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There’s a vampire/human romance in Dark Shadows, but the bloodsucker isn’t “vegetarian.” This ever-so-proper dude chews up and spits out humans like dog toys. And the only thing that sparkles is an enormous chandelier gracing the gothically opulent Collinwood, the estate in which the descendants of centuries-old Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) have lived since the vamp was but a tyke.
Other than a particularly enthusiastic sexual encounter between Barnabas and a witch, there’s nothing in Tim Burton’s big-screen treatment of an old, bizarre soap opera to remind you of Twilight—and that’s obviously a good thing. The original series was unintentionally funny thanks to strained dialogue, worse acting, and poor production values. Burton (with an assist from screenwriter Seth Grahame-Smith, the author of Pride and Prejudice and Zombies and Abraham Lincoln, Vampire Hunter) doesn’t quite go all 21 Jump Street on his source material. Instead, he sporadically deploys the kind of winking, sly humor he knows his leading man can pull off. Few people can do a subtle recoil like Depp, who enlarges his eyes and pulls his head back every so slightly when his Barnabas encounters, say, a troll doll or a game of “Operation.”
You see, Barnabas experiences a significant amount of culture shock when he returns to Collinwood two centuries after he was cursed a vampire, forced to watch his lover take her own life, and buried alive by Angelique (Eva Green) as punishment for not returning her lust. When a construction crew unearths him in 1972, he returns to Collinwood, unaware of the time passed—and is immediately drawn to the new governess, Victoria (Bella Heathcote). Could she be Barnabas’ long-lost other half?
For Burton and Depp’s two-decade creative partnership, Dark Shadows is a fine return to form following the disasters of Alice in Wonderland and Charlie and the Chocolate Factory. It’s eerie, it’s entertaining, it’s deliciously dark. Michelle Pfieffer, Chloë Grace Moretz, and Helena Bonham Carter all have roles they can, um, sink their teeth into, with Jackie Earle Haley and Jonny Lee Miller rounding out the cast. But Depp’s the clear star. His Barnabas is formal and funny, intelligent yet confounded by the modern day. (Seeing Karen Carpenter sing on a TV show induces a microtantrum and the order to “reveal yourself, tiny songstress!”) Watch the old Dark Shadows to laugh at it; see this one to laugh with it.