‘Dark Shadows’ Review

Published 2 years ago by , Updated May 30th, 2012 at 1:16 pm,

Johnny Depp Dark Shadows Dark Shadows Review

Screen Rant’s Ben Kendrick reviews Dark Shadows

When moviegoers (and classic TV lovers) first heard that Tim Burton and Johnny Depp would be reuniting yet again for a “reboot” of the 1960s gothic soap opera, Dark Shadows, the response was mixed. Despite the pair of fan-favorite filmmakers, many Dark Shadows faithful protested the film for fear it would (stop me if you’ve heard this before) ruin their childhood (or, at the very least, undercut fond memories of the original show) – or rely too heavily on the, now trademark (and for some, tired) Burton/Depp schtick.

On the other hand, plenty of movie-lovers were, nonetheless, excited for the project – as it could offer a fitting “return to (gothic) form” for Burton.

Now that the film is out, we can safely say that Dark Shadows is hardly a mindless pillaging of the cult-classic source material – but the movie isn’t likely to be one of Burton’s more celebrated works either. Instead, it’s a competent film that once again relies almost entirely on an enjoyable (but not particularly fresh) performance from Depp as leading-vampire Barnabas Collins (originally portrayed by the late Jonathan Frid). Discerning viewers will notice that nearly all of the other characters and plot points take a back seat to Depp-centric comedy, but for plenty of moviegoers that may not be a deal breaker.

As mentioned, Dark Shadows is loosely based on the classic television series of the same name that ran from 1966 to 1971. In this film version, Barnabas Collins has a fling with his obsessive maidservant, Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green), back in the 18th century – but when he pledges his love to another, Josette DuPres (Bella Heathcote), Angelique kills his beloved and curses him to eternal life without her, as a vampire, before rallying the townsfolk of Collinsport to bury the blood-sucker alive. 200 years later Barnabas is unearthed – only to find that his illustrious family name has, in the mean time, been tarnished by “Angie” – who has not aged a day. In an effort to take back what is rightfully his, Barnabas uses charm and a little bit of hypnotism to restore the Collins family, as well as Collinwood Manor itself, to former glory – not to mention get back at Angelique for the whole killing his fiance/curse/buried-alive thing.

Collins Family Dark Shadows Dark Shadows Review

The Collins Family: David, Roger, Elizabeth, and Carolyn

The film, as evidenced by our synopsis, leaves most of the side characters in varying degrees of underdevelopment. The basic archetypes are set up out of the gate (upon the return of Barnabas) but no one is developed beyond that point: Elizabeth (Michelle Pfeiffer) is the matriarch of Collinwood Manor – attempting to hold on to what little the family has left, Roger (Jonny Lee Miller), brother to Elizabeth, ignores his son in favor of his own desires, David (Gulliver McGrath), the aforementioned son, is an odd but lovable kid who is adamant that his drowned mother still talks to him, and Carolyn (Chloë Moretz), Elizabeth’s daughter, is a typical fifteen year old – obsessed with celebrity crushes and resentful of the attention David gets around the manor. Along for the ride is Willie Loomis (Jackie Earle Haley), a lovable but creepy groundskeeper, and Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) as David’s underachieving psychiatrist.

Beyond these initial descriptions, none of the characters offer anything more than sounding boards for Depp’s Barnabas antics. Each one is given a bit of Burton’s trademark oddball style and flare but, while the supporting cast does an adequate job with their respective roles, there’s a lot of wasted potential (especially with Pfeiffer and Moretz in the frame) – not to mention a number of unearned developments in the final act. Instead, the movie spends the majority of the time on Depp’s fish-out-of-water gimmick coupled with the bizarre Angelique lust/hate relationship. Depp brings his usual charm as well as subtle nuances to the character (making him likable even though he’s still a murderous monster) – and, for the most part, Green succeeds as a detestable antagonist. However, there’s nothing fresh or particularly interesting about their dynamic – as both are going through motions we’ve seen countless times before in similar revenge/redemption stories.

That said, not everything is merely a rehash (either in terms of character or core subject matter), as for portions of the film, Burton makes excellent use of the 1960s timeframe – especially when it collides with the overarching “gothic” cinematography. Again, even these intriguing juxtapositions are heavily reliant on Depp’s portrayal of Barnabas, but they definitely add a charm and sense of humor (not to mention visual flare) to the film – one that would, in the hands of a different director, have probably not been explored.

Eva Green Dark Shadows Dark Shadows Review

Eva Green as Angelique Bouchard in 'Dark Shadows'

The result is a thin but mildly entertaining film that doesn’t quite find the coveted reboot sweet spot: honoring the source material while also presenting a compelling reimagining for modern audiences. By the end of the film Burton attempts to shoe-horn in some last minute tethers to the source material that will be familiar to fans of the classic series. Unfortunately, the nods will likely be distracting for non-fans, and at this point, too little-too late for even the Dark Shadows faithful. Instead, Dark Shadows comes across as yet another Depp/Burton riff on an established property that, like Alice and Wonderland as well as Charlie and the Chocolate Factory before it, presents an entertaining enough platform for the actor and some intriguing visuals from the director – all while failing to present a memorable storyline or intriguing non-Depp characters.

While Dark Shadows may please the Burton and Depp fanbase, which still represent a significant chunk of the moviegoing public (and who never seem to tire of the pairing), for less-invested viewers Dark Shadows is likely to offer a number of chuckle-worthy moments and a few slick visuals – coupled with a lot of uneven character development and a dull moment-to-moment narrative progression that, at times, suffers from a lot of familiar story beats. The film is not a colossal failure, as some had predicted, but it’s hardly indicative of Burton or Depp’s talent, serving as yet another indication that the pair could stand to step outside their collective me + you = cinematic magic mindsets – since Ichabod Crane, Willy Wonka, Sweeney Todd, The Mad Hatter, and Barnabas Collins are, otherwise, starting to blur together.

If you’re still on the fence about Dark Shadows, check out the trailer below:

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For an in-depth discussion of the film by the Screen Rant team check out our Dark Shadows episode of the SR Underground podcast.

Let us know what you thought of the film in the comment section.

Follow me on Twitter @benkendrick for future reviews, as well as movie, TV, and gaming news.

Dark Shadows is rated PG-13 for comic horror violence, sexual content, some drug use, language and smoking. Now playing in theaters.

Our Rating:

2.5 out of 5
(Fairly Good)

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  1. How many truly good films has Burton directed? I ask because the reviewer said that this film is hardly indicative of Burton or Depp’s talent. I kinda think it is indicative of Burton and to a lesser extent Depp. For some odd reason they both get a lot of credit but it seems to me that the lion share of their work isn’t that good.

    • This is just a personal thing, Dirk, but for me Burton scarcely put a foot wrong until Mars Attacks!, and Planet Of The Apes was where it really started to unravel for him. I still regard Ed Wood as a high point, from the beautiful black and white cinematography to the pitch-perfect performances. Affectionate, funny and moving: like a fantasy rendition of one man’s fantasy. Having said that, I’ve got no desire to see this at all. Never saw the TV show, but I can imagine if I had I wouldn’t want to see it dealt with as a complete or even partial joke.

  2. I almost left in the middle of this movie and asked for my money back… thank god it was NOTHING like the series or the original movie made after the series ended! the story line was bad, the acting by all was bad, only similar character was Julia Hoffman who they turned into a drunk…she resembled Grayson Hall more then the rest of the characters… you couldnt feel the power of the family influence from the original series… I like past Tim Burton films, this I did not… visually it was okay… the original Angelique and Josette were beautiful, mature actresses.. the new ones cast remind me of a high school production… If you want to watch the real great movie which was alittle darker then the series, go rent “House of Dark Shadows” with the original cast… Willy & Professor Stokes were great in the series and final movie! I watched this series when it started, I was born in 1962.. so I was young, but I remember it well.. well enough to reveiew this crappy remake… tim could of done so much more and blown the original series right out of the water with the right script, darkness, actors and all! One snap out of 5!

  3. The ending in one word? TWILIGHT!!!

  4. Aaaah the tragedy that is Depp, Burton and Bonham Carter. Someone, someday, will make a film about this tragic ménage à trois that is slowly eating itself alive in a cartoonish, overly made up descent into back slappery and wasted talent.
    Burton is to blame, but he is also injured by his greed to hold those he most cherishes near and dear. He is like an artist who only paints with one colour, full of ideas but scared to try a new palette. His vivid imagination is limited in only his choice of actor, like an astronomer using a straw he can only see two stars and as good as they are, I think we know what to expect with Depp and Bonham Carter. Cheekbones, boiled black eyes and pursed lips prevail as they play out like puppets their masters dreams.
    When I saw the poster for Dark Shadows I genuinely thought it was a sequel to Scissorhands, but I could have easily have guessed at any other movie the mascara masked trio have foisted upon us.
    I wish Burton would take down his Halloween decorations and make a thriller or a spy film. Even if it is only to challenge himself… and his casting director.

  5. I was so excited to see a remake of Dark Shadows. As a teenager, I would come home and watch it after school and then the next day talk about it in class. I loved the show so much that I even swore I would name my kids after the characters in the show, especially Angelique. I even invited my granddaughter to go with me three months earlier to watch the movie, what a disappointment.

    While we both love Depp, even he could not make this film tolerable. The original was really campy and badly acted, but somehow exciting and addicting to watch. This was campy and boring. They could have made so much more out of this series with just some effort. It could have been an ongoing series of movies, but they did such a terrible job, I certainly wouldn’t go to see it again, at least by this pair, I have better things to do.

  6. I knew I was going to review or comment 20 min into the film. Depp is a superb actor, but I felt everything in this review. Underdevelopment, and I kept looking at my watch all the way through, nearly walked out, but I did pay for it , hoping for the pay off, never came, and I was hoping for more laughs, or more serious, it couldn’t find a focus, so many people were laughing at parts I thought Burton was attempting to be serious, and wasn’t laughing. I guess us cinephiles have a much higher bar, than the general audience out there.

  7. I wanted to love this movie so much. When I heard that they were going to remake Dark Shadows a few years ago I got super excited. I love the show. Then I saw the trailer to this and my excitement plummeted. They took the easy way out and turned a brilliant series into cheap camp! Yes the original was campy at times, but it didn’t aim to turn Barnabas into a caricature. It was also engaging and fun. I may still watch this, only to see the ending most have found so underwhelming, but as a fan, I am extremely disappointed.

  8. My 16 year old daughter wanted to see it for her birthday, so I took her and her friends. I gotta say I did not enjoy it. It was so lifeless. There were some small “chuckle” moments, but like the reviewer said the other characters really suffered in this. Things came out of left field, I thought the ghost effects looked bad. I mean, modern CGI enhanced ghost effects look just like that.. CGI effects. They don’t scare, they’re not spooky, just… video-gameish. It’s all too slick and productiony to be Dark Shadows. I don’t know. Avoid at all costs. Buy the old Dark Shadow collection (or just watch it online), that’d be more worthwhile.

  9. This movie was terrible! Tim Burton is a piece a overrated trash. He needs to stop making movies cause they all suck. (Beetle juice, Batman, and Edward Scissor Hands are his only good movies.) This so called “visionary” director is a joke and he has NO talent. I watched these thinking “maybe tim Burton has redeemed himself”….NO, he has not. Like M. Night Shyamalan, he keeps making s***** movies. Hollywood needs to stop giving him work!

  10. I rarely (ok..never) go to the movies but my husband and I agreed that this HAD to be good. I used to watch Dark Shadows back in the day and we are both Johnny Depp fans so we went. Seriously nodded off for a minute or two in the middle (I was tired so maybe it wasn’t just the movie).
    I was just mildly entertained but still not sure about the ending.
    Are they both vampires, is the curse broken and they are just dead and finally together, or did I fall asleep again and miss a vital piece of information? Should I even care?

  11. I honestly just about walked out of the theater half way through this movie myself,a difficult feat for any film to accomplish.There were scenes thrown in that simply seemed pointless.The precious minutes wasted on such scenes could have been used to make the movie at least semi-tolerable.I’m immensely disappointed in this one to say the least.

  12. I really didn’t want to see this movie. I had no interest in it because I’ve never seen the original series, but I have been known to like a few of Tim Burton’s movies (Batman, Beetlejuice, Pee Wee’s Big Adventure, Sleepy Hollow). Dark Shadows reminded me of Death Becomes Her meets Beetlejuice. My wife really liked it. I found it not to be as terrible as I heard it was. It was very Burton-esque with the usual suspects involved (Johnny Depp, Helen Bonham-Carter, Danny Elfman), and the story was strangely laid out. I wondered if that had to do with the soap opera style of the original content. The secondary character back stories were glanced over and it made me hope that it was done purposefully to represent the original. However, I think that it was probably just bad writing. Whoever picked out the 70s songs and references, deserves the most credit since those were the comedic highlights throughout the film. Whoever threw together the additional details of secondary characters during the climax of the film…they deserve to be fired.

  13. My mother and sister both have seen the soap that this was based off, and absolutely loved this movie. I never watched the original series so the whole thing was a sort of awkward in-joke told in the company of total strangers–it just sort of fell flat. I am not really in a position to judge as I am not familiar with the franchise and I have a feeling that I was not the target audience. (So please take what I say with a grain of salt)
    About half-way through the movie I just threw up my hands and thought, “Why should I care about these people?” Someone who watched the series might have a better understanding or attachment to them. Watching DarkShadows as a standalone film left me wondering why I should empathize with the protagonists. They seemingly had no redeeming qualities and failed to capture my interest.
    I sort of left the theater feeling like I walked into a party that I hadn’t been invited to. I should have been having fun, but I was left standing by the punch bowl trying to scout out anyone I recognized. In other words, this movie alienates the noobies.

  14. Dark Shadows is one of my all time favorite shows. They were the first show that had vampire characters that were sexy, intelligent, mysterious and oh so so entertaining. My cousin and I ran home from school every day to watch Barnabus and the crew. I loved all the characters angelique, david, ms. and mr. collins, julia, willie and the other ghosts and vampires. I loved dark shadows so much that my dream trip was going to transylvania, romania to visit dracula’s home. No other vampire show will ever top dark shadows. I still love and watch other vampire shows. A+++

  15. I really love this movie . Johnny Depp is Amaizin in thid film

  16. my opinion, Charlize Theron would have been an excellent Angelique.

  17. FELLOW DARK SHADOWS FANS: Great new article on this classic series. Please visit and leave your thoughts and comments!

    http://fans-pages.com/why-we-relate-to-the-collins-family/

  18. Gotta tell you, not one of Johnny Depp’s best performances (and the movie pretty much sucked), but Depp still managed to do a pretty decent job I would say.

    Nonetheless, that’s just my opinion; I feel one of his best performances was as Jack Sparrow. (Check out the link below to see some of the coolest scenes from Pirates, and find out why if you already don’t know LOL):

    http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=NNWCB9O_s2M

    Guess we all have bad days! ;)

  19. No, no, no, missed at every level! not funny, not quirky, not anything… Hollow, aimless and misguided

  20. Dark Shadows
    I didn’t like this movie. It’s difficult to get into and it is very boring. I thought the main character was very ridiculous, irritating because he wasn’t that relatable. There didn’t seem to be much of a story.

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