Tim Burton’s Dark Shadows starts out with a crisp recap covering how Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp), the scion of a Maine fishery and lord of the manor at Collinsport, was laid low by a spurned scullery maid witch (Eva Green) and cursed to a life buried in the ground as a vampire. 200 years later, he is unearthed by a construction crew building a McDonalds. Very thirsty, he slaughters them all, and heads on down the road to his manor to reestablish the family’s supremacy. So far, so good. Burton’s economical use of flashback harkens to Coppola’s Bram Stoker’s Dracula, and this looks to be a lot of fun.
It is not. Barnabas in 1972 is rather a bore, and Burton does just about everything you’d expect Dennis Dugan to do as a director. Barnabas marvels at electricity, commands the demons in the TV to show themselves, reads and quotes from Eric Segal’s Love Story and watches Scooby Doo and observes that it is a very bad play. None of it is funny.
Nor is any of it engrossing. Green now runs the town as the executive of a lead cannery, low ambition indeed for such a powerful woman, and Barnabas challenges her – by opening a competing cannery. In the meantime, Barnabas has a series of lame encounters with the surviving Collins’s, who include a droll Michelle Pfeiffer as the matriarch, a wasted Jonny Lee Miller as her brother, a couple of pointless kids (Chloe Grace Moretz and Gulliver McGrath), Burton’s wife Helena Bonham Carter as a live-in psychiatrist, and Jackie Earle Haley as groundskeeper Willie.
There is also a love interest (Bella Heathcote), the boy’s nanny, for whom we have to suffer a second, less interesting flashback showing that she was institutionalized when she was a child because she commiserated with ghosts.
One gets the sense Burton knew this was a hopeless mess and found himself desperately piling on more and more visual wonder and absurdity in the hopes of saving the picture. Hence, Barnabas has a ball for the town and arranges for Alice Cooper to perform (allowing him to say that she is the ugliest woman he has ever seen); Carter tries to transfuse the vampire blood out of Barnabas and then just decides to give him a blowjob; Barnabas and Green have a hate mating and fly about the room and up and down the walls, destroying everything, but at least breaking the tedium; and inexplicably, Moretz turns out to be werewolf. There are also two musical sequences, the tactic of the lazy.
We eventually limp to a lengthy showdown between Collins and Green that is all Robert Zemeckis. Statues come to life, ghosts intercede, and millions are spent wowing us with spectral visions. All wasted, making you nostalgiac for the one-take, live-to-tape format of the original soap opera.
There is a hint at the end a sequel may be forthcoming, though with a production budget of $150 million and a domestic take of about half that, we may be spared.