By Bill Wine
KYW Newsradio 1060
PHILADELPHIA (CBS) — The Collins family puts the fun back in dysfunction. The dis and the shun as well.
They’re the clan on display in Dark Shadows, a fantasy dramedy that forces the eerie-but-not-teary mood on you from the very first reel.
It’s based on the popular television series of the same name, which aired over 1,200 half-hour afternoon episodes from 1966 to 1971.
Certainly an acquired taste, it was a campy gothic soap opera of sorts, a supernatural drama about vampire Barnabas Collins that also involved such monsters as werewolves, witches, warlocks, and ghosts.
The satanic cult soap focused on the Collinses, who fled England to escape a witch’s curse and came to settle in Collinsport, Maine.
Johnny Depp stars as Barnabas, who was turned into a vampire in 1752 because (hell hathing no fury like a witch spurned) he broke the heart of a witch — portrayed by Eva Green — who then entombed the vampire playboy in the family vault.
When the gentlemanly but thirsty Collins paterfamilias wakes up well out of his comfort zone in 1972 — early in the Me Decade — having been inadvertently released by grave robbers in search of the family’s jewels, he finds that the once-magnificent Collinwood Manor is in ruins.
His descendants include the contemporary Collins matriarch (Michelle Pfieffer), her sullen daughter (Chloe Grace Moretz), and her ne’er-do-well brother (Jonny Miller), with Helena Bonham Carter portraying the clan’s resident shrink.
Prolific and idiosyncratic director Tim Burton, who has collaborated with Depp seven previous times (Edward Scissorhands, Ed Wood, Sleepy Hollow, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory, Corpse Bride, Alice in Wonderland, Sweeney Todd), offers production values far beyond those of the original series — especially the acting and the production design — treating it as a campy combo of gothic monster horror and wiseacre comedy, menacing and wry at the same time, in the Beetlejuice mold.
The literate script he works from, by Seth Grahame-Smith, adds an absurdist element of anachronistic humor to the proceedings that, if memory serves, was not in any way part of the original series — at least not intentionally.
But the dramatic conflict is nonetheless handled with surprising and effective seriousness, even if the film makes the mistake of devolving into too much of a special-effects-athon in the late going.
Still, when all is said and done, with all due respect to Burton as a unique visual stylist, it’s Depp, who also served as a producer and contributes voiceover narration bookends, who makes this movie work.
He is so effortlessly charismatic, his line readings so precise and exquisite, that he takes the pressure off the narrative to carry us away.
At this point in his career, he personifies big-screen stardom.
Depp’s paler-than-pale, bloodsucking hero gets most of his laughs out of his fishy-vampire-out-of-water confusion, as he adapts to not just the 20th century but a decade that features disco dancing and psychedelics, the culture clash presenting much more of a threat and a problem for him than dealing with a monstrous witch.
For fans of the horror-pulp TV series — which included younger versions of Burton and Depp, who make their fondness for the material evident — look for an upgrading and updating of the original series in a movie that still passes muster as homage.
So we’ll suck the blood out of 3 stars out of 4 for the darkly whimsical, PG-13 rated, supernatural comedy-drama, Dark Shadows.
We ask for another vampire flick and this is the fangs we get? We’ll take it.