Burton, Depp redo gothic-lite in 'Dark Shadows'

Johnny Depp stars as Barnabas Collins in Tim Burton's "Dark Shadows."

Story highlights

  • "Dark Shadows" is based on Dan Curtis' spooky soap opera of the same name
  • Depp is a vision in monochrome with his pasty complexion, black hair and cape
  • Burton dedicates unwarranted time to the Collins' dull fortunes in the fish canning business
"Balls. That's how a family shows its power," declares Johnny Depp as Barnabas Collins in "Dark Shadows" to the bemused descendants gathered around the dinner table.
In his day -- the 1700s -- throwing a party was a political act. But 200 years later -- in 1972, to be exact -- balls are out of style. Women's lib is in the air, and his movie is loaded with powerful, independent women. The hippies are dropping out. And vampires are an anachronism.
I better admit from the start I never saw Dan Curtis' spooky "Dark Shadows" soap opera, a curio that ran from 1966 to 1971. The belated blockbuster edition arrives courtesy of director Tim Burton, star Depp and "Pride and Prejudice and Zombies" scribe Seth Grahame-Smith, a mash-up monster squad possibly more inclined to camp than Curtis was, and certainly more tickled by the nostalgic "modernity" of the Nixon era.
The fruit of their labors is mostly weirdly amusing -- when it's not just plain bemusing -- but hardly the wacky parody the trailers suggest. And it falls well short of satire. The gags are there alright, but so is the soap in roughly equal measure. Always stronger on gothic atmosphere than story, Burton dedicates unwarranted screentime to the Collins' dull fortunes in the fish canning business (I'm not kidding).
More promisingly, he dishes up tortured romance more or less straight -- or as straight as a romantic triangle between an angry witch, a lovelorn vampire and a corpse is ever likely to be -- and smuggles at least a smidgeon of heartfelt emotional baggage into the spectacularly dysfunctional dynamics of the Collins clan.