Blood is thicker than water. That’s the gist of “Dark Shadows” — a new Tim Burton film starring Johnny Depp as the vampire done wrong by a witch passed over generations ago for the love of another woman. It’s dedicated to the memory of Dan Curtis, who created the Gothic meets soap series aired from 1966 to 1971 — which was after-school appointment TV at my house.
The 2012 film imagines Barnabas Collins returing to the town and mansion built by his ancestors after he’s awakened by digging contruction workers in the town now dominated by the witch whose curse killed his beloved and turned him from man to monster. Still, telling monster from man is more complicated that it seems.
There’s much to love about Burton’s “Dark Shadows.” Compelling story. Groovy tunes. Smart writing. Magnificent sets. Striking landscapes. Intriguing characters. Sound acting. And oodles of homages to a decade gone by. Mirrored disco ball. TV in a box. Lava lamp. Hanging chair. “T. Rex” album. Clunky headphones. Toking hippies. Volkswagon van. Movie marquees reading “Deliverance” and “Super Fly.”
It’ll all new to Collins, who’s been coffin-bound for nearly two centuries. His clothes are weird. His vocabulary archaic. His wooing style awkward. His sleeping habits topsy turvy. But he’s got a fine memory and fierce loyalty towards the Collins family, whose fortunes fell after Barnabas went off the radar. His new mission, it seems, is restoring the family to its former glory.
Various members of the household, including a new nanny and live-in psychiatrist, react differently to the charge. Collinwood Manor is home to a strong-willed mother, an ineffectual father, a blasé teenage girl and a younger brother who sees things. Also two staffers replete with odd impediments. It’s apparent early on that this family needs a savior, and that they’ll likely find one in the most unexpected of places. Still, I never saw the hero coming.
While nothing in this film feels contrived, it’s obvious that every detail is perfectly deliberate. ”Dark Shadows” is best appreciated by those who lived through the ’70s, but doesn’t rely on nods to nostalgia. Themes of family, unrequited love, abuse of power and such are plenty accessible to those who’ve never done time with the “Dark Shadows” television series or Curtis’ related films.
But this is not a movie for children. There’s blood and gore. Lots of fire. Vampire sex. And ghosts that’ll give a real fright come the middle of the night. Save it for the teens — those poor darlings who think they’re the ones who invented vampires. And fellow grown-ups accustomed to death and destruction on the big screen. “Dark Shadows” is rated PG-13.
Most haunting are images of a child who gets electroshock therapy, and scenes showing Arizona rocker Alice Cooper singing while wearing a straitjacket. Neither was necessary, and both felt incredibly offensive. I’m still deciding how many of my five stars I ought to deduct for those babies. Without them, the movie is a perfect retro roller coaster ride through the life of a family not so different from our own.
Note: Click here to learn more about the “Dark Shadows” cast and filmmakers
Coming up: Seeing red