Tim Burton's Dark Shadows is oddball as ever and tons of fun

May 11, 2012

Johnny Depp's 200-year-old vampire Barnabas adds another worthy misfit to his gallery

What you need to know
Fantasy comedy Dark Shadows is based on a late 1960s gothic soap opera of the same name. The film is directed by Tim Burton, known for such offbeat films as Edward Scissorhands, Beetlejuice and Sweeney Todd.

The story revolves around an 18th century vampire who returns to revive his family business in 1970s New England after being buried alive for 200 years, as punishment for breaking the heart of a witch.

Regular Burton collaborator Johnny Depp stars as the recently resurrected vampire Barnabas Collins. Michelle Pfeiffer is his reclusive cousin and family matriarch Elizabeth. Burton's wife Helena Bonham Carter appears as Elizabeth's live-in psychologist and former Bond girl Eva Green plays a vengeful sorceress.

What the critics like
This Burtonized update of a gothic vampire soap opera is baroquely droll, says Owen Gleiberman in Entertainment Weekly. Depp's performance is "more than just funny - it's ghoulishly endearing". He gives Barnabas an "almost elfin innocence that recalls the characters Depp has most memorably played for Burton".

Dark Shadows conjures up a profound sense of alienation, then plays for tons of fun, says Ian Freer in Empire. Johnny Depp's Barnabas, "all Nosferatu hand gestures and Romantic formality", is a brilliantly realised anachronism. Depp has created "a funny, charismatic monster who is struggling to figure out what it means to be human".

It's a worthy addition to Depp's gallery of oddball characters, writes Matthew Turner for View London. He delivers delicious deadpan dialogue and generates strong chemistry with both Green and Pfeiffer. "The script has a lot of fun with Barnabas' bemusement at his brave new world" and Burton "gets good mileage out of a rocking 70s soundtrack".

What they don't like
Burton seems to have only one string to his bow, says Tom Huddleston in Time Out. Here's yet another "creepy, kooky, spooky, largely tedious tale of vampires, werewolves, witches and movie stars in far too much eyeliner". It's high time he switched off the Vincent Price movies and "got out in the fresh air and found something new to say".

There are flashes of the old subversive Burton, says Alistair Harkness in The Scotsman, but his film is hampered by its 12A rating.
Barnabas kills innocent people, succumbs to the base desires of immortality-seeking women, and engages in acrobatic, supernatural sex, but Burton's film is still "courting that family audience".

The humour slithers between the clever and the sophomoric, says Todd McCarthy in The Hollywood Reporter. Too often though, the film seems "too willing to settle for mild humour" instead of the genuinely twisted. "Still, with its central bloodsucker vs witch rivalry and Depp in one of his patented bizarre roles, this has all the ear and tooth marks of an early summer winner."

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