness in every scene and yet also manages to bring a certain element of fragility to her villainess. Michelle Pfeiffer brings a much needed element of gravitas to the film; her character Elizabeth provides the audience with a strong matriarch willing to do whatever it takes to defend her family. However, the limited screen time means that not all of the characters get the development that they deserve. Victoria Winters, for example, is the intended love interest of Barnabas and she certainly has an interesting backstory but relatively little time is spent on exploring her character. Perhaps, this is why I ended up with a strong preference for Team Angelique when it came to the battle for Barnabas’s unbeating heart.
Dark Shadows was marketed as a horror comedy but to be truthful it doesn’t fully satisfy either of those descriptions. There are some fantastically witty one liners throughout the film and certainly at the outset, Barnabas’s general confusion at modern life provides us with some genuinely laugh out loud moments. However, overall, the moments that are supposed to be comedic tend to be slightly forced with the result that they are simply too obvious and don’t really result in that much laughter. You might find the attempts at black humour amusing but, in my opinion, they undermined the horror aspect of the film.
Overall, I would say Dark Shadows is less of a horror comedy and more of a soap drama which has been condensed into a few hours of film. It is highly entertaining with a plot that doesn’t require you to think too much. The horror aspect isn’t too gruesome for those of you who are a bit squeamish and the female characters in particular are interesting, strong and varied. It is the sort of film that you don’t mind watching over and over again and who knows it might even interest you enough to look up the original series. I, for one, am heading off to realms of fanfiction in the hope to find some fellow Angelique/Barnabas shippers…
I would give this film three out of five.
Red Hamilton (who can’t resist siding with a well-dressed villainess…)