Film - Dark Shadows

Dark Shadows

Susan Omand heads for her favourite Collinsport but discovers a whole new world as she watches the film Dark Shadows...

My fangirling about the Dark Shadows audio adventures is well known so I thought it was about time I ventured into a whole different Collinsport to try the Tim Burton film based on the same series.

OK so it’s Tim Burton, and I had already reconciled myself to the fact that it was always going to be weird but, other than place names and characters, the story and tone of the film was nothing like the audio series that I am devoted to. It was only once I had accepted that fact, after about half an hour of “what have they done” style harrumphing, that I settled to enjoy the film for what it was – completely off the wall fun.

The year is 1760 and a young Barnabas Collins leaves Liverpool with his parents for “the New World” to expand their fishing business, leaving behind his young friend Angelique. By the next year their new town of Collinsport is thriving and Mr Collins Sr starts to build the house he always wanted, Collinwood. It takes 15 years to complete and Barnabas, by now a charming aristocrat (and Johnny Depp), is living the life he always wanted as lord of the manor, attracting the attention of many women including one of the servants at the manor, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). As we Dark Shadows fans already know, Angelique is a witch and casts a spell to kill Barnabas’ parents and hypnotizes his lover Josette duPres (Bella Heathcote) to commit suicide by jumping off Widows Hill. Trying to save her, Barnabas also jumps from the cliff but Angelique is watching and turns him into the Vampire we all know, so he survives to suffer in eternity. But Angelique is not yet finished, turning the townsfolk against him, convincing them to chain and bury him in the forest. Fast forward 196 years and roadbuilders dig up his casket, freeing the vampire Barnabas, to their cost as he is a bit hungry by then, and he sets off to reclaim Collinwood and rebuild the Collins family name.

In the meantime, a new governess has arrived at Collinwood to look after young David, son of single father Roger Collins (Jonny Lee Miller), his wife, David’s mother, having died two years previously. The new governess, calling herself Victoria Winter (having changed her name on the train from Maggie Evans) looks a lot like Barnabas’ old love, Josette. But she finds not only Roger and David at the house but also Roger’s sister Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), head of the family fish canning business that is near bankruptcy; her hippy daughter Carolyn; the psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) that takes care of David; and the servants Willie Loomis and Mrs. Johnson. All goes well with both Victoria and Barnabas’ integration into family life until they run across the owner of the rival fish canning company, a Miss Angie Bouchard. Yes, Angelique is back and she still wants vengeance.

So yes, all known characters and familiar places, as the Blue Whale bar also becomes a location of note in the film. But there, as I said, the similarities end. This Dark Shadows is played for laughs throughout. And I must admit that, once I’d got over the earlier mentioned harrumphing I really enjoyed it, particularly Barnabas coming to terms with all the mod cons of 1972. The setting stayed very true to its timeline too, with a great, and appropriate, soundtrack of songs, as well as the score done by Danny Elfman, and even the font used in the titles had a very seventies feel to it.

Casting though, as with all Tim Burton films, was very much a “jobs for the boys” deal with Johnny Depp and Helena Bonham Carter managing to be themselves more than their characters throughout. Michelle Pfeiffer was good in her matriarchal role, although I did feel at times I felt she was harking back to Death Becomes Her more than she should. However the best and most underused in the cast was Jonny Lee Miller who was almost unrecognisable under his makeup as the grouchy Roger.

So, did I get the film I set out to watch? As a Dark Shadows purist, no I definitely didn’t, although I do think it helped to know the Dark Shadows characters to catch small references, like Carolyn’s alter-ego in the fight at the end that goes almost without mention in the film. But as a Burton/Depp film it really hit the mark. It was weird, stupid, eccentric, over the top fun. And, hell, any film that manages to make an Alice Cooper cameo seem normal gets my vote.

Image - IMDb