, Port Arthur, Texas

May 11, 2012

Depp’s oddball character can’t bring ‘Dark Shadows’ into the light

Sean McBride
The Port Arthur News

— I don’t have any personal recollections of the late-sixties soap opera, “Dark Shadows,” but I do know a few devoted fans who swear that it was the greatest cult series ever filmed. That may or may not be true, but the movie version hitting theaters this weekend is certainly not the greatest movie ever filmed. Granted, the film does have some delightful moments to savor and Johnny Depp provides another endearingly quirky character to add to his resume, but for the most part, “Dark Shadows” is a muddled mess.

This dark comedy/horror melodrama tells the story of one Barnabas Collins (Depp), an 18th century dandy who spurns the advances of a powerful witch (Eva Green). She exacts her revenge by turning Barnabas into a vampire and burying him for 200 years. Flash forward to 1972, of all times, when Barnabas gets free but finds that his stately manor has fallen upon hard times and that the world has really changed.

There’s a lot of very funny comedy mined from Depp’s confused reaction to the sights and sounds of the groovy 70s. As someone who grew up in that era, I found the setting and musical score to be quite nostalgic, but also a little embarrassing. Still, it made me chuckle, as did Depp who has become Hollywood’s greatest purveyor of strange characters. The bottom line is that the audience will love Barnabas, that sweet, courtly gentleman who also happens to be a vampire.

Therein lies the problem. “Dark Shadows” is being marketed as a black comedy in the mold of “The Adams Family” or “Death Becomes Her,” but it’s really a mix of oddball humor and genuine horror. These two disparate filmic styles don’t play well together, making the movie into a mediocre experience. Instead of concentrating on one style and making it truly great, we get half-hearted stabs at a little bit of everything.

Fans of director Tim Burton will certainly appreciate the striking production design and cinematography. There are certainly plenty of the director’s signature quirky flourished to enjoy, but it’s not consistent throughout the film.

“Dark Shadows” has great moments, memorable characters and some very funny jokes, but also some tedious sequences, boring characters and tone-deaf attempts at humor. I can’t imagine that fans of the original soap opera will be thrilled by this remake that’s part homage, part satire. General audiences will probably shrug at the film as well. Throw in the fact that it’s opening against week two of “The Avengers,” and you have the making of a film that will get lost in the shadows.

Movie reviews by Sean, “The Movie Guy,” are published bi-weekly in “The Port Arthur News” and seen weekly on KFDM-TV and KBOI 2-TV. Sean welcomes your comments via email at