Tim Burton has teamed up with Johnny Depp eight times and Depp has changed from a risky actor to caricature of the strange characters he plays constantly. Their latest team-up not only pokes fun at Depp’s over-the-top type performances but the vampire myth itself.

“Dark Shadows” is about a 16th century vampire Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) who awakens in the 1970s and has to reconnect with his new relatives as he brings luster back to his legacy. Collins became a vampire by being cursed by the lovesick Angelique (Eva Green) who said ‘if I can have you, no one will’.

How can a bad boy from another century hope to fit in during the 70s? Not to mention save his family from ruin?

I was reminded quite a lot of a film from the 1970’s comedy called “Love at First Bite” where George Hamilton played a lovesick but unlucky vampire. There are many elements here of that film.

Depp’s vampire is transported into the 1970s and Hamilton’s is transported to the big city. Both are fish out of water tales. Both are unlucky in love. And both use the tired vampire mythology for laughs.

This loose adaptation of the gothic soap opera from the 1970s of the same name, was constructed by Burton writer stalwarts Seth Grahame-Smith and John August. One was in charge of the script while the other handled the story. You can see August’s style of story-telling when the film opens to an almost cautious fable kind of tale and then moves into light and goofy fair mixed with gothic style. (Also very reminiscent of “Love at First Bite”) Grahame-Smith’s contribution I think lies mainly in the antagonism between Barnabas Collins and his nemesis Angelique.

What is interesting is what made Barnabas so compelling, in either the 70s soap or the 90s revival series starring Ben Cross, was his love affair with his reincarnated lover Victoria Winters (here played by newcomer Bella Heathcote). That relationship was the cornerstone of the series and made Barnabas sympathetic and tragic. It also fueled the dynamic he had with the devious Angelique.  The movie hardly touches this tragic love affair and instead jettisons Victoria to sub-character status. In doing so Barnabas’s character suffers.

The movie does really funny and goofy things that are delightful and memorable. But about 2/3 of the way through the second act the film loses its pacing and identity. The showdown in the finale reminded me a lot of the fight between Goldie Hawn and Meryl Streep in “Death Becomes Her”. It is overtly silly and boring.

The movie had it’s moments which were delightful and surprising but not enough to really last.

3 out of 5

So Says the Soothsayer

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