Dark Shadows is a return to the kind of gloomy, quirky material the filmmaker has shied away from since Sleepy Hollow (notwithstanding Sweeney Todd).
With its gorgeously gothic prologue, Dark Shadows seems like the perfect Burton-Depp vehicle. Based on a little-remembered 1960s soap opera, the duo’s favourite themes are all present and correct – not least their obsession with outsiders attempting to assimilate into modern society.
As the auteur goes about crafting a beautifully tangible 1760s Liverpool – flush in rolling fog and doused in sea spray – the opulent palette is complimented with the kind of richly intriguing ‘origins’ story that the Twilight franchise ummed and ahhed over for three whole films.
Because rich-boy Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) has pissed off a witch (Eva Green). Venting her rage, she transforms him into a vampire and locks him in a coffin to fester undying until the end of time.
Snap forward to 1972, and Barnabas awakens to discover the now decrepit Collins estate is home to comely descendent Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), her moody daughter Carolyn (Chloë Grace Moretz), useless husband Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), haunted step-son David (Gulliver McGrath) and alcoholic therapist Dr Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter).
Despite the impressive ensemble, Depp remains the star of the show. De-coffined into that goofiest of eras, his horror at psychedelic ‘70s toot is genuinely funny (Trolls! Lava lamps! Karen Carpenter!). Things hit a high note early on when, post-resurrection, Barnabas is confronted with a symbol of terrifying modernity: the blazing twin peaks of the McDonald’s sign.
But unlike the deft arcs of Edward Scissorhands and Ed Wood, though, Shadows is a mess of extraneous sub-plots and surplus characters. It’s easy to believe reports that script revisions were being handed out during filming, not least with regard to the nonsensical, blow-out finale.
As cameos, barely-there romances and never-explained spooky happenings all chaotically collide, Shadows quickly forgets its own ethos (“Family is the only real wealth,” as muttered by Barnabas’s dad in the film’s opening moments) in favour of scene after scene of Depp’s wide-eyed, reactionary culture clashing.
Even Eva Green’s sensual villainess – rocking power suits, a big blonde ‘do and a rasping smoker’s drawl – proves disappointingly fangless, hampered by the film’s most puzzling of oddball B-plots (including warring fisheries, obviously).
Though it’s delightfully odd in places, and entertaining when it works, Dark Shadows is little more than a sumptuous mood board; a portmanteau of intriguing ideas with little or no pay-off. Burton’s yet to return from the dead. 3/5