Starring Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter • Directed by Tim Burton • Age restriction: 13SV • Releases 11 May
There's nothing quite like an actor who you can see is having a whale of a time on screen. Johnny Depp has brought us a variety of off-the-wall characters over the past few years – Jack Sparrow, the Mad Hatter and Willy Wonka; to name a few – and in his latest iteration, vampire Barnabas Collins, Depp looks just as thrilled to be there as ever.
Dark Shadows – Depp's eighth collaboration with director Tim Burton, which has spanned over the 22 years since Edward Scissorhands – is by no means their best. It's sometimes messy, always over-the-top and never quite seems to find its footing. Is it a comedy? A soap opera? A horror? It could have been all of these things, but abrupt switches in tone means that it feels more of a film in parts than one cohesive product.
Regardless – it's still fun, silly and packed with enough laugh-out-loud moments to satisfy both casual moviegoers and die-hard Burton/Depp fans.
Dark Shadows tells the story of Barnabas Collins, the wealthy heir to a fishing fortune, who spurns the advances of the beautiful young Angelique – who unfortunately is also a witch with a serious taste for revenge – in favour of his one true love. Angelique forces Barnabas' love to jump to her death, and when Barnabas tries to follow, Angelique transforms him into a vampire and has him buried alive (or dead-ish). Two centuries later, when Barnabas' grave is uncovered, he returns to his beloved home of Collingwood to find that it has fallen into disrepair and his family's business is a disaster... And it's 1972. Barnabas is determined to revive the Collins name – but he faces tough opposition from town mogul "Angie" – who also happens to be the woman he turned down almost two hundred years ago.
Dark Shadows is undeniably over-the-top – with lavish costumes, sometimes cringeworthy one-liners and an eye-popping cameo by Alice Cooper. Based on the cult 1970s series, Burton has focused hard on bringing a campish, seventies feel to the film – and the contrast with Barnabas' aracane 18th century dialogue and approach to the world is one of the film's highlights.
The entire film is – in fact – Depp's. Although the cast boasts Michelle Pfeiffer, Helena Bonham Carter, Chloe Moretz and Eva Green as some of its stars, Depp is its heart – and everybody else scarcely gets a look-in. Scenes with Green as Angelique are aplenty, although Depp overshadows her somewhat lacklustre villainess approach. Other than an over-the-top love scene (that may make parents with young teens a little uncomfortable) and a very memorable red dress, Green barely makes a dent in Depp's spotlight. In fact, she feels somewhat like a Buffy-esque villain – bad-ass, sure, but there for only one episode before being forgotten about.
Pfeiffer too is almost criminally underused, while Moretz is over-used and her teenage sexuality and distaste for the world is almost painful to watch. Moretz's "big reveal" at the end of the film – don't worry, I won't spoil it – was too late and too short to give her character any real substance. Also lacking any real punch is Helena Bonham Carter's – who starts off stealing scenes as the always-drunk-or-hungover psychiatrist Dr Hoffman before being edged out.
The film's biggest flaw, however, lies in its slow start and lagging middle which leads up to its overblown, climatic finale – which is entirely jarring in tone when compared to the rest of the film. It's unsettling where the rest of the film was camp; horrifying where before, the focus was on comedy.
The film is by no means a disaster – and Burton has skilfully navigated a film that could have fallen into an abysmal Scary Movie 2-parody black hole. It's backed by an awesome soundtrack and packed with pop-culture references, and is by no means a dull night out.
But while in general Dark Shadows is deliciously awful and wonderfully macabre, it never quite reaches its ultimate potential – especially when looking at Burton's previous body of work, and the heights he achieved.