The regretful vampire has become a familiar concept – recent and current manifestations lurk in just about every corner of American popular entertainment (Buffy, Twilight, The Vampire Diaries). This more thoughtful embodiment of fanged fury rises again as Tim Burton’s latest film Dark Shadows goes on general release in Germany. But it is more than just an opportunity for Johnny Depp to do his thing as the stoic romantic?
Initially an eccentric-family themed US TV soap that ran from 1966-71, Dan Curtis’ Dark Shadows got its blast from the past in 1967, with the introduction of Barnabus Collins, the family vampire who awakens from 200 years of witchery-induced slumber to an incomprehensible world. It was the character’s development from conventional bloodsucker to a more reflective representative of the supernatural that gave the series both bite and memorability.
Which is just as well for Tim Burton. As chronicler of the Gothic absurd, Burton’s heroes are generally torn between passionate self-disgust and the desire to belong.
As one such, Barnabus Collins (Depp) bursts out from a coffin unearthed by a bulldozer nearly 200 years after he was locked down by spurned lover-sorceress Angelique (Eva Green), rising with the line: “You cannot imagine how thirsty I am” before gorging on a few construction workers. After moving back into the crumbling family manor with matriarch (Michelle Pfeiffer), her daughter, brother and nephew, plus a couple of minions, the resident psych (Helena Bonham-Carter) and newly employed governess and re-incarnated love interest Victoria/Josette (Bella Heathcoate), Barnabus struggles both to adjust and turn around the family’s fishing fortunes. He’s thwarted at every turn by the 1970s and nemesis Angelique – but really, who needs a challenge when one has friends like Alice Cooper, who pops in for a fund-raiser.
Burton fans will love the pervasive, stylized darkness, the Gothic attire and the exquisitely broken characters spearheaded by Depp, striding through self-possessed self-loathing and bouncing one-liners off his entourage. But even devoted fans will have to admit that this is not Burton’s best effort.
Taking the conflicted Barnabus, and the plot as a whole, even a little seriously presupposes some standard of normality to which Barnabus aspires. Camp normality does not count. Ripping Karen Carpenter out of a 1970s TV-set, making out with the red-nailed witch to the (badly edited) sounds of Barry White: these are just entertaining moments that signally fail to make a case either for what Barbabus wants, or what he doesn’t. Why be normal, when it’s so much fun to be a vampire?
Dark Shadows | Directed by Tim Burton (USA 2012) with Johnny Depp, Michelle Pfeiffer. Starts May 10