The Independent London Newspaper
31st July 2014

Letters

CINEMA: Johnny Depp in Dark Shadows

Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) gets a rude awakening in the 1970s

Pictured: Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) gets a rude awakening in the 1970s

Published: 10 May, 2012
by DAN CARRIER

The Liverpudlian family of Joshua Collins set sail for the virgin coasts of New England in 1750.

They set up a successful fishing port, named after themselves, and built a mansion overlooking the bay that has brought them such wealth.

But when son and heir Barnabas makes merry with a servant girl who also happens to be a witch, and then drops her for a more class-appropriate amour, little does he know his actions will have effects that last centuries.

Turned into a vampire and buried in a coffin to think about his behaviour for the rest of eternity, he is saved from his box when a digger carving out foundations for a new development in the early 1970s uncovers his resting place.

Barnabas (Johnny Depp) returns to find his family home crumbling and his descendants fallen on hard times, all down to him snogging a witch way back when.

Can he restore the family fortunes?

Can he overcome the hatred of the witch-woman he jilted, who is still ruling the roost in Collinsport?

And can he find the reincarnation of the girl who was his true love, and live happily ever after?

That is the gist of this Gothic comedy that runs along well-worn tracks laid by director Tim Burton.

Bringing in such regular collaborators as Depp and Michelle Pfeifer, Dark Shadows has the Burton stamp all over it.

He has cast his wife Helena Bonham Carter as a dotty psychiatrist: she has a role that simply distracts, and one can only (admittedly cruelly) think the character was included so they didn’t miss each other while Burton was making it.

There are so many cracking jokes – look for a line about Liverpool that the late Scouser Beryl Bainbridge would have been happy to pen – that even when it sags you are perked up.

Depp, who modelled his pirate Jack Sparrow on Rolling Stones guitarist Keith Richards, has clearly based his vampire on Michael Jackson. It adds another level of the bizarre.

I desperately wanted to like this film.

There are plenty of reasons to – a good cast, amazing sets and some wonderful gags.

But the storyline falls to pieces in such a manner that it ruins all the great stuff.

As it loses its way rather dramatically towards the end, it even resorts to pinching a plot twist from the film Death Becomes Her.

Dark Shadows was a popular TV series in the 1960s and 1970s, shaking up the daytime TV schedules across the US with its odd mixture of soap opera, Gothic weirdness and mystery, like a Scooby Doo cartoon with real actors.

Director Burton recalls it as a child – and in many ways has spent much of his career paying homage to the style of the original.

Never before has a name been so linked with a certain look: Burton’s films so regularly draw on a Gothic sensibility, a macabre humour, and perhaps the most artistic of set-building and location-finding in contemporary cinema.

He, of course, had to cast Johnny Depp in the lead – since they made Edward Scissorhands together back in 1990, Burton has basically been casting the heartthrob in film after film with the same components.

It is hard to be overly critical as you know what you are getting when you see their names on bills together, but I can’t help but wish that just for once the pair could make a film that is completely and utterly not Gothic in any way.

Let’s have a Depp-Burton production that contains a car chase, a bank job, some kung fu or a spaceship, please.

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