From just the first few shots at the beginning of “Dark Shadows,” you can already tell, this is obviously a Tim Burton film. Johnny Depp’s voice-over lets you know that, since he’s in it, there’s at least a 50% chance Burton directed it. Add in a Danny Elfman score, and stunning, stylized visuals and you know for sure. Unfortunately, simply being directed by Tim Burton nowadays doesn’t mean you have a good film on your hands. As good as it may look visually, “Dark Shadows” is just a murky disjointed mess that can’t really decide what it wants to be, with a director phoning it in and a script that pulls the film even further down below.
The film centers around Barnabas Collins (Depp), a character that could have been interesting, but instead the script chooses to make him a one-dimensional joke. A lot of a terrible things happen in his life, his parents are killed, the love of his life commits suicide, he is turned into a vampire, and is locked in a coffin for about 200 years. All of this is barely explored, instead the film relies on “Hah, look! He’s weird because he’s from a long time ago!” jokes.
Collins is locked away in a coffin by an evil witch who is in love with him, so much so that she kills off the people he loves so that he’ll love her or something stupid like that. Two centuries later, in 1973, the coffin is dug up by a construction crew, and Collins being a vampire, is still alive and so brutally kills them all as soon as he gets out.
The town of Collinsport, named after his family back in the 1700’s, has changed a lot since Collins was there last. The brilliant jokes start off with Collins seeing a McDonalds sign and mispronouncing the name. Get it? Because he’s from a long time ago!
He then goes to the Collins family mansion, where descendants of his family live, now far less wealthy than in the 1700’s. Elizabeth Collins (Michelle Pfeiffer) walks down a big staircase elegantly, which is basically all she does for the entire movie (she’s even on the staircase during the big climax of the film), and greets Collins. He reveals who he is, and that he’s a vampire, and Elizabeth barely bats an eye, and agrees to let him stay here as long as he lets her have a bunch of gold and restores the family fishing business or something like that.
The rest of the family somehow doesn’t realize he’s a vampire, somehow the pale white skin, the long pointy fingers, the way he burns when he does near a sunny window (and yet is magically fine if he wears sunglasses and a hat when he goes outside), and plenty of other things don’t really tip anyone off until way late in the film.
For most part of the film, Collins is just arguing with the evil witch, trying to crush her fishing business, having a disgusting awkward and weird sex scene with her and staring at her breasts. Oh, and of course doing funny things like thinking a TV is magical, and thinking Alice Cooper is just a very ugly woman.
What’s really sad is how much potential there is here. A great cast and a (once) great director, all of whom have a great passion for the TV show the film is based on. And even within the terrible script, there are some very interesting characters, ones that are shown and then quickly swept away as soon as we get interested in them.
“Dark Shadows” is boring, clunky, offensive and just a waste. There’s some fun in there, but it rarely comes out, and Depp gives it his best, but even he can’t save this waste of a film.