One of the many fond memories I have as a child growing up in the late 60’s and early 70’s was running home from school everyday to watch the gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows. I remember it came on at 4pm and I barely had time to rush off the school bus and dash inside to catch the then live performance of my favorite vampire, Barnabas Collins. It was filmed in black and white and sometimes you could see flies land on the actors’ faces but they never lost character or even acknowledged the pests. The iconic series ran from 1966 – 1971 and gained a devoted following, which has made it into a cult favourite.
You can imagine my delight when I found out that a project was in the works to bring the popular soap opera to the big screen. Dark Shadows, the movie opened in theaters on May 11th and although it was a bit different from what I remember about the series, it kept enough of the original plot and characters to bring back childhood memories.
The movie opens in the 1700’s to explain a bit of the history of the Collins family and the reason for the curse by Angelique (Eva Green) which turns Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) into a vampire for his love of Josette (Bella Heathcote). Angelique then traps Barnabas in a coffin and buries him for almost 200 years until a construction crew accidentally unearths him. Barnabas returns to his family home of Collinswood Manor and must adapt to the new world to which he has awakened. He soon discovers that not only is Angelique still alive and beautiful but also that his nephew, David Collins’ (Gulliver McGrath) tutor Victoria Winters (also played by Bella Heathcote) is a mirror image of his beloved Josette. This is where most similarities fade and Tim Burton/Johnny Depp quirks begin.
For some reason, Johnny decided to play Barnabas Collins in thick white make-up and the only outward similarities I saw was in the hair and cane. With that said, what I love about Depp is the many layers he is able to bring to each character he plays. His portrayal of Barnabas Collins was as much campy and silly as it was serious and blood thirsty. I think I would have enjoyed a little less oddball humour and more emphasis on his desire to defeat Angelique and his pursuit of Victoria. But then it wouldn’t have been a Tim Burton film.
Helen Bonham Carter plays David’s psychiatrist, Dr. Julia Hoffman who sets out to help Barnabas become human again by giving him transfusions of her blood. As in the original series, she has alternative motives, which brings the wrath of the vampire to an apex.
I was glad that during the party scene, all of the surviving actors from the original series had cameos. Jonathan Frid, Lara Parker, Kathryn Leigh Scott, and David Selby were happy to participate and enjoyed being a part of the movie. Sadly, Jonathan Frid died a few weeks ago but, I understand, graciously gave Depp his blessing to portray the character for which he was most known. I just wish the original players had been given larger roles in the movie. As it is now, you really have to look close to catch them and in fact, I will have to use slow motion when the movie is released on DVD.
The one scene that I really had objection to was the love scene between Barnabas and Angelique… way over the top silly and not really needed. Although I am sure the two actors had fun creating it.
For those who expect the movie to be a carbon copy of the original series, you will be entirely disappointed. But for those who love Tim Burton and Johnny Depp movies and who simply want to be entertained, you should get a kick out of it. All in all, I enjoyed the movie but it did make me want to find DVD’s of the original series to rekindle more childhood memories.
Written by Joyce Parnell