It seems odd, in some ways, that Tim Burton has not yet tackled the bloodthirsty world of the vampire – seeing how he is the king of quirkily macabre cinema. But Dark Shadows does indeed mark his first foray into the world of the be-fanged undead. His longtime collaborator, Johnny Depp (Edward Scissorhands, Alice in Wonderland, Charlie and the Chocolate Factory and so on), had been a fan of the 1966-1971 fantasy soap opera and came to Burton with a plan to adapt the series for the big screen.
Burton expressed a fondness for what he refers to as a “strong property” during the Los Angeles press conference for Dark Shadows. Depp had a desire to depict a vampire that, as he says, “looks like a vampire” which is in part the actor’s way of “railing against those vampires that look like underwear models” as we see so often in our current film and television renderings of the creatures.
Depp, Burton and writer Seth Grahame Smith (who also penned the upcoming Abraham Lincoln: Vampire Hunter) met to hash out the details of the story, which Depp says “revealed itself to them.” The film places the cursed Barnabas Collins (a vampire who has been buried for nearly two centuries) into what Depp feels is the most surreal era of our time, the 1970s, in order to give the ancient monster a rich environment to respond to. The challenge for Burton, then, was to have what is “clearly a vampire, fit into this odd society and dysfunctional family.”
The head of said family, Elizabeth Collins Stoddard, is played by Burton’s Batman Returns star, Michelle Pfeiffer (the film marks their first collaboration in 20 years). Pfeiffer was an avid watcher of the original television series and actively sought Burton out. She said she would not have had the courage to call him directly which “isn’t done” but she was working with a mutual friend who, knowing what the property meant to her, “egged her on.” The director said he was delighted to discover she was a “closet ‘Dark Shadows’ lover” adding “I knew she was weird, but not that weird.”
He did place her in some slightly treacherous circumstances, having her don eight-inch platforms and sending her down an elaborate staircase where she was meant to walk, talk, and not look down. “Did the people on ‘Dynasty’ look down?” Burton asks.
When one reporter goaded Michelle Pfeiffer for a comment on Anne Hathaway picking up the Selina Kyle/Catwoman mantle in Christopher Nolan’s The Dark Knight Rises, Burton ribbed the journalist about the slight absurdity of the question: “yeah, comment on something you haven’t seen before,” he said. “There’s something derogatory about the comparison. ‘You’ve played this character and now it’s somebody else.’ MEOW, catfight!”
Pfeiffer, however, gave the following polite and politic response:
“I love Anne Hathaway, I’m a huge fan and the nature of these characters is that they are played by different people. I think she’s great and I think she’s going to be awesome.”
Depp and Pfeiffer are themselves, in Dark Shadows, once again bringing previously established characters to fresh new life.
The cast is rounded out by Eva Green, Jaquie Earl Hayle, Jonny Lee Miller and Bella Heathecote.
Dark Shadows opens in theaters today.
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