Step 1: Watch too many plot plots. You know you’re in for some kind of visual treat when you see a Tim Burton/Johnny Depp collaboration, and Dark Shadows doesn’t disappoint. Yet, it is hindered by an abundance of storylines and a lack of cohesiveness.
Step 2: Listen to a Barnabas’ tale. Based on the TV series, which aired from 1966 to 1971, Dark Shadows follows the screwed-up lives of the Collins family. Once a thriving fishery empire in Collinsport, Maine, the family is now — in 1972 — nearly in ruin, put there by a rival company owned by the conniving witch Angelique Bouchard (Eva Green). You see, Angelique cursed the Collins family two centuries ago when her love for young heir Barnabas Collins (Johnny Depp) was rejected, turning Barnabas into a vampire, killing his fiancée and locking him in a coffin, seemingly forever. Not so. Barnabas is unexpectedly freed and returns to his ancestral home to restore his family to its previous glory. But a few things stand in his way: the customs of 1972, some members of his extended family and Angelique, of course.
Step 3: Meet the Collins family. There’s actually a lot more that goes on in Dark Shadows, which ultimately becomes its downfall. As uber-fans of the original TV series, its clear Depp and Burton did not want to leave anything out. In the series, a governess named Victoria Winters comes to the Collins’ mansion and is soon drawn into the family’s dysfunctional behavior. In the film, Victoria (Bella Heathcote) is the reincarnation of Barnabas’ former one true love, so naturally the vampire is smitten once again. There’s also matriarch Elizabeth Collins Stoddard (Michelle Pfeiffer), teenage rebel Carolyn (Chloe Grace Mertz), family psychiatrist Dr. Julia Hoffman (Helena Bonham Carter) and others.
Step 4: Watch Depp do it… again. Most of the performances are spot-on, especially Depp, who once again wears a wacky wig and sells the hell out of the thing. The actor is extremely charismatic as Barnabas and delivers all the best lines, particularly when he is being the fish out of water. If anyone else played the part, Dark Shadows would have truly sucked. Get it? Like a vampire? I digress. Heathcote has those giant, soulful eyes Burton loves in his young ingénues, while the stunning Pfeiffer portrays the stiff Elizabeth with an innate coolness. Bonham Carter plays Dr. Hoffman as a lush desperate to stay young, and Mertz is great as the petulant teen. Only Green, best known as James Bond’s love in Casino Royale, comes off too much as Angelique, lacking in any real chemistry with Depp’s Barnabas.
Step 5: Cut it. The gothic setting also fits right into Burton’s sensibilities, and the director paints another wonderfully weird and otherworldly milieu, with rocky coastlines, overcast skies and overgrown vegetation. The Collins’ home is the best part, full of cobwebby nooks and crannies, giant misplaced wooden statues, secret passageways and the like. If you are a fan of Burton’s films, you should feel right at home. No, the real fault lies in the script, which may have read well on paper – and pleased its rabid Dark Shadow followers — but it seriously needed major cuts in the editing room. As a Depp/Burton collaboration, it ranks kind of low.