Dark Shadows (Tim Burton, 2012)

Note: This review contains no major spoilers. Discussion of the film, however, possibly containing spoilers, will appear in the comments.  

Wow. Remember when this was the only glimpse of Johnny Depp as Barnabas? Remember when the first trailer came out, filling some fans (me included) with serious doubts? Remember when I finally saw the film, after years of rumors and months of filming and even more months of zero promotion, and actually loved it?

That’s right. I saw Tim Burton’s film adaptation of Dark Shadows today and totally loved it. Loved it. That isn’t to say it is flawless film, but it is nonetheless a highly enjoyable and unique take on the original series that I (and so many others) know and love so dearly.

When I entered the movie theatre, I had mixed feelings. I was sorely discouraged and disheartened by the trailers, yet I was still hopeful that it wasn’t all that bad and excited to see how Burton would translate the beloved soap opera of his youth to a major motion picture. Reviews, too, had been mixed–some claimed it was the weakest Burton-Depp collaboration thusfar, while others were mystified, yet entertained, by the film’s odd mixture of humor and gothic romance. I left the theatre elated and thoroughly entertained.

Considering the mass of stories and characters Burton and co. had to work with, it’s amazing how much they cram into two hours–and how effectively and efficiently they do so. The story of Barnabas’ origin encompassed nearly 100 twenty-two minute episodes of the original series; it is condensed into twenty-two minutes, more or less, in the film’s prologue. I was instantly captivated, and I kept waiting for the tasteless, over-the-top-campiness to set in–but it never did. Aside from a single unnecessarily explicit scene (scantily clad Angelique and Barnabas rolling around, featured in several of the trailers), the film is fresh and engaging, dark and funny (and in the right proportions!), tasteful and entertaining. And the soundtrack is to die for.

I think the key to enjoying this film is keeping an open mind. Do not expect a strict adherence to the characters and stories of the original series, wonderful as they were. This is an interpretation of Dark Shadows, as filtered through the unique imagination of Tim Burton, just as the Adam and Eve storyline on the original show was a wild interpretation of Mary Shelley’s Frankenstein. There are so many deviations, but they are easily forgiven because they are either insignificant or work well within the film’s plot. My favorite departure from the original series had to be that we actually see Angelique doing some work as a servant. Recently having re-watched the 1795 storyline of the original series, it amazes me how much time Angelique had for witchcraft. She literally never lifted a finger to do any work–was she really even worth bringing over from Martinique? Seriously.


The humor that outraged and polarized so many fans works surprisingly well in the context of the film. I laughed out loud multiple times (while other jokes weren’t that funny, perhaps because I had heard them so many times in the trailers). The angle of Barnabas as essentially a fish out of water in 1972 is legitimate. Yes, Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas Collins was much more glib and intelligent, and there were times when I thought Depp’s Barnabas (whom Carolyn appropriately addresses as “stupid” several times) should have demonstrated more sense, but it mostly works.

Johnny Depp inhabits the character of Barnabas Collins and makes him his own. (And each of the actors do this with their respective characters, really. I especially loved Michelle Pfeiffer as Elizabeth Collins-Stoddard.) Jonathan Frid’s Barnabas Collins was perfect. He was utterly conflicted by his uncontrollable need for blood and remorse for the destruction he caused; he was haunted by memories of the people he loved so dearly and the tragedy he brought to them through his existence as a vampire. Depp is not so much conflicted–although there are certainly hints of it–as he is awkward and old-fashioned, with a deep commitment to his family, old and new. But it works.

(I wish there had been some more character development–particularly between Barnabas and Victoria–but again it is a two-hour movie, and it’s kind of amazing how much they were able to accomplish! I can’t wait to see some of the deleted scenes on the DVD/Blu-ray release. Yup. Already planning on buying it.)

Now for my favorite part…

“Welcome to Collinwood.”
“Thank you for having us.”  

I let out a little squeal of joy and excitement when this happened. I knew it was coming, but it still filled my heart with joy–and my eyes with some trickling tear drops. I love this show (and by extension these actors) so much, and it makes me so happy to see some of the original actors taking part in this film. As Johnny Depp and Tim Burton told Jonathan Frid when he visited the set to film his cameo, “If it weren’t for you, we wouldn’t be here.”

Too true.

At the conclusion of the film’s credits, it read: “This film is dedicated to the memory of Dan Curtis.” (The film had already been locked, with the prints processed, by the time Frid died.) I let out another exclamation of joy and proclaimed, “That’s what it’s all about.”

“Did you say that loud enough?” my sister wanted to know.

No, I don’t think I did. THAT’S WHAT IT’S ALL ABOUT. Thank you, Dan Curtis. We love you.

Critics with their heads too far up their own you-know-what to appreciate the film: you’re missing out. Stubborn and skeptical fans of the original show unwilling to see the film: you’re missing out. Give it a chance. Go see it. Have fun. You’ll see. In the meantime, I might even see it again, count down the days ’til the DVD/Blu-ray release, and obsessively scour the internet for confirmation of a sequel. ‘Cos I just enjoyed it that much.