Before watching Tim Burton’s 2012 adaptation of the soap opera Dark Shadows, I was struck by the bipolar nature of the reviews. The reviews would have you believe the movie was either the worst thing since Ed Wood’s Plan 9 From Outer Space or the most brilliant movie ever made. For me, the movie was somewhere in the middle. It was a diverting and enjoyable, albeit flawed entertainment.
At its heart the 2012 Dark Shadows is a love story about the tortured Barnabas Collins who was turned into a vampire in the nineteenth century when he spurned the love of servant girl Angelique in favor of another, Josette. Barnabas is chained into a coffin and buried alive, but discovered in 1972. He moves in with the surviving members of the Collins family and discovers that Angelique has prolonged her own life and is running a fishery. Meanwhile, Josette has been reincarnated and works for the Collins family as a governess.
What I liked about the movie was how it hearkened back to the original series. Both the original series and the movie looked to folklore for the tale of Barnabas’s origin. For the most part, the movie stayed focused on the romance story without becoming cloyingly sweet. Like the original series, there were plenty of nice supernatural surprises including ghosts and other creatures. I liked the way Dr. Hoffman tries to cure Barnabas through transfusions of normal blood, while indulging her own selfish desires. One particularly nice Tim Burton touch was the way Angelique was portrayed as something of a china doll in the modern era. I also loved the cameos by Christopher Lee and Jonathan Frid.
The movie’s biggest flaw was its unevenness. The comic relief felt over the top most of the time. Johnny Depp’s makeup seemed a bit too much like a cartoon vampire. I preferred Jonathan Frid’s understated makeup in the original. I had no problem with Barnabas going on a killing spree after he had been unearthed, but he continued going on killing sprees later for reasons that seemed motivated more by comic relief than good storytelling. Although it was somewhat refreshing to see a Hollywood story take some time with storytelling, there were times the story reminded me too much of a soap opera and it just dragged. Aside from Barnabas and Josette, it seemed like most of the characters lacked the charming sides of their television counterparts.
All in all, I enjoyed the movie. It was a diverting entertainment for me as a vampire fan and a fan of the original Dark Shadows even if it wasn’t perfect—well worth a rental. What’s more, making this movie encouraged the powers that be in Hollywood to release DVDs and Blu-rays of the two Dark Shadows movies from the 70s. Those, I’m saving up to buy.