Depp’s a hoot, but ‘Dark Shadows’ overdoes the camp

  • Thu May 10th, 2012 10:20am
  • Life

By Robert Horton Herald Movie Critic

The trailers for “Dark Shadows” make it look like director Tim Burton has done a Mel Brooks on the seriously Goth 1960s TV show. Here’s vampire Barnabas Collins, exhumed from a 200-year burial in time to meet hippies, fast food, and the music of the Carpenters.

The movie itself, it turns out, isn’t quite that bad. There are campy jokes scattered about, as though Burton can’t entirely resist his “Beetlejuice” tendencies, but much of the movie is played straight.

The macabre soap opera originally ran from 1966 to 1971. For Burton’s version, Barnabas has been dug up in groovy 1972, having been cursed by the witch Angelique (Eva Green), who is still around in the Nixon era, alas.

Barnabas is played by Johnny Depp, reveling in a plummy English accent and spit curls; watching him enjoy himself is the movie’s main source of pleasure. (Jonathan Frid, who gained cult status from played the original Barnabas, just died last month.)

Dear desiccated Barnabas plans to restore the family fortune in its mansion on the Maine seacoast, a scheme the current matriarch (Michelle Pfeiffer) eagerly approves. Like much else about the movie, Pfeiffer seems game and in good spirits, but with very little to actually do.

The new nanny, Victoria Winters (Bella Heathcote), also draws the attention of Barnabas; he sees in her the reincarnation of a long-lost beloved. If only that centuries-old witch weren’t around to spoil the party.

Other gargoyles crowd the place, including Chloe Grace Moretz (“Kick-Ass”) as a teen member of the Collins family, Jackie Earle Haley as the mansion’s groundskeeper, and Helena Bonham Carter as the brassy psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman. And Alice Cooper shows up, for a giddy concert sequence that gives Burton the excuse to throw a Goth party.

In fact, the movie plays as a series of sequences that Burton thought might be fun to stage (Hey, what would it look like if two demons made love in an office?), without a great deal of attention paid to story or consistency of tone. In other words, it’s a Tim Burton movie, with the usual inspired production design (the Collins mansion is a wonderful Burton playpen) and wobbly story.

That uneven mix is less easy to forgive in “Dark Shadows” than in most Burton pictures, although the thing moves along with breezy cheer. The set-pieces are goofy and fun, and then the film lurches back to the Victorian touches that Burton holds dear.

There’s a nagging suspicion, never far from the surface, that something more interesting might have come from all this if Burton and Depp could’ve been slightly less tongue-in-cheek in their approach. But then Barnabas will spot a lava lamp, the soundtrack will flood with the Carpenters, and the creaky jokes overwhelm the promising blood-letting.

“Dark Shadows” (2½ stars)

Tim Burton does a revamp of the macabre ’60s soap opera; this time bloodsucker Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) is exhumed in 1972, and lots of Nixon-era jokes follow. The movie has a wobbly tone between Gothic romance and camp, which never quite meshes despite a scattering of giddy sequences and Depp’s amusing performance. Michelle Pfeiffer co-stars.

Rated: PG-13 for violence, subject matter.

Showing: Alderwood, Cinebarre, Everett Stadium, Galaxy Monroe, Marysville, Stanwood, Thorton Place, Woodinville, Cascade Mall, Oak Harbor.